Chronicles of our recent past

10 July 2015

FS Aijazuddin’s new book is an erudite and introspective account of a turbulent decade


The past decade in Pakistan has been cataclysmic. Political upheavals and assassinations, the menace of terrorism that cost us more than 80,000 lives and over $100 billion; and a time warped foreign policy kept pushing the country into a vortex. All of this reproduced the curse of endemic political instability that has been a hallmark of Pakistan’s trajectory. Much has been written on this decade especially by foreign commentators given our global relevance as an American ally in the War on Terror. Within Pakistan, a handful of commentators and analysts have articulated more grounded, organic narratives; and FS Aijazuddin is one of the chosen few. His new book The Morning After is a collection of articles, essays and speeches he delivered in various capacities during the years 2006 and 2014. As the author tells us, the book is a fourth in the series of such compilations. The last one – When Bush Comes to Shove and other writings – was published in 2006.

Such compilations can be tricky for a reader as often the contents respond to time-bound events and explore topics that run the risk of losing relevance overtime. Given the structural constraints of Pakistani state and society, the issues covered in The Morning After appear relevant even in 2015. Take the case of a column entitled ‘Making Cartoons of Ourselves’ on the global outrage against Danish Cartoons. It is hauntingly familiar and newsy. In 2012, there were countrywide protests against a film made on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and last year 14 staffers of a French magazine – Charlie Hebdo – were killed by fanatics in Paris. Aijazuddin’s conclusion is spot-on: “We are not the caricatures stencilled by the western press, nor the cartoons extremists make of themselves and of us by their aberrant behaviour.” (more…)

Blasphemy Divide: Insults to Religion Remain a Capital Crime in Muslim Lands

8 January 2015

Excerpt of My statements:

“The issue of blasphemy is about the political insecurity of the Muslims, and about the Muslim public reaction to the so-called injustices committed by the West,” said Raza Rumi, the editor of Pakistan’s Friday Times newspaper who survived an assassination attempt by Islamist extremists last year and is now a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington.

“The ironic thing is that in the Quran, there is no punishment for blasphemy at all. It is a political law, based on what Islamic jurists said many centuries after the prophet.”

See full article here

Understanding Contemporary Muslimness

1 November 2013

A review of Naveeda Khan’s  book Muslim Becoming published in “The Book Review

I wanted to learn what it meant to know Islam in Pakistan and why this knowing was so easily brushed  aside.

It is a welcome addition to the rather scant literature on  Islam, identity and Muslimness in contemporary Pakistan. Khan begins by presenting a debate between four librarians of differing religious persuasions. Deep within the stacks of the Provincial As- sembly Library, four men take part in a dis- cussion that highlights the marked differ- ences in their belief systems. Of the four, one is a Shia and the other three Sunni. Among the Sunnis, one identifies himself as a Deobandi, one as a follower of Ahl-e-Hadis sect, and the third as a Barelvi. Akbar, the follower of Ahl-e-Hadis school of thought, speaks at length of the superiority of their mosques as ‘they allowed laymen to give ser- mons and encouraged women’s participation in congregational  prayer’. Despite his reverence for mosque culture, Akbar is derisive of the thought of praying at the Prophet’s mosque in Medina.

It  is  commendable to  pray at  the Prophet’s  mosque, but it isn’t  necessary. Some among us have made it into a re- quirement by saying such things as, the Prophet is alive there, he can hear your prayers and he can grant you your wishes. Such claims are bid’a. One cannot pray there until such time as this bid’a has been vanquished… (more…)

Lahore attack strikes Sufism, a tolerant blend of Islam

3 July 2010
A France24 story By Leela JACINTO (where I was quoted)
The attack on the landmark Data Darbar shrine in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, which killed 41 people, was an assault on an ancient, traditionally syncretic form of Islam that is under siege in a fast radicalising country.
The attack, when it happened, was an assault on so many fronts, a calculated onslaught on the very soul of a centuries-old, flexible form of Islam.
On Thursday night, when militants stormed the landmark Data Darbar shrine in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, killing at least 41 people, it sent a bone-chilling message to a populace growing lamentably accustomed to violence.
The oldest and grandest shrine in Lahore, Data Durbar, also known as Data Ganj Baksh, houses the remains of the revered 11th century Sufi saint, Abul Hassan Ali Hajwery. His burial site attracts Sunni and Shia Muslims – as well as non-Muslims – from across the subcontinent. The shrine is particularly packed on a Thursday night, a traditionally sacred night in Islam.
A day after the attack, Raza Rumi, a Pakistani expert on Sufism and a native Lahori, was reeling from the shock.
“This is a tragedy on multiple levels,” said Rumi in a phone interview with FRANCE 24. “It’s a human tragedy, it’s an attack on the future of Pakistan, and it’s an attack on Islam, a lived Islam.”

Beyond censorship

6 June 2010
The youth of Pakistan give one hope that they will not accept the formulas crafted by the ancien regime

Pakistan is a captive country. Since the Partition, its ruling elites have used a self-serving version of ‘Islam’ to control a secular and pluralistic society. In particular, the ghost of General Ziaul Haq thrives in the polity and fashions institutional behaviour. Since the 1980s, discriminatory laws against women, minorities and ‘blasphemy’ — have further fractured the society. General Musharraf tried to reverse the tide of Islamism after a decade of ineffectual civilian governments, but it was perhaps too late by then. In the twenty-first century, when democracy has been restored, many Pakistanis had hoped that the dark shadows of authoritarianism and its bedfellow, the militant Islamism, would recede. It seems that there is a long way to go before such hopes come true.
Censorship is nothing new either. We are a country that banned Fatima Jinnah’s speech on radio when she criticised the military takeover by Ayub Khan. The rest is history — Ayub Khan banned newspapers and Ziaul Haq punished errant journalists and publications. Even Bhutto could not resist censoring portions of Fatima Jinnah’s memoir entitled, My Brother where Jinnah’s critical remarks on Liaqat Ali Khan’s intentions and other stalwarts of Pakistan movement could not be published, always in the name of Islam and national interest.

Pakistan seethes on Twitter, Blackberry ban

22 May 2010

I was quoted here , here and here

Islamabad :  Pakistanis are hopping mad following the ban on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter and the blocking of Blackberry services in the wake of a controversy over a contest featuring blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Mohammed.

Raza Rumi, the editor of a popular ezine, described the banning of Blackberry services as “absolute madness”.

However, on the other hand, the hardline Islamists are out in the streets protesting the anti-Prophet Mohammed cartoons competition that is denigrating their religion, they say. (more…)

The closed minds that deny a civilisation’s glories – where I was quoted

15 February 2010

I was most pleased to read this piece by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown entitled The closed minds that deny a civilisation’s glories. I would like to thank Yasmin Alibhai, whom I have always respected for her integrity and courage, to have quoted a few hurried lines posted by me in response to tge butchery perpeterated by the extremists in Pakistan and elsewhere:

Muslims are seeing Koranic injunctions where none exist
Confused Dad Mohamed from somewhere in the US sends his dilemma to an Islamic guidance website through whom Allah apparently communicates his orders – on how we dress, what we do minute by minute, unholy TV programmes, wicked vitamins and even wickeder relations between males and females.
I paraphrase Mohamed’s frantic appeal for clarity. His children watch cartoons, and have stuffed toys, quilts and pillow cases with Mickey Mouse on them. Is all that halal? Now many of us detest the addictive and manipulative Disney brand which targets young children. But this fully grown, procreative adult cannot trust his own mind and seeks instructions from unverified voices of authority. How abject is that?
These global sites control people, push through Maoist “cleansing”. Miserable mullahs are closing down the Muslim mind and heart the world over. Meanwhile “true believers” desperately seek enslavement and thank their enslavers. The questions posed are startling in their naiveté. May we sing? Is it OK for a man to listen to a woman singer? Do I watch a female newsreader? Yes, says a wise one – as long as she is properly covered up and not wearing perfume. Don’t laugh. It is tragic, not funny.
Somehow in the last decade or so, millions of believers have been persuaded that they are repositories of sin because they watch films, love music and paintings, read books, experience temporal pleasures and ecstasies. Remember the ferocity with which the Taliban destroyed all pre-Islamic treasures? Saudi Arabia is guilty of similar vandalism. Thus they seek to recreate the piety of triumphant Islam. Well they didn’t have cameras, mobile phones, cars and computers then. Should these be banned too?
Muslim children are now programmed to obey – robbed of imagination, independent thought and refinement. UK Muslim parents are increasingly coming out against school visits, music and drama, novels, exercise, scientific facts. Teachers know these parental demands leave Muslim children under-educated and emotionally numbed, rendered unresponsive to artistic words, sights and sounds.
This is a travesty of our history, our love of truth and beauty, the intellectual energy that throughout history uplifted Muslim civilisations. The current Science Museum exhibition of Muslim inventions that shaped the modern world proves we were never the barbarians promoted in Western demonology. Some of the earliest manuals on surgery and optics, astronomy and flying machines came out of Muslim regions. And those same places were creative hubs producing great works of art, incredible buildings and intricate crafts.
There is no Koranic injunction against the depiction of the human form, yet pictures from previous ages would today not be painted – a kneeling, sensual angel by an Ottoman artist in the mid-16th century, a man filling his cup of wine. Passion plays were performed through the centuries in all main Arabian conurbations. Poetry was written and recited by both men and women. Music, devotional and romantic, was in every household. All that is under threat today.
The Pakistani blogger Raza Rumi writes: “Who are these butchers of culture? What religion do they follow? They have no religion except barbarism.” Exactly. British Muslims for Secular Democracy (of which I am chair), supported by the British Council, is tomorrow organising a conference on artistic and cultural freedom at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Speakers include Miss Pakistan (who is also a professor), fashion designers, the entrepreneur Saira Khan, painters, stand-up comics, musicians, writers, others who are concerned. The event is open to all. Check the BMSD site. We will be launching an advisory guide for teachers on protecting the interests of the Muslim child. (more…)

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