How Should We Tackle Religious Extremism in Pakistan?

Since 9/11, more than 35,000 Pakistani have lost their lives due to extremism. Necessary steps for the prevention of extremism would ideally been undertaken a bit earlier. Unfortunately prevention remains an unaccomplished task due to the wrong policies of the government and the military.

Most of the time the government and military have not been on the same page with regard to countering extremism and/or they have chosen a selective approach. Things have changed quite a lot under the new government and the new Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif. For the first time it seems that the government and the military have a single aim and a single vision. Two hundred and fifty-one people have been arrested for propagating hate speech, and a ban has been imposed on loudspeakers, which were often used to promote sectarian violence. A comprehensive operation by the name of "Zarb-e-Azb" is underway against the militants in the North-West region of Pakistan.

Acknowledging all that is being done, I still believe there is a long way to go before we will have successfully eradicated extremism from Pakistan. How to tackle extremism is a question that dwells on the minds of many Pakistani citizens. I would like to present a few measures necessary to defeat radicalism:

1) Monitoring the seminaries

I believe a comprehensive military operation against the militants is required, but if we focus on the root causes of extremism in Pakistan, it will become very clear that military operations alone will not suffice. The root causes are the seminaries that follow the orthodox and Islamist approach. Without monitoring them and without changing the curriculum there is very little hope to defeat this extremist and radical mindset completely. The operation against the terrorists will never reach its desired conclusion if the seminaries who are known for producing terrorists are left unchecked. The government has made some serious progress and yet, surprisingly, the maulvi Abdul Aziz (the cleric of the Red Mosque in Islamabad) still roams free and the authorities have not taken any steps against him. It is important to keep in mind that this cleric and his students have expressed full support for ISIS.

2) We not only need secularism but also a counter narrative against Islamism

Secularism cannot change a man's perception about religion. A lot of my liberal friends believe that secularism would be enough to counter Islamic extremism. But while secularism is indeed the only way we can have a tolerant and a pluralistic society, I also believe the issue of Islamic extremism cannot be solved without a counter narrative against Islamism. Islamism is the political interpretation of Islam. Islamists have interpreted Islam in a way that makes it seem as if every aspect of Islam is incomplete without politics. The fountainhead of Islamism, according to most of historians, is the Muslim Brotherhood (an Islamist organization founded by the Islamic scholar Hasan Al Banah in Egypt). Just like Karl Marx interpreted life in terms of economic factors and declared economy the vortex and crux of all the struggles and conflicts, Islamists have interpreted the whole Islam in terms of politics, where every aspect of Islam asks for a political answer. To understand Islamism, it is very important to study the works of Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi, the influential Islamist scholar of 20th century who was the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in the Sub-Continent.

Maulana Maududi presents God's sending of the prophets to the world in a particular political light. Thus, discussing the nature of the mission of the prophets in his book Tajdeed-o-Ihya-e Deen ('The Renewal and Revival of the Deen') Maulana Maududi wrote:-

"The highest goal of the mission of the prophets (peace be upon them) in this world has been to establish the Divine Government and enforce the system of life that they had brought from God. They were willing to give the people who followed Ignorance (ahl-e jahiliyat) the right to remain established in their ignorant (jahili) beliefs and to allow them to continue to follow their ignorant ways to the extent that the impact of their actions remained restricted to them alone. But they were not willing to give them the right and, quite naturally, they could not give them this right that the reign of power could be in their hands and that they could run human affairs according to the laws of Ignorance (jahiliyat). This is why all the prophets made efforts to set off a political revolution. In the case of some, their efforts were only to the extent of preparing the ground for instance, the Prophet Abraham. Some of them launched revolutionary movements in actual practice, but their work ended before establishing Divine Government for instance, the Messiah [Jesus]. And some took this movement to the stage of success for instance, the Prophet Moses and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)."

Rejecting this Islamist concept of prophethood as put forward by Maulana Maududi, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (the noted Islamic scholar, peace activist and former member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind) in his book "Ta'abir ki Ghalati" ('Error of Interpretation') writes:-

"This opinion about the prophets is not proper. Assuming that their concern was to acquire power and that had they acquired it, they would have permitted people to continue in their wrong ways, is absolutely wrong, for the very mission of the prophets was to guide people to goodness and what is right."

As we see, this issue is related with the political interpretation of Islam and hence it can only be confronted by providing a strong counter narrative against it.

3) Reformation of Islam

Muslims often get paranoid whenever the word ''reformation" is used. Therefore it is important to clarify what it entails. Reformation does not seek to remove those aspects from Islam that are outdated, but to simply elucidate Islam in a different and modern manner. To some people reformation is a difficult if not impossible task. It is a difficult task, and I consider the institutionalization of Islam as the biggest hurdle in the path of reformation. (You can read my article on the institutionalization of Islam here.)

Some people think that on a collective level reformation is impossible. This may be true, but on an individual level it is possible and from the individual level it can grow into a more collective endeavor. I also believe that it is the responsibility of the government to support the reformists in their noble cause.

4) Selective approach towards extremism

We have to end our selective approach towards extremism. Most of the People in Pakistan are quite sympathetic towards Afghan Taliban and other outfits like Jamat-ud-dawah (Pakistani organization which is known for his anti-Indian stance). We need to understand that any sort of extremism is bad and there are no good or bad terrorists, terrorists are simply terrorists and they must be condemned altogether.

In my opinion we can successfully defeat extremism by following these four main tactics.