Ours is an increasingly religious society. The number of mosque-goers is rising by the day. More and more men are growing long beards and women taking up the veil. But at the same time the number of people who rob others of their rights, in one way or another is also growing larger. This shows that religion is seen by people only as a set of rituals and not as a body of guiding principles for life in society.
Listening to our religious leaders every Friday, people get the impression that one only has to change one’s appearance and offer prayers five times a day to become pious. How one deals with his fellow beings has nothing to do with religion. There are people among us who outwardly are very religious, but who use all means, fair or foul, to get the material benefits they want. The recent report that the Sindh government has over 40,000 “ghost employees”-those who draw salaries without reporting to work-is one testimony to this fact. And remember that 40,000 are only those “ghosts” who have been discovered.
Had religion been taught in its totality by our religious leaders, Pakistani society would not have produced such a large number of individuals without conscience. What we see are the result of the superficial piety which our prayer leaders have been promoting.
The presence of such a huge number of remorseless persons in our society shows that the priorities of those at the pulpit have been cockeyed. Societies which stress only on the commandments of religion concerning people’s outward appearance have to bear this.
Receiving salary without any work, as those “ghost employees,” is only one of the wrongdoings that have become a normal thing in this pious Pakistan. The energy crisis, one of the gravest issues in the country, is the product of electricity thefts, which are justified on the ground that power is too expensive to afford. People routinely steal power for playing cricket and for religious gatherings. Why? Because while our prayer leaders keep telling people that it is a great sin for men to shave their face, they never bother to preach against theft of public resources.
There are people who grab lands to extend their residences beyond the legal limit by using their political connections or by bribing the authorities.
Innumerable bearded shopkeepers occupy pedestrians’ space or even roads to do a better business. The only justification that they have is that all others do the same.
Most of us violate traffic light rules. If stopped, we abuse or bribe policemen, without considering for a moment that this is against our religion.
We all know what importance cleanliness has in our religion, but few people bother to walk a short distance to throw garbage at the right place. Drivers park their cars in the middle of roads without considering for a moment that this causes inconvenience and trouble to other motorists.
The list of unethical acts like these is so long that the space of one newspaper column is too small to contain it.
The nation keeps blaming politicians, generals and bureaucrats for its misfortunes, but does it deserve a better deal? Can we demand better rulers when we ourselves don’t lose any opportunity to rob others?
The only difference between the powerful and the common man is that the latter does not get the same opportunity to cause troubles to his fellow beings.
The government, the military and the bureaucracy haven’t created all the problems. Most of the problems faced by the public today are of its own making.
Neither dictatorship nor democracy can cure our ills. Even the best system of governance will fail if people have no conscience.
Our religious leaders, whom people follow without question, must realise the importance of their position in society. They must reorder their priorities in what they preach and start highlighting the problems people are creating for each other.
Yes, it is important for people to know how to perform ablution for prayers and how to dress as Muslims, but it is also important that sermons tell people not to cheat, not to steal, not to cause pain to others. We can’t become a better nation unless our concept of piety is changed.
The writer is a staff member.