Tag Archives: religion

Pakistan’s Other Clerics

When journalists write about religion in Pakistan, their articles usually focus on the extremist interpretation of Islam that is spread by terrorist groups like al Qaeda, or the consequences of this extremism like the murder of Salmaan Taseer. But just as Islam is not monolithic, neither is religion in Pakistan. In fact, the majority of Pakistanis adhere to a much more moderate reading of Islam. Religious scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi intends to keep it that way.

Javed GhamidiAt a time when many pin their hopes on “moderate” secular Muslims to lead the charge against radical militant Islam, Ghamidi offers a more forceful and profound deconstruction of the violent and bitter version of Islam that appears to be gaining ground in many parts of the Muslim world, including Pakistan. He challenges what he views as retrograde stances — on jihad, on the penal code of rape and adultery, on the curricula in the religious schools, or madrassas — but he does so with a purely fundamentalist approach: he rarely ventures outside the text of the Koran or prophetic tradition. He meticulously recovers detail from within the confines of religious text, and then delivers decisive blows to conservatives and militants who claim to be the defenders of Islam. His many followers are fond of comparing his influence in South Asia to that of Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim Islamic thinker of global repute, in Europe.

“Mr. Ghamidi has had a huge role in shaping Islamic laws in the country,” said Khalid Masood, the chairman of the Islamic Ideology Council in Islamabad. “And his debates on television have made a profound impact on public views.”

That’s from a profile of Mr. Ghamidi in yesterday’s Boston Globe, and one that Americans unfamiliar with moderate Islam would be well advised to read. Mr. Ghamidi is no revolutionary. He founded the Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences in 1983, and has been a member of Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology – the official body responsible for advising the government on Islamic issues – since 2006. Mr. Ghamidi’s Al-Mawrid Institute has published numerous works on issues such as jihad, suicide bombing, and women’s rights that contradict the edicts pronounced by extremists.

In addition to his research on Islamic law, Mr. Ghamidi has been a vocal proponent of democracy in Pakistan.

Even more incendiary than his specific position on questions of Islamic law, though, is Ghamidi’s vision for the future of Islamic politics. Ever since the Islamization campaign in Pakistan in the 1970s, religious parties have been making deep inroads into political power. But their real glory days came after September 2001, when a coalition of religious political parties led by the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami landed a majority in two of the four provincial governments in Pakistan. Pakistan, which began as a secular republic, has increasingly Islamized thanks to shrewd realpolitik maneuvering by some religious leaders.

Ghamidi expounds a different ideal: Muslim states, he says, cannot be theocracies, yet they cannot be divorced from Islam either. Islam cannot simply be one competing ideology or interest group that reigns supreme one moment and is gone the next. He instead argues for the active investment of the state in building institutions that will help create a truly “Islamic democracy.”

This is vision for Pakistan’s political future similar to that laid out by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in her last book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West.

It is being said that Pakistan is at war for its soul. Terrorists who adhere to an extremist, violent interpretation of Islam are attempting to influence the country at gunpoint. They bribe desperate young people with promises of heaven, and those that do not subscribe to their views they kill in cold blood.

But Pakistan’s soul is not being given up without a fight. The moderate majority of Pakistanis reject violence and extremism, and moderate religious scholars like Javed Ghamidi are fighting back not with bombs and guns but with scripture and reason. The moderates can win this battle, and in doing so realize the dream of the nation’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah: A democratic, prosperous, peaceful Pakistan. They deserve our support in their struggle.

Media Should Focus On Pakistan Flood, Not Quran Burning Pastor

Pakistan continues to suffer from the historic flooding that submerged over a fifth of the nation.  With over 2o million people displaced by the disaster, and billions of dollars in damage, it is disgraceful how little attention is being paid to the ongoing effects of the floods.

As we posited recently, media headlines – or the lack thereof – are considered a major reason why humanitarian relief is not coming as quickly as it should.

What is more disgraceful, though, is that the American media appears to be giving more attention to the Florida pastor who is organizing an event to burn Qurans than to the needs of Pakistani people.

A search of Google News this morning returned 9,921 links for the keywords “Quran Burning” over the past week, and only 5,854 links for the keywords “Pakistan floods”. This is shameful.

The United Nations has declared the Pakistan flooding the worst humanitarian crisis ever. It presently affects over 21 million people. While the death-toll has, thankfully, been relatively low, the destruction has been immense. With over 20 percent of the nation submerged by flood waters, houses, crops, business, and national infrastructure has been destroyed across the nation. And the disaster is growing.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said earlier this week that,

“Everything I saw and heard today confirmed that this disaster — already one of the largest the world has seen — is still getting bigger.”

The Council on Foreign Relations has warned that, beyond the immediate human suffering caused by the floods, the disaster threatens the stability of a close American ally.

The deadliest floods in Pakistan’s sixty-three-year history have killed over 1,600 and affected nearly fourteen million people. The devastation is sorely testing the government’s capacity, and setbacks are likely in its efforts toward economic growth and development, fight against militancy, and the country’s civil-military relations.

Despite the clear and present danger posed by ignoring Pakistan’s need for relief and reconstruction, the American media has focused more on the publicity stunt of a small-time extremist. Rather than give a platform for the divisive and destructive antics of small-time fanatics, agenda setting media organizations should devote more time and resources to raising awareness and promoting constructive solutions to the needs of our friend and ally, Pakistan, in this their time of need.