The Intolerance of the Cult of “True Islam”

Source: Hindustan Times

Source: Hindustan Times

The unfortunate and devastating bombing at the Sehwan Sharif shrine sheds a new light at the. The devotees of the shrine and those with a Sufi leaning in their faith reinforced their love for the spiritual rituals practiced over there.

The Islamic State accepted the responsibility for the Sehwan Sharif suicide bombing and sent a clear message to all who have deviated from the true practice of the faith.

Perhaps only a day or two after the bombing, classical dancer Sheema Kermani went up to the shrine and performed the iconic dhamaal to send her message that life must go on at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine. Now, this was supposed to be a beautiful, powerful moment of spirituality and love that should have brought the entire humanity together.

By good numbers, the dhamaal, or the ecstatic spiritual dance, was seen as a moral abomination. Something they would never imagine their mothers or sisters to be doing as opposed to the obscene dancer who defied the terrorist, other than the notion that it was pure heresy. Something which would have made the true founders of Islam turn in their graves.

Obviously, many of the urban upper class Deobandi/Wahabi kids had seen dhamaal for the first time in their lives, so their shock is understandable. But it is the rest of the crowd, who actively campaigns to condemn dissenting religious groups is where the intolerance begins a little too much to tolerate.

While their assertions of what was and was not done by the Prophet and his companions may well be true, their effect in the contemporary society goes far beyond that. What the Cult of True Islam cannot stomach is the fact that somehow Pakistan happens to be very pluralistic in its religious makeup at the grassroots, even with its seemingly very homogeneous official faith. What the Cult of True Islam cannot come to terms with is the possibility that Islam may have evolved a little over the last fourteen centuries and hundreds of regions.

The Islam of Pakistanis happens to be far from one at least, unlike the monolithic form of monotheism you see practiced by the Saudi Arabian regime. We do kiss and touch stones over here, prostrate at grave sites in reverence, and wear charms and amulets. Not surprisingly, we have sects within sects within sects in Pakistan and it is not necessarily a bad thing, the shock at it certainly is. Not only that, we have a rich Sufi tradition that has oftentimes been a result of marriage with the wisdom from Hindu ascetics. Nobody should be afraid to say that.

So just like the region of the Indus that today falls under the modern Pakistan republic is ethnically and lingually diverse, it is no surprise that it is as diverse in its religious affiliations. The Cult of True Islam has been at it to dismantle every aspect of its culture and turn it into Arabia. Too bad we still don’t see as many date trees around our neighborhoods than we ought to.

While we can manufacture several conspiracy theories about how the Islamic State emerged, what we hesitate to face is the foundation of our fatwa culture. It is basically the Islam purists among us who we dismiss playfully that are responsible for the culture of declaring “kafir.” While I have never had personally anything against the label (I used to think it was a compliment), I gradually realized what it meant for others.

The acceptance of this intolerance has been as commonplace as the occurrence of the word kafir and Shia in one sentence. It was only a matter of time that the larger practice of paying homage to the great Sufi saints that this region is known for started falling under that category.

The expression of “True Islam” remains to be an enigmatic paradox which apparently is grappled only by those who claim to be its proponents in whatever context it is thrown at you. If it is in the context of secularism, you know all its good qualities were already embodied in it. If it is in the context of who is a truer Muslim, then you know you certainly cannot win. I only wish the proponents of the True Islam were as flexible as the concept itself is.

It is not a problem to hold, observe and practice a certain belief system. Actually, that is precisely what I am arguing for. But how about you stop imposing their superior faith of you on others who are observing their own tradition. Perhaps, it is not going to happen in an atmosphere where intolerance is encouraged and where art and culture are seen as obscenities.

The funny thing is that the same people would make tall claims of how their faith would perfectly allow existence for anyone with a different belief system.

We may feel appalled by the Islamic State and dismiss and condemn them as “Kharijites,” but what about the apologies for the very philosophy that they are acting on? Are they not found all over Pakistan? Or sitting in the next cubicle at your workplace?

Religious zeal and puritanism sound like nice ideas but they need to understand that the fabric of the society cannot remain intact without the necessary tolerance for the faith of each other.

And yes, even the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan appears to promise that freedom that these purists want to see disappear.

So how about we keep the contract going that the locals of this region have had with each other for thousands of years?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Nargis Turns Pious & Why I Support “Vulgarity”

Source: Express Tribune

Behold! O creatures of the pure, we taketh the source of thy pleasure, but to offer a lot of thanksgiving, for the Lord doth so after its bounty you have collected. Still will you not be grateful? (Land of the Pure 12:10)

So Punjabi stage dancer and actress Nargis, whose performances are considered by a good number of moralist, civilized and self-righteous Pakistanis as “vulgar”,  (not that their beliefs are any lesser)  has bid farewell to “show” business and has turned pious. She has informed the press at her residence in Lahore after reportedly returning from abroad that she is planning to become an Islamic religious scholar and has shrugged off allegations of conspiring to murder a local PML-N thug, who was allegedly harassing her. Whether her conversion was the result of the increasing Islamophobia she must have endured in the West or her repentance for the past sins, she did not clearly state.

So we are only left with Veena Malik (mainly) now it seems.

By the way, if you don’t know who Nargis is, here is a glimpse of one of her performances.

So before I mock and then justify Nargis’ born-again-piety without invitation, let me put in my own cents of morality to make you feel bad before you actually leave and close this page out of disgust. First of all, let me assure you that while I don’t really share the vulgar Punjabi wildness and the barbaric and hypocritical lust of the audiences of the Punjabi striptease or otherwise mujra, I support it wholeheartedly and would watch it unconditionally if and when provided the opportunity. I don’t mind if you consider me a vulgar, disgusting, sexist, Satanic and uncivilized male beast, but here are a few objective reasons for it.

I simply do not see what is so wrong with it. I acknowledge that while it is female objectification of the highest order, (but then again, what isn’t? (especially burka)) I also acknowledge that the actors and dancers and producers work very hard to come up with these, well let’s face it, musicals. Furthermore, I acknowledge that these important members of the society, by which I am referring to the entertainers, take home a very good chunk of pubic wealth home which they otherwise would not even have hoped to pocket in their wildest dreams other than resorting to taking the law in their very own hands. This is a great relief for many a poor kanjars in our highly pious society. May I remind Her Holiness that she owes a lot of her current assets and quality of life to this “shameful” and cringeworthy industry.

Furthermore, I believe that the mujra should remain active for as long as people want to watch it, and here I am talking about stage performances and not private mujras, the latter of which you cannot possibly ban thanks to the secret morals of our mai-baaps, or elders and superiors if you will. You know, the eugenically superior of our society, which is sadly too conscious of its deprivations and have-nots. Once found redundant in terms of market demand, the mujra would die its own death-of-a-dog in a free market economy.

Nargis in action (Source: postpk.com)

A lot of people would find this an occasion to attack Nargis for her “sins”, but I would strongly support her even still. For what choices does she have to survive in this horrifyingly religious and self-righteous society with selectively erotophobic morality but to wear the charade of piety, also known as the hijaab? What choices does she have but to assume a social role which everyone despises in private but cannot possibly condemn in public from a social role that everyone has a soft corner for in private but cannot help but insult and condemn in public? Don’t be upset at why people act this way. They are brought up to. But she, well, needs to live, breathe, procreate too.

I could tell from one of her TV interviews which I won’t be able to find that she had been feeling those pressures. But first let us talk about the morality and “vulgarity” of the Punjabi stage theater and our highly moralist commentators and administrators who are always too keen to shove their phalli down the already-congested throats of the masses. The mujra can be rejected to be of bad taste, I agree, especially since the frequent lustful references in it are bound to go down as inappropriate in a society which has based almost all its beliefs on the guilt it associates with sex. If you ever come to know how hypocritical the jeering Punjabi male youth are in this regard, you would feel even sicker.

But is there any justification to ban it? Is it synonymous with prostitution? How insulting. Apart from the racially charged political and moralist slurs from the supposedly-liberal self-exiled phoning-from-London hysteric, there has been many attempts, especially by that of the administration of our patriotic overlord, the Khadim-e-Aala of the Punjab, to ban it,  because it has been spreading “vulgarity” in an already vulgar society by any objective or subjective standards. Because anything that the majority of the population of this country does not agree with must be banned. We are a nation of banners anyway. You know, banners like off with the heads of blasphemers.

Art, and yes I will insist upon calling it an art form, is only a subtle reflection, and yes it is a very subtle one, of what the society around it is. I find a number of trends in our society far more vulgar and far more immoral than the mujra or even the much maligned Punjabi film industry for that matter. Take the religion for example, for I don’t know from where should I start. The burka, the segregation of the sexes, the forced marriages, forced child marriages, life of celibacy enforced on women via marriage with the Koran, domestic violence, acid throwing, gang rape, public humiliation, torture, murder and not sure what else that is protected by the state in one way or another. But no, no, the mujra must be the source of all the evils in the society. Dancing and stripping women, Allah tauba.

It is the age-old hypocritical trait of this culture to despise the ones who entertain them as inferior castes and kanjars, a Punjabi derogatory epithet with sexual and moralist connotations, and this trend has even been loosely prevalent in the subcontinental history, thanks to the caste system of our highly bigoted racist ancestors. Though what gives me immense pleasure is that those who claim to be from the lineage of the Prophet, or the Syeds, have been joining their ranks in the recent times. But surely they must be liars.

I am sick up to my nostrils (with gooey filth, almost exploding) with the hideous, disgusting, nauseating and hypocritical Islamic-Punjabi and Islamic-rest-of-the-civilized-Pakistan morality that I and millions others are forced to inhale every second. Though I do believe that these are characteristics which are roughly displayed by our incurably pathetic species in one form or another around the world. At times like these, I often take the pleasure of reminding this great evolutionary mistake of a species that they are nothing more than animals and nothing more they will ever be, no matter how hard they try.

While I mourn the loss of Nargis from the stage to the obscurantist and chaddor-wrapping clutches of Moralist Islam, I am proud to support what you call vulgarity and very proud to be an immoral, vulgar man.

And I am not sorry.