Browsing "religion"
Jul 30, 2012 - published work, religion    4 Comments

This Ramazan everyone is a beggar

Religion dominates airwaves all year round in Pakistan. If it is not programs of religious variety offering religious advice on food, matrimony and Halal banking, then someone would be offering Istekhara services to those who seek divine guidance. If it is not the theological debates, then it would be programs targeting women telling them how to be good Muslim wives and daughters, tv serials telling women how to be submissive and regressive in name of religion, morning show hosts censoriously telling young men and women not to venture into parks and indulge in un-Islamic acts of sitting on the benches. If this is how things go all year around, the religiosity of the TV content goes up considerably during Ramazan. 
The TV channels with more moolah put up huge sets, get hoards of people to come in, and cram in everything in those few hours: real life tragedies, sob stories, hyper religiosity, overt piety, a lot of charity, a bit of drama with a dash of emotions and tears, cooking shows, many give aways and gifts for the audience present in the studios and the audience glued to their TV sets in their homes, naats and religious sermons and last but not the least would be the transmission show hosts’ claims of grandiosity that they cook the best kebabs, give away most money to the needy on their show, get the best ratings and convert, or revert if you prefer that, people of other faiths to Islam – live on TV. It is reality TV with a hint of religion to make it palatable for most.
All that is fine because it is TV and at the end of the day, it’s a business and everyone wants to make some money. What gets my goat is that they are perpetuating a culture where people think asking others for money or begging is fine. In one example, a man who earns Rs8,000 per month came in and asked for half a million rupees to pay for his wife’s medical bills. One of his excuses was that he has four kids that he cannot afford to feed. The wife probably fell ill by bearing children after children when she was obviously physically weak and anemic. The host’s reaction was not only to sympathise with him but to urge his viewers to donate money to him. I, on the other hand, wanted the host to ask this man why he procreated four times when he knew he was earning just Rs. 8,000 a month. Was he expecting a miracle or did he think his financial conditions would change all of a sudden?
By offering him and the likes of him the money, aren’t TV channel being irresponsible and giving the message that it is ok to not plan your life or be responsible for your choices, we will guilt others with more money into giving it you. Lines like “Yeh bachi namaz parhtee hai, iskay ilaaj ke liye paisay dain” are also discriminatory. If a person is regular with his namaz, he or she deserves a greater chunk of the charity than the heathen who do not pray 5 times a day, no matter how grave their need is. Financial assistance is fine but it would be better if it comes with a bit counseling about family planning and life choices. 
Instead of urging people to give away for charity, why don’t we urge the audience to give decent wages to the people who work for them so they do not need to be supplanted with charity? If you really want to make a lasting more dignified difference, how about vowing to pay decent wages to everyone who works for you –at your workplace, at your home and around you – and getting others around you to do the same. 
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the longer version. 

Though this is a serious piece but if you want to be entertained by the sheer stupidity of my countrymen, please go to the ET website and read comments.
May 11, 2012 - published work, religion, Society    3 Comments

The fatwa factory

There is so much that needs to be done in Pakistan that one does not know where to start. The country is suffering the worst energy crisis of its history; it is food insecure like never before and almost half the children in the country are malnourished and stunted. In short, we are teeming millions who cannot feed themselves, have limited access to energy and will be dumber and weaker in future because of stunted mental and physical growth of our children. At such a juncture of history, what is it that we do most? We issue fatwas promoting misogyny and obscurantism; against hygiene, education, health and progress.
The latest in the line of outrageous fatwas is issued by a former legislator. Maulana Abdul Haleem, of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman, came up with a series of misogynist fatwas, clearly detailing what should be the priorities of his political and religious followers. For starters, the fatwa declares formal education for women to be unIslamic. As just declaring the act of going to school and getting some education irreligious was not enough, he also had to reprimand the parents who send their girls to schools in Kohistan and asked them to terminate their education. He told them, in no uncertain terms, that failure to do so will earn them a spot in eternal hellfire.
The fatwa does not end here. It goes on to declare all the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the region as ‘hubs of immodesty’. He first blames the women working in those NGOs for mobilizing local women on health and hygiene issues and then calls on the local men to marry the unmarried NGO workers – forcefully if they have to – to make them stay at home. Maulana Haleem’s religious credentials are dubious at best as this is the guy who thinks growing poppy for heroine production is shariah compliant. 
In short, a former legislator issues random fatwas during a Friday sermon inciting hatred against a group of people (NGO workers) and declaring the constitutional rights of getting education for half the population haram and no one barring a few bloggers and tweeters raised an eye brow. A non issue like memogate which does not affect the life of any Pakistani other than our former ambassador to USA, gets yards of column space and thousands of minutes of airtime. A religious decree that can affect life and livelihood and future of many Pakistani is not worth pondering or protesting.
Had it been just one fatwa from one cleric in one remote corner, we would have had the luxury to ignore it. Unfortunately we churn out one religious edict after another for most ludicrous of purposes. If declaring vegetarian items like potato chips and hair implant services halal is considered viable marketing gimmick, then abduction of minor girls from minority communities also get a sanction in a fatwa (and a court judgment). Fatwas are so commonplace than even KESC had to resort to seek a fatwa a few years back to get people pay for the electricity. As KESC is still laden with hundreds and thousands of unpaid bills, we all know how effective that fatwa turned out to be. 
A country like ours can ill afford adventurism of any kind, but most dangerous is the practice of resorting to fatwa to get a point across. Not only it breeds a narrow and rigid view of the things, it does not leave any room for dialogue, debate and consultation, making us an even more intolerant bunch. 

Written for Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
Mar 2, 2012 - published work, religion, TTP    7 Comments

A country for bigotry

It has been a year since Shahbaz Bhatti passed away. No, strike that, he did not pass away; his life was brutally cut short when he was murdered. Everyone from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan to Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan has been suspected with his murder either by the police officials or by home ministry yet no decent progress has been made. 
In a way, it all makes sense as only angry groups of men who mean death and destruction carry any weight around here. Bhatti was NOT that man. He believed in fighting for his rights the democratic way and had planned to introduce legislation that would ban hate speech and hate literature against all. He was campaigning for official holidays for minorities’ religious festivals and wanted Blasphemy Law to be repealed which turned out to be a crime worthy of death.
Bhatti’s death is not a lone incidence of brutal violence. Planned acts of aggression and cruelty against minorities – be them ethnic, religious, sectarian or communal– are becoming a norm in the land of pure. Intolerance has reached such levels that people with names that revealed their sectarian or religious beliefs are afraid to use them when they feel unsafe. Slain journalist Mukarram Khan Atif narrated one such incident which depicted the extent of narrow-mindedness and fanaticism in the country. Mukarram Khan and another Shia reporter were traveling south from Mohmand and in Khyber Agency – a Sunni dominant area – the Shia journalist took Abbas off his name and added a Khan and when they passed through Kurram Agency, the Shia journalist resumed his identity, but Mukarram Khan had to become Mukarram Shah to stay safe. In the end, even that was not enough and Mukarram Khan was murdered by TTP.
The minority communities – no matter who they are and where they are living – are constantly under threat. We have cases of forced conversions of Hindu girls – mostly minors – in Sindh who are forcefully abducted and married to Muslim men and then presented to the court as religious converts. According to a treasurymember of Sindh Assembly, around 20 to 25 forced conversions take place every month in the province. 
Acts of mob violence against Ahmadis are routine. Any random Ahmadi family can be threatenedwith blasphemy ordinance and it is business as usual for the law enforcement bodies. Their places of worship are gunned and/or ransacked because good God fearing Muslims of the land feel threatened by the security cameras there that are installed by the police, yet the government just silently looks on.
The perpetuators of the Gojra incident where a whole Christian colony was burned down still roam free and Hazaras in Balochistan are regularly targeted for their sectarian and ethnic identity. Go to any bookshop and you can find books written by religious fanatics denouncing Ismaili Shias as the degenerates out to destroy the faith, but what happened in Kohistanwhere Shia men were mercilessly killed after checking their Shia identity with their id cards takes it to another level of premeditated prejudice  and bigotry. Such was the desire of the killers to defend their faith that they even killed a Sunni man who made a mistake when asked a question about Fajr prayers.
It would be not wrong to say that intolerance rules our society and no one is safe in this country other than the men who perpetuate biases, bigotry and hatred.
First published in The Express Tribune
Jan 4, 2012 - religion, Salmaan Taseer    19 Comments

Why fantastical will always win against rational in Pakistan

With Salmaan Taseer’s first death anniversary approaching, people started talking about that incident again and one of the strangest stories, validating the murder, came from a LUMS graduate (I, of course, do not mean to shame other LUMS graduates, I am just genuinely astounded at the limitations of formal education). 
So this guy I know, an acquaintance, said that his friend’s friend – a lawyer and someone he never met – went to see Mumtaz Qadri – the Salmaan Taseer murderer – in his cell to offer his services as a lawyer. According to the lawyer dude, Mumtaz Qadri met him with great humility but refused his services because a big name lawyer had already offered his services which Qadri had accepted earlier. Though heartbroken to not represent Qadri, the lawyer ended up having a cup of tea with the man in the cell. The lawyer was suitably impressed with Qadri and reported that his cell smelled of rose petals and agar battis (Incense sticks). When asked where he gets the rose petals and agar battis from, Qadri said that he does not have either agar batti or rose petals; the smell follows him around wherever he goes because he is blessed by Allah for killing Salmaan Taseer. My acquaintance and his lawyer friend were both convinced afterwards that Qadri was indeed the chosen one and he had done a great service to mankind by killing the former governor of Punjab.
My acquaintance is a graduate of what is now considered to be the best university in Pakistan and works for a telecom company, yet he chose to believe a half baked story when he heard one from a not so reliable source with absolutely no justifiable evidence. When I asked the telecom guy if his lawyer friend had actually checked the cell for any hidden agar battis and rose petals or checked with the guards if the room has been recently swept and the smell of flowers and incense stick lingered on or if there was any smell to begin with, I was given this incredulous look and he said that I will never get it because my faith is not strong enough. I did not say much afterwards because I literally get sick when people take no time in jumping to judge me for my weak or nonexistent faith. 
Not just this educated guy who is considered smart by all accounts, but the lawyer, who is supposed to view everything with skepticism, chose to not only believe a murderer, but also perpetuated the myth of Qadri being connected to a higher power with incense sticks, probably embellishing the story to make it even more fantastical to support his argument. 
Is there ever any hope of winning an argument based on logic, rationality and clarity of thought in Pakistan? I think not. It was Ayn Rand (no, I am not a neo liberal fangirl of Ms. Rand) who said that when opposite principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side. If the same logic is applied to the conflict between the secularists/humanists and religious bigots/mindless followers in Pakistan, then the irrational side will triumph. Basically, we are in a race to become more irrational and obnoxious to win the argument and those who can be more irrational, fantastical and obnoxious are clearly in the lead. 
Here is to fun times ahead. 
Dec 30, 2011 - religion, women    10 Comments

Appreciating male beauty in hijab and how!

Appreciation of beauty transcends most things, even religious taboos. 
My hijabi sister who disapproves of most things on telly for being too obscene cannot help but appreciate beauty when she sees it – even it happens to be of male variety. My sister was surfing through the tv channels and stopped on one showing Travie McCoy’s Stereo hearts featuring Adam Levine. After watching the whole song, she switched off the telly, threw the remote on the sofa and left the room saying, “I wasted good 3 and a half minute waiting of one decent shot of Adam Levine and there was none. Why would anyone want to watch the video if there are just 2 frames of Adam Levine and that too fully clothed.”
I was quietly watching it all and have now come to the conclusion that my overtly religious hijabi sister may frown upon romantic scenes between Sadia Imam and Humayun Saeed, but Adam Levine’s bare torso will make her forget her standards of fuhashi and how awesome is that.
What do my other hijabi sisters think? If super fit beautiful men agree to flaunt it, would they let go of their inhibitions?

PS: Trying not to blog about what happened in the Supreme Court today because if I write what I feel like writing, I will probably be hauled in for contempt of court. I have been told that even “Chaudhry Iftekhar Hai hai” can be considered Tauheen-e-adalat.
PPS:  I also feel vindicated for the 2973 time that I did not support the restoration of judiciary movement back in 2007 because I was smart enough to see through the clutter for what it was – power struggle between two men, one in khakis and the other in black robes. 
PPPS: I may have gone overboard with the pictures but hey, its the weekend and the festive season – enjoy. 
Dec 26, 2011 - PTI, religion, women    13 Comments

Peddling obscurantism

In  Shahzeb Khanzada’s programon Express News Imran Khan, in response to a question raised by a young woman, said that if his party forms the government, they will not dictate how women should dress up. When I saw that I was quite pleasantly surprised because back in 1990s when Imran Khan discovered religion, his first op-ed for The News/Jang was on the importance of “Chador and Chardeewari.” He was all about how important pardah and the four walls of the house are for a woman and praised women who chose to stay at home to raise their children, away from the eyes of others.  Now that Imran Khan refused to concern himself with women’s clothing options, I thought he is finally maturing into a politician who cannot be bothered with the non issues. 
But somebody was not happy with this development and that somebody was Ansar Abbasi. In his columntoday, he questioned Imran’s pronouncement asking how a follower of Allama Iqbal and God fearing believer of faith can say something as outrageous as that: giving women option to choose what they want to wear!  If God and his prophet have restricted women’s clothing to a certain standard then how a mard-e-momin like Imran Khan can question that restriction. If Ansar Abbasi is to be believed that the code of an Islamic welfare state is hidden in a woman’s blouse.

Ansar Abbasi questions if the change Imran Khan talks about is Ata Turk and Musharraf inspired or a true Islamic change and wants Imran Khan to explain his stance on women’s clothing. In a country where half the population is malnourished and 70% do not have access to clean drinking water and sanitation where law and order is in a shambles, our very senior reporter/defender of faith is worried about the length and breadth of the dupatta of our ladies. 

Ansar Abbasi was so perturbed by this new aspect of Imran Khan’s personality that he went up to him on Sunday and said that enlightened people like Veena Malik would be very happy with this new Imran Khan. According to Ansar Abbasi, Imran Khan responded that people like Veena cannot do much in Pakistan and the country will never have any law against Quran and Sunnah. 
When I read this piece, I wanted to die – literally die. Forget the obscurantist rant, I cannot get over the fact that the chief investigative reporter of an English daily does not know what the word enlightened means and uses it in context with actresses known for their risqué wardrobe! People like Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Spinoza must be turning in their graves with such liberal use of the term “enlightened.” If I am not wrong, Pakistan perhaps is the only country in the world where being enlightened is considered a stigma and a matter of disgrace. Not that I expect much from Imran Khan, but if people like Ansar Abbasi keep peddling the pedantic agenda, we cannot even hope for gradual maturity that comes with being part of the mainstream politics. 
Here is to staying in the darkness. 
Those who can read Urdu should check out this gem 

Nov 17, 2011 - religion    25 Comments

The capacity to love ‘the other’

I heard the word Xenophobia for the first time when I attended my International Relations 101 class. My high school existence was pretty idyllic where acing Calculus was my biggest challenge. I had no idea that there existed a world where anyone can fear or hate the other for being just that – ‘the other’ – someone who looked different, spoke a different language or believed in a different God.

We Pakistanis hate ‘the other’ with unmitigated gusto. The capacity to hate ‘the other’ is not exclusive to us; there will always be some people everywhere who are more bigoted and dislike ‘the other’. What makes our hatred of ‘the other’ unique is that it has a constitutional sanction in shape of the Blasphemy laws and Article 295 and we feed that hatred through curricula demonizing ‘the other’.  These laws and others have created an atmosphere of violence and vigilantism that not only shatters the very fabric of society; it makes the whole country insecure – for everyone – the persecutors, the persecuted and everyone in between, but more so for the religious minorities, women and those who raise voice against that vigilantism.
As a person who is interested in minority rights, I have been following up on all the terrible things that go on in the name of vigilantism but it was all kinda abstract for me before I met Bee through a mutual friend. Bee is a smart, educated young woman from a well off family who looked fairly satisfied with her life. When I started cribbing about my lack of decent employment (for me anything that pays me less than a gazillion rupees is pure unadulterated crap which basically means all the things I have ever done), she too mentioned that she would like to do something more dynamic and challenging but she cannot leave her job. When I asked why, she told me that being an Ahmadi, she is afraid that she will be judged and/or hounded for her faith. She feels safe in her current employment because it has a relatively liberal and multicultural environment – something which is generally lacking in Pakistan. As someone who has resigned from a well paid job in protest because a colleague refused to furnish a written apology for bad behavior or because I did not feel like waking up at the crack of the dawn, I was deeply saddened to know that one could be forced to stick with a dead end boring job because the alternative could be harassment or persecution.

I may sound like an idealist (Which I most certainly am NOT) but I strongly believe that the key to overcoming the hatred is to start being friends with at least one of ‘the others’. Once you get to know one ‘other’, chances are that you would not jump too quickly to judge and persecute the rest of ‘the others’.
I want to salute everyone who goes out of his/her way to include ‘the other’, to make friends with ‘the other’, to extend a helping hand to ‘the other’ and to fall in love with ‘the other’. They certainly make this world a better place. On a personal note, I mourned the deaths of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer this year and learned about the fear that Bee has to face every day, but I also learned that people can come together in most incredible ways. I cherished the unions of the friends who dared to love ‘the other’ – a Greek friend from college married an Arab, another English class mate married a Bangladeshi, a Pakistani friend married a German and another Pakistani American virtual friend married a half Japanese half American and is now expecting a baby who is ¼ Japanese, ¼ American and ½ Pakistani. Three of my friends opened their hearts and homes and adopted babies from other countries. Anyone who has ever adopted a child would know how lengthy and at times heart breakingly tedious the process of International adoption is, but they persisted and they persisted because they had the capacity to love ‘the other’.

For once in my life, I want to be an optimist and believe that if my beautiful, wonderful and amazingly awesome friends can overcome the fear of ‘the other’ and grow to love ‘the other’ as partners, lovers, friends and children, the rest of the world can follow suit.

Thanks to my most amazing parents and my fantastic friends who taught me about compassion and understanding, I too have learned how to appreciate, respect, cherish and love ‘the other’, irrespective of the differences, at times perhaps because of those very differences. Here is to the human capacity to love ‘the other’.

Sep 27, 2011 - rant, religion    17 Comments

Imran Khan’s spiritual experiences and my nani’s psychic abilities

Though I have no intention of either buying or reading Imran Khan’s book “Pakistan – A personal History” the translated excerpts published in the Sunday Magzine of Daily Express are pure gold and a highly recommended read (could not find the link despite looking for ages – their website is a total nightmare btw). Among other godlike protestations of greatness from the book, Express carried a boxed piece titled “Roohani Tajurbat” which details Imran Khan’s spiritual experiences.
As Imran Khan was uber awesome at everything, he was an early starter in experimenting with spiritual experiences as well and has had his very first spiritual experience at age 14 – and no, I am not talking about that kind of experiences. Khan saab recalls that he was going through a period of doubt when his mother’s pirni paid them a visit.  Imran Khan did not finish the requisite Nazra Quran lessons (every Muslim child must finish Quran at least once under the guidance of a quran teacher who can teach them how to recite Quran in Arabic). Although most Muslims can read and recite Quran, they cannot understand the language, but I digress. Anyways, the pirini ji who had not even looked at Khan – she observed purdah with a 14 year old boy as well – told Khan’s mother that her child has not finished his nazra lessons. The pirni ji, who did not trust the 14 year old Khan enough to not observe purdah with him, then told his mother that she should not worry about it. According to the aforementioned pirni ji, even though Khan was adept at lying to his parents at the ripe old age of 14 (he not only lied about finishing the recitation lessons of Quran, he even got the man of God – the Nazra teacher to lie on his behalf), he still is a “naik rooh” (pure soul) and will eventually turn out to be a great guy (if Pirni ji was that great a psychic, she should have known what a ‘legen – wait for it – dary’ play boy this naik rooh turned out to be, but I digress again).
This is not the only “spiritual” incident the excerpts in Express’ Sunday Magazine carried. Everyone he had met only predicted greatness and more greatness for the great Immy K. Let me reiterate that I have not read the book but if the excerpts are anything to go by, I wonder why any sane person would ever want to spend their hard earned money on narcissist ranting of a man who is probably sad and lonely and was probably high as a kite when he wrote that book.
My dear departed nani made similar predictions about me, but do I ever take them seriously – only when I am high on cough syrup. Do I plan to write them all in an autobiography, hell no. But then, I am an ordinary person who sadly has no illusions of grandeur, either about herself or her Nani’s psychic abilities.
As I could not find the link, I decided to take a picture of the said piece
Oh and before I sign off, let me just say this. Roohani tajurbat, my %&^(*@#*&!
Aug 1, 2011 - rant, religion    19 Comments

Is machismo Muslim?

I attended a dinner last night where everyone was discussing cricket and the performance of English batsmen. Bell, Pietersen and Morgan played beautifully and the way Matt Prior challenged the Indian bowling attack to the max, it reminded us of Pietersen or Ponting on a good day. 
Among other things someone pointed the conductors’ bow that Sreesanth took after the wicket of Pieterson. Now those who know me know that Sreesanth is not someone I like. In fact he barely commands any respect in this part of the world. He may be the one of most talented of the current lot of Indian medium pacers but his cry baby past (he cried – literally- when Harbhajan Singh slapped him during an IPL match) and his general over the top antics do not endear him to any.
While I and few others were discussing how great the current English tail is where someone like Broad (who started his under 19 career as an opener and yes, I know weird shit about people that I shouldn’t really know but I digress) comes in at no 9 and how we love some Indians (Dravid, Dhoni and Tedulkar) and how we hate some Indians (Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Sreesanth). One gentleman came up to us and said that Sreesanth is a whiner because he is a Hindu. He was at pains to point out how Sreesanth’s religion has turned him into a loser who instead of responding with a slap for a slap, cried on a shoulder of another man. Had he been a mard-e-momin, Harbhajan would have had it, because Muslim men just go after anyone who gets in their way. Even though I don’t like him much, I felt compelled to defend Sreesanth’s honour and asked him for any scientific proof of his declaration but he had none. When I pointed out that the aggressor Harbhajan was also not a Muslim, the reply came: “he might not be a Muslim but he was also not a Hindu.” When I asked him if George W Bush was also a Muslim who attacked two countries and killed many people, he wandered off muttering something along the lines that the two are different matters and should not be confused with each other.
Even though I should not have been shocked at venomous contempt that man had for the followers of a different faith, I was. I cannot understand for the life of me how can anyone get it in their heads that their faith is superior to the others or their caste has given them the license to act as God’s chosen ones. Unfortunately, such specimens are found in all major religions. Subramaniam Swamy received ire from Harvard management for writing that Muslims in Indian should not be allowed to vote while Hindu women in Sindh get abducted regularly by Muslim men who marry them by force. Right wing Christian nutter Anders Breivik killed 77 of his countrymen because of the fear and hatred of the other and Israel continues to commit atrocities against the Palestinians after over half a century of conflict and this will go on as long as religion is used as a divisive force. Following your own faith does not and should not ask you to feel superior to others. What happened to the golden adage “Live and let others live?” 
As for the uncle at the dinner, I just want him to know that machismo is neither Muslim nor is it a desired quality. The world would be a far better place if we do not put that much currency on machismo and consider compassion and humanity far greater traits.
PS: All the Hindu or Jihadi trolls who want to spew venom read the post again. It is neither anti Hindu, nor is it against Islam.

PPS: I have been told that Sreesanth is NOT a Hindu. I wish I can get hold of that uncle and tell him that. 

Jul 31, 2011 - religion    5 Comments

Hermaphrodites under fatwa fire

If you think Saudis and Pakistanis have some kind of hegemony over issuing crazy ass fatwas, you have another think coming. Malaysians are not far off the mark.  
After bringing all Muslim males, females and children under the purview of religion, the clerics in Malaysia are now targeting the hermaphrodites. They are now required to determine their sex with medical experts before obtaining a court order which may enable them to undergo sex change operations.

The need for this fatwas came up when some hermaphroditeswanted to get sex determination surgeries. Now they can do it once they get approval from the Shariah courts.

It must be noted that their National Fatwa Council has declared sex change for males and female haraam a good 29 years back but allows it for hermaphrodites. I am sure the hermaphrodites must be jumping with joy over this amazing liberty.