By Raza Habib
Ramadan has arrived and all of us are witnessing bombardment of corporate advertisements which try to capitalize on the reverence of the month. In fact the most paradoxical nature of religion in our society is often witnessed through the way advertisements transform into “holy” form from their urban yuppie pre Ramadan look. Female models suddenly discover “chaddar” and their male counterparts are seen wearing religious caps while holding tasbeehs.
This month, particularly the way it is “celebrated” in our part of the land becomes more of a forceful imposition of religion by the state and petty commercial exploitation by the corporate sector rather than a month of self sacrifice. The spirit of Ramadan is to feel the pain of those who are less privileged and acting to help them rather than this strange forceful imposition of religion by the state and its commercial exploitation by the corporate.
I personally believe that Ramadan should not be imposed the way it is in Pakistan. Religion is a matter between God and individual and observation of Ramadan by same logic should be at the individual level not the way it is literally enforced. This forceful observation which bans public consumption of food coupled with exaltation of the religion through all the medium of communication merely ends up reinforcing rather hypocritical reverence of religion.
This reverence which is actually not built upon deep faith but on unquestionable acceptance of everything associated with religion has made it extremely difficult for the society to reform and reinterpret religion. I have previously also pointed out that misdirected glorification of religion merely makes the society completely impotent to challenge anything in the name of religion. Pakistan is not a radical society and yet due to this cultivation of reverence of religion, which is at its peak during Ramadan, it finds itself in a quagmire. This reverence has made clergy more powerful than they actually are. Pakistani society is thus unable to challenge or protest anything, if it is successfully imposed in the name of religion.
Black laws like Anti Blasphemy and Hadood Ordinances despite not having implemented through the legislative process are firmly entrenched because no Party wants to invoke wrath of the hardliners and be branded as anti Islamic. The general populace is also afraid to raise any voice despite knowing that these laws are in fact against the real spirit of the religion itself. Reverence and unquestionable attributes of the religion makes it impossible to even start a debate.
Of course glorification of religion is also thwarting the emergence of a pluralistic and tolerant society. For the past 63 years the state has used religion as an ideological tool to subdue the ethnic diversity in the country. It has assumed that forceful imposition and insistent glorification of religion would ensure that ethnic and linguistic identities won’t be able to gain momentum and seek more autonomy. Unfortunately this also has proven to be counterproductive and denial of autonomy has actually manifested in armed separatist movement in provinces like Baluchistan.
Glorification of religion by state and media has also cultivated this strong state of denial in the Muslim population where they find it impossible to believe that a Muslim can be behind any terrorist activity. A mindset has developed which assumes that due to belief in Islam, Muslims are superior in virtue and therefore incapable of anything as hideous as suicide bombing. This state of denial has nurtured this conspiracy theory culture and has strengthened the terrorists as their hideous crimes, instead of being hated, are conveniently blamed on the foreign powers.
Every year this reverence and fear of religion is reinforced in Ramadan. Moreover, the corporate interests have made whipping up of religious reverence and fervor a routine practice in Ramadan which in turn has further strengthened clergy and the state’s ideological emphasis on religion. Additionally since observation of Ramadan is forced by state and is backed its coercive power, the instruments of coercion such as police are further encouraged to abuse power at the grass root level.
As the time passes, we are getting even more stuck in this quagmire. Private sector has in fact joined state and is glorifying the role of religion. This glorification by the corporate which emanates out of petty commercial interests is merely compounding the problem and ensuring the status quo. Frankly due to these reasons the forceful observance and glorification of Ramadan is proving to be regressive.