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Dynamics of Religion in Pakistani Society

Panel Chair: Syed Furrukh Zad Ali Shah | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

This panel intends to discuss the dynamics of religion in Pakistan. The four participants focus on various aspects to develop an understanding of a country which is famous for being the heir of first human settlements, with a rich history, reflective of a diverse Indo-oriental culture, carrying different Islamic religious expressions and a modern nation-state facing challenges of governance, globalization and modernity. First participant shall highlight the changing patterns of ‘madrasa education’, which has been vigorously resisted in the past; the second paper looks into the ‘Sectarian divides’ in a plural society on account of broader geo-political realities; third papers intends to explain the religious transformation on Social media and its consequences; the last paper shall look into the changing patterns of local politics with religious symbols and emerging cultural patterns subsuming them under appeal to religion. All these are broadly linked to various aspects of the politics and discourse of religion in from four different angles but ultimately creating an understandable pattern.

Misbah-ur Rehman

From Resistance to Reforms: Religious Education in Pakistani Madrasas in the aftermath of 9/11

Traditional Islamic institutions, the madrasas, are under intense scrutiny due to their apparent linkages with terrorism. It is being argued that madrasa pedagogy produces fanaticism and intolerance, which are detrimental to pluralism and multicultural reality. More often than not, the assertion has been that madrasas have become factories for global jihadis and a breeding ground for terrorism. Thus, in Pakistan and Afghanistan they have been linked to the rise of the Taliban (a Persian/Pashto plural of ‘talib’, a student of madrasa). The curriculum taught in Pakistani madrasas is an evolved version of the standardized teaching developed by Mulla Nizam al-Din of Lucknow (d. 1748), called Dars-i Nizami after its founder (), consisting of texts written mostly during 12th-15th centuries. With minor changes, this curriculum continues to be taught in religious institutions until today. In order to counter the ‘narrow mindset of medieval ages’, there have been several attempts to reform this curriculum. The first attempt was in 1962 and another one in 1979 but none of them could achieve their results. The events of September 11, created an increased interest in these institutions on a global level and the process of reform accelerated. Though attempts made by the then Military ruler Pervez Musharraf did not succeed but the changing environment forced many of the madrasa officials to change their perspective about reforms and a new movement of ‘reforms from within’ appeared. Currently, the curriculum itself is untouched but madrasas officials have agreed to introduce 2-5 years of ‘secular curriculum’ before students start their ‘religious curriculum’. The current paper will analyze these reforms locating them in the changing political environment.

Rana Bilal

The Social Ghazwa: Extremist and Counter-extremist Islamic discourses in Pakistani Social Media

Social media has provided users with an interactive space for discussions. The emergence of new media technologies is changing the premises of discussion about Islam. Pakistani social media has become a new arena for discussion and interaction among extremists and moderate Muslim voices. Muslims as content producers on social media are engaged in discussions about Islam and its multiple interpretations. Marginalized voices have gained a new platform to challenge the dominating discourse of Islam in Pakistan. Scholars have recently focused on the role of social media in propagating or resisting Islamic extremism in Pakistan. This study will conduct a qualitative meta-analysis of existing literature on extremists and counter-extremist discourses in social media of Pakistan. This study will conceptualize the academic and main stream work on diversified muslin discourses in social media of Pakistan. The purpose is to point out the gaps within the literature and set an agenda for the future research.

Hussain Muhammad

Religion, Music and mass mobilization by PTI: Transformation of political culture in Pakistan

Emergence of Imran khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) or Pakistan Movement for Justice’ as a strong political force since October 2011 brought about significant changes in the political landscape of the country. Using the slogan of 'Change', PTI succeeded in soliciting support from certain new segments and strata of society. Despite having a strong presence in the newly emerging Social Media, PTI could not ignore the importance of large political gatherings for securing and showing political strength. PTI used new devices, coined new political vocabulary and introduced a new style for mobilising its enthusiastic supporters/ activists in the public gatherings in different cities of Pakistan. They employed an unusual combination of religious jargon and live music at their rallies. The response of the young participants, both male and female, with dancing and singing gives a unique shape to these meetings. The trend has been significant both for politics in general and for the tradition of a right wing politics in Pakistan in particular. This new pattern of blending music, singing and dancing with political speeches, however, attracted sharp criticism from Pakistan’s traditional religious establishment. The trend is seen to be a departure from Pakistan's so called traditional Islamic values of ‘haya’, i.e. modesty, by many religious groups. Though a debatable issue, listening to and playing music is proscribed by many religious clerics in Islam. Similarly, dancing and free mixing of genders is considered to be an immodest behavior by them. Terming the political meetings of PTI to be mere ‘Musical Concerts’ and ‘Dance Parties’, they accuse Imran Khan of spreading ‘obscenity’, ‘contaminating’ Pakistan’s Islamic civilisation with ‘Western’ Culture and Civilization and playing into the hands of the ‘Jewish’ Lobby. Prominent among the critics of PTI is Jamiat-ul-Ulama-i-Islam (JUI) of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, an important religio-political party of Pakistan. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Imran Khan have emerged to be arch rivals in Pakistani politics. This is in spite of the fact that like JUI, PTI also maintains the public image of a right wing political party. Analysing this new pattern of PTI politics and the subsequent negative reaction of various religious groups, from the perspective of Adaptation and Transformation through which Pakistani society is passing, poses certain questions. Can these new experiments of PTI be understood in the context of traditional ‘Right’ versus ‘Left’ Wing politics? Or is the ideological division of Pakistani politics and society into ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ wings no more valid? How far can the intercultural global exchanges be held responsible for the emergence of this new style of PTI politics which employs singing and dancing on a public platform? Can this phenomenon be understood in the paradigm of Sufi traditions of this region and the harsh criticism of Ulama in the context of traditional Sufi-Ulama rivalry? To what extent can this trend be an outcome of a non-traditional and in varying degrees, a liberal interpretation of the new creed of religious media-savvy preachers? Is the political aspect involving political point scoring and mileage enough to fully explain these developments? How far do these experiments of PTI have the potential to affect political, social and religious changes in Pakistan and in which direction?


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