Browsing "religion"
Jul 22, 2011 - religion    29 Comments

Halalness much?

If the marketing gurus trying to make a few gazillion dollars off the religious sentimentality are to be believed, there weren’t any good Muslim a couple of decades back. People used to eat food, deposit and draw money in the banks, eat chips, drink cola, wash their hair and no one’s faith was under consideration for doing all that the regular way.

But that was then. These days, everything you do has got to be shariah compliant or you are toast. Every other bank offers you Halal credit schemes and one of them has the gall to tell you that there is no barakat in interest so all the non shariah compliant bank users will not only be condemned to hellfire and damnation for eternity, they will be also be deprived to barakat in this life.

Shariah is the way to go, so says Burj Bank

Junaid Jamshed has already benefitted handsomely by declaring fatwa that potato chips are Halal (all vegetables, fruits and grains are halal you dummy) and Unilever is now focusing on hijabi babes and their hidden follicle beauty by churning out shampoos for the unexposed scalps. There are halal toothpastes and halal erotica for those who want to indulge in some religiously sanctioned kink.
After offering us all things halal, a California based company is offering us – yes, you heard it right – Halal Wine. You now have to option to drink a glass of Rosé, Merlot and Riesling and celebrate without the fear of intoxication. Errr, forgive me if I am wrong, but isn’t the point of drinking is to let lose a bit and let go?

This advertisement photo of halal wine is kinda non halal, innit?

BOL: a parallel universe where panchvi paas girls rule

Everyone, their wives, five kids and dogs have already seen the film BOL so I decided to follow suit and headed towards the only decent cinema in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The cinema was packed and the queue was long but my friend and I were lucky enough to get really good seats.

While waiting for the film to get started, I realized that just like a mosque, a cinema is a great leveler. From the elitist of the Islooites to gota kinaree wearing ladies from Haripur Hazara to Army kids from Taxilla, everyone was in queues buying popcorns.

BOL is the story of a Hakeem Sahib in old Lahore who fathered a whopping 14 kids; of them seven daughters and a son, who is not really a son (this is an actual dialogue in the film, I did not come up with this cheesy line) survived. He is a grumpy, old man who hates everyone in his family and uses religion to control them. He is not fond of women in general and his daughters in particular, but he hates his eunuch progeny (Saifi) the most. He at least sent his daughters to school till the fifth grade but poor Saifi never leaves the house, the only people he has ever seen apart from his family, are the neighbours.

The neighbours’ have a son, played by Atif Aslam who is sort of courting one of Hakim Sahab’s daughters on their combined rooftop with the help of their respective siblings, who for lack of any other more fulfilling activity, keep an eye on Hakim sahib and make sure that the party breaks every day before the dreaded dad makes an entrance.

The film has so many plot glitches that even when a viewer is willing to give the director a lot of room for artistic liberties, one cannot overlook them. For instance, Hakim Sahab lamented the survival of his seven daughters countless times throughout the length of the film, but the director decided to get stingy and cast just five girls to play the daughters. There is no mention if the other two girls are married or killed (because Hakim Sahab likes to kill his children when he feels like it) or if they have turned into ghosts because they thought it was better fate than listen to Hakim sahib’s litany day in, day out. .

Even though it was Atif Aslam’s character that was partly responsible for the molestation of Saifi’s character, he remained miraculously guilt free. Most medical students get a measly stipend when they start house jobs but Atif Aslam being Atif Aslam somehow hits the jackpot and buys a TV and cell phones for everyone with his first salary!

The casting was way off the mark, with exception of Humaima Malick, Manzer Sehbai and Shafqat Cheema, everyone else looked out of place. Atif Aslam is wooden and every time he says the word Baji, he sounds like a whiny, younger brother who has been banished from Baji’s room. . Mrs Hakim Sahib has had so many plastic surgeries that she is incapable of expressing any emotion at all, except perhaps for a pinched surprised look. Hakim Sahab is dirt poor, but the girls who are cast as his daughters look stylish with their posh diction and Rs 5,000 haircuts.

Though both Hakim Sahab and Mrs Hakim Sahab are never shown to have imparted a word of wisdom to their daughters and they have no other source of getting exposure to new ideas and thoughts, their knowledge, level of awareness and confidence is mindboggling. The eldest panchvi paas daughter argues most eloquently on religion and the other panchvi paas daughter makes music, sings, dances and gets rid of her stage fright in 30 seconds straight.  The rest of the panchvi paas daughters break into graceful dances the minute Hakim Sahab steps out of the house even though they have never seen anyone dancing, you know no TV and contact with outside world and all. Shahid Afridi’s status as the national heart throb is further solidified when it was revealed that Hakim Sahab’spanchvi paas, stay-at-home daughters have hots for him.

The mother who remained either pregnant or lactating for most of her adult life (14 children) and used to get regularly beaten up by Hakim Sahab also suddenly evolves the minute Hakim Sahab leaves the scene. A woman who has never cooked anything other than Daal (because they couldn’t afford anything else) turns into a gourmet chef and an entrepreneur par excellence; turning the family’s fortune around. Though irrelevant to the plot, she also starts using hair dye after making it big as a restaurant owner.

This is not to say that everything about the film was bad. Shafqat Cheema was excellent in every frame and the scene where Iman Ali switches from an Umrao Jan Ada wannabe to hardcore slangy Punjaban was carried forth with enough aplomb.

What I found most refreshing was how the film was received among the audience. The film is a three-hour-long advertisement for family planning and the virtues of having a small family are repeatedly stated, yet none of the usual suspects have called it un-Islamic. One character openly asks others to take off their hijabs, leave the four walls of the home and experience life; yet the film has not attracted any major fatwa. I know it is not much but it gives me hope for a Pakistan where people are tolerant and fatwas are hard to come by.

Originally written for Dawn

The space for secularism in the national narrative

Pakistan is a strange country; the people who garner maximum news coverage are often shady. If January was the month of Mumtaz Qadri, then February and March definitely belonged to Raymond Davis and the man who hogged all the headlines across the globe in May was Osama Bin Laden. Last but not the least was Illyas Kashmiri who was killed in a drone strike in June.

It is even stranger that though all four of them were shady characters – murderers to be precise – the response of the popular media to their deeds, lives, and reasons have ranged from high praise to utter ridicule. While Davis was lynched by our media for killing two Pakistani men, Qadri was praised by a certain section of media as the saviour who, by shedding blood of another human being, has somehow restored balance in the universe and saved the religion, humanity and galaxy. The kind of debate bin Laden and Kashmiri spark is the stuff of legends. People have called them terrorists, warriors, messiahs and everything in between depending on their ‘ideological’ and ‘idiological’ leanings.

But the strangest common factor in all the cases is that the popular media has developed the narrative and catered to the incidents surrounding these characters on the basis of religion. All the discussions and responses on the subject have been based, not on the news worthiness of the issue, but on the perceived religious reasons for the actions of the perpetrators and on the basis or lack of their religiosity.

Qadri was hailed as a hero because he was defending his faith. Even his critics were at pains to point out that he was mislead because the religion was not interpreted in its true spirit by who so ever was inspiring him. The only person, Sherry Rahman, who actually said that this law needed to be amended, had to stay cooped up in her house for the fear of her life. The fact that a man was killed was either ignored or the victim was blamed for his own death. The focus of the discussion stayed on religion and religion inspired laws and how essential they are to the survival of this society. The condemnation of that murder was subdued because vociferous denunciation would have challenged the religiosity of the narrative. Even before the death of the slain governor, one anchor decided to act as the prosecutor, jury and the judge and held a public trial of Governor Salman Taseer. With media pandering to the dictates of the overtly religious groups, presenting secular arguments in mainstream media is neither desired nor is considered safe.

Davis, an American guilty of the same crime homicide, was labelled the devil incarnate because he was an infidel who killed two Muslim men in the land of pure. The fact that it was Federal Shariat Court supported Qisas and Diyat Law that saved him in the end was again ignored. No one either wrote or spoke against the law in the popular media. The fact that perpetrators of the same crime can have different punishments depending upon their social standing and the amount they are willing to shell out to stay out of the prison and that the law actually supports the criminal with a sizeable bank account are largely ignored by our esteemed media persons and anchors.

Apart from these cases, the television debates usually centre on the quest of making the country a “true’ Islamic state instead of a working state. How many times have we seen sanctimonious anchors and so called experts discussing whether a legislation or a verdict by the courts is religious enough or not. Hardly have we seen any debate on whether a course of action is workable or not, which basically gives all the governments the license to do as they please irrespective of the consequences of the bad governance practices they employ.

There can be two probable reasons for such glaring omission of the secular content in any news debate in Pakistan. The country was created on the basis of religion, when the raison d’être for a country is its official religion, then any ideology contesting it kind of gets lots in the narration. The other is that there are some secular voices but they either submit to the views of majority for the fear of retaliation or they think that their voice will get lost. In either case, secular voices end up ceding political space and jeopardizing their own long term future.

This is not limited to the fourth estate. The other three pillars of the country – Legislators, executives and judiciary are as much to blame as the media for it. Last year, the Chief Justice of Pakistan expressed ‘concern’ about Parliament’s ability to redraft the constitution in such a manner that it will make Pakistan a secular republic. It was painful to note that the secularity of the constitution was seen as a threat by the man presiding over the most august court in Pakistan. The chief Justice’s concerns were obviously unfounded because the parliament is housed with likes of Shiekh Waqas Akram, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Rehman Malik who have repeatedly vowed to deal with anyone who dare speak against legislation based on theology.

In addition to them, the armed forces, perhaps the most powerful group in the country, owe their acceptance and popularity with the people on their stance as the defenders of not only the geographical boundaries of the country but also as the defenders of the faith. People are willing to forgive the armed forces for gobbling up the lion’s share of the resources in the country as long they stay vigilant against the threat of the infidel. That is why Pakistani nuclear capability is sold to its people as “Islamic atomic bomb” – a pan Islamic achievement rather than a national one.

Secularism cannot be pulled out of thin air like a genie. Just like fruitful discourse needs secular input, secularism cannot survive without debate, political space and social acceptance. It will not germinate in a vacuum but will arise out of liberal interpretation of theology and questioning the dogma which are not possible in current Pakistani milieu. Liberal research of the religion is virtually nonexistent. A few random liberal scholars like Dr Farooq Khan and Ghamdi were either killed or had to relocate to stay alive. If the country has to survive as a viable entity in future, its political, judicial, military and bureaucratic leadership must realize that giving space to dissenting voices is as necessary as bowing down to the wishes of majority.
Religion, in whatever way, has always been part of the discourse. Apart from Madrassah students, Islamic studies have been an integral part of the syllabus everywhere in Pakistan, from elementary school to degrees courses. The concept of secularism, on the other hand, has never been formally introduced in academia. We cannot move forward if this disparity is not addressed.

Originally written for Dawn

Jun 8, 2011 - religion, women    14 Comments

Because concubines are all halal

Every now and then, a woman politician in a Muslim country will rise and say things more misogynist than  most vile male chauvinists, to score points with their counterparts who want women off the roads, schools and public space in general.
Last year it was our polygamy champion Ms Samina Khawar Hayat (since then she has gained notoriety for breaking lotas on Tv shows) who wanted men to marry multiple times to bring honor to many unmarried women and to satisfy their superior libido. This year, it is Salwa al Mutairi, a wannabe parliamentarian from Kuwait who wants men to have  …. sex slaves or concubines which is a slightly less offensive term.
If you are thinking I am high on something, I am not. Ms Mutairi really wants to bring the 10th century back, where ownership of sex slaves was rather a cool thing.
Before one could ask her where would one get women who would willingly want to be concubines? She came up with a solution. She thinks prisoners from war-torn countries, like Chechnya, would make perfect concubines. Sudan, Somalia and Liberia are also war torn countries but Ms Mutairi, who I believe is not just a misogynist but also a closet racist only want white Caucasian Chechen women to provide recreation to her countrymen.
She is rather casual about it and suggested that offices could be open to facilitate the sex trade like any other recruitment agency. She seriously believes that there is no shame in owning people in 21st century as it is in conformity with Sharia law.Her point of reference was caliph Haroun-ul-Rasheed who apparently had 2,000 concubines at his service when he died.
Samina Hayat and Salwa al Mutairi are not the two exceptions, there are many women who hold similar views because the common narrative – be it religious or political – is designed by men and it suits them to keep women thinking that they are nothing but sexual beings created to serve the male libido. Unless that norm is challenged, there will be more such women who would suggest such misogynist legislation to gain support of the men – who are the real power holders – in their societies.
Jun 1, 2011 - Porn, religion, women    93 Comments

The heavenly orgy

This heavenly orgy fantasy ….

…. was brought to you by a maulana near you.

Being a woman, I was never subjected to a Friday sermon (women don’t go to masjids in South Asians countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh). I have heard many a tales about the kind of hate mongering, violent and misogynist sermons that do rounds in mosques across the country every Friday, but four days back, a friend emailed me the link of one such discourse with the subject line “WTF speech of the millennium” and then I was inundated with the same link on facebook and my inbox.

This video titled, Jannat ki Hoor (heavenly creatures provided as companions for pious Muslim men – sorry, no hooris for non-Muslim man, no matter how virtuous you are), is an interesting commentary on our society. For starters, the maulana, who goes by the name Mairaj Rabbani and is part of Ahl-e-hadees group, thinks all women are low level dirty whores (his exact words are dirty, filthy, worthless and prostitute) and they are only good for providing men with a few seconds of pleasure. He thinks that good Muslim men should not waste themselves on earthly creatures such as women as all of them are soiled bitches. They should wait to get into heaven where they will get multiple partners who will wear see through clothes and entice and then satisfy their lust like there is no tomorrow. Technically it is wrong as there would be an endless stream of tomorrows in the eternity, but I digress.

This maulana wants to make sure that his congregation “gets” it, so he elaborates in great detail that Muslim men will not only get to kiss and cuddle them, they will actually get to experience hardcore action that goes on and on and on … for forever. When they will be done with one Hoor, another one, even more beautiful and voluptuous than the first one, would come and demand some action. Raise your hand if you too think it is taken from one of the millions of porn movies where hot women go after ugly men and say that want more and more and more! Maulana sahib’s porn fantasies are filled with heavenly playmates with awful taste in men.

Maulana sahib is actually quite smart. He knows that he has captive audience as long as he turns the sermon into a soft porn delight. In a deeply segregated society like Pakistan, such misogynist perversions actually form the basis of inter gender relationships. What we take from this video is: all men are supreme beings, women are filthy and not worth the time, piety is only good to get you laid in the afterlife and repeated use of the word istemal indicates that women will continue to being used as commodities in the paradise. If maulana sahib is ever in the market for a change of employment, he will be the toast of the desi adult film industry.

Feb 1, 2011 - religion    14 Comments

No room for dissenting voices

Pakistani society has taken vigilantism to epic proportions. As if cases under blasphemy ordinance against people for taking off milad posters and offering water were not enough we now have a brand new blasphemy case against a 17 year old high school student for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in three of his answer sheets – Urdu, Islamiat and Physics – in his intermediate exams.

Unlike the above mentioned cases which were filed in rural Punjab by semi literate maulanas, this one was filed in Karachi by the controller of examinations of the Intermediate Board of Education, Karachi. The 17 year old is now in juvenile prison. He has pleaded guilty and appealed to the judicial magistrate for pardon. He has apologized and promised that he would never commit ‘such a sin’ again.

For starters, this kid is obviously troubled. He is a teenager dealing with existentialist anguish which is quite common in young people who think. What else would explain his supposedly blasphemous answers in a Physics paper! If anything, this kid needs to be listened and if possible counseled by professionals, not thrown in jail with common criminals.

Secondly, if I am not mistaken, a teacher is only supposed to grade the paper. Passing judgment on the contents of the paper and moral policing has never been part of an instructor’s duties. In fact they cannot even fail the students or take actions against them if what the students have written is against their religious or moral ideology. They most certainly have no right to instigate criminal action against an underage kid on the basis of his answer sheet.

In addition, an answer sheet is a private document and the controller of exams, Professor Agha Akbar had no right to make it public or use it as evidence against the boy in this case. If anyone needs a quick lesson in Ethics 101, it is the professor sahib, not the high school kid. The Intermediate Board is using the blasphemy law to coerce a student to form opinions as deemed fit by the institution.

This incident also gives a clear message to other conflicting souls; you stay quiet and suffer in silence instead of debating the questions that trouble you. It also indicates that young people have cannot express their genuine opinion in their papers and will only be saved if they write answers memorized by rote learning. Critical thinking, in anyways, is over rated in the land of pure. We want to produce assembly line products for human being with no room for dissenting voices.

Are we next in line after Salmaan Taseer?

Just when you thought you have seen it all and are now uncomfortably numb, something else jolts you and makes you wonder if indeed you are living in a horrendous wonderland because none of it makes any sense at all.

Jamat-ud-dawa, a supposedly “banned” outfit which ideally should not be issuing any statements at all has also jumped in and said that Salmaan Taseer’s assassin be tried under Shariah courts. Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Maulana Amir Hamza, who is the convener of Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool (and we thought there was just one outfit fighting for the noble cause of khatm-e-nabuat) not only wants Qadri be tried in accordance with the Islamic law and the “sentiments of Muslims” he is all praises for the maulvis who refused to lead funeral prayers for the slain governor.

His statement can also be construed as a veiled threat to the judges presiding over the case as he commanded them to respect the wishes of the people who think like him. His exact words are, “The courts must respect our sentiments,” and we all know what happen to people who not pay attention to such threats. Sherry Rehman has already been warned by none less than the interior minister himself to leave the country. Those of us who choose to stay here should be well aware than they can come for us anytime.

PS: A few of my readers emailed me and asked me why I do not use the prefix of Shaheed with Salmaan Taseer if I respect his stance so much. The answer is quite simple, it is our national obsession with martyrdom that has given birth to crackpot fanatics like Qadri. I am sure we can do with a little less martyrdom and more pragmatism. 

PPS: Pasted below is the reworked version of my previous post for Express Tribune.

What irony!

Just a few weeks before Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated brutally, he said that illiterate maulvis cannot decide if he is a Muslim or not. True, but they sure could decide to spew venom against him in Friday sermons across the country and gun for his blood, which they did. They issued edicts against him, they burned his effigies and they called for his blood and, as a result, Salmaan Taseer is no longer among us. He was killed because of his liberal views and his stand against the blasphemy laws, as confessed by his murderer.

Governor Taseer was probably the highest profile victim of the blasphemy law. He was shot dead because he believed  all citizens should be treated fairly. He decided to support a poor Christian woman on death row and he was chastised, ridiculed and threatened for supporting minorities. If there is justice in this country, every person who issued fatwa against him, who protested against his opinion and who burned his effigies and who incited bigotry on television should be named in the FIR and held accountable for his murder. In addition, all PPP ministers playing to the populist gallery, who defended the blasphemy law, should be hauled along with the other culprits.

In a society where dogma is the currency to get populist support, Salmaan Taseer was a refreshing rationalist and humanist. His death will be mourned because he was a voice of sanity, he was one of the few good men who wanted similar rights for everyone irrespective of their religion, caste, gender and ethnicity. He was an entrepreneur, a politician, a great wit and a positive man who believed in this country. After his brutal murder, there are many of us who are not too hopeful about this country, which will now be branded as one where people cannot dare to speak their mind. If the felicitations about his death are any indication, we are a truly doomed lot that celebrates a murder most foul.

Anyone who thought that the governor’s dreadful demise will bring a positive change, needs to wake up and smell the putrid cesspool that passes as our society. Members of the Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat Pakistan have asked the good Muslims of the country not to offer funeral prayers of Governor Taseer and have paid tribute to his murderer. Taseer’s death sends this message to the handful of Pakistanis who are openly liberal: that they need to get their act together or they could be next in line to have their guts splattered on the roadside by a fanatic who thinks doing so will take him to heaven.

Governor Taseer, may you rest in peace. You were a brave, brave man and you will always be remembered as one.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2011.

Nov 22, 2010 - religion    17 Comments

The not so curious case of a chaotic and confused mind


What would we do without the paragon of virtue, Qibla Mufti-e-Azam Hazrat Maulana Ansar Abbasi sahib – the upholder of morality of millions of Pakistanis, the mainstay of the sanctity of the family values of misguided Pakistanis and the defender of the piety of all the citizens?

Because he has an opinion on everything under the sun and his expertise ranges from Kerry Lugar Bill to NRO to Baloach dissent to Altaf Bhai’s embroidered kurtas, it is but natural that he would also dabble in some fashion journalism. But because he does not do it like other run of the mill journos, he would just not report on fashion, nor would he write an investigative report on it, he would comment on the recent fashion week with quotes from Quran and try and tell us how high fashion impacts the mating habits of millions of Pakistanis.

Ansar Abbasi started off with how scantily clad women on the catwalks of the fashion week will adversely impact on the family values and somehow linked it to people living in sin and how children will not know who their fathers are. With all due respect, I would like to ask Ansar Abbasi if he lives in the same country as we do. Who in their right mind would prefer cohabitation over marriage with Hudood ordinance looming over their heads? He lamented Western depravity where men and women live together outside holy matrimony and procreate and then was outraged that men can get married to other men and women can get married to other women. I mean stick to your guns Abbasi sahib, you can either be pro marriage or against it, you can’t change your stance in the middle of the sentence, can you?

According to A-Dawg (I rechristen him after this definition of T Dawg which kinda fits him to T), fashion weeks (with an audience of perhaps 0.001% of the population) have made Pakistan more obscene and vulgar than countries like USA or India (this is not what I think butthese countries are torchbearers of vulgarity in A-Dawg’s opinion). He is not too happy with the likes of Imran Khan, Syed Munawar Hasan, Nawaz Shareef, Chaudhry Nisar and Fazlur Rehman for not protesting against the fashion weeks and wanted the Chief Justice to take suo moto action against it.

When A-Dawg could not make sense out of the collective silence of the resident right wing politicians, he picked on the average citizens of the city of Karachi (the venue of the fashion week) for not coming out on streets to protest against it. Most of the poor Karachiites do not even know when such events take place, they are too busy commuting from this end of the city to the other, attending a million and one weddings (which totally rubbishes his theory of people living in sin) and dodging the stray bullets meant for political targets but A-Dawg is too angry about the obscenity to care.

Café Pyala has a posted a pretty decent translation of his column (if it can be called that) but I suggest that those who can read Urdu must read it in its original glory. The number of times A-Dawg has used the words ‘uryaniyat’, ‘fuhashi’, ‘behayaee’, ‘belibasi’, ‘behudgee’ (variations of obscenity, vulgarity and nudity) reflects the piety of his thoughts, Mashallah!

Nov 22, 2010 - religion    19 Comments

Veneration of bigotry

Most of the print media – at least the papers I read – are covering the story of Aasia Bibi who is the first Pakistani woman facing death sentence under the draconian Blasphemy law of the country. Aasia Bibi was reported to have committed blasphemy against the prophet and the religion, but according to her she never said anything about either. She offered water (a kind act) to some of her co workers who refused to take it from her because she was an ‘unclean’ Christian. She was not too happy about it and had an altercation with her colleagues. A few days later, she was accused of blasphemy and a local mullah took a frenzied mob to her house to teach her a lesson; she was later taken by police in ‘protective custody’. Instead of providing her with protection and holding those leading the mob accountable, the local Police charged her with Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, the much maligned – and rightly so – blasphemy law. After a year and half, she was awarded death sentence by Judge Naveed Iqbal of the Sheikhupura district and sessions court – perhaps the most glaring case of bigotry at lower level judiciary. 
To say that this case is particular to either Aasia or rural Pakistan is incorrect. Such attitude is pervasive all over. Just a couple of months, our maid asked me if I can help her son find a job. I asked if he has had any education and what kind of work he is interested in. He has passed his matriculation (tenth grade) and was interested in working a peon (a combination of mail boy/tea boy). I asked someone I know to give him job in his fairly large firm, he agreed and I thought that was the end of it. A couple of days later, I got a rather indignant call from the same gentleman (an Ivy League graduate) who asked me if I knew the boy I was suggesting for employment was Christian. I told him that I knew to which he quite openly expressed his discomfort and said that he cannot hire him because his employees would not be too happy taking water and tea from a choora (a derogatory term for Christian sanitary workers). I argued that he is the boss and if he hires someone, no one in his employment would have issues with it but he decided that he cannot disturb the ‘peace’ of his office. I was extremely sad at this blatant display of injustice but did not push the matter for the fear of any crazy guy going after that boy accusing him of blasphemy because he dared to refuse to become a sanitary worker like his father and grandfather and actually contemplated upward social mobility. That boy is now working in a bank as a sanitary worker.

Aasia perhaps is much braver than I am. She raised her voice against this bigotry and discrimination and learned it the hard way that such valor and bravery is not valued much in this society. Her story is the story of centuries old intolerance that is deeply embedded in our society and no amount of education or interaction with the outside world has made much of a difference. In my opinion, Aasia Bibi was first lynched by a mob and was later taken into police custody because she raised her voice against the treatment meted out to her, something peasant women do not do in Pakistan and a Christian peasant should not even think about.  

Nov 4, 2010 - religion, Society, women    19 Comments

Women, not allowed


Women may not visit the mosques in Pakistan but they regularly go to shrines to seek divine intervention for things spiritual and trivial. The tomb of sufi saint Shah Jamal, in Lahore, is one such shrine which attracts a lot of devotees. Women are usually allowed to go to the general area and have a separate area where they can pray, sleep or eat. However, they are forbidden to enter the room which houses the grave of the saint. Shah Jamal is no exception. The entrance to the grave in the general area have this board which says: “Entrance of women is strictly forbidden.” I have seen such boards before but what I find humiliating is that now they have added the image of a young girl in pony tails with a red cross sign on it, really pushing the message that women are NOT welcome.

Sign of no entry in the general area
Sign of no entry in the segregated area for women. 

Interestingly, inside the segregated area, they have this sign which says: “This area is for women only, men are strictly forbidden to enter.” However I spotted a few men who were roaming inside. A couple of them were distributing mithaee (traditional sweets) but the rest were just loitering. I guess women do not enforce the edict as vigorously as men do.

I saw a lot of really young girls in the shrine and I was wondering what kind of message the silhouette of a young girl in in pony tails with a red cross sign on would they get. Not a nice one, methinks.