Apparently in Pakistan, when you hit rock bottom, you start digging. The brutal massacre of Shia pilgrims in Mastung and the recent attack on a school bus in Peshawer were new lows in the already despondent country. While these incidents were depressing beyond words, what was more disconcerting was the lack of condemnation you heard from political and religious leaders in Pakistan. Those who bothered to condemn the incident, released such generic statements that they appeared to be automatically generated by a computer. The silence of our ‘leaders’ serves as tacit approval for the inhumane actions of extremists.
This apathetic response by Pakistan’s leadership highlights the fact that extremists are leading the discussions regarding Islam and their violent and intolerant ideology is going unchallenged in Pakistan. If Pakistan is to survive as the multi-cultural country it is, the status quo cannot be maintained. As opposed to letting extremists lead the discussion on Islam, we need to challenge their ideology by promoting people like Abdul Sattar Edhi as being representative of Islam. In addition, we must examine Islamic history and use examples from it to counter the extremist ideology. In particular, one document in Islamic history stands out to me, and that is Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) last sermon.
The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) prefaced his last sermon in 632 CE, before 115,000 Muslims in the ‘Uranah valley of Mount Arafat’ in Makkah with these words. Given this fact and the fact that his pilgrimage marked the culmination of the growth of Islam during his lifetime, it is fair to assume that the Prophet (pbuh) would highlight what he considered to be the most important elements of Islam in his sermon. For this reason, special emphasis must be paid to the last sermon. For instance when he said: “You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequality.” This is just one of the few lessons that the Prophet espouses in his sermon. The others are property rights, equity, forgiveness, non-violence, women’s rights, the pillars of Islam, and equality. With regards to women’s rights, he told his followers to treat women with kindness, and while men have certain rights over women, “(women) also have rights over (men).”
Along with paying attention to what was said in the Prophet’s last sermon, emphasis should be paid to what he left out. Most noticeably, jihad, which Islamic extremists tout as ‘the sixth pillar of Islam’, is never mentioned in the last sermon. Rather he advocates non-violence and set a precedent for forgiveness over violence by forgiving all the “homicides in pre-Islamic days” and stopping the endless cycle of vengeance. There is no mention of forcibly enforcing religion upon anyone or killing those with differing religious interpretations. Clearly if these topics formed the crux of Islam, the Prophet would have mentioned it in what he thought would be his last sermon.
What Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advocates in his final sermon is in stark contrast to the violent message advocated by Islamic extremists.
The Prophet’s last sermon, in my opinion, captures the ethos of Islam and provides a greats lens to view the religion through. It cannot be emphasised enough that the Prophet considered this sermon to be his parting message to the Muslim Ummah, hence special emphasis must be paid to what he said. Pakistanis cannot continue ceding public space to extremists and must counter their ideology by promoting historic documents such as the Prophet’s last sermon.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2011.