n Umer Khan At some crucial juncture in our past, we severed ties with the man who ran the mosque, almost entirely. We no longer felt the need to actively participate in religion, except in passing, as a sort of polite nod to the fact that the constitution did after all call us an Islamic Republic. We felt that our children too need not be bothered with this meddling complexity while there were other, more important and lucrative pursuits. Education, that vital architect of outlook, became increasingly more secular because this shift promised better returns in terms of finance; and of course our post-colonial hangover dictated that we act more like the West at any cost - and when I mention the West, I dont mean the relevant geographical continents with all their pros and cons, but an empire as it takes shape in the mind of a slave, who has lost all conception of ever having had a past, except one of shame. Thus, the man who ran the mosque was confined, as it were, to the suburbs of our social existence, allowed to assert his presence only at times of birth, marriage, death, the weekly Friday and biannual Eid prayers, which too for many of us (I refer to a particular social class) became optional or purely symbolic. For the rest of the year, he was the Mullah, someone to be contemptuously ignored when not being satirized. Whether you believe he was himself responsible or not for the origin of his caricature is irrelevant. The fact is that we merely criticised without rectifying; we relegated him to carry on without us a task that should have been taken up by the brightest and most privileged of us; the task of studying, understanding, commenting upon and disseminating our religious body of knowledge. But we, in our anxiety to remain unsullied in the eyes of the secular world by something as 'superstitious and 'medieval as religion, left no channels of communication open between the Mullah and ourselves. We 'otherized the Mullah and all his followers so that we could delight in our own 'enlightenment and simultaneously create a psychological cushion necessary for our increasing loss of faith. By making the 'illiterate Mullah the sole representative of religion, we were able to justify our own departure from it, keeping ourselves satisfied with the knowledge that we were only distancing ourselves from 'ignorance and 'darkness. But the truth is, while we were busy distancing ourselves from something whose significance we were too foolish to comprehend, we were doing nothing to illumine, as it were, the darkness that was gathering all around us. Today, we are nonplussed because people are dying because of a decision we made a long time ago to be irresponsible. And every time a man is killed, we frantically scan the Holy Quran, not because we want to get at the truth, but because we want for it to validate our preconceived conception of it, to reassure us that Islam is still what we want for it to be. We seem not to understand that interpretation depends upon the interpreter. And we ourselves have installed interpreters. We did not want to do the Mullahs job because we felt it to be beneath our stature. Now we wouldnt know where to begin anyway. There seems to be too wide a gap in trust between us and the Mullah for there to be a meaningful conversation without the Mullah feeling that he is being attacked by an outsider (for he no longer recognises us) and not merely being questioned by one of his 'flock, and the researcher feeling that he is being misled by a hostile or ignorant man. If that is the case, how can the two move forward in a direction of mutual understanding? Why does the Mullah feel that the researcher is an outsider? Why does the researcher feel that the Mullah is hostile? Why are questions about certain laws being raised now? What have we been doing for all these years? We, the questioning, curious classes, should have always been regular visitors to the mosque, someone whom the Mullah recognises and appreciates as one of his own. Then our questions would not feel like accusations from a worshipper of the West. Then the possibility of dialogue could have been preserved. But it is still not too late, I hope, if we get our act together, if we start taking a genuine interest in what goes on in our friendly neighbourhood mosque. Vilifying Ziaul Haqs Islamisation is a favourite topic among liberal column writers, often and not surprisingly for the wrong reasons. More than anything, it has become a copout: everything that goes wrong or seems to go wrong (the Taliban, honour killings, the blasphemy law murders etc) is stacked up on Zia as his burden. Or even more commonly, it is professed to be an evident sign of the inherent evil of all religions themselves. Writers target issues like the imposition of compulsory Islamic studies in the academic curriculum, equating it to a fascist dictum, and asking for the idea to be scrapped. I believe this to be an act of idiocy at best. I think these overzealous writers, who feel its always a progressive move to badmouth Zia, lack understanding about how one possibly negative move can on its own weight be turned into a positive one. Our best educational institutions could try to take the original initiative a step further and make the subject more than the unfruitful exercise in rote-learning that it is right now. If we make Islamic studies important, critical, and as relevant a subject as it ought to be, considering where we are living, there is a good chance that in less than a generation we will have produced brilliant scholars, who can take a stand on issues that are otherwise exploited by the corrupt or the ill-informed simply because there is nobody around who knows enough to make an informed argument to the contrary. And if not brilliant scholars, we would at least have well informed individuals, who know what they are talking about when discussing religious matters. All we have at the moment are random liberals yapping their traps about some sort of imitation humanism that they have borrowed from some bohemian utopia, which is just not going to cut it with the majority in Pakistan. At the same time, we need to reclaim our religion. We have doctors, engineers and lawyers aplenty; a veritable infestation of civil servants and a plague of politicians/politically motivated mullahs. Conversely, we have a severe shortage of informed religious sense in this country. Of course, we are also ridiculously biased against anyone with a beard who does not sport a fancy British accent. And we are biased against anyone who pursues religious studies. We need to grow out of that sort of thinking. After all, is there any logical reason why issues like the blasphemy law are not discussed in schools, while race issues (almost entirely irrelevant to our region) are? The answer is yes; we borrow all the information we need on racism from America, where the issue is pertinent, but we are too ashamed to find a single reliable source to tell us how matters ofFiqhare resolved. We have been unwilling to invest in something vital, something that when left to rot has started decaying in our living room. Our educational system has to be brought back to Pakistan, and made sensible and relevant again. If it has taken a lapse of several generations to bring us to the brink of civil war and chaos, it is not too great a cost if one generations investment might save us. We can bring down the wall of mistrust that we ourselves have erected that has split our society into two. And when I say 'we I mean the insufferable and pompous liberal elite and the upper middle class, both of which have let this country fall to its knees. These are those who have the resources to set things right if for a moment, perhaps for the first time in our countrys history, they could be persuaded to think unselfishly and grow up. Stop trying to pretend you are a sahib for a little while, and re-establish contact with the mosque. n The writer is a freelance columnist.