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Spiritual Meditations ( 8 May 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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God, the devil and Pakistan

Will Muslims remain in a state of denial while Taliban demonise Islam?


By Suroosh Irfani

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Jewish denial during the war is perilously instructive for Pakistan today: a country where the founding spirit of justice and democracy is blighted by falsehood and fear. Small wonder that last month, Prime Minister Gilani virtually ignored the seditious speech of Sufi Muhammad

Noted Saudi novelist Turki al Hamad’s novel, Kharadib, has sold over 20,000 copies in the Arab world since publication in 1999. Al Hamad continues to live in the Saudi capital Riyadh, despite fatwas of Saudi clerics against him, and Al Qaeda branding him an apostate.

The reason? Hamad’s teenaged protagonist in the controversial novel dares to ponder the question of God and the devil.


King Abdullah, then the Crown Prince, reportedly offered Hamad bodyguards for his protection, while reputed Saudi scholar Sheikh Ali al Khudair, who initially censured Hamad, withdrew his fatwa in 2003.

The retraction suggests that the musings of Hamad’s protagonist on “religion, sex and politics, the three taboos in Saudi society” had triggered a rethink on an issue that Muslim luminaries like Jalaluddin Rumi (d.1273) had addressed, long before German writer Goethe cast the devil in new light in his epic poem Faust in the 19th century.


However, it remained for Allama Iqbal’s genius to bring together Goethe and Rumi in a discourse on the devil, burnishing wisdom of the past with his own insights on evil. The upshot of it all is a realisation that “evil is not mere darkness that vanishes when light arrives. This darkness has as positive an existence as light,” as Javed Iqbal, former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court, notes in “Devil in the triangle of Rumi, Iqbal and Goethe” in Iqbal Review.


As with Rumi, Iqbal’s views on evil draw upon the Quran, where the devil/Iblis is linked with the creation of Adam. In the Quranic narrative, God created Adam, breathed into Adam His spirit, taught him the names (knowledge) and asked the angels to bow before Adam. All angels obeyed, except Iblis.


In a dramatic dialogue with God, Iblis tells God he won’t prostrate because “I am better than he (Adam). You created me of fire, and him you created of clay” (38:76). However, there’s more to Iblis’ hubris: he is fired by jealousy and contempt for Adam who is destined to be God’s vice-regent on earth, unlocking the hidden powers of the universe through knowledge.


At the same time, Iblis challenges God to give him respite until Judgement Day, so that he can prove God wrong for having honoured Adam over Iblis. Satan, then, is an active principle seeking to subvert God’s plans for the well being of humanity. Whether in the East or the West, Satan aims to prevent Adam’s children from realising the divine trust of knowledge and vice-regency, promoting instead self-righteous notions of superiority that deny freedom and humanity of others.


Indeed, if the Quran tells believers that God is closer to man than his jugular, the Prophet (PBUH) warns that the devil is blended in the blood of Adam’s children too. The battle within man, then, is between the impulse for actuating God’s favour to Adam for justice, beauty and knowledge on one hand, and an Iblisian impulse preventing this by making man’s devious doings seem good.


Hence the importance of what the Prophet (PBUH) called the ‘greater jihad’ — the inner jihad against one’s self-righteous and base impulses that waylay people through inner insinuations, or glib tongued persuasion and coercion by others.


In fact, a defining feature of our turbulent era is a deepening of moral consciousness by critically engaging with evil. Such engagement has gained salience since the Second World War, where the destruction of Europe had as much to do with Hitler’s fascism as the denial of fascism’s intrinsic evil by ‘well meaning’ Europeans, including Jews.


A case in point is Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s memoir as a teenager during the war. Titled Night (2006), the memoir is a poignant testament of the fear and denial among the Jews in his hometown in Hungary, where Jews refused to escape, even after fascists had seized power in Budapest.


“We still were not worried. Of course we had heard of the Fascists, but it was all in the abstract. It meant nothing more to us than a change of ministry”. Moreover, the townsfolk believed Germans would stay in Budapest, “and will not come to (our) far off town for strategic reasons, for political reasons...”


As to Hitler’s plan to exterminate Jews, “we doubted his resolve to exterminate us. Annihilate an entire people in the middle of the twentieth century...dispersed throughout so many nations? By what means?”


Wiesel notes that to keep from worrying, “my elders concerned themselves with all manner of things — strategy, diplomacy, politics and religion — but not with their own fate”.


Jewish denial during the war is perilously instructive for Pakistan today: a country where the founding spirit of justice and democracy is blighted by falsehood and fear. Small wonder that last month, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani virtually ignored the seditious speech of Sufi Muhammad, calling democracy and the Constitution un-Islamic.


When questioned by reporters what he thought of the Sufi’s speech, Mr Gilani assumed denial mode, saying there was “no need to talk about Sufi Muhammad’s statement which I think is redundant and unwarranted”. At the same time, the government played down Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan’s invitation to Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omer to come to Swat after the Parliament surrendered the valley to the TNSM under the Nizam-e Adl Regulation (NAR).


The Taliban’s invitation highlights their ideological affinity with Al Qaeda, even as it underscores Taliban’s defiance of NAR that requires laying down arms in Swat. Small wonder then, that the Taliban, spreading their tentacles beyond Swat, have vowed to fight on until their sharia was enforced across Pakistan and the world.


Such audacity is an extension of a diabolical ruthlessness that blew up Swat’s schools and changed the meaning of ‘school’, from a cradle of knowledge to a graveyard of values, in the name of God. Indeed, such change in meaning in Swat conjures a darker transformation of meaning under Hitler’s fascism, where the meaning of the word ‘chimney’ changed from a harmless vent to a smokestack of mass death, by association with the chimneys of the gas chambers where Jews were burnt.


Indeed, the use of firepower for the erasure of Jews from Europe and schools from Swat points to camaraderie of the devil in the triangle of Fascists, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. After all, in the Quran, the devil boasts that he is created of fire, even as the devil’s counterpart in Faust, Mephistopheles, says that his favourite element is fire.


Fortunately, however, the Taliban lack Hitler’s firepower to incinerate the region. The question is whether ‘well meaning’ Muslims will remain in a state of denial like the Jews of Wiesel’s hometown, or wake up to the Taliban’s mission of turning Islam from a world religion into their dogma, where people are forced into larval existence, and the Taliban see themselves, in Hammad’s words, as “God’s angels on His earth amidst devils”.


Suroosh Irfani is an educationist and writer based in Lahore

Source: Daily Times, Lahore

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