By Syed Kamran Hashmi
The real transformation occurred in Pakistan when the focus of religion shifted from personal salvation or social justice to the “redemption” of people around you. When instead of introspection everyone used faith as a tool to judge others. When appearances mattered more than actions, when piety was defined by the length of beard, when daily prayers — notwithstanding their significance — took precedence over humanitarian efforts, and when laymen took sanction from a religious order to start preaching a particular brand of Islam.
The door-to-door campaign because of its potential to radicalise should have been put under strict administrative control from day one, the background of every member investigated, their teaching experience documented, and their academic achievements disclosed to the audience, and the purpose of their preaching clearly defined. If any religious organisation did not meet the prerequisites, it should have simply been banned. Why? In the absence of fair rules and proper legislation, the chances are that the majority would force its faith upon the minorities, who without proper protection in place would be left exposed, suffocated as if the air is being sucked out of their body every second.
Disagree? Imagine for a moment that you belong to a minority sect of Islam, and you have not disclosed your sectarian affiliation to most of the people around you. While sprawling on the couch, you hear the door bell ring. You get up, shuffle across the hallway, unlock the door and pull it open. A group of young members of a Tableeghi Jamaat (preaching organisation) is huddled on the other side of the door. After a brief introduction and initial exchange of greetings, one of them gives a brief lecture, and asks you to join them in a small learning session after the evening prayers in the mosque where other members would also be present. He does not know your sect, nor does he bother to ask. You find his monologue too rudimentary, divisive and unappealing.
So how should you respond? You cannot disclose your faith, and that is for sure. What concerns you is that no sooner does he find out the truth about you then he would mark you as a non-Muslim, a risk that you do not want to take. Getting into an argument would be a bad idea too, and that must be avoided. Eventually, you decide to keep quiet and listen to them, nod at their inquiries and promise to participate. Once they leave, they turn to another street; you step back in, close the door behind you, lean against it and take a deep breath, your eyes closed, and head thrown up. Right at that moment, a drop of tear rolls down your face, a marker of severe helplessness.
For all practical purposes, this is not missionary work, a virtue to be proud of. It is coercion, plain and simple, a form of harassment that is unleashed upon minorities by the members of religious preaching groups and other Sunni groups, who without knowing — and sometimes even after knowing — the faith of the responder push the bell-button of every house in their weekly or monthly rounds and start proselytising.
Of course, they do it in the name of Allah, the Prophet (PBUH) and Islam so that no one can object to their methods. And of course they do it in an apparently friendly and non-violent way so that no finger can be pointed at them. But in a country where minorities are struggling to stay alive, any attempt to convert them to the majority faith should raise suspicions. Yet, the opposite holds the highest honour in Pakistan. Members of religious organisations like the Tableeghi Jamaat boast about how many Christians and Hindus they have converted to Islam. And for every conversion they believe they would get better perks in the paradise. Absorbed in the idea of their grades in heaven, they forget about the tough life that awaits the newly converted Muslims. Ask the clerics what happens if these neo Muslims — who are advised to call off their past associations including their parents and close friends — can’t stop loving their mothers, missing their fathers or caring for their siblings?
If you want to know the answer, just go to Reena, the young girl from Kalash, Chitral. She after accepting Islam went back to her father’s place and recanted. How did the Muslims take her recantation? They attacked the home of her parents, threw rocks at it and damaged their property till they succeeded in getting what they wanted: a verification of her Islamic faith in front of a judge and a clean chit that she was not forced to convert in the first place.
I think every Muslim who went to protest against Reena and scared her family should be ashamed of himself. He has proved once again that the religion that once stood for tolerance and pluralism has in the hands of these fanatics been reduced to the religion of coercion, intolerance and intimidation. And organisations like Tableeghi Jamaat have played a major role in bringing this destructive tsunami.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist