Building the Counter Narrative against Wahabism

Building the Counter Narrative against Wahabism


Pakistan and Islam are intertwined, with the religion forming the core and the nation wrapped around it. Some might disagree and would replace people in the middle with the armed forces at periphery, binding them. However, even if the latter is assumed true, it is undeniable that other than comradely and patriotism, the more potent force that motivates the armed forces itself, is again religion. The bulk of our population looks towards religion for understanding reality. It does the same when facing crisis. Religion is their  motivator to do good and  strength to abstain from bad. It is religion that provides the basic policing of oneself. It builds up self impeachment and personal accountability, traits that are valuable in a country where security apparatus is seemingly non- existent and where justice is a fairy tale. It is the intrinsic concept of virtue and sin that has to a degree held up the social order. Is it not a miracle that our nation is not entirely narcotized given that we are part of a heroine producing region that the world refers to as the Golden Crescent?

Both the ideological foundation and the constitution of Pakistan, if not based entirely are influenced by Islamic values. However, to resolve the current state of confusion, the values and the interpretation that are backed by consensus have to be not only defined, but enshrined. It is this confusion that had lead to a paralysis in the masses as well as leadership. We as a society are getting increasingly polarized. There is a group that has hijacked the banner of Islam and sailing it towards regression using winds from the middle-east. And in the process, it is trying to tug us to a territory of intolerance. And then we have the other group, which is shunning religion altogether, and wants its role next to nothing in the state of affairs and affairs of state. One driven by a foreign”Wahabi” ideology, feeding on our love of religion, building on the grievances of political failure and galvanized by our dysfunction. The other is trying to use a stencil of modern western civilization while keeping a blind eye on its perils, blaming religion for all ills, pedaling the fear of unknown and betting our very existence on religious detachment. Well both need to learn that Pakistan is neither Saudi Arabia nor USA.

Our way forward is to fight the ideological onslaught and pull our liberals back in the fold. This can only be done by building up a counter narrative of Islamic values against the ones which seem to have sprung up from nowhere and are dividing us as a nation. Who is a Muslim? Who is a martyr? Who can wage jihad? Can Muslims ally with west and rest of the world? These are all profound questions that are cropping up in collective psyche and must be addressed. This counter narrative has to be adopted soon and has to be shaped by consensus. Some of the areas the council of Islamic ideology needs to address to weed out the flawed concepts that have taken root in our fertile religious minds are as follows:

First and foremost we need education and in particular religious education that is pluralistic. If we look at our sectarian make-up, we constitute largely of Sunnis and Shiaa sects. But even within these larger groups- Sunni for example- we have several smaller groups (Deobandi, Barelvis, Ahle Hadith etc). Furthermore, we have a sizeable Christian and Hindu population and albeit small, an indigenous Kalash community.  And so a nation that is compounded by so many elements cannot afford to have religious education that would teach one group’s superiority in way that declares the others deviant or heretic. On the contrary, a conducive environment must be established that would enable us to learn from every community. We must instil tolerance and our education particularly in madrasas must not be based on our insecurity of the west. It will take extreme courage from our religious leaders to climb down their lofty castles of self-righteousness. However in the process they will purchase humility for arrogance, a trade that is valued in the eye of their creator.  It is a leap of faith but the direction is clear, we need an integrating approach rather than a differentiating one.

To be more specific, a good place to begin would be banning the practice and preaching of “takfeer”.  Takfeer refers to the ruling that deems someone out of the fold of Islam and labels them apostates. This clears the conscience, removes any remorse in its practitioners, who callously attack the populace as they feel an obligation and a sacred duty to kill apostates. Unfortunately, looking at the tradition of Islamic scholars, even the staunchest of them have strayed away from using it. In modern day Pakistan however, it is a blunt tool that is used simplistically by some groups. In fact the brainwashing of individuals- so called “fidaeen”- who carry out heinous suicide bombing attacks, is done by embedding this concept repeatedly, never allowing their young minds to question it let alone challenge it. Ironically, there is a mountain load of scholarly literature that debunks this deviant concept, which is exactly what needs to be rolled out in the “counter narrative” .  Takfeer is at the heart of all modern terrorists groups that have wrecked havoc across the Muslim world be it Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabab in Somalia, IMU in Chechnya/ Uzbezistan or our very own TTP. Pakistan government must make use of all media to narrate that no individual would be allowed to practice takfeer. It should take as many ulema as it can on board to propagate this message. Unfortunately many a preachers, such as Maulana Abdul Aziz of red mosque, who is the high priest of this dangerous concept, are allowed openly to propagate their views. They should be challenged and checked.

A lot of similar divisive concepts have arisen due to the analysis and interpretation of Quran in an atomistic fashion. This again is an attitude that must be curbed. Our opinions are increasingly getting based on a limited snapshot of the holy book rather than a holistic view. Bite-size information and selective quotation is a recipe for disaster when studying theology. Unfortunately it is a practice that is rampant, even within our ulema.  The original message of the noble Quran is getting lost in the process from our national memory.  Emphasis should be to encompass the whole body of knowledge on a relevant topic for which an opinion is to be churned out. Thus walls of scepticism must be erected against ideas that do not sound mainstream, only to stop them from mass propagation before a thorough investigation is carried out.

The Friday sermons must be looked at as an opportunity for training the nation and building character. It is a fantastic platform for the government to disseminate the “national Islam”, address native issues in light of Quran and sunnah and layout guidelines. Unfortunately, many of the sermons either spew venom against other sects or state the obvious, the training opportunity is lost. All mosques sermons must be regulated.  Just as PEMRA acts as a governing body for media, a similar body for mosques must be established.

On the issue of blasphemy, anyone acting above the law must be punished. Every now and then an event regarding blasphemy stirs up emotions and creates an implosion. Shops are burned, houses and even villages are ransacked and the cost of damage is immeasurable.  There should be zero tolerance towards disruptive mob behaviour.  Unless discipline is brought into the application of law, we will continue to have tragedies like Salman Taseer and Badami bagh.

The term jihad, its use and prerogative must lie solely with the government and the army. Anyone willing to join jihad should enlist in the army. Any other organization that is “jihadi” must be banned regardless of the cause. This would be a loss to our armed forces, who have in past treated such groups as precious assets, ghost warriors to wage proxy wars. But we have now witnessed that in times of peace these groups are likely to go rogue and turn against us. Such is the menace caused by these rogue elements that the term “Mujahid” that entails dignity and honour has been tarnished and is being equated to barbarianism. It’s time we put an end to this practice. Similarly, the term “shariah” that should have been synonymous to peace and justice, sends a chill down the spine of many, ironically in a country where any form justice is almost non-existent (barring Karma).

To sum up, the state does not have an option to remain impartial over religious opinions that are fracturing our society and threatening to tear its very fabric. When a slogan “Kafir, Kafir, shia Kafir” is raised, it cannot remain silent. It has to be vocal and active against views that are intrinsically divisive, fascist and nihilistic.  It has to fight back with a counter narrative or rather the national narrative of Islam, one that is pluralistic and acceptable to masses.  Co-existence is only possible through mutual respect with room for disagreement. We need to learn the trait and practice it.

In every society, the left is the engine of progress while the right ensures integrity. Unfortunately both groups are pulling away from helm. At this point, we desperately need a strong religious left to evolve. We need to re-marry the carriage of nation to our liberal stalwarts and secure them with religious integrity. This can only be achieved by building a counter narrative.