–PUC Chairman Ashrafi says there’s no threat to Namoos-e-Risalat (PBUH) in Pakistan
–Academic says religious parties should look for issues concerning real needs of public life
LAHORE: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is using the religion card in a bid to oust the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government amid criticism by the civil society that things can blow out of proportion if the religio-political party isn’t stopped from the “weaponisation” of religion.
In a surprising turn of events, Fazl has introduced ‘Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (PBUH)’ card to the year-long anti-government movement that had drummed up support against the ruling PTI for its inability to handle economy, alleged rigging in 2018 polls, and purported use of the anti-graft watchdog against political rivals.
The preparations for the JUI-F’s ‘Azadi March’ are in full swing and the party’s cadres are asking for donations – to fund the march – in the name of Islam.
Allies aren’t too comfortable with the JUI-F’s announcement, as ambiguity surrounds the potential protest.
Though the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has categorically distanced itself from the JUI-F’s march, it, however, will lend ‘moral support’ to Fazl.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), on the other hand, will make a final decision in its Central Executive Committee meeting on Monday. Its vice president Pervaiz Rasheed, however, says the decision to join Fazl’s ‘Azadi March’ is finalised and Sept 30 meeting is just a formality.
The meek response to the use of religion by their ally has made the role of PPP and PML-N as emerging “modern progressive political parties” questionable.
Saiful Malook, a Supreme Court lawyer who represented Aasia Bibi in Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy case, says the ‘progressiveness’ of these two parties is just a “sham”.
“The ouster of Imran government will ultimately benefit the PML-N and PPP [more than Fazl] and they don’t care how the downfall is achieved,” he said, calling them the “financers” of looming demonstration in Islamabad.
“It’s a shortsighted approach, but it gets the job done,” he said when asked about repercussions of religion on the country’s landscape.
However, PML-N stalwart Ahsan Iqbal said his party was against the use of religion for political purpose, as the party “supports a broad-based, national and constitutional agenda”.
But still, the PML-N supporters are suspicious of Fazl’s way of politics, whose party has termed ‘Finality of Prophethood (PBUH)’ the foundation of the long march.
“I do not want to become part of the sit-in if it is being fuelled with religious bigotry,” a PML-N supporter said in an informal chat with Pakistan Today. Fazl shouldn’t be allowed to create a “mess”.
However, the party’s base consists of “bourgeois and largely Punjabi bourgeois class that may show signs of sympathy for the movement”, Umber Bin Ibad, who teaches history at Forman Christian College University, commented on the disparity between the PML-N leaders’ statements.
“They don’t want to lose their symbolic capital, so they may be sympathetic to the cause,” he said. Nonetheless, it is a “bad idea to mobilise people in the name of religion”, he warned.
A lecturer in Lahore, who chose to remain anonymous over security concerns, said religion shouldn’t be “politicised”.
“It doesn’t matter if PTI survives this sit-in or not, the bigger issue here is the way communal hatred impacts [people’s] lives and leaves marginalised communities further vulnerable,” she said.
Giving example when the use of religion by a political group “spiraled out of control”, the academic quoted Partition and the role of Islam in it.
“The use of religion for political purposes sets a dangerous trend. Look at Partition, the use of religion by Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah spiraled out of control after his death and paved way for the Islamist parties and jihadi outfits to hijack the narrative.”
That is precisely the kind of argument propagated by JUI-F Senator Hafiz Hamdullah in a chat with a local paper when questioned over his party’s use of religion for political purposes.
“Did Quaid-e-Azam not use the religion card during the freedom movement? Is making a demand that the constitution be implemented in letter and spirit unconstitutional?” he asked.
According to Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, there’s no need to mix politics with religion and Maulana Fazl should reconsider his decision to march on Islamabad.
“There’s no threat to Namoos-e-Risalat (PBUH) in Pakistan and religio-political leaders should avoid using this for their own vested interests,” he said, urging the JUI-F chief to join hands with the government and strengthen it instead of causing political instability in the country.
But Professor Umber has different advice.
“Religious parties, particularly Fazl’s, should evolve and look for issues concerning the real needs of public life,” he said, adding that this could also provide the JUI-F a chance to be seen as a modern religio-political party.
The use of religion to draw masses instead of building momentum on “concrete issues” is regressive. “How many more times would the political parties miss [such] an opportunity,” he concluded