The Sindh government has taken a step into the unknown and possibly dangerous territory. Whether this is a brave or foolhardy step is yet unclear, and it is not yet an accomplished reality, but the mere proposal that Friday sermons be regulated by the state is bound to make ripples in a pond that is hardly ever placid anyway. It is planning to table a proposal in the provincial assembly that will allow only government-approved sermons to be delivered at Friday prayers. This is an attempt to address the corrosive issue of sectarianism and “maintain sectarian harmony” as was stated in an interview by Sindh Chief Minister’s Adviser Abdul Qayyum Soomro, broadcast on a private TV channel. The provincial government has decided in principle to unify the sermons at all mosques on Fridays and it will now invite all religious parties to a process of consultation as to how best to arrive at a unified sermon.
Considering both the diversity and the divergence of five different schools of thought that exist across the province, this may not be the easiest of tasks. Persuading clerics to cooperate on anything, particularly across the sectarian divide is largely unmapped territory. Some may raise the issue of freedom of speech and see the move as an attempt by the state to limit religious adherence, a limit on personal choice. Others may cavil at the state dictating what is essentially a party line, as there will inevitably be those that assume, rightly or wrongly, that the approved sermon has the imprimatur of the dominant political party. The Sindh government has also done itself few favours by saying that those that fail to comply with the reading of the prescribed text “would be severely punished”. If so, we wonder under what legislation, ratified by which assembly and delivered by which court. At the purely conceptual level, we welcome the promotion of any move that takes us towards sectarian harmony — or at least a cessation of hostilities. The Sindh government may have set itself up for a foot-in-mouth moment by failing to consult before acting. That said — best of luck.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2016.
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