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My interview with Interfaith Radio, DC

April 4th, 2016|Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Peace, Personal|1 Comment

Raza Rumi Speaks Out on Countering Violent Extremism

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMi Commentary on FEBRUARY 18, 2016:

In November I had a chance to sit down with policy analyst, journalist, and scholar Raza Rumi at the ISLAMiCommentary office of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and speak to him about countering violent extremism in the Middle East and […]

Grace in hand

Komail Aijazuddin’s artwork marks a step beyond the earlier explorations of the baroque symbolism

aijaz Composition with Border 76.2 x 56.3 cm mixed media on paper 2015

Komail Aijazuddin is a representative of Pakistan’s younger generation of artists that is renegotiating the possibilities of artistic expression. In a sense, the works of Komail and many others have helped to create a new aesthetic that draws from the ‘tradition’ but reinterprets and subverts it with much flair.

Komail does not belong to a traditional school – or the cabals created across the country – that usually sets the styles of art practices in the country. Trained in New York (at New York University and the Pratt Institute), Komail Aijazuddin brings the Western traditions into his artistic experience and fuses them with the Pakistani traditions of religious symbolism and devotional narratives.

aijaz2 Black Tree 76.2 x 56.3 cm mixed

In Saint in Silver, the division between the sacred and the common is a border

In his early works, Komail ventured into a forbidden arena – of imagining the range of figurative within the Islamic traditions. Thus the Shia and the Catholic motifs found echo, and continues to speak, in the growing corpus of work. He did not stop there but added other traditions into his oeuvre, such as Buddhism, which were once native to regions comprising Pakistan.  Given the nature of contestations and violence that surrounds ‘religion’ in Pakistan, Komail’s work goes beyond the formalism of the motif and has been turning overtly political. The intersections of personal faith and the cultural milieu – littered with the notions of blasphemy, purity and public religiosity – have defined the various and prolific phases of his art practice.

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

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 […]

Watching the watchdog

“Democracy is like an infertile woman that cannot produce anything”, thundered a popular columnist (a real opinion-maker) at the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America (APPNA) convention held in Washington, DC. A few women participants objected, but overall, the trashing of ‘democracy’ back home in Pakistan was applauded by many a successful professionals present in the audience. Later, at another event I heard the view by a speaker that Muslims and democracy are incompatible. These are not isolated sentences. A worldview that Pakistan’s Urdu media has cultivated considers democracy a colonial legacy that the British left. A few go to the extent of arguing that in an Islamic Republic a Caliphate is the only option.

Another columnist recently wrote how our democratic and constitutional system is the “rotten dress which protects certain segments of society” and now the time had come to decide if we could live with an ‘itchy’ body [politic]. Considering that half of Pakistan’s existence has been under the rule of a narrow group of civil-military bureaucracy, it is difficult to argue how can even a most imperfect democracy not be more inclusive? […]

‘You turned out to be just like us’ –

By Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz.

The inimitable Fahmida Riaz, who is a favourite of mine, was disappointed during her stay in India (during the 1980s) with the growing trends of exclusion – an anathema to the plurality of India. The poem is also […]

August 20th, 2014|India, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Poetry|0 Comments

Save Rimsha Now

My piece which was published a fortnight ago. Today Rimsha was released on bail by a judge. Thank God sanity prevailed. But Rimsha and her family face grave dangers even now. We need to save Rimsha as well as protect the Christian community of Pakistan. Their rights as Pakistani citizens are inviolable.

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As I write these lines, Rimsha Masih, a minor, languishes in an overcrowded jail on charges of blasphemy. Media reports suggest that she is unwell and suffers from Down Syndrome. For a week this case made the headlines with appeals for mercy and justice flowing in from all quarters of the world. But justice and compassion are in short supply for Islamabad’s zealots who got the girl booked in the first place allegedly for burning a “Noorani Qaeda” (a basic introduction to the Holy Quran for children). This is not the only case where someone has been prosecuted for blasphemy. Sadly, nor will this be the last one, given the open-ended and vague law which cannot be questioned.

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Christians mourn after the 2009 killings in Gojra
Christians mourn after the 2009 killings in Gojra
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A man-made colonial law has acquired a ‘holy’ status as if it were Divinely ordained. The British regime had enacted the original law in its own interest to maintain peace in a multi-faith India where religious tensions were rising in the early twentieth century. Instead of reviewing it once we achieved and fortified an Islamic Republic, Zia ul Haq and his followers made it even more stringent.

Human rights groups have been pointing out how this law is open to abuse to settle personal scores, grab land and entitlements of the poor and the marginalized irrespective of their faith. This is why dozens of such cases of blasphemy have been registered against Muslims than non-Muslims in Pakistan. In the 1990s, activist Asma Jahangir’s efforts to protect another young boy led to attacks on her and she had to remain under police protection for a long time. Also in the 1990s, a progressive High Court judge lost his life after he released those accused of blasphemy. […]

September 7th, 2012|human rights, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|5 Comments