An independent think-tank

Accepting diversity is the key to resolve ideological ambiguities

Tolerating the values of diversity and pluralism can help resolve the prevailing socio-political and ideological ambiguities in Pakistan which not only create discord among people but also make it difficult to counter the perils of extremism and violence. Media and religious scholars have a key role in promoting these values in society. These views were expressed by participants of a seminar on ‘Socio-political and Ideological Ambiguities: Responses from Media and Religious Scholars’ organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in Islamabad on October 17. The seminar was part of a series of dialogue between religious and secular scholars.

Ershad Mehmud, a researcher and journalist, linked the existing socio-political and ideological ambiguities to the identity crisis of Pakistan. He explained how Pakistani society gradually experienced discord and confusion, particularly after 1970s, due to the poor and ambiguous policies of the rulers. He pointed out various examples of existing ambiguities in Pakistan at state and society level such as we have been condemning and also permitting US-drone strikes in our tribal areas.

Renowned TV anchorperson Asma Shirazi provided a brief account of some ideological ambiguities that Pakistan had inherited at the time of its birth. She said Jinnah’s dream of a secular Pakistan was later hijacked by those who wanted to run the country according to their own versions of Islam. She described Pakistani society as a ‘mob’ rather than a ‘nation’ and argued that radical changes were needed to put it on a clear ideological and sociopolitical direction.

Prof. Dr. Ali Akbar Al-Azhari, a religious scholar associated with Minhajul Quran, described how various versions of Islam have created confusions in minds of the people, who are gradually losing their intellectual capacity to differentiate between right and wrong and make critical decisions. He said such confusions were visible in Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies as well.

Maulana Hammad Lakhvi, a renowned religious scholar from Lahore, pointed out that there is a need to ascertain qualities and qualifications of a person who could be declared as a religious scholar because a common man finds it difficult to distinguish between a religious scholar and a Taliban activist. He expressed his concern about fake scholars who have political motives and use religion as a tool to achieve their personal objectives. He further said that the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) tell us that no decision should be made with an ambiguous mind.

Advisor to Prime Minister Maulana Atta Ullah Shahab emphasized the need for sectarian harmony in society. He argued that sectarian divisions were not only confusing people at individual level but also creating discord among them at societal level.

Journalist and TV anchorperson Saleem Safi criticised the double standards of the rulers and blamed them for the prevailing confused state of affairs and insecurity in country. He said it confuses the people about how to accept those as terrorists whose fight in Afghanistan is justified as jihad. He said militants had stricter and clearer policies and ideologies than Pakistani state and society. That is why state finds it difficult to defeat them.

Saqib Akbar, chairman, Albasirah, Islamabad said religion was not the only factor responsible for Pakistan’s current problems. He said religious scholars should create awareness among people about fatwas (religious decrees) that these are mere personal opinions and not mandatory to be followed.

Khurshid Nadeem highlighted the importance of learning from the experiences of states that went through similar problems. He said ‘state’ is a relatively newer concept and it is important to clearly define an ‘Islamic state’. He said diversity in a society is a something that should be supported rather than criticized.

Muhammad Amir Rana, director PIPS, said socio-political and ideological ambiguities are interlinked and if dealt carefully these could help to reconstruct a new social contract for Pakistan.

Maulana Ammar Khan Nasir, deputy director Shariah Academy, said the ambiguities are not a unique phenomenon in societies but in Pakistani perspective the issue is more worrisome because here ideological confusions are linked to violent behaviours.