Unsupervised madrassas have destroyed Sindh’s pluralism

The article was published on The Nation’s website on 27 March 2015

The-nation

Sindh is a land of Sufis where people belonging to all religions have lived in harmony for centuries. Jhoolay Laal or Laal Shahbaz Qalander of Sehwan is respected by Hindus and Muslims alike. Both throng the shrine of Qalander annualy for his urs. The recent attack on an Imambargah in Shikarpur may have shocked many due to the pluralistic and tolerant history of Sindhi society, however, it was not something unexpected. The first attack on Shias in Sindh had occurred in 1963 in Therhi town of Khairpur Mirs’ district. More than a hundred Shias were killed. The killers were associated with a wahabi madrassa in Therhi.

More than 50 years have passed since that incident but not much has changed. There have been many attacks on Shias during these 50 years, resulting in countless killings. As a formality, FIRs are registered but little action is taken against the culprits. Murderers of innocent people in the name of religion roam freely. We cannot ignore the factors that have harmed the pluralistic characteristic of Sindhi society. The state has knowingly either ignored or nurtured extremism in Sindh. It’s not just the Shia sect that is under severe threat but Ahmadis, Hindus and Sikhs are equally persecuted. The proliferation of madrassas preaching hatred and extremism is posing a threat to the suficulture of Sindh. Umerkot has more than 400 hundred madrassas despite the fact that half its population is Hindu. In Khairpur alone 93 madrassahs out of 117 are not registered. There have been several incidents of violence against minorities ignored by the government resulting in strengthening of fanatics. Let us look at the recent such incidents.

  • A Hindu temple was set on fire by a mob in Larkana in March 2014. . Days after the attack on the temple there was another attack on a Hindu temple in Hyderabad where the deity Hanuman’s idol was broken and the temple was set on fire. Later the temple in Larkana was repaired and visited by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari while perpetrators of the crime are still at large.
  • An estimated 20 or more Hindu girls are kidnapped and ‘converted to Islam’ every month in Sindh. It should be noted that in most of these cases of conversions, girls have been married to Muslim men. Also, it is very rare for a Hindu man to convert who should actually be more in numbers due to their exposure and freedom to intermingle with people from different backgrounds. According to Pakistan Peoples Party MNA Dr. Azra Fazal, Hindu girls are forcibly converted by various madrassas in Sindh.
  • According to a survey conducted by the Sindh Home Ministry in 2013 about 67 per cent of madrassas are owned by people who do not have a Sindh domicile. 74 per cent of the madrassas are in urban Sindh. About 600 madrassas are termed dangerous in the survey. Despite that we see little action against those who are preaching hatred in the name of religion in madrassas.
  • Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat’s (ASWJ) recent rally in Karachi and the arrest of Muhammad Jibran Nasir(who was released after a few hours) clearly shows that the Sindh government has no intention to curb the growing militancy. ASWJ is a banned organization but their rally was given full police protection. Civil society members, meanwhile, were arrested when they protested against a banned militant outfit.

The above incidents are indicative of the presence of madrassas backed by militant jihadi outfits.  In order to curb this wave of militancy in Sindh every one should play their part to root out this menace from the province. The government that has the greatest responsibility, instead of providing police protection to the banned jihadi organizations, should prosecute those who are involved in the murder of the innocent citizens.

Hatred against non-Muslims or people from different sects is not just taught in madrassas but also in private schools, universities and our homes. The curriculum promotes religious bigotry. The word Hindu is a synonym for enemy in the textbooks. There is a lesson from 10th grade Urdu book titled “Somnath ka mandir” or “the temple of Somnath” where Mehmood Ghaznavi, a warrior of 11 century has been portrayed as a Muslim hero. His famous statement “I would like to be known as an idol breaker instead of an idol worshiper” which has so proudly been written in the book leaves a mark on the young minds and they start believing that idol breaking is a great service to Islam and Muslims. Such curriculum has resulted in people breaking idols in today’s Sindh. It’s about time that the curriculum is revised and is made free of any religious prejudice.

The state should be oblivious to the religious inclination of its citizens. It’s time that we revisit our official documents and make necessary amendments so that minorities can have equal say in the government. The Quaid-e-Azam himself was an Ismaili Shia and he believed that no one should be discriminated because of their religion. In his address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan he said

“You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

Unless the government is serious nothing can stop the growth of religious bigotry. Even the message of Sufis will be forgotten if we do not pass that on to our children. There are many dimensions to this one single problem of religious hatred. We need to change our attitude towards religion. We have to understand that religion is a personal choice and should not be imposed. Religious extremism in any form should not be tolerated. We did not take actions against those attacking our Hindu brothers in Sindh and now Shias have become their target. If we do not stop it today, these monsters will start killing Ismailis, Bohras, Parsis and then everyone.