December Issue 2005

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 19 years ago

Overriding all norms of civilised behaviour, was the recent decision of the Majlis-i-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme Nabuwwat to force the majority community to boycott the minority community, in a village in the Frontier, simply because a young boy who had converted (under duress, according to his family) reverted back to his religion. Anyone found guilty of violating the edict was threatened with social ostracisation.

Currently, some mullahs seem to be on a conversion binge. Stories of Hindu girls being kidnapped, converted and forced into marrying Muslim boys are doing the rounds. Law enforcement agencies maintain that these girls have converted of their own volition after falling in love with Muslim boys, but the Hindu community contests the allegation. They argue that the girls are not being allowed to meet their parents, so that they can determine if, indeed, their daughters have converted out of choice. The failure of the officials to arrange for exclusive meetings on neutral territory rather than religious seminaries, in the presence of “vested interests,” puts a big question mark on these conversions.

The law enforcement authority’s questionable role in tackling minority-related issues has fanned the flames of religious chauvinism. In a dastardly act in Sangla Hill last month, three churches were torched and a school, hostel and private property ransacked by a mob, following an announcement over the local mosque’s loudspeaker, that a Christian boy had desecrated a Quran. It turned out that this was done at the behest of a man who had allegedly lost money in gambling to this particular boy.

Despite General Musharraf’s public pronouncements that no one will be allowed to use the pulpit to spread hatred, some religious bigots are using it for precisely this purpose — and getting away with it.

Incidentally, it’s not only the minority communities who are in danger from these obscurantist clerics. Why, in the earthquake-devastated region of Shangla, they decreed that descending from their abodes in the mountains 10,000 feet above, to take refuge in the relief camps to escape from the biting cold, was unIslamic as their women’s honour would come under threat from exposure to foreigners. It turned out that the cleric was serving the cause of a landlord who wanted farm hands on his fields.

Emboldened by the fact that there are no checks and balances on them, religious bigots are resorting to a dangerous game. On the one hand, this lobby is trying to isolate the minority communities and, on the other, they are attempting to shrink the space for the liberal elements in society, so as to extend their own sphere of influence.

Either the government takes these religious obscurantists to task for spreading conservatism, intolerance and hatred or Musharraf stops mentioning the word, “enlightened moderation.” For the two schools of thought cannot run side by side.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.