The Sunni Tehreek (Sunni Movement), a non-political religious organization that represents the moderate (Barelwi) Sunnis in Pakistan, has finally decided to join the political arena. This is a welcome change. One hopes that the Sunni Tehreek's political Wing, Pakistan Inqalabi Tehreek, will be able to offer an alternative to religious Pakistanis, majority of whom are peace loving moderates.
The Sunni Tehreek rejects violence, which has become the hallmark of the Taliban-style Islam in Pakistan. Referring to the violent struggle by the Taliban for enforcing Shariah in Swat, Sarwat Aijaz Qadri, who heads the Sunni Tehreek, said: "We condemn the implementation of Shariat on gunpoint." For standing up to the Taliban and other extremists in Pakistan, the Sunni Tehreek has paid dearly. In April 2006, the Tehreek's entire leadership was obliterated in a bomb attack, which killed more than 56 people, in Nishtar Park, Karachi. Earlier in May 2001, another batch of Tehreek's leadership was assassinated.
The vacuum created by the absence of a moderate Sunni leadership drove Pakistani Sunnis into the hands of hardliners and extremists. Since the beginning of the Afghan war in mid-seventies, the mainstream Sunnis in Pakistan have suffered a great deal. They were sidelined, marginalised, and religiously disenfranchised by the Wahabi/Deobandi version of Islam that was jointly funded by the Americo-Saudi alliance to radicalize a people to fight against the Russian army in Afghanistan.
It started with the mushroom growth of Deobandi madrassahs in Pakistan in mid-to-late seventies. The prayer leaders (imams) in most mosques were systematically replaced by hardliners who urged their followers to leave for Afghanistan and fight the Red Army. The result was a takeover of the religious enterprise in Pakistan by the Deobandi leaning clerics.
Tehreek's current leadership is aware of the challenges it faces and it can use help of the mainstream Pakistani Sunnis and moderates who do not believe in using religion as an excuse for violence. If the Sunnis in Pakistan are searching for an answer to the hard-line militant Islam of the Taliban, Pakistan Inqalabi Tehreek may be the one they should consider.
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