It is apparent to every keen eye that the greatest issue Pakistan faces today is religious extremism. It is our misfortune that today this is not merely limited to an ideology.
The political, economic and social, in short every sphere of the country, is now bearing its brunt. Hundreds of children, adults and the elderly have fallen prey to it. History bears witness that in such situations a state generally ends up forcibly exterminating religious extremism, and it is quite probable that Pakistan too will finally have to take this step. We will also have to repent seriously using religion for achieving our political ends. If this situation does arise, then the following points may be kept in consideration to eliminate religious extremism from its roots.
First, the monster of extremism did not descend on us from the heavens; it is in fact the vile product of the religious thought that is taught in our religious seminaries under the topics of implementation of the shari’ah and armed jihad and for the eradication of disbelief, polytheism and apostasy. It is from this ideology that extremist individuals and organisations receive inspiration, and after making some alterations mould it into a practical strategy to achieve their objectives. The flaw in the interpretation of this religious thought from the Quran and the Hadith has been pointed out by many illustrious Islamic scholars of these times. If hooliganism, protests and expressions of power and might are desisted from, then the writings of these scholars can change minds. Their writings constitute a counter-narrative to the current religious thought. However, the tragic thing for Pakistan is that in order to protect and preserve religion, these are the ways that are in vogue. Differing with one another in a cultured and polite manner has unfortunately never been established as a tradition here. This situation demands that our intelligentsia and those in authority should show sensitivity in the freedom of expression of religious views as well as the way they are sensitive in political views. They should openly tell those who try to pressurise them regarding this freedom of expression in religious views that this coercion is not acceptable to them. If these people want to correct the views of those who differ with them, the sole way to do this is to use the force of reason and argument; there is no room for commotion and protest, coercion and force in the world of knowledge.
Second, we do not allow any person to set up institutions that produce doctors or engineers or any other professionals unless these students have gone through a 12-year general education; however, there is no such restriction for becoming a religious scholar. For this purpose, students are admitted from the very beginning in religious seminaries where their future is pre-decided. It may well be that Providence wanted to make them doctors, engineers, scientists, poets, artists or professionals belonging to the literary field; yet these seminaries without taking into view the ability and aptitude of their students turn them into religious scholars and close the doors on them to select any other professional field once they reach mental maturity. Moreover, by depriving their students of the 12-year general education, these seminaries mould their personalities in such a way that they become alien to their own society. The whole nation is now bearing the consequences of this mistake. Hence, it is necessary that it be made mandatory for religious seminaries to not give admission to any student unless he has passed through a 12-year period of general education, as is the case with all other disciplines in which students intend to specialise.
This writer can state with full confidence that this step alone will rectify the situation that has been created by our religious seminaries. However, for this it is essential that our general system of education ‘which caters for specialisation in various fields and professions’ should also cater for the specialisation in religious studies to produce competent scholars of Islam. The suggestion in this regard is that in a few selected institutions of general education, a dinyat (religion) group should be introduced the way science and arts groups are introduced in them so that students who want to become religious scholars can select this group in the ninth year of their studies and are able to cultivate in themselves the competence needed to take admission in institutions that provide specialisation in religious studies.
This established practice continued with its full majesty after the Prophet (PBUH). However, in later times when Muslim rulers, because of their misdeeds, no longer remained worthy of observing it, they themselves handed the Friday pulpit to religious scholars. It was this singular step that gave real power to anarchy and disorder in the name of religion. This state of affairs needs to be changed and our rulers should decide with full determination and resolve that the Friday prayer shall be organised by the government and shall only be allowed at places that have been prescribed by it for this purpose. Its pulpit will be reserved for the rulers; they themselves will deliver the Friday sermon and lead the prayer or someone authorised representative of theirs will fulfil this obligation on their behalf. No one will have the independent authority to organise this prayer at any place that falls under the jurisdiction of the state.
A similar decision that should be undertaken by the government is that mosques in which prayers other than the Friday prayer are offered should be built only with the permission of the government. They will not be classified as mosques of a particular sect, or school of thought; on the contrary, they will be mosques of God where only He shall be worshipped. Mosques are collective institutions of the Muslims, and as such cannot be given in the control of people and organisations. Hence, it is essential that wherever Muslims form a government, mosques should be under its jurisdiction and control. The government should not allow any person to use the mosque for the promotion of an organisation, a movement or a particular point of view, and in this manner convert them into places that create dissension among Muslims instead of serving as places of worshipping God.
This step is essential. Its benefits can be seen in countries where it is employed for organising and administering mosques.