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Indus Valley School of Learning: The school which teaches Humanism

On Pakistan Day, I was invited by the Indus Valley School of Learning in Rawalpindi. I tweeted about my visit and the pleasant experience. There is so much about Pakistan that remains invisible – many people who are working hard to make it a plural and tolerant place. Whilst I complain about our […]

Fascists strike again in Pakistan: Minorities Minister killed

Shahbaz Bhatti (5 February 2010)
Sometimes it feels we are living in stone age where no dissent and no call for a tolerant society is possible. Murder, violence, mayhem are the order of the day. Today, we mourn the death of Shahbaz Bhatti who had been repeatedly threatened, but not intimidated.
It is time for Pakistan’s political parties to take stock of this situation and get their own ideological house in order before they are wiped out as well. Pakistani state organs have been appeasing the Right and Islamofasicsts for too long. It is time to stand up. If they think they can be safe then they ARE WRONG.
PTH condemns this murder and recalls that Pakistan was not created for this violence and bigotry that is now our halmark and has made us a joke in the international community.
Taseer’s murderers have to be booked, Benazir Bhutto’s murderers have to be brought to book and Bhatti’s murder should not go to waste.
Wake up Pakistan and our appeal to Pakistanis: stand up for your rights for living in a secure, tolerant society.
Here is a newsreport from BBC – sad and I hate to post it but then such are the times we live in:

Pakistan’s Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, has died after two gunmen opened fire on his car in the capital, Islamabad, hospital officials say. […]
March 2nd, 2011|Pakistan, terrorism|12 Comments

“Desecration of Rahman Baba’s tomb is desecration of humanity”

The SCN press release echoes my sentiments at the disgusting act of vandalism in Peshawar. It is a befitting metaphor for the barbaric bigotry and the ineffectual state – a dangerous mix.

It is a matter of national shame for Pakistan to have sunk this low. Rahman Baba (1653 -1711 AD) commands a universal following for his mystic syncretism, has now fallen prey to the cannibalistic doctrine of bigotry and intolerance. […]

March 7th, 2009|Sufi poetry, Sufism|10 Comments

In City of Tolerance…

I was quoted in this NYT article on Lahore

Still, Raza Rumi, a writer and blogger who takes great pride in his city, insisted that “Islamic extremism has had very little appeal here.” The cultural life of Lahore goes on, as it has for centuries.

He said […]

November 3rd, 2008|Lahore|3 Comments

Ode to Benaras – Ghalib’s grand vision

A Brahmin resident of Benaras

Ghalib

Benaras: “forever spring”

It is incredible that a Muslim poet who prided himself on his Turkic ancestry and invoked the “warrior” past in his day-to-day conversation (through his letters) could compare the divine light at Mount Sinai to the lamps at Benaras

The cancer of communalism and bigotry in South Asia continues to haunt us. These days, the Muslims are once again a subject of intense, though not always fair, scrutiny in India: their loyalties are being questioned and many are potential terrorists if not already abettors of violence. The post 9/11 world has contributed to the demonising of the Muslim identity and history to surreal heights.

The recent bomb blasts in Delhi have placed the communal discourse on the front pages. The invaders and violent Muslims have done it again. A friend called me from Delhi and narrated the profiling that takes place at marketplaces and how the gulf between different communities is widening.

There was a time, not in the ancient past, when in Delhi the greatest of Urdu poets Mirza Ghalib (1796-1869) lived in an age when Hindus and Muslims shared common saints, dargahs and even popular gods and goddesses. Written accounts of this age – the mid to late 19th century – relate how intimate co-exitence of “Mussalmans” and “Hindoos” had led to a relative amalgamation of customs among the common people. And poets like Ghalib could see the commonalities of spiritual streams:

I n the Kaaba I will play the shankh (conch shell)

In the temple I have draped the ahraam (Muslim robe)

The verse above delineates the Sufi concept of fana (or dissolution of the self in divine reality) and the unity articulated by the ancient Indian texts such as the Vedanta. Sufis were to elaborate this as the wahdat-al-wajood (Unity of Being) philosophy. […]

Hazrat Ali’s letter on governance and citizenship

The common stories about Islam or Muslims have to do with the chopping of arms and killing of infidels. We are told that Muslims had a great empire, after many conquests and subjugation of the ‘infidels’. And what have we learned in the textbooks: Ali (AS) was a brave general with a legendary sword? Have we heard this:

Do not close your eyes from glaring malpractice of officers, miscarriage of justice and misuse of rights, because you will be held responsible for the wrong thus done to others. In the near future, your wrong practices and maladministration will be exposed, and you will be held responsible and punished for the wrong done to the helpless and oppressed people.

Fahmida Riaz is Pakistan’s premier female poet. She became a sensation in the early 1970s when her bold, feminist poetry created a stir in the convention ridden world of Urdu poetry. Riaz was expressive, sometimes explicit, and politically charged. She created a completely new genre in Urdu poetry with a post-modern sensibility. Later, she remained prominent with her defiance of General Zia’s martial law, her exile to India and the continuous evolution of her fiction and poetry.

Since the late 1990s, Fahmida Riaz has discovered Jalaluddin Rumi, the 12th century Turkish poet and jurist, and now an international celebrity. Her recent publication “ Yeh Khana-e aab-o-gil” is a unique translation of Rumi’s ghazals in the same rhyme and meter. Since her navigation of the Rumi universe, she has explored another dimension of her individual and cultural consciousness, where the influence of Islamic scholars and Sufis is paramount.

Last winter, she read a letter by Hazrat Ali bin Abi Talib (AS), the fourth Caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), while browsing a translation of Nahaj ul Balagha (a collection of sermons, letters and sayings of the Caliph). Later, in an email, she related to her friends across the globe how angry she felt for not knowing about this letter all her life, and how the real jewels of Muslim history were concealed generation after generation.

At the time she was preparing for a Conference at Heidelberg, Germany. Lo and behold, she made a dramatic speech about Ali’s (AS) letter at the international moot. Thereafter she showed the text of the letter to Dr Patricia Sharpe, a US-based writer who was impressed by it and immediately paraphrased and uploaded it to on her website under the title Good Governance Early Muslim Style.

Ali (AS) had written a comprehensive letter  articulating principles of public policy for the guidance of the newly appointed Governor to Egypt, Maalik al Ashtar. In this fascinating directive, Ali (AS) advises the new governor that his administration will succeed only if he governs with concern for justice, equity, probity and the prosperity of all. There is a timeless applicability of this famous letter. Selected passages from the text are reproduced below:

Religious tolerance: Amongst your subjects there are two kinds of people: those who have the same religion as you [and] are brothers to you, and those who have religions other than yours, [who] are human beings like you. Men of either category suffer from the same weaknesses and disabilities that human beings are inclined to; they commit sins, indulge in vices either intentionally or foolishly and unintentionally without realising the enormity of their deeds. Let your mercy and compassion come to their rescue and help in the same way and to the same extent that you expect Allah to show mercy and forgiveness to you . […]