EDITOR'S NOTE: An article entitled "Extremism on the Rise Again," by Dr. Riffat Hassan was published in DAWN,  Karachi, on  Sunday, May 28, 2000. This version was sent out over the INRFVVP mailing list by Dr. Hassan. There are also many Cause and Effect Topics that can bew found at the main page, ready for our readers.

"The only hope of saving Pakistan from the religious extremists, the feudal tribal mafias, the corrupt bureaucrats, and the various types of opportunists and fortune-hunters is the emergence of an educated group of persons who understand Islam to be a religion of justice and compassion, of knowledge and reason, of openness and peace."


Recent news from Pakistan indicates that - once again - the self-styled custodians of Islam and "the Islamic way of life" are closing their ranks and raising a slogan which is able to bring our poor, illiterate, exploited, frustrated, and misery-ridden masses into  the streets.

How many times have we seen, in the last four decades, that each time the government has tried to take even a small step to address any human rights issue - particularly in the context of the rights of women and non-Muslims - the religious right has waved a red flag and screamed that "Islam" was "in danger" and had to be protected from infidels and traitors.

Such has been the power of the calculated rhetoric of the leadership of these extremist groups, that it has intimidated every  government, and nipped in the bud any initiative to bring about badly and urgently needed reforms.

I believe that General Musharraf wants to eliminate the glaring inequities which are found in Pakistani society, to move toward  making Pakistan more justice-centred. I believe he was in earnest when he made moral commitments about reform in his inaugural speech at the Human Rights Convention in Islamabad, on April 21, 2000. But his good intentions have been subverted by some of  his closest associates who do not have a record of supporting human rights. They are now beeing challenged, on the one hand, by the formidable alliance of the right-wing religious parties, and, on the other, by powerful feudal and tribal leaders.

How is General Musharraf going to face all this opposition? It seems that most of the powers-that-be in Pakistan are against him -  or, at least, against his desire to change the status quo. The influence of the religious right is visible even within the army, the only  institution which General Musharraf can count on. Placed in such a predicament, how is General Musharraf going to implement any of the badly and urgently needed reforms which he promised in his inaugural speech?

The only hope of saving Pakistan from the religious extremists, the feudal tribal mafias, the corrupt bureaucrats, and the various types of opportunists and fortune-hunters is the emergence of an educated group of persons who understand Islam to be a religion of justice and compassion, of knowledge and reason, of openness and peace. In Qur'anic terms, Islam represents the "middle way"  between two extremes. It is a religion of moderation, of balance. Most Muslims, including Pakistanis, are not extremists, and many of them could be classified as moderate, liberal or progressive.

If one can recall the history of the Muslims of the subcontinent in the hundred years before the creation of Pakistan, one would  remember that the leaders who liberated the Muslims from the yoke of foreign domination, both political and intellectual, were the "reformers" (for instance, of the Aligarh movement from Syed Ahmad Khan to Allama Iqbal) and not the revivalists who wanted to recreate the conditions prevailing in the mythic "golden age" of early Islam. Whereas the former recognized the urgent need to critique all the negative elements which hampered the development of the Muslim community, the latter denied that there was anything wrong with the Muslim community and put the blame for all its weaknesses on others.

Granted that they lived - and we live - in a world in which Islam and Muslims are seen not only as the "other" but also as the "adversary" by a number of people, yet as Muslims we must believe that God has given us the freedom of will, the ability to think and the duty to strive to become God's "khalifah" (vicegerent) on earth.

There are a substantial number of Pakistanis, both in Pakistan and outside, who do not subscribe to a literalistic and militaristic interpretation of Islam preached by the religious extremists. These Pakistanis understand Islam to be a human rights/women's rights oriented religion, that they are appalled by the injustice and cruelty which is being perpetrated in the name of Islam and the Creator whose essence is love, compassion and justice. There are many expatriate Pakistanis who are deeply concerned about the difficulty  of defending Islam against western stereotypes when so many girls and women are being brutalized, mutilated and killed in Muslim countries led by Pakistan, when there is so little protest in Muslim countries, including Pakistan, against the blatant and constant  violation of the fundamental ethical principles of Islam.

Many of us are extremely apprehensive that unless we can find a way to actualize what we teach our children is the core of Islam, our children will become alienated from the faith of their parents, even if they do not renounce it formally. There are an increasing number of Pakistanis who are confronting the fact that it is not the Americans, or the Zionists, or the Indians, who are inflicting untold damage on us, but our own inability to take a stand for our highest moral values which is eroding the ground on which we stand.

Given the present-day situation in Pakistan, the responsibility for saving the country from all the forces which seem hell-bent to destroy it - body, mind, and soul - rests not only on General Musharraf, but upon all of us who believe that it is possible to build a justice-centred society within the ethical framework of the Qur'an which is the magna carta of human rights. We have abdicated our responsibility to articulate our perspective for too long. We have failed seriously in two ways. First, we have allowed the religious extremists to become sole spokespersons for Islam, to teach hatred and bigotry and violence in the name of a religion which is supposed to be a
blessing for all humanity.

Second, we have allowed the anti-religious extremists who maintain that Islam and human rights are incompatible to hijack the human rights discourse in Pakistan and to monopolize the right and authority to speak about human rights. Vocal as these two groups of extremists are, they do not represent mainstream Pakistanis who are, indeed, "in the middle". It is the viewpoint of the moderate, "liberal" and "progressive" Muslims who form the silent majority which now must be voiced.

It is high time we the educated, rational, open-minded Pakistanis who believe in justice and compassion for all stood up and spoke out what we believe. If we do not stand up and speak out today, if we do not organize ourselves and do whatever it is in our power to do to help all those persons of goodwill in Pakistan who want to save Pakistan from extremists and vested interests, we will lose the last chance we have to stop and to rectify the great wrongs that have been, and are being, done in our homeland.

If having the power to do something, we opt to do nothing, we will be accountable before God , before our own conscience, and also before our children to whom we could not pass on the legacy of a homeland created with so much struggle and sacrifice, hope and faith.

Professor Dr. Riffat Hassan,
P.O. Box 17202,
Kentucky 40217,
Phone: 502 637 4090
502 637 4002


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