Our inability to discuss religion

Published: August 2, 2013
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The writer is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and currently teaches journalism at SZABIST in Karachi

The writer is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and currently teaches journalism at SZABIST in Karachi

Pakistan, with its predictable need to be at the centre of the world’s attention, is arguably the most critical battleground where the future of faith, as a religious and political force, will be determined. And yet, Pakistan’s national discourse avoids any meaningful discussion on religion and the role it should play in our personal and public life.

Instead of meaningful conversations on religion, we have larger than life Ramazan talk shows with grandiose sets that hand out gifts in the name of charity to an audience eager to display their knowledge of Islamic trivia. These iftar time television transmissions are Pakistan’s answer to American Idol. The American dream involves propelling half decent talent onto a world of rock stardom and an obscene amount of wealth. The Pakistani dream involves an overt display of religiosity, with the local bourgeoisie celebrating their ‘charitable spirit’ by trying to improve the lives of underprivileged families on national television.

Nowhere is our inability to discuss religion more appalling than in the curious case of Malala Yousufzai. To put it politely, Malala’s supporters are using ‘female education’ as an euphemism to discuss a difference in religious worldviews with extremists. Opposition to female education is a symptom of a larger problem, i.e., a distorted understanding of religion, which should be at the centre of our national conversation. Instead of calling a spade a spade, even in our most celebrated moments of courage, the Pakistani people are unable to have an adult conversation about religion. Even our storied ‘liberal fascists’ have to beat around the bush by framing a discussion about differences in religious worldviews under the garb of more publicly acceptable language, such as ‘female education’.

I’m not arguing for or against a particular interpretation of religion but I would like to make the case for a more open debate on religion and the role it should play in Pakistani society. We’re a nation that will fight for religion, die for religion but not discuss religion and what it really means to us. We have substituted morality with religiosity and lost our soul in the process. None of this has happened in a vacuum. In fact, one could even argue that our collective inability to define religion’s role in public life is premised on our inability to decide what role religion should play in our personal lives.

Beyond fasting, praying and visiting the mosque every Friday, what does it really mean to be a Pakistani Muslim in the 21st century? The answer to that question, quite frankly, is that most of us don’t have the time in our busy lives to think about religion and how strongly we feel about the role it plays in society. In the absence of critical thinking on this subject, the abstract notion of faith being a ‘complete way of life’ has entrenched itself in a significant proportion of the Pakistani populace. Extremists take advantage of this notion to build common ground with the Pakistani people by arguing that they share a similar objective, i.e., adopting Islam as a way of life. When the Pakistani people show their disgust at the violent means used by extremists to pursue their objective, the extremists use anti-imperialistic rhetoric to regain their sympathies. This vicious cycle, fuelled by our inability to talk about religion like adults, is proving to be our collective undoing. Some of us mistakenly believe that the Pakistani state is tacitly tolerating the presence of extremists in our midst. Unfortunately, it’s those who believe the exact opposite that are closer to the truth: with their proven ability to attack when and where they want, it’s the extremists who are barely tolerating the Pakistani state and not the other way around.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (37)

  • Aug 2, 2013 - 11:44PM

    Instead of calling a spade a spade, even in our most celebrated moments of courage, the Pakistani people are unable to have an adult conversation about religion.

    Pakistan has 295-C for those who would like to discuss religion adultly.

    Recommend

  • ModiFied
    Aug 3, 2013 - 12:20AM

    This is expected of a nation created in the name of religion. No easy way out for Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Humanity
    Aug 3, 2013 - 12:22AM

    “Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between religion and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” -Thomas Jefferson

    Live and let live is the only viable path for Pakistan towards salvation. All other discussions merely squander what ever little life remains in the comatose nation.

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  • Babloo
    Aug 3, 2013 - 12:48AM

    Discuss religion like adults with the blasphemy laws hanging over your head and a lynch mob ready at the door ?

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  • sabi
    Aug 3, 2013 - 12:54AM

    @FreedomOfHeresy:
    Pakistan has 295-C for those who would like to discuss religion adultly.
    You have said it as it is.Vow!
    Regards

    Recommend

  • Waqas
    Aug 3, 2013 - 2:55AM

    This is a very confused article. Not confusing. Confused.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Aug 3, 2013 - 3:25AM

    @sabi:
    Seeing you after a long time. Good to see you back.Recommend

  • Arindom
    Aug 3, 2013 - 3:57AM

    @Babloo:

    exactly!

    Recommend

  • nassi
    Aug 3, 2013 - 4:32AM

    Science and reason will greatly diminish the role of religion in our country eventually. We can only drag our feet over it, there is nothing we can do to stop it from happening.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Aug 3, 2013 - 5:55AM

    There is little religious tolerance as indicated by the sectarian attacks and general hatred for Hindus, Jews, West and other non-muslims.This can never lead to a mature civilization.Pakistan is paying a price as it is currently not on the top of the list of respected countries. I wonder, why?

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  • Water Bottle
    Aug 3, 2013 - 6:07AM

    “The answer to that question, quite frankly, is that most of us don’t have the time in our busy lives to think about religion and how strongly we feel about the role it plays in society.”

    This is interesting. Why no time? Why busy lives?

    Pakistan economy is in teeters and the power situation is horrible. How can anyone have a busy life and such low productivity?

    I fail to understand.

    Germans strictly work 8 hours a day. They rarely do O.T., yet, their output is staggeringly higher.

    Also, ‘you people’ always have enough time for your Jazakallah, Mashaallah, Inshahallahs. Are those displays just bigotry, if not true religious feelings?

    Recommend

  • csmann
    Aug 3, 2013 - 7:20AM

    @Humanity:
    Feels like Jefferson was speaking to today’s Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Kolsat
    Aug 3, 2013 - 7:38AM

    @nassi: You are right in saying that education, science and reason will reduce the influence of religion. however the whole Muslim world has been dragging its feet over this by not allowing these to take hold in the minds of people. In a social context we say that a person has matured when they take their criticism in their stride withour resorting to violence. A religion which has good principles and has been around for a long time cannot be destroyed by some criticism. Christianity , Hinduism, Buddhism absorb all criticism and are stronger for it. muslims around the world should look at their religion afresh and discard non-religious strictures from it. Today many Muslim countries are legislating what women should wear or do. This is not religion. How long is the world to wait for Muslims to come into moden world? Muslims also have to stop thinking that their particular brand of Islam is the right path and everyone else’s is wrong and therefore such persons should be killled. I am sorry to say that this will continue unless a modernisation of Islam happens.

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  • Mirza
    Aug 3, 2013 - 8:45AM

    Science education and media age would take care of fanatics but it would be too little too late for Pakistan. The reason some in Pakistan hate modernity, real education, freedom, democracy and everything that is modern is to keep people ignorant and brain washed forever.

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  • ahmed41
    Aug 3, 2013 - 8:51AM

    @nassi:
    The sooner the better

    Recommend

  • naive
    Aug 3, 2013 - 10:24AM

    @Waqas: “This is a very confused article. Not confusing. Confused.”
    I don’t see any confusion in the article. The message of the article is simple and crystal clear.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Aug 3, 2013 - 11:12AM

    Extremists take advantage of this notion to build common ground with the Pakistani people by arguing that they share a similar objective, i.e., adopting Islam as a way of life. When the Pakistani people show their disgust at the violent means used by extremists to pursue their objective, the extremists use anti-imperialistic rhetoric to regain their sympathies.

    Absolutely spot on. In fact Khaled Ahmad, takes this idea further and argues that by now, aided by various factors, there is a complete meeting of mind of the general populace of Pakistan and the terrorists who may have other goals. The sooner Pakistanis wake up to this reality, the better.

    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-great-trickledown-brainwash/1149960/0

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  • Arifq
    Aug 3, 2013 - 11:53AM

    I DISAGREE! Too much religion in our society already, further discussion plays into the hands of the right wing extremists.

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  • MSS
    Aug 3, 2013 - 12:05PM

    Mr Lakhani has said as it should be. The environment in contemporary Pakistan is not too different to fifteenth to eighteenth century Europe of Christian inquisitions, burnings of heretics and using ‘blaspheme excuse” to usurp property and wealth of others.
    @Nassi, You mean well and hope for a better future. The problems is that in the entire world, even the most able scientists and mathematicians fail their ‘reasoning attitude’ when it comes to faith. Newton is a notable example. “Faith is a faith is a faith, reason be damned”. The Taliban’s fight is not about religion, it is about power. They use religion as a tool.Recommend

  • Jayant
    Aug 3, 2013 - 12:07PM

    In Pakistan religion has become a tool in the hands of the elite to heard uneducated young minds. Religion has become a burden for Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • asif
    Aug 3, 2013 - 12:13PM

    I second every word of this article. In addition to that I would like to say that nations formed on the ideology of religion can not really escape the ionosphere of living free no matter how much the escape velocity is provided.

    Pakistan is the most complex society of all. You won’t find multiple faces humans anywhere in the world like you have in Pakistan. No matter which sector you pick up you will find religious jargon governing it from bases and roofs. And yet the ability to deduct and interpret religion lies in the hand of the most left over strata of the society. Which nobody else can reckon.

    In case of Turkey and Dubai which have erected a wall between politics and religion have moved ahead though.
    Pakistanis having the most mind corrupting education and can not do so. Sighs.

    The only program Where religion is challenged is of Zakir Naik’s

    It’s not we are unable to discuss religion it is we are and have been made crippled to do so.

    Recommend

  • sabi
    Aug 3, 2013 - 12:42PM

    @gp65:
    Thanks I ,too feel delighted.
    @nassi
    ”Science and reason will greatly diminish the role of religion in our country eventually. We can only drag our feet over it, there is nothing we can do to stop it from happening.”
    Not religion but religious bigotry.

    Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Aug 3, 2013 - 1:42PM

    The role it should play in our society is that it should be used to run the STATE.

    Secondly, the inability comes from the fact that the secular-liberals don’t know anything about Islam. Specially the ones on this website. How can anyone discuss religion with them knowing their lack of knowledge and also that the only reason they don’t want religion is anything is not because it’s outdated etc. but because it call them to refrain from their desires and lusts.

    Finally, The followers of religion or the secular-liberals don’t THINK.

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  • alex
    Aug 3, 2013 - 2:05PM

    MAO FROM CHINA said,’religion is the opium of the masses’.it seems pakiz are all addicted.
    learn from all weather friend china, to put it in in its proper place in statecraft.
    the taliban power seems to flow from the barrel of the gun,try&turn it towards them& go back to your roots of peaceful religions like buddhism in gandhara etc.

    Recommend

  • alex
    Aug 3, 2013 - 2:05PM

    MAO FROM CHINA said,’religion is the opium of the masses’.it seems pakiz are all addicted.
    learn from all weather friend china, to put it in in its proper place in statecraft.
    the taliban power seems to flow from the barrel of the gun,try&turn it towards them& go back to your roots of peaceful religions like buddhism in gandhara etc.Recommend

  • arthur zobo
    Aug 3, 2013 - 2:57PM

    Is ‘religious fascist’ the opposite of ‘liberal fascist’?

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  • Naveen
    Aug 3, 2013 - 3:10PM

    @alex:
    Err… It was Marx who said it, not Chairman Mao.

    @author:
    Looking forward to a Pakistani renaissance, hopefully by the end of 21st century.

    Recommend

  • MSS
    Aug 3, 2013 - 3:35PM

    @alex
    Sorry to correct you. It was not Mao originally. It was Karl Marx of Germany who wrote his theory of Comminism sitting in England.

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Aug 3, 2013 - 4:01PM

    Excellent subject and well written.
    We are unable to discuss religion……………..because of the way it is taught to us.

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  • Tariq
    Aug 3, 2013 - 4:41PM

    I believe Islam is the only binding force and it’s systems are the only solution to our problems. We need to critically look at how both democracy and Capitalism have failed. We should look for Khilafah as an alternative. We need a paradigm shift from secular democracy – which has been somehow dressed with Islam – to Islam as an ideology. Furthermore, the irony is that the constitution of Pakistan is extremely confusing, and has made the whole nation confused; same is the case with other Muslim countries. In any state there has to be a correlation between the ideas and beliefs people carry and the system implemented over them. If these two are not synchronized, than confusion results.

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  • karrar
    Aug 3, 2013 - 5:20PM

    Religion plays a vital role for taking the society towards betterment morally and ethically.However we can see that the true and real islam is not yet understood.Yes we do need to understand it and we have to think about real islam which has been lost and today we can only see drama and exploitation of islam.
    Islam is the religion which teaches us about mutual respect ,humanity,peace and etc ..But the problem is that our religion has been hijacked by the ignorant molvis and unfortunately a lot of people consider their sayings as a divine saying.We need not to have molvis but real scholars who can explain islam for a common person .Recommend

  • Mj
    Aug 3, 2013 - 7:48PM

    “However we can see that the true and real islam is not yet understood.Yes we do need to understand it and we have to think about real islam which has been lost and today we can only see drama and exploitation of islam.”

    Can you tell of a country where Islam has been properly ‘understood’ and implemented, and that country could be considered a progressive, peaceful, and democratic country which respects the rights and freedoms of its citizens?

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  • Insaan
    Aug 3, 2013 - 8:14PM

    Author: “quite frankly, is that most of us don’t have the time in our busy lives to think about religion and how strongly we feel about the role it plays in society.”

    Muslims claim “Islam is a way of life” and you say Muslims are too busy to think about religion.

    Muslims are not busy when it comes to converting people who are having hard times in their lives.

    Muslims have lot of time for Jihad.

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  • Insaan
    Aug 3, 2013 - 8:27PM

    @Ahmed: The role it should play in our society is that it should be used to run the STATE.

    Pakistan tried that when it trained talibans and used them to make Afghanistan into an Islamic Emirates. According to what I have read, Muslims were very happy seeing finally, Islamic rule is going to be introduced and life will become heaven for Muslims. Now most Muslims hate talibans.

    You still want Islam to run state. Pakistani Muslims kill each other almost every day. Just learn to live like good human beings.

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  • P N Eswaran
    Aug 3, 2013 - 9:11PM

    When was religion last discussed in any Muslim society where religion is to be followed and not discussed. Pakistan has too many Muslims to discuss religion (I mean Islam).

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  • observer
    Aug 3, 2013 - 11:30PM

    @karrar:

    Islam is the religion which teaches us about mutual respect ,humanity,peace and etc ..But the problem is that our religion has been hijacked by the ignorant molvis and unfortunately a lot of people consider their sayings as a divine saying.

    Talk about yourself.

    Does your Islam think Ahmadias are Muslims?

    And what do the ‘molvis’ say?

    Recommend

  • naive
    Aug 4, 2013 - 3:29PM

    “Islam is not understood properly” is the easiest way out from any wrong doings done in the name of religion. If even after 1400 years we are searching for proper understanding of Islam, only conclusion one can draw is that there is no one proper way of understanding Islam which will suit all times or all of humanity.

    Recommend

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