For the third time in two years, the abridged video sharing portal, TikTok, has been banned in Pakistan. The ban came in the wake of a pending case before the Sindh High Court. The next hearing is July 8, and I have no intention of discussing a sub-judicial case in this space. But it allows me to enter into a larger and broader debate about culture, technology, the relationship of citizen and state to them, our perceived moral code, the inflexible positions we take and our future generations. We timidly procrastinate when this debate is imminent for lack of courage and I think the postponement will lead to the next great radicalization of society. I am writing these lines not as a journalist or analyst, but as a father, citizen and member of the dominant religious community.
Before you begin, here is another caveat for you. The infusion of politics into religion has convinced many in this society that there is more than one team and the other team is an enemy. This has led to unnecessary cultural wars and the formation and reshaping of public sensitivities. If you are a religious political party with a declining vote share like Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI-F or many others, it is helpful to alter any differences in interpretation and declare the community altered. like the enemy. It has nothing to do with religion and a lot to do with politics. During the four decades of my consciousness, I have traveled all over this society and have found the same feelings on major religious issues. There is no conspiracy against the main religion and Islam is definitely not under threat in a country of 96% Muslim population.
The policy on religion only fosters a culture of insecurity and creates an environment of fear that makes the work of changing society almost impossible. Look around you. There is no big secret plan to socially conceive this country, to transform it into something foreign. The ignorance of moderate and liberal political parties when they come to power is a dead gift. And as with every passing day our religious perspective is shaped by religious politicians or by the political ambition of the ruling clerical class, we are doing an incredible injustice to the free spirit of Islam which, as a system of jurisprudence evolving, had so openly embraced change and the institution of ijtihad. As a person who has read a lot tafasir (Quranic commentaries) and the Siha Sitta (the authentic six of the hadith) as well as countless other original texts throughout, spontaneously from an early age, I can tell you that you are being misled by a misinterpretation of the faith by a politically charged community. Of course, the journey did not end there and since then I have read foundational texts of almost every major religion, works by some prominent atheists, agnostics and self-proclaimed heretics. Reading is always helpful, and if someone wants you to be so emotionally charged all the time that you stay away from the main texts of your own faith, they obviously don’t have your faith’s best interests at heart.
In The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam, Iqbal identifies three sources of knowledge that the Quran promotes: divine inspiration (wahi), history (examples from many past civilizations) and science (references to celestial bodies, flora and fauna and nature). One of the most fascinating ideas Iqbal derives from is the example of the bee which carries in its nature the plan to grow and behave according to a pre-programmed pattern that the Quran calls wahi. Decades later, Steve Jobs would have had a similar revelation when he witnessed the birth of a calf and was struck with wonder when he noticed how the newborn calf found its legs and source. of food without any advice. When you look at this remarkable expanse of your faith and the array of politically charged religious elites available in society, you have the distinct feeling of someone trying to solve complex calculus equations with an outdated and underpowered calculator, otherwise an abacus.
Maybe the clerics don’t want you to know your faith in depth, because then they would be the first to lose power. How? ‘Or’ What? Well, there is no concept of priests in Islam. In Christianity and many other religions, when you commit a sin, you go to the priest, you go to confession, and you get the instructions for penance. In Islam, there is only one stop, a direct window to God. Spread out your prayer mat, repent before Him, and seek guidance. That’s it. Originally, prayer leaders were meant to be reputable community leaders, not a standing religious class. So you get the simple economy of filibuster at play in our society.
Why is this important? Because of the times we live in. Technology is redefining the contours of society. Social media, the Internet and the globalization of the economy have made global consciousness an indivisible whole. Anyone who tells you that this trend can be reversed is lying to you. Many give you the example of the great Internet wall of China. They don’t understand the technology or the shape of things to come. And that’s not all. With an ever-growing population, technology has already usurped many traditional roles. Parenthood is one of them. Wrap your head around the emotional consequences of this statement.
The state has many responsibilities. But its first responsibility with self-preservation is to eradicate poverty, to ensure that citizens remain safe, protected, healthy and always have the opportunity to excel. Don’t tell me how broken this society is yet. If you want to talk about the decaying edifices of shame, honor and family values, we’ll have to have another long conversation. But since states have limited resources, they cannot be asked to waste them on moral policing. Islam says that God is the ultimate judge of everyone’s character. Who are we to interfere then?
Whenever Islam has become a cultural force, for example in Cordoba, Baghdad, Constantinople, Cairo, Delhi, elsewhere, it has done so by embracing pluralism and creating a safe space for every citizen, regardless his individual choices. If Pakistan is to develop, it will have to do the same.
Consider the first of the three Delphic maxims: Know thyself. The other two are also worth mentioning. Nothing excessive. And the deposit brings ruin. Together, these three have served humanity well for millennia.
Posted in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2021.
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