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They are being sincere, even if they are not being accurate

[ by Charles Cameron — disentangling religion / politics braids in Pakistan and elsewhere ]

image credit: Pakistani cartoonist and artist Sabir Nazar


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.

5 Responses to “They are being sincere, even if they are not being accurate”

  1. zen Says:

    The Pakistani deep state funds and protects anti-shia terror groups 

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    More on the complex complicities of Pakistan:

    The fresh slaughter of the Shia in Pakistan comes in the wake of other events unfolding in Pakistan that seem to suggest its part of an attempt to destabilize the country and thwart parliamentary elections due in a few months.
    Clashes with Indian Army on the volatile Kashmir border plus a planned “long-march” by a Tahir-ul-Qadri, Sunni cleric who has arrived from Canada, point to a concerted effort to pave way for the military to step in and take over as an “interim government” to conduct “proper” elections — a tactic used in the past my army commanders.
    Tarek Fatah, Pakistan: A Bloody Terror to Itself and the West

    That paragraph, btw, makes it sound as though “a Tahir-ul-Qadri, Sunni cleric who has arrived” might refer to “a cleric” belonging to a group called “Tahir-ul-Qadri”.  Not so.  Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri is the author of a substantial fatwa against terrorism published by Minhaj-ul-Quran InternationalMQI being the movement he founded.
    He’s also of particular interest to me because of his declaration that the Mahdi could not be born less than 744 years from now – which I’ve noted a couple of times here on ZP [1, 2], and which IMO takes some of the heat out from under the Sunni Mahdist pressure cooker.
    It will be interesting to see what comes of this — would any ZP readers care to comment?

  3. newwpe Says:

    RE: Charles Cameron and MQI
    While abroad visiting Pakistan in late 2007 I was lucky enough to meet a scholar from Minhaj-ul-Quran’s university on the train from Karachi to Lahore. Subsequently while in Lahore I visited MQI’s HQ and the university, met with some of Qadri’s deputies and others running MQI – an impressive group of men, some Western educated, focused on the promotion of inter-faith dialog and Islam as a religion of peace. I’d be happy to share more outside of  the comments section: newwpe (at) gmail.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, newwpe:
    I’ll write you as you suggest, but would also like to invite comments or updates here on the specific impact of the MQI march in light of other trends in Pakistan.

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Shamila N. Chaudhary, Who is Tahir-ul Qadri?, on FP’s AfPak Channel today:

    Tahir-ul Qadri, a Canada-based Pakistani preacher and former politician leads a massive protest today from Lahore to Islamabad calling for regime change in Pakistan. If it is electoral change Qadri is looking for, he won’t be the one to get it. Qadri’s been politically irrelevant since he departed the scene in 2004, when he resigned from his post as a Member of the National Assembly. Qadri himself does not even occupy a seat in Parliament, nor does anyone in his party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek.  
    However, his religious organization Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran, is a force to be reckoned with. The organization has an expansive school network in Punjab and maintains massive support among Pakistanis attracted to his meshing of modern values with conservative Islam. But this following was not enough for Qadri to deliver the “millions” of protesters he promised.
    [ more at link ]
    Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011. 

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