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Spiritual Meditations ( 17 March 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Exit Spirituality: The Heart Must Have Space For Dissent




By Maria Sartaj

March 17, 2016

“If only Sharukh had not married Gauri, his life would have been perfect. His lineage has been destroyed,” lamented a young girl on social media. This female was obviously struggling with her affection for the superstar and her own sense of religiosity. She is not alone; countless folks continue degrading people of other faiths in their drawing rooms while maintaining a tolerant face in the world.

Most Pakistanis understand their own religion through the prism of demeaning other faiths: it gives them a sense of false superiority over the ‘other’. Many moons ago Pakistani Muslims were roughly divided socially into Shias and Sunnis. Now there are as many sub-sects as there are private schools in any neighborhood. You better have your religious identification card handy at all times because people at every nook and corner are waiting to tear down your beliefs.

Barelvi, Deobandi, Salafi, Wahabi, Ahl-e-Hadees, Sufi — name your brand of Muslim and know every detail of its orientation to be considered a valid Mohammedan — by others. Are you just trying to be a good human being and praying five times a day? There is no room for you then, bro. This is a battlefield. When did religion become rocket science that one has to keep referring to scholars for throwing light on every aspect of living? The purpose of organised religion was to ease the pain of mankind and not to aggravate it further. Spirituality has taken a hurried exit from here, what we are left with is hollow dogmas. People are more concerned about lacing their sentences with holy words for the sake of others than with pleasing God.

Religious scholars on TV talk about the emancipation of this land from Hinduism with the advent of Islam, as if Hinduism was some disease plaguing it. Christians are mostly regarded as low caste converts, and are considered good for menial jobs.

It is only recently that our politicians have started celebrating ‘diversity’ days and one can be sure that it is to soften our hardline image overseas, and not necessarily out of genuine concern for the minorities. And then there are the other type of people who will shout “But my best friend is a Shia” and yet keep feelings of hatred in his heart towards the Ahl-e-bait somewhere, so that whenever he gets into an altercation with that best friend he can pacify himself using the inner disgust, this time to his use.

Lately even those fond of visiting dargahs for inner peace are being scorned by people. “You halwa-eating infidels, why do you approach someone else and not God directly?” is a standard question thrown towards the devotees. Countless swords have been drawn towards those with love for the Sufi saints as if all terrorism in the world is resultant of their practices. I have seen hardcore fundamentalists listening to Sufi poetry in their cars while dissing the Sufis! The Coke Studio school of Sufism (pun intended) continues to ease the pain of the spiritually lost, yet every fault-line in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has generated due to the peace-loving saints, according to some people.

Our religion is pre-decided at birth and from then onwards we keep on defending it for the rest of our lives. Not many get to explore the good virtues of other faiths and even if one starts reading up on them it is already late, for the mind has been conditioned to process them negatively.

There has been an increase in the number of Pakistani atheists as well but so far it is online only. These men and women are too scared to reveal their identity, taking on pseudonyms to make their presence felt on the web. Anyone who is not like us is made to feel vulnerable at every step.

Everyone has faced those days where their faith in life, destiny and even God has dwindled. “Nothing goes right for me ever, HE just doesn’t care about me” is how people vent on their moody, agnostic days. In Pakistan, you aren't allowed that much leverage to have an ongoing and open spiritual journey; we are expected to stick to a doctrine, to go by Hadiths (which can be a conflicting document at times depending on your sect) and never question anything.

It is not necessary to be a Muslim in order to be a good human being but imperative to be a good human to be counted as a good Muslim. The heart must have space for dissent and our faith cannot be so fragile that it is inflamed at every word or action that we disagree with.

Ponder over this question: would reading the Quran in our own language first would have impacted the current scenario a bit? Perhaps understanding what one is reciting and then connecting to the supreme one would have provided more nutrition for the soul and a stable ground to function from.

Bulleh Shah once wrote: “Tasbeeh badi pher na Baahu, iss tasbeeh da ki parhna hu/Jehra apne naal hisaab ni karda, uss de naal hisaab karna hu.” Roughly translated it means: why do you count on the prayer beads when God doesn’t keep an account of His blessings towards you; why do you? Maybe things will get better if we stop our business transaction with God, and stop measuring other Muslims with our yardstick of piety. Maybe then we will hold some weight as human beings with room for all, but keep praying till then.

Maria Sartaj is a freelance columnist with a degree in Cultural Studies and a passion for social observation, especially all things South Asian. She tweets @chainacoffeemug


Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan


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