You don’t have to be a doctor to know the difference between a symptom and a disease. Symptoms are an outcome and pose immediate threats. But like any good doctor will tell you—get to the disease timely, or it will spread and the symptoms will return worse.

On my recent visit to Pakistan, religious extremist violence erupted yet again in the city of Quetta at a Police Academy with a death-toll of 61 young cadets and several Shia Muslims killed in an attack in Karachi. Just two years ago, compelled by the terrorist-massacre of 140-plus school children, Pakistan’s powers pledged to eradicate terrorism—an army operation was launched and terrorists lingering on death-row were executed. Still, terrorism has reared its ugly head yet again.

No need not revel into the endless banter of cause-and-affect theories. Simply put, death and violence are symptoms. The real question is: do we have a view of the disease? The disease, as is oft the case, is rooted in ideology that insidiously pervades the greater society, feeding these terrible symptoms.

Jihad

Many in Muslim nations hold on to a prophetic worldview that there will be an apocalyptic war to usher the final victory of Islam. They feel that western powers unduly interfere in Muslim lands and inculcate immoral ideas through music and video. According to some, there are religious grounds to fight such influences and some end up succumbing to the call of extremists.

However, the core theology of Islam in the Holy Quran only allows you to take up arms against a power only if one is being persecuted on the basis of religion, and to protect the fundamental freedom of religion. The verses 22:39-40 revealed before the Battle of Badr make it clear that churches and synagogues are holy places where Allah’s name is remembered much and these are to be protected. So, there is no such thing as fighting to spread Islam and remove churches, temples and other places of worship.

Verse 25:52 states, “And fight them by means of it (the Quran), a great fight”. Fighting by all of the Quran has to be understood as a spiritual and moral fight. Any prophetic thought about the victory of Islam would then be on moral and intellectual grounds.

Regrettably, over medieval and recent history, the concept of Jihad has often been manipulated by kings, politicians and errant clerics to realize ambitions that have little to do with religion and spirituality. And, this has led to the current disease-like state of the Jihad ideology.

Apostasy

This is another terribly misunderstood concept. Many Muslims (and scholars) wrongly believe that people were put to death for becoming apostates during the time of Hazrat Muhammad (saw). This creates an irreconcilable conflict with verse 2:257 which states, “let there be no compulsion in religion”. Verse 18:29 states, “Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve”—this injunction repeats several times in the Quran.

The death-for-apostasy narratives found in the hadith-scriptures probably have to do with treason during war as there are many narratives where apostates were not put to death. The Ridda (Apostasy) Wars during the time of Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) was a conflict inspired by rebellion against the state, not apostasy from religion. Many clerics and scholars misquote history that Musailma Kazaab was attacked by Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) due to his apostasy and claim to prophethood. In fact, Musailma had already claimed prophethood during the time of Hazrat Muhammad (saw) who pretty much ignored him. The military conflict during the time Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) occurred after Musailma raised an army and threatened the state.     

Yet in Pakistan, the dictate of law states that apostates or someone who consciously does not wish to subscribe to the Islamic religion is to be put to death—an ideological-disease that is antithetical to the dictates of the Holy Quran.

Blasphemy

The Quran is clear in addressing mockery, “Bear patiently what they say …” (38:18). Then again, “So bear with patience what they say …” (50:40). Still again, “Bear patiently all they say; and part with them in a decent manner” (73:11). In fact, verse 3:159 states that it was Muhammad’s sense of forgiveness and leniency that prompted others to incline to him.

After all, these verses of the Quran make good sense. What affect does blasphemy even have except on the person who commits to foul language and innuendo reflecting his or her own poor values. The best way to answer such people is not to stoop to their level, depart their company and stick to good words and deeds to prove the higher calling. Yet in Pakistan, the social-media hashtag #HangAsia that propagates death for a Christian woman accused of blasphemy retains wide popularity.

Islam is a religion that promotes tolerance and the freedom of conscience. Yet over the course of a millennium and through the vicissitudes of politics and power, ideas and interpretations have degenerated into the disease we see before us today.

Executing convicted terrorists and sending the army to fight extremists in Waziristan is little more than fighting symptoms. The disease is rooted in Pakistan’s Second Amendment to the Constitution that implies that the state can decide who is a Muslim or not. It is rooted in the apostasy and blasphemy laws antithetical to the Quran. The disease, if not addressed, will continue to feed the symptoms and make society sicker.

Sadly, despite the widespread corruption and continuing violence in Pakistani society, very few are asking the right questions. Talk shows, newscasts and living-room chatter is overflowing with talk about the symptoms only -- if we can get rid of this or that corrupt government then maybe we’ll be alright.

Very few ask: what is the disease that feeds this state-of-affairs? How did it get there? Unless we realize the disease, there is little to be said about fighting off symptoms.