By Mohammad Jamil
On 1st August 2016, international media had reported Pope Francis’ talk to media; what he said could be considered a step towards interfaith harmony. However, his statement was neither highlighted in the local media nor was it given the attention it deserved. Pope Francis said: “It is not right to identify Islam with violence. It’s not right and it’s not true. I believe that in every religion there is always a little fundamentalist group.” He also blamed the world economy (capitalism) that has at its centre the god of money, and held it responsible for the spectre of terrorism — “fundamental terrorism against all humanity.”
In essence, the Pope refuted the notion that conflict between different faiths and civilisations was inevitable. His statement could have a positive impact on the 1.6 billion Roman Catholics in the world, and be a first step towards interfaith harmony if a dialogue between top religious leaders of both the faiths — Christianity and Islam — is initiated.
The cause for tension or friction between Islam and Christianity at the present is not because of difference in perception about teachings of the Quran or the Bible but because of an unjust world economic order. As a matter of fact, all religions gave the message of peace and love, and all prophets were assigned by God with the task of making human beings more humane. The objective was to establish societies where people could live in peace so that they could achieve intellectual, spiritual and material welfare. However, it was because of religious shysters who gave a spin and misinterpreted religions to create hatred between the followers of different religions. Some Muslim and Christian scholars in an effort to prove supremacy of their religions belittle the importance of other prophets and religions. Jews and Hindus also demonise Islam for the acts of a few extremists, terrorists and warmongers.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan is facing the worst kind of terrorism. Over the years, hundreds of schools along with books and furniture were torched by extremists and terrorists. On May 10, 1933, German students gathered in Berlin and other German cities to burn books with ‘un-German’ ideas. As they offered a Nazi salute, books by Einstein, Thomas Mann, H G Wells, Sigmund Freud and other men of substance went up in flames. The Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbles delivered a speech in which he stated: “You have done well to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past.”
More than 100 years before that event, a German poet and critic Heinrich Heine said: “Where books are burnt human beings are destined to be burnt too.” In Pakistan, not only books but also schools were torched and destroyed. Those who raised the banner of Islam did not spare even shrines of the Sufi saints and mosques.
Before 1980s, there had been sectarian conflicts, but brutal killings of men, women and children were never seen. Incidents of attacking minorities at Kot Radha Kishan, Gojra and more recently, Chak 44 Mandi Bahauddin in May 2016 have brought ignominy to Pakistan. Of course, persecution of minorities is condemnable anywhere in the world, but in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is responsibility of the government to protect the lives of its citizens irrespective of their faith, sect, creed or religion. In fact, it had started after the Soviet forces had landed in Afghanistan, and the US on finding an opportunity to make Afghanistan Soviet Union’s ‘Vietnam’ tried to channelise Afghans’ energies and their passion for jihad. Osama bin Laden was eulogised as a billionaire who had left his luxurious life for the sake of jihad against infidels.
Historical evidence suggests that the religion brought by a prophet always contained an ideology against the forces of the status quo. But with time, the message lost the revolutionary appeal, and became a customary or a classical religion with distortional manoeuvrings of the clergy, and reflections of that society’s customs and traditions. It was also due to people’s instinctive inclination towards dogmas and doctrines rather than essence and spirit. But some western intellectuals and strategists started looking for a myth to keep the West united, and targeted Muslims and Islam.
The onslaught had gained momentum with Samuel P Huntington’s article, which was published in the summer issue of the Foreign Affairs in 1993. Given its intellectual and doctrinal nature, it helped formation of a series of attitudes opposing Islam in the West. After 9/11, with the US-led war on terror, it was only Muslims who were targeted.
In Palestine, Afghanistan and Kashmir, Muslims have been subjected to oppression, repression and foreign occupation. Yet one should not give it a colour of a religious battle or a war, as power has its own dynamics, and there are many instances in history when the victor and the vanquished belonged to the same religion. In Pakistan, more than 50,000 people have been killed by militants.
The world is in the throes of violence at the present, and the need for interfaith harmony has never been as urgent and great as it is today. To achieve this objective, history should be rewritten, and focus should be on achievements in science, art, literature, culture and ideas that have helped mankind. All wars and savagery demonstrated by the Greek-Roman Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire or the US imperialist outreach should be condemned.
Of course, of equal import is the need to establish a new and just economic order instead of the New World Order as declared by the US after the demise of the Soviet Union? It is true that cultural conflicts are increasing, and are more dangerous today than at any time in history; this is because of an unjust economic order. Despite all scientific achievements, more than one-fourth of the humankind is confronted with deprivation, hunger, disease and illiteracy. We find ourselves in a paradoxical situation — the paradox of misery in the midst of plenty. The new world order is collapsing, and this is the period of history when values undergo a fundamental shift. This happened in the Hellenic period when from the ruins of the classical world the Middle Ages were born. It also happened during the Renaissance, which opened the way to the modern era. And history is constantly on the march.
Mohammad Jamil is a freelance columnist.