Islam: A peaceful religion

Co-Exist

A few days ago, Reza Aslan (an Iranian-American writer and scholar of religions), gave a fitting rebuttal to Bill Maher on his views about Islam. Reza rightly pointed out the ‘phobia’ which has taken it’s roots among ‘westerners’ (apparently after 9/11) to justify their hatred towards Islam. Reza is of the view that religion in itself isn’t violent, it is the violent nature of a certain follower which is covered up in in religious veil that gets the religion denounced. He quotes the example of the Buddhists, who claim to be the followers of the most peaceful teachings (of Buddha), yet they are involved in the brutal massacre of Rohangya Muslims in Myanmar (former Burma).

Video clip of the interview follows:

It’s a strong argument, if you take into account the fact that every religion in the world have had some sort of violent history in the past (Islam is still young compared to others). The infamous Spanish inquisition marks the darkest history of Christianity, the persecution of Christians in their early days by the Jewish depicts a period of ignorance on the part of Jews. Hindus persecuted Muslims for over a century in the undivided  sub-continent and the Buddhists’ current drive of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Myanmar are accounts of violence in the name of religion.

What Reza’s interview did is reduce (if not eliminate) the negativity in the viewpoint of those who don’t fully understand religion, specially Islam. But, as usual some criticism was due. I came across this post, which is circulating the internet and is written by two ex-Muslims (I am guessing they are atheists now since the blogs are more about atheism). They go as far as to state that everything Aslan said is completely false. So let’s take a look at the argument they are trying to sell:

Shariah Law & Gender equality

Indonesia has increasingly become more conservative. (Notoriously anti-women) Sharia courts that were “optional” have risen to equal status with regular courts in family matters. The conservative Aceh province even legislates criminal matters via Sharia courts, which has been said to violate fundamental human rights.

Let me make it clear, Islam does not have a church (a governing body that interprets the holy scriptures and is the final authority on it), which means every individual or community have their own interpretation of the Holy text. That is why we see so many sections sprung out of it in the very early ages (The Shia Sunni conflict took roots as soon as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) died). True Islam keeps religion and state as affairs separate. We have examples of governing from the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) where verdicts were carried out according to the religious interpretation of the conflicting parties (Jews and Christians lived in those states governed by the Muslims). Justice system within Islamic states was heavily overhauled, eliminating conflict of interests, equality of justice for the peasant and the Calph were some of the features of early Muslim rule. Another example we see during the rule of the last ‘Rashid’ Caliph Ali (may blessing of Allah be upon him). Muaviya created an independent state and became it’s (self appointed) governor within what is now Syria (which became the center of the Umaiyyads later on) and Caliph Ali did not pose any challenge towards him.

Now the Shariah law in modern times is a separate issue altogether. These days, it has become a mean of strengthening one’s rule on the ‘throne’. Religion specific state laws were first implemented during the Abbasid Caliphate, prior to which we see little or no reference towards such laws. For example, the punishment for apostasy is no where to be found in the holy scriptures, but some how a Hadith (which isn’t even attributed to the Prophet) circulates regarding the punishment of an apostate. Regarding the issue of gender equality, Islam was the first religion to truly talk about women rights.

While talking on the issue, one must certainly keep in mind the time when Quran was revealed. It was a dark era, especially for women. Girls were buried alive upon birth in pre-Islamic Arabia. People of every religion or cast were accustomed to this ignorant practice. It will be worth while mentioning that many atheists of pre-Islamic Arabia were following these practices.

Women were denied heritage and were traded freely. With the arrival of Islam, the Arab society (of those times) saw a gradual change in their attitude towards women. The change was not abrupt, rather it eased into people over time. Muslim women fought with men at times leading them in battles, they were working on their own and traveling across the world without any man chaperoning them. Things were changing for the better until the in-fighting began once again and Muslims were forced back into dark ages.

It was then everyone started making up laws, defining them ‘religious’ and using them against rebellions and enemies of the state.

Religion promotes violence

On the contrary, take any religious scripture, you will always find messages of peace and compassion towards fellow humans, even plants and animals. The notion that religion promotes violence is truly baseless, and here’s why. All fatalities committed in the name of religion are still less than the fatalities committed otherwise. The wars fought in Europe during the dark ages, the massacre of innocent people by the Mongols, the atrocities of Alexander (apparently titled ‘the great’) and the persecution of Jews at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar are all but trailers to the crimes against humanity committed by the ‘non-religious’ states. Both the world wars are recent examples of ‘non-religious’ wars. So for all these killings, should the atheists be held responsible?

Female heads of states

The article states that famous leader’s like Benazir Bhutto and Sheikh Haseena Wajid had little to do to achieve their greatness, which is utterly preposterous. Mrs. Bhutto, even though she was the daughter of the former Pakistani Prime minister had to face tough circumstances in her country. Her father was hanged and she fought her way through a dictatorship to become the Prime minister of Pakistan. Surely, the Ex-Muslims of North America can tell us when was the last time a female head of state was chosen for America? In Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, women are free to work and have all the rights (at least in the constitution). The practice of these rights is a separate issue altogether. Pakistan is plagued with illiteracy and people are very narrow minded, it is important to note that these people still have ‘cultural’ (not religious) practices of sheer ignorance they are accustomed to in this era. Blaming religion for it is ridiculous.

FGM

You can clearly feel the ignorance of the author when he puts forth a Hadith (saying of a Prophet) to prove that FGM is supported by Islam. The Hadith of Abu Dawood clearly indicates that FGM was already a practice (within non-Muslims of that area), but the Prophet requested them to be more gentle towards the women who come with the desire for it. The article claims that ‘two major’ Sunni factions support FGM. They don’t quote their sources but let’s say even if they do support it, they will be around 25 to 30 percent of the total Muslim population. To suggest that Islam supports it is absurd.

Towards, the conclusion the author attempts to further malign Islam by articulating the age old ‘myths’ and ‘allegations’ on Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I have written about them extensively in my previous posts which I hope will catch the authors’ eye.

Difference between people and nation

11th March 2011, it was a normal Friday for everyone, then at about 5:45 GMT the world saw nature in its most calamitous form. An earthquake measuring 9.0 on Richter scale hit just outside the coast of North Eastern Japan. While Japanese infrastructure is built to coupe with it, there was another threat they weren’t prepared for. A tsunami, with waves soaring up as high as 13 meters hitting the coast of north eastern Japan. It was nothing like this generation has ever seen. The tsunami swallowed everything in its path, whole communities wiped out in a matter of minutes. This disaster also affected the most busiest place on earth, Tokyo. No least than a hundred thousand (may be more) were stranded for the night on the streets of Tokyo. Then one of their nuclear power plant was crippled and it was hazardous if it wasn’t controlled. It was a brutal challenge for the Japanese.

In these tough times, the Japanese people showed the world what they are made of. It was their second greatest disaster since the World War II. The prices of foods and basic necessities were lowered voluntarily by business owners, doctors and engineers made themselves readily available for public service. They started looking patients, repairing what ever they can by themselves but in an organized way. There was no looting, no riots, no complaints even when they were sleeping on the streets they weren’t blocking any corridors. There were no kidnappings, no breaking into stores and no indiscipline at food distribution centers, everyone waited patiently for their turn to come.

In contrast, if we see the response towards natural disasters of the rest of the world, I am afraid its more or less the same horrifying story. From Unites States of America to Philippines and Australia, looting, breaking into, stealing and chaotic scenes. The worst of these have to be Pakistan. Recent floods showed how people were desperate to get their hands on anything they can whether or not it belonged to them. Those who were responsible for looking after the dams fled their duties, many dams were broken to save the properties of the rich, people kidnapped little girls for God knows what reasons, they looted everything from the disaster areas, even looted the immigrants who were coming to seek shelter in the city. Even in times of disaster the nation was divided, many minorities were left out of the relief operation because they were not Muslims or belonged to a different sect. Compare the two situations, Japanese and Pakistanis, it sounds like there are animals living in Pakistan rather than human beings.

The one thing I conclude from this comparison, nations unite in times of disaster while people divide at the same time. We Pakistanis are people while Japanese are a nation. We have a compassionate example of Japanese to re-visit our national character and transform ourselves from people to nation, because history remembers nations and forgets people.

Is Pakistan the only one?

There is a lot of anger and rage in Muslim countries after the ridiculous Qura’an burning incident took place in Florida. The actions of that (so-called) pastor are shameful and extreme. His stupidity could have had put Christian lives in Muslim countries in jeopardy. His claim that Muslims are extremists, doesn’t hold any authority when he himself goes to such extreme measures.

On the other hand, his actions have brought Pakistani people out on the street (once again). I understand they are enraged (both Pakistani Christians and Muslims), why is it that only Pakistanis are showing so much ignorance and undisciplined? It is alright if you want to protest, but protest with unity! I have been reading news regarding these protests and everyone has their own agenda and name to the protest. Why is it that these (wayward and outrageous) protests are only happening in Pakistan? Is Saudi Arabia not Muslim? Are not Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia or United Arab Emirates not Muslim countries?

I fail to understand the fact that they all come out when Raymond Davis kills someone or he is released according to the ‘Shariah law’ or when the Qura’an is burnt or there are cartoons published in the West, but none of these individual take to the streets when Al-Qaeda or Taliban carry out their inhumane acts. They don’t protest when Taliban bomb mosques, kill women and children. Why? What message these people out on the streets trying to convey?

They have stopped businesses, transport is cut off, trade is halted just for their protest which frankly speaking means nothing to the West. All the other Muslim states (except for the majority in Middles East because they have their own issues) are going about minding their own business, while Pakistanis are out on the streets ‘trying’ to show their passion for Islam. It makes me wonder whether those countries where people didn’t come out on the streets are Islamic or Pakistan is the only one?

Taking hypocrisy to a new level

There is a saying,  “the true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity”; I think that this quote sums up all the politico-religious groups in Pakistan.

Since the infamous incident of Lahore, there has been a lot of controversy theories developing within the political system of Pakistan. This is a tough one for, not just for the government, but everyone even remotely involved with politics or government. Wikileaks have proven the fact that every political figure is either directly or indirectly in contact with the American establishment. Americans will not tolerate the fact that its ‘official’ gets punished for being a terrorist by another country, since they are the leaders in the global war on terror.

The issue has grown out of proportions, it’s now a matter of dignity rather justice. Americans have already announced that the case of Raymond Davis will affect the bonds between Pakistan and the United States, which (it may not appear the case to a commoner) is taken very seriously in Pakistani political camps. I don’t have to re-iterate the revelations of Wikileaks, one can figure why some in Pakistani politics are so keen to hand Raymond Davis over to American officials.

The most interesting side to this story is the one of our politico-religious sections. Progressions, are being carried out, speeches are being made, banners are raised and (American) flags are burnt in protest of the murders carried out by Raymond Davis in broad daylight. Ofcourse no one in their right mind can defend the extreme actions of Raymond Davis, every Pakistani is in a state of shock and rage after what happened in Lahore that day, this man should be brought to justice and that should happen in Pakistan only. But these people who are once again bringing the nation on the streets, are the same who not so long ago were celebrating the horrifying murder of Salman Taseer. Those who celebrate one murderer (Mumtaz Qadri) are condemning the other one (Raymond Davis). It really confuses me, how people follow these ignorant, self-centered, deceiving and self-proclaimed scholars who openly contradict their own actions? First the infamous ‘Namoos-e-Risalat Tehrik’, now Raymond Davis, they just need an issue, may it be calling Islam a peaceful religion (they don’t like it at all), or anything against the United States of America and they will make it look like its an ‘attack on belief’.

Why is it that the nation fails to observe their hypocrisy? When will Muslims of Pakistan will understand that fact that they are being played by these (self-proclaimed) religious scholars? How will the common Muslim know his religion is being hijacked by an ignorant man who doesn’t even know laws of Physics? The only way to put an end to this is to separate religion from politics. If that doesn’t happen, this menace will bring more shame and misery to the Nation.

‘I blame the West’

“I blame the West”, time and again I see Pakistanis from ‘various’ sections (especially the clerics) uttering this, blaming the west for the current (humiliating) situation the Muslim world, especially Pakistan, is in. I strictly disagree with them. This mess is created by us alone, it is preposterous to hold any (foreign) force responsible for it. Make no mistake I love my country, I love my countrymen / countrywomen. But as a nation, we are not doing what needs to be done for our own betterment.

If we compare the ‘Western’ ethics with ours we will observe that our ‘national’ character has fallen behind not only in the race of material progress, but also moral and religious values too. They (the west) say religion plays no part in a nation’s progress, but the truth is, they have adopted our (religious) values which have propelled them from being barbarians, into what we see today as prosperous and progressive countries. Let’s examine some basics.

Cleanliness:

Islamic values tell us “cleanliness is half of faith“, as a nation, we are only left with half of our faith.  Our roads, our alleys, our water streams are all filled with garbage and filth. There is no mechanism, on individual level or on community level to address this issue. The nation is deprived of clean water, pollution of every kind is found in almost every city in Pakistan.

Abiding the laws:

Islam commands every Muslim to observe the laws of the country he/she is living in. In Pakistan however, ‘laws’ only apply on those who are deprived (i.e. living from hand to mouth). There is a famous saying, ‘a nation’s character can be observed by observing its traffic’. There is a majority in Pakistan who completely disregard the traffic laws, not only the vehicle owners, even the cyclists and the pedestrians. Our nation, sadly is unaware of the road ethics which are observed in the developed countries.

Traffic is just a preview of a common Pakistani’s lawlessness. Corruption is a widespread disease in the country, majority from the President of the country, to the most low ranked clerk in an office, everyone is involved in some sort of corruption. Often, no work is done until and unless some sort of  ‘offering’ is made.  Ironic is the fact that the same is true for offices responsible for law enforcement.

Unfair & Unforgiving:

Yes, unfairness, a common trait we ignore in ourselves. Nothing in our country (not even the air we breath) is pure, adulteration in various edibles (even medicine) is overlooked by the common man (even the consumer, who frankly have no other choice as an average man). Everyone wants to make money ‘by hook or by crook’, how can there be fairness in such environment.

Most alarming is the fact that we are vengeful and unforgiving. It is very troubling to know that over a hundred thousand judicial cases are still pending in courts countrywide. Even more shocking is to know that many of these cases, have been passed down from generations. How does a nation progress when it can’t even resolve conflict between them in a given time?!

Islam teaches us fairness, forgiveness and honesty, but as a nation, I am afraid to say we have lost it. Interesting to note is the fact that none of the (so-called) clerics and religious scholars are addressing this issue. They are the ones to guide the nation in the light of this great religion, rather they are leading it into a ditch of ignorance and darkness. They ‘use’ the name of Islam, they fail to ‘understand’ it.

Literacy:

“Seek education, even if you have to travel to China (from Arabia)”, this is how much the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) emphasized on education. Clerics misunderstand the concept put forward by the Prophet and confuse that He was asking Muslims to get ‘religious’ education. While it is clearly not the case, there wasn’t any Islam in China at that time? History confirms that at that time (during the mid first century A.D.), Chinese were involved in researches including, aerospace, astronomy, physics and chemistry.

In our country, education is treated as a ‘business service’, there are scores of schools in every small town, different types of education. Tragically, everyone gets education based on their wealth, which has divided the country through generations. None of our universities is even in the top 100 in the world.

The saddest part is, this nation doesn’t even celebrate its most literate person, ‘Professor Dr. Muhammad Abd-us-Salam’, who went through this education system to produce his masterpiece which was ‘Electro-Weak’ theory. I bet, no average Pakistani can tell a single postulate of his theory. He won the Nobel price in Physics for his accomplishments, while his work isn’t even mentioned in our schools and colleges. He was victimized for being a member of a minority sect. Today, the United Nations is a proud owner of his scientific research institute in Italy (which according to him, he wanted to build here in Pakistan).

Conclusion:

I believe if our nation starts embracing its religion (in its pure form), Pakistan can leave behind every developed country in the world in every field. Its time the nation understood, that they are being used, played by some interest groups, who are ‘hijacking’ their religion for their own benefits. And to those who blame the west, I blame you, I blame me, I blame every citizen of Pakistan, for where Pakistan is today. Change yourself, change Pakistan.

What are you complaining for?

Pakistan PassportThese days, living in a foreign country with a green passport requires a lot of effort and caution. While we are already foreigners in that country, the cold response from the local community creates a much more alienated environment. A simple phrase, for instance ‘I am from Pakistan’ in a public place will turn alot of heads around you.

Recently a friend of mine lost his patience, when a ‘gora’ started hurrying his children away from him at a local market and started taking out his frustration on a ‘gora’, dubbing that ‘gora’ racist, narrow-minded, proud and many ‘other’ titles. When I heard his story, I was felt shocked and grieved. Shocked on the part of that ‘white’ man who was living in a country which is leading the campaign to remove racism, a country which boasts itself as a multi-cultural and a multi-racial country.

My grief was towards the behavior of my fellow countryman. True the ‘white’ man could have been racist but did we ever try to win their confidence? Within the past 63 years, did we as a nation contribute anything towards human kind? Rather we took huge lumps of loan from the international community, just to feed our hungry politicians! Do we have any inventor / innovator to celebrate? (I dearly wish we could claim and celebrate the likes of Professor Dr. Abdus Salam, whom our ancestors turned their backs on).

In their country, murder is a serious case, their law enforcement agencies don’t rest until the criminal is found and put to justice. In our country, hundreds of innocent people are murdered on daily basis, yet our law enforcement agencies are nowhere to be found. We are still unable to determine who or ‘what’ is causing the target killings in Karachi.

How is it their fault that they see us burning assets and properties of our own countrymen in order to record our ‘protest’ over an issue. Why is it that our politicians always run towards these regimes rather than their own constituencies to gain confidence?

Literacy rates are lower than any average country, education system is faulty, our nation is divided into class, religious, political and theoretical groups, our currency is a mess, our economics is going down the drain, our streets are filled with garbage, sewer systems aren’t proper, nearly half of our countrymen live below the line of poverty and yet, inflation is still on the rise.

Suicide rate is high, people are gunned down in broad daylight. In the presence of all these issues, the ‘religious leaders’ are only content to safeguard the controversial blasphemy law, their argument, “Because there is rule of law, hence we should not talk about changing blasphemy law”. On top of that, many in our nation are singing for their ‘hero’ the murderer ‘Mumtaz Qadri’.

These ‘goras’ they just don’t see us individually, they picture us as a whole nation. It isn’t their fault they have a horrible image of us in their imagination. The fault lies within us. If I am wrong, then pardon me for taking your time. But if I am right, then what are you complaining for?

Islam: Religion of Peace (Part 9: Khomenism)

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There is a long history of growing Iranian consciousness of its exploitation and enslavement by foreign powers of one type or another. Despite the fact that a very large majority of Iranians are Muslims.  One cannot ignore the fact that Iranians have never been able to forget or forgive the conquest by Arabs of their homelands. Although the wounds appeared to have been healed long ago and many potent factors such as commonality of religion and common enmity against other countries have played an important role in cementing the Iranians to the Arabs, it cannot be denied that there is still an undercurrent of dissatisfaction at the Arab domination of Iran for the past few centuries. One must also bear in mind that in the pre-Islamic era, Iran could boast one of the most powerful and illustrious civilizations ever to have influenced mankind anywhere in the world. At the inception of Islam, the Arabs knew of only two worlds—that in the West, dominated by the Roman Empire, and that in the East, commanded and governed by the Chosroes of Iran. The memories of that remote and glorious past, though subdued to some extent by the strong influence of Islamic brotherhood, could not entirely be wiped out. There always has been along and lingering shadow of the great Iranian civilization in the hearts of Iranian intellectuals.

The long history of Iranian-Arab feuds and Iranian punitive excursions into Arabia also left ugly and irritating scars on the Arab minds which even the great healer, time, could not obliterate. This is only human. People throughout the world may sometimes find it difficult to dissociate themselves from the past or to forget injuries and insults to their honor. Such chapters of history are never permanently closed but are opened again and again.

Let us now turn to more modern times It is not against the Arabs alone that the Iranians have been nursing their grievances. During the Second World War, the Iranians were subjected to a worse kind of domination by predominantly British forces. Whilst in the Arab case there had at least been the redeeming factor of a common cultural and religious bond, in the case of the British the chasm between the ruler and the ruled, rather than narrowing grew wider. Nor could it be bridged by any social, cultural or religious similarities.

After the decline of British influence there followed an era of indirect control and subjugation of Third World countries by the major powers through stooges and puppet regimes. It was in this period of neoimperialism that the Iranian protégé was transferred from the British lap to the American lap. The Shah of Iran thus became a symbol of American imperialism which supported conflicting ideologies to its own as it does today, for example, in Poland, Nicaragua, Israel and South Africa.

The fuel of hatred which was ultimately sparked off by the Khomeinian revolution was not only a product of American oppression but had been accumulating for centuries, like the subterranean reserves of oil and gas. The important point to note is that this hatred was not essentially religious in origin. If Khomeini had not exploited the hatred in the name of Islam, some communist leader would certainly have exploited it in the name of social justice. Whatever religious or irreligious name was given to the revolution, the underlying forces and factors would remain the same.

I have pointed out many times to those who regard excesses committed by Khomeini against some of his own people, and acts of revenge perpetrated in other countries, as Islamic in character that Islam as a religion has nothing to do with the expression of Iranian dissatisfaction. In a manner of speaking, the West should treat Ayatollah Khomeini as their benefactor rather than as their enemy. I say this because I am quite positive that if Khomeini had not exploited the situation and given it an Islamic face in order to support and perpetuate a junta of Muslim ‘clergy’, the situation would most certainly have been exploited by Iranian leaders of leftist inclination. The same Iran which we see as green sprinkled with red today would have instead appeared to us entirely red. It would be naive to say that the communist leadership created and trained by Dr Mossadeq had been weakened and enfeebled to such a degree at the time of the Shah’s overthrow that it could not have played an effective and revolutionary role at this epoch-making juncture of Iranian history. In fact, the communist leadership was well supported and trained. It was entirely ready to seize an opportunity. But for Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran could well have ended up as a radical Marxist regime. Such an event would have had disastrous consequences for the oil-rich but militarily weak Middle East. So even Khomeinian Islam—however gory and loathsome it may appear to the West—could be seen as a blessing in disguise. The role of Ayatollah Khomeini should be seen in this perspective.

It would be naive to say that the communist leadership created and trained by Dr Mossadeq had been weakened and enfeebled to such a degree at the time of the Shah’s overthrow that it could not have played an effective and revolutionary role at this epoch-making juncture of Iranian history. In fact, the communist leadership was well supported and trained. It was entirely ready to seize an opportunity. But for Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran could well have ended up as a radical Marxist regime. Such an event would have had disastrous consequences for the oil-rich but militarily weak Middle East. So even Khomeinian Islam—however gory and loathsome it may appear —could be seen politically as a blessing in disguise. The role of Ayatollah Khomeini should be seen in political perspective.

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