Islamabad: Have Pakistanis "really been driven to the edge of insanity in our subservience to the maulvis and mullahs" an editorial in a leading daily wondered on Monday, after a teenager chopped off his own hand to punish himself for a blasphemy he believed he had committed.
The editorial "'Accidental' blasphemy" in the Daily Times said that in a country where religious fundamentalism has so vehemently branded itself on to the psyche of the common man, one call on a mosque's loudspeaker is enough to send hoards running to kill the unfortunate person accused - something that is hardly be surprised anymore.
"However, recently an appalling incident has surfaced in which a boy, 15-years old, cut off his own hand to punish himself for the blasphemy he believed he had committed," it said.
The issue originated at a gathering at a local mosque, located in the Hujra Shah Muqeem town, a small village near Lahore, where the cleric after telling the listeners that those who love Prophet Mohammad always say their prayers, followed by inquiring who of them had stopped praying.
According to accounts, Mohammed Anwar, ostensibly mishearing the question, raised his hand, after which the crowd instantly moved to accuse him of committing blasphemy.
"After this, he went back home and cut off the hand he had raised, put it on a plate and presented it to the cleric. On being asked during the interview if this was painful for him, he responded with an unequivocal no."
The editorial said that while the "insanity of the brutal act is completely lost on the young boy, the rest of his community including his own family has since come together to celebrate and revere the boy for his act. Latest reports say the cleric has been arrested on the charge of instigating the chopping off".
It added that the daunting realisation that extremism and fanaticism, rampant within all facets of society, dominates the way religion is understood confronts us time and time again, and this incident too is a clear reflection of it.
"However, the sheer savagery of this act compels one to ask: have we really been driven to the edge of insanity in our subservience to the maulvis and mullahs that we now chop off our limbs in order to acquire the status of a believer who has been indoctrinated by their parochial and dogmatic interpretations?"
The daily went on to say that the "black and white mindset has coloured religious interpretation in such a way that people have turned religion, in its essence a potent force driven by rationality and reason, enjoining a way of being that is humane, merciful and tolerant, into a convoluted version that constantly demands violent retribution from others and from one's own self".
"The fear that is evident in the boy, who is unable to trust his own conscience, is also what has led us to close the doors to any debate or open discourse on matters even remotely related to religion. These beliefs are left to stew in the absence of any counter-narrative from the government, media or any other institution, which has allowed more harmful attitudes to emerge," it said and added: "Unless this fear that is driving society towards insanity is dealt with, there appears little chance of overcoming its apparent manifestations."