By Arif Jamal
The governments in Pakistan never
fail to call on the ulema in their hour of need.
The tradition was kept alive when President Pervez
Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz met ulema
from different sects on October 15. The meeting
featured a failed attempt by the big two to obtain
a fatwa against suicide attacks.
Soon after the meeting, Minister of State for Religious
Affairs Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain claimed the ulema
had agreed to issue a fatwa against suicide attacks.
However, some of the ulema immediately denied having
made any such promise in the meeting. Other participants
chose to keep a meaningful silence. Consequently,
the government was put on the defensive.
The delegation which met the President and the Prime
Minister comprised some of the leading ulema representing
various sects. Maulana Mohammad Rafi Usmani and
Maulana Hanif Jallandhari are two leading Deobandi
ulema while Mufti Muneebur Rehman is a leading Brelvi
mufti and head of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee. Fatwas
from them may have come handy in the government's
campaign to curb the sectarian threat.
Pro-suicide attack edicts appear to be in vogue
in the post-9/11 situation. A number of Muslim leaders
all over the world have given fatwas in favor of
suicide attacks. Mohamed Elmasry, the head of the
Canadian Islamic Congress, has recently called upon
all Muslims to target Israeli civilians. He did
not care about the Canadian government's reaction
to his edict.
The fatwa failure is not the only recent evidence
betraying the government's helplessness in dealing
with the situation. Terrorism charges against two
leading Deobandi ulema of Islamabad, Laal Masjid
Khateeb, Maulana Abdul Aziz, and his younger brother,
Abdur Rashid Ghazi, had to be withdrawn recently.
The two brothers are the principal and the vice
principal of Jamia Fareedia, a leading Deobandi
madrassa in Islamabad. The government had put the
security and intelligence agencies on high alert
across the country after discovering an al-Qaeda
terrorist plot to target important buildings in
Islamabad two months ago. The plot was allegedly
discovered after the security agencies arrested
some al-Qaeda operatives who were part of this plot.
At that time the government also accused Maulana
Abdul Aziz and Abdur Rashid Ghazi of being part
of that plot. The withdrawal of terrorism charges
seems to be a part of the government efforts to
placa te the Deobandi ulema.
It is commonly believed among the religious circles
that the government had moved against the two ulema
because of the harsh fatwa the Darul Iftah of the
Laal (Red) Mosque had issued against the military
operations in Waziristan early this year. The fatwa
also forbade the Muslims to offeer funeral prayers
for those soldiers who died in the military operations.
Around 500 leading ulema and many other Darul Iftahs
of the country had supported the fatwa. The withdrawal
of the terrorism charges is seen as a clear message
to the sectarian and extremist forces that their
activities can be ignored, even if selectively.
As part of its strategy to control the extremist
religious forces, the Musharraf government had been
distancing itself from the Deobandi ulema in the
aftermath of the 9/11 events because of their affiliation
with the al-Qaeda network. The distance between
the government and the Deobandi ulema widened after
the failed suicide attacks against General Musharraf.
The government had been courting the Brelvi ulema
to offset the influence of the other sects and bring
in some kind of religious harmony in the country.
So much so that the Ulema Convention, held in Islamabad
earlier this year, was primarily a Brelvi affair.
The idea was that the state patronage of the Brelvi
ulema would help the government control the extremist
It is perhaps time to realize that courting one
sect to counter another is not a good solution.
If it has never worked in the past, how can it be
expected to work in the future?
Some recent edicts can be quoted to show that no
one sect has a monopoly over issuing fatwas. Shaikh
Hamza, the then secretary-general of the Brelvi
Jamiat Ulamae Pakistan (JUP), was the only Pakistani
religious leader who signed Osama bin Ladin's fatwa
of February 1998 that called upon the Muslims to
kill the Americans and their allies everywhere.
Even the so-called al-Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan
had refrained from doing so at that time. And one
of the harshest fatwas against General Pervez Musharraf
also came from a Brelvi leader, Pir Afzal Qadri
of the Almi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat. Yet one more proof
that the only possible solution to the sectarian
violence in the country lies in the separation of
the functions of state from the mosque.