The Islamabad sit-in is a reminder to Pakistan that you reap what you sow

Published: November 23, 2017
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Religious activists stage sit-in as they protest in Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

For the past two weeks, hundreds of right-wing Islamists belonging to various religious parties have been protesting in Islamabad, which has disrupted the capital’s life. The protesters have been demanding the resignation of the federal law minister over a recently omitted reference to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in a constitutional bill.

While the law minister has apologised by terming the constitutional amendment a “clerical mistake”, the protesters continue to insist that they will carry on the protest unless the minister resigns.

Last week, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ordered the federal government to ensure that the protesters leave the capital within a day. However, the protesters have not moved an inch, forcing the federal government to request the court for more time to negotiate with hard-line religious leaders that are leading the sit-in. On Monday, the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan took a ‘suo moto’ notice of the situation, asking the government to clarify its position on why the latter has failed to evacuate the capital which remains paralysed.

So far, the protesters have ignored the government and other institution’s warnings and have vowed to confront the state’s power to protect what they believe is their divine right to guard – “the absolute finality of Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH)”.

The government appears to have lost control of the situation with hard-line religious groups challenging the state’s writ by terming the ruling party’s recent controversial constitutional amendment anti-Islamic and blasphemous. The situation in Islamabad points toward an existential challenge for Pakistan, which can have catastrophic results for the country if the state’s policy of giving in to hard-line Islamists inflaming religious passions is not dealt with.

The problem with Islamabad’s sit-in is that it resonates with millions of people across the country that also believes in implementing one particular version of Islam on others with force and violence.  The curriculum in public schools still continues to promote hatred against minority Muslims and non-Muslim groups. Students are taught to hate each other because they share different faiths. Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and other minority Muslims and non-Muslim communities are presented as lesser humans and a threat to the state’s so-called Islamic identity.

For instance, this is what one state-approved book teaches young minds about the necessary prerequisites for being a true Muslim:

“A person who does believe in oneness of Allah, the absolute finality of Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH), the Day of Judgment, and Books of Allah, is a Muslim.”

Moreover, the book also states that,

“Religious seminaries (are to be) patronised and annual financial assistance should be given to them.”

“The Muslims were weakened during the British empire. On the other hand, the Hindus, Sikhs and Christians enjoyed complete cultural and social liberties. To be a Muslim was a crime at that time,” notes the Punjab Textbook Board’s Pakistan history book.

By defining parameters of who can and cannot be a true Muslim, the state is only sanctioning and legitimising violence against religious groups that may share different faiths. Such narratives in curriculum and society only strengthen hard-line religious groups’ narratives of implementing one or some sects of Islam with force even if that means taking on the state itself.

The country’s National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, which was devised three years ago to deal with such challenges comprehensively, has failed to deal with core issues that are radicalising and militarising Pakistan’s society. While the NAP says that religious seminaries will be regulated with complete checks on their funding resources, the state’s curriculum states that religious seminaries should be patronised and offered funding.

Arguably, the protesters in Islamabad are a product of this curriculum. They are refusing to obey the state’s orders because the social, cultural, political and ideological environment created by the state over the last three decades only allows space for a radicalised society. They are citing divine rights to wage a holy struggle against some of the groups that do not share their religious views because that’s what the state has been teaching them.

While NAP and other counterterrorism plans discuss de-radicalisation of militant groups, the state is not focused on de-radicalising itself by rejecting ideas, narratives and traditions which are engendering the radicalisation of society in the first place. What is further alarming is that there appears to be no effort to contain the narratives of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan. In fact, the state has reached a point where such radical groups reflect the influence of a state within a state.

This post was originally published here.

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal is a freelance journalist and a correspondent for The Diplomat, based in Lahore, Pakistan. His research focuses primarily on the analysis of South Asian security and politics. He tweets @UmairJamal15 (twitter.com/UmairJamal15)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://solace-engineers.com/ UMAR FAROOQ

    You wrote: “The curriculum in public schools still continues to promote hatred against minority Muslims and non-Muslim groups.”
    no school teaches this in PakistanRecommend

  • Sid

    this is what the world has been telling Pakistan for a very long time….. You Reap what you SowRecommend

  • Rd px

    Ofcourse it does..students generally believe all Hindus are evilRecommend

  • Nana

    No doubt Allah is the most merciful and Rehman. If the matters would have been in the hands of man (read mullah) no human being would be alive. The stubbornness of these so called religious men have nailed it in me that Allah is great and most merciful and I’m super happy that He is going to decide my fate and not these bearded men.Recommend

  • Omar K Cheema

    “The Muslims were weakened during the British empire. On the other hand, the Hindus, Sikhs and Christians enjoyed complete cultural and social liberties. To be a Muslim was a crime at that time”

    This is not entirely untrue by the way.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The irony is that the ones who sowed the seeds reaped the monetary benefits ages ago and they and their families are well secured either in Pakistan or abroad…..the ones reaping the adverse fallout are the ordinary people of Pakistan.Recommend

  • http://solace-engineers.com/ UMAR FAROOQ

    Can you tell your school where this is taught? Stop spreading misinformation. First make a real ID and have guts to stand with your comments….Recommend

  • Memona

    The Hatred and Wahhabism in Pakistan was brought by Zia Ul Haq when he became dictator.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Agree with you. The mullas enforce their extremist/fundamentalists Sunni views.
    There is no protection of minority religions. None. Whatsoever.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    What is further alarming is that there appears to be no effort to contain the narratives of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan. In fact, the state has reached a point where such radical groups reflect the influence of a state within a state.

    It is none of state business in a democracy to check the narratives of the fundamentalist. More important is the posture of the legislators and the elected functionaries of the Government which adresses the concerns of the people they represent. The country needs long overdue education reforms in the country. there s no evidence in history that muslims were neglected by the colonialists who to be fair treated all indians as their slaves.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Kasturi K

    Brainless zombies creating chaos in the country.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Absolutely so. Agree with you 100%. Also, majority of
    of unskilled labor, such as taxi drivers etc. brought back
    toxic Wahabi/Khawariji ideology with them from Saudia
    to their villages, cities, you name it. Imported this scourge.
    Then, there are Saudi financed madrassas.Recommend

  • KS

    Kinda the whole point of the article no? Must have picked up your history lessons from the said books.
    It was a crime to be a native is more like it, not much to do with muslim or any other religion.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    While the law minister has apologised by terming the constitutional amendment a “clerical mistake”, the protesters continue to insist that they will carry on the protest unless the minister resigns.

    The message to the Government of disqualified Nawaz Sharif is very clear, while you are unable to restore equality in the communities by eleminating poverty, please do not play games with the religion in the constitution that majority muslims believe in and are prepared to accept the hardship in interim life hoping for a better life after death. This may sound strange to the author but is the truth he can obtain by taling direct to the labour in his country who wor hard for their living and regularly go to the mosques and listen to the cleric Imam. In case the Government does not appease to the demands of the demonstrators, this agitation is liely to spread in all major cities of the country

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Nana

    This is the kind of nation you are going to lead Imran(taliban) Khan: beware and enjoy!Recommend

  • Patwari

    No, this politics.
    OUT Nawaz OUT.
    Why is he not visiting his ailing near death wife now?Recommend

  • C Gupta

    GO NAWAZ GORecommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Curious that Pakistan prosecutes and executes those pushing any narrative deemed as blasphemy, but somehow hate speech against religious minorities is openly permitted!Recommend

  • Trey

    It is untrue and historical revisionism for the sake for religious propaganda and nonsense that creates further division. It’s unfortunate that this is being given any credence.

    They were all subjects under colonialism. This ‘enjoyed complete cultural and social liberties’ narrative is fantasy and a dishonest lie that just perpetuates myths of unique persecution for one group only and basically aims to just create a prejudiced Muslim versus non-Muslim world mindset, sentiments which isn’t unsurprisingly exploited by radicals and extremists.

    Are we going to act like Sikhs and Hindus didn’t get used, abused and killed by the British? Why would they demand independence then if everything was so good for them under the British? Are we to ignore the Muslim Nawabs, traders or soldiers that sought benefit under colonialism even after the 1857 revolt? Time to think critically, be accurate and not give into bias, which causes harm.Recommend

  • Trey

    The author quoted one passage from a Punjab approved textbook above. Besides being false, it promotes prejudice.

    “The Muslims were weakened during the British empire. On the other hand, the Hindus, Sikhs and Christians enjoyed complete cultural and social liberties. To be a Muslim was a crime at that time,” notes the Punjab Textbook Board’s Pakistan history book.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Like the Sharif Government the author has painted a doom scenario from the peaceful sit in which is now ending after the resignation of the Law Minister. All is well if the end is well. I guess the government has now lifted the sensor regime on media as well.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rizwan Nasar

    First and foremost this whole episode of Islamabad sit in was orchestrated in Jatiumrah by the PNLN folks to create chaos in the capitol to divert attention form the issue of ongoing prosecution of the “royal Sharif family.” They should not have attempted to change the language in the deceleration form in a sneaky manner. If they really wanted the change that should have been debated in the National Assembly and Senate and made public! The sad part about this PMLN government is that it has been ruling the country as if the Sharifs are the Royalty and what they say is the final word without any questions. Democracies do not work that way. The government of Pakistan does not define the parameters as to who or who cannot be a Muslim. It was defined over 1400 years ago and still remains the same. Like you wrote: “A person who does believe in oneness of Allah, the absolute finality of Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH), the Day of Judgment, and Books of Allah, is a Muslim.”Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    If you are going to do politics bringing in religion then Allah hi hafiz! How easily this nation can be misled, I’m amazed. You do not realise what has happened with you but I’m warning that everyone will pay the price of this folly which you term as ‘politics.’ Isn’t it politics when IK sups with JI and sits with Maulana Samiulhaq announcing that we have similarities? And stop indulging in conspiracy theories.Recommend

  • Abid Mahmud Ansari.

    Attempts were made during Quaid’s life time, and finally, these “half backed” ulema succeeded and made “Objective Resolution” as part of Pakistan’s first Constitution, six months after the death of the Quaid. That was a sad day for the Ideology of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    You have a point Sir, but blesphamy remains blesphamic whatever its interpretation. Bigotry is also blesphamy but to subject it to capital punishment cannot be justified. Though shall not kill is Gods commandment and this cannot be superceded.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Patwari

    No one is indulging in conspiracy theory.
    That is just your active imagination.Recommend