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VIEW: In the name of God — Andleeb Abbas
Religion has become license to categorise and exorcise personal vendettas. The Blasphemy Law, which itself is blasphemy against the legal system of Pakistan, is a shameful intention of maligned intentions and misrepresentation of Islamic law, letter and spirit
“For God’s sake” is the best license to deceive and decree anybody and everybody. From an ordinary beggar on the street to the big guns responsible for ‘religious affairs’ in Pakistan, all is holy and sanctimonious for religion and the Almighty. Hajj, which is the highest and purest of spiritual cleansing practices for a Muslim, has been turned into a filthy game of money guzzling and insatiable greed, completely degrading the spirit and soul of the occasion. The shameful treatment meted out to the pilgrims from Pakistan is now open news with all implicated busy trying to shrug the filth off their shoulders and pile it on whoever is trying to implicate them in this ruthless game of snatching other people’s money.
The government, deaf to the pleas of the suffering pilgrims, was finally forced into action when the Supreme Court received a letter by Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Khalid alleging corruption of billions by the local ministry of religious affairs, which was managing the travel and boarding facilities of the pilgrims. According to him, the accommodation he was offering was only 2 km from the Haram and was priced at Saudi Riyals 33.50 while the one chosen by the ministry was far away and was rented at the cost of Saudi Riyals 3,600. The living conditions were so bad that people had little access to proper tenting and basic water and toilet facilities. Imagine their focus on surviving the lack of facilities rather than getting closer to God. As the Pandora’s Box opens, whistle-blowing becomes a favourite pastime of the people involved. The Pakistani Ambassador in Saudi Arabia has blamed it on the minister of religious affairs who in turn has blamed and ordered the arrest of DG Hajj, Rao Shakeel. The prime minister has ordered his customary enquiry and has gladly accepted the generous offer of the Saudi government to give Saudi Riyals 250 per pilgrim as token compensation for the difficulties faced by them, caused by their own corrupt leaders.
Hajj is the single biggest religious congregation in the world and is a huge miracle of almost three million people bowing in front of the Almighty in submission of their flawed humanity. However, this ritual where the rich and poor, black and the not-so-black are supposed to stand equal and go through the tough rituals with due endurance has also become a marketing and money making religious tourism package industry. Various groups have introduced differentiated packages that include special early flights, customised training and education programmes, six-star facilities and a grouping of who is who to give the feeling of exclusivity to these privileged classes. How on earth such discrimination serves the purpose of Hajj, which is a symbol of humility, inclusivity and equality, God only knows. The exploitation of religion is not a new phenomenon but what is novel in today’s world is what a professional and organised industry it has become, which targets every single religious instinct anyone has to ensnare and entrap vulnerable minds, be it the ignorance and innocence of a suicide bomber, the guilt of middle-class morality or the pomp and religiosity of the elite of society.
Religion has become license to categorise and exorcise personal vendettas. The Blasphemy Law, which itself is blasphemy against the legal system of Pakistan, is a shameful intention of maligned intentions and misrepresentation of Islamic law, letter and spirit. Aasia Bibi’s case may have become the favourite topic of talk shows and a chance for the ruling and opposition party to procure the unfound, favourable limelight. However, the fact remains that this law itself is Tauheen-e-Risalat. The hallmark of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was his magnanimity of heart and humility of action. His exemplary patience and abstinence from retaliation was what made him the greatest of the greats and converted the bitterest of his enemies into the most loyal of followers. The religious parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and so many other groups of Islamic defaming factions, are busy condemning those who dare touch the ‘holy’ law of blasphemy and threatening hell on earth to all those who dare question the interpretation of Islamic laws other than the ones decreed by them. This arrogance and insecurity of the religious clergy has always brought about their downfall and will again reduce them to a meaningless and irritating political echo.
These religious factions, no matter how irritating, are loud and obvious. The more worrying fact is the rise of the educated and sophisticated religious resellers who are subtle and devious in their apparently modern enlightenment version of Islam. These cosmetically well read Islamic exhibitors, at the peak of their life, claim to have done a deep study of Islam, which has transformed them into humble orators who can quote a Quranic verse at will to support any western quotation they may have uttered earlier on. It is this new breed of pseudo-reformed Islamists, having perfected the art of religious hypocrisy, who present the most dangerous trend in ‘Godly’ exploitation in the present times. They are dangerous because they have a higher credibility and following than the mullahs and thus actually disturb and disarm young minds more than the screaming imam with his predictable pre-Friday prayer condemnations.
Humanity is a universal religion and only its true followers and practitioners have the right to be called Muslim or Christian or any other title. God never believed in names only and He, through His prophets, gave the message of how a human gets the right of being, of existing, of elevating himself to the highest of cadres by respecting the differences in other people, by forgiving other people’s misdeeds and by concentrating on developing in oneself values of integrity, patience and tolerance. It is the flagrant devaluation of these principles that has, today, made the brand name Muslim such a dubious and distrustful trademark, which is associated with terror, intolerance and violence. It is thus not only for God’s sake but for the sake of the revival of the human race’s supremacy over all other species that we need to understand that religion without humanity and compassion is itself the biggest blasphemy, turning ‘mankind’ into ‘mancruel’.
The writer is a consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org