The social fabric of Gilgit-Baltistan is more like a colorful bouquet consisting of diverse ethnic and sectarian identities. The society, which inherits a rich cultural heritage and historical legacy, is known for its hospitality and mannerism. Being a rural society, the social solidarity and primary interactions among the individuals are still functional. The religious institution in the area is also very active and is deeply entrenched in the lives of the people of the area, it would not be wrong if one rates religion as top prioritized aspects of GB’s society. Despite the eye catching beauty of the society, there are certain thorns of differences, friction and hatred, brewing deep inside. Given the sectarian differences, the society has to bear the brunt of intolerance and in some severe cases, hatred too. On such grounds, there is a stark compartmentalization among communities belonging to different sects. Even certain areas which are inhabited by a greater proportion of people belonging to one sect are ‘no go areas’ for others. People have strictly devised their social interactions on the basis of their sectarian affiliations. The common religious rituals have grown their own separate identities, with mosques ostensibly representing a particular sect. Similarly, inter-sectarian marriages are considered to be a bombshell that would explode in to children who would be born infidels. And those who commit this sin would have to face the society’s agony with sheer embarrassment and shame, for they have violated the norms of the particular sectarian society. Additionally, to the one’s disappointment, religion is politicized; people have made it as a means to realize their vested interests.
This is the milder yet a harsher picture of the society, the serene and peace loving people of the area have also gone through gruesome bloodshed in the past on the basis of sectarian differences. A much accepted idea flourishing in the area is that some agencies are responsible for such devastated situations; well, a rational answer for this perception holds that these agencies can only fish in troubled waters.
A question arises here is; how long will these people keep on languishing with covert hatred for one another? Who is responsible for this proliferation of intolerance? What good lies in this persistent bitterness? The answer to this question lies in this mere fact that, if religion is the only cause for this social disequilibrium, then people have not understood the very basis of the religion. One darker side of the picture is that; religion is being substituted by culture. People who perform the religious rituals are not performing them after gaining a religious insight but they do so because they have seen their elders acting that way. And after that, most of the people are seem to be thankful for being born in a religious or a Muslim family. If this was that simple, what about those who are born to a non-Muslim family, does this mean that God has been unjust to such children? The answer of most religious people holds that every child is born as a Muslim; he has to find the truth later in his life as to whether he wants to stay an infidel or to convert towards Islam. Why doesn’t a Muslim child ponder over the religion then? Religion is not something about inheritance; it’s about the relation of a man with God. Yet another contributing factor to this chaotic situation is, people have left the responsibility to mullahs and the interpretation of Quran and Sunnah is rendered at the disposal of certain people to which society responds in more like a hypnotized manner. Has God blessed man with wisdom to be reliant on a religious scholar’s wisdom? Or is it a duty of whole of the followers to understand Islam with their own endeavors in the light of Quran and Sunnah? God has scattered infinite signs for every human being to interpret Quran in the processes of nature, in human being’s behavior, in the environment and everywhere. The five senses of a man are competent enough to observe God’s signs in environment and society according to Quranic injunctions, then why we keep on relying on religious scholars or mullahs? This doesn’t mean that the role of religious scholars is ruled out altogether but their presence in the society should be more like a blessing for promotion of the unison, knowledge and wisdom, not the other way round.
True understanding of Islam induces upon an individual the sentiments of peace, love and harmony. A true Muslim fears calling someone an infidel because it is God’s job to declare a person as a believer or a nonbeliever, as He knows the secrets of hearts. Humans are not ought to dislike, degrade or distrust fellow humans for their inherent differences.
When all is said and done, it can be said conclusively that in order to restore the harmonious picture of this blessed region, people should shed off the hatred for one another. This can be achieved efficiently when people make their own endeavors for understanding religion and people from different sectarian backgrounds pray in a single mosque, together, when Friday and Eid sermons are held conjointly and people become more rational towards the acceptance of differences. Because a sect is just a part of the religion, it serves as a candle to light up the path but is not the path in itself, neither is it the religion as a whole. Thus, people should be more focused towards harmony, they should be proud of the unity among them rather than celebrating the disharmonious trends. Because, if people keep on focusing too much on the candle, they are more likely to be deprived of the actual path.
Ismat Abbas is a freelance writer and hails from Astore, Gilgit-Baltistan.