Among the believers

Upon Junaid Akram’s recommendation, I ended up watching the documentary, “Among the Believers” on Netflix.

The film had a lot to offer and a lot to reflect upon. It offered an insightful glimpse into the Pakistani mindset and paved way to some interesting thoughts. It’s a story of multiple conflicting narratives that quintessentially define the life in Pakistan. You see the two sides of Pakistan. A fundamentalist side that has its own tragic tale to tell about a state-sponsored massacre. And the apparently progressive side, which is heavily suffering at the hands of fundamentalists. Pakistan is truly a land of contradictions.

Screen-shot from the film: Maulana Aziz with a student. Courtesy:

One thought that I particularly mulled over long was about the nature of the Madrassah system. Following is a statement made by a Red Mosque Madrassah employee regarding the enrolled students:

Most are from poor and rural areas in Kashmir. We take care of their food, housing, clothes, and medical bills. Free of charge.

Now the aforementioned can only be achieved, if an institution has no shortage of money. And cashflow required to provide such a level of sustenance can only come from faith based donations. That is, donate in the name of Allah. That’s the basic politico-economics of Pakistan.

It is but natural for the Madrassah system to not only survive but flourish. The Madrassah system will undoubtedly stay at Pakistan, come what may. The problem, of course, lies in what is being taught at the Madrassah and the kind of religious intolerance and violence that is being perpetuated.

Introducing a modern, secular curriculum at Madrassah system can partly help but will not be a long lasting solution. The solution, in my opinion, has to be more organic and needs to spring from the fundamentals of Islam itself. 

The fundamental way to combat the fundamentalists of Madrassah is to offer an educational system like them. Open a Khanqah: Donate in the name of Allah but educate your child along mystical lines. Show that there is a fundamental unity of humanity and all religions, in their respective ways, offer some modicum of truth. The Truth, with a capital T, is, however, far greater than what the human mind can comprehend.

The only way to combat the evil in the name of Allah is through the good in the name of Allah. Salafism is to be combated with Sufism. That’s the only panacea. It cannot be combated with scientific rationalism or militant atheism. The human urge is to gravitate towards something more meaningful than the sum of its experiences. The human urge seeks something greater than itself.

This innate urge is, in my opinion, one of the reasons why religion cannot be completely eradicated from Pakistan, much to the chagrin of people like Richard Dawkins. However, attempts can be made at reforming Islam. Such attempts cannot come without the endorsement of and support from the State. Until that happens, Pakistan will continue to be a breeding ground for fundamentalists like Maualana Aziz of Red Mosque and films like “Among the Believers” will continue to resonate with the world.

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