How to solve Pakistan’s problem

Nadeem Ul Haque
24 April 2009

The current political and security developments in Pakistan are disquieting to many people inside and outside the country. The news that militant forces are advancing territorially, challenging the legitimate  state forces and imposing their own brand of law contributes to the alarm expressed by figures such as Nadeem Ul Haque has had a long career with the International Monetary Fund. He has worked with other international agencies and been policy adviser to many countries including Pakistan

Also by Nadeem Ul Haque in openDemocracy: "Where do poor countries get their policy ideas?" (15 February 2005) 

"The independent state" (23 February 2009)Hillary Clinton, the United States secretary of state. Such trends reflect the wider rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan, in which structures of power and (in the broadest sense) mind-control have been established without any proper civic regulation and oversight.

The heart of the problem of fundamentalism lies in what people are taught, where and by whom. One way to address this issue is by thinking of it in terms of an industry which - unlike every other market-activity and profession - remains wholly unregulated. If Pakistan is serious about eradicating fundamentalism, as an essential step in allowing the country to progress, it must regulate this industry. This means reconsidering the role of the mosque and the mullah (or moulvi), the equivalent of the priest or teacher in Islam.

The way the mosque and moulvi operate in Pakistan raises questions about their influence and whether it accords with the interest of the public. The possibility of a foreign hand manipulating the moulvi is always under popular consideration; even more so when those leading the individual enterprise are the least enlightened and most dogmatic of people, whose power and authority comes from the manipulation of others (especially the impressionable young). The unaccountable operation of institutions whose leaders seek to implant a narrow and intolerant mindset has fuelled the fundamentalism that holds Pakistan back.

A mosque and a moulvi are Among openDemocracy's many articles on Pakistan:

Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan on edge" (25 September 2006)

Ehsan Masood, "Pakistan: the army as the state" (12 April 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, ""Pakistan's permanent crisis" (15 May 2007)

Anatol Lieven, "At the Red Mosque in Islamabad"

(4 June 2007) Maruf Khwaja, "The war for Pakistan" (24 July 2007)

Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan: farewell to democracy" (29 October 2007)

Irfan Husain, ""Pervez Musharraf's desperate gamble" (5 November 2007)

Shaun Gregory, "Musharraf: the fateful moment" (16 November 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, "Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto" (28 December 2007)

Fred Halliday, "The assassin's age: Pakistan in the world" (28 December 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "Pakistan: dynasty vs democracy" (9 January 2008) Irfan Husain, ""Pakistan's judgment day" (22 February 2008)

Irfan Husain. "Pervez Musharraf: the commando who couldn't" (19 August 2008)

Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan's political turmoil: Musharraf and beyond" (26 August 2008)

Paul Rogers, "Pakistan: the new frontline" (18 September 2008)

Shaun Gregory, "The Pakistani army and the Afghanistan war" (25 November 2008)

Paul Rogers, "The AfPak war: three options" (25 February 2009)

Paul Rogers, "A three-front war: Iraq, AfPak...Washington" (20 March 2009) supposed to serve a community. Yet the moulvi currently need defer to no one other than the vaguely defined political organisations that he might adhere to. No license is necessary to set up a mosque. The ownership and management of mosques is not regulated. The people in a community have hardly any say in the running of the mosque or the behaviour of the moulvi.  Many neighbourhoods cringe when the moulvi misuses the loudspeaker to say things that they may not agree with or subscribe to.  They have no say in the matter - not even in how loud he can turn on his loudspeaker or when and for how long he may use it. They cannot expect any human sympathy or forgiveness from the moulvi. He is there only to scare them and interpret Islam very narrowly.

Indeed, the way the mosque operates has moved far from the earlier days of Islam. It is no longer a community place. No true learning activities take place there, no seminars or journeys of discovery; not birthday parties or weddings either. The moulvi uses the mosque virtually as a private domain to advance a personal-political agenda.

The system of managing mosques and the moulvi the community. This would involve an opening out of the institution, with incentives built in for the moulvi and multiple learning rewards for those he is supposed to serve. The effect could be to change the dynamic of fundamentalism towards an enlightened and moderate approach.

A reformed system of mosque and mouvli regulation could be based on the following five principles:

▪ All mosques when built and opened should be publicly owned and based on a system of community control

▪ Defined mosque areas which the mosque is supposed to serve would elect the mosque committee, run the mosque and define and appraise the work of the moulvi. The case for another mosque in the mosque area should be very carefully made. The use of a loudspeaker should be carefully regulated for azaan (the call to prayer) only and loud enough only to cover the immediate mosque area  

▪ The community uses for the mosque should be clearly defined. Learning activities at mosques should be actively encouraged.

▪ A hierarchy of mosques should be developed on the basis of size and the area that they serve. Smaller mosques that are in the area of larger mosques should not be allowed to use loudspeakers; their roles should be confined to the service of tight-knit communities on a one-to-one basis. The larger mosques should have libraries, internet and learning facilities. All mosques should display a learning calendar based on professional seminars and training delivered by professionals in the community. The moulvi's performance should include the development and management of this calendar.

▪ The profession of the moulvi should be organised according to professional standards and peer- and community-review. The following five principles in turn could be useful:

▫ Entry: the moulvi should be allowed to enter the profession only on the basis of competitive exams. These exams should test for knowledge of Islam, comparative religion, the humanities, and social science

▫ Career: to graduate to managing a bigger mosque, knowledge of English and the use of the internet should be considered necessary. The moulvi should be ranked and graded and have clear guidelines for promotions. The local moulvi should have an annual appraisal conducted by the mosque committee, supplemented by a performance report from the district auqaf (religious-administration) head. A moulvi should have a maximum tenure of four years in a mosque. An auqaf council made up of the most senior moulvi - those who have been promoted after having served in many positions - should manage the whole system

▫ Peer- and community-review: the moulvi should be encouraged to publish selected sermons as well as personal research in journals created for this purpose. Debates should be encouraged. The community, the moulvi profession and especially the auqaf council can occasionally highlight the best sermons and research, and use these as an element in the evaluation of the moulvi

Fatwa: no moulvi alone can issue a fatwa or other religious injunction; only the auqaf council can deliver them, with adequate review by the council and senior moulvi as part of the process

▫ Sectarian concerns: the constitution of the auqaf council should accommodate those sect-specific issues that need to be referred to the members of the council belonging to that sect. No sect, big or small, should have the feeling that it is losing out to a tyranny of the majority.

A system such as this in a troubled Pakistan would quickly meet the aspirations of ordinary Muslims, who in their vast majority find no incompatibility between their faith and the modern world. Both local communities and the public realm as a whole will also benefit, as the new system of mosque management helps learning and intellectual growth away from the life-denying fundamentalist mindset. Most important of all, the young people of Pakistan will be the biggest gainers as they benefit from a "community mosque" that promotes skills-development.

The present situation in Pakistan has created both short-term and long-term problems that will be difficult to solve. The regulation of the institutions of mosque and moulvi in the public interest would be a critical step in ensuring that Pakistan walks a path towards modernity.

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