The Fiery Debate Over Islam’s Identity: Pakistan’s Intellectual Battle

Two Pakistani columnists sparked a fierce debate about Islam's role in society as defined by Islamists and the perception of Islam by the West and liberal activists. The two writers presented their views on Islam, society, and the West in their respective Urdu-language newspapers.

The first to present his arguments was Khurshid Nadeem, a liberal columnist writing for the Roznama Dunya. In his column titled "Everybody Has Their Own Islam,” Nadeem subtly criticized Islamists in the Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir for praising a new policy in the region where female students and teachers in educational institutions are required to wear the hijab.

Nadeem also wrote about how the conception of Islam by Muslim countries like Pakistan are influenced by their geographical and cultural sensibilities, adding that different Muslim countries like Morocco and Afghanistan have different societal attitudes and interpretations of Islam. He also pointed out how Muslim countries have become patriarchal and express the view of women being a threat to Islam, which justifies actions that would keep women far from men to protect the latter’s honor.

Finally, he urged Pakistan and its rulers to set their priorities straight, as exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad. He even boldly claimed that Prophet Muhammad only allowed usury and slavery because economic stability was his priority while saying that the Prophet raised societal standards so high that these practices eventually became unacceptable.

The next to present his views was Shahnawaz Farooqui, a columnist for the Roznama Jasarat, a newspaper aligned with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami. He wrote a column titled "The Islam Of The Agents Of The West,” outlining his counterarguments against Nadeem’s column and claiming how the West tried to subvert and malign Islam for over 1,000 years.

Farooqui started his column by claiming that the West does not see the Prophet Muhammad as a holy prophet but rather a “great personality,” adding that Islam is considered an invention of the Prophet rather than a heavenly religion.

He also attempted to dispel Nadeem’s views about Islam being affected by a country’s geographical and cultural sensibilities, saying that many customs and practices in Islam, such as praying five times a day, what acts are halal or haram, and the concept that there is only one God have largely unchanged since the time of the Prophet.

In addition, Farooqui argued about patriarchy in Islam and Muslim societies, asking where it stated that the reign of the Prophet Muhammad was patriarchal and that it was something negative. He also added that if patriarchy was bad, the Prophet Muhammad and all those who followed him should have condemned it and not allowed it to continue.

Farooqui also tried to paint the West and Nadeem as hypocritical for saying that only Muslim societies are hypocritical when Western countries like the United Kingdom and the United States only had a few female leaders and that only 17 women have won the Nobel Prize. He also mentioned Hollywood, where 900 out of a thousand films produced by Hollywood had male protagonists.

Finally, Farooqui ended his column by citing D.H. Lawrence of Arabia, saying that it is men that corrupt women, adding that the West does not present women as great mothers, teachers, or leaders but as singers, models, and porn stars.

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