Last year, one day while I was discussing the preferable route to take, my taxi driver remarked “Some roads could be blocked since the Jahannumi (someone destined to hellfire) is coming today”. Startled, I asked him, “What do you mean by Jahannumi?”. He plainly replied “Nawaz Sharif!”. Shocked, I tried to explain it to him, “You may staunchly disagree with his political ideology and actions, but labeling anyone like this is absolutely wrong. The decision of Jannat (heaven) and Jahannum (hell) lies in the hands of Allah alone”. The driver insisted “Nawaz Sharif is a Gustakh-e-Rasool (blasphemer of the Prophet (SAW))!”, for which I reprimanded him yet again, “This is a very grave allegation since it equates calling Muslim a ‘Kafir’ (disbeliever)!”. “Yes he is a Kafir!” the driver took no time to respond back! Thinking whether to change the topic or to try convincing my ‘fellow countryman’, I thought to give latter a try! “See calling someone a Kafir is a very delicate issue! It is the same trap in which extremist groups such as TTP and ISIS have fallen into — they regard all the leaders in the Muslim world to be Kafir and thereby justify their so-called ‘Jihad’ (holy war) against them to restore (their version of) ‘Islam’. The politicians and bureaucrats that are a part of their system get the allegation of ‘endorsing’ the ‘Kufr (disbelief)’ while the army and police which protects this ‘Kufr–Kafir’ nexus also becomes ‘Kafir’. The people who honor and vote to bring such ‘Kafirs’ to power thereby also support ‘Kufr’ and hence each of them becomes a ‘legitimate target’ in their ‘holy war’! So you can see that how playing with the label Kafir led to! Would you agree to such an ideology?” Omar Waraich (deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International) remarked “Little did anyone suspect that Rizvi’s branch of the Barelvi tradition, to which the majority of Pakistanis belong and which has long been regarded as a quiet and mystical branch of the faith, would also turn on the state, and in a more insidious manner. Rizvi’s followers are not limited to the hills of the tribal areas but have the potential to sway people in the country’s heartlands” Fortunately, this time, the driver actually took a pause and apparently thought on my words! After a spell of silence, he regrettably admitted, “Sir the thing is that people like me are Jahil (ignorant) so…”. I reminded him that “an ignorant must ask someone who ‘knows’, as per the instructions of Qur’an!”. He nodded in affirmation which encouraged me to continue (without getting ‘labelled’ myself!) and I responded to some of his ‘reasons’ by telling him, “These matters are not as black and white as you might be seeing them and so the best thing is to withhold your tongue from ‘misusing’ these ‘labels’ in the future”, the driver nodded once again. Fast forward, we are seeing the same ideology in full swing under the ‘leadership’ of ‘Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’ the acronym of which (TLP) strikes a similarity to ‘TTP’ – coincidence? You better decide! Killing a Non-Muslim blasphemer (by using the judiciary, not an angry mob!) is a different matter among the classical Muslim scholars (as numerous people have already highlighted during the course of Asia Bibi’s case). Furthermore, another important step is to satisfactorily prove that the accused is indeed a ‘blasphemer’. Taking a ‘convenient route’ out of these ‘convolutions’, some TLP leaders were video recorded instigating a crowd by saying that our Prime Minister, Judges and the Army Chief have become ‘legitimate targets’ for acquitting a ‘Non-Muslim blasphemer’. When I first heard this, the first question that came to my mind was how is this different than the ideology of TTP and ISIS? When the atrocities of TTP (and ISIS) were wreaking havoc on Pakistan (and rest of the world), some ‘religious leaders’ took no time in blasting the ‘heinous Wahabi ideology’, labelling it as the ‘real culprit’ behind terrorism. Some went a step further to name ‘Salafis, Ahl-i-Hadith, Deobandis, Jamaat e Islami’ and so forth, claiming (wrongly) that they all represent ‘Wahabi ideology’ Times changed and now these ‘religious leaders’ are following the footsteps of the same terrorist groups! In his recent Op-Ed to the Washington Post, Omar Waraich (deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International) remarked “Little did anyone suspect that Rizvi’s branch of the Barelvi tradition, to which the majority of Pakistanis belong and which has long been regarded as a quiet and mystical branch of the faith, would also turn on the state, and in a more insidious manner. Rizvi’s followers are not limited to the hills of the tribal areas but have the potential to sway people in the country’s heartlands.” A myopic worldview has generally tied ‘extremism’ with specific communities — much of the world has put the blame of extremism on Muslims while the Muslims, in turn, have tried to throw it at particular ‘religious’ groups. However, this ‘erroneous perception’ bars us from identifying ‘extremist tendencies’ beyond the communities/groups whom we’ve comfortably put the blame upon! Be it the growing number of white nationalists in the West, right wing Hindus in India, Anti-Taliban war criminals in Afghanistan or the ‘peace loving’ Buddhists in Myanmar, ‘extremism’ manifests itself in all sorts of shades! The core ideology and code of conduct is, however, shared by all! One doesn’t get absolved from their own ‘extremist’ ideology and crimes just because they are targeting or opposing a group that they have labelled as ‘extremists’ or ‘wrongdoers’! Needless to say, not every individual in communal, religious, political and ideological groups is on the same page regarding every idea and action. By putting the label on a wide community/group, we therefore accuse a large number of ‘innocents’ and ‘dissenters’ (in case the accusations actually hold any weight)! Hence, we must address ‘extremism’ as an ideology no matter what label it carries or whatever community or ideology it claims attribution to! The has Medical Doctor and takes a deep interest in religion, history and current affairs. He can be contacted on Twitter at @Drsyedtalhashah Published in Daily Times, November 21st 2018.