Monday 7 June 2010

Signs of religious conservatism in Pakistan

The Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) has produced an interesting, if slightly confusing, survey of public attitudes towards Islamic radicalisation in Pakistan.
Interviews were conducted across Pakistan, mostly with people living in urban areas and small towns. About 30 per cent lived in rural areas. Many of those interviewed were in intermediate education (29.3 per cent) or studying at university (37.5 per cent). Only 8.3 per cent of those interviewed were illiterate and 2.2 per cent had been educated in madrassas. Therefore the survey sample was skewed towards educated, literate, professional people and it could be argued that the views of rural people were under-represented. Functional illiteracy is as high as 80 per cent in some parts of the country.
Despite this, respondents clearly had conservative views. Sixty-seven per cent thought it was a woman's religious duty to wear the veil in public places and 48.8 per cent believed women should not have the right to divorce. Nearly 23 per cent did not listen to music, with two-thirds of those not listening saying that this was for religious reasons. Just over half of all respondents endorsed Pakistani recording artist Junaid Jamshaid's decision to quit singing pop songs in 2004 and concentrate on singing religious nasheeds. Jamshaid has since joined the Tablighi Jamaat group of Islamic preachers.
Sixty-five per cent said that a person who did not pray five times a day could not become a better Moslem, while 59 per cent said that the struggle to implement sharia law in Pakistan was a form of jihad.
However, despite their conservatism, 81 per cent thought female education was "extremely necessary". Almost 60 per cent thought women should be allowed to work outside the home, compared to 40 per cent who did not.
On their religious beliefs, 77 per cent said they thought Muslims were lagging behind other nations and 31 per cent claimed this was because they had deviated from Islam. Under a fifth thought this was due to scientific and technical backwardness.
Almost two thirds (63.6 per cent) thought Pakistan's decision to joint the US-led 'War on Terror' was incorrect, although 46 per cent were wary of the Taliban, denying that it was fighting for Islam. Of those who were sympathetic to the Taliban, over a third condemned its acts of violence.
Overall, the survey results are confusing. According to PIPS: "All these findings indicate that the average Pakistani takes his religion seriously and wishes to see it in the public domain. But, unlike the Taliban, he does not want to make it claustrophobic for other people. The average Pakistani thus wants to look progressive in a conservative framework. He is caught between two competing narratives: the first one, which is primarily grounded in religion and is now championed by militant groups, makes him want to see his religion triumph; the other, usually trotted out by the government and the media, is mostly based on information and rational analysis, making him realize the significance of progressing in the world."

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