by Ayaz Amir
The News, Friday, June 04, 2010
If Islam stands for anything, it is for a just society, free from want and oppression. There is, thus, in Islam no blasphemy greater than a child dying of hunger, a child begging for bread, a woman drowning herself and her children, as has frequently happened in the Islamic Republic, because the burden of life was too much for her, a man throwing himself before an onrushing train because of poverty.
We are moved by these things, but only up to a point. The holy fathers, the registered doctors of the faith, self-appointed arbiters of right and wrong in the Islamic Republic, can be counted upon to take out processions and raise their banners, not to speak of their voices, in defence of the faith, even when it is not quite clear what is imperilled or what is at stake. But when was the last time anyone heard of a procession, foaming at the mouth, taken out against hunger and deprivation?
All of Islam, the entire corpus of Islamic thought, as I have mentioned many a time, can be boiled down to that one cry of the Caliph Omar, that he, the Commander of the Faithful, would be called to account on the Day of Judgment if a dog is hungry by the banks of the Euphrates. Not, mark you, a child or a man hungry by the banks of the Euphrates, but a dog. This, and not the anger, the fire and brimstone pouring forth from over-pitched loudspeakers, is the Islamic ideal.
But who cares for the substance of Islam? We talk of subverting the Constitution. More than any constitution, it is our faith whose truth we have subverted. In no other Islamic country on earth, with the exception perhaps of Saudi Arabia, is more lip-service paid to Islam. We can do nothing without invoking the name of Islam, start nothing without reciting from the Quran. Yet, to look at our collective life–a byword for corruption and all the ills that the human mind can imagine–is to get the impression that no society is more committed to the vice of doublespeak than ours.
Hypocrisy as pervasive as this should lead to a measure of tolerance, some indulgence for the weaknesses of others and our own. But our hypocrisy is of a special kind, enclosed in a straitjacket of self-righteousness. We live not in a state of denial. That would be putting it mildly, because denial is an escape from reality. We have created a reality of our own. Oblivious of our iron begging bowl, oblivious of the fact that, but for the largesse of, if not infidels at least of non-Muslims, we would be a broke nation, we really subscribe to the fiction that we are a fortress of Islam.
Not only that, but that Pakistan was created for a special purpose, to fulfil a divine mission. I am not joking. Serious people subscribe to such uplifting thoughts. The army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, whom one would otherwise take to be a rational person, in a sombre moment declared that Pakistan was a fortress of Islam.
If this is the sturdiest fortress Islam has then Islam, truly speaking, is in mortal peril. And the foam-at-the-mouth brigade, led by our assorted holy fathers, now scattered in more denominations and factions than a reasonably smart mind can figure out, are perhaps right to come out, in all their unsuppressed anger, in defence of the faith.
Our army, not all of NATO’s might, is the lynchpin of America’s war in Afghanistan. You might suppose this would give us some leverage. Yet it is a measure of our beleaguered circumstances that, although we try to put up a brave face, we end up succumbing to American pressure. The operations the army ends up launching are those which America wants.
Why is it that the US seems to have us on a leash? Something seriously wrong with the fortress of Islam and its army dedicated to jihad in the name of Allah –the battle slogan bestowed on the army by Gen Zia — should this really be the case?
Are standards of justice in the Islamic Republic the same for everyone? Pakistan exists at several levels: for the ultra-privileged, the privileged, the semi-privileged, and, through several other gradations, down to the very bottom of the social heap where life can be very tough. For a country that calls itself an Islamic Republic this is blasphemy. Different schools for different people is blasphemy. Inequality of all kinds is blasphemy. Why do we close our eyes to these things? Why is our anger so selective? Why isn’t it excited by the misery, wretchedness and squalor lying all around us?
True, we aren’t the only luckless nation or country on earth. Many others are in worse circumstances than us. There is also much we can be grateful for. But other countries, even the worst, do not call themselves fortresses of Islam or Christendom. They do not wear, in and out of season, the masks of self-righteous anger that we do. We have enough real grievances to redress. Our real problems are mounting, not dissolving. Why, then, must we go looking for grievances? Why must we be perpetually on a voyage of exploration looking for slights even when anything perceived as a slight was never intended as one?
Why can’t we be more assured of our faith and our beliefs? Why must we think that unless we are always ready with spear and fireball our faith will be under threat? This doesn’t say much for our self-confidence or the trust that we place in our beliefs.
Islam existed for 800 years in Hindustan and it was never in danger. We created a state in the name of Islam just 63 years ago and Islam has been in danger ever since. Why can’t we let go a bit? If Islam has been around for 1,400 years, it is not because of us or Osama bin Laden but because of its intrinsic strength. It is not a fragile vessel that we should always be rushing to its defence. In any event, the best defence of Islam is the creation of a just society, a society attuned to the understanding that the best homage to the All-knowing and the Almighty is the pursuit of knowledge and learning, and that the highest good is a level playing field.
Turkey (then the Ottoman Empire) was as Islamic in 1914 as it is now. But it was the Sick Man of Europe then and the very name Turk was an expression of abuse. Turkey speaks with a stronger voice today. Why? Because it has come of age and has done well by itself. Confidence is a gift of achievement and will come only when we turn from slaying imaginary dragons to getting down to solving our all-too-real problems.
Imagine the Lahore High Court directing the ministry of foreign affairs to move a resolution regarding defamation in the UN General Assembly. Are we living in the real world?
Every voyage of discovery, every attempt to clasp the moon in the Ninth Heaven and seize turtles deep down in the Five Seas, every path-breaking journey in the realm of knowledge has been undertaken by the human mind unfettered, the mind liberated of its chains, the mind unblocked by fear or superstition. That is the one prerequisite without which no advance is possible.
Religions are many, and more power to them. The light of knowledge is one and indivisible. Down the centuries its burning flame has passed from hand to hand, kept in trust, even if unknowingly, for all of humanity by different civilisations: Phoenician, Assyrian, Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Muslim, Christian, and so on. Salvation in this world has come only to those whose paths have been illumined by this light.
But for us to be able to reach out for this torch requires a certain cast of mind, a certain temper of the soul. As our frequent rages all too vividly testify, we have yet to arrive at that stage. Will we ever be there? Will we even begin the journey? Our eternal preoccupation with chimeras of our own making suggests that we are still a long way off from the starting point.