By Saeed Qureshi, who is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.This and other articles by the writer can also be read at his blog http://www.uprightopinion.com
One of the decidedly effective strategies to curb religious fanaticism is to nationalize the mosques and residence religious seminaries belonging to a whole range of diverse and large number of sects and doctrinal institutions. The mosques generally and the residential religious schools specifically have become the breeding venues for hatred and bigotry taught and tutored at such places by ignorant, fanatic and bigoted ideologues.
Taliban meaning the religious students are the product of the madrasas or religious schools that played a conspicuous role in ousting former Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Later they defeated the local war lords and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that was in place from September 1996 until December 2001 with Kandahar as the capital. Mullah Mohammed Omar has been serving as the spiritual leader of the Taliban since its foundation in 1994.
During all these years they assumed such monstrous proportions as to challenge not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan where they have spawned an Islamic crusade to create an orthodox Islamic state to be run with fear and hair raising punishments. One such sordid model of Islamic state, though for a brief period, was practiced in scenic Swat valley of Pakistan. It was as if the hell had broken down on the people with daily flogging and beheading of those marked as infidels or sinners.
But apart from barbaric Taliban, primarily a religious militant outfit, the homegrown Sunni extremist groups had also joined the fray by unleashing a dreadful sectarian mayhem that continues to this day. The suicide bombers and target killers playing the sectarian orgy of blood come from the religious institutions and residential seminaries doctored and motivated by their fire spitting zealots to seek quick paradise by killing the members of rival faiths. The custodians of this citadel like residential schools and colleges motivate the recruit youths and turn them into suicide bombers.
A harrowing number of faithful from minority Muslim sects and non-Muslims have been targeted and are still being killed and maimed. If this is the model of Islam that the proponents want to establish in Pakistan by force and violence than what image does it paint about the Islam which the Muslims believe and preach as a religion of peace?
It is almost some 35 years that Pakistan is suffering from a malignant religious militancy that is neither patriotic nor Islamic. From the pulpit the venom of sectarian hatred is injected into the tender minds that willingly die for a cause neither sublime nor Islamic. These institutions and their caretakers reject pluralism, secular democracy and the concept of a modern state. They believe in a convoluted undertaking of reviving the past and taking the Islamic polities back to the dark ages. They abhor living in an enlightened and a culturally diverse society.
They are incorrigibly biased and brainwashed proponents of Islamic radicalism and moribund orthodoxy and believe in enforcing these obsolete and intolerant dogmas by force and fear. They believe in Islamic revivalism but in a manner that negates dignity and progress. The clergy in Islam, more often than not, has been foot soldiers of feudal, kings and monarchs. They have been parasites for tribal chiefs, feudal landowners, business tycoons and cutthroat capitalists.
If Islam is designed to be the state religion then better the state or the government should take care of it and manage it. The prevalence and observance of religion ought not to be left in the hand of these agents of darkness. They are the enemies of innovation, intellectual advancement, equality, liberty, religious tolerance and human rights which are hallmarks of a progressive modern, egalitarian and democratic society.
The renowned Islamic dynasties in the past, inter-alia Omayyad and Abbasid had imposed a strict system of controlling the mosques and the Imams (prayer leaders) by hard regimentation and application of rigid laws. Since the mosques and religious institutions both day and residential are being used for brutal militancy as well as for the religious and sectarian animus and disorder, it is high time and most pressing need to place these under the state control.
If there is a bunch or cluster of mosques in a small locality or neighborhood these should be converted into one mosque and the rest closed. The use of loudspeakers should be allowed only before the prayer timings. The mosques should be closed for the day except for the duration of prayers. The selections of the Imams should be done on merit, competence, knowledge and liberal outlook of an individual. Instead of employing rough, uncultured and ignorant prayer leaders the basic educational qualification both religious and modern should be made a pre-requisite.
In the speeches and religious sermons given in the mosques, the bigotry, intolerance and labeling other sects as infidels should be banned. For mainstream sects namely Sunnis and Shias there should be one mosque in one neighborhood or conglomeration of houses or certain number of the residents. In the United States, the Muslims of all denominations pray in the same mosques though exceptions are there. No one taunts or snubs other for praying in a different style.
The imparting of religious education in seminaries and schools by private parties and individuals should be discontinued. The religious education should be integrated into the national educational system of the federal state as well as the provincial units. Any one inciting or preaching hatred and revenge against the rival sects should be accountable before the law. Like other subjects the religious subjects, courses and syllabus can be made compulsory up to the high school level. Beyond that it should be left to the choice of anyone to pursue his or her studies in Islamiat or religious studies. There can be PhDs and scholars in Islamic teachings, jurisprudence, criminal and civil laws and in other domains of knowledge.
Let us give Islam a universal and cosmopolitan image. It is right time to expunge the religious and sectarian fratricide that has bedeviled and wrecked the Islamic societies during the past 15 centuries and has resurfaced with a new ferocity in the present age. A society cannot be stuck up in the groves of the past and needs to be updated, reformed with the passage of time and made responsive to the emergence of new realities and conditions.
The State and society must not be allowed to become hostage to a group of people with their narrow goals, and prejudiced concepts. Islam should not be depicted as a religion of of ignorance, mere rituals and controversial traditions that look ridiculous and out of sync with the imperatives of a modern society.