By Nadeem F. Paracha
A recent fatwa from a ‘Saudi Council of Muftis’ has this advice for fellow Muslims: Do not say [or write] ‘mosque.’ Always say ‘masjid’ because mosque may mean mosquito. Another myopic case of Saudi malaria perhaps?
Certainly. But that’s not all. The grand fatwa goes on to suggest that Muslims should not write ‘Mecca’ but Makkah, because Mecca may mean ‘house of wines.’ I am serious. But then so are the Muftis. They certainly need to get a life.
But I’m not all that surprised by such fatwas that usually emanate from Saudi Arabia. While vicious reactionary literature originating in totalitarian puritanical Muslim states impact and mutate the political bearings of various religious parties and groups in Pakistan, ‘social fatwas’ like the one mentioned above also began appearing in the early 1980s to influence the more apolitical sections of Muslim societies.
Reactionary literature generated by the Saudi propaganda machine started being distributed in Pakistan from 1979 onwards, mostly in the shape of pamphlets and books.
Duly translated into Urdu, they glorify and propagate violent action (jihad) not only against non-Muslims (or infidels) but also against those Muslims who fail to follow the thorny dictates of a certain puritanical strain of the faith.
What’s more, there was nothing so clandestine about the whole process. Because along with mainstream religious parties and jihadi groups during the so-called ‘anti-Soviet Afghan jihad,’ the state of Pakistan also encouraged the unchecked proliferation of this arrogant, myopic and hate-spouting literature.
To the Pakistani state (during the ‘Afghan jihad’) such literature and propaganda were essential to introduce and expand a kind of ‘Islam’ that was historically alien to the religious ethos of Pakistan’s majority Muslim population.
It was alien because for centuries, the political and cultural dynamics of the subcontinent had been such that for survival and posterity’s sake, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other religious groups of the region, had to adapt and tolerate each other’s religious convictions and rituals. Such a process eschewed religious Puritanism and repulsed any attempt (Hindu or Muslim) to impose a hegemonic social strain of their respective faiths.
The extreme strains in this respect remained on the fringe, both Hindu and Muslim.
Till the 1970s, extreme versions of Islam in Pakistan remained largely sidelined by the looming influence of ‘folk Islam’ – a hybrid of Sufism and indigenous Muslim rituals that had evolved during long periods of interaction between Muslims and the many faiths present in the region.
Thus, such a society – a majority of whose members were either drenched in ‘folk Islam’ while the rest were resonating with the quasi-secular and modernist version of the faith pioneered by the likes of Sir Syed Ahmed – were certainly not suitable (or willing) instruments for an all-out armed jihad against the so-called infidels.
This is where the role of Arab-funded and state-patronised puritanical madressahs and literature kicked in. As one strand of this process concentrated on indoctrinating young Pakistanis with the ways of extremist thought which glorified violence in the name of jihad, the other strand focused on proliferating certain rituals and social quarks designed to pull Pakistanis away from their historical and indigenous links to ‘folk Islam’ and the faith’s more modernist strains, deeming both to be detrimental to ‘real Islam’ (read ‘Saudi Islam’).
The ways of the first strand have continued (mainly among violent puritanical and sectarian organisations), and so has the crusade of the second strand with the help of fatwas by Saudi muftis and the vigorous evangelism of the tableeghi jamaat and of people like Zakir Naik, Farhat Hashmi and Amir Liaquat.
This strand does not propagate violent action, as such but by preaching convoluted trivia in the name of rituals and ‘correct moral behaviour,’ they have actually rendered a number of Pakistanis incapable of rationally questioning the wisdom of implementing certain archaic practices in the modern-day Pakistani setting.
What’s more, such apparently apolitical beliefs have also found many locals mentally and morally crippled when it comes to openly condemning acts of terrorism and see through the religious bias and apartheid exhibited by the majority Muslim sect in Pakistan against minority religions and opposing Islamic sects.
For example, some months ago an ‘ulema council’ in Pakistan released a fatwa saying that that suicide attacks by Muslims on Muslims are haraam.
Isn’t it only logical then to ask, why are they only haraam when the victims are Muslim? Why aren’t such attacks forbidden regarding all mankind? Are non-Muslims created by a different God?
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.