By Areeba Kamal
29th May, 2013
When a religious scholar asks you not to vote for a party because he thinks it is a Jewish lobby, and the only proof he is able to offer is his own “righteousness”, you know you live in a society where religion has become a tool.
From extremists up north claiming democracy is un Islamic to political leaders issuing decrees as per their will, we are past the time where we felt the need to back religious instructions with concrete proof from the Quran or Ahadith. It angers me that a religion best understood through study of scripture is used as collateral by people who do not reference any ayat or Hadith when preaching and imposing their version of Islam. Instead, they leave the bewildered, terrified Awaam more confused, passing Fatwas left and right without verifying where Islam and their personal opinions diverge.
As for us, the believers, we find it hard to distinguish between Islamic laws and statements made by people that may have no religious base.
We live in a society where women do not understand that they have the right to inherit property or ask for divorce in an unhappy marriage, because our religious leaders may say otherwise. They back it up by calling their opinion the will of Islam.
We are surrounded by extremist groups who term Shia followers non-Muslims without quoting where they derive this ‘Islamic’ inspiration. They wreak havoc in our cities and homes and citizens who have coexisted in peace for years fear for their lives due to religious affiliation.
We see our lawyers applaud and revere a murderer who walks into court because he killed a political leader challenging the blasphemy laws. The fact that all ruthless killing and similar inhumanities should be condemned is lost upon them and their supporters.
Worst of all, we read through our Arabic holy scripture without learning the language or referencing the translations. We complete our Qurans, often without comprehending what any of the words we pronounced faithfully actually meant, not only breeding but encouraging further ignorance.
We do not consider ourselves qualified enough to investigate what Islam has to say on an individual basis. And as we surrender to ‘leaders’ who do not reference written Islamic teachings in their religious judgments or live by the rules they endorse, we are in danger of never knowing what our faith really stands for.
Is it any wonder that people around us use Islam as their crutch to edge us farther away from becoming an equitable, fair, democratic society?
This country was founded with religion as its centripetal, uniting force so that people could learn and practice religion freely. But using Islam as a stage for political agendas or blatant intolerance is unacceptable and we need to confront this as a nation.
There is a severe lack of symmetry between living as a Muslim in an Islamic republic and not knowing what Islam actually says because we follow leaders, not teachings. It is this imbalance that has spiralled out of control. We are so busy worrying about securing a spot in heaven by listening to the Maulanas that we watch in silence as the Christian’s home is burnt to ash and the Ahmadi is politically and socially isolated. In our haste to cocoon ourselves with Islam and our scholars, we have forgotten that Muslim or not, the minorities of this country are still Pakistanis, and above all, humans with the right to live and worship freely. Are we a barbaric, careless society? I don’t think so. Are we a clueless, confused nation that looks to political leaders and extremists for religious instruction? The answer is evident around us.
Religion in Pakistan is no longer a private, spiritual experience, something everyone is expected to independently study and interpret before propagating beliefs. It is an open casket in the middle of a public square that people can toss their ill-founded, unverified views into, abusing the fact that their words may be taken as the Divine rule.
This use of religion to gain ulterior motives must stop if we are ever going to feel safe again. It is human instinct to guard the faith we come from and live according to its tenets. But before doing what our ‘religious leaders’ ask us to do, we need to stop and question the teachings that are shoved down our throats. There is a reason we, as Muslims were given Islamic teachings in writing. We need to stop living with our eyes and minds closed for fear of committing religious offence and have enough accountability to investigate what Islam really says to us before we construct our lives around it.
Areeba is an alumna and former employee of Nixor College, where she served as Director for the student-run NGO, House of Dreams Community Welfare Society. She is currently studying International Relations at Mount Holyoke College, USA.