“It is the fate of most religious institutions, sooner or later, to be used by bold men for secular purposes, and thereby to forfeit the reverence upon which their power depends.”

(Bertrand Russell: Power: A New Social Analysis, 1938)

Bertrand Russell was, notwithstanding his patriarchal form of language, in his own league when it came to understanding of human nature and history. It should be accepted now that it is the fate of all religions, sooner or later, to be used as a ‘spiritual weapon’ or a ‘political tool’ to gain power by bold individuals. Our own religion Islam, in this regard, is not an exception. A closer look at Muslim political history confirms that the religion has almost always been the most effective tool to seek moral as well as political legitimacy by the conqueror and rulers.

But when the waves of rationality starts enlightening the minds of thoughtful individuals the decay of the shackles of irrationality begins.

Let’s examine Pakistani society in above outlined Russellian view of human history in a detailed manner. Let’s see what the fate of shackles of irrationality and ignorance in our case is.

A few recent developments that have taken place in Pakistan. Well-known Council of Islamic ideology in its ‘model’ Women Protection Bill proposed that a husband can ‘lightly beat’ his wife, ‘if needed’. Second, a famous Pakistani actor and a TV host Hamza Ali Abbasi – who dared to question, in a Ramadan Transmission, the validity of some ‘sensitive’ legal norms of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan with reference to both Islamic jurisprudence and the power of the state – was immediately banned by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). And third, in Ghotki, a policeman, considering himself a true Muslim badly tortured an aged Hindu man for selling edibles before Iftar during Ramadan.

These above mentioned developments are, at least for me, neither new nor novel but only a demonstration of typical Pakistani mentality. This is how we, oftentimes in Pakistan, use the cover of religion to justify our use of force to suppress the weaker and to silence those who try to disagree with what we say or believe in.

This typical mentality has a long history that needs to be carefully understood; how Pakistani Muslims have been made so rigid and pushed into the world of orthodoxy – up to the extent of being naïve. Why do we hate all others who do not share a common mode of life – a limited context of religion – with us? What is behind this hatred and, psychologically speaking, superiority complex?

A few days back, I read an interesting book, Tehzeebi Nargisyat (Civilzational Narcissism) by a renowned Pakistani intellectual Mobarak Haider. In this very brief but very comprehensive booklet the author attempts to draw a sketch of historical and doctrinal background of present-day Muslim – and particularly of Pakistani Muslim – mentality. Apart from fundamental differences with the author on the subject of tribal societies, their culture, traditions and political dynamics, I feel myself, intellectually speaking, compelled to present the basic persuasive argument of the author here.

The author argues that the present day Pakistani Muslim community, to a large extent, is suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This means that Muslims are, when it comes to their civilization, narcissists who are civilizationally inward-looking, self-centered, self-involved and, may be, interpersonally exploitative.

He explains Muslims’ expansionist and apologetic attitude as follows:

Muslims believe, the author argues, they are the only chosen people to rule, to be admired, to be recognized and greatly loved by all and sundry. No one else, apart from the Muslims, is clean or pious. No other religion, apart from Islam, is true or appreciable or even respectable. Muslims have an inherent right to rule the entire world. And, also true Muslims have a fundamental religious obligation to conquer the world through sword and implement Shariah across the globe. If Muslims kill other people, it is justifiable because they do it for their noble purposes, but if anyone else, even if in defence, kills the Muslim, it is inhumane and worthy of severe responses by the rest of the Muslim community. In brief we, the true Muslims, are the greatest people of the world and we have a natural right to destroy all other civilizations and rule the entire world. And that’s it.

Furthermore, the author says, without having reasonable achievements in the field of knowledge and a fair hold over the scientific and technological advancements of this age, it seems so ridiculous to even think of ruling this modern and highly educated and advanced world.

But this sense of self-love and perfection becomes more problematic when, as the author laments, the patient (the narcissist) firmly believes that all others, who criticize him/her or even point out some flaws, are simply jealous of his/her greatness.

The tragedy is that the sense of perfection simply stops self-evaluation and introspection and leaves no room for critical thinking. There is no question of independence of mind in narcissist culture as the intellectual virtues like open-mindedness are considered a dire threat to their historic greatness.

Let’s remind ourselves, for a while, of medieval Europe. And now let’s look at the present day Pakistani society. It is difficult for me to draw any difference between the Dark Ages in Europe and twenty-first century Pakistan when it comes to the supremacy of the church and the rise of irrationality and ignorance.

In the Dark Ages, there was a clear principle for the general public that you can’t question certain beliefs and certain sacred people at any cost, under any circumstances. What is different in present day Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Can we raise our voice for the rights of minorities? Can we, without the fear of being killed, intellectually discuss religious beliefs even at our universities? Can we in our classrooms question everything or are there some restrictions which we can’t cross? Can we have friendship with non-Muslims while considering them equal human beings? Can we coexist with those who do not believe in our religious beliefs? Or can we love independently?

Answer to all these questions may be a big No.

But the interesting thing is that there is one thing we can do everywhere, all the time and by any means. That is to hate.

Broadly speaking, everything from the narcissistic culture to street violence, from religious extremism to religious radicalism, and from ignorance to the collective naivety, has been deliberately created, like in Dark Ages Europe, by a few ‘bold men’ to seek power in Muslim societies. These are the different political tools to gain, maintain and further the power

But let me remind you of Russell’s hopeful conclusion here which he established under the light of history:

“And thereby to forfeit the reverence upon which their power depends.”

It is high time for Muslim thinkers to realize that we must abandon everything that invokes extremism, hatred and ignorance, which ultimately benefits the power seekers. It is the thinker/philosopher who in any society gives people a sense of direction – may be of the right one.

Educated Muslims should, for a while, examine one thing; are they the chosen ones or simply stiffened into a narcissistic culture? The objective answer may disturb our widely shared belief, but it’s very important to learn it now.

To conclude: let us appreciate people who dare to question, who speak for others, who love others and live for others. Let us work together to create a free, independent rational society where despite differences only love, peace, mutual respect and tolerance will prevail.