By Dr Ghayur Ayub
In the initial period of Islamic history mosque played a sixfold role. Primarily, it was a center for worship and secondarily it was a focal point for political, judicial, educational, social, and health activities. These activities, were taken away, one by one, as the original Islamic governance of Khulafa-e-Rashideen was converted into Turkic and Iranian style monarchies by Omayyad and Abbasid dynasties.
As a result, political activities were shifted to the caliph’s Darbar giving first blow to the identity of mosque. The second blow came when parallel judiciary system of Mozalim was introduced in Qazi’s court in 8th century AD. This was followed by the third blow when schools mushroomed in 9th century AD as a result of unprecedented proliferation of Ahadith in response to caliph’s decision to compile them. With mushrooming of schools and the associated upsurge of sectarianism, the social activities slipped out quietly from mosque giving it the fourth blow. Before talking about the next blow, let us look at the link between health and mosque.
It is a historical fact that mosque was used as center for health activities in the first few decades of Islamic regimes. For example, in the first holy war of Badr, when the casualties arrived in the city they were taken to the mosque for treatment. This practice carried on later in peacetime. The first female who offered her services as a nurse and bandaged the wounded and looked after the sick was Ku’aiba Bint Sa’d Al Aslamiyya. A special tent was erected for her in the mosque for the purpose. One of her patients was an important companion, Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh, who suffered a spear wound in the battle of Khandaq. Umayyad Caliphs knew that the mosque being a powerful tool could be used by the patients and their relatives as propaganda front against the government, so they took away this facility giving the fifth blow to the mosque.
Thus mosque was left only with one activity of worship. The second Caliph gave it a spiritual impinging by introducing Taraweeh during the month of Ramadhan. But with passage of time worship and its spiritual contour changed to matter-of-routine rituals because of control and thus interference by the caliphs over the custodians of mosque. This was final and the most damaging blow to the mosque as the control trickled down to interest groups in the following centuries. Today, we find all mosques are taken over by the interest groups and used only for rituals or hate-dispersing propaganda. Thus, mosque which was the hub of Islamic teachings of peace and fraternity is dubbed by the enemies of Islam as the center of terror. There may be falsified exaggeration in this propaganda but it does carry some weight. The reason being that over the centuries, the political custodians of religion denuded the mosque from its six accolades one by one which were bestowed upon by the conceiver of Islam (PBH).
It would be naive to suggest to give back all the lost laurels in their totalities to the mosque at this juncture, but it would also be gullible not to return some of these essentials in one form or another. And that’s where the spiritual aspect of health as defined by WHO comes in mind which can play important role in activities of mosque relevant to the present day needs. How?
The idea was provided by an NGO run by a Pakistani psychiatrist trained in Guys Hospital, London. He involved a mosque and its attached Madrisa in healthcare activities by extending its premises and opening an out-patient facility and a day-care operation theater where patients of all color, creed and religions were treated free of charge. Most of the doctors and specialists were either part timers or volunteers. The Imam of the mosque who was also the head of the Madrisa engaged his staff and students in out-patient department and out-reach preventive healthcare activities. One could see a refreshing change in the mindset of the imam, his staff and students involved in helping the ailing humanity. Equally refreshing was the thought that those students were the future imams of mosques spread all over Pakistan. The scene brought back the memories of original notion of mosque in early days of Islam.
After knowing about the NGO, the then PML-N government sent a team to study the project and make a feasibility report whether it could be made a WHO-sponsored pilot activity. After a few visits and discussions it appeared to have positive potentials. In consultation with local WHO, the health ministry prepared a concept paper. Then, a team funded by WHO was sent to Cairo where it had meetings with the highest authority of East Mediterranean Region of WHO at its Regional Head Quarters. In those meetings its wider impact on the society was discussed against the background of fundamentalism/terrorism which was surfacing in Pakistan. After deliberations, the concept paper was accepted in principle and was converted into a project document for Pakistan. Finally it was decided that the final agreement would be signed at Islamabad between the ministry of health and a high-powered WHO team on October 18, 1999.
The plan of PML-N government was to start the WHO-sponsored activity in four provinces as pilot projects and run it for four years and see its impact on the mindset of Imams of mosques, the staff and the students of attached Madrisas and the community. If the results were satisfactory both for the custodians of mosques, Madrisas and the community, then the government would own it by incorporating it in Five Year Plan.
Four days before the signing ceremony, Nawaz Sharif government was packed and with that, the activity was buried. This was two years before the mosque and Madrisa came under stringent global scrutiny after 9/11. If the activity was given chance to flourish, Pakistan could have become a leading player to show the world that mosque is not what it is portrayed by the enemies of Islam by proving it practically.
Now that the PML-N government is in place, can it retrieve those files in the ministry of health which were set aside by the Musharaf government and revive the project which has potential benefits of not only involving the mosque in socio-health activities but help in blunting the propaganda drummed by the world media against the mosque, the Madrisa and Islam.