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April '07: Loud re-thinking

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Loud re-thinking
The globalist Thomas Friedman recently remarked, `` The biggest challenge is between you and your imagination.” Thus indicating that in the present globalized world individuals can make even the most outrageous mental plans a reality. He forgot to mention that this is possible only if the individual is free and not shackled. Pakistanis this month have witnessed the whole Jamia Hafsa episode and how it is being handled . The April individu-spotlight focuses on this issue. As usual, feedback will be most welcome.

It is difficult to write about the Jamia Hafsa issue. Should one join the chorus of outraged choir of columnists who are condemning the Jamia Hafsa action and churning out op-ed pieces after pieces on it while the Minister of Religious Affairs declares that `` the girls of Jamia Hafsa are our daughters “ ? Or should one dwell upon the fact that the Jamia Hafsa people are openly setting up Shariah courts, noting down the license number plates of cars driven by women , threatening Islamabad barbers and music store owners and even declaring that they have weapons inside the Madrassah that they will use `` in self defense” against the government troops ? Should one write about how it is baffling that the government’s response to all these threats are ``we will negotiate”? Or that it is interesting that Asma Jehangir is beaten black and blue on the streets of Lahore when she protests against human rights violations , young Masood Janjua has his pants pulled down in broad daylight by the police as he protests against his father’s ``disappearance” but the Jamia Hafsa get Ch Shujaat as a negotiator when they openly create a state within a state?

To say that Jamia Hafsa has consumed our intellectual lives will be an understatement. Last week only there were about three major newspapers whose op-ed pages had columns all devoted to the issue. The news pages of these papers had statements on the subject that can best be termed as propagating various subjective interpretations of Islam.

There were statements from the government side declaring that the Jamia Hafsa brand of Islam was not true to the Islamic spirit and advocated enlightened, moderate Islam. Then there were statements from the Mutahida Majlis –e-Amal people declaring that this was not the brand of Islam that they supported and instead Islam was all about peaceful jihad. Then there were the women groups who declared that Islam has granted a lot of rights to women and that the Jamia Hafsa interpretation of women rights in Islam was incorrect. For me, all these statements and op-ed pieces are meaningless and part of the problem instead of the solution. The crux of the problem, in my opinion , is that in the sixtieth year of our existence we are still shackled with political Islam.

A thinking individual can have faith and belief. This is a privilege of only human beings and not even all animate things. If plants cannot have a religion, animals cannot have a religion then how can a country have a religion? A country can have a majority of people within it’s boundaries that practice a certain religion , have a certain faith but then it is simply a case of a Hindu or Muslim or Christians majority geographical area. To give a country a religion is not a case of logical thinking.

Pakistan has anchored the concept of its national identity as well as an estimation of it\s powers, in the historical memory of invaders and conquerors that held sway over the sub continent for nearly a thousand years before the advent of the British Raj. These Persian, Afghan, Mughal and Central Asian adventurers, though professing Islamic faith came to India not to fight Islamic holy wars but either to plunder wealth or to carve out their own kingdoms. Some invaders such as Nadir Shah and Abdali, made no distinction between the faithful and the rest. They raped and plundered them all. In the early 1920s, handful of Muslim leaders, to promote their own vested interests, conjured up the myth of Islam as a national identity to demand a separate homeland for the Muslim minority of the Indian sub continent. It was a corruption of history that led to the belief that a homogenous Islamic state would be superior to the rest of India. This helped gather strength for Pakistan, the Promised Land of the pure.

After the partition of the country, the new nation, invested itself with an aura of superiority anchored in the historic memory of the soldiers of the Islamic faith who invariably got the better of the non-Muslim indigenous forces. Unfortunately, this myth was soon shattered in Kashmir, followed by 1965 when the Indian forces got the better of the Pak forces equipped with much wanted US supplied armaments and finally by the decisive Indian victory in December 1971.

Islam is a religion. All religions are based on sets of beliefs and values that serve as parameters for human behavior. Values to become values and beliefs need human devotees. Without followers and devotees they are meaningless. Humans give meaning and creditability to `thou shall not steal” and `` There is no God but Him and Muhammad is His last Prophet.”

Thus, at one level all religions are created and strengthened by you and me . We give meaning to them and in turn draw personal meaning and strength from our own creations. Thus, in a sense all religions are opiates and very subjective. Since they are subjective, they are best used in private spaces. When they are dragged into the public space, problems like the Kashmir conflict, sectarianism in the Northern Areas , conflict in Parachinar, the mess in Afghanistan and the tribal areas, murder of Zilla i-Huma and the general righteous constipated attitude that we’ve developed about religion crop up. How religion has been used as a slogan and inscribed on placards is something that Pakistanis are very familiar with and thus one does not have to elaborate on . It’s most nauseating example was in the days of the infamous dual office bill debate when the bill was defended on the floor of the House on the grounds that the Holy Prophet. PBUH was also a leader as well as a commander. This dragging of the Holy Prophet in short term politics was disrespectful at best and as mentioned earlier, nauseating at worst.

Today we have the Jamia Hafsa fiasco. Yesterday we had the religion column drama. Tomorrow there will be something else all because of subjective interpretations of religion and it’s role in public life. In short, all because of the political abuse of religion in United India to date. In his address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan , Jinnah said, `` 'You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. This has nothing to do with the business of the state.'

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of our present problems stem from the institutionalized abuse of Islam. It inhibits us. It drains us but most of all it frustrates us as it retards our mental growth. What Ghalib said all those years ago still holds true , ``Iman mujhe roke hai to khinche he mujhe kufr - Ka'ba mere piche hai to kalisa mere aage [iman (belief in Islam) stops me and kufr (British progress and rationalism) pulls me]. Thus the holiest mosque Ka'ba is behind me and church is ahead of me.



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