Pakistani religious radicals threaten to block mixed gender run. By Sheraz Khurram Khan


The religious bigots' opposition of January 29 mixed gender race is disconcerting. They have been taking out anti-marathon protests ever since the announcement of the date for the mixed-gender run. One may be interested to know after all why the opponents of the race are bent upon blocking it. Well, this species has world of time at their disposal to poke their meddling nose in the affairs, which can earn them cheap popularity. They seem to have acquired dexterity in making capital of the non-issues. By selling the interpretation of Islam, which serves their ends they drive gullible people mad. To top it all their charm also works on some educated people. The sanctimonious elements want every Pakistani citizen to mount on their bandwagon of Islam. It merits mentioning here that the so-called flag bearers of Islam attacked a mixed gender run in Gujranawala some months ago, forcing government to impose ban on such events. Nevertheless, defying the ban hundreds of men and women ran again through Lahore, led by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan representative, Asma Jehangir. The Jan 29 event is going to be held under government's patronage though. Mixed gender race is only a sport event and it should be taken in this sense only. It is incomprehensible to me why the religious fanatics have adopted an extremely uncompromising stance on the issue. Why don't they take the event in positive shade? They had better not stretched their imagination on the post-marathon scenario. Their assumption that the event will help stoke emergence of promiscuous culture in the country is far-fetched because how come the participants of the race who have been following folkways, mores and values of Pakistani culture for years, will start acting in utter disregard to their cultural values. The religious radicals are convinced that holding of the event would plunge Islam into danger. In an explicit bid to win the support of their Muslim brethren the 'true custodians of Islam' are out to communicate their apprehensions vis-à-vis mixed gender race to them. Flaying of a sport event in a country where there are already scant means of diversions open to people is ridiculous. Do opponents of the event not want to see common man engaged in the healthy exercise of giving ventilation to his pent-up emotions? What is better witnessing a man running on the road with the opposite gender or the one stabbing the opposite gender to death or engaged in some other shameful incident? Perhaps, the interests of those opposing the marathon are best served when people are split and confused. Maybe the religious fanatics do not deem running a race a wise channel of using their surplus energy. It is not unexpected that the so-called custodians of Islam would tomorrow call for abolishing co-education system, separate transportation for either gender and so on. Maulana Ans, who is leader of six party religio-political alliance (MMA) made a very funny statement on January 27 that he did not mind if women participated in the mixed gender run by wearing a gown masquerading their faces as well. The stupid condition laid by the maulana reflects on his shortsightedness. If the opponents of the race succeed in their avowed aim of blocking the marathon what they think they would achieve? Do they think that people of this country would bend over their backs to do according to their dictates after this 'victory'? That they would be the choice of people in the upcoming 2007 general elections. That the country would become thoroughly Islamic and every trace of evil would be removed from the land after purging of mixed gender run. That the people would no longer yield to the temptations of mixing with opposite gender. That the 160 million Pakistanis would become angels. If the religious fanatics link reformation of people to holding of mixed gender sport events then they are barking up a wrong tree. The engagement of the religious bigots in things they should have stayed away from is a cause of concern. In fact they have a more responsible duty towards the faithful than inciting them to carry out protests and agitations. They must stop this futile exercise, which only adds to their dwindling standing in the eyes of people. If the so-called pundits of Islam think that their version of Islam is right and no mixed gender run should ever take place in Pakistan even then they do not have any right to take law into their hands by resorting to pelting stones at the law enforcement agencies and police during anti-marathon demonstrations. They could have registered their protest in peaceful ways but this unmasks their approach. As a matter of fact they do not want peace to reign in Pakistan. They are deft at exploiting sentiments of people in the name of Islam. If they had been doing in conformity with what Islam advocates they would have never ordered people in Shanti Nagar and then in Sanglahill to desecrate churches. They are ferocious wolves in the garb of sheep. Instead of dissipating their energy on making attempts aimed at blocking the marathon they should get engaged in something constructive. The time and money they spent in conducting anti-marathon protest demonstrations could have been used for raising funds for survivors hit by the October 8 earthquake, the worst ever in the history of Pakistan but alas it was not to be. One prays that the hardliners do not cause any harm to the participants of the mixed gender marathon and let them run today. The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan

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