Nowhere in these countries can an individual or group illegally occupy a public or private piece of land to turn it into a mosque, madrassa or church.
In Turkey, while the AKP rule may have created some space for individual and unauthorized initiation of religious institutions, yet largely no mosque or seminary can be built without Diyanet’s approval. Nor is the clergy permitted to serve as the ultimate self-righteous arbiter of religious matters. Diyanet in fact sends in inspectors if there is a complaint of misuse of mosque or madrassa, or of sectarian incitement.
Diyanet adjudicates matters in light of the Muslim sources, and regularly organizes refresher courses to update the knowledge and understanding of Imams and Khateebs who must be graduates of faculty of theology, Islamic Studies, and must be equipped with comparative studies of religion.
A Norwegian organization recently took a delegation comprising some very important religious scholars including Qari Hanif Jalandhry and members of civil society to expose them to the Turkish model of secularism, and how Diyanet works. They also met with Mustafa Akyol, an enterprising author (Islam Without Extremes) and tv commentator, who believes Turkey has escaped sectarian or political upheaval largely because of its secularist political model in which political parties are not supposed to mesh their ideologies with politics. Nor are the religious or religio-political parties allowed to participate in political matters. It is certainly a model worth emulating in Pakistan and a food for thought for all those who want to see a clear separation between religion and politics. Also those who matter must see to it that religious parties and groups stop exploitation of their social status for economic gains, and that there is no hate speech nor unauthorized constructions on state or private lands.
It is, of course, debatable as to whether Pakistan can follow what Ataturk did over 90 years ago with brute power. Yet, what deserves consideration is whether Pakistan can emulate some of the fundamental principles of preventing the enmeshing of religion and politics.
Other Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have also gone through more or less similar experiences which can indeed serve as role-model for a country like Pakistan that is currently embroiled in crisis that stems from the inter-twining of religion and politics. If the entire education system is subject to state regulations, why cannot the private religious education establishment i.e. madaris be subject to those regulation to avoid sectarian divisions and their adverse impact on the society.
What we need to learn from Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia is to shed stereotypes like “Pakistan being the citadel of Islam”, and instead focus on the welfare of and harmony among the “Citizens”. Pakistan also needs to shun all those organizations – for its own long-term interest – whose stated aim is to conquer or dominate the world.
(The article is based observations from a recent Peace Conference that the Norwegian Church Aid held at Istanbul for members of Pakistani religious seminaries and civil society members).