Shahbaz Sharif has asked Ulemas (Islamic Scholars) to step forward and play their role in eliminating chaos from society. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was talking to the Ulema convention held at the Chief Minister House Punjab on January 6, 2018. Pir Sialvi was also in the audience and heard the CM defending Rana Sanaullah for his [un] favoured opinion towards the Ahmadis that earned him the wrath of the Pir demanding the Punjab Law Minister’s resignation. Was this convention an attempt to ask the religious scholars to play their role in bringing peace to society wrought with religious bigotry and division? Or was this meeting an attempt to assuage the anger Maulana Sialvi and his cronies harbour over the controversial Khatme Nabuwat Bill and the statement made by Rana Sanaullah?

A rational view of the role the clerics had played over the last seventy years reveals a very different story. Making Islam hostage to things that has no substance and value has sabotaged the very purpose for which religious scholars in society are required. At the end of the day, it is the civilizational traits of a society that raises it to a level from where nations earn a respectable position in the comity of world nations. Politicising Islam and making it part of the warfare in the name of Jihad has ruined the character of the Islamic scholarship in Pakistan.

In the absence of an ideology, religion was used as a unifying force when Pakistan was established, because the Two-Nation theory was no more applicable. However, forming a coherent political entity by religious affiliation proved an exacting task. Muslims vehemently disagreed on matters of religious interpretation. The Shia-Sunni schism, the division between the Ahl-i-Hadith and the Wahabis, the differences between Baralvis and the Deobandies could not be restricted to ideological debates and discourse. As political adoption of these religious entities began, each sect became powerful that culminated with the Soviet-Afghan war when General Zia patronized the Ulemas.

Another shot that made religion a canon to be used for political purposes was the issue of Ahmadis. The first martial law imposed in Punjab in 1952 was because of riots against the Ahmadis. Unfortunately, though the Ahmadis had been designated minority in the constitution of Pakistan, the matter did not cease to agitate our religious scholars. There is constant vigilance as to how this community practices its version of Islam that it adheres to. Anything similar to Islamic principle practiced by Ahmadis could cause untold commotion leading to violence.

In essence, Islam could not become a unifying force. Instead, it has been used to resort to violence whenever deemed necessary to gain ends. We witnessed this tendency in the Faizabad Dharna (sit-in). So the demand to the religious scholars by the CM to help reduce chaos from society could just be another attempt to give undue importance to a class of people who have no resonance with the general public, other than that they are considered gods of small things.

The unfortunate part of the sage of religious bigotry, taking roots in Pakistan, is that any attempt to improve this trend is used to hamper the political process in the country. The finality of the holy prophet is no doubt an issue that requires utmost care and exceptional handling. The constitution of Pakistan has special clauses defending the finality part of the prophet-hood. However, judging people from their religious tagging, especially for their nationalism, is absurd. If I have to write repeatedly, I am a Muslim, in every form that I fill for various activities, would that make me better human being than the one who is not a Muslim.

When Ziaul Haq decided to allow the state to collect Zakat, Dr. Israr Ahmed, told the president not to follow this instinct, because it would backfire and create a volley of false declarations. It exactly happened that way. The Shias wriggled themselves out of this binding. The rest of the Sunni population, averse to getting their Zakat deducted by the government, turned into Shia in Affidavits submitted to banks. I know many Christians who have National Identity Cards with Muslims written on them. The Ahmadis following same Islamic rituals could easily bluff the government by just declaring themselves as Muslims. If the state is viewed unjustified in forcing a group of people to take an oath, they don’t believe in, the chances of taking a false oath increases. The chasm of mistrust has been made thicker by policies that failed to make religion a tool to civilize the nation. Instead, it has reinforced aggression, dishonesty, disunity, and division among the people.

The religious scholars do not, as of now, have the recipe to bring down the present chaos in society. The solution lies in developing a culture of tolerance that transforms minds. The state has to take the choice of using religious discourse in its hands. The only way this could happen is when the civil-military relation becomes convinced that it is the state that it represents and not any individual interest. The resolution of the Faizabad Dharna should not be emulated ever.

The unfortunate part of the sage of religious bigotry, taking roots in Pakistan, is that any attempt to improve this trend is used to hamper the political process in the country.