By Waqas Asghar
Jan 6, 2015

waqas asghar
Overthe last decade, a debate in the favour of or against the ongoing war on terrorism has been going on in Pakistan. However, the gruesome Peshawar incident brought the nation on one page. But, still there is a segment which is ignoring and still not supporting this national cause of war against terrorism. This group constitutes, mainly, the heads of certain mosques and religious school. Although they are small in number, the fact is that they are controlling a large section of society as they control the places where Islamic ideas are delivered to the general public. The most important thing is that it is place of discussing and delivering Islamic ideas.

The word ‘idea’ is not just a word; it creates ideology and determines the way of life. Although the government has announced its 20-point action plan to counter terrorism and registration of religious schools in the country, including review of laws and regulations is part of those 20 points. But, the government is missing out the main religious institution which directly interacts with the general people on daily basis; that is, the mosque.

No one can deny that during the Cold War era, sympathy was created from some of the mosques for those who were fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. A large portion of society became sympathetic to those people. In addition, people called them Mujahedeen, defenders of Islam and with so many other heroic titles. However, there had been collection of fund from general public in the name of Jihad. This practice is still going on, but not much openly.

It is significant to note some facts about the mosques in Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of mosques are out of the state control. No registration mechanism is there. They are established on the basis of sects. There is no formal selection process for the prayer leaders, like for employment of government teachers in public and private institutions. Some of the prayer leaders have fake identities as there is no registration authority for mosques. No one can have a debate with them out of the fear of Fatwa. Prayer leaders are the most vulnerable segment of society as they have low salaries and even for basic necessities they mostly look toward society. They mostly reside inside these mosques. There is no one there to make them accountable for their speeches.

If one considers all these facts, the conclusion can he can easily be reached that the Mosque has a linkage with extremism, sectarianism and violence. After the Peshawar incident, there were some prayer leaders who were defending this act of terrorism. Many of them were discussing in their Friday sermons whether the school children were martyred or not? It needs to be seen how society will react if and when Mumtaz Qadri (assassin of Salman Taseer) would be hanged. In one mosque this writer witnessed that the prayer leader was asking people to pray for whom he called “the Mujahedeen” who have been fighting all around the world and people replied “Amen”. This mosque is not situated in FATA, but in Rawalpindi, just a few kilometres from the Army General Head Quarters (GHQ).

There are still mosques in Rawalpindi Cantonment where after Friday prayers, Jihadist literature and newspapers are openly available for readers. Prayer leaders who have their residences inside the mosques have the opportunity to provide refuge to those for who they have sympathies. It makes sense that it is easy to operate terrorist activities from such mosques and they can be a safe place for any terrorist local network.

In order to separate the mosques and extremism, as well as sectarianism and terrorism; the government should take the following initiatives:

  1. Registration of all the religious institutions, not only religious schools, but also the mosques should be made within a defined timeframe.
  2. The government should envisage the policy to take control of all the mosques.
  3. Prayer leaders should be appointed by the government through a proper selection process like the federal or provincial public service commissions, and they should be treated as civil servants.
  4. The Friday sermons should be uniform throughout the country and approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
  5. Prayers leaders’ salaries must be issued by the government and their future promotion should be dealt like any civil servant.
  6. The government should only have authority to construct any mosque and proper ban on sect-title mosques.
  7. National unity training programmes should be arranged for prayers leader in order to de-radicalize extremism.
  8. Selected prayer leaders on merit should be sent abroad for exposure and training like any civil servant. State intelligence agencies should monitor those prayer leaders and make them accountable if they are found promoting extremism and sectarianism.

We should not forget that this is war of an idea. The mosques and religious schools are the places for promotion of the ideas of extremism and sectarianism that result in terrorism. Until and unless the government takes control over both these institutions, we would not win this war.

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