Never in the history of major religions had the concept of jihad been incorporated in their basic framework before Islam, nor had it been legitimised as a part of the mission, or embraced as one of the fundamental obligations. Even though Jesus lost his life on the cross and Abraham almost sacrificed his son under God’s command, the idea of martyrdom never translated in either of the two major Abrahamic religions as the approval from Yahweh for militancy and combative struggle.
The ability to wage a war against other nations on purely religious grounds, as approved by Islam, was indeed a conceptual revolution, a paradigm shift that for centuries to come would reshape our understanding of human life and its objectives in this world. For Muslims particularly, it would redefine the significance of death and afterlife, sin and virtue, retribution and redemption and, above all, it would elaborate immortality for the martyrs who, according to the scripture, might share with their Creator.
Historically speaking, in the hostile Arab environment where newly converted Muslims were often tortured and put to death, Islam had to introduce jihad and martyrdom (shahadat) as an honourable and meritorious act to protect itself. There was no other option. Not only that, it had to reassure its followers of a comfortable afterlife where they would eat, drink and pray; not only that, it had to applaud their valour by vindicating all their sins. It also had to encourage their families to celebrate the loss of their brothers, sons and husbands as martyrs instead of grieving for them. It had to buoy them with the promise of a paradise in which a state of eternal bliss would prevail and guarantee them the approval of the Creator.
On a national level too, by glorifying martyrdom and by minimising the fear of death, Islam transcended every other ideology in galvanising people to fight for their rights and to struggle for justice. The idea was unique, extremely powerful and disturbingly attractive, so much so that it almost guaranteed the success of Muslims in every battle, notwithstanding the scarcity of their resources, the lack of manpower and inferiority in the organisational structure. As a result, while each individual actively chased his death in the battlefield and fought fiercely, the nation of Islam conquered half of the world in less than 50 years.
In Pakistan, honestly speaking, we have abducted the sacred idea of jihad and twisted it into a form of local aggression. This insecure and feeble state of ours, confused between theocracy, autocracy and democracy, out of its own credulity, in the last few decades has put every effort to encourage courage and war as the leading virtues, a policy in which death becomes more important than life and a vicious cycle in which taking life becomes more praiseworthy than saving it.
Through a decade of ‘hard work’ and its persistent indoctrination of violent characteristics, the whole society has been radicalised. It is not ready to acknowledge intelligence, ingenuity or creativity as commendable traits, especially when they are compared with the importance of protection of the borders or endangering one’s life for the country or staying up in cold weather during a deputation. Learning and education have acquired a backseat, research and experimentation have been pushed back, and objectivity has been designated as being too dangerous for the believers to keep their faith.
Discipline, too, matters in Pakistan to keep the authority and the chain of command only but scientific discipline is disregarded. Honesty is important in financial issues to a certain extent also but intellectual honesty is actively discredited and the ability to speak the uncomfortable truth about history, politics and religion is censured and sometimes even punished. To have one’s own opinion is commendable as long as it conforms with the state policy. However, keeping a divergent opinion is considered to be divisive, unpatriotic and a conspiracy against the nation. And, for sure, justice is important as long as it is done upon others while we think of ourselves as perpetually innocent and above the law.
Obviously, when a nation has been brought up under the fear of being surrounded by enemies for decades and has been led to believe that its borders need to be fiercely guarded from their attacks, in that country, a soldier, even if he is accused of a simple crime like theft, can spark a big controversy.
This is our deep-rooted confusion and a collective yet concealed denial, which we have witnessed in society over the trial of General Musharraf. Concerned and bewildered, we have been asking ourselves: how can a person who once stood up to protect the country and endangered his life to guarantee its security betray his people and be tried in the courts for treason? The soldier who has the courage to endure the training of a commando, the officer whose valour has been tested during war and the leading general of the sixth largest army of the world — how can he be prosecuted as a traitor? To add further fuel to the fire, some people are challenging the army to protect their former chief, and are asking them to intervene in the judicial process to reassure the nation about their ability to safeguard the country.
The answer to our dilemma is not difficult to unearth but is, nonetheless, really hard to implement: we have to rebuild Pakistan on an entirely different narrative and shy away from the philosophy of war. As timid as it may sound and as craven as it may appear, we have to encourage a narrative that promotes peace, the rule of law and stable democracy, a narrative that focuses on education and research, and a narrative that values saving human lives more than taking them. That will be our real jihad, our struggle for peace.
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