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.

An Election of Unfortunate Choices

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Politico

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Politico

What a coincidence that at this critical point in history that we have somebody like Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton? It is hard to believe that it is happening to the world, let alone the American people, whose fate lies in the hands of these candidates. But more than anyone else, their fate lies in their own hands.

What an election year this has been. Probably one of the ugliest in American history.  But we have been expecting it, haven’t we?

Who would have thought we would get to this point, even despite all the anticipation. It sure makes great TV… or at least TV that makes you cringe. But still, to many of us, the campaign had not gotten half as ugly or entertaining as we would have been anticipating. But let’s leave it at that.

On the one hand, we have a billionaire loudmouth who thrives on spewing offensive gibberish and brags about his deliberate manipulation of the government to prove his point about government corruption. On the other hand, we have an apparently duplicitous politician, who is either shamelessly or bravely defiant in the face of even the most reasonable calls to accountability and who apparently has more than half of the media in her pocket.

It is almost beyond doubt that the leaks of the Access Hollywood Tape, in which Trump jokes about groping women, which could be tantamount to sexual assault, is disqualifying to many voters. As expected, many Republicans withdrew their support following the unacceptable comment. The revelation of such an unprecedented scandal earlier would have meant that Trump possibly would not have been nominated in the first place.

But you do not exactly have to be a pundit or have a mass communication degree to know how the media is playing its own part in manipulating public opinion, apart from the alleged hacks backed by Russia. As TMZ reports, NBC has been sitting on the tape for a while now. Imagine how different things would have been had the liberal media not held back its punches during the Republican primaries. No wonder Hillary Clinton must be thanking her stars she is running against Trump. Unless he wins of course.

However, it remains to be seen whether the much ignored Wikileaks revelations of Hillary Clinton’s emails and Wall Street speeches and those of her campaign manager John Podesta would prove even half as damning as the former. In other words, they won’t. It would have been a very different election had a serious, traditional candidate from the Republican Party like Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been competing with Hillary Clinton.

One way or the other, it is an election from hell and probably offers the worst choices to make at this juncture in world history. At least on the Republican ticket because you could have expected only worse on others. The third party choices are even more terrible, even though Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are probably the sanest persons you would find in the Libertarian leadership. And let us not even get started on the Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Some even believe that it is the ugliest election in the US history, bitterly dividing society and ending friendships. But for things that matter, we could not have asked for worse candidates at such a dangerous time in world history when Russia and Iran are at odds with the Western world over a strategic pressure cooker in Aleppo. But it also offers an insight into the mind of the voter. Just when the world needs the US to intervene in the Middle East the most, all of a sudden everyone has turned isolationist, regardless of the party.

It is only sad that at a time when we are facing arguably the biggest humanitarian and peace crisis since World War II, we are condemned with such a non-serious election for the most important position in the world. It is at times like these when you wonder whether too much power has been vested in the hands of the American voter who ultimately decide the fate of the world with their judgment. It is almost scary but nothing is more important than the democratic process.

This is precisely the reason we needed more intellectual Republican leadership at this point, which is what I had in mind when I wrote about Republicans being the right choice for fighting the Islamic State a few months back. Ironically, that is why Hillary Clinton is probably almost perfect for leading the world at this point because she is the closest thing. Because for whatever reason, Donald Trump chose to run on a populist platform.

Hillary Clinton possibly would be a significant improvement over Obama if her secret hawkish identity is to be believed. She is no way better than a traditional Republican when it comes to dealing with the chaos that ISIL is creating in the Middle East, especially if she insists on continuing President Obama’s shortsighted policies of maintaining the military vacuum in the region. But she is by far the best her party could offer any time in the foreseeable future.

The only reason why Hillary Clinton sounds so dangerous to people like me is her insistence to stick with President Obama’s policies on Iraq and Syria. You know, four more years of Obama. Of course, precisely the opposite for more liberal and isolationist voters, which is the general mood of the American public. But it is something that would prevent me from pulling the lever for her. But you cannot be sure if Hillary Clinton is to be blamed for it too much, especially due to the Obama and Bernie Sanders effect in her party.

As so many Wikileaks documents have revealed about her, let us just hope that is only a view she reserves for the general public. Let us just hope she really is the hawk that everyone accuses her to be. If anything, the duplicity of a politician instead of candid honesty could be a blessing in disguise in this crazy, surreal election.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.