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Ramazan is a month of restraint and discipline. The ability to curb your instincts and desires is the motive behind fasting. Not to eat is symbolic. However, it is taken as an end objective. That too for fifteen hours. The minute the fast is opened an uncontrollable spree of binge eating starts. That is why this month many times becomes a month of talking, saying, preaching, speaking, sermoning, but not doing, not following, not living the real values. This is why religious rituals have become more of exhibition of religiosity rather than spirituality. That is why the more aware and skeptical segment gets more and more convinced that religion is just a licence for some people to get their agendas through. While this may be true in some cases, instead of blaming religion we must blame people for not being able to understand the real spirit behind religion and letting the misunderstanding prevail.

The real message of Ramazan is self-discipline. Self-discipline is not just for religion but for health, for productivity, for harmony and for life. The fact that Pakistan is facing a tough third wave of Covid-19 is due to lack of self-discipline of the masses. A small action of wearing a mask and not holding or participating in gatherings has become difficult. Imagine the loss this self-discipline is causing to families, to economies and to the world. The world is witnessing a rebellion in obeying SOPs and lockdowns. Pakistan is no exception. Imagine having to call in the army to make people wear masks and that too for their own safety and life. That is why the role of religion and religious leaders to practice and preach self-discipline, harmony and peace is more important. Some long-term and short-term steps are required to deal with the socio-political divisions in society:

  1. Poverty and Illiteracy - An empty stomach or mind is a haven for unrest and rebellion. Terrorism in Pakistan has been facilitated in areas where development has been the lowest. The erstwhile FATA where the Taliban flourished exploited the deprivation and ignorance of a land never owned and developed. Every report and National Action Plan (NAP) has mentioned that the mindset and narrative need to change. Yet no government has worked on it. It is good to see for the first time the narrative change attempt in the single curriculum policy of the government that attempts to mainstream madrassah students in modern education. As FATA is now merged with KP province, its development will improve but time is of essence.

  2. Political exploitation - Every government, military or democratic in the past, has used the ‘religion card’. From Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s attempt to make religious allowances, to General Zia’s attempt to enforce his own version of Islam, religion has been the last resort for many to perpetuate their political power. That is why religious parties, despite not getting a huge vote bank (not more than 8-9%), have dictated terms. Rather than just forming political alliances with them for a vote bank, a comprehensive plan is required to engage them in building a more tolerant and disciplined strategy.

  3. State reluctance - State and the government need to be aligned in their objective of integrating and leveraging all diverse opinions in society. The perception that both are not on the same page becomes an exploitation point for external forces to spread distrust in Pakistan and paint an extremist picture to the world.

While state action to curb unrest is the immediate firefighting solution it is not going to work in the long run. In the long run, they must engage people into understanding of the real cause. The real teachings and character of Holy Prophet (PBUH) is what needs to be spread. To spread the cause of Islam the compassionate teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) need to be the discourse on global level and internally so that the mindset in Pakistan and about Pakistan change. Long-term solutions to change mindsets are:

1 Engaging the mosques - It is imperative that Friday sermons that are most attended by masses are facilitated through religious forums like Islamic Ideology Council, etc. They should be instructed to include role modeling behaviour of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in self-discipline, mutual respect, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion with quotes from holy books. This is the best way to create cultural acceptance of true spirit of our religion.

2 Reforming education - The way Islamiat is taught in public schools needs a total overhaul. It has to shift from cramming in a foreign language to understanding and getting inspired by it. For that the schools need to invest in teacher training by changing teaching methodologies. The content must be made more historical and logical through debates that create dialogues aside from just reproducing text material.

3 Using social media - For general public it is important that the social media is used to positively project the right message to society. We have seen how active India is in painting Pakistan as a terrorist state. An effort of identifying the right forums on social media where the masses communicate must be made and the correct videos by authentic and popular religious leaders must be placed to create alternative views for the masses and project the right image in the world.

4 Creating global understanding - Islamophobia has been on the rise since 9/11. Pakistan has suffered internally and externally due to a very lopsided portrayal of Islam. It is time for a more concerted and united effort by the Muslim community to increase the understanding of the true spirit of Islam. This can only be done if the Muslim countries establish a formal forum for raising this voice at every institutional and political level in the world.

The Holy Prophet (PBUH) inspired the whole world not just by preaching but by living and modeling the Islamic values. That is why the concept of “Seerat-un-Nabi” is to emulate and follow his character, his values, his life. If he was the most disciplined, tolerant and compassionate person then that is what we must focus on. It is through practice and living of the character of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that we pay homage, protect and inspire others to understand and respect our religious sentiments and values.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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