Pakistan's Islamic preachers: Gateway to radicalization?
Since 9/11, Pakistan's Islamic preachers have gotten far less international scrutiny than in militant groups. But the social and religious conservatism they preach could be an even more radicalizing force.
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Early this year, progressive groups campaigned to abolish the controversial blasphemy law, which bans “insulting the prophet”: Islamists, including green-turbaned preachers castigated them as “infidels.” It was amid that charged atmosphere that Gov. Punjab Salman Taseer was killed by his own guard because he supported its abolition.Skip to next paragraph
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In 2006, after a stampede in the women’s congregation of Dawat-e-Islami left several severely injured, followers did not let male medical workers help injured women because it they considered it “un-Islamic for strangers to touch women.” Several women died because of the delay in providing medical assistance. “It has trickle down effect. These men use private patriarchy for compliance of their female family members and children so the radicalization process multiplies. They are pushing for more religious and conservative society by shoving them in centuries-old Arab world,” says Ms. Bari.
While Taliban militants use guns and bombs, the preachers use nonviolent tactics, such as securing support of world-class cricket players and pop stars, which columnist Mr. Paracha terms as “poster boys” for attracting millions of youths who idealize them.
Famous former Pakistani cricket captains like Yousuf Youhana, now named Mohammad Yousuf newly converted to Islam, now preaches and travels for missions. Saeed Anwer and Inzimam-ul Haq now run Halal meat businesses. Pakistan cricket sensation Shahid Afridi, has joined Tableeghi Jamaat. All of them visit colleges and universities to preach. Their videos carrying message of Islam on YouTube attract hundreds of thousands of hits.
Junaid Shikeh, once a pop-singer now looks after Jawat-i-Islami’s TV channel. The former business graduate is now pursuing eight-year studies to become a chief cleric. “My life has changed completely,” says Sheikh. “I used to sing Summer of ‘69, my ideal was Bryan Adams. Now I have thrown the guitar in a store room and soon there will be a breaking ceremony of it,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Their tentacles are spreading among politicians, bureaucrats, law enforcement agencies. From poor to filthy rich, their claim of being peaceful helps them attract [the] Muslim Diaspora especially those who live in kind of a social guilt of living in western society,” argues Mr. Paracha.
“They are creating a new urban culture. Since General Zia’s rule of the 80s and the first Afghan war, our traditional tolerant culture has been assaulted by all sides, whereas the best way to defeat extremism is to promote culture and education in our society, says Ahmed Shah, who heads the National Arts Council in Karachi. “The battle is going on between the radicals and us. It is a battle over who gets to define Pakistan.”