On chappals and extremism


Keeping religion out of state affairs



With Qadri’s death, the precedent he set by killing Salmaan Taseer, many thought might be over. The more optimistic ones hoped this could be the moment from where Pakistan’s journey towards progressiveness would start. Even after thousands gathered to offer his funeral, hailing him as a hero, many believed this would be just it.

Exactly after 27 days of his execution, a large crowd gathered again in the heart of Rawalpindi for his chehlum. The mood at procession was different this time. The crowd was almost totally Barelvi and it was evidently angry. It’s interesting to note here that other sects who were owning Qadri post his death did not take part in chehlum – probably because they consider the practice a bid’at.

Demo of their mood was given on the night of chehlum when Junaid Jamshed was thrashed at Islamabad Airport by some angry people who had come for Qadri’s chehlum. Abusing and beating him, they chanted Labaik Ya Rasoolullah in the same breath.

When the ceremony for chehlum was at peak, Barelvi clerics presented a charter of demand before government. The demands were hilariously bad and not even worth negotiating for. The charged crowd was asked to move towards Islamabad for a sit-in at Capital’s red zone. Whatever happened afterwards will be written off as yet another failure of a nuclear state to protect the intrusion of few hundred people in the area supposed to be securest in the country.

However, the sit-in is over now after four days of melodrama, abuses, throwing chappals at helicopters and of course inciting violence against government officials.

While a bunch of people mourning over the death of a murderer held Islamabad in siege, another man blew himself up with a bomb in a park full of children – the children thinking about delicious food they were going to have were served with ball bearings instead.

The events from last week bring back the extremism question. It is far from over. However, this time, the attention towards a much-ignored phenomenon of Barelvi extremism was paid.

The storm had been brewing for a while. If Amir Cheema’s death was not enough, campaign against Taseer was surely a sign. No heed was paid. The result: violence in capital which jolted the daily life for four days.

Barelvis, who constitute a majority of Pakistan’s population have always taken cover behind the garb of sufism to hide their sectarian mindset.

The protest also had some ironies which should be discussed here. One of the agreed point between government and protesters was to force action against TV channels spreading obscenity and vulgarity. Ironically, the very same clerics didn’t shy away from abusing reporters for asking questions. The videos are easily available on the internet.

Although it was under a coalition, there are reports that the protest was spearheaded by Sunni Tehreek.

The News reported last year that Sunni Tehreek was placed on the watch-list by the Interior Ministry. “The ST is a sectarian group that has an organised network of armed criminals,” reported Zia-ur-Rehman.

Even more ironic is the fact that Sunni Tehreek has been openly blaming PML-N government of playing in the hands of foreign powers, the same PML-N which was about to form an alliance with Sunni Tehreek in 2013 elections. “PML-N party chief Nawaz Sharif said, during his meeting with ST head Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, that his party was ready to cooperate with them for the eradication of anarchy in Karachi,” reported Express Tribune.

Back in 2009, Sunni Ittehad Council was given $36,607 by the US aid to organize anti-Taliban rallies. A spokesperson for US State Department, while taking to Express Tribune confirmed this. “This particular grant supported a successful rally in 2009 at which Pakistanis spoke out against the Taliban, violent extremism, and suicide bombings,” she said.

This recent episode is yet another reminder about how religion must not be dragged in public sphere. Secularists in Pakistan have often reiterated the demand which was always met with deaf ears. The current form of Islam, as is interpreted by the clerics, is not applicable in today’s society.

Ever since and even before Pakistan’s creation, many scholars like Ghulam Ahmed Pervez have been endorsed and even sponsored by the governments to ‘reinterpret’ Islam. Often known as modernists, they worked on presenting a relatively progressive interpretation of Islam.

Ghulam Ahmed Pervez, for instance was considered a close advisor to Jinnah and is said to have contributed in ‘the scheme of Pakistan’, as Khaled Ahmed writes in ‘Behind Ideological Masks’. (Page 129)

Interestingly, though, he was against Ahmadis and took pride that his writings about them prompted a case against Ahmadis in 1935. (Behind Ideological Mask)

He was awarded Tehreek-i-Pakistan Gold Medal by the Punjab government for his contributions to the Pakistan Movement. Commonly referred to as ‘munkir-i-hadith’ for his doubts in the authenticity of Hadiths, he started publishing a journal, ‘Talu-e-Islam’, on the behest of Jinnah and Iqbal. (Behind Ideological Mask, Page 130)

In the same way, Fazlur Rahman was invited by Ayub Khan to chair Central Institute of Islamic Research, an institute formed by the government itself to work on implementing Islam. It failed to derive any results. Bhutto also experimented with Islam by amalgamating it with socialism, which resulted in highly oppressive legislation like the 2nd amendment.

We are still bearing the effects of Zia’s Islamisation policies and have lost more than 50,000 people to the fight against the menace he created. Musharraf also encouraged a modernist approach towards religion but that too failed.

With the myth of ‘peaceful Barelvis’ standing busted, it has once again vindicated the secularists’ demand of keeping religion out of the state affairs. It has been well-established now that most of the sects, when in power, have the potential of committing violence against state. Given the polarised and diverse society of Pakistan, public debate on religion will always lead to conflict and chaos. It is about time the government realises the writing on wall.