Tracing the roots of religious extremism – A lecture by Dr. Mubarak Ali

“Tracing the roots of Religious Extremism: A Seminar series” is a program arranged by Institute for Peace and Secular Studies.  Well known historian Dr. Mubarak Ali delivered a lecture on April 16, 2011 under this program and talked in length about progression of religion in society, revivalism and modernization as two different approaches in Islamic scholars to changing realities with time and progress of society and new and upcoming challenges. He talked in length on different schools of thought in India specially Deoband and Bareilly, and how two schools have responded to contemporary issues and social changes from different approaches; while Deoband is revivalist and emphasize on resistance to change and modernization or progress in society, Barelvi school is more tolerant and accommodating. There is an interesting reference to issue surfaced in early twentieth century whether India was Dar-ul-Harab or Dar-ul-Aman, while Deobandis emphasized on India being Dar-ul-Harab (Under this influence a movement aroused after world war one and a small number of Muslims migrated to Afghanistan), Barelvis were of opinion that India is Dar-ul-Aman as Muslims can freely practice their religion.

After Independence and creation of Pakistan, ruling elite supported a theocratic structure for the constitution of new state, and that leads to the influence of religious groups and parties, and almost all leaders (from Liaqat Ali Khan onwards ) have sought support in religion as an easy approach to collect public sympathy OR to gain legitimacy for power, pinnacle of this approach was Zia regime and its amendments and policies to radicalize whole society. Constitutional accommodations to religion have helped provide authenticity to religious politics and claims over state affairs which in turn has weakened democracy in Pakistan because democracy accepts right of people as only power. Religious right, under constitutional support and heavy funding from its foreign sympathisers, has grown strong day by day so much so that no political party today can afford to displease the religious elements, pressure groups and political parties.

Leftists in Pakistan came under state oppression from very beginning and hence they were never able to formulate a proper formal political structure; differences between USSR and China also contributed to situation as their respective supported parties and groups were never able to jointly move towards a common goal, they also failed to formulate strategies considering local ground realities and situations, to this effect until today left in Pakistan is divided and weak and not able to gain mass support and create an effective strategy to face challenges of the day which includes radicalization of society and religious fundamentalism.

These weaknesses of political leadership, intelligentsia and state have contributed in worsening situation which has reached a level where now improvement in affairs is a distant possibility. Even if a government is willing to support liberal policies (like present PPP government or previous Musharraf government tried), they cannot find much support in people and there is shortage of capable minds to assist them.

There are various other interesting topics discussed in this talk, like renaissance in Europe, role of Church and gradual progress towards secularism and separation of state and church; if secularism is atheism or anti-religion; why non alignment of state towards religion can benefit religion and support minorities; every religion has objectives to bless humanity and as such every religion must be respected; how state has contributed in demoralization of society in Pakistan;  ancient civilization of Indus, its strong characteristics and why it is necessary to study Indus Valley civilization. Why nationalism can transform into chauvinism and people should be careful.

He also emphasize on hope, and that change is inevitable, changing global realities will bring positive effects despite all apparent resistance , what is needed is to keep on raising voice however short is the number of people advocating liberal and social reforms. His suggestion to people is to keep on studying and learning, keep on dwelling on history, philosophy and other social sciences subjects. He is very hopeful from people and pragmatic. Pragmatism despite all odds is what we need to carry on quest of enlightenment and betterment of people of Pakistan.

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