[ by Charles Cameron — disentangling religion / politics braids in Pakistan and elsewhere ]
Blog-friend Omar Ali writes:
The state will make a genuine effort to stop this madness. Shias are still not seen as outsiders by most educated Pakistani Sunnis. When middle class Pakistanis say “this cannot be the work of a Muslim” they are being sincere, even if they are not being accurate.
The “madness” he’s discussing is the extensive killing of Shia Muslims by Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, and I’d recommend both his own article on 3 Quarks Daily and Bahukutumbi Raman‘s on Raman’s strategic analysis as offering detailed background for a topic I addressed from a different angle in Ashura: the Passion of Husayn.
It’s Dr. Ali’s final sentence in the quote above that interests me, though, as you’ve probably deduced already from the title of this post:
When middle class Pakistanis say “this cannot be the work of a Muslim” they are being sincere, even if they are not being accurate.
I haven’t quite known how to say this succinctly before, but I think Dr Ali hits a whole array of nails on the head.
Religions are mostly preached to whoever listens — and those who listen can be a pretty diverse lot, particularly across continents and centuries. The upshot is that religions generally wind up being interpreted in a variety of ways to suit the wide variety of human temperaments and situations.
Et voilà! Members of a religion who see it as a force for peace will tend to say of those who dismay them by using it as a cover for violence, “this cannot be the work of a member of my faith” — and they are being sincere, their understanding of their own religion is as peaceable as they say it is.
They are being sincere — even if they are not being accurate, and their religion as a “big tent” across cultures, classes, continents and centuries, also includes sincere people whose views are radically and violently opposed to theirs.
If Walt Whitman can say it, you’d better believe it can be said of religions with a billion or more adherents:
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.