Reports / Studies

UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPTS OF PLURALISM AND HARMONY IN THE CONTEXT OF ISLAM AND PAKISTAN

September 26, 2018

By Fazal Amin Beg
INTRODUCTION
After an attempt of getting a deep conceptual understanding and exercise of the terms “Pluralism and Harmony”, and an orientation with the country , the paper tries to see the conceptual framework (models and values) against the prevailing societal practices. It then tries to tfind out the factors leading towards the unrest Subsequently, it gives an analytical overview of the Gilgit-Baltistan and Federal Governments and social sector initiatives to overcome the menaces.
The paper has been prepared on the bases of secondary source (literatures review) in addition with the primary source (author’s participant observation, general discussions with the members of the local communitie, friends and colleagues.

PLURALISM AND HARMONY: THE CONCEPTS AND CONTEXT

Appearing out of the late Latin pluralitas (referring to plural) and via the Old French pluralite, the word pluralism entered through Middle English into today’s parlance, especially in English language (The Concise Oxford English Dictionary 1995). Another identical term , having one of the concepts related with pluralism is “plurality.”
As it is clearly observable literally that the term pluralism is composed of the word plural (referring to “more than one”) and the suffix -ism (referring to support or inclination or loyalty Towards supporting an ideology, a doctrine or practice, whether socio-cullturally approved and promoted or disapproved and depreciated at any level.

The Oxford Dictionary provides us multiple options to understand the concepts behind this diverse terminology. The first definition it states is “holding more than one office, especially, an ecclesiastical office or benefice, at a time.” In social sciences domain, pluralism is “a political theory or system of power sharing among a number of political parties;” second, a theory or system of devolution and autonomy for individual bodies in preference to monolithic state control;” third it is “, a form of society in which the members of minority groups maintain their independent cultural traditions.” In philosophy, pluralism is “a theory or system that recognizes more than one ultimate principle” in a contrast toMonism.

I should venture to say that like an embryo and fetus in a mother’s womb, the ideas and thoughts more particularly that of pluralism like the seeds get their births and incredible nurturing within the positively fertile human minds. One’s actions and behaviors are the sources to gauge individuals that to what extent s/he is pluralistic in her or his approaches. In broader context, the spaces of promotion and development of pluralism is in one’s enabling cultural environment (family and household; society and homeland; and the like). As a process of positive thinking and relations, pluralism is subject to some core values like honesty, integration, equity , generosity, open heartedness and trustworthiness and dedication, that ultimately leads towards societal peace and harmony.
In the religious realms, like other scriptures and/or world religions, Qur’an also strongly emphasizes on pluralistic teachings. to its followers in order to bring maintain positively societal peace and harmony.
When meeting and greeting each other, a Muslim conveys his or her kind wishes of peace to his co-believers even to non-Muslims by saying Assalam-o-Alaikum (meaning “may peace be blessed upon you”). When a person calls for prayer (adha, or azan), he wishes with the high pitch of his melodious voice for “sustenance of offering prayers” (Hayu ‘ala salah) in order to “maintain welfare” (Hayu ‘ala falah) for all and NEVER warfare for all by keeping God, The Almighty (Allah-u Akbar) as witness.
Although, the entire teaching in the Qur’an, literally and/or allegorically, is a reflection of pluralism and harmony, more specifically we can easily get its essence in in the verses scuh as Lakum dinakum waliya din “To you (be blessed) your religion” (Al-Baqrah); and La ikra fi din “There is no compulsion in religion ” (Al-Kafirun).

It is generally accepted among the followers of universal religions that all humankinds descend from one ancestor named Adam. This notion then takes us again towards unity in diversity provided human beings foster pluralistic aptitude and attitude among themselves to harmonize and stabilize their societies in a sharp contrast to today’s notions of Islam interpreted by a few people embedded in their vested interests .
Upholding the human dignity and status and avoiding human bloodshed, Nasir-e Khusraw (a renowned mathematician, astronomist, philosopher , Persian poet and ethicist)in the 11th century clearly states:
Khalq hama yaksarah nihol-e Khudoyand
Hich na barkand tu zin nihol u na bishkand
All humans are like seedlings of the Almighty God,
Don’t break any part of the seedlings.
Gurg-e darinda na darad dar biyobon gurg ro
Gar hami da’wi kuni dar mardumi mardum ma dar
The wild wolf doesn’t tear down a wolf in the desert,
Don’t tear down humans, if you claim your identity as human.

Dast-e Khudowand-e bogh u khalq daroz ast
Bar hask u khor hamchu bar gul u sosan
The hand of God of the gardens and humans is long,
On the husk and thorns, likewise on flowers and daffodil.
Khun ba nohaq nihol uyast
Dil zi nihol-e kandan barkand
The illegal bloodshed is with him,
Distance your heart from plucking the seedlings.
Gar na pasandi ham ki khunat birizand
Khun-e digar kas chiro kuni tu bar garden
If you don’t want someone to have your blood out,
Why do you take the blood of other people on your shoulder.

The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, the Muslim thinkers, philosophers and more particularly all the sufi saints marvelously take us towards the same directions of Qur’an who in a nutshell, more their actions than their words, craft the crude minds of humankinds towards piety and humanity so that to bolster pluralism and harmony for societal peace, in addition with fining the Truth.
There is a Hadith-e Qudi, beautifully framed in the sweet words of Farsi language by Rumi the Great, who says:
Guft payghambar ki Haq farmuda ast Man nag unjam hich dar bolo u past
Dar zamin u osmon u arsh niz Man nag unjam in yaqin don ay aziz
Dar dil-e mumin bagunjam ay ajab Gar maro juyi dar on dilho talab
Translation:
The Prophet (Muhammad) states that Truth (God) has said;
I never live (either) on the top and down;
On the land or in the sky;
No where I could be originated;
I could only be found in the heart of a believer;
If you (want to) discover me, (and my place) find me in those hearts.

In the contemporary context, His Highness, Prince Karim Aga Khan has been one of the robust champions who have been invigoratingly campaigning and expounding the concept of pluralism to the world community as a process and not a product and that it is a mentality how people look at the diversity and changing world.

In one of his lectures on october 15, 2010 in toronto, Canada, the Aga Khan stated: “Pluralism is a process and not a product. It is a mentality, a way of looking at a diverse and changing world. A pluralistic environment is a kaleidoscope that history shakes every day.” (www.akdn.org/). He then comes up with and recommends four essentials for promotion of pluralism—that may practically and logically be observed—includeing (1) competent democracy, (2) effective judicial system, (3) effective educational system, and (4) mature and independent news media.

Now, coming towards the buzzword “Harmony” is used by different people in diverse contexts. Somewhere it may be used to illustrate agreement, concord, consensus and the like in the fields of music, literatures, art, philosophy and so on; on the other it may be referred with such concepts in relation with ideas, thoughts, opinions , views and the like individual,group, institutional, organizational, societal, cultural, religious, regional, national and international levels. .
The term harmony originally comes out of a Greek word harmos meaning “joint.” Harmonia in Greek thus means “joining”, and “concord” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English; 1964, 1976, 1982, 1990, 1995). Along with its conceptual spirit, The word thus has traveled into Latin (harmonia ) to Old French harmonie and via Middle English it entered into today’s English (Ibid).

Coming directly from Iranian language root and taking the same position in Urdu, the synonymous concepts we may find in the word like Ham ohangi meaning ””harmony, and “perfect”, agreement. ham-ohangi is a compound Farsi word: ham as a suffix refers to “same, “equal; while “Ohang” meaning “intend”, “tune”, “music”,, “air”, “attempt”, “”setting, and “intention.”

Let me opt for a conceptual exercise and take the original word, harmos as the bedrock where other concepts shoot out from so that to better and efficiently comprehend and visualize the notion of harmony.
Taking the basis of harmos as “joint”, we can easily exemplify it with the joints of a human body. From the head to toes, all organs are strongly and significantly connected together through uncountable joints of bones, subtle and miraculous fiber webs of brain, marvelous network of veins, arteries and the like. No part of a body, internally or externally, could function on its on but rather they are interdependent to support and facilitate each other in an effective, efficient, integrated and sustainable way. In case of any misbehavior or discontentment in any part by any reason, the entire body ultimately feels it instantly and suffers at various scales.
Interestingly enough, the above exemplification of harmony and integration takes us with some related thoughts of a highly renowned international traveller of his time but a most eminent scholar of all the times so far (belonging to Iran), Sheikh Sa’di-e Shirazi who wonderfully describes in a stanza of his book, Gulistan-e Sa’di (in Farsi):

Bani Odam a’zo-e yek digarand
Ki dar ofarinash zi yek goharand
Chu ‘uzwi ba dard owarad ruzgor
Digar u’zwho ro na monad qaror
Agar tu zi minat digarron bighami
Nashoyad ki nomat nahand odami
Translation:
The human beings are like the organs of a body,
Because their spirit/essence of birth is the same.
When the time brings pain to an organ,
Other organs also do not remain in peace.

If you are carelss of other peoples’ suffering,
You may not then be termed as human.

Sufi saint Jalauddin Rumi starts his Masnavi with the story of flute.In the opening verse of the great Masnavi, Rumi says:
In the context of spiritual pluralism, illustrating the state of singularism of a separated soul from the spiritual world and endeavoring to re-merge within the spiritual plurality, a great Sufi saint, Jalaluddin Rumi, begins his anthology entitled “Masnavi” with the allegorical flute as the spirit by stating:
Bishnaw az nay chun hikoyat mi kunad
Waz judoyiho shikoyat mi kunad

Listen the flute, how it complains,
Mourning for its expulsion from its origin ” (Masnavi i Manavi, p.3),
He further expounds the thirst for merging in plurality in this manner:
Har kassi ku dur mon az asl-e khish
Boz juyad ruzgor wasl-e khish
Anyone gets away from his or her origin,
Struggles to re-merge himself or herslf with it.

Such concepts of harmos (connection or union) with pluralistic function thus holds true for all biodiversity, ecosystem, and more particularly for humans at individual, familial, household, societal, regional, national and global levels.

In light of the above fascinating concepts, we may thus intellectualize pluralism and harmony for societal peace in countless examples.
A society’s functions we may compare synonymously with one’s own body as a beautiful example of pluralism and harmony. We know that a living/uman body is composed of cells, tissues, organs and the like. Each cell, or tissue or body though apparently work independently within the diverse environment, they are strongly interconnected and interdependent and function efficiently and sustainably in harmony and plurality to produce the body’s effective results (outputs, outcomes, impacts).From head to toe all humankinds have the same composition of body or hardware in computer technology’s parlance) . And the difference may emerge in someways, or sharply or slightly in the composition of software, or packages within the software or the inputs of software (i.e., ways and expressions of thinking, ideas, worldviews/thoughts, ideologies, models and so on).
Although, the functions of human body is well calculated to a greater extent, the expressions of human bahviors is hard to predict precisely as that vary from an individual to individual. When the intents and actions behind behaviors are united for a noble cause of humanity that may bear positive result; but if the intent behind the behaviors are framed for harming an individual or human that comes with the negative results. As the Qur’an wonderfully states: Innamal a’mal u binniyati (All actions revolve around the intents behind).
Prevailing Practices in the Real World and the State of Set Concepts and Values in Pakistan
Opposed to the overall set values and concepts of societal pluralism and harmony, especially driven out of the Quranic/Islamic teachings, disharmonious and conflicting approaches are seriously observed and experienced in both Gilgit-Baltistan Region and Pakistan.
Let’s take some concepts as examples to put to test from our daily practices. “Islam” around which a great religion emerged, deriving out of the Arabic Salama though meaning ‘to bow”, “to tranquil” and so on, thus refers to “Peace and harmony”, and as a “code of conduct” for one’s life. In a sharp contrast to this concept and references, the followers of this great religion have embraced “peace and harmony” for themselves within and out of Islam in Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan is a big question mark in the contemporary context, at least in the case of a significant number of population , where disharmony, unrest, violence and militancy prevail.
Against the greeting wishes of “peace” to a fellow Muslim or non-Muslims (As-Salam-u Alaikum) the intolerant behaviors are seen even about a small issue and a Muslim might spare the other fellows.
Likewise, against the high pitched and melodeous call for prayer (adhan/azan) to sustain welfare (Hayu ‘ala falah), the mosques have and other spaces of religious congregation have been turned into campaigning places for warfare. In many instances, mosques other places of sanctity have covertly been turned into arsenals to counter fellow humans.
Instead of correcting oneself, a frame of mind has been developed at societal level to criticize others and correct them. This holds true for religious matters and the followers of Islam forget to remind themselves of Qur’anic verses of “Your religion is for you mine for me (Lakum dinakum waliya din) and “there is no compulsion in religion” (La ikra fi din).
Again, it is interesting to note from the daily practices of a Muslim’s offering of prayers especially in the Al-Fatihah (opening Chapter of the Qur’an as well as daily prayers) that provide us a deep insight into the Divine teaching. In Al-Fatihah, it is being acknowledged that God, the Almighty, is the Lord of the Worlds (Rab-al ‘alamin) ; but why then we seemingly to limit Him as Rab-al Muslimin (Lord of the Muslims). He is thus benevolent over and magnificent upon all creatures. A follower then submits himself or herself to the Lord for his worship and assistance. Furthermore, it is begged that he or she be strengthen to act upon His guideance, those who were blessed on the straight path (an’amata ‘alayhim).; and never towards the wrong-doers (ghayr-il maghdhub)
In order to better understand the above mentioned notions and teachings, a person needs to equip himself or herself, or s/he needs to be equipped, with education and knowledge. As Islamm always emphasizes all individjuals to seek knowledge, ponder over the universe and be analytical of the Nature. We can evidence it even from the very beginning when the first verse that was revealed on the Prophet Muhammad states: Iqra bi ismi Rabika alkhalaq” (Read in the name of your Lord who created you). The Qur’an in many places stresses to be knowledgeable, be thoughtful, be analytical and the like. At one place, in a comparative manner, it says that how come a knowledgeable and ignorant person could be equal.
Three sayings of the Prophet Muhammad further expound the guidance when he said: “Knowledge is acquired from the birth to death”; “Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon both men and women” “Acquire knowledge even if you needed to go to China” (Al-Bukhari; Al-Muslim).” .
Although, acquiring knowledge is in the core of Islamic teaching to what extent the leaders within all communities of Muslims have practically initiated, facilitated their people and worked in line with enabling environment is a very big question mark in the context of Pakistan.

One therefore needs to be serious in understanding such kinds of logical teaching and make them more part of one’s actions than the words. The practices of actions are stronger than the words only where the messages of peace, harmony, pluralism and love spread spontaneously.
As a bridge, Islam rests in the center of both religious and secular domains so that to balance both the secular and religious matters by understanding the basic noations in the doctrinal teachings . .
In conclusions, if the aforesaid viewpoints derive out of the scriptures like Qur’an, what are then the factors leading the Muslims towards the wrongdoings like societal violence and sectarian tug-of-wars within the same religious entities and interfaith communities of Muslim versus non-Muslims in Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan? Few of them could be highlighted as under.
1. Although Pakistan is denominated and termed as an Isslamic and Social Welfare State, there is frustatingly no or little evidence of the practices of the above mentioned values and notions. There is the constitution of the country and there exist laws and rules, but implementation of the laws , rules and regulations do not prevail to a significant level. In place of rule of law, the quadrilateral corruption models like bribery, vandalism, influential references and linkages do govern and regulate human behaviors.
2. In a sharp contrast to meritocracy and competency, prevalence of worst level of governance at all levels almost within all public sector organizations have led to high level of corruptions (rishwat, badmashi, safarish, chamchagiri) heading towards injustice and marginalization. When the judicial systems also become less efficient and ineffective to neutrally deal with such kinds of serious matters and crimes, societal frustration, deprivation and violence naturally emerge .
3. Pakistan has a worst example of mass education and let aside the quality education (both secular and religious). Consequently, people are not that much aware of looking at and balancing their rights with their responsibilities. More particularly when the time of election comes, the people cannot clearly mark out the standards for political leadership of their respective constituencies., rather they are influenced again through the above mentioned corruption models and their fair opinion being exploited for the vested interests.
4. In most of the cases, less or non-literate political representatives are chosen/elected by their voters for the parliaments and local bodies at the grassroots levels.resultantly, these representatives cannot better envision and understand the set goals and priorities at village, union, district, provincial andnational level development priorities and strategies connected with the global development in many ways.
5. The feudal lords or tycoons have their negative influence in the positive development of the country. In their respective constituencies, the people are treated like even worse than animals. The people within their constituencies are deprived of education )for both male and female) and ultimately illiteracy and poverty hamper upon the entire national environment. Whatsoever these political representatives like try to realize them. Consequently, significantly large societal gaps have emerged.
6. Although, the military forces have their own set goals, objectives and mandates to safeguard and protect the national boundaries from external threats and challenges, they have been time and again, interestingly sharing their development inputs in positive terms; and meddling in negative terms in the states of affairs of the civilian rights. In the case of the latter phenomena the situations lead towards many negative conseqences obstructing moves towards pluralistic societies contributing towards national harmony.
7. In most of the cases, the religious teachers in the madrasas are not up to the desired and required level of education (religious along with secular) to understand and critically analyze the courses offered to the students, whether or not the messages of creativities are and indoctrination positive towards the doctrines of human love and friendship, societal peace and harmony, cultural diversity and pluralism and the like.
8. Likewise, the same holds true for the religious orators of the mosques who may be less educated and their education may not be embedded in deep religious and secular education. Interestingly, such orators when barred of any appropriate income, opt to become orators in compulsion and subsist and sometimes dance in the hands of varius players and agencies within and out of the country. They consequently start and continue with their inflammatory speeches (also aided with amplified speakers) impress and influence their related audience lacking religious knowledge.

The female education in Pakistan (as well as Gilgit-Baltistan especially including the districts of Diamar and Ganche) is not encouraging and that ultimately negatively effects not only the societies in the respective districts or provinces but rather the entire nation. As His Hignness, Sir Sulltan Muhammad Shah has rightly pointed outif a person has two children, a son and a daughter, but s/he cannot afford providing education to both, then prefer giving education to the daughter because giving education to a son refers to education to an individual, while providing education to daughter means educating a family. the families thus come together as the basic unit of asociety. In contrst what we interestingly observe in our patriarchal and tribal societies that preferences in education, like other matters, are given to boys. Being followers of His Highness, in the context of the Isma’ili community , this situation may vary to a considerable extent.

The role of media (both print and electronic) is highly important in all respect ranging from the overall development to fostering pluralism and bringing peace and harmony across cultures, societies and nations. After getting spacious environment during the Musharraf regime, various media have been venturing and traveling through various tides and productive experiences . Responsible and objective reporting though is pre-requisite for this venture, various challenges and achievements we observe. Being a “double edged sword”, They would however also need to try to bridgethe as in many cases media may be termed responsible ffor creating societal cleavages in addition ith their robut contribution of having a check on the overall societal occurrences.

References
1. Aga Khan Development Network (www.akdn.org)
2. Diwon-e Nasir-e Khusraw.
3. Guliston-e Sa’di-e Shirozi.
4. Masnawi-e Jalal-ud-Din-e Rumi Balkhi.
5. Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press.
6. Sahi Muslim and Sahi Bukhari, The Books of Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad.
7. The Holy Qur’an.

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