July 15, 2016
intolerance do not go together. Using them together would, however, cast light
on the general attitude Muslims have adopted to defend Islam and its integrity.
Muslims never tire of saying that Islam preaches tolerance. They even never
tire of talking about creating positivity, a clichéd phrase used to defend
one’s position and thwart others’ point of view.
Ramadan, in one of my WhatsApp group, a discussion ensued about Ahmadis in the
wake of Hamza Ali Abbasi’s removal from national television, and the subsequent
battering of the Ahmadis by mullahs (clergy) representing Islam on different TV
channels. A fellow group member defended Ahmadis saying that even if they
represent a minority, there should be room to keep the discussion open on issues
related to Islam and minorities. Immediately, three groups were formed: one
that supported the argument; second that opposed the argument; and third that
swerved to either group depending which one gained an upper hand during the
the outfit defending the exclusion of Ahmadis from the folds of Islam drew out
not only the symbolic daggers from the books of history but gnawed at the other
with scathing remarks. It had very quickly become a war between the religious
and the liberal. Not once did the so-called liberals in the group use the word
extremism or “Islamism” to put the opponent on the mat. The word “liberal,”
however, was used ad nauseam as a taunt and accusation for those defending the
debate surrounding the Ahmadis.
formed, this division refused to leave the group, with the result that every
other day a fight would erupt between the “defenders” of Islam and the liberals
for no other reason than the scathing remark laid at the liberals for whatever
they posted in the group. Personal grievances too surfaced, and anyone with a
slightest of liberal viewpoint was hacked. Virtually.
evening a fight broke out when a group member, who works in a government
organisation, scolded and abused the Urdu-speaking people of Karachi. A veteran
journalist from Karachi who knew the pulse of Karachi’s ethnicity mix and its
combustion point locked horns with the abuser. But the latter refused to budge.
He abused anyone coming his way. Ironically, a few days ago this same person was
supporting the finality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and trashing Ahmadis.
It boggles one’s mind seeing Muslims
separating the persona of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from his teachings. Even if
the necessity of “negating” Ahmadis becomes important, why should the ability
to listen to a different point of view with patience and restraining oneself
from overshadowing others’ ideology diminish? Can we not maintain individuality
without getting into an enmity mode, especially when the argument surrounds
the entire discourse in the group was hijacked by the religious ones; one
because many group members with secular liberal ideology left, two, for lack of
tolerance every argument would end in accusations surrounding Islam and its
conclusion does one draw from this debate, which is a reflection of the larger
picture we see in society? The stories of the victims of the blasphemy law are
one example. Not only is this law misused, which in other words mean we abuse
religion when it suits us, but we also indulge in overreaction and take the law
into our hand.
The murder of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of
Punjab, was instigated at a private level. The cleric whose sermon inspired the
murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, to take Taseer’s life was so blinded by the mere
imagery woven around Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) — whose teachings guided Muslims
to be at a level where wisdom takes a central role especially for a religious
scholar — was thrown to ignorance. Our entire religious discourse revolves
around worshiping the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) rather than following in
his footprints. The whole life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was an epitome of
tolerance, and that too with everyone including the non-believers. Not everyone
embraced Islam neither was it required of the scheme of God when Islam was
presented to all and sundry and those convinced followed suit. Swords were
raised against those who tried to revert the followers of Muhammad (PBUH) from
what was said to be the correct path. Medina was full of hypocrites, and their
names were revealed to the prophet, but he never exposed them or had them
killed. How could we kill people on mere assumptions?
believe that they have been wrongly designated a non-Muslim minority in
Pakistan. Any community would consider itself a victim in the face of such a
decision. It is the right of Ahmadis to work on changing the narrative built
against them. When debates are stymied, and free speech is restricted to the
chosen few the right to influence narrative is exercised by creating a forced
space in the public sphere, which at times also brings in myopic and extremist
viewpoints. When each group is trying to prove the other wrong, while one group
has state’s patronage to take the law into its hands, the result would always
be an intolerant and prejudiced society. It is this mosaic that is referred to
as a polarised public opinion.
It is a
pity that Islam and Muslims are viewed differently today. It is even more
unfortunate that intolerance is considered a characteristic that the Holy Quran
teaches. From Nigeria to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the fire of sectarianism
and religious bigotry has provided space to an element like the Islamic State
to portray Islam as a religion of intolerance. The division in my WhatsApp
group is the reflection of prejudice the country adopts in practising Islam.
intolerance do not go together, but the ways of the Muslims have made them look
like one. Would Pakistan, being the Islamic Republic, take into consideration
this trend, and give space to the dissenting voice, and tolerate what is not
ideologically Pakistani in its self-defined sphere?
Durdana Najam is a journalist.