Struggle for the soul

– Ayeda Naqvi

While it is tempting to give in to anger, it is more important to take a deep breath and remember that what we are witnessing today is not a clash of countries, or, even, religions: it is a clash of extremisms

There are many who would have us believe that the present Indo-Pak conflict is inevitable, that it is reflective of a larger reality – the belief that India and Pakistan are somehow incompatible.

The recent attacks in Mumbai – and India’s subsequent descent into hysteria – have made it even easier now for people on both sides of the border to get drawn into angry nationalism. Feeding off a demonisation of each other, this sentiment threatens to drown out all rational thought.

Indian newspapers are printing spurious opinion polls demanding war. And Pakistani journalists, not wanting to get left behind, are happily discussing which country is better equipped to survive a nuclear confrontation.

While it is tempting to give in to anger, it is more important to take a deep breath and remember that what we are witnessing today is not a clash of countries, or, even, religions: it is a clash of extremisms. For without a doubt, the biggest beneficiaries of these attacks are the extremists.

In India, the Hindu Right has finally cornered the Congress party. With the upcoming elections, if the Congress does not act on the public frenzy, it will lose to the staunchly Hindu BJP. If it does act, the extremist Hindus will have achieved their goal. Either way, they win.

In Pakistan, the Islamic extremists who were not in favour of the peace process also have much to rejoice over: they are no longer the bad guys – the Indians are.

So, on one side you have the saffron-clad Karsevaks – the Hindu fundamentalists who destroyed the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya – armed with their crowbars, tridents and daggers. And on the other side, you have the jihadis with their explosive-laden vests, ready to blow themselves up to destroy their enemy. The losers? The silent, frightened majority.

Where will all this end? Perhaps where it started: with the Sufi and Yogic traditions. Southeast Asia has a long history in which people from both Hinduism and Islam have reached out to others, to unite rather to divide. For the Muslims, this means Sufism. And for the Hindus, this spirit of unity is found in the Yogic tradition.

Both traditions teach the oneness of all being. Both traditions stress the importance of harmony – with one’s self as well as with the rest of the world. And both traditions teach tolerance and co-existence as the only way to live.

“Allow us to recognise Thee in all thy forms,” wrote Hazrat Inayat Khan, a famous Sufi of the 20th century. For he realised that the underlying aim of every religion is to eventually recognise the divine spark that runs through all of God’s creation – yes, even those we consider undesirable.

He wrote that “The whole of humanity is like one body, and any organ of that body which is hurt or troubled can indirectly cause damage to the whole body. And as the health of the whole body depends upon the health of each part, so the health of the whole of humanity depends upon the health of every nation.”

So what is this malady that inflicts so many nations that they become a threat to the whole of humanity? What is this “hurt” that can become a threat to the health of the entire body?

Historically, both groups feel that they have been wronged. It is this inability to live in the present, their insistence on carrying the burdens of the past that has led them to spiral downwards. In India this spiralling descent is evident in the numerous insurgencies throughout the nation – disgruntled minorities wronged by a Hindu majority which, ironically, also feels wronged by history.

And in Pakistan it is evident in the growth of a rigid and literalist interpretation of religion which then turns brother against brother in a game of moral rectitude that cannot be won.

To quote the Bhagavad Gita, “Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered. One falls down when reasoning is destroyed.”

Without a doubt, both nations seem to be falling. What was once extremism has now begun to trickle into the media. In Pakistan, many news channels now refer to terrorists as ‘askariat pasands’ – why? Why have we softened up our language when referring to those who believe that carnage in the name of religion is justified?

And in India, extremist Hindu viewpoints have so successfully merged with nationalism that even educated people now talk of the genocide in Gujarat, the massacres in Kashmir and the recent burning of Christian churches as necessary steps towards peace in their nation.

This is a time for introspection. Both nations need to take a deep look at themselves and ask, what is it that we are doing that is causing the unrest in our countries? Unless they stop pointing fingers at each other and take responsibility, the killings will continue.

A famous Sufi of the Punjab, Hazrat Baba Farid once said, “Do not give me a knife, give me a needle. A knife is an instrument that cuts asunder. A needle joins different parts together”.

Recently we have seen too much of the knife and not enough of the needle. If that course is to be reversed, we will have to go back to our roots, to the common wisdom found in both the Sufi and Yogic traditions that lie at the heart of this troubled region.

Ayeda Naqvi is a journalist who specialises in Sufism. She can be contacted at

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