A conversation on the present relationship between the three Abrahamic religions
should, I suggest, begin with recognition of the fact that the three religions
share not only a common theistic faith but also a common biblical heritage.
Moses, is for example mentioned no less than 79 times in the New Testament and
162 times in the Koran.
Even so the Abrahamic religions have a long
history of clash and conflict that makes them easy prey for manipulation by
religious fanatics and political opportunists. In this long history of conflict
the past two decades happen to be the worst since the 13th century.
this phase the followers of the Abrahamic religions have been exposed to
ceaseless cacophony of mutually antagonistic religio-political claims and
expectations, such as universal caliphate, manifest destiny, chosen people,
promised land, jihad and the last battle between good and evil. There is as it
were an impatience to sound the last trump to hasten the ascent to the heaven
and descent into the hell of you know who.
More important than the claims
themselves is the fact that each of the claims and expectations is presumed by
its proponent to have divine sanction and support. This presumption is
understandable, for millions of Jews, Christians and Muslims have been led to
believe in a partisan god whose blessings can be invoked by his favorite
supplicants in support of their self-serving and often violent and repressive
enterprises. This explains why religion looms so large in the politics of
certain parts of the world.
Two questions. First, there is that
theological conundrum, for monotheists, of whether God in his singular majesty
as the Master of the Universe, or of universes as the Koran puts it, could be
expected to have the kind of concerns and preferences associated with the tribal
gods in the pre-Abrahamic worldview? Next, why have the bleatings of the
humanists and pacifists been drowned by the drumbeat of religious fanatics in
societies as diverse as Pakistan and the United States?
Religious fanaticism has
a long history but, blessed be the peacemakers, with long periods of reprieve.
Its present phase can be traced to its rebirth or, more accurately, to its
assisted birth during the period of Cold War as a countervailing ideology
against the “godless” creed of communism. The religious forces in the
Judeo-Christian and Muslim world were mobilized to face a common enemy together.
That collective religious fanaticism, in that situation, was a military asset in
waging jihad/crusade against the “evil empire.”
THE ALLIANCE of Abrahamic
religions, despite many tensions, did work as a powerful tool against the common
enemy and reached its peak after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After the
collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991, the enemy disappeared from the scene
While the rationale for the alliance of the Abrahamic
religions got buried under the debris, religious fanaticism, nurtured in its
most intense form during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, remained alive
and well, though unfocused, like an enraged bull standing alone in the arena.
Having no common enemy in sight the forces of fanaticism turned against each
other, and that’s where we find them today.
The clash of fanatics,
dignified as a “clash of civilizations” by some academics, is by now firmly
established as work in progress, and hardly a day passes without some fuel being
added to this fire. In fact it has given birth to a new class of entrepreneurs –
owners of TV channels, magazines, newspapers, publishing houses – and authors,
preachers and televangelists, whose business it is to sell and spread religious
hatred. Once injected it spreads like an insidious disease, and is all the more
dangerous for that very reason.
While there is in the making such a thing
as an American theocracy, also the title of Kevin Philips’ book, Pakistani
society could succumb to the pressures of its own brand of theocrats if the
present socio-political trajectory doesn’t change course.
It’s a measure
of their success that they have, with impunity, given themselves license to kill
and the right to administer justice in their own way, wherever they can. Even
respected religious scholars who had the courage to disagree have been killed or
forced to seek asylum elsewhere.
However, the attack on Malala Yusufzai,
a 14-year-old school girl, by the Taliban has shaken the conscience of the whole
nation. Even the fence-sitters can now make up their minds, for it demonstrated
the extreme fanaticism that we are dealing with.
The policy makers in the
Judeo-Christian and Muslim societies have yet to fully grasp the truth that the
religious extremists in the two camps pose a threat not so much to each other as
to their own societies. And not only to the interfaith harmony but also to the
rational and humanist worldview within every society where this malaise,
whatever its brand, is allowed to fester.
It has already warped public
opinion on a whole range of issues from the rights of women to the theory of
evolution even in the United States. The religious fanatics, let’s hand it to
them, have already brought about the greatest reversal in the evolution of human
thought, while rest of the world watches helplessly.
The world stands
helplessly by for it has not yet realized that the clash is not so much between
good and evil as between two irrational forces, each against the other and both
The writer is a Karachi-based Pakistani columnist, and
has been writing op-ed pieces for more than 20 years, mostly for Dawn, the
leading English daily of Pakistan.