By Nosheen Abbas
May 10, 2009: "They call everyone else a kaafir", said a typically conservative looking young man at an anti-Taliban protest in Islamabad the other day. Sporting a skull cap, a beard and ankle-high shalwaar — he spoke confidently, "They are the state, the Constitution and the judiciary and what’s worse is that they use guns to achieve their goals".
Contrary to what many urban dwellers think about the "religiously" attired people, there are numerous religious schools and organisations that stand against the philosophy of the Taliban.
The word "Taliban" has both an academic and political connotation. The academic stands for students of madrasas and the political describes those who are militant jihadists. The political Taliban predominantly hold Deobandi views. Among these are the banned Lashkari-i-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul Ansar and Jaish-e-Muhammad. However, the Taliban do not represent the entire range of the Deobandi school.
Taliban are not Deobandis
"You know even though these groups say they are Deobandis, using violence to propagate the faith is completely against our school of thought. It is very wrong and we do not agree with their killings; I don’t think Taliban are Muslims; they are enemies of this country and are trying to tarnish the image of Islam; the government should have given these people more attention and recognised their talent; the common people are mistreated and the country is not functioning according to the laws of Islam", said Ms Zebunnisa, the vice-principal of Ashraful Uloom, a girls madrasa in Islamabad.
In order to gather the views of the other gender, I went to a boys madrasa affiliated with a private schools network, tucked away on the outskirts of Islamabad near Bhara Kahu, called the Islamic Institute of Islamic Sciences, situated in a green opening of surrounding hills, a serene setting to contemplate the teachings of Islam. Through the ogee arched windows I could see some boys studying and others strolling around, but no one seemed distracted by our presence or the fact that I was the only woman on the campus and neither did I feel awkward. I was shown to the principal’s office. I could not be allowed inside the campus. The vice-principal apologised saying that the boys would feel awkward. It was a clean and well organised school, conscious of cleanliness.
Islam is based on peace, not violence
Five students showed up for the interview, which included students from bachelor and primary grades. Soon they set aside their reserve and opened up feeling more comfortable in my presence, even laughing as I joked about my unfortunate inadequacy to word my thoughts in Urdu. As we began talking, I realised they weren’t as hesitant to talk about sensitive issues as I had expected. Nonetheless they did have reservations about certain issues we talked about.
Khurram Nadeem Abbasi spoke defensively about the Taliban. "Even though some of the Taliban are said to be from the Deobandi school of thought, that doesn’t mean they are following the right path of Islam. Islam is based on peace, not violence".
Talking about women was a dicey issue, I felt. I asked them why women are always targeted by extremists and their thoughts in relevance to the atrocities committed against them. Sajjid Shah believed the issue of women was like "making a mountain out of a molehill". In response I then asked his thoughts about the Taliban’s statement of caging women indoors and only allowing them to leave their homes for Haj. "That’s quite unreasonable. Islam encourages women to be educated, of course within the bounds of Islam and in purdah. But in today’s times it is nonsensical to close women up; this country will only progress if women are at par with men", he responded.
They also talked about the causes that were driving people into the arms of the extremist groups. Lack of social justice was recognised as the major cause. "The problem of terrorism stems from extreme poverty. The government has failed to give people their basic rights and these people are pushed to the last resort of committing suicide that they think are doing it for a greater cause".
Mr Abbasi spoke about responsible journalism and the need to prevent public incitement. "In the case of the Lal Masjid for example, at first they were condemning them but then they started sympathising with those who were being killed during the operation. It’s the media’s role to remain consistent, especially in times of crisis".
The religious students strongly believed in the Constitution and in the ideology behind the creation of Pakistan as an Islamic Republic where Muslims could lead their life according to their belief. But Pakistan was not to be a theocracy as the Quaid-i-Azam categorically said on a number of times. Perhaps this last point the students had no appreciation of.
Abu Bakr, a boy of class 8, spoke fluent English and talked about the destruction caused by the Taliban: "I think there is not a single Pakistani who says that terrorism is right because it is damaging our country and as far as I am concerned I’m really conscious about what is happening to my country".
There will always be grey areas when it comes to religion. But in a time when we need general consensus against extremists, it is important to separate the extremist fringe from the truly devout Muslims who believe in tolerance, peace and compassion for all mankind.
Source: Dawn, Karachi