Shehrbano Taseer, the daughter of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab region who was assassinated by his bodyguard on 4 January for opposing blasphemy laws, blames Pakistan’s countless madrassas – or Religious schools – for using Islam as a ‘political tool’.
Taseer who was speaking at the Quilliam Foundation in London, the first UK-based Muslim think tank dedicated to challenging extremism, is calling on the international community to lobby her government to reform the madrassas and allow greater democracy in Pakistan.
She wants Pakistan to reform the madrassa syllabus so that children are taught viable skills for life and how to value religious freedom and rights.
Taseer, a journalist for Newsweek Pakistan, who describes herself as a civil society activist, has also warned that the death of bin Laden has stirred up extremist sentiment in the already troubled nation.
She said: ‘They are raising children to believe their only contribution to Islam is through jihad. They hail people like Osama bin Laden.’
Taseer said a lack of education coupled with a culture that discouraged any questioning of elders had allowed these radical clerics to spread their ‘poison’.
‘They are becoming more hardline by using Islam as a political tool and this mindset is exported all over the world,’ she added.
Taseer claims her country has been a victim in the war on terrorism after its leaders received direction and funding for schools and mosques from Wahhabis, ultra-conservative dollar-rich Muslims from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
She said this influx had brought with it a rise in the number of radical clerics who had a stronghold on their communities by running religious seminaries and influencing popular opinion.
Asked by Lapido Media about action taken by Pakistani civil society against so-called hate preachers, she said: ‘Absolutely nothing, as there is an atmosphere of fear. The silent majority feel backed up against the wall.’
She gave the example of Mumtaz Qadri, her father’s killer who was showered with rose petals by a group of two hundred lawyers as he entered the court building. She also mentioned students writing articles that hailed his deeds and criticised her father for speaking up for Asia Bibi, the Christian mother-of-five sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy.
‘Mumtaz Qadri represents a mindset that is prevalent in Pakistan. Murder is legitimised because it’s done in the name of God.
‘Repressive mindsets have been allowed to flourish. The state has abdicated its responsibility, and hatemongers have been given a platform.
‘My father’s death has highlighted how grave the situation is, but blasphemy cases are still on the rise.’
Taseer paid tribute to the ‘brave men and women’ who were speaking out in Pakistan as well as the silent majority who she said are looking for a more open society.
But she added that their voices would remain fragmented without the backing of central government.
In recent months Pakistan has come under increasing pressure to crack down on extremism in the wake of the assassination of Salman Taseer.
His murder came only a few months before the fatal shooting of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minorities minister and the only Christian member of the cabinet. He too had criticised his country’s blasphemy laws.
In May protests erupted in Pakistan after US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, who had apparently been hiding in a compound near Islamabad for 10 years.
Meanwhile the UK Department for International Development (DfID), responsible for the recent allocation of £445m aid to Pakistan, is calling on religious leaders in Britain for their help.
DfID has set up a working group of religious leaders in the UK who have experience of working in areas of conflict and fragile states so that aid can reach the most vulnerable people and, in turn, help these communities build a better future.
Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, announced this new approach at the Synod of the Church of England in recognition of the role of faith groups in civil society and their ability to reduce global poverty and challenge extremist attitudes and behaviours at home and abroad.