Stop the free ride for mullahs

Clerics, mullahs and madrassas get an easy ride in Pakistan. The media still does not question religious authority and religious institutions by and large.

Ali Ahmad September 17, 2010
The current floods in Pakistan have confirmed what some have suspected for years - that the underlying polity in Pakistan is irrevocably inept and dysfunctional. That the citizens of Pakistan have suffered under a broken polity. There is renewed scrutiny and critical commentary on political and social discourse in Pakistan due to the floods. However, there is one area which forever escapes this new found spirit of critical enquiry in the Pakistani media, and that is the issues of religious authority and religious institutions.

Ever since the so called ‘’media revolution’’ in Pakistan, everyone from chat show hosts to columnists have taken aim at the political actors of this country. Unfortunately not all loci of authority is questioned in Pakistan. Clerics, mullahs and madrassas get an easy ride in Pakistan. The media still does not question religious authority and religious institutions by and large, save for a few columnists in print media. With the recent spate of suicide attacks across the country, the same tripe of conspiracy theories resurfaced with blame being laid on the ‘’foreign hand’’. This delusional rant in that sections of the media, politicians and even religious leaders frequently take part in only compounds the issue.

Edward Said, famously in his Reith Lectures for the BBC spoke about the need to question authority. In Pakistan there is a religious exceptionalism, question politicians by all means but do not question the clerics and mullahs. There is a false equivocation in popular Pakistani consciousness that a sophisticated critique of religious authority and clerics is tantamount to blasphemy. We should be mindful of what the Iranian intellectual Abdol Karim Soroush has suggested in his work through his writings on the theory of ‘’Contraction and Expansion of Religious Knowledge.’’
Religion is Divine but religious interpretation is fallible and conducted by error prone human beings. That distinction between religion and religious interpretation needs to be made.

The current radicalism in Pakistan is endemic and rising with new studies and polls suggesting widespread support for puritanical policies and a preference for theocracy over secularism among the youth. The surrender of religious interpretation to reactionary clerics has opened a vacuum for conservatives and violent extremists to thrive. In short, liberals need to break the monopoly conservatives have over religious discourse in Pakistan.

Liberals and progressives should not concede religious discourse to conservatives. In other Muslim countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and even among the reformists in Iran a sophisticated religious discourse has been established as part of wider programme for democratization and social reform, we think of the Green Movement in Iran which offers an alternative to the clerical and theocratic religious framework present in Iran, and the ‘’Ankara School’’ of theologians in Turkey along with the AKP, and reformers such as the late Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

The new found spirit of critical analysis in the media must squarely and unashamedly turn its attention to religious authority and religious institutions, if it wishes to fulfil its vocation of democratization and critique in our society. We need to ask searching and frank questions about religious authority and religious institutions in Pakistan, rather than shying away and indulging in conspiracy theories.

Soroush famously said that the Taliban and conservative radical religious ideas flourish in societies where there are no religious intellectuals to counter and keep these developments in check. One cannot help but think this is an apt summarisation of Pakistani society.
Ali Ahmad A medical student and freelance writer who tweets @AhmadAliKhalid
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


noor | 13 years ago | Reply @Noya: hi, i want to ask you . Noya is a muslim girl name or no. can i keep baby girl name as Noya. thanks
Ahmed | 13 years ago | Reply Thanks for your kind response ! I indeed mixed two different things together.I apologize ! I find Islamic code of dressing to be linked with extremism as immature and highly offensive.Especially the advocates of freedom of lifestyle and speech lead the league. There are many who understand the true essence of Islam and are highly educated and still they prefer Islamic code of dressing.They don't do it because their elders did this or they saw any cleric doing this.Society seems to have developed a hatred towards those following these codes.This is paving path for further chaos,and the picture chosen does this.I will surely contact them. Only one side of society is being scrutinized.People criticize Madrassa System for its curriculum.Nobody criticizes universities for not having compulsory subjects regarding Islam and its ideology.Outcome is the production of such minds which prefer to call themselves non-believers and secular.It could be the personal choice of many but most of them do so because they are not taught about the evolution of mankind and need of religions.Actually during our whole education period,we are not told what our religion is.That is perceived as optional thing.Why secularism ? Most common answer is because it provides freedom of choice and people belonging to different religions can lead better lives in that secular state.But at the same time,do someone tell people about what freedom Islam provides.If secularism is being defined in a very detailed manner then why the same don't we do with Islam.But we prefer to show just our perceptions here about Islam.To summarize,every part of society has flaws and they all must be addressed.Not only those who don't have access to social media.Freedom of speech does not include uttering our perceptions without knowing the actual facts which defame any particular country or religion..I also think of putting a STOP to FREE RIDE GIVEN TO ILL-INFORMED AND IGNORANT MASSES presenting themselves to be the experts of Islamic ideology and Pakistani affairs. I hope you have witnessed many editors and writers doing this.
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