Issue No 69, Nov 30-Dec 6, 2003 | ISSN:1684-2057 |



The Origin and Fate of the Pakistani Mullahs

By Anwaar Hussain

THE MULLAH now holds the Pakistani society by the throat. His version of Islam has plunged Pakistan into an epidemic of honor killings, hate murders and mob executions of fellow Muslims and minorities alike. The society is paying the price for allowing the Mullah to propagate extremism and intolerance from the pulpit.

There is no ordained priesthood in Islam. Every Muslim can be an Imam and can deliver a sermon. No ceremonial attire is needed for the Imam or any special dress for the congregation. Who then is this Mullah and from where did he creep into our religion?

It obviously could not have been through trade and commerce interaction with earlier Christianity. Islam rather attracted large numbers of its early conversions from the ranks of Catholic Christianity who wanted to escape the straitjacket of the Church and its priesthood to a priest-free religion.

A majority of the historians agree on Zoroastrianism to be the genesis of Mullaism. Zoroastrians, a semi-migratory people from the fourth to the third millennium BC, forged a religious tradition, latter known as Zoroastrianism. This is considered as the oldest of the revealed world religions and has directly and indirectly influenced the other religions in the area, i.e. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and a host of other faiths.

Under the Abbasid and the Umayyad, Islam took root and flourished in Iran. A nagging problem remained though. Some verses in the Quran clearly disallow obedience to any man-made laws that are in conflict with the Quran. Consider the following;

"No human being – even though Allah may have given him a code of laws (Kitab) or the power to enforce (Hukmah) it or even Prophethood (Nubuwwah) – has the right to say to others: "You should obey me rather than Allah”. He should rather say: “Become people of your Lord because you keep reading and teaching His book” (3:79)

As Islam in Iran had steadily grown more Zoroastrianized, to solve "this problem" the kings borrowed its priesthood which our Prophet (PBUH) had abolished. The new priesthood, consisting of scholars and muftis, obliged the kings by changing the core belief of Islam from "obedience to Allah" to "worship of Allah." This mutually convenient combination of kingship and priesthood worked very well for the benefit of both the kings and the priests: the priests blessed the kings for exercising earthly powers; while the kings let the priests exercise divine authority over the people.

When Persian culture influenced the surrounding region, priesthood too moved into these areas. Iran, to this day, remains the hotbed of Mullaism. Towards West, it blossomed during the Ottoman Empire, where even an office of Sheikh-ul-Islam existed. Many historians cite this religio-political mix to have greatly contributed to the fall of that empire. Eventually, it was brought to a bitter end in the later day Turkey by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk’s cultural revolution.

Towards East, Mullaism crept into the sub-continent at the heels of Sufis and invaders from Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. It stayed in the background until the British wrested India from its Muslim rulers. The Mullah then sprang to the pulpit to sooth the bruised ego of a vanquished people with convenient doctrines. He convinced them that God always subdued people who allowed their souls to be tainted by the lust of worldly desires e.g. ruling dominions and empires. He implored them to stay prostate on their prayer mats and use this respite from the arduous task of ruling for cleansing their souls.

The Muslims flocked to the thousands of mosques scattered all over India straight into the welcoming arms of the Mullah. He gave numerous references from the Quran to obey God, His Prophet and the established authority. He promptly deleted the references to Muslim kings from his Friday sermons and instead recited the name of the Queen-Empress of British Empire. He bitterly opposed the creation of Pakistan where, if formed, he would have to work anew on its newborn constituencies. But when the Quaid-e-Azam flew into Karachi on his Dakota, the Mullah grumblingly followed him on his bullock cart.

Once here, in partnership with some indigenous like-minded interests, he went into his old vocation with a renewed gusto. His counter-part that he left behind in India, though, got swallowed up in the wave of secularism that overtook India after partition. Since then, the convention of Islamic ritual survived and thrived in greater depth and conviction in Pakistan than any where else in the Islamic world. The Pakistani Mullah became the personification of this ritualistic orthodoxy.

How does the Pakistani Mullah operate?

He asks a simple question from his flock. Would they prefer the Word of God and that of the Holy Prophet of Islam or would they rather have western educated men under a godless society to guide and shape their nation? This question is extremely difficult for a common Pakistani to answer. Pakistani masses adore Islam. Pakistani politicians and the educated elites, however, despite knowing the truth of Mullah seem to be divided and indecisive. Some even exploit this situation by siding with the Mullah and patronizing him. The Pakistani Mullah, in the meanwhile, rules supreme.

He of course does not tell his congregation the whole truth. He does not tell them who would interpret the divine for them. If the authority for legislation lies with God, which a Muslim cannot deny, then as a natural corollary, it would be none other than the Mullah himself who would define and interpret the divine law for them. He blurs, or purposely does not draw, the line between himself and scholars well versed in worldly and religious disciplines.

He does not tell them that such scholars will need to be guided by the essential basic rules requiring a scholar to have thorough knowledge of religious text as well as the prevailing conditions in the world and his community. He remains quiet on the fact that it is only through such dual knowledge that a scholar can apply Islamic jurisprudence and principles to meet people's needs.

He of course does not tell them that, unlike him, the theologians or the learned scholars who would engage in this exercise must be intellectually gifted and unremittingly consistent so as to arrive at a healthy symmetry between the basic principles of Islamic jurisprudence and the realistic conditions in our modern-day world.

He does not tell them that both the Quran and the Prophet (PBUH) ordered Muslims to seek all forms of knowledge. He does not tell them that due to his closing the door on interpreting the Quran in the light of modern events and sciences, Muslims have stood still while their cohabitants of planet earth have even escaped gravity and launched deep into the universe in their quest for knowledge.

He promotes the style of the Prophet (PBUH) by keeping a beard, putting surma is his eyes and an Arabic scarf on his shoulders yet does not inform his congregation of the other sterling qualities of the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) was not just an old man leading prayers in the mosque. He established an empire by uniting the various warring tribes, sent emissaries to other empires, received dignitaries in his court, signed at least one historic treaty (Hudaibya, A.D. 630), led armies in the battlefields, experienced numerous victories and also a defeat (at Ohad, A.D. 624), was a devoted father and a husband. The momentum that he built eventually landed the Muslims in Spain in the west and India in the east.

The Mullah himself is mainly responsible for dividing the Muslims into Sunni, Shia, Ahle-Hadith, Ahle-Fiqah, Ahle-Quran, Hanfi, Shafi, Malki, Hanbli, Deobandi, Barailwi and propagating mindless hate between these sects. He, therefore, never tells his followers God’s injunctions on sectarianism where He says;

"As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou has no part in them in the least...." (6:159)

To keep his hold on his followers’ minds, he professes that the Quran is an extremely difficult piece of divine literature to understand and to interpret by ordinary Muslims. He knows that most Pakistanis do not know Arabic and even if they did their skill in the language is not enough to literally interpret the language of Quran. He also knows fully well that most Pakistanis do not have the patience, time or the resources for learning Arabic. He, therefore, insists so much on the mastery of the Arabic language and culture.

He takes advantage of people’s ignorance and pretends to be the sole agent of the Quran and its interpretations. He does not explain to these Pakistanis that the Quran was meant for every one. That they don’t require a Mullah or any one to intercede on their behalf. That Allah does not make his words so difficult that ordinary people have difficulty in understanding them. That they only have to make an effort and there are numerous ways to seek the truth themselves. Regrettably, the majority of Pakistanis either cannot, or would not, seek these answers on their own.

A glance at the contemporary world shows that the Buddhist monk is verifiably dormant. Some Christian neocons and Hindu religious bigots have, of late, begun to participate in the framing of political agendas. Yet, by and large, a vast majority of the Christian and Hindu societies remain unaffected by their militant fundamentalists. Because most Christians and Hindus do not consider their religious priests as their political leaders or even correlate these religious individuals with any state system. Two facts are noteworthy; the stupendous rise of the west since it broke free from the priestly hold of the Church and the horrendous decline of the Muslim world since the entry of priesthood into Islam.

On the Pakistani scene too there is a change in the wind, however faint. With the modern age of computers, internet and information a phantom has begun to haunt the Mullah. The truth is slowly, but surely being sought by enlightened minds young and old alike. Pakistani Muslims are increasingly expressing disgust and disdain for the irrationalities and backwardness of the Mullah. His grip is fading but he is not likely to give up just yet.

To his good luck, though, a faith system that is so deeply ingrained into the minds of the believers is hard to wish away. Still harder is the task to disrupt the unholy alliance between hypocrite Pakistani elites and the Mullah. In his final throes, he too is putting up a brave fight. He continues to issue endless fatwas and thinks that the fear of death sentence and the declaration of jihad would silence the voices of rationality, logic and progress. In his desperation he is counter-attacking with every possible means. His chief weapons are an outright incitement of his followers to kill his opponents for divine rewards, twisting quotations from the Quran, promoting senseless hate, intimidating and declaring his opponents as apostates and blasphemers.

For common Pakistanis to join the global race for progress, they will have to make efforts to seek the truth themselves rather than relying on the word of Mullah. They have to make a clean break from the past by disallowing or disowning the Mullah from being the de-facto leader of their communities.

The writer is a former officer of the Pakistan Air Force, based in UAE

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