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Pakistan: he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword January 11, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Pakistan, Snedden, Christopher , trackback

Christopher Snedden

Recent Facebook postings showed that many Pakistanis applauded Malik Mumtaz Qadri’s brutal assassination of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer.  So also did statements such as by Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri, a scholar of the less hardline Barelvi inclination.  For either Qadri—the malik or the maulana—Taseer was engaging in blasphemy against the Prophet, Muhammad.  His death was necessary, even laudable.

Hardline Pakistanis advocating or employing violence against other Pakistanis should stop and think.  Such brutality has a nasty habit of getting out of control, with violence able to be used against anyone not considered politically or religiously ‘correct’.  And those delivering the violence invariably determine correctness.  Equally, someone ‘correct’ today could become incorrect—and therefore disposable—tomorrow.

History shows that illegal and arbitrary violence is a fickle master.  Two example of its capriciousness come to mind: the revolutionaries executed by ‘Madame Guillotine’ as the French Revolution ‘ate its own’; the millions of deaths of innocent, patriotic Soviet citizens that Stalin’s merciless KGB and gulag killed.

Closer to home, vicious Sunni-Shia violence in Pakistan claims an increasing number of victims each year—which, in turn, inspires further inter-sect hatred and violence.  Equally, the Pakistan Army’s forceful and bloody removal from Islamabad’s Red Mosque in 2007 of Muslims who had ‘strayed from the correct path’ helped to inspire the current crop of Islamic fundamentalists now rampant throughout Pakistan.

However, Islam is not a monolith.  There are a variety of views and opinions about various aspects of this religion and its associated practices.  Indeed, like all religions heavily rooted in past events, much is open to interpretation.  This is particularly so in relation to current situations not envisaged when the religion came into being, such as overpopulation, medically-assisted contraception, nuclear weapons, neo-colonialism, the Global War on Terror, etc.

Most Muslims agree with Islam’s five ‘pillars’.  Apart from that, beliefs and practices vary according to local culture and beliefs.  In Pakistan, this means that moderate Muslims—which most Pakistanis still are—consider dancing and music acceptable.  So too do Sufis, who have a less formal approach to Islam.  For hardliners, such practices are unacceptable.  Similarly, many subcontinental Muslims often engage in ‘shrine worship’: they seek a former holy Muslim’s intervention on their behalf with Allah.  For fundamentalist Muslims, this saint worship is shirk, or idolatry.

Another issue is to do with the finality of the Prophet.  Pakistani Sunnis and Shias insist that the members of the Ahmadi (or Qadiani) sect, who consider that their nineteenth century founder was also a prophet, should legally be prohibited from calling themselves Muslims.  Ahmadis are often persecuted for this apostasy.  Conversely, hardline Muslim groups are not unanimous on what, or who, is correct in Islam.  For example, members of Ahl-e Hadith (‘people of the Hadith’) believe that they are the sole Muslim sect strictly abiding with ‘true’ Islam.  Of the 73 sects in Islam, only theirs will not be going to hell.

Pakistan is again facing difficult times, politically, economically and socially.  With Pakistan’s politicians distracted, its military otherwise engaged and moderate clerics somewhat cowed, Islamic fundamentalists who consider their beliefs and practices infallible largely have the field to themselves.  Economic deficiencies are tempting some repressed Pakistanis to join hardline sects that offer food, employment, some rudimentary education, and a powerful, Islamically-motivated (as they see it) ‘cause’.

Some Islamic groups do significant amounts of good in Pakistan.  But, as we are increasingly seeing, some groups are narrow-minded perpetrators of diabolical violence that often harms innocent Pakistanis.  Pakistan needs strong leaders and moderate believers to stand up and oppose such groups’ hardline views and actions.  This will be difficult.  Politicians have just witnessed the assassination of their vocal colleague, Salman Taseer.  Equally, most moderate Pakistani Muslims are poor and distracted from such causes by their need to obtain the wherewithal to live.

In the short term, Pakistan will experience increasing levels of violence as hardline sects prosecute their ‘Islamic’ agendas and persecute those they see as insufficiently Islamic.  This situation could be fuelled by zealous state-sanctioned violence seeking to root out these elements and/or by the persecuted seeking revenge.

In this escalating, awful and self-perpetuating situation, he who lives by the sword may very well die by somebody else’s sword.


1. sandygordon - January 15, 2011

Thanks Chris for another excellent piece on Pakistan.

You are, of course, right to point to the sectarian and other differences amongst Pakistani Muslims. But just to add another dimension, Qadri is a Barelvi from a particularly violent base that is prone to dispute any apparent denigration of the Prophet Mohammed. Some Barelvis have been pursuing the charge of denigration of the Prophet as a means of getting back at the Wahhabi/Hanafi elements and using the blasphemy laws to do so. The Wahhabis (you refer to Alh-e-Hadith) are opposed to the Barelvi practice of revering saints and even the Prophet and the blasphemy laws have been used to this effect. Recently two non-Barelvis (a father and son) were sentenced to life under the blasphemy laws for tearing down a poster advertising a Barelvi rally for the Prophet. I point this out just to clarify that not all Sufis are necessarily liberal in regard to the blasphemy laws – although I’m sure you would be the last to make such a claim.

Sandy Gordon

2. Christopher Snedden - January 17, 2011

Thanks, Sandy, adding another dimension is always very useful. Your point also confirms what I said about Islam—that it is not a monolith, with many and varied views and practices, including the use of this religion for political and/or religious ends, as you rightly showed above. In my opinion, Pakistan has started down a very ‘slippery slope’ by condoning the use of violence as a way to silence (perceived) apostasy. Some (hardline) Pakistanis have now advanced the speed at which they descend this ‘slope’ by using the blasphemy laws to silence other Muslims and to justify the use of such violence. This not only is opportunistic and intolerant, but also it leads to who knows where? As I suggested in an earlier Masala blog piece, Pakistan should seriously consider becoming a secular nation, with space—and respect—for people of all reasonable (i.e. non-violent) beliefs and practices.