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Need for Rational response to Extremism

In these times of an ever-widening religious-secular divide in Pakistan a religious scholar could get so many tributes from the ‘secular’ segments of society, the one was shot dead by unknown assailant, believed in the establishment of a rational and objective religious discourse in the country.
kKilling is not only a setback for rational religious discourse in the country, it also indicates the expansion of extremist religious forces.
Faith-based violence, persecution and intolerance are becoming a regular feature of life with sporadic attacks on shrines and the worship places of non-Muslims, and incidents of enforced conversions being reported from different cities.

Rational voices in religious discourse are considered important to balance extremist views. But such voices have fallen victim to intolerance and militancy. Many depict it as an outcome of the overall intellectual crisis in the country, but when rational voices are silenced, the sectarian hate discourse gets louder.

The existing religious narrative provides a lot of space to extremists and militants.
Many rational voices have been silenced by extremist forces, including that of Dr Shakil Auj, the dean of the Islamic Studies Department of Karachi University. He is believed to have been killed on the basis of a fake fatwa. The seminary in Karachi, on whose letterhead the fatwa was issued declaring Dr Auj an apostate and a disbeliever, denied it. He was a thorough academician engaged in the discourse of religious moderation.

Maulana Masood Baig, a scholar from Jamia Binoria, Karachi, was a young scholar who was trying to engage madressah students in debates on critical issues. Maulana Baig was a friend of a young Shia scholar, Allama Ali Akbar Kumaili, the son of the renowned religious figure Allama Abbas Kumaili. Both were shot dead within a week of each other this year in Karachi.

There are several other religious scholars across the sectarian divide who have lost their lives in their quest to promote rationality. Most people do not know about their sacrifices and the loss their deaths have caused to religion and society. These were the voices of reason and represented the hope that an effective response against extremism could be produced from within the larger religious discourse. Obviously, such incidents of targeted killing discourage other scholars from challenging extremist and irrational voices in society.

It is also true that such voices of reason are not in abundance in Pakistan, voices that can develop ideological responses to counter extremist ideologies. Public opinion in Pakistan is also largely influenced by the dominant radical religious discourse and such voices of reason often appear alien to the people.

Consequently, a common man finds no attraction in moderate voices in other spheres of life as well, including politics and social life. Extremists are still targeting leaders and workers  who represent moderate political views. A moderate and secular atmosphere provides a sense of protection to religious minorities. When minorities frequently fall victim to violence and persecution, it suggests irrationality and extremism have penetrated deep in the minds of the majority.

A rational religious discourse always contributes to shaping rational behaviour among individuals in a society. In contrast, the existing religious discourse in Pakistan provides a lot of space to extremists and militants either by outright support for them or by refusing to condemn them.

People who mostly follow the narratives offered to them by the state and the religious clergy also remain confused or silent about issues of religious extremism and militancy. The extremists indeed stand far ahead in propagating their ideologies through their publications and electronic media campaigns, which are together referred to as radical or militants’ media.

The extremists’ ideological campaigns notwithstanding, public opinion in Pakistan is greatly influenced by the prevalent larger hate discourse that is characterised by the existence of a large number of radical and sectarian organisations and madressahs.

Even though a number of Islamic scholars from all schools of thought in this larger religious discourse condemn terrorism and religious extremism, their view is not properly presented or publicised. At the same time, there is a glaring absence of a network of such religious scholars whose work focuses exclusively on countering the spread of religious radicalism and extremism in Pakistani society. As cited earlier, the increasing threats to such scholars are pushing the latter towards isolation or forcing them into silence, even exile.

Apart from enriching the intellectual discourse, inter-sectarian and inter-faith interactions help to develop the required rationality in religious discourse. Such interactions and dialogue are expected to promote a trend where efforts could be made to remove mutual misperceptions and settle controversies involving people of diverse opinion and bridge the gap between them.

Excerpts from 'No room for rational discourse'  by Muhammad Amir Rana, dawn.com
The writer is a security analyst.