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Editorial: Intolerant Pakistan

Last week’s incident in Lahore highlights the dangers of dogma and points to an urgent need for reform

by Editorial

Screengrab of ASP Shehrbano taking the victim into protective custody

In an event that shames all Pakistanis, a mob in Lahore’s Ichra Bazaar on Sunday accused a woman of blasphemy for wearing clothing with Arabic calligraphy, nearly lynching her. The charged crowd gravely misinterpreted the inscription as a Quranic verse, with the situation resolved only through the swift actions of a brave policewoman. Such events are, tragically, not unique and signal the low civilizational level of Pakistanis aspiring to be residents of an “ideological” state. Unlike similar incidents of the past, where savage crowds have brutalized innocents, the “positive” outcome of this event evokes sincere praise for the people who intervened and saved the victim, shunning the indoctrination that has brought us to this point. Especially praiseworthy is ASP Syeda Shehrbano Naqvi, the policewoman who pacified the mob, and has been recommended for the Quaid-e-Azam Police Medal—the highest gallantry award for law-enforcers. Army chief Gen. Asim Munir has also met Naqvi and praised her heroic deed.

The incident once more raises the question of the type of religious ideology being stuffed into the people of Pakistan, who resort to medieval actions in the name of religion. What the illiterate crowd did was inexcusable. Reportedly, the victim was shopping with her husband when some passersby saw the calligraphy on her shirt, expressed their displeasure, and asked her to remove her clothing. When she refused, an argument ensued, leading to the mob harassment, which only ended after she was in the protective custody of police and apologized for her “inadvertent” mistake. There is wisdom (hikmat) in Islam based on flexibility of response but it becomes dysfunctional when it appears a dishonorable compromise. Principles once ingrained become a force against flexibility. If such individuals were only intolerant of non-Muslims, it would still be an internally fulfilled creed; but they are also intolerant of Muslims within Islam, taking us into the domain of group psychology.

Uncertainty assails an individual when he acts alone, but not when he is part of a group. Faith becomes firm with certainty and the group, formed into an orthodoxy, transforms itself into a crowd enslaved by dogma. Muslims in Pakistan kill Muslims on the basis of this dogma. Thomas Aquinas separated human belief into two elements: “will” and “reason,” under the influence of Aristotle, who got his wisdom from Ibn-e-Rushd. It is wrong to say that iman (faith) and yaqeen (certitude) should be one and the same thing in a Muslim. In the West, faith is something you believe but can’t prove; certitude is that which you can prove and which is provisionally backed by scientific evidence. This dichotomy in the West has allowed it to become non-dogmatic, progressive and morally correct even after becoming non-religious. Like communism, an ideology without the corrective of reason can only become irrational and dictatorial.

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