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Tackling Religious Extremism in Pakistan

Religious extremism is a fundamental socio-cultural issue in Pakistan. The state and society must control the issue before it spreads across.
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Khalid Masood Khan

WHAT IS ISLAM? Islam is a monotheistic religion. It began in the 7th century AD in what is now Saudi Arabia, led by the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, who Muslims believe is the last Prophet of Allah (the Arabic word for God). Followers, known as Muslims, adhere to the Qur’an, the central text of Islam, and follow five pillars of faith:

1. Shahada: There is only one God, and Muhammad PBUH is His Prophet 2. Salat: Ritual prayer five times a day 3. Zakat: Giving alms to the poor 4. Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah 5. Sawm: Fasting during the month of Ramadhan

WHERE IS ISLAM PRACTICED? Over 1.5 billion people in the world are adherents of Islam. In other words, 23% of the world’s population is Muslim. Islam is the religion of diverse people worldwide in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Islam is often exclusively associated with the Middle East, although only 15-18% of the world’s Muslim population is Arab. The country with the largest Muslim population in the world is Indonesia. Approximately five to six million Muslims live in North America. Several leading scientists, physicians, athletes, and scholars are Muslims.

The Islamic Civilization has been the beacon in the history of the world. The culture and civilization represented knowledge, education, innovation, creation and invention until they became stagnant and dormant for multiple reasons. For five centuries, the western powers have dominated international power and, thus, have articulated the definitions and concepts of issues in their favour. Hence, there is no standard definition of religious extremism. However, religious extremism is a process of indoctrination of fanaticism, emotionalism and favouritism in religious practices than the real spirit of the religion. Almost different factions in all practising religions of the world practice religious extremism. It is absurd to associate Islam and Muslims with religious extremes; Islamo-Phobia is a religious extremism practised against Muslims and Islam. However, the article’s subject is religious extremism in Pakistan; therefore, the discussion shall remain focused on religious extremism in Pakistan.            

What is religious extremism? Religious extremism is a longstanding phenomenon that manifests in different forms. It is a concept that has been viewed as a high sense of ideological commitment expressed through specific actions that show deep loyalty to a belief system. It includes practices that characterize and define the rituals and customs of many religious groups. Religious extremism’s characteristic features include isolation, sermonizing to nonmembers, the maliciousness of members and nonmembers, criminalization, and elimination of recalcitrant persons or those considered enemies or ” non-believers.” Although nonmembers consider the behavioural patterns or actions of a religious group or groups among whom religious extremism holds sway to be delusional, members of these groups think otherwise, as they view their actions as normal activities endorsed by their belief systems. Religious extremism has also been viewed as the quest to enlarge the space of religious doctrines, political power and economic interests.

Religious extremism in Pakistan is a complex and multifaceted problem that has plagued the country for decades. It is rooted in various factors, including poverty, ignorance, political manipulation, and historical grievances. One of the main drivers of religious extremism in Pakistan is poverty. Many of the country’s poorest citizens are vulnerable to the messages of extremist groups, which often promise them a better life if they join their ranks. This is particularly true for young men and boys, who are often lured into extremist groups with the promise of money, food, and other necessities.

Another major factor contributing to religious extremism in Pakistan is ignorance. Many of the country’s citizens, particularly in rural areas, have little access to education and are thus susceptible to the messages of extremist groups. They may not fully understand the implications of joining such a group and may be easily swayed by the promises of a better life. There are also economic interests involved in religious extremism in Pakistan.

Political manipulation is also a significant contributor to religious extremism in Pakistan. Politicians and influential individuals often use extremist groups to further their agendas, whether to gain power or advance their own interests. This manipulation often radicalizes young people who may not have joined such groups.

Finally, historical grievances also play a role in religious extremism in Pakistan. The country has a long conflict with neighbouring India and the West, and many Pakistanis feel that these nations have wronged them. This sense of injustice can fuel extremist ideologies as individuals seek revenge against those they perceive as their oppressors. There is also a sentiment of pan-Islamism in society. Therefore, whenever there is a political conflict in an Islamic country, the people in Pakistan feel the brotherhood and show extreme responses. The issues of Kashmir, Palestine and the new world political order create tribulations among the Pakistanis. 

Having discussed various factors contributing to violent extremism explained by Western scholars, this article attempted to describe that the Western model to counter religious extremism is not productive in Pakistan. Pakistan requires local solutions to this problem with an indigenous socio-cultural strategy. However, poverty and illiteracy are not the only drivers contributing to violent extremism. In the case of Pakistan, it can be best explained by grouping these causes into three categories: situational, strategic and ideological. The three reasons then validate that the domestic but also regional, and international environment has had a role in engendering violent extremism in Pakistan. Radicalism in all its forms, used by any ethnic group or the followers of any religion to justify acts of violence, will not remain confined to one place but will be felt around the globe. So it is in the international community’s interest not to corner Pakistan for the past policy of the West and should instead help it curb the menace.

It is also essential to recognize that several factors explain where and how Pakistan failed to address the issue. All the factors discussed in the article are interdependent and need to be addressed, as it is in the interest of Pakistan to grow economically and politically. To conclude, the immediate requirement is to introduce political, economic and educational reforms and take bold initiatives to prevent future threats. It is an accepted fact that investing in education and socioeconomic development can lead to growth and stability and hence a peaceful and harmonious society. Educating the masses is as essential as educating “Muslim thought leaders” in mosques and educational institutions about the radicals among Muslims who threaten Muslim communities.

In conclusion, the issue of religious extremism has many underlying causes. It cannot be addressed by a single solution and will require a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of poverty, ignorance, political manipulation, and historical grievances. This will involve the government, civil society, media, and the international community working together to combat the crisis.

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