Fight religious extremism, with religion
Can religion, rather than a nuisance successfully act as a countervailing force to hate-mongering?
Aqib took a sip of cappuccino at a Starbucks outlet in the Canary Wharf area of London. He graduated from LSE last year and is now working as an investment banker at one of the world’s leading bank (albeit a bailed out one after the 2008 economic meltdown).
Pointing out the economic prosperity of London, he confidently exclaimed:
"We have invested too much in religion whilst the West has excelled in all discipline of sciences. Look, all this development took place in the last 100 year or so when the West shunned religion and secularism took a stronghold in public decision making.”
Aqib, a big fan of Christopher Hitchens, quoted his recent televised debate with Tony Blair where the former argued that religion has done more harm than good for the society. Hitchens is accompanied in this world view by other neo-atheists including Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
Quite a few Pakistani youth I have met in UK endorse my friend Aqib’s view that religion has impeded Pakistan’s progress. Aqib gave the example of General Zia’s manipulation of Islam for his own political gain and the recent atrocities of Tehreek-e-Taliban.
However, this new-age religion bashing is a gross over simplification of humanities’ broader problems. In many cases religion is made a scapegoat for social and economic crisis. In the instance of General Zia and Tehreek-e-Taliban, it can be subtly argued that the scripture speaks in contrast to the actions of these individuals.
Here it will be erroneous to suggest that religion is the culprit, rather the havoc is brought about by the misuse of religion. My fellow The Express Tribune contributor Anas Abbas rightfully wrote in his recent column that the violent onslaught of the Taliban can be mitigated by countering it with the evidence from Holy Quran and Hadith. For instance, many of the victims of the Taliban's senseless violence are women and children. However, Javed Ghamidi in his essay ‘The Islamic Law of Jihad’ points out that once in a battle when the Prophet (PBUH) was informed that a women had been killed, he emphatically forbade the killing of the women and children (reported by Abdullah Ibn Umar).
Last year in August, Al-Hidayah organised a two-day conference on terrorism at the University of Warwick. The founder of Al-Hidayah Dr Tahir-ul-Qardi presided over the conference and elaborated on his recent 600 page fatwa against all kinds of terrorism. The conference was covered by major media networks and it was not only significant for its contribution to Islamic literature against terrorism but also because Dr Qadri is a well known figure in Pakistanwith millions of devotees. While speaking at the conference, Dr Qadri stated:
‘I have announced an intellectual and spiritual war against extremism and terrorism. I believe this is the time for moderate Islamic scholars who believe in peace to stand up’
As Pakistan struggles against ongoing terrorist attacks, we should tackle some difficult issues rather than simply shrouding the problem under Tehreek-e-Taliban’s disoriented religious outlook. True, their dogma misleads unsuspecting youngsters to the path of suicide bombing, but why in the first place these youth are so susceptible to succumb to Taliban’s misguidance?
From the information we have, two facts out-stands the rest. In the first place, those who are involved in terrorist activities have little or no formal education. Those who were enrolled in local madrassas have rudimentary religious education characterised by blind belief in whatever the ‘master jee’ spelt out. Understanding and contemplating the scripture directly is totally neglected. As such, their madrasa’s ‘master jee’ is easily replaced by a Taliban militant who performs a duo role of ‘maulana sahab’ and commander-in-chief.
Secondly, victims of the Taliban's dogma lie at the bottom of the social scale. They belong to families of peasants, agricultural labourers, daily wage earners and many are indigent and pauper. Most of the recruits have come from the tribal regions of North-West Pakistan which has a meager level of economic development. Coupled with the frustration of poverty, the Tehreek-e-Taliban can conveniently channel the local indignation against government’s implicit approval of drone attacks to their benefit.
Cutting the shoots will not resolve the menace of terrorism until the roots are destroyed.
Lack of education and poverty not only fuel terrorism in case of the local Taliban, it also play havoc in other scenarios such as the gruesome political and ethnic violence Karachi has witnessed this year. So far the government has been either inept or unwilling to address the problem for a long term solution. But, troubleshooting will only be effective if those endowed with sound religious knowledge, out-rightly counter the Taliban's malcontent with the peaceful and humane teaching of Islam.
Religion, rather than a nuisance can successfully act as a countervailing force to hate-mongering.
My friend Aqib disagrees with me.
Like Dawkins, he believes humanity will be better off without religion.
Stalin also believed that and according to some, so did Hitler -- except during the process they annihilated 50 million people.