A few years ago on a visit to our local town centre, we came across a group of men and women preaching Islam.
They were all wearing Arab style long desert robes (although they were British desis), some were handing out pamphlets and one scrawny young man was shouting over a megaphone about ‘what Allah says and what Allah wants.’
That was all fine until I actually read one of the pamphlets: it had really offensive content in that it basically postulated that Jews and Christians and ‘unbelievers’ would burn in hell fire. I was outraged — we live in a mixed community: black, brown and white, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and other. I was outraged that these proselytisers should be standing on our high street sowing dissent in our community.
Telling others of the principles of Islam was all very well but saying offensive things against other faiths was, to me, unacceptable. I challenged the microphone man about this so of course his loud response was that it was ‘what Allah says in the Quran’.
I complained to the local authority about these preachers on the grounds that the oratory and the pamphlet qualified as hate speech, and they should look into this. But predictably they came back (weeks later) saying there was nothing to prosecute or look into.
This was here in the UK. Even here law enforcers are reluctant to tackle ‘Islamic’ rabble rousers. For years the hate preacher Anjem Choudary was propped up by the mainstream media on the basis that he was ‘articulating a Muslim community point of view’. The media gave him lots of publicity and despite the fact that he was spewing forth hate speech the authorities, for some reason, failed to prosecute him for years.
This is the situation in the UK, so we should not be surprised if it is so in Pakistan. Yet every time the authorities in Pakistan surrender to rabble rousing mullahs, we are disappointed and we are even surprised. Because every time we think we have moved forward in terms of tolerance and reason, we are hijacked by a lynch mob which claims to be ‘saving Islam’. The same thing happened recently when there was a storm in the National Assembly about the alleged removal of the ‘Ahmadi clause’ from the oath. The erstwhile Punjab CM helpfully suggested harsh punishment for the bureaucrat responsible for this earth shattering edit, the JUI head reiterated the idea that anybody not subscribing to this needed to be put to death… and then the ex PM and PML-N leader’s son-in-law stood up in the assembly and declared that Ahmadis were a threat and an abomination and should be barred from senior posts both in the army and the bureaucracy.
Some analysts interpreted this to be a warning shot fired by Nawaz Sharif’s family in the direction of a key General, a section of whose family is rumoured to be part of the Ahmadi community, but whether this was the intent or not the episode certainly marks a new low in Pakistan’s attitude towards its minorities.
Right-wing religious groups and establishment-sponsored groups have been playing this ‘kafir’ or ‘tauheen’ game for years but when PM Nawaz Sharif announced that the Physics department at Quaid-e-Azam University was to be named after Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate, the physicist, Professor Abdus Salam, there was an illusion of progress and sanity. But now the son-in-law has declared in the National Assembly that ‘Ahmadis are a threat to National Security’ and it would be ‘preferable to name the department after a Muslim’ [sic].
As usual all attempts for us to morph into a society where ‘religion is not the business of the state’ (as per Mr Jinnah), have been thwarted by a bunch of threatening fundos who are happy to remind you that if you disagree with them — well, you are dead. As usual, the state has capitulated to the threats of these ‘good Muslims’. As usual, all of us other citizens trying to put good Muslim values into practice have been intimidated.
But of course, using hate and bigotry and blasphemy as a tool to get rid of people you don’t want around is a dangerous ploy: it can easily backfire as a strategy and it’s a two edged sword that can not only cut the assailant but tear apart the very fabric of the society this assailant lives in.