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The War Within Islam ( 1 Feb 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Religious Narratives and Practice: Religious Discourse Always Seeks an Enemy; It Can Be You or Me

By Zubair Torwali

February 02, 2016

The dominant discourse among the majority of Pakistanis is now overwhelmingly religious while the true practice of religion has long since faded away. Political Islam has generated this discourse, often wrapped in ignorance, while ‘modernity’ has given birth to an extreme form of avarice among common Muslims.

One can hear Islamic lectures from fellow Muslims daily while on the streets, in the bazaars, offices, during travel, at schools or other educational institutions but never does see the true spirit of religion practiced in day-to-day life. These Muslims forget all about Islamic teachings and principles in their monetary and social matters. An observer of five times’ prayer will never bother when he charges clients more than a reasonable profit, a time preacher/contractor will never stop embezzling funds, a teacher who never gets tired of teaching you Islam will never be ashamed of shirking his/her responsibilities, a staunch womaniser will ever exhort you on petty issues related to his version of religion and the list goes on. This is the lowest level.

On the secondary level our media anchors hunt people for their faith. Writers, especially those who write in the national language, bring out various theories based on their whims to mislead the common, credulous readers while for the ‘men of the pulpit’ religion is an open license to excommunicate fellow Muslims from Islam.

On a higher-level, Islam is used by people called terrorists. They kill innocent human beings whether women, children or men in the name of Islam. A state at war with these people makes us believe that these killers cannot be Muslims but never tries to develop a counter discourse. Instead of taking real steps the state tries to lull the masses with confusing songs. They blame neighbours for what is going on in the country but do not have to courage to reconsider what they have been doing with the religion since the inception of the country.

On the state level, Islam is being used for multiple purposes. One, by spreading overwhelming religious discourse the state and its governments avoid any demand for good governance, efficiency, provision of rights and so forth. Two, the state can easily turn this discourse around for certain strategic uses. We have seen too much of this after the discourse developed by Ziaul Haq and his accomplices in the time of the so-called Afghan jihad, and whose harvest we have been reaping for the last three decades. Three, Pakistan is a multi-ethnic country. In order to impose pseudo nationalism here the state favours religious discourse over all other pluralistic narratives. This policy favoured the major chunk of one single ethnicity along with a few powerful lords over others as the real power yielders in Pakistan mostly hail from this single ethnic majority.

Islam, in this country, is used for demonising human beings for political, personal and social reasons, and all this favours the grand narrative of our state. To think or act the slightest differently from the crowd is to invite wrath. On a personal level, when you become notable because of your struggle, other people, out of sheer jealousy, bring Islam in between in order to defame and distort your image. This ultimately leads to disaster for you, as there are many among these masterminds who can kill you in cold blood. The case of Malala is just one example.

Religious discourse always seeks an enemy. It can be you or me if we do not comply with popular sentiments and the thinking of the majority. In order to always have a front open, this discourse presents the rest of the world as an enemy, and to perpetuate this confrontation the bearers of this discourse create various conspiracy theories so as to further alienate the masses from any discourse that may focus on their poverty, ignorance and the injustices done to them.

We are told that the west is all secular or atheist. It is presented as the axis of all evil on earth. Studies, however, show that in the west many people still adhere to their respective religions and practice them often. They do not try to bring their faith out of their private spheres in order to demonise others. But, in our case, we see everything through the spectrum of religion and make it a public affair to yield ‘power’ over others whether it is political, social, professional or monetary. Daily we witness deadly attacks on other human beings in the name of religion but society at large does not respond to these heinous attacks because of the confusion created by ubiquitous religious discourse.

We have been experimenting with various strategies to ‘eradicate’ terrorism but never bother about the perpetrators of religious discourse whose extreme expression is terrorism.

If we really want permanent peace in our society we need to bring religion back to its private sphere where individuals can practice their preferred teachings and principles with real zest, peace and devotion.

Zubair Torwali is based in Swat where he heads IBT, an independent civil society organisation on education and development.