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

Is Kim Jong-un considering ‘new way’?

Post Hanoi summit failure, speculation grows on what new mode of defense may be. Following the failure to reach an agreement at last month’s summit between the US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, tension has been building between the two sides, threatening the negotiations that they have built over the past year. While the breakdown of their second meeting did not lead to a war of words, North Korea said it was considering suspending talks with the United States, while Washington accused Pyongyang of “not doing what it needs to do.” The communist leader warned in his New Year’s speech this year he would have to find a new way for defending the North if the US did not keep its promises. As the US appears to have no intention of taking the “commensurate measures” the North seeks for the denuclearization steps it has taken, speculation has grown as to whether


By The Korea Herald
March 20, 2019

Opinion

South Korea says punishing women for abortion unconstitutional

The decision was made by the country’s National Human Rights Commission. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has delivered its opinion to the Constitutional Court that criminal penalties for women who undergo abortion, as well as doctors who perform them, are unconstitutional. The current law on abortion violates the right to self-determination, among others, the rights panel said Monday. Marking the first time the rights panel has ever expressed an official position on the highly volatile issue, it sent its statement to the court last week ahead of next month’s ruling on the constitutionality of the nation’s abortion laws.


By The Korea Herald
March 19, 2019

Opinion

Dialogue important after India-Pakistan crisis

As India and Pakistan wake up to the real possibilities of war, it is time to give dialogue another chance. Although the 2019 India-Pakistan standoff may have passed its immediate intensity, it is clear that the entire episode has left a slew of new worries for policymakers all over the world. It is crucial that lessons are learnt and crisis-handling procedures between the two countries put in place. Because there is no doubt that Pakistan and India were perilously close to war. In a digital age, resonating with the red noise of alternative facts fuelled by ultra-nationalisms, it was clear that the Modi regime’s need to bolster its flagging electoral ratings before an election took the Indian act of border incursion into Pakistan’s Ba


By Dawn
March 15, 2019

Opinion

Lotte seeks to exit China after investing $7.2b

The super conglomerate has been aggressively expanding throughout Asia in recent years. Despite its hefty investments in China over the years, Lotte Group appears to be seeking a complete departure from the market that was once highly lucrative, after failing to recover from a boycott campaign which was instigated by diplomatic bickering between Seoul and Beijing. The retail conglomerate was the main target of the diplomatic feud between China and South Korea over the deployment of an anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in 2017 on its golf course at the Lotte Skyhill Country Club in Seongju County. Despite some signs of thawing last year, Lotte continued to face hardships amid already worsened public sentiments, increased competitiveness of local brands and the popularity of e-commerce. Since entering the Chinese market with Lotte Mart store in 2004, the group has invested 8 t


By The Korea Herald
March 14, 2019

Opinion

India-Pakistan escalation gives edge to Modi in re-election bid

We take a look at the factors that will influence the upcoming Indian elections. The adage that no Indian election is fought solely on economic issues has hit home with a vengeance across political parties as the countdown begins for the 2019 General Election in India scheduled for April-May. In the aftermath of the 14 February terrorist attack on para-military forces in Pulwama, India-administered Kashmir, which was claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad and New Delhi’s unleashing of airstrikes against the terror outfit’s largest training camp deep inside Pakistani territory in response, electoral strategies are hurriedly being redrawn. What seemed to have been shaping as a poll campaign around bread-and-butter issues has now been infused with a strong dose of national security. Terrorism emanating from Pakistan, relations between India’s Hindu/Indic majority and its minority communities, and var


By Asia News Network
March 12, 2019

Opinion

India going to polls over five weeks from April 11

The world’s largest democracy prepares to go to polls with select issues in mind. India will hold elections over five weeks starting on April 11 involving some 900 million voters in what is the world’s largest democratic exercise that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking another term, called a “festival of democracy”. Mr Modi, whose humble origin as a tea seller is often highlighted, is pitted against Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who comes from a powerful political dynasty, and a host of other regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress. Opposition parties have been trying to put up a united front against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Election Commission on Sunday (March 11) announced that polling dates for the 543 parliamentary seats will take place in seven phases starting on April 11, and ending on May 19. Counting for these seven phases will


By The Straits Times
March 11, 2019