After every major incident of violence that is perpetuated in name of Islam, religious leaders, politicians and common man of the streets repeat that those who kill and maim others are not Muslims and Islam is not a violent religion. In past few years, too many Pakistanis, no matter what their faith and sect is, have died because someone killed them in the name of religion. The rhetoric that Islam is a peaceful religion will not cut it anymore. We need to introspect why as a society we tolerate violence in general and condone it when it is perpetuated in name of religion.
We bemoan the horrific crimes against Muslims under Israeli and US occupation in Palestine and Iraq and try to justify violence in our society because of those crimes but that is not true. We, as a society, condone torture and violence against weaker sections of the society in name of religion even before the invasion of Iraq and have legislation to support this violence. Both Blasphemy Laws, which can and have discriminated against minorities, and gender biased Hudood Ordinance use religion to maintain the status quo in which a powerful Muslim male is the sole source of authority and there is no room for personal liberty and individual thought. These laws make it very easy for anyone to score against either the non Muslims or women.
We glorify attackers and mass murderers such as Ahmed Shah Abdali, Nadir Shah and Mehmood Ghaznavi in our text books and popular media. We deify them and their acts of barbarism because they were Muslims and those who were killed by them were not Muslims. None of them fought in the name of Islam as we are led to believe. They were kings with colonial mindset who wanted to expand their kingdoms and annex the fertile heartland of river Indus, Ganga and Jamuna. Attaching any exalted and noble intentions to the expansion of their kingdom is factually and historically incorrect.
Shah Waliullah, who is venerated by most South Asian religious scholars, wrote a letter to Ahmed Shah Abdaali to invite him to attack the Marhattas. Shah Waliullah instigated this violent attack, which killed thousands of soldiers on both sides, because he did not like the declining clout of Muslims scholars in the court and hoped that the war would to restore Ulema’s former power and influence. How can a society that lionizes people like him ever hope to achieve peace?
Tackling individual incidents of violence and terrorism can never bring the desired result. Unless the philosophy and ideology behind violence prompted in name of religion is challenged, there won’t be much point in expressing indignation over it. The Jamia Hafsa fiasco is a case in point. The administration of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa violated many laws and started war against the state which is considered treason by the constitution of Pakistan but most Pakistanis including the politicians and highest level of judiciary voiced their opinion against government operation because it was against a group of people who were using religion to support their violent stance.
When religion becomes a source of income and a point of politics for people then people will use it to further their interests and foster violence in name of religion when it hurts their interest. Unless we decide to look inward and deal with such demons, peace will remain elusive.
Originally written for Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.