Monitoring of Friday sermons by Police

Posted on September 14, 2006
Filed Under >Bilal Zuberi, Education, Law & Justice, Religion
42 Comments
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Bilal Zuberi

An interesting news item crossed my attention this past week. It was reported (in The Nation and many other places) that sermons delivered in Pakistani mosques before the Friday prayers will now be recorded by police. Under the Loudspeaker act, the government has mobilized the Police forces to clamp down on mosques where Friday sermons are being used to incite hatred against other sects, religions, or especially against the government. According to an AKI/Dawn report:

A source in a law-enforcement agency told the Pakistani daily Dawn that police officials would be deployed in mosques across the country to film the Friday sermons. The move was aimed at ensuring that hate speeches were not delivered from the pulpit. Pakistan’s provincial home secretaries and senior officials of the country’s law-enforcement agencies attended a meeting on Saturday to chalk out a strategy to keep close tabs on the Friday sermons -sometimes employed to foment sectarian unrest.

The source said station house officers would give a report on the recorded sermons and speeches to district police officers on a weekly basis. He added police action could be initiated against those who offend people’s religious beliefs.

This is a big deal in Pakistan, and if serious steps are indeed being taken to ‘monitor’ or ‘control’ the messages being relayed from mosque loudspeakers, I believe ramifications can be felt further down the road. The loudspeakers are really the best way for the mosque administration to reach a large audience, and I am sure they will protest if punitive actions are taken against Imams whose lectures are considered threatening.

Friday prayers hold a special place in the culture and tradition of most Muslim countries, including Pakistan. While many muslims pray 5 times a day, it is indeed Friday when mosques are filled up, and when communities come together in a prayer exercise that almost carries a ritualistic fervor to it, in addition to the special status it holds within the religion Islam.

The Friday sermons from the pulpit have also held a special status in South Asia. They were not just lectures that clarified religious teachings, but were also used to declare community consensus on issues that were linked to religion and religio-politics. For example, my dad tells me how some sermons in the Indian town of Kanpur were essential in calming Hindu-Muslim riots in the pre-partition India. I also remember growing up and learning so much about the various aspects of Muslim life, such as the histories of Islamic rule at various times and the personalities associated with them, the rights of women in marriage, arrangements for funerals, etc etc through friday sermons.

With the advent of loud speakers, however, these sermons started reaching out to audiences beyond those who came to the mosque voluntarily, and became a permanent presence in every household on Friday (whether you liked it or not). Sermons today, at least in many parts of Karachi, start early in the day and provoke a certain sense of guilt if one was going to miss the prayers, and invoke a little motivation in the listeners to go and attend. Despite the frequent annoyance of loud religious messages being thrust onto an involunatry audience for an entire half day, at least the messages conveyed in the past via the content of the sermons were often positive or thought provoking.

However, that has not always been the case. Every now and then, the pulpit continues to be abused, and sermons littered with misleading political messages, and even those inciting communal disharmony, hatred and violence, have been delivered to an otherwise eager and ‘available’ audience. It was just a few years ago, under Benazir’s last stint in office, that a friday sermon at my local mosque was used to declare that Islam did not allow a woman to be the head of state. Similarly, soon after 9/11, I heard a sermon asking God to severely punish all those Muslim leaders who were conspiring with the ‘Kafirs’ to throw bombs at muslims in Afghanistan. Last year when sectarian violence was erupting in the city, a Friday sermon declared a prominent sect in Islam to be equivalent to another sect which had already been declared non-muslims by the state of Pakistan. On my last visit to Pakistan, I heard a sermon declaring that jihad-fi-sabeel-lillah in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine was a sure way to earn a permanent place in the heavens.

And the list goes on…There are many who complain about the use of loudspeakers by mosques, but I believe the content of the sermons is probably a more important issue to deal with. So I am indeed interested in seeing further what the government now intends to do to monitor the friday sermons, and limit their use for (hopefully) useful education and information dissemination. But there is a wider question that we must ask ourselves. Should the state have any authority over the content delivered in mosque sermons (I am told Saudi Arabia may already have tight controls over their Friday sermons)? Would such monitoring and control strategy constitute a limit on the freedom of speech for the mosque Imams? Or would it really all be easy if simply the loudspeakers were removed from the mosques?

A large audience sitting fully engaged for an extended period of time can be an ideal way to engage society in discourse on important matters, such as those related to religion and community life. But how to get it done without getting it hijacked by one or more parties, including the government?

42 responses to “Monitoring of Friday sermons by Police”

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    Mullah was much displeased with the invention of loudspeaker. How can a human voice, reciting Qur’an be channeled though a man made medium and be amplified. It will not be proper Qur’an unless heard directly from human mouth. That was then.

    Now, the good mullah thinks it is the sixth pillar of Islam. So much for loudspeaker.

    Frankly, it has been abused beyond control. It should be piped down so that it is heard only for the attendees and not beyond.

    Technology today permits the transmission of Azan much beyond the range of the loudspeaker. Best use radio, TV, the Internet for a unified call for each geographic region. (Namaz timing is latitude/longitude/altitude dependent.)

    I do see one good purpose of loudspeaker; when they have to use it for alerts and emergency. “Aik bacha…..”, serves community well.

    As for the sermons. They are so much trouble. Damn you do it; damn you don’t. Rare is a time that I actually enjoyed listening to one. Most has been fuming under collar; restless. Problem is the tradition demands listening it. And most people come not to really listen, but to do the necessary prayer. It is not well reflected to “ruin” their prayers with commotion and opinions conversation.

    I have stood up a few times, refused to go back many times and told the khateeb enough times.

    This will only change, if enough people do it, together.

    As for police monitoring it, it will only make mullah more reckless. He will feel important and compelled to be more ignorant, more unaccepting.

    Good post. Good discussion.

  2. Hashir Zuberi says:

    Dear All: Assalaamalaikum.

    I pretty much read through all the posts, and in a nutshell would merge the thoughts of Adil and PatExpat. In regard to this post, I couldn’t put it better myself:

    1. “It is about freedom of speech. As a matter of principle, I believe, government should have no role in what maulvis say, or who the maulvis are, or of how many mosques there are. That control can, and will, be misused; as it has historically in many religious traditions.”
    2. “… if there is a solution, it will come neither from the pulpit nor from the government. It will come from society. ”

    Turn off the loudspeakers after Azaan, yes. Have “rent-a-cops” determine a prayer leader’s destiny, no.

    Besides, this feat is impossible. There are, without exaggeration, hundreds of thousands of masaajid in Pakistan. Even if the entire police force of the country is utilized just for this purpose, this can never be accomplished. You need all those cops to guard General Sahib’s route, not be attending some Juma Khutbah. Think cost. Who pays for this? I have been to masaajid (in Bunair agency) where no vehicle can reach: you have to hike mountains. Do you think “ASI Gul Khan” is willing to do that? So at most you are limiting yourself to major urban areas.

    What scares me though is that some posters, perhaps unconsciously, are cheerleading the attempts of a corrupt, dictatorial regime with a questionable agenda (they haven’t proved otherwise) to impose kafka-esque measures. I’m sure these posters have read books like “1984” and been appalled by the world they chalk out. Yet here they are ready to have big brother control the speech of people living in a free country.

    Someone said a “maulvi” used the pulpit to settle a score with a local rival. What rules out that the local khawan/chaudhrys/nawabs (the ones with the real money and clout) wouldn’t hand the cop a wad of cash to make the “pesky maulvi who doesn’t let me kidnap that cute girl” disappear. Remember, it was a “maulvi” that supported Mukhtaran Mai and exposed the perpetrators (whereas General Sahib just accused her of profiteering from her tragedy), literally putting his life on the line. Pulpits also provide a great forum for exposing government corruption and ineptitude, and I feel this is the motive behind this move, i.e. silence the voice of dissent.

    What also scares me is the amount of judgment people pass on an entire segment of society without even engaging with them; a segment with some of the most noble, erudite, talented and sincere people I have ever known. The comment, “pick any so called maulanas from pakistan and pitch him against a seminary student…” was sadly a display of sheer ignorance, an allegation that can never be proved positive (but easily proved negative), as well as a plain lie. When was the last time one of us sat down with a “maulvi” over tea and namak paray? How many madrassas have we even physically entered, much less interacted with the teachers and administration? A certain slice of our society has been so inundated by negative imagery (whether true or false) of the despicable “maulvi” that we have made him into an Emmanuel Goldstein – a target of hate. Even the term today is considered an insult, intended to denigrate, deride, puncture and hurt. We see someone with, as Bilal said, the “religious getup”, and somehow we preclude him as sub-human, not even worthy of a “salaam” and a smile. There are such gems of human beings among them that one cannot help but love, respect, and even envy them.

    Abuse of the pulpit is a reality, just like abuse of any level of power in this world is. Many people proposed the solution that educating ourselves is the key, particularly to distinguish the true message from the false, and supporting those who convey the true message. This is something we generally agree on, and is also a partial solution to the general sectarian problem. Sects are here to stay, yes, but with a sincere attempt to learn the truth we can avoid (as a British convert said) the “dodgy” ones. Also, there have been many cases of the the vested-interest khateeb switching sects once he saw the popularity ratings fall. What would be even better is (as others have mentioned too) that we send our children to the best ulama, the best madaris, so they master these ‘uloom and set things right.

  3. Adil bhai asusual very balanced analysis.Yes its true we are very emotional people but I also agree that one atleast don’t twist orignal teachings and definitions for making a point.Its really not something which reflects someone educated. I really despise when bush changes definition of terrorism for his own interest.

    I have no dushamani with Bilal or anyone here.he’s like my brother[doesnt matter he considers me one ;)].Even blood relatives can’t think alike.The thing really irks me that people misinterpetate religon a lot and it’s not with professional mullahs only,the problem lies in us as well.

    When I hear things like Azaan shoudnt be given because a non-Muslim wouldn’t like to listen then I hear claim that “I know Islam more than you” then it really gives me reason not to be a secularist.I mean its really laughable that I hear such examples and reasons to backup secularism,comparing Azaan with nude chicks on a beach.Once I was a kinda secular mind 3 years back before Iraq war.I was Muslim by name only,used to go for Jumma prayers for 2 rakat fard and then gotout.Thanks to Bush bhaiyya that he started lots of wars which led lots of online dicussion with several non-muslims and forced me to study Quran and about Islam.

    I don’t deny that there are Khateebs/Imam who are really not qualified and just say anything by beliving that masses would accept it blindly.I wouldn’t take masjid name of Karachi but someone asked whether it was OK to keep relationship with Qadyanis.The imam replied that it was not Ok because they are apostates and their killing is legal because they rejected a true religion.I really got pissed at his statment.I have no issue not to consider them non-muslims but I woudn’t not favor to discontinue communication with them or kill them as thre is no Quranic verse to kill apostates.Plus if one just leave such people alone then how can one convince they are following wrong path? Such imams are need to be discouraged but it is only possible if we ourselves know quran as well.I had read about apostates thtswhy i disagree with him otherwise I was going to follow him and trusting him.

  4. Adil Najam says:

    Aziz Sahib, thank you for bringing the conversation’s focus back to the original post. I, too, was getting a little concerned about how far this had gone off on a tangent. To me, at least, the issue has really got nothing to do with Islam, it could be any other religion and the issue would be the same. It is about freedom of speech. As a matter of principle, I believe, government should have no role in what maulvis say, or who the maulvis are, or of how many mosques there are. That control can, and will, be misused; as it has historically in many religious traditions.

    That, of course, brings up the conundrum of the limits of free speech. We face (increasingly) the same issue on this blog. I have every right to say what I want, but I have no right to abuse you or instigate hatred against you. Ideally, we would all want the toleration and restraint to come voluntarily from the members of the ‘community’. (However, it is also very evident right here that not just in highly emotive issues of religion and politics but even such mundane things as the design of a hotel people can start attacking each other’s person and implying intentions and hidden motivations rather than focus on the substance of the argument; in too many cases we just seem to lack the capacity to disagree ‘respectfully’; this seems to be a reflection of larger national passions, where we seem incapable of expressing our disagrement — gham o ghussa – without buring someone’s effigy or stomping on flags!) But, back to the issue of hand, what do we do in a non-ideal world? In a world where there is too litle genuine gham and too much instigation of ghussa.

    The problem, as the ordinance recognizes, is not what is said about one’s own religion, but what is said about someone else’s. Especially in terms of sectarian slurs and instigation of sectarian hatred and violence. That is serious business that routinely takes too many lives and rips at the heart of society. There are laws against hate speech, and to the extent there is a role for government it is to enforce them and do so strongly.

    Beyond that, I think, we are taking the easy route by making this entirely either about government or about maulvis. As if they are the only two actors involved. What about the rest of us? Who sit and listen. If we tolerate the preaching of sectarian intolerance are we not intolerant ourselves? I have on one occasion walked out publicly out of a Juma khutba because I thought hatred was being preached from the pulpit. I know of at least a few others who have spoken up in their congregations. Unfortunately, I do not know of too many. Even more discouraging, my experience was that the rest of the congregation was ‘embarrassed’ by the ‘scene’ I created but not by the obvious hatred that was being propagated.

    I am convinced that if there is a solution, it will come neither from the pulpit nor from the government. It will come from society. The real abdication of responsibility is on the part of the rest of us who choose to remain silent even when we know that what is being said is either wrong or hurtful; either because we are too embarrassed or too busy to ‘stand up and make a difference’.

  5. [quote post=”6″]Comments are supposed to be my own thoughts and opinions, no? [/quote]

    exactly but I personally found irrelevnt according to this site policy.

    [quote post=”6″]It is also to not impose yourself on anyone else in the name of freedom[/quote]

    Who is Imposing?I can also make a similar claim that I hate music but I am forced to listen it all the time on several Pakistani channels.Now one would suggest me to use brain and just switch the channel?

    You talk about freedom.Just tell me you are in States,Isnt Christmas celebrated all over in states and you enjoy xmas holidays for 2 weeks.Maybe you also like to enjoy different Xmas party in the name of freedom.I have no issue what you do in personal life,you read quran or drink alchol its none of my business but when you talk about imposing a law by a state then Christmas which is actually a religious festival is imposed on Non Christians by several means.

    [quote post=”6″]You wouldn’t want nudists walking around the Clifton beach, would you?[/quote]

    The question is do you want nudists and other crappy thing in Pakistan in name of freedom?.That question matters most.Everyone here knows by now wht actually I think which is very anti against thoughts of yours and masses of this site posters.

    Thankyou Bilal for quoting 10:99,109:6 and 18:29 verses of Quranic to stengthen my case tht why do I believe the term secularism pretty vague and why do I believe that Islam is different than tht sunday school religon Called Christianity which irked aethists of 60s and force them to comeup with idea of separtion of Church and state.The the very last verse of Surah Kafiron whichyou quoted “Lakum Denokum Waliyadin” is a perfect and crystal clear example that Islam is 100% compatible with existing and future religion and able to apply in government policies as i ws reading in a paper[not sure about claim] today in dawn that British Human rights laws were highly impressed by Quranic laws about humans and one should spend a bit time to study bios of first generations of muslims called companions of Prophet(SAW),specially of four caliphs and caliph Omar bin Abdul Aziz,thats called shariah ,thats called how to use Islam properly to rule over a state.

    [quote post=”6″]try to keep my posts as secular as possible (here the definition of secular is as understood by english speaking educated population of Pakistan) [/quote]

    *grin*.Ignoring your resentment,I thankyou too PatExpat for this statment as I also believe that everyone use the term “secularism” in its own way rather referring orignal one[coined by founders].

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