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Sinners to saints?

The problem with a dictatorial mindset is that it makes one believe that your version of a phenomenon is the only true version. Moreover, the proclivity of advisers to blindly support any idea as long as it emanates from somebody holding an important position has been a bane for Pakistan.

Matters become more complex when this dictatorial mindset is piloted by personal religious views and — sooner or later and in one form or the other — leads to discrimination on the basis of religion. General Ziaul Haq believed in a version of Islam that made even the headscarf of female newscasters on state television a matter of great concern for those at the helm of affairs during his reign. On the other hand, Gen Pervez Musharraf believed in what he called “enlightened moderation” and arranged musical evenings at the presidency which were well attended by everybody who was somebody during his time.

Both the dictators have their fair share of critics. Any debate on how their views on religion influenced their decision-making and clouded their judgement inevitably results in heated arguments and distinct disagreements among the participants.

A similar dictatorial mindset was on display recently when the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) officers received a notification to make sure to attend a motivational lecture at the auditorium of the directorate general of training and research (Customs) in Karachi by the famous religious figure Maulana Tariq Jamil on the FBR’s special invitation.

Notwithstanding the stature of the venerable maulana as a religious scholar who has influenced countless people, I dare say that there is hardly anything in his credentials that makes him a suitable choice for a motivational lecture for civil servants in the revenue department.

Will religious lectures transform officers who are corrupt? The Tableeghi Jamaat he represents indeed has a considerable following, but that in no way means that state institutions like the FBR should endorse a religious outfit by extending an exclusive invitation to one of its leaders. Such steps are bound to antagonise other groups having similar popularity.

An individual, which in this case happens to be the FBR chairman, has no right to impose his personal likes or dislikes on the whole institution. This is what dictators do and civil servants are not meant to be dictators. They are elevated to senior positions in order to perform a certain set of duties without letting any of their personal preferences interfere with their actions as representatives of state institutions.

As a matter of principle, morality and ethics should not be tied to religion because there is always a difference of interpretation when it comes to religion and this difference inevitably leads to disagreement.

For example, women are barred from driving in Saudi Arabia whereas in Pakistan there is no possibility of such a rule being implemented because it defies the very principle of equality and women empowerment. The path the FBR chairman is treading might lead someone in a similar position in the near or distant future to invite a religious scholar to apprise women officers about the merits of the veil and make it mandatory for them to observe it. There is nothing wrong with the veil, provided free will is not compromised.

The FBR is supposed to collect taxes and for that the best way is to professionally equip officers, make systems foolproof, document the economy, introduce stringent performance accountability mechanisms and take exemplary action against unscrupulous officers rather than banking on questionable efforts.

I wonder how seniors would respond if now an officer asks for leave to go for a 40-day trip for preaching purposes under the very guidance of Maulana Tariq Jamil. Will anything of this sort magically transform a thoroughly corrupt officer into a saint?

I remember a few years ago, a video of a former chairman of the FBR, dancing to a song at a function at the presidency was leaked on social media and all hell broke loose. People ridiculed him despite the fact that it was an individual act that had no bearing on his professional competence or the performance of the institution he represented.

It was the topic of discussion on talk shows and sensationalism savvy media anchors equated it to fiddling while Rome burned. I wonder how Nero would be remembered if he had been attending a sermon while Rome burned. I am sure Pakistanis would have given him a clean chit as anything religious is above criticism.

In this era of information overload, it really was unnecessary to invite a religious scholar to state the obvious, that too at the immense cost of making a government institution party to ideological rifts among various religious groups. When asked to sum up what he learnt from the said lecture, an officer quipped, “I learnt what I already knew — good officers go to heaven, corrupt officers go everywhere”.

The writer is a former civil servant. syedsaadatwrites@gmail.com

Syed Saadat, "Sinners to saints?," Dawn. 2015-06-10.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social aspects , Social needs , Religious lectures , Civil servants , Social media , Tax collection , Society-Pakistan , Gen Ziaul Haq , Gen Musharraf , Maulana Tariq Jamil , Saudi Arabia , Pakistan , Karachi , FBR