Considering Mr Sialvi’s request

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  • Not yet a final chapter

Amid one of the most turbulent times in the history of Pakistan, with uncertainty in both politics and economics, fraught relations with a major ally, uncordial terms with the neighbours and a major child abuse issue rocking the country, the religious clerics have their own shows to pull off.

Pakistanis are still trying to free from their memories the terrifying image of Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his equally horrifying, venomous verbal assaults during a sit in hardly two months ago, when Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi has come up with his own demand, with a threat of countrywide protests if not fulfilled. While Rizvi had stubbornly demanded the resignation of the then Minister of Law Zahid Hamid over the ‘clerical error’ in the country’s new electoral law and the government had meekly given in, Sialvi (the rhyme in the two surnames can hardly be missed) although giving up his original call for resignation of the law minister, Rana Sanaullah, over controversial remarks on TV, is now pressing for Shariah law to be enforced in the country within seven days.

It seems that these esteemed scholars and clerics do not feel the urge for the country to unite for solving issues which can be threatening to its sanctity, they are more worried about matters which have had Divine intervention. For whether a Muslim or a non Muslim fails to justify the core Islamic belief in finality of prophethood, true believers feel secure that there can be no power on earth to reverse the situation, hence a shakeup in the belief of a few weaker ones cannot threaten an affair sealed a millennium ago. As far as the enforcement of Shariah is concerned, the extensive Islamisation of the country during the Zia regime has hardly left any area untouched. The demand, in view of some political analysts, is essentially targeted towards further isolation of an already persecuted community over its controversial belief in prophethood.

From Majlis-i-Ahrar-i-Islam to the Majlis-Tahaffuz-i-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to General Zia Ul Haq, many political factions and rulers used the formula of stamping on anyone even allegedly defying or defaming the belief in the finality of prophethood. The championing of this cause has always been successful, since it provokes the emotions of devout Muslims who feel enraged at someone insulting their prophet. The advent of the blasphemy law in the country resulted in persecution of minorities, mostly Christians and Ahmadis, with the controversial law often used as a convenient means to settle scores, rather than proclamation of love for the Holy Prophet.

How much of shariah is left to be followed in the country? Even if Mr Sialvi’s request is to be considered, does he realise that making amendments in a constitution already revised several times is by no means a task which can be completed in a matter of days?

But after a span of nearly half a century, rhetoric by zealots of the prophet against those who allegedly do not believe in finality of prophethood has re-entered mainstream Pakistani politics, as politicians seek to shore up support among religiously conservative voters after surprise gains by two new Islamist parties. The proposed changes to the election law, whereby belief in the finality of prophethood in the oath to be taken by elected officials was omitted, led to street protests by one of these parties. The other, demands strict enforcement of sharia law and both are seen as moves to gain a larger vote bank in the upcoming elections by playing on the religious sentiments of the people and thus, securing a prominent position for themselves in the country’s power play.

The cause is making a dangerous turn. The street protest over an omission which was promptly apologised for and amended, left the country’s capital paralysed for nearly a month, while the rest of the cities bore angry protests and uncivilised, blasphemous content on social media. Now an octogenarian cleric, reiterating to uphold the Khatme-Nabuwwat movement, demands enforcement of shariah law in a week’s time or else vows to shut down Punjab and the province shudders to think about what else lays ahead in the already foggy and gloomy environment of digress, with progress in any area nowhere in sight. Demanding resignations of public office holders has become a joke, while laws and regulations of the country remain in a perpetual state of make or break.

And who suffers as a result? The daily commuter who spends extra hours just to wriggle out of few kilometres to make it to work. Students of all age groups end up getting home bound, with the already warped education system struggling to fight obsoletion. The daily wage worker, who during sit-ins and shut-downs, is unable to bring back home morsels of food to usually extended families. The traffic police officers and security officials, who are already understaffed, overworked and heavily abused, look for miracles to settle an unstable law and order situation in the country. And the country itself suffers: investors, donors, international sports teams, all are pushed back by the tarnished image of a nation lost in a spiral of issues.

How much of shariah is left to be followed in the country? Even if Mr Sialvi’s request is to be considered, does he realise that making amendments in a constitution already revised several times is by no means a task which can be completed in a matter of days? Does he think it is as simple as he proposes to rubbish laws prevalent in the country since decades and just like that, bring in a new law? By closing down one province and promoting violence in others, does he think he is performing a feat which would earn him merit points in heaven? Will that bring refuge to the homeless? Is it expected to please God who would send him manna to be distributed among the destitute? Will it end child and woman abuse in the country? Will it help Zainab get justice?

We elect a government, then sit-in and shout hoarse, blaming and abusing it for all the problems. And then we claim that this is all in the interest of the country. If sit-ins and shut downs could bring betterment, Pakistan would have been the most prosperous nation by now, considering the number of protests in all forms it has witnessed.

Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger of Allah. No power on earth can deny this. But Zainab was not the last girl to be abused. There are still many others in dangers. There are still many other pressing issues which beg our attention. Old chapters must be closed, for newer ones deserve at least a look.

Reference: The Pre-History of Religious Exclusionism in Contemporary Pakistan: Khatam-e-Nubuwwat 1889 -1953 — Tahir Kamran