Lal Masjid: The Lessons to Learn
By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
Islamabadâ€™s Red Masjid was indeed red with the blood of some 85 Muslim Pakistanis when the operation to flush out terrorists and extremists ended violently on July 12, 2007. It was a tragedy that could have been avoided. It was an unwarranted bloodbath. The government could have given more time to negotiations. It could have waited more for a peaceful outcome. After all, it had allowed the situation to reach this far by allowing the clerics at the Red Masjid to pile up ammunitions with the full knowledge of some influential people in the government as has been alleged by many news reports.
The precedence set by the Musharraf government is bad. The use of force to force extremists change their ideas may lead to more violence. Violence only breeds violence and what was done violently in Islamabad to restore law and order may lead to a wave of unbridled violence in the coming months if not week.
Doubtless, it was wrong on the part of clerics at the Red Masjid to promote violence to seek change in their country. Masajid and Madrasas are not the places to promote killing or abduction. They are the sanctuaries of peace and the centers for a civil dialogue with other members of the society. The clerics have every right to promote their understanding of Islam as long as they do not advocate the use of violence to achieve their objectives. Extremism is an elusive term.
President Bush can be described as an extremist for his murderous policies in Iraq. Saudi monarchs can be categorized as extremists in their efforts to keep monarchy intact in their country. The Labor party in the UK can be described as an extremist group bent on defending its policies in Iraq, and so on so forth.
Groups and individuals do tend to go to extremes in pursuing their goals, as is clearly evident in modern history. It is the use of force by any extreme groups and ideologies that lead to terrible atrocities. Hitler is perhapse the most obvious example of an extremist in control of an extreme regime; the leaders of the former Soviet Union also showed this trend. Modern American history, unfortunately, also shows extremist tendencies.
The clerics of Lal Masjid crossed their limits in demanding the implementation of Islam in their country, when they killed or abducted security force members or average citizens or when they took law in their hands by confiscating and burning the property of others. Those who believe in the supremacy of Islam in their everyday life should have done everything possible to pursuade the Lal Masjid students and officials not to break the fundamental Islamic principles that call for the sanctity of human life. Instead of intimidating people to submit to Islam, they should have tried to convince people of the legitimacy and validity of Islamic principles for a better and meaningful life.
Yet, the clerics and other religious leadership in Pakistan turned this into a political circus, creating circumstances where every mosque and every madrasa became on object of suspicion in the eyes of all those who still find it hard to believe that Islam is a religion of peace not only in its ultimate objectives but also in the means to achieve them.
It would have been wiser for the clerics of Lal Masjid to seek a negotiated settlement rather than issuing statements suggesting that there is no alternative to violence.
The blunder of the Lal Masjid clerics, however, didnâ€™t supersede the blunders of the Musharraf government. The government was in a position to flush out all those inside the masjid in weeks if not in days. The government had already cut electricity and water and certainly these tactics would have worked effectively if given a chance to succeed.
If one set of negotiations had failed, the second and third rounds of negotiation should have been sought. The purpose should have been a peaceful solution rather than a bloodbath. The government acted in panic and in a hurry to eliminate those whom it described as extremists. The Musharraf government must be held accountable for the deaths of 85 people, as should the clerics be held accountable for the deaths and destruction in Islamabad before this last episode.
The whole incident raises once again the question Muslims have been confronting in modern times. Should violence be a legitimate method to bring out changes in the society. No matter what the some assert, the simple fact is that Islam prohibits the use of violence as a means to bring about change in society.
Islam does not condone imposing its principles on those who are not ready to accept them willingly. The Prophet (s) didnâ€™t impose Islam on non-believers when he entered Mecca after an absence of 10 years. No; he allowed people their religious and social freedom after cleaning the House of God from the idols gathered there over centuries.
Muslims have to take a very clear stand on the issue of violence. They have to declare clearly that there is no place for violence in a society run on the basis of Islam. Those who do not accept Islam as their way of life can adopt whatever means they want to adopt to impose their will upon others. However, Muslims are bound by a higher code of ethics and their stand on violence must be very clear. Even when they are responding to violence perpetrated by those invading their lands or committing acts of oppression against the, they cannot transgress the limits set by God Almighty.