See More on Facebook

Opinion

Removing hate speech from sermons

An editorial in Dawn newspaper asks how we can remove hate speech from inflammatory sermons.


Written by

Updated: March 28, 2018

It has been nearly 10 years since an angry mob raged through the streets of Gojra in the early morning hours of Aug 1, 2009. The trouble had begun the day before, Friday, when certain xenophobic clerics had incited Muslim villagers, citing rumours about the desecration of religious verses. On that grim day, around 10 Christians were burned alive.

The television news footage showed houses on fire, burnt furniture scattered on the streets. Gunshots still rang out through the air; it appeared that people were shooting at each other from the rooftops.

Later on, when the dead and injured were counted, when the politicians woke up and began to offer their thoughts and prayers, the tragic toll, besides the number of dead and injured, would become apparent: a community devastated by the anger of a mob motivated by hate.

There have been other incidents of hate and of sectarian violence since Gojra. And like Gojra, some have begun on Friday afternoons, after a preacher harbouring extremist views has riled up the fervour and sensitivities of the crowd before him. There have been times when such angry mobs have killed; or, if they have not, they have demanded murder or defended murderers.

For a very long time, there has been no accountability, no real means of connecting the men who are accused of preaching hate to a congregation of faithfuls to the incensed mobs that then march out into the streets. It has been assumed that the men standing at the pulpit, delivering the sermons, can do no wrong, can say no wrong, are disconnected from the rising levels of animosity and hatred that is, tragically, on the increase in many parts of the country.

Until this March, it did seem that little would change when it came to sermons inciting hatred and delivered by a section of clerics. On March 2 this year, the government, specifically the interior ministry, announced that it was considering 44 subjects that would be considered permissible topics for Friday sermons. The plan would be disseminated among the 1003 mosques in the Islamabad area as a pilot project.

According to officials of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, or Nacta, which collaborated to create the project, the plan has been developed after looking at similar plans implemented in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In all of those countries, appropriate themes have been given to clerics who prepare their Friday sermons in accordance with the directives.

On March 25, the committee overseeing the plan announced that it would be implemented and that the government would, in fact, be issuing a list of permissible themes to be addressed at the Friday sermon.

While many clerics in Islamabad have expectedly opposed the plan, insisting that the religious institutions and mosques in the city are controlled by the Auqaf department and not the capital’s administration, the committee that has decided to implement the plan contains representatives from both the Auqaf department and the administration.

The monitoring of the sermons (to ensure that clerics are complying with the approved themes) will be carried out by the Auqaf department, the capital administration and the Special Branch of the Islamabad Police.

In the days and weeks to come there are likely to be many obstacles to this sort of directive.

Over the years, while many other facets of Pakistani life have been circumscribed — made subject to diktats and directives, just laws and sometimes unjust laws, the whims of military rulers, the eccentricities of democratic rulers — the clergy has faced none. Some clerics who purport to represent the majority of Pakistanis have taken it upon themselves to issue directives and incite extremism.

The involvement of Nacta illustrates this — in hundreds, possibly even thousands, of mosques, clerics urge support for extremist thought, even violence, whilst ignoring the reality that thousands of Pakistanis have died as a result of violent tactics.

For too long, hate-filled clerics have remained above the law, able to operate with impunity.

Freedom is a great thing, particularly in relation to faith. However, in this case, the freedom accorded to clerics has been used to abridge the freedom of so many Pakistanis to practise their own faith and in their own way. Those who use freedom to abridge and destroy the freedom of others must not be permitted to do so; they can only be seen as the enemies of freedom itself, and they must not be allowed to misuse their authority in religious matters.

This monitoring and theme-implementation project will, at its inception, only be operative in Islamabad. The Special Branch has the capacity to implement the plan and monitor it. Close monitoring is essential to ensure that mosque leaders see that this is not a symbolic move.

In terms of the programme’s implementation in the rest of the country, there will be a need to enhance the monitoring abilities of the police. In this age of closed-circuit television, however, actual people may not be necessary to identify those who are not complying with the interior ministry’s approved themes. The directive could simply require that all mosques submit a text of the Friday sermon in written form prior to delivery and a recording following it.

The regulation of Friday sermons and the development of a code of conduct that ensures that our religious institutions are not abused or made into hotbeds of inciting hatred is crucial to the welfare of Pakistan. A mosque is a place for prayer and reverence, and the monitoring and regulation of Friday sermons will ensure that it can continue to be sacred and respected.

(This article was originally written by Rafia Zakaria and appeared in Dawn Newspaper)



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Opinion

Beijing slams unrest and backs HK govt’s use of lawful means to tackle it

Protests have shut down Hong Kong for the past several days before a government crackdown. Beijing yesterday condemned the unrest that broke out in Hong Kong over the city’s extradition Bill as an organised riot, and said it supported the local government’s use of lawful means to resolve the situation. Asked if the central government supported the use of rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong was against any act that undermines the city’s prosperity and stability. “Any civilised and lawful society will not tolerate the destruction of peace and tranquillity,” he said. “The Chinese central government strongly condemns all types of violence and supports the Hong Kong government to handle the matter according to the law.” Chinese state media


By The Straits Times
June 14, 2019

Opinion

Hong Kong protests turn violent

At least 72 people taken to hospital during clashes with police. At least 72 people were injured and taken to hospital during clashes between police and protesters on Wednesday (June 12) over a contentious extradition Bill, said Hong Kong authorities. By night time, police officers were still in a stand-off with protesters on Queensway, not far from Admiralty Station, even though most of the protestors had dispersed following the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. Earlier, police fired rubber bullets at protesters after they declared a “riot” as – for the second time in days – clashes broke out between police and protesters demonstrating against the controversial extradition Bill.


By The Straits Times
June 13, 2019

Opinion

Abe to visit Iran to mediate with U.S.

The Japanese Prime Minister is due in Tehran today. The government is making arrangements for Abe to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Abe will encourage the United States and Iran to hold direct dialogue, aiming to mediate the increasing tensions between two countries over their nuclear agreement. It will be the first visit to Iran by an incumbent prime minister in 41 years, since former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda visited the country in 1978, and the first since the Islamic revolution of 1979. According to government sources, the government is considering having Abe meet with Rouhani on Wendesday and with Khamenei on Thursday. Foreign Minister Taro Kono will visit Teheran on Wednesday before Abe’s arrival and meet with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.


By The Japan News
June 12, 2019

Opinion

Hong Kong leader defiant despite protest over extradition bill.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says extradition Bill has to be passed as opponents call for fresh protests. A day after what organisers touted as an unprecedented protest with a record one million people taking to the streets to protest against proposed changes to an extradition Bill, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has shown no signs of backing down even as opponents called for fresh protests. Mrs Lam told the media late in the morning on Monday (June 10) that the proposed amendments to the Bill that will go through a second reading on Wednesday (June 12), “will help to uphold justice”. She noted that the intense discussions over the last four months since the idea was mooted in early February “is quite unprecedented”.


By The Straits Times
June 11, 2019

Opinion

Pakistan’s healthcare system is not ready for coming epidemics

Naseem Salahuddin, an infectious disease specialist, looks at the bigger picture in Pakistan. THE Larkana HIV outbreak has opened up a can of worms throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan, exposing our feeble healthcare system — of which infectious diseases (IDs) comes into sharp focus. I do not recommend the following exposé be read by the faint-hearted, nor by those in positions of decision-making who have only observed health inequities from the comfort of their offices. It might hurt their sensibilities. A snapshot of a day in the ID department of the Indus Hospital, Karachi, will give the reader stomach-churning insights into the lives of the poor and sick. In the TB clinic, over 200 patients are waiting to be diagnosed or receive their free medicines, a third of whom have drug-resistant TB. One is a woman with both lungs destroyed by the most drug-resistant form of TB, pregnant for the n


By Dawn
June 11, 2019

Opinion

Investors still have confidence in China’s economy

An op-ed from China Daily arguing that the trade war has not dampened the country’s economic prospect. Wealthy Chinese and other Asian investors are near the top of the league tables for economic optimism worldwide. That makes sense because growth in Asia has outpaced that in the rest of the world for the past 20 years. But it does seem to overlook the intensifying US-China trade dispute, which has weighed on markets and economic activity and which ranks as the top worry for the same wealthy Asian investors who participated in a new UBS study. At first glance, it also flies in the face of the fact that wealthy Asian investors are holding large sums of their portfolios in cash, a clear sign they’d keep what they’ve got rather than put it to work-and at risk. What explains this possible contradiction? On second glance, the investors surveyed in the UBS Investor Sentiment report di


By China Daily
June 10, 2019