New Age Islam Edit Bureau
December 25, 2015
• If Albert Einstein Were Born a Pakistani
By Syed Kamran Hashmi
• Always the Woman, Never the Man
By Farrukh Khan Pitafi
• Labour Of Love
By Yaqoob Khan Bangash
• A Case of Violent Extremism
By Faisal Ali Raja
• Ideologues worth the Dumpster
By Umer Sohail
Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau
If Albert Einstein were born a Pakistani
Syed Kamran Hashmi
December 25, 2015
Imagine for a moment that Albert Einstein, the theoretical physicist renowned the world over for his Theory of General Relativity, was not born in Ulm, Germany during the second Reich but instead was born in Pakistan as a Muslim after 1947. What would have happened to him? How would we have treated the distinguished scholar? Would we have revered him or hated him?
To be a true Pakistani, before talking about his scientific research and way before looking into his academic credentials,which led to his international fame, we will have wanted to know the details about his faith. Did he believe in Sunni Islam or not? If he did, then which kind: Deobandi or Barelvi? If Beralvi, did he have a pir (a spiritual teacher) or not? And if Deobandi, did he regularly attend the annual congregation of the TableeghiJamaat in Raiwnd?
God forbid, if he belonged to a minority sect or religion, his reputation in the country of his origin would have been doomed. Any cleric from a small rural mosque with minimal education in religion and no education in science would have lambasted the Nobel Laureate in his Friday address, challenging the faith of Albert Einstein, calling him a kaafir (infidel). If the priest dramatised his speech enough to get media coverage, which is not very difficult nowadays, we may have denounced the citizenship of the world-renowned theoretical physicist. Sure, it could only be done after due process, which includes dissecting the details of his beliefs on evening talk shows. In these programmes, again, no one would discuss his formula for mass energy equivalence (E=mc2) since neither the host nor his guests know anything about this. Instead, everyone would focus on the importance of the correct version of Sunni faith in order to be successful in this world and to be blessed in the world hereafter. We might also have talked about how he should correctly fold his hands together while praying, right on top of the left, the size of his beard and the importance of shaving his mustache.
If Mr Einstein were not that fortunate and his faith not penetrated as the subject of morning broadcast discussion, then, trust me, even God could not save Albert from the wrath of Pakistanis. People would call him a psycho in front of the camera and on public platforms, children remembering him as an infidel and a criminal, politicians distancing themselves from him as if he had caught leprosy.
Someone might go a step farther and say his whole life was cursed when he got married to MelivaMaric, his first wife, against the wishes of his mother. With a moral decree in our hands, we would proclaim: making one’s mother unhappy, first, is a sin that can never be forgotten or forgiven and, second, it will bring sorrow leading to depression in one’s life no matter how successful one is considered to be by everyone else. Was it possible for the marriage to last without the blessings of the elders and the family? Could that couple ever stay happy? Of course not; their partnership had to end sooner or later. When your mother is not on your side, no one, including God, is not on your side. Afflicted spiritually, that is why Einstein and Meliva split in 1914 and finally divorced in 1919.
Adding further insult to injury, we would have announced that Einstein fathered a ‘love child’ with her in 1901, two years before he got married, an act for which he could have received hundreds of lashes as punishment had he been caught by the ‘moral police’ in an Islamic country under sharia law.Another person would have jumped in to say that, irrespective of his fame, God punished Einstein big time. His son, Eduard Einstein, had to be placed in a psychiatric facility for mental instability, a clear sign of His anger. “I would rather be close to God, have a normal child and be content with life than to be Einstein,” he would continue.
You can tell how desperate Einstein was through his own words: “I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves.” No one with the right set of beliefs, a person who knows he is going to theheavens, would say such a thing - we all agree on that, right? But a person who still cannot see with his eyes open in the daylight would fall to this level of scepticism.
Remember, Einstein had to immigrate to the US from Germany when Adolf Hitler in1933, after coming into power, started a campaign against ‘Jewish science’. We may have launched our own programmes and named them ‘Ahmedi science’, ‘Shia science’ or an ‘apostate science’. Although the German tyrant offered 20,000 marks for the assassination of the scientist, that is not our style anymore. We believe in doing it for free. What kind of paradise can be bought with money? Did MumtazQadri want to get paid for killing Governor SalmaanTaseer? Surely not.
On the brighter side, we all know that Einstein was called the ‘Man of the century’ by Time magazine. Sure enough, we all believe this was because of his Jewish credentials. Would he have received the same honour if he were from Pakistan and was a born Sunni? I do not think so. Why? The west hates Muslims, we agree on that right? The only type of Muslim who is acceptable to them nowadays is an Islamic apologist, a person who calls himself a Muslim but resents everything about Islam. I guess, based on that yardstick, there is still a little chance that Einstein would have gotten the nomination. After all,Dr Abdul Salam, for his Ahmedi beliefs and not because of his work, was awarded with the Nobel Prize. The only question for Mr Einstein is if he would be able to escape MumtazQadri or Ghazi Illumddin to be the man of the century.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at email@example.com
Always the woman, never the man
By Farrukh Khan Pitafi
December 24, 2015
Perhaps, a saner advertisement in our newspapers would have featured Nargis Fakhri firmly clad in a burka or at least a hijab, sitting upright, fawning over her bearded husband toying with his new smartphone. Scratch that. Women should be kept away from newspaper ads altogether. If they are not kept away, they are most definitely being objectified for their looks and we are spreading vulgarity. It is against the ethics of journalism, dignity of women and our cultural norms. But pictures of citizens beheaded by terrorists can be carried in our newspapers. That is kosher. That is okay.
At least that is the message I got from the debate that ensued on social media immediately after an ad appeared on the front pages of some Urdu newspapers. In the visual, Ms Fakhri is lying down in a red dress carrying a phone in her hand. We are now led to believe that somehow this and nothing else jeopardises everything that we stand for — right from our family values to media ethics. But I have a nagging suspicion that the outrage has nothing to do with any of these things. I feel we are outraged because it reminds us of how shapeless and inadequate most of us have become. Then there is the matter of the projection of a woman’s body. I have grown up listening to the clergy’s sermons against the objectification of women in the West. Amazingly, the same rules do not apply to a man’s body. Consider this: even during Ziaul Haq’s time when, in PTV dramas, a woman rescued from drowning in a river was supposed to emerge from the water with her dress and dupatta intact, kabaddi matches with scantily clothed men could be aired on live television. No, a man’s body cannot be objectified. It is somehow a woman’s body that is owned by society and she herself has no say in the matter.
But if it is about religion, then I am really confused. In a Muslim society, as originally envisaged, there is no room for the clergy. Five times a day, Muslims are supposed to relate to God directly. So, the matter of selective collective responsibility in the matter does not arise. I say ‘selective’ because evidently, these cultural sensibilities do not apply in a man’s case. Meanwhile, if this is objectifying women, then so is telling a woman what she can and cannot do. If she is not an object, then society should not be telling her what is good for her. At least not more than what men are told. And here lies the problem. A woman’s objectification will stop only when we start treating her like a person, not an object. And persons usually do have a say in how they are supposed to live. Objectifying a woman for remorseless servitude is no better than objectifying her for her looks. At least she usually has a say in the latter case. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that our culture and faith revolve around defending a woman against her own will. No faith or culture can and should reduce itself to such parochialism.
As someone who has come across Ms Fakhri’s interviews in the past, I know she is not just a pretty face but a very smart person too. As an American of Pakistani descent, she must think very low of us if she had to rush to her defence and distance herself from the ad. We are better than this. Surely, our culture, family values, faith and professionalism cannot all be about hiding from the fact that women have bodies and minds, too. Need I remind you that in this ad, she is fully clothed. This criticism coming from a society that is pretty used to watching her dancing on cable television in much smaller outfits is highly hypocritical. And, about media ethics, let me remind you that no private media outlet can flourish without advertising. If journalists have the right to be loyal to their profession, so do advertising professionals. I can live with a conservative journalist who has failed to condemn a single atrocity by terrorists. Some people are wired that way. But, since when have our moderates become so parochial?
Farrukh Khan Pitafi is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi
Labour of love
By Yaqoob Khan Bangash
December 25th, 2015
In December 1855, five European sisters left Agra and made a long trek to Sialkot to establish the first Catholic school in what is now Pakistan. Just short of their silver jubilee on the shores of India, the French order of the Religious of Jesus and Mary made a sojourn to a land unknown to them, with their religious order in unstable conditions. St Claudine Thevenet had commented on the order she founded that “It seemed to me that I had launched upon a foolish enterprise without any guarantee of success”. Despite these misgivings, trusting in the Lord, and with zeal to educate the young, and especially girls and the underprivileged, the nuns left their native land to toil in foreign soil for the rest of their lives. Then, in December 1855, at the request of the Archbishop of Agra, they braved the Punjab winter and arrived in Sialkot on February 15, 1856. As a history of the school notes: “With Mother St Gonzaga at the helm, work was begun to ready the place for boarders and day scholars. One can well imagine this dynamic missionary, together with her willing group, preparing a fit place in which to receive needy children of the district and to serve them. Parents were informed of the importance of sending their daughters to school. Visits were made to the homes. It took time for many to grow accustomed to the idea that girls should attend school. Finally, the day arrived for the opening of school and the nuns thought of the work so dear to the heart of their Foundress.” Hence started the education mission of the Religious of Jesus and Mary in what is now Pakistan, where hundreds of women have spent their entire lives devoted to the cause of girls’ education, long before anyone else even contemplated such initiates, let alone start them.
Similarly, in 1842, the Presentation Sisters left their abode in Ireland and made their way to Madras, India, to start their work among women and girls in India. After spreading in parts of southern India, they made their way to Rawalpindi in 1895 under the determined leadership of Mother Ignatius McDermott and two other sisters. Then, on October 1, 1895, a school was opened with ‘three sisters, three girls’ and the foundations of nearly a dozen ‘Presentation Convents’ was made in north India and later Pakistan.
These are the stories of just how two out of nearly a dozen women’s orders started their work in what is now Pakistan, labouring day and night to educate girls, to give them the knowledge, respect, confidence and zeal to do good in their lives and the world. Education has been their ‘labour of love’ for the past 150 years, and they left their home and hearth — sometimes never to see it again — to dedicate their lives to the uplift of people who were strangers to them, who at times abused and mocked them, and who never really understood why these women left their own people to work in our country (and some still do not understand). Yet, they followed Hazrat Isa’s (A.S) command to love everyone, every single human being, despite the differences of caste, colour or creed. This universal command of Christ was their ‘mission’ and hence, they were ‘Christ’s missionaries’. Hardly anyone has ever converted to Christianity from these convents, but then that was never their aim. Serving God by helping His people was and is their sole aim, and their long service to our country is a testament to this fact.
I am sure several women reading these pages have been educated at these convents, and rather than viewing them as something ‘foreign’, they regard them as much a part of their lives — and that of Pakistan — as anyone else. In fact, their claim to Pakistan is stronger, more time-tested and lasting than the momentary claims of several others. Hence, I found it rather bizarre when these religious organisations were termed ‘International NGOs’ recently by the government. If being in the land of Pakistan since 1856 is being ‘international’, then I am at a loss to understand the world; if spending your whole lives serving the cause of education without remuneration and worldly benefits is being an NGO, then maybe all of us should become an NGO. If leaving your loved ones and spending the rest of your life in another land is being an INGO, then perhaps we should learn from and emulate them.
This Christmas season, let everyone reading this ring up any nun they ever came across and who contributed to their development and say, “Merry Christmas sister, and thank you”.
Yaqoob Khan Bangash teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.
A case of violent extremism
Faisal Ali Raja
The words radicalism and extremism are often confused with each other. Radicalism is about behaviour and the opinions of people favouring extreme change whereas an extremist is one who acts outside the ambit of social norms. Thus, the term “violent extremism is the use of violence to achieve ideological, religious or political goals on account of the radicalisation process. In a social system where social consensus governs different social actions, a violent extremist challenges social opinions and tries to intimidate the majority through constant demonstrations, agitations and disturbances.
The recent decision by a three member Supreme Court (SC) bench on the appeal filed by Mumtaz Qadri wherein the honourable judges rejected the plea and upheld the decision of the trial court is not only commendable but is also part of a countering violent extremism effort. Such strict decisions against extreme actions have strong social imprints provided they are persistently backed by the state’s machinery. However, out of nowhere, a string of continuous demonstrations have been exhibited in favour of Mumtaz Qadri in different cities of Punjab since October 7, 2015. These demos are part of a larger radicalisation process whereby different religious elements are pressurising the state administration to provide them space for action. The quantum of concession granted to them by the government will determine the extent of extremism taking place in our society. The high frequency of religious demonstrations against the apex court’s verdict is also baffling in the sense that these so-called religious entities are now attacking the judicial process of the country. Such an attitude is unethical and illegitimate. We will now examine the data on the ‘Mumtaz Qadri Movement’ and try to find some of the emotional discourses being employed by an array of religious figures for violent extremism.
Since October 2015, when a three-member SC bench announced its decision, the Mumtaz Qadri Movement has organised 48 rallies, 36 demonstrations and numerous corner meetings and seminars in Punjab. Most of these demos were held in Lahore along with Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Multan. The majority of these agitations were organised under the banner of a particular religious party, which has actively been supported by a spectrum of small and large religious-political organisations. The leading lights of the movement are allegedly well entrenched in foreign countries and they come to their beloved homeland as extreme winters set in in their land of permanent refuge. Recently, the comments made by the Prime Minister (PM) on liberalism, wherein he indicated the strong resolve of his government to protect the rights of minorities, were severely criticised in a number of religious congregations. The Mumtaz Qadri Movement, therefore, may turn critical and even violent against the present security apparatus in the coming days. The provincial police should chalk out a clear strategy for future law and order matters relating to the movement.
Apart from other things, during these agitations, the religious leaders have harped on about various narratives for emotional appeal to sensationalise things for the public. For example, they say that when Mumtaz Qadri’s appeal was dismissed in the SC, the whole country was hit by a high intensity earthquake. This assertion is totally baseless since the verdict on Qadri’s petition came on October 7, 2015 whereas the quake occurred on October 26, 2015. Secondly, all religious leaders of the movement vouch that if Raymond Davis can go scot-free after murdering two Pakistanis why can Mumtaz Qadri not be set free after killing an ‘infidel’ governor of Punjab? Here, it is pertinent to mention that the Raymond Davis matter was altogether different than that of Mumtaz Qadri’s case. The former was arrested and then released on a compromise through Islamic laws. No such thing has happened in Salmaan Taseer’s murder even though the complainant is constantly being harassed to withdraw the case. They proclaim that Ghazi Ilamddin case was solicited by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah whereas Allama Muhammad Iqbal participated in his funeral procession just because he had killed a non-believer. They urge that the reigns of the present government are in the hands of those who are friends with Jews and Christians. They all announce in unison that Mumtaz Qadri is neither a terrorist nor a murderer but a pure soul who has strived in the way of God. Lastly, they have threatened the government of launching a long march if their demand of releasing Qadri is not met promptly.
These contentions have become important tools of extremism in the hands of a religious junta spearheading the Qadri movement. There is no counter voice that can confront the high-pitched emotional narratives of these mullahs to properly educate the general public. Lack of social curiosity about religious teachings and absence of social inquisitiveness about the history of religion force a common person to accept whatever these mullahs say about a religious point or an ideological subject. This blind following of religious expressions or explanations of complex ideological issues is one of the reasons behind spreading extremism and vigilantism in our society.
Once a person embraces violent extremism, he or she can do anything let alone laying down his or her life for the achievement of an elevated benchmark. A violent extremist might be thinking through a manipulated mechanism of the controlled human-mind space-effect whereas his or her mentor, the motivator (human or technical medium), constantly exploits the exposed fragility of the nervous system of the individual for a perpetuated process of radicalisation.
The remedy lies in a three-pronged approach. First, the government should focus on primary educational outlets and try to neutralise them through moderation and syllabus reconfiguration. Second, all mosques should be streamlined in accordance with established rules and procedure. Third, monitoring of social media should be performed in an ingenious way. In other words, we need to act holistically without creating any exceptions.
Faisal Ali Raja is a senior superintendent of police
Ideologues worth the dumpster
For the past couple of weeks there has been huge furor over the remarks made by the US Presidential candidate Donald Trump, urging the government to impose a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US. Hashtags like #DumpTheTrump, #Trumpster and #TrumpDerangementSyndrome took the internet by storm. Vociferous and vehement protests and disapproving statements came from all over the world, and rightly so. Trump’s logic and arguments are absolutely abhorrent and distasteful to put it mildly. What was Donald Trump thinking while spitting up such egregious filth and putting millions of Muslims in the US in danger of economic seclusion, social abhorrence and disownment just on the basis of their religion? Being a target of senseless and outrageous discrimination, abuse and partisanship at the hands of your own countrymen and either being barred from entering or instructed to leave the land you know as home — sounds like a nightmare doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, it sounds all too familiar back here in Pakistan. Switching to local news, you see the ironic situation of protests against Trump coming from the same faction which leaves no chance when it comes to racial, religious and cultural discrimination against Pakistan’s own minorities. One could not help but smirk with remorse and disdain at the irony of the situation and our appalling hypocrisy. What should have been a moment of self-assessment and soul-searching got buried under the plethora of oft-heard “condemnatory” ramblings and pointless remonstrations. And we were just too busy in establishing the fact that we are better morally, religiously and culturally from the “infidels” of the US to realise that we have been doing pretty much the same thing for decades and decades now with our minorities.
The recent protest at Hafeez Centre, Lahore against the Punjab government after the police took down hate-content outside some shops is a testimony to our sordid and regressive mindsets. Trump might have his political reasons to suggest such things, or maybe it is his sheer insanity; but in our case it is actually much more dangerous as people feel religiously obligated by such an ideology. I ask everyone who is against giving basic human rights to this particular faction of “Non-Muslims”; what do you want them to do? Would forcing them to denounce their claim of following a certain religion make you a better Muslim? Would isolating them from your economic and social circles benefit your country or elevate your religion’s status in any way? Or do you expect millions of people to just vanish and vamoose from the society just because you want them to? So many questions; yet only mindless hatred and bigotry comes one’s way as an answer.
This is the same group of moral police which legalised shameful and contemptible actions by stuffing travesties like Second Amendment and Ordinance XX into our constitution. As a result, for the law abiding, tax paying Ahmadis of Pakistan, we have made it compulsory on a state level to declare themselves as non-Muslims and call their most revered figure an impostor before any official activity such as making a passport or an identity card. The only science Nobel Prize winner Dr Abdus Salam has been excommunicated and execrably ignored in Pakistan simply because he was an Ahmadi. Leave building roads, universities etc. to honour his name and legacy, even the term Muslim has been removed from his grave. These are just a few examples of the systematic and spiteful persecution we have arranged and legalised on the state level. Imagine the tumult and resentment it would cause if some non-Muslim country decided to put comparable sanctions and conditions for Muslims arriving or living in their country.
The reason given by the traders of Hafeez Centre behind this rigid canon with regards to Ahmadis is that they are “non-Muslims” and “agents of anti-Muslim faction”. But how can they be sure that in the manufacturing, advertisement, delivery etc. of the mobile phones they sell in that plaza, no Ahmadi worker was employed or involved? Ironically, the very products they are selling belong to that supposedly anti-Muslim bloc. From Samsung, to Huawei, iPhone, Nokia, none of these brands are even remotely connected to Muslim owners. So this implies that they would gladly serve the “masters”, but when it comes to the “agents” — who incidentally are their countrymen — their moral and religious honour and sacrosanctity comes in danger.
The actual reason behind all this hullaballoo and the mindless rhetoric are certain elements who personify the terms hate and religious ignorance. The so called religious clerics insidiously play with the minds of the masses by ingraining and imposing their demented versions of right and wrong upon them. And the choices they bring out are unassailable and inalienable as they are portrayed as divine revelations and commands; so the people essentially have to accept them or be a part of the corrupted and anti-Muslim clan. The roots of this shockingly submissive and ignorant attitude can be put down to several things; including our defence and national policies over the years, our degenerative and obsolete educational culture and system, and more importantly our national philosophy of elevating a certain person and his ideology to a godly status, and considering it a delinquency to ever challenge it.
It is about time we start to fight against the hate speech and intolerance that has been eroding our society from within for decades. We have to challenge the astonishingly outrageous and embarrassing national attitude and policies towards our minorities. The armed battle by the army against terrorism will only yield cosmetic and ephemeral changes if we don’t warm up the ideological front against the religious prejudice. We must beat the dogmatic chauvinists at their own game, and make the common man understand the actual concept of a modern state. Which incidentally was the model of the state first established by the Prophet (SAW) himself in Madina; where everyone was an equal citizen with equal rights, let it be economic and social inclusion or equality of opportunity. Just a mere sift through Prophet’s life would bring up countless incidents showing his tolerance, compassion and respect for the rights and freedom of choice of non-Muslims. What we need is another Zarb-e-Azb against the Pakistani version of the Trump mindset. We must become wary of the breeding grounds and incubation centres of the ever increasing religious intolerance and hate-mongering, before they start spouting out another breed of Talibans for us to be plagued by — and fast!
Umer Sohail is a freelance columnist