By Jamal Khashoggi
3 February 2014
I wrote an article last year and said that the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah could save Pakistan due to Pakistani people’s respect for him. His eminence did not answer my call and go to Pakistan, but earlier this month, Prince Saud al-Faisal made a very important visit to Islamabad; it was his first visit to the country that the kingdom considers a strategic ally, therefore it is working hard to help it in its crises.
Since Saudi Arabia has once again expressed its concern about Pakistan, I will reiterate my call because Pakistan is still as we left it a year ago, with a slight improvement (which is the stability of civilian rule because power was peacefully handed over). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on old friend of Saudi Arabia, reached power.
As usual, Prince Saud promised to strengthen bilateral relations and raise the level of investment between the two countries. There are talks that Saudi Arabia will purchase military apparatus from Pakistan, and talks about future visits of senior officials to Pakistan. All that has been mentioned is good, but Pakistan needs to address the “Pakistani collective mind,” and here comes the role of the Imam of the Grand Mosque. I know that my friends will get angry because I am saying this, but they know that the prevalence of illiteracy, combined with a negative religiousness based on tradition and blindly following opportunist religious scholars, has made the some Pakistani Muslims the fastest people to believe rumours and myths. This has been the stumbling block to Pakistan’s development in comparison to its neighbour and rival India.
The Issues At Hand
There are three serious problems in Pakistan reflecting this dilemma. All Pakistani governments have failed to resolve the issues of salt, polio and suicide attacks. These problems will not be solved through “bilateral investments,” but through a scientific attack led by trustful scholars to dismantle these myths. Since Pakistani scholars have failed to do that, they need help. I cannot think of anyone better than the Imam of the Grand Mosque, sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, to do the job.
He recalls the warm welcome that he received when he visited Pakistan in 2010, and his historical prayer in the Badshah mosque where thousands of people gathered in the mosques’ squares to pray. Sheikh al-Sudais led the prayers just as he usually does during the night of “completing the reading” of the Quran (Khatm) in Haram al-Makki; all those who were present there had tears of hope and supplication. Maybe if he had advised them that night to use table salt containing iodine, urged them to get their children vaccinated against polio, and informed them about the Fatwas prohibiting suicide attacks, and then repeated this message in other mosques and across the Pakistani media, while announcing the cooperation with the government for the formation of a religious group that would preach about these issues all over the country, he might have launched a campaign that would save Pakistan from these three pests.
Unfortunately, Not A Joke
We all know suicide operations as we all suffered from them, but Pakistan has the lion’s share! But what is the story of iodine and polio vaccines in Pakistan? Two decades ago, someone circulated a rumour that the iodine that is added to table salt as per the advice of the World Health Organisation is a Western-Indian plot that aims to sterilize Muslims. This is neither a joke nor an exaggeration, but a health disaster that the Pakistani Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization are trying to address. The successive governments were unable to refute the rumour, because the Pakistani people do not usually trust their politicians; as for the clerics, they promoted the rumour adding that it is a conspiracy and part of an endless war against Muslims, instead of refuting the rumours and warn their citizens about the damages caused by the lack of iodine in their food.
It is a serious issue: a survey conducted by an academic Pakistani group with the UNICEF and the Pakistani Ministry of Health, proved that the lack of iodine in Pakistan’s food is one of the causes behind the suffering of 100 million Pakistanis from dangerous health disorders, such as goitre and mental retardation. Several reports have linked the symptoms of fatigue, reduced levels of intelligence and productivity rate in Pakistan with this rumor’s spread, causing further damage to the fragile economy in a country like Pakistan.
As for the polio vaccine, it is another conspiracy that proponents say aims to sterilize Muslims! Ignorance and lack of jurisprudence has led some Pakistanis to kill fellow Pakistani citizens because they were participating in UNICEF and Pakistani Health campaigns to vaccinate the children against this deadly disease that has been eradicated from all countries of the world except Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria. Polio, it should be mentioned, has recently appeared in Syria after the collapse of the state during the ongoing war.
When I wrote my article in January 2013, I mentioned that the Taliban has assassinated nine of those who participated in the campaigns two weeks before publishing my article. This led UNICEF to stop the vaccination campaigns, and resume them later under heightened security measures. However, the Taliban killed three campaigners in mid-January 2014 in Karachi, which has led to the campaign being out on hold again.
Entertainment for the Taliban
As for the suicide attacks, they are an entertainment for the Taliban, and it does not only target the military but also schools, mosques and markets. It is a painful situation that prompted a Pakistani Organization to draw the attention of its citizens and the world to this national disaster, so it started to count the number of victims, as well as victims of the nonsensical U.S. drone strikes that should also be stopped. This organization publishes the number of the victims through a web site called Pakistan Body Count. When my article was published last year, the number stood at 5,329 victims, and by last Wednesday it had increased to 5,972, an increase of 643 people which means that two Pakistanis are killed every day!
What is the solution for this tragic case? The army and the government have failed to solve this issue, so why don’t we try a new idea; the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah has a huge credibility there and he can stir the feelings of the Muslim people in Pakistan with his lovely voice and sincere prayers. What if he added to his prayer a sermon repudiating the existence of a conspiracy about iodized salt? What if he adds that his children and all the children of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world are vaccinated against polio, and that suicide operations are among the seven vices that Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz – may Allah have mercy on him, issued.
If only the Saudi government would plan a visit for Sheikh al-Sudais in cooperation with the Pakistani government, so that Pakistan could end its crises. It will help the kingdom as much as the kingdom is helping Pakistan. I will repeat what I said at the end my previous article about this issue: “All this should take place with serious security measures because the Taliban will even kill the imams of the holy mosques if they disagree with them!”
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.