Time to Start Rejecting Mosques

Source: AP/Dawn

Source: AP/Dawn

Think about it. Why should we continue to support a group that is actively destroying our homes, cities, public infrastructure, lives and livelihood?

Why should we continue to support a group that is pitting brother against brother, citizen against citizen and promoting discrimination?

So let’s start rejecting their mosques, their sermons and their processions and give peace and love a chance. And if you cannot do without praying, at least stop funding them or donating to them.

Can we promise ourselves to hold back our charity whenever asked for a donation for a mosque?

There is no need to expect any different from them. You are not going to hear anything peaceful and sane out of these pulpits. All love that they reserve is for the Prophet, which always spells out as trouble for the sinful human beings living in the immediate vicinity of these utterances.

It is the students of these seminaries of hate and ignorance which bred enough hate to render a young man heartless enough to kill innocent Christian women and children. The same mosques have indoctrinated enough toxic hate in the hearts of millions in the name of love for the Prophet to call for killings and destroy public and private property.

The heartbreaking tragedy striking the helpless citizens of Lahore is nothing new from the enemies of this country. However, the disgusting display by the Sunni Tehreek, which should be declared a terrorist organization, and affiliated criminals in Islamabad on March 27 is an eye-opener to all. It has not happened for the first time and probably not for the last time, but the sheer audacity and absurdity with which completely unreasonable demands are made are unacceptable.

To add insult to injury, the Sunni Tehreek is distancing from the violence it unleashed on the capital and making the lives of its citizens miserable. Things get even better with their hideously ignorant and criminal demands it has put forth by gracefully offering to negotiate with the helpless government, whose leniency in letting these criminals wreak havoc is unforgivably disheartening and disappointing.

They are asking the government to glorify a convicted criminal and to give them a carte blanche to murder whoever they want in the name of the love of the Prophet. Not only does this challenge the highest courts of the state, but any standard of humanity and moral decency.

The fearlessness of these groups that is born out of never ever being questioned must be eliminated with an iron fist.

Why should we continue to be hostage to the mullahs who are hostile to our country, our law and our lives?

This is why we need to reject attendance in mosques.

There is a reason why I am saying this.

Personally, I have always considered mosques pulpits of hate and ignorance. However, religion is a necessity in a society like Pakistan, and if you deny that, odds are you don’t understand its makeup. Religion is closely linked with rites of passage and personal and social events such as birth, marriage and death.

Nevertheless, the more people continue to pray in mosques and listen to their hateful, blackmailing sermons, the more they are going to be under the influence. It is the constant exposure to the mosque and the sermon of the hateful mullah that has induced the tolerance of the liberties taken by religious extremists.

Liberals are busy trying to create a new Islam, particularly in the West, trying to fight extremism in their own way. While I wish them well, the realities of the faith in Muslim majority states are far from their utopian cherry picking and eloquent apologies. Therefore, perhaps aversion from the poisonous words of the cleric and religious scholar is a start to purge the venom.

So let the mullahs hear this message of rejection of their hateful mosques loud and clear.

At least until they can prove they are otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Thoughts on the Execution of Mumtaz Qadri

Source: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

Source: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

So, after years of deliberation, Mumtaz Qadri was finally hanged on leap day 2016 in Rawalpindi’s notorious Adyala Jail. A lot of people are celebrating and mourning passionately, but to me the very mention is repulsive.

Look, I know why some people are celebrating or are happy about it. For two reasons primarily. Because it’s not every day that the courts pass judgement against the guardians of the blasphemy law. Especially when the comment of the Justice exonerates the murdered governor of committing any blasphemy. And secondly, because the other side is celebrating the martyrdom.

To many people’s shock, Mumtaz Qadri was laid to rest in a funeral attended by thousands. I am fine with the lack of live TV coverage, but would oppose any government instructions to block the reporting. Some were not even in favor of allowing such a funeral procession, but you cannot tell people what to do.

Blasphemy law involves strange moral dynamics. While you can criticize and advocate its repeal for being a serious offense to freedom of speech, the defenders could compare it to liberal hate speech laws. As flawed the argument may appear, blasphemy could be considered hate speech. Many authoritarian progressive liberals would agree.

At least, it has been considered hate speech in India since the British took control of the subcontinental states and territories.

Source: christiansinpakistan.com

Source: christiansinpakistan.com

Maybe the fight for the blasphemy law can still wait another day, but many are seeing the execution as a step in the right direction. A small victory in the dark war against the blasphemy law.

Nevertheless, even if the two camps were to reach a compromise, capital punishment for blasphemy is absolutely unacceptable. It is unconscionable how such a great number of people would gladly call for someone’s head for saying something. It’s frightening.

But even if you are a proponent of the blasphemy law, you could still find the brutal act of Mumtaz Qadri abhorrent. There are some who believe that only the state should be allowed to slaughter people for saying nasty things. As I find many unlikely people against the criminal, with some even reserving harsh judgment for the late Governor of Punjab, who himself was somewhat of a Donald Trump in his own right.

I strongly believe that tenets such as justifying murder for blasphemy are the Achilles’ heel of Muslims in terms of their standing as a community in the world. While I am aware that so many of Muslims do not hold this belief, it would be dishonest to blindly assert that such people do not constitute a minority.

Until this behavior changes, which is morally questionable by modern standards of freedom and democracy, it would be hard to blame Islamophobes and other skeptics for not trusting Muslims.

It is something Muslims with a working conscience should give a thought to.

Though some people may consider commentary such as this to be blaming the victim. To some, it’s just provoking a people who are just mourning a slain hero.

But actually speaking against the support for blasphemy law is standing up for victims, not blaming them.

Victims like Governor Salmaan Taseer.

But then again, Mumtaz Qadri is also a victim.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2015: Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

While this year offered its fair share of forgettable hilarity and brutal sadness here and there, no one could equal the sheer stupidity and evil of Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, the head of the utterly useless, if not malicious, Council for Islamic Ideology of Pakistan.

I wish more people would agree that this organization can only do more harm than good. I know he has already pissed off women’s rights activists. Those in doubt should check their list of major legislative achievements, which should send chills down anyone’s spine, unless you favor locking women away in cages.

However, Maulana Sherani’s shenanigans have been in the news for a long time. So what’s new? The great Maulana with his infinite wisdom of interpreting the Koran and the Sunnah stooped to new depths of misogynistic filth with his suggestions on how women should and should not dress.

During the 200th meeting of the Islamic Council, he graced the world with his generosity by suggesting that it is “not mandatory for women to cover hands and feet,” even though he would consider it preferrable to wear gloves and socks.  Well, thank you, Maulana because women walking around like bandaged Egyptian mummies is the only way to prevenet rape and mischief. Adding these lines actually make you feel physically sick and are the biggest reason for his selection this year.

Later, in an attempt to completly cement gender gap in the Islamic Republic, he recommends completely abolishing co-education and separating educational schools for boys and girls from a very early age. The Council has also declared surrogacy unlawful and unIslamic, so the babies born this way can really go to hell.

Last year, under his leadership, the Council for Islamic Ideology has already declared the laws prohibiting child marriage to be contrary to the Islamic values. In other words, the body is recommending to abolish the laws protecting young children from possible abuse in the name of lawful marriage. They have also ruled out DNA as the primary evidence for rape, and consider an anti-adultery law to be sufficient to protect women from violence and harrassment.

To many, this becomes a matter of what the right interpretation of Islam should be. Apparently these people on the Council make a living doing that. So not sure if any of us can really claim to know more. However, any taxpayer who is not concerned at these clerics getting away with murder should think twice. This institution should be abolished for fiscal, if not humanitarian and democratic, reasons.

This very day as I am writing these words, news just broke that His Worship has involved himself in a scuffle, rather unwisely, with the not-exactly-frail Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, probably the most liberal of Sunni clerics on the council. They were locking horns over the contentious status of the Ahmedis, or as they put it Qadianis, on whether or not to declare them infidels. Not sure how many times do we need to do that though, which was probably the point that Ashrafi was making. But I guess another thing about the Council is that it makes sadism socially acceptable.

A video from within the meeting has been leaked as well. Nevertheless, the smarter Ashrafi resorted to using brain instead of brawn with a timely press conference, not in the opinion of one eye-witness though, for making the point why we should get rid of Sherani as the CII Chairman.

An office that in my opinion should not exist in the first place.

Read about the Pakistani idiot of the last year here.

The Questions You Should Not Ask

Source: AP/HBO

Source: AP/HBO

In recent days, a clip from Real Time with Bill Maher has been circulating all over the social media, and even in news publications. The clip is about the confrontation between Academy Award winning actor and director Ben Affleck and atheist scholar and neuroscientist Sam Harris.

Well, no introduction to the clip needed.

                               Source: HBO

This brief confrontation led to a number of critiques, both on Ben Affleck and Maher and Harris. The primary criticism on the latter was about their Islamophobia and bigotry. In comparison, Affleck was attacked for not being thoughtful in the debate.

There is little doubt about the fact that Ben Affleck was emotional form the word go, and Sam Harris even claimed he was “gunning for him from the start.” But in short, Affleck lost his cool and should have acted in a saner manner.

But instead of wasting our time with Affleck calling Maher and  Harris “racist”, which they most probably are (who cares), let’s focus on the other side of the debate.

You could argue that both of them have been displaying behavior toward Muslims, which could be termed hostile by many. Despite their claims that they do not engage in Islamophobia.

What is noteworthy is that most of their critics completely ignore their objection on tolerance of cruel and illiberal fundamental beliefs among Muslims. And the questions they raise are:

  • What is the punishment for apostasy in Islam?
  • What is the punishment for adultery in Islam?
  • What is the punishment for blasphemy in Islam?

The answer to all three questions happen to be death, like it or not.

These are the questions that you should not ask.

Even the recent opinion article from religion apologist and scholar Reza Aslan, who claims the moral high ground by saying that both sides lacked sophistication.

Curiously, that eloquent article conveniently lacked any mention of those questions, which kills the criticism on Maher and Harris for someone who is familiar with their rhetoric.

Now this could put some serious questions in the minds of someone who would actually want to disagree with them.

But yet another problem with this is that those who have already picked a side would not be prepared to change their minds. However, from my own experience, I know it is not true for everyone.

What Maher and Harris mean is that we probably have a big problem when that many Muslims actually believe in fundamental beliefs that have no room in a modern Western civilization. And which are simply unacceptable by any standard but their own.

And especially because their population makes up such a significant portion of the world population. So why not talk about it and take a step toward sorting this issue.

However, asking these very questions have become unacceptable in the unwritten rules of the Western progressive liberals. While they accuse people like Sam Harris to be indulging in bigotry and Islamophobia in the guise of criticizing religion, they could be accused of tolerating illiberal and even dangerously brutal beliefs in their eagerness to avoid being xenophobes as well.

So what is the solution?

How are you going to confront most Muslims for their irresponsible beliefs that they would gladly defend?

Should you just shut up because that’s racist?

The Gridlock Misery

Source: Dawn/AP

Source: Dawn/AP

I don’t mind paying a good amount of bucks when it is due. Believe me, I don’t.

But not when you are doing so for absolutely stupid reasons… Or even wasting time and energy, for that matter.

September 19, 2014 was by far the most chaotic day I have ever had in recent memory. And I was not alone. Pretty much everyone who was moving between Rawalpindi and Islamabad was that day.

The day was declared to be the “Day of Deliverance” by the protesting opposition party PTI to demand the resignation of the Prime Minister. Needless to say the Prime Minister did not resign and it was just another good old PTI concert with a bigger attendance. And the federal government decided to prevent people from reaching there.

But who cares either way?

The traffic gridlock occurred all of a sudden. It was when I was moving back to my office after attending a client meeting, before which my former supervisor had informed me about the Islamabad Highway being blocked.

I was stuck for an hour on a route that should have taken less than minutes. Then ended up reaching my home after about 5 hours when it would have normally taken me 40 odd minutes. This should have cost less than a $1 and ended up paying near $10, yet walking no less than 4 kilometers.

My misery (as a matter of fact, I had probably never walked that far to my home from the route that I took that day), which I enjoyed a little due to the surreal scenes, was nothing to that of hundreds of families stranded in a mega traffic jam that probably lasted all night. Probably some people had to get to the hospital and others wanted to just reach their apolitical, private destinations for their apolitical, private lives and chores.

In other words, it was chaos. The doomsday scenario. Somewhat close to the kind of surreal apocalyptic scenes you watch in a Roland Emmerich film. But thankfully, nowhere near in destruction. Which probably proves that most people are civil.

Or probably that traffic problems occur all over the world, from New York City to Dhaka. But not really, when you don’t have to have them.

It is another example of government making a mess of people’s lives.

It is yet another example of complete disregard of the rights of the citizens.

Yet another example of exceeding bureaucratic powers over people’s lives.

No, the chaos was certainly not because people are disorganized, unruly, or ungovernable barbarians.

It was because the government was preventing them to function freely, probably with the intention of their greater good, as is always the case.

Are you not sick of the idea of know-it-all, all-controlling government?

The Heer Waris Shah Sessions by Paraga

Waris Shah - Source: maati.tv

Waris Shah – Source: maati.tv

My friend Sohail Abid, who also happens to be the founder of Folk Punjab and the Folk Punjab Fund for Punjabi Books, was leaving town so I thought I should see him. He invited me to come over to the Academy of Letters and introduced me to a remarkable treasure for which I would remain grateful to him.

Every Wednesday evening, a calm but captivating session of reading is held in the common room of the Writer’s House in the Academy of Letters, Islamabad.

People passionate about Punjabi classical literature gather to recite the epic love story Heer Waris Shah, which is considered the most famous literal masterpiece of the civilization in Punjab. Written by renowned Sufi poet Waris Shah in late eighteenth century in Central Punjab, this romantic tragedy epic is surpassed by very few works of art, if any, in terms of its eloquence.

But what is so significant about reading Waris Shah in this forum when you can do so at home, you would ask.

Not only is the language difficult to grasp for even the more experienced readers, but the discussion in the sessions offers the right historical, etymological and cultural context for the passage. And every single session is an education.

The session is regularly attended by some of the renowned Punjabi and Urdu poets and writers. A regular is Punjabi short story writer Malik Mehr Ali, who is known for his mastery of the language and exploring rare interpretations. The likes of Punjabi poet and vocalist Hazrat Shaam also attend the sessions, who keep alive the age old tradition of reciting this piece of poetry in a melodious tune.

I have personally learned a lot from these sessions, which have ignited a renewed interest in Punjabi classical literature, but more than anything else, in Heer Warish Shah. The lyrical quality and the folk wisdom of this fascinating work of art really gets you hooked. And add the intellectual orgasm the discourse offers you and there is little else that you can ask for.

The sessions are organized by Tariq Bhatti, a civil servant by profession and a man of refined taste in literature. He founded Paraga in 2013 for the development and promotion of literature and arts in Punjabi language.

“I always had this urge to establish a forum where friends with a common interest could gather to read Punjabi classical literature.” Tariq Bhatti said while explaining his aims behind Paraga and these sessions. “Since the times of the Mogul, Punjabi has largely been a verbal language. Even today people cannot read or write the language because of the lack of familiarity with the script. Paraga is a humble effort to bridge this gap.”

Bhatti also said that the forum plans to recite literature from other classical Punjabi poets such as Shah Hussein, Baba Farid and Bulleh Shah. The forum also plans to offer a platform to budding poets.

You can join the Paraga.org facebook page for updates pertaining to the sessions. The recordings of the previous sessions can be found at paraga.org.

The session will not be held in the last Wednesday of Ramadan. However, it has the last session of July tomorrow right after Iftaar at the same venue. After the fasting month, the sessions will be regularly held at the usual time of 7 in the evening at the usual venue.

It is an excellent opportunity for those who want to learn about classical Punjabi literature and want to increase their Punjabi vocabulary.

In any case, I always look forward to the event and there is hardly a better way to spend the evening.

Paraga welcomes everyone.

———-

Note: The edited version of this post was published here

Islamabad Event on Freedom of Expression for Civil Liberties in Pakistan

Bytes for All, an organization dedicated to promoting internet freedom and free speech in Pakistan, organized an event in Islamabad on Freedom of Expression and Civil Liberties on September 19, 2013. The event featured participants from all over Pakistan, including the FATA.

The event included three sessions, focusing on hate speech, fair trial and surveillance in relation to freedom of expression. The introductory speech was made by author and journalist Mohammed Hanif, who primarily spoke about the human rights violations in Baluchistan by Pakistani security agencies. Hanif revealed that no less than 529 people have died over 5 years in such incidents, which involved torturing and mutilating the victim’s bodies beyond recognition.

Hanif also served as a panelist for the first session, along with Taha Siddiqui, Murtaza Solangi and Sabeen Mahmud. that focused on hate speech. The session was moderated by the flamboyant Ajmal Jami. Taha Siddiqui, journalist, presented the findings of his research report on the presence of terrorist organizations on the internet and the hate speech they propagate to find recruits. A participant objected that the report focused on only a certain kind of groups, which sounded reasonable, but apparently Taha’s focus was on emphasizing that terrorist groups were operating unabated in the country with a clear online presence and that authorities were not moving a muscle in response while banning other websites instead.

Murtaza Solangi, broadcasting journalist, defined hate speech for the audience and said that you should not impose your beliefs on others for harming them. What he did not explain was what if that was precisely what the beliefs required you to do. Mohammed Hanif was the one who actually briefly touched that aspect, emphasizing that you would not be able to take the poor people’s God away from them and that it simply would not happen. He also mentioned that it is hardly any use complaining about extremist militant groups if the state itself handpicked a community, namely the Ahmedis, during a democratically elected government and declared them literal outcasts by legalizing their expulsion from Islam and inviting hatred against them.

Sabeen Mahmud, the Karachi based founder of T2F, presented the hate messages and death threats, quantified on the Nafrat Aggregator, that she received in response to her controversial pro Valentine’s Day campaign in response to Tanzeem-e-Islami’s campaign of forbidding people to celebrate the holiday using Koranic verses and Hadiths. She offered a personal viewpoint on how it is like to be threatened with groups invading your free speech and right to life in that manner. The shocking aspect remains that most people in Pakistan would consider it their religious duty to violate other’s freedom and security like that, even though in this case, she had hardly done anything that can be considered wrong. I personally fully support her actions and consider her a free speech hero.

The second session focused on Fair Trial and its impact on free speech, moderated by Rabia Mehmood. The panelists included the eloquent Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer and columnist, Safdar Dawar, a FATA based journalist and journalist Mahvish Ahmed. The most important point was made by Ijaz that legal jurisdictions and continued debate about fair trial, surveillance and privacy violations are necessary and will eventually make a continual but certain difference for the better. The session also focused on the implications of the vagueness of legal definitions. Dawar emphasized how FATA was not ruled by any court of law and that there was no way to address violations of civil liberties there. Mahvish Ahmed raised the importance of political solutions.

The third session focused on Surveillance and its impact on free speech, moderated by Rahma Mian. The panelists included Abid Imam, a lawyer and academic, Asim Zafar Khan, a technology adviser to the government,  Shahzad Ahmed of Bytes for All and Fahd Deshmukh, a technology expert and activist. The crux of the session was that surveillance was inevitable, so staying ahead of the technology curve is all that people could do. Abid Imam pointed out that avoiding surveillance is not even a declared fundamental human right in the law, and not one that states are likely to grant. Shahzad Ahmed spoke passionately about the need to reclaim the right of privacy and to raise voice against growing state surveillance.

The good thing about such events is that introduces a lot of people to the very idea of freedom of expression, which is pretty much alien to a society like Pakistan where questioning is discouraged and you are mostly required to practice self-censorship right from your childhood. However, when you hear about an event focusing on freedom of expression, you prepare yourself to reflect on a more academic discussion about the subject, especially focusing on the subtleties of hate speech and freedom of expression. It is not always the case when you get there and in this case discussion often deviated from the topic due to the line of questioning from the participants as well.

As a matter of fact, a lot of participants use the forum to bring forth other subjects than the one under discussion. While there is nothing wrong with doing that, as I understand many of these participants need a forum like this to be heard, but it is rather unproductive, time-wasting, largely distracting and drains a lot of energy of everyone involved.

The event was concluded after recommendations from the participants. While I believe that such seminars that educate people about freedom of expression are very useful, further interest among the educated general public could be stirred by holding public debates between liberal and conservative columnists and intellectuals who are for and against freedom of expression, instead of constantly offering a lecturing monologue.

If it does not convince more people of how important free speech is, it would actually make the anti free speech debaters look bad.

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