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Mind your own religion


I found it an interesting read and thought it should be shared with my readers. The figure of 108,000 is huge and impressive when it is meant the number of those who have converted to Islam (by choice?) since 1989 by a man who was once a Hindu. In the town of Matli of Badin district, Sindh, Deen Mohammad Shaikh, a 70-year-old, wishes to see the entire world becoming Muslim.

Frankly, he did not inspire me as his wish hurts my ‘perfect world’ philosophy which shapes a way to the coexistence of all human beings with different faiths, creeds, ideologies, and cultures. I have not intended to comment on this for the sake of just criticism, but the disappointment has provoked me to share those resentful feelings.  The mindset of “Muslims winning, ruling the world” has a deep meaningful connection to Muslims psychological euphoria of being “superior.” The superiority which they have inherited from their glorious history which has created winners and conquerors is a push that keeps the fire burning.

I would wait till the day when a Hindu or, for that matter, a Christian decides to convert Muslims and Muslims all over the world will go gaga, protesting, burning properties, and killing people from other religions. Hold on, how easily the great Pakistani Muslims have chosen to forget the hard work they have put in harassing, intimidating and killing Ahmaids, Christians, Hindus and many more?

The only Muslim and Pakistani Nobel laureate was Abdus Salam who won it for his work on the electroweak unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces in 1979. No one else since then has reached to that level of excellence, and brought fame to this country, but he, too, suffered from the hate and negligence from this ‘religion stricken country’. His crime was that he was a proud Ahmadi. We bask in the glory of Muhammad Bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznavi, but ignore the existing pride out of our extreme bias, hatred and prejudice for those whose beliefs are different. Muhammad Bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznavi are past and I am not fully convinced if they are my heroes, but Abdus Salam certainly is. This country needs more of such people and their religion is not my business.

I stop here, enjoy the read….

 MATLI: Such are Deen Mohammad Shaikh’s powers of persuasion that he has converted 108,000 people to Islam since 1989, the year he left his birth religion Hinduism behind.

His multi-coloured business card describes the Matli dweller as the president of the Jamia Masjid Allah Wali and Madrassa Aisha Taleem-ul Quran – an institute for conversions to Islam.

The reedy 70-year-old brandishes an embellished cane. A red-and-white keffeiyah perched on his shoulder offers people a hint to his theological leanings.

As he speaks to The Express Tribune, his arm slices an invisible arc through the air. He is gesturing to a vast expanse of nine acres of donated land where converts are invited to pitch a tent and stay. “My heartfelt wish is that the entire world becomes Muslim,” comes his response, when asked about the en masse conversions. His piety is matched only by its ambition.

But contrary to the grandiose proclamation, this preacher isn’t a repository of rehearsed sound bites. It is only after he settles down on a charpoy that he deigns to embark on the journey of a Hindu named Jhangli who became an expert in evangelism.

“I always loved Islam,” he begins. “I read the Holy Quran and realised that 360 gods were not of any use to me.”

At first he had to study the Holy Quran in secret. There was the risk of being misunderstood if a Muslim caught him with the holy book. He started fasting and in fact he would begin a day before Ramazan started.

Shaikh’s mother grew alarmed at her son’s forays into another faith. She thought that if she married him off, he would not ‘leave’. Thus, he was barely 15 when his wedding took place, followed by a quick overtaking by nature – four girls and eight boys.

But despite this, he was drawn back to his curiosity and managed to find a teacher, Sain Mohammad Jagsi, who instructed him in the Holy Quran and Hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).

Fortunately, Shaikh’s uncle was of the same mind and the two men agreed that they would give each other the strength. Shaikh held off until his daughter was married to a Hindu as planned, since he had already “given his word”. Then there was no turning back.

After his conversion, Deen Mohammad Shaikh made it his mission to woo others. He began in his own backyard, preaching to family, before venturing beyond this comfort zone. Encounters with the rich and powerful helped pave the way. Retired Pakistan Army general Sikandar Hayat, who owns a sugar mill in Matli, offered Shaikh money, which he turned down. Instead, he urged Hayat to give jobs to some of the new converts. Hayat and his daughter proved extremely helpful in providing assistance.

Now, Shaikh says, his fame has spread and people come to him from as far as Balochistan, members of all religions and sects, who would like to convert. A small mosque has sprung up in his residential compound along with a number of rooms where children – mostly girls – are taught how to say their prayers and recite the Holy Quran.

One of the teachers is 14-year-old Sakina, who is just 15 days into the job. “Only a few students are difficult to teach,” she says while commenting on their ability to recite a text in an unknown language.

Shaikh is aware of the difficulties converts face while taking on what appear to be the initially daunting rigours of a brand new system. He makes life easy for the first 40 days. “They only have to pray farz!” he says while referring to the mandatory parts. This relaxed schedule ensures that they can ‘confirm their faith’. He understands that if he demanded they start out with praying five times a day to offer even the optional and ‘bonus’ parts, “They would run away!” as he puts it with a look of mock horror on his face.

Other than this, he is reluctant to actually explain how he influences the people. All he offers is a nugget of fire and brimstone: “I tell them that I was a Hindu too and that they would burn in Hell if they are not Muslim.”

More than saving a soul

There are other practical considerations that accompany conversions. In order to ‘save’ the converts from influential Hindus in other districts, Shaikh packs them off to Hub Chowk while the Kalima is still moist on their lips. “Their families would beat them up (for converting) otherwise,” he explains.

This trick of the ‘trade’ he learnt from personal experience. He alleges that he was kidnapped along with his daughter-in-law by influential Hindus who threatened him so that he would stop converting people. “They don’t want these poor Hindus to stand up to them when they become Muslims,” Shaikh maintains.

Despite 108,000 conversions, for which a record is kept, Shaikh still doesn’t feel his work is done. He wants everyone to be a Muslim and learn from his example. He also attends the Tablighi Jamaat’s annual congregation in Raiwind, although he doesn’t believe in sectarian divisions. “All groups are like brothers to me,” he declares.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2012.

 

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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in Hindus, minorities

 

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Love thy neighbours?


It has been ages since I last wrote a blog. My apologies for this pause, longer than what I have expected. It was fair to assume that either I have lost interest or my cause has met some success. But I still have no reason to choose either of the options. It was time for me to sit back and ensure that I am still committed despite having no signs of improvement in the status of those people I strongly feel for. But as majority decided to side with violators; likewise, the victims and their supporters decided to continue fighting for their rights.

There is a long list of things I would like to share with my readers, but a report published in a newspaper has just caught my attention. Siddique Sindhu, a Christian Pastor, who lives in Green Town of Lahore, has been receiving threats from a neighbor who, he suspects, of having involved in two robberies. Sindhu lost 0.8 million rupees goods, including jewelry and dowry for his two daughters in those robberies. Muhammad Aslam Shah, the accused, has rented his house out to around 30 boys whom he used to harass the family of Sindhu. The question here is that why he has done it and what he could achieve through harassment and robbery except creating an environment for Sindhu not conducive to live peacefully.

His wish to grab the land where Sindhu’s house is built right now was behind it in a hope to build an imam bargah later. This all has started in the year of 2009 and since then Sindhu and his family has suffered an immeasurable damage both in terms of money and peace of mind.  The accused, though, has denied all charges saying that his 28 tenants were arrested on Sindhu’s complaints, but no evidence was found against them. He is sure of his tenants’ innocence as they swore on the Holy Quran. Sindhu said that one Safdar, had introduced himself as reader to a police superintendent, told him on 15 July to withdraw the complaints or else he would implicate Sindhu’s sons in criminal cases and also get Sindhu in the legal trap of blasphemy.

Waqar Ahmed, the Lahore chapter president of National Peace Committee for Interfaith Harmony is personally looking into the matter and interviewing the neighbours to establish the facts. The response from the neighbours is encouraging and loaded with sympathies for Sindhu and they are hopeful that it will not be a case of Muslims vs. Christians.

Here I have put all the facts and the point being made here is not to determine the righteousness of anyone based on his/her religion. There is a possibility that Sindhu has overreacted to any event, but here it is a string of threatening events. My personal observations suggests that keeping in mind the current status quo of Christians, no one would dare to give a reason to the majority to single him out. Sindhu is alone in his fight for justice knowing that his position in the society being a Christian will always be challenged. He still has taken the tough route despite threats and harassment and this strengthens my belief that all cannot be a lie.

Sindhu is mindful of threats doled out to him but he is still pursuing the case. The blasphemy does strike anyone like a real threat because it has swallowed many lives, and inefficient legal system has given teeth to this law as well. Whatever has happened to hundreds of people behind this legal shield is enough to scare people away and stop them from any sort of resistance against injustice. The issues have always involved property and land grabbing from people of other religions and blasphemy gives them an excuse to hide their intentions. I want to believe his neighbours who do not take it as Muslims targeting a Christian, but simultaneously I cannot outrageously ignore the logic in Sindhu’s argument.

 

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2011 in Blasphemy, Christians

 

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Minorities suffer beyond borders…


The Church after the attack

I am not writing it in defence of this country-Pakistan- or presenting any justification of what abnormality the country has shown towards the minorities. But a broader picture of the injustice committed against the marginalized sections of the society suggests that Pakistan has joined the ship where other countries including the Arab world also do their bit.

The clashes between Muslims and Christians in Cairo have given the country a tough time, leaving 51 people injured, according to the health ministry. The week-long clashes broke out following an attack on two churches which has taken 12 precious lives.

Attacking churches does not sound new to our ears as we have seen it happening in Pakistan for multiple reasons. The comparison I am drawing here that the root cause of this attack happened far away in Egypt is found here commonly and has flared up people’s emotions to the extent that they burnt Christians alive in past. Some Muslims in Cairo surrounded the church demanding Christians to hand over a woman, they said Christians had detained after she converted to Islam and left her Christian husband to marry a Muslim.

In protest, when Christians were staging a sit-in outside the state television building, an altercation between a Muslims and Christians has further intensified the situation. A protest mourning the killing of 12 people brought injuries to 51 other people. It is not a good situation and the queasy feeling it has stirred are hard to counter. The danger for something worse is now lurking in the minds and hearts of 10 to 15 million of Christians in Egypt who are called Copt.

Christians clash with police and Muslims

Religion is not a property which empowers anyone enough to decide others fate and assigns his new role as a custodian of any religion. Muslims must prepare themselves of letting go of the feeling that they are somewhat ‘superior’ because God has sent them the last Holy Book—Quran.  There is no Jabar, force, allowed when one preaches religion as your actions speak louder than words. The precedent the Islamic world is setting is unacceptable because a ‘perfect world’ does not exist. A world only for Muslims will again not bring any solution because they themselves are divided and any new sect is enough to challenge their little kingdom they are building on the blood of innocent people.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13403504

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Christians

 

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Debate with extremists in a non-confrontational way?


Karachi Literary Festival

In today’s world, Pakistan is known for all the possible bad reasons. The wave of terrorism and extremism, which was nurtured and well protected by Gen Zia, is  now damaging our homes. How many more to loose their lives is a question which remains unanswered especially after the assassination of Salman Taseer.

Who will be the next to stand up like him and support a victim of intolerance and extremism? Again I have no names in my mind after Sherry Rehman has withdrawn the bill to amend blasphemy laws. Now is silence acceptable or are we going to speak out?
It can be the strategy which is not being productive. I, somehow, agreed to what Karen Armstrong has suggested at Karachi Literary Festival. To a question on how are you going to convince Mumtaz Qadri, she said, “debate with them in a non-confrontational way rather attacking their belief system”.

I am not at all sure that it will work 100 per cent, but the options are already not many to deal with this extremism. It is just to try out anything that pops up and carries logic.

Below is the story:
Express Tribune

KARACHI: At the Karachi Literature Festival, Karen Armstrong laid out a charter of compassion, with the dangers of an overpowering ego at the centre of her argument.

With a packed hall of people eagerly listening, the session began with a question posed by moderator Abbas Husain: if compassion is the prescription for the symptoms of the disease that is intolerance, then what is the cause of the disease? Without a moment’s hesitation, Armstrong answered: “Ego”.

It is ego, argues Armstrong, that makes us place ourselves and our beliefs at the centre of the universe. It is that same ego that then causes us to degrade and denigrate the beliefs and arguments of others, that makes us enter debates not with the intention of learning from them, but with the aim of proving the other wrong and ourselves right.

The remedy Karen Armstrong proposes for this condition is compassion. Were we to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes, the world would be an infinitely better place.

It is hard to argue with that but how on earth, as one audience member asked, do you debate with those who would rather use a gun to win their arguments? In short, how are you going to convince Mumtaz Qadri?

Armstrong responded by saying that in her experience, most hardline religious groups are motivated by fear, the fear that their beliefs and way of life are going to be wiped out. Their violence then, is a reaction to that fear. The answer, according to her, is not to attack their belief system but rather to debate with them in a non-confrontational way.

It is a neat argument, but also one that ignores the fact that for many extremist groups the quest for power is now an end in itself. And that fear is for them more a tool than a motivating factor. She does of course accept the fact that the sentiments of hardline religious groups are often exploited for political purposes, drawing on examples from the United States all the way to Pakistan.

God is not a politician, says Armstrong, but there is no denying that His word is used for political gain.

Another audience member argued that since religious beliefs seem to lead to violent arguments, perhaps the answer is to remove religion from our lives altogether. To this Armstrong responded that Homo Sapiens were in fact Homo Religiosis, and that denying religion is alien to human nature.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.

 

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Persecution of minorities


Dawn, Shada Islam

SO it has come to this. Reading about Sherry Rehman’s decision to drop her attempt to amend Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, I had three quick thoughts.

First, hats off to a very brave woman. Second, shame on a government and country which cannot protect its minorities from human rights abuses, violence and extremism. Third, forget criticism from Pakistan and other Muslim countries of so-called ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and America: people in glass houses should not throw stones at others.

Being part of a minority is not easy in any part of the world. History is replete with horrifying examples of persecution of minorities, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda. But I never expected the country I was born in to turn into this sad land of intolerance and ignorance.

Growing up in Pakistan all those years ago, I was taught that the constitution protected Muslims and that the white strip on the Pakistan flag represented Pakistan’s minorities. We lived in a vibrant, diverse multi-cultural community. Like many women my age, I was taught by Christian teachers, brought up by Hindu ayahs and learned ballet from exquisite Parsi ballet dancers. But times have changed, tolerance and accommodation, the concept of ‘live and let live’ have given way to persecution and discrimination.

Pakistan is not alone in treating its minorities as second-class citizens. Across the Muslim world today, being a Christian means at best being subject to hostility and discrimination and in the worst case, facing the death sentence. What I find particularly galling is that the countries — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan for example — which mete out the harshest treatment to their Christian communities are the most vocal when it comes to denouncing ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and the US. Frankly, I am getting fed up with such accusations.

Having kept a very close eye on Europe’s 20 million-strong Muslim communities over the last 10 years, I can safely say: yes, it has been a challenging decade for European Muslims but most would agree that it is better to be a Muslim in Europe than a Christian (or a Hindu) in a Muslim country.

There is no doubt that the 9/11 terrorist attacks, followed by the publication of caricatures of the Prophet (PBUH) by several European newspapers, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, as well as subsequent real and suspected terrorist activity in Europe, have resulted in increased suspicion, surveillance and stigmatisation of Europe’s Muslim communities.

Most European governments have enacted tough new anti-terrorist legislation. Populist parties, using a simple anti-foreigner/anti-Islam rhetoric, have gained more influence and power in many EU countries. Mainstream politicians have adopted an equally strident anti-Islam and anti-Muslim narrative to win votes and improve their ratings in opinion polls.

The discussion on integration has been further muddied by rising European concerns about the arrival of refugees and asylum-seekers. In the process, journalistic ethics have suffered, with few journalists ready to challenge prejudice, clichés and misleading reports. Undoubtedly, Europe’s commitment to core values, including human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion, has taken a blow.

In addition, Europe’s post 9/11 attitudes towards Islam are linked to security concerns and fears of radicalisation of the continent’s Muslims but also reflect uncertainty about European identity. Making matters worse, an uncertain economic climate in many European countries as well as the presence of weak leaders unable to ease public anxieties about globalisation and unemployment have made it easier for populist politicians to spread a simple albeit toxic xenophobic message: the West is headed for a clash with Islam and Muslims.

However, this is only part of the story. Despite the anxiety about the visible presence of Islam and Muslims in the public space, the last 10 years have also been marked by transition and change in the lives of European Muslims.

The spotlight on European Muslims has had a positive effect by helping Muslims and host communities confront difficult issues of integration and multiple identities which had been neglected and overlooked over decades.

Governments are slowly combining a security-focused prism with a more balanced approach which includes an integration agenda and Muslim outreach programmes. Government and business recruitment policies are being changed gradually to increase the employment of Muslims and minorities. Business leaders are demanding an increase in immigration, including from Muslim countries, to meet Europe’s skills shortage. The EU has adopted a new anti-discrimination directive in the new Lisbon Treaty which strengthens existing rules on combating racism.

Significantly, European Muslims are becoming more active in demanding equal rights as full-fledged citizens, organising themselves into pressure groups, and emerging as influential politicians, entrepreneurs and cultural and sports icons. Ten years after 9/11, the challenge for European governments and European Muslims is to hammer out a fresh narrative which looks at European Muslims as active and full-fledged citizens rather than as exotic foreigners.

Despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments on the failure of multiculturalism in Europe, the continent today is a vibrant mix of people, cultures and religions. Integration and mainstreaming is taking place and there is slow but steady recognition that all Europeans, whatever their religion, ethnic origins and cultural background, share a common space.

More time and hard work will be needed before Europeans elect their own Barack Obama and readily embrace and celebrate diversity. But work on such a goal has begun.

My advice to Muslim governments is simple: stop ranting against the West, take a few lessons in citizenship and minority rights from Europe and America and start listening to all your citizens, not just the small number of extremists which carry guns.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Ahmadis, Blasphemy, Christians, minorities

 

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