Today the greatest challenge confronting Pakistan is the epidemic of extremism and sectarian violence. The Afghan Jihad and Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought the sectarian division in the society to the forefront. The subsequent formation of Lashkar-e-Jhangwi and Fatwas of apostatisation (Takfir) against the Shia population, particularly to damper the impact of Iranian Revolution and put an end to its “export” threat sowed the seeds of a bloody conflict to which we have lost thousands of life and still the conflict doesn’t seem to end in the foreseeable future.
Sectarianism has its roots in the very base of Pakistani Society. People don’t allow the followers of other sects to enter their mosques. Shia-Sunni conflict is common in every nook and cranny of Pakistani cities and has endangered the lives of innocent people. Social Media is being used as an effective source to promote extremist ideology. Although we see that few people have been given punishment for promoting sectarianism but such people are too great in number to be clobbered.
Sectarianism has close links with extremism. It starts as follows; a common man is promised of entering heaven on account of following a particular sect. When he questions, he is told that other sects have deviated from the right path and are not following the true Islamic teachings. Rather they have made innovations in Islam thus they are committing sin and will be punished in the hereafter. In this way, a common man is persuaded to be the adherent of a particular sect and is galvanized to stop the people of other sects from “wrongdoing”. This is where it all starts. The process starts from the uninformed arguments and ends with the fatwa of “kaafir” from each side. In this very way, the love of one’s own sect transforms into a passion for starting a struggle to promote it and enforce it throughout the Muslim world. This passion then becomes the breeding ground of extremist ideology. Now to the real question: how to tackle this ideology??
The wars of Ideologies can’t be won by swords or, in present times, by guns and jets. Napoleon Bonaparte has rightly said,
There is a major flaw in our fight against extremism. Extremists are using two weapons against us, namely the “sword” and the “ideology”. But from the past many years, we are just using the “sword” to confront them. Where is the weapon of “ideology”? I don’t see it anywhere and this is the reason why after almost 15 years, we are still trying to subdue them, but they are giving us a tough time. We have lost more than 50,000 lives but still we haven’t stepped in the right direction.
There is only one solution to handle this challenge of extremism and that is confronting this extremist ideology by using the places from where it, at first, emerged. We cannot shut the seminaries by just saying that these are the breeding grounds of extremism. It will further aggravate the situation. People here, are the adherents of Islam. They can’t even imagine seeing a seminary being shut down.
Madrassah Reforms are required to educate the masses and confront extremism. Here I am proposing some reforms which I think can help us win “the battle of Ideologies”.
1). Madrassah teachers should be given proper training before they start teaching in Madrassahs and there should be a proper check if they are promoting extremism by annually testing their pupils through different tests asking their opinion about other sects and their ideologies etc.
2). There should be inter-sectarian debates between Ulemas to solve mutual differences through dialogue rather than “the bomb”. The government should encourage such dialogues and should support the organizers.
3). Esteemed and revered Ulemas should be requested to appear on television and promote religious harmony through their messages and by bashing the extremist ideology.
4). Media groups should play their role in this regard. Programs that promote peace should be started by each media group. People, with much enthusiasm, watch such programs to learn about religious issues and these programs can be used to promote the message of harmony among different sects.
5). There must be added a compulsory course on the Life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) at school and college levels because his life is the embodiment of peace and serenity and teaches us the essence of our religion and ways to counter extremists who have distorted our religion.
6). There should be a strict check on Friday sermons to ban promotion on any sort of extremism.
7). There should be strict surveillance on Social Media and all promoters of sectarianism should be held accountable and put behind the bars.
8). One last suggestion is for civil society to stop marginalizing the people of Madrassah. They are all not extremists. There is a very large no. of Ulema who are against sectarianism and abhor every form of extremism. Blaming all of them for the acts of few is not a good thing. It is the effort of these Ulema because of which we still have hope that we can win this battle against terrorists.
Although some of my suggestions are already included in the NAP but implementation on these is too slow that I felt it necessary to restate them in my article. Under the current Civilian and military leadership, I am positive that we can cure this epidemic. We are performing quite well with the “sword” but as I said earlier, to win the battle we need to utilize the weapon of “ideology” as well.