New religious body adds to Islamization in Pakistan

LIBERAL MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIAN ACTIVISTS HAVE BEEN EXPRESSING CONCERN over Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement of the establishment of an new body called the Rehmatul-lil-Alameen (‘Mercy for all the Worlds’—a phrase from the Koran) Authority (RAA). The goal of this new body is to ensure the implementation of the teachings of Muhammad in Pakistani society, namely by monitoring schools’ curricula, promoting Islamic research in universities and halting the spread of vulgar and blasphemous content on social media.

Sabir Michael, a lay Dominican, compares the move to the Islamization programme in the 1980s under military ruler Zia-ul-Haq, who prohibited pop music, entertainment, and dancing, while also banning advertising considered to be obscene. Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, Sabir Michael, who has been teaching at the University of Karachi since 2013, joins other critics in his concern that the RAA will strengthen the influence of extremist Islamic preachers and threaten the rights of women and religious minorities.

“It’s a political stunt, in my opinion. The Council of Islamic Ideology is already empowered enough and recently rejected the much-anticipated bill against forced conversions. It’s also duplicating an existing Ministry of Religious Affairs. Prime Minister Imran Khan is only trying to show that he is vigilant amid soaring inflation.  Pakistan is ranked as the country with the fourth highest inflation rate in the world, according to the Economist. The deadly protests by radical Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) add to the pressure on the government.

“The Prime Minister wants the RAA to formulate an intellectual response to blasphemous acts in the West. A perfect response would be to discourage people from taking the law into their own hands and to punish others without a fair trial.

“The Prime Minister’s party colleagues are campaigning for a so-called Islamic Presidential System in which the Supreme Leader will have absolute power. The Prime Minister does not favour democracy and makes decisions without any debate in Parliament. In that context, it is easier to convince people in the name of religion. He is using religion for political reasons. A day after raising the price of gasoline, Khan urged the nation to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Prophet Muhammad in an unprecedented manner. It was a political gimmick.

“The structural issues of extremism, poverty, economic disparities, increasing class and differences are not being addressed. His actions are artificial and temporary. RAA will monitor courses on Seerat-e-Nabi (Life of the Prophet) in schools, but it is already being taught until graduation. Seerat courses were created in all public universities of the country during 1975-76. RAA is only a replication—old wine in new bottles. Similarly, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting already oversees media content. The new religious body will only facilitate salaries for some people.

“Today Pakistan is isolated due to Islamisation and the lack of respect for human rights. Tourists have disappeared from our streets. Religious minorities cannot hold worship services without security arrangements. Schools and hotels have turned into fortresses. Non-Muslim parents prohibit their school-going children from engaging in any religious discourse. Even university students who claim to be secular are TLP activists at heart. Only enforcement of Shariah, Islamic law punishments can open their eyes. Today’s youth is predominantly extremist. TLP slogans are proudly inscribed on street shops. RAA will make matters worse.

“With this new body, the state is promoting one religion and negating others. This preferential treatment of Islam is a threat. Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees the equality of all citizens without any discrimination. Article 20 of Pakistan’s Constitution guarantees the freedom of every citizen to profess, practice and propagate his or her religion. As equal taxpayers, Christians demand an alternate ‘love to all’ or ‘love your neighbour’ authority.”

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