Growing Religious Intolerance


Azhar Saeed Hashmi


After watching the video of the hate speech of Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif son in law and aspiring Prime Minister Maryam Nawaz husband, Captain retired Muhammad Safdar in National Assembly of Pakistan in which he badly criticized the already prosecuted minority in Pakistan Ahmadis. He declared them threat to Pakistan, constitution and its ideology, realized that how intolerant we Pakistanis have become. How religious extremism is becoming mainstream day by day in our society.

The names and terms are just reflective of our perception and behavior towards minorities. Just look into any household and our general practice would be to differentiate between ‘us’ and ‘them’. One example is our treatment of our house-help. For most, the house-help eats in separate utensils; their glass is separated from the main household utensils just because they are non-Muslim.

It is always convenient to dislike someone which is not considered one of us or a part of the ‘majority’. Much has been spoken about the dilemma of Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salam whose achievements and accolades have been sidelined because of him being an Ahmadi an offshoot sect of Islam followers of which have been declared non-Muslims by the state.

Many years ago, there was a declamation contest on the topic of this article. A participant from Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute (GIKI) pretended to stumble as he rose to speak on his turn. Everybody laughed. And that was exactly what the contestant had expected. He started his speech by asserting that in any society tolerant of human weaknesses and failings there would be a complete silence among the audience in such a situation. Everybody was awestruck by the way he had made a point. Many felt ashamed.

Growing intolerance in society is a sign of troubled times
which must be countered and resolved in order to build a peaceful society.

One reason is very obvious for that trend: Our pathetic standards of education. I have seen students entering and leaving university remaining the same people. No perceptible change in their personalities. That does not seem to be a requirement at all. All you are expected is to pass an exam and that is it. I have the opportunity to have worked in some of the most prestigious institutes in the country. I have seen the people at the helm suffering from the same paranoia: The sense of insecurity; an innate inability to show enough understanding to let others act freely. We are clearly intolerant of anything unusual. You are accepted only if you are normal.

This is not something new. We have a history of this intolerance. The Muslim scientists and philosophers whom we glorify today as torchbearers of Muslim civilization had a very tough time in making their works and views accepted by their own brethren. Some of our religious scholars forbade their followers from reading philosophy lest they went astray by the dangerous new thoughts.

This approach has remained intact. In a recent gathering in a local hotel in Sialkot a very popular religious scholar (who hails from Gujranwala) derided Newton’s Law of Gravity and went on to give impression that Imam Ghazali’s objections to this theory were far superior to Newton’s work. As expected, the crowd seemed very satisfied and some even chanted “Allah-o-Akbar”. This institutionalization of hatred for scientific thoughts is clearly the most potent factor behind the intolerance for new ideas among the common people.

But the educated people, many of them if not all of them, in our universities are no different. Very few people in this country are speaking against this trend. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, for example, has written extensively about the mindset prevalent in the institutions of higher learning in our country.

We, as a nation, are reaping the fruits of what we have allowed to grow over decades. Though the military leadership is bent upon eradicating the end product, we need to pay attention to the nurseries of this extremism. The solution is nowhere to be found as the political leadership in this country is simply not capable of handling the problem; at least not in any foreseeable future.