It was past midnight. The mosque in our area was heavily illuminated as well as the houses in the adjoining areas financed by the mosque administration in connection with 15th Shabaan. One wondered at the amount spent in the name of religion, which could have been used to help out needy people in an appropriate manner. I was trying to read an article on computer after offering my night prayers when suddenly ‘Naats’ started being recited at a very high volume on the loudspeaker with little regard for any sick or aged people who must have been trying to sleep.
I tried to ignore the exercise but when it continued without break for 15 minutes, decided that it would not be against Islamic spirit to guide my dear brothers in the mosque. Hence, I jotted down some comments on a piece of paper in a very polite manner with an aim to share with the mosque administration that those who are not close to Islam would further be repelled by this act of ‘bravado’, which should be curtailed. By then it was 12:30 AM, and with the note in hand, I advanced with bold steps to the mosque. The confidence also stemmed from the fact that I was normally in the habit of frequenting mosque for prayers. However, when I entered the mosque I lost all courage since it was packed with worshippers gathered for prayers. Instead of handing over the note to the person-in-charge in the hall, I gave the note to one of the locals who had come to join in the prayers and returned home.
Whether extra prayers on the night of 15th Shabaan coincide with our true beliefs as per Qur’an and authentic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) is not the issue here. The concern is how we can eliminate various forms of extremism from our country. Whom should we blame in this current scenario? Should state control the religious activities of various Islamic institutions? Why do we not see highly educated people holding university degrees heading the mosques or religious institutions in our country? Should we only focus on modernizing our universities and equipping them with the latest learning tools or is mosque also in need of our little attention? Why is it so easy to condemn the so-called fundamentalists, while nothing is done to make Madressah an excellent centre of learning while retaining the right amount of religious essence?
Before trying to address these issues, let us first try to understand the various shades of extremism. Extremism is basically of two kinds. One that is normally referred to as religious fanaticism found mostly amongst the members of less literate class that shun every philosophy put forth by the West regardless of its value. The second kind is relatively unclassified and one that is somehow not really recognized in the domain of extremism. We are talking about liberalism / pseudo-liberalism here which has engulfed majority of people from the educated and affluent classes in our country. These two extreme classes have little tolerance level for each another, as their ideals are at tangents with each other. The disparity also persists due to exposure to altogether different environments where different values are preached. The fact that we tend to associate extremism only with religious fanaticism shows we need to broaden our approach towards life.
In an economically stressed country like Pakistan, illiteracy and unemployment are two main causes leading to scores of evils. A child that is raised on principles of ethics and nourished overall through exposure to healthy activities, and a balance between Urdu and English literature would have greater chances of becoming a good human and a good Muslim compared to one that is led to the doors of a religious institution only because the parents are unable to get him admitted in a good school due to financial constraints. But is the affluent class trying to maintain a balance between eastern values and positive values of the West? Furthermore, it is highly ironic that we are producing experts of high calibre in professions like software programming, medicine, engineering and others while there are few specialists in religion who come from dynamic educational backgrounds enabling them to correctly decipher the Islamic theories with relevance to the current times.
A vacuum exists for learned scholars with shining profiles with exposure to both western and eastern philosophies who can act as excellent role models for a morally starved nation. We need Islamic scholars of high intellect having gone through normal schooling in English medium institutions up to graduation level with focus on both English and Urdu languages. After that, aptitudes should be checked for Islamic studies and they should be enrolled in study programs that lead to the right spirit of Islam. The fact remains that it is not easy to interpret the right message of Islam since so many schools of thought have evolved over the past 14 centuries. What is needed here is a good intention free of any prejudice and beyond personal glory to serve the Divine mission.
Healthy environments breed healthy minds. The widening gap between the rich and poor makes it almost impossible to provide a conducive environment to the masses where their thinking capabilities can be nurtured. What a shame that when an educated person makes the mistake of speaking on religion or keeps a beard, others try to discourage him by labelling him as ‘maulvi’. It is true that some people do lend a bad name to religion due to hypocrisy, yet we fail to acknowledge that there are other connotations also like ‘momin’ when we speak of a person entering the doors of Islam.
In the present times when the country is going through so much chaos, the responsibility lies on us Pakistanis to find ways of playing our roles in this overall worsening scenario. If we desire change then we have to come out of our shells and think of steps of contributing towards that change, in whatever capacity we can.