Red, White and Black

Religion and Us?
1 December, 2005, 1:47 am
Filed under: Islam, Pakistan

We, Pakistanis are a religious nation. Religion does matter a great deal to the common man but at times it borders at fanaticism. Sangla Hill, the early morning firing at the Ahmedi Mosque, the blasphemy laws and things of this sort make me wonder where religion really stands for us.It’s okay to be religious. But somehow through these incidents it seems that religion is all that we care about. And we care about it like fanatics. Why?

It is true that religion has been played as a pawn by the political actors since independence – but the increase in such events makes me wonder if thats what it is all about. Let me elaborate.

The state can adopt religious overtones to win votes, the state can go the Zia way too -just to stabilise his regime and the state can also attempt to introduce the Shariah Bill at the National Assembly like Nawaz Sharif once did. But can the state inculcate this fanaticism about religion? The Church burnings and firings at Ahmedi Mosques are not acts that have been perpetrated at the behest of the state. These are acts of men who believe that they are upholding the divine word – they are just acting in ‘defense’ of their religion. The state has nothing much to do with it. These cannot be categorised as political acts. But then, how should they be dealt with? And what makes these men behave as such? I think there are four main ways people look at religion in our society:

  1. Religion is something that the is a duty. From the moment a child begins his schooling he is bombarded with religious symbolism. He is informed of the importance of being a good Muslim. Religion is around him- everywhere- and he told that it is his duty to maintain its integrity and glory. And so it becomes. Religion is something very very important to him. And he can not just cheat on this duty.
  2. Religion is a spiritual thing. The person discovers religion as a refuge and it is not a compulsion for him but a very private and personal matter.
  3. Religion is a personal thing and you don’t just bother beyond that.
  4. Religion is sought as a refuge from social and economic problems. For most people belonging to this category religion is the saviour- it guides them when they see no purpose in their lives. Religion comes to their rescue and they are indebted.

I think that people who belong to the first and the fourth categories are the ones who indulge in the aforementioned acts. Our educational system is littered with references to religion and sermons on being good Muslims. So once that sense of duty to your religion has been ingrained then you will end up answering to it’s ‘call’- you always will. Just as young men do when they hear that the Quran has been desecrated. They have to do their duty to catch and punish the culprit.Now the ones that belong to the fourth category. I happened to watch this short film at the Kara Film Festival last year. It detailed the journey of a young graduate who hunts for jobs by the days and the spends his nights in cinema houses. Everyday he is accosted by some members of a religious group – they tell him about how fulfilling religion is and how satisfied he would be if he joins them. He pushes them away every time – he is not for it – he wants this big job and want to live his life. But he doesn’t find the big job and as his disillusionment grows he is more and more responsive to the religious guys. The final frame captured him fighting at the Afghan border – he was fighting a war for his religion.

All cases will not be this extreme- but I think that little film captured the whole dynamic perfectly. In our society when nothing else answers your call, religion turns up in a unrecognizable form to rescue you from your misery. It is such delusioned young men who take on the roles of the guardians of Islam. Their enemy is anyone who does not believe in what they believe to be Islam. And so they burn, they destroy, they kill.

To me this brainwashing and this disillusionment seems to be the only answer to the growing wave of religious fanatics- but still its not the whole story. Moreover, the factors that lead to this mess are not going anywhere, so then where are we headed?

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