By Shahzad Sharjeel
April 25, 2018
BELIEVE it or not, the chief adjudicator of the country and, arguably, the greatest Urdu poet, Mir Taqi Mir, has something in common. Both have warned against quacks. Only Mir was a couple of hundred years ahead when he lamented, “Mir Kiya Sadey Hein Beemar Huey Jiskay Sabab/ Ussi Attar Kay Larkay Say Dawa Letey Hein.’’ (Look at Mir’s naiveté; he seeks medicine from the same quack’s apprentice who made him sick.)
Reports including in this newspaper have appeared for over a year now that Bangladesh is embarking on the construction of 500-plus ‘model mosques’ all over the country to fight radicalisation. These model mosques will come complete with cultural centres where moderation will be taught. It seems like a very sensible idea. Model mosques, one can safely assume, will come with all the modern technology and creature comforts that in itself should suffice to attract everyone including those in need of deradicalisation and others who may be vulnerable to falling prey to it in the future. There is a catch though, the project is, at least partially, said to be bankrolled by Saudi Arabia. Sums hovering around a billion dollars have been mentioned.
Some would say that since the Saudis funded networks of thousands of religious seminaries that produced fodder for the Jihadi/ proxy wars in the region and beyond and radicalised sections of societies in the process, it is only right that they should pay for corrective measures as well. Much as the populations of both countries hate it when warned of the pitfalls of following a ‘Bangladesh/ Pakistan model’, there are similarities in their sufferings and a myriad haphazard panaceas — that call for caution — are offered to alleviate them. There are definitely lessons to be learnt here. Our Bangladeshi brothers would do well to be watchful as the construction of only nine or so model mosques has begun. Pakistan on the other hand has a long history of suffering at the not-so-helping hands of those benefactors who helped create the Frankenstein’s creatures we are now trying to deradicalise.
Haven’t we suffered enough to know that he who pays the piper calls the tune? Have we forgotten the pitiable attempts by the then finance minister Ishaq Dar to explain away a couple of billion dollars that mysteriously appeared in the kitty a few years ago? All he could ever produce by way of an answer was to go red in the face and trot out inanities like, ‘it’s a gift from a friendly country’, and ‘no, there are no strings attached’. Yes, we did not commit our armed forces to fight the Yeminis alongside the Saudi troops. But would anyone care to count the number of times our leadership, both civilian and military, has had to make a beeline to Riyadh since the unexplained bounty from a ‘friendly country’ appeared in our coffers?
The manner in which an unnamed Saudi official has reportedly denied the kingdom’s financing of the ‘model mosques’ project and the subsequent clarification by a Bangladeshi official that the project is ‘partially’ funded by Saudi Arabia can mean that neither side wants to let go of ‘plausible deniability’, that mainstay of the world of proxies and unequal wars.
In Pakistan, we need an organised and inclusive approach to fighting extremism and intolerance. Deradicalisation calls for transparent and inclusive debate on the national narrative and the type of curricula for both mainstream academic institutions and specialised centres. In doing this, our own cultural identity, real as opposed to ‘engineered’ history and social sensibilities need to lead the way.
Lest one is accused of raising unnecessary alarm or going off on a tangent, let us not forget the Saudi government’s seed money for the Zakat fund and the manner in which Dr Maruf Dualibi influenced the Council of Islamic Ideology while tailoring the Hudood Ordinances. Renowned scholar Khaled Ahmed in his book Sleep Walking to Surrender: Dealing with Terrorism in Pakistan has detailed Dr Dualibi’s role in both the Zakat and Ushr ordinances and the Hudood laws.
According to him, the council in its report to the government in December 1981 held that the Hudood laws were deliberated by the Council and the law ministry “under the guidance of Dr Maruf Dualibi who was specially detailed by the Government of Saudi Arabia for this purpose”. Mr. Ahmed further notes in his book that the ordinance was framed in Arabic by Dr Dualibi while sitting in the Council’s office, and was later translated into Urdu by the government. The repercussions of the uniform application of this law without taking into consideration the pluralistic subscription to religious jurisprudence in Pakistan are a subject for a separate article. One may question whether it has opened the door to sectarian schism in the country.
In conclusion we must remember that the current dispenser of prescriptions is not a qualified doctor, one ‘B’ is missing from the MBBS.
Shahzad Sharjeel is a poet and analyst.