Sectarian issues in Pakistan
By: Adil Ashraf
Pakistan is home to numerous cultures, bloodlines, religions, and denominations. So Pakistan, in every sense, is a very diverse nation. Diversity is both a boon and a bane. However, sectarian diversity has proved to be a bane for Pakistan so far. Pakistan is a Muslim majority country with 96% population practicing Islam. Pakistani Muslims are predominantly Sunni and a small portion accounts for Shia Muslims. One religion being dominant in Pakistan, sectarian issues get the most limelight and are increasing day by day. These issues are the result of ideological conflict between Sunni and Shia schools of thought in Islam. Each school interprets the Quran and socio-political events in the history of Islam in a different way.
The major difference between these two sects revolves around the rightful successor of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This is the main apple of discord between the two sects. However, the remaining 4% of Pakistan’s population practice religions including Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc. Pakistan as a state and Islam as a religion enforce religious freedom. So a targeted attack on a religious minority is a rare sight but intra religious conflicts are again on the rise in Pakistan.
Sectarianism cannot be taken lightly because it can have economic, political, social, and security implications for poverty-ridden Pakistan. Sectarian violence started in the 1980s and Pakistan became a battleground between foreign-backed proxies. This war is still going on and violence is soaring but nothing concrete has been done so far. This sectarian conflict has already cost Pakistan thousands of innocent lives, unbearable economic impact, international defamation, and sanctions. This sectarian violence remain the most vicious threat to Pakistan as a country. It has been rightly said that one may recover from a surface wound but it cannot escape something killing it from inside. The same goes for these sectarian issues.
Government can undertake many steps to nip this evil. Foremost, devoted and comprehensive policy-making is required to stop this menace. Since, it is an overly sensitive issue efforts will have to be made from the grass root level. We need to develop a people to people understanding because people fear what conflicts with their views. For this, we need to educate the people from the school level. The children must be taught to live in harmony with one another irrespective of their backgrounds or religious identities. They should be taught to respect everyone’s way of thinking rather than taking it as an insult. There should be regular exchange programs between educational institutes to make students more prone to unorthodox views, cultures, and customs.
Secondly, people must be taught the real values of Islam. Religious illiteracy and ignorance are highly responsible for adding fuel to the fire of sectarianism. Therefore, these factors must be dealt with accordingly. Unfortunately, the extremist elements have successfully moulded Islamic teachings to serve their benefits. These teachings and extremist literature widely contrast the real Islamic values. This literature should be banned and only Quran and Sunnah should be made the ultimate source of guidance.
Next comes madrasah reforms, because only madrasah students can ensure an end to sectarianism. These students later on become religious scholars and leaders of prayers at the mosque. Hence, it is paramount that they learn genuine Islam and nurture feelings of brotherhood for their Muslim brothers. They should not be only taught the theological differences between various sects but also to respect those differences. Then only trained and professional religious scholars should be allowed to give speeches based on Quran and Sunnah. Moreover, they should be paid well so that they may not become a tool for extremists.
Additionally, we can follow the Singapore multicultural and multiracial model. Not in the same sense, but the government can encourage people from different sects to settle in the same neighbourhoods. This will lead to mixing and better engagement among people from different sects resulting in a more tolerant and peaceful society. Simultaneously, highly concentrated neighbourhoods need to be diluted at the earliest. This idea possesses the potential to reduce sectarian conflicts to a great extent if rightly focused particularly in the most volatile areas.
Moreover, the government needs to treat sectarian conflicts as a matter of national security. A concerned authority should be created to deal with this, and sectarian convicts should be trialed in military courts. These military courts should be swift in serving justice, and acquittance should never be an option for repeat miscreants. All the extremist and sectarian outfits should be banned and dealt with an iron hand. However, peace talks can be initiated to permanently dismantle these outfits in return for their legitimate demands and minimum punishments. Mosques and shrines should be under the monitoring of authorities. Because unfortunately, these sacred places end up being used as safe havens for anti-national and extremist elements. Moreover, Friday sermons need to be monitored in order to stop the propagation of hate speech or any extremist ideology.
Discussion on controversial topics especially in the public should be criminalized and punishable for up to several years in prison with a heavy fine for repeat offenders. This should be done without any delay because this is the root cause of rising sectarian conflicts. Whenever derogatory words are used against some notable Islamic personalities, we witness such violence. So this thing needs to be stopped because people are exceedingly sensitive when it comes to Sahabas [companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)]. It is in everyone’s interest to not provoke each other by discussing controversial topics.
In addition to this, a lack of patriotism is equally responsible for increasing sectarianism. People should realize that they are solely Muslims and Pakistanis and everything else is secondary. So if we can portray sectarianism as anti-national, people will start loathing it and these issues will certainly decrease.
In short, sectarianism poses a constant threat to Pakistan’s national unity, identity, and security. This issue has the potential to radicalise the whole nation and even start a genocide. Owing to its grave potential, it needs to be neutralised as early as possible. Any delay in addressing this issue can push Pakistan into an era of instability and civil war. So before this sectarian conflict divides the nation, we need to put all of our resources together to permanently close this sectarian chapter. Because only a united Pakistan is a strong Pakistan.