By Feroz Khan
It is easy, to debate a taboo, once it has been shattered. The de-mystification of Islam is necessary in Pakistan and what needs to be argued; to counter the misuse of Islam in Pakistan is not to parse and quibble over interpretations, but to frame the questions. No general has ever won a war by fighting it according to the plans of the enemy and so it is, with the religious debate in Pakistan.
For too long, and with painfully hurtful results, we the so-called and rightly contemptible moderates and enlightened cowards and liberal hypocrites, and deceitful secularists, have appeased the intolerant clergy and have abdicated our responsibilities of civic participation. We have allowed the religious discourse in Pakistan to be taken over and dominated by mullahs – the washers of the dead – and have argued according to their rules. The first step to regain and reclaim the debating space for the idea of a new Pakistan, is to ask questions and make the defenders of the faith actually defend their faith.
This new, re-energized, debate needs to focus on the simplicity of its message and it needs to propagate that message with all the venom of a cobra. The message of this debate is to make the people realize the dichotomy that exists in this world and in the Hereafter, as promised in religion.
The first point which needs to be articulated is to make a case for the separation of justice; from God’s and humans. The best and the most effective manner to whittle Islam to its rightful place in Pakistan is argue, convince and make the people understand that in the Hereafter, we will all be judged by God’s laws. In this Present World (which is what the term secular actually means), we will be judged by laws made by humans.
The next logical step is to argue that if Islam, as a religion, wanted to become political and exercise control in this world, then it loses its “divine immunity” and will be judged by human laws. This should be seen as breach of a contractual agreement, because the understanding was that God’s laws will apply in the Kingdom of God, but human laws will apply in the kingdom of human beings. If Islam wants to have influence in “our world”, then it will be judged according to “our” laws and it will be responsible and accountable to our laws just as we will be responsible to God’s laws once we enter His kingdom. This will happen, and it will happen not without a cost, but Islam and religion as an idea in Pakistan will stand disabused.
Religious intolerance, and when a religion becomes political, pushes people into a sense of alienation because the main functionality of a religion and its legitimacy is to offer a sense of spirituality to the people and act as anchor in times of need and uncertainties. When religion itself, instead of standing aloof from the secular concerns, becomes a partisan in the secular debates of the day, it loses its spirituality. People become alienated from religion, when instead of offering them a promise of certainty and hope; religion becomes the very cause of their hopeless and loss of certainty and of increasing doubts. When people start to question the very foundations of their belief systems and religion cannot provide them with convincing answers, the end is apparent.
The power of a religion, over its people, lies in the absolutism of its dogma, but the vulnerability of dogma is that it is supreme as long as believed and not questioned. When religion is questioned and its answers prove inadequate, or its actions are seen in violation with its professed teachings, questions ferment in the mind and once the mind acquires the confidence to think rationally and independently, religion loses the fear of its dread over a person.
Pakistanis are questioning their religion. They are questioning their religion, because it does not make sense; from what they were taught , and what is being practiced in the name of the religion itself. The next evolutionary step will be increasing self-doubts as people start to make independent personal decisions about their acts of devotion and if organized religion does not provide them with the answers they are searching from; they will move away from organized religion itself.
This does not and should not be taken as step towards atheism, because it is not. All religions are political constructs of behavior control and the purpose of every organized religion is to control the lives of its followers and it controls the lives of its faithful by decreeing an existence for them and a code by which that existence is rationalized and makes sense.
When people lose faith in their religion and start to question it; it does not mean they have become non-believers. All it means they do not follow the precepts of an organized religion and instead of searching for answers within an organized religion, they start to search for it outside the hierarchical organization of the religion and instead, follow their religion outside of the organized manner or the established code of conduct.
They become independent of a religious control over their lives and become free to think on their own and break the shackles of mind control and in the words of Bob Marley, emancipate themselves from mental slavery. Devotion in this sense then becomes very personalized and individualistic and in the process, religion loses it ability to control the lives of the person and furthermore, becomes gradually less significant.
The insignificance of a religion and its importance in the daily lives of its adherents becomes pronounced as people start to search for answers, to the issues which plight them, outside of the religious experience and based on their own experiences in the present (secular) world. Once, it becomes self-evident that religion is not capable of providing all the answers and what it says does not mesh with the reality of the experience, and then the thoughts of the people become more pre-occupied by the present (secular) world and how to live in it.
When this happens, something else also happens. Once people start to question an experience outside of a religious explanation, they realize by their own experience and awareness the subjectivity of a religion and its place in their lives. Religion then becomes a part of the diversity and the plurality of a person’s experience instead of being the centrality of their existence.
This is the threat, which politically enforced and manipulated Islam will face in Pakistan. As it becomes more intolerant towards Pakistanis, and forces them into submission and not to question it, Pakistanis will move away from the practice of organized religion and will practice more varied and individual forms of devotion. They will still be Muslims and they will still read the Quran, and they will still pray but they will do it on the basis of their own experiences and not on the basis of what someone tells them their experiences should be!
Once this happens, organized religion or political Islam will lose its hold over the average Pakistani and in time, will find its own niche in the lives of the people and once this balance is attained, Pakistanis will be better positioned to exist in this world (secular) and will stop living their lives in the present world as they were living in the Hereafter. Once, Pakistanis realize this and start to understand the role of religion in the proper perspective of life and its experience as one of many, they will start to think outside of the organized religious thought and that will be the beginning of the end of political Islam in Pakistan and first step towards the idea of secularism!