I am sad that a suicide bomber decided to massacre innocent women, children and men at Wagah Border near Lahore, Pakistan who were there to witness the daily flag hoisting ceremony. I am happy that people of Lahore were there again the very next day to show solidarity with our armed forces and to let the terrorists know that we can’t be scared or intimidated by such cowardly acts. I am extremely sad that a poor Christian couple was beaten to death by an angry mob over an alleged desecration of the Muslim Holy Book and their bodies were thrown into a burning bricks kiln. I am happy that the Punjab Chief Minister has formed an inquiry committee and increased security for the minorities of the area. I am sad that the formed inquiry committee will prove to be absolutely useless and no one will be punished.
We as a nation are a strange combination of ultra liberals, extremists, moderates and hypocrites. While a few of us have become averse to the concept of religion (at least the way it is being practiced here in Pakistan), others are getting pulled in to religious extremism. While a majority are obsessed with indulging to the “show” part of the religion. Strange new traditions are being discovered by the “believers” and then being promoted by the media. A cycle has started to outdo others in coming up with newer and more flamboyant practices… often erasing the boundaries between rival religions and cultures. This of course is not Islam as we know it or at least not the kind of Islam we were taught to follow and practice while we were growing up in General Zia ul Haq’s era of religious “enlightenment”. Does media showing ethnic and religious minorities endanger the Islam being practiced by the majority? I think not. In fact it would help build tolerance and acceptance in society.
What is Islam and how it is supposed to be practiced is a question that even the most learned Muslims will not be able to answer accurately. Islam is supposed to simplify your life by eliminating all third party connections between the believer and his Creator, Islam demands that Muslims exist as a distinct community and they should “look like” Muslims by how they dress, act, eat and their visual appearance. Muslims must not consume alcohol or pork, and must not indulge in sinful acts of murder, rape, kidnapping or even verbal abuse and gluttony. Muslims must not create idols for worship nor should they believe in “pirs” (holy men who are supposed to be closer to God than the common man). Islam believes all humans are equal and they have an equal right to justice and fair trials. Islam has no concept of “blasphemy laws” and the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) has physically demonstrated forgiveness and ignored those who mocked him, his preaching and Islam. Islam believes in giving protection to religious and ethnic minorities. Islam preaches moderation in everything including how a Muslim practices his faith. Islam forbids forcefully imposing religion onto others but encourages practicing religion and conducting your daily life in such a way that non-Muslims would be attracted to Islam and the Muslim community. Islam teaches tolerance and peaceful resolution to problems and issues.
Within hours after Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) death, fractures started to emerge in the Muslim unity and leadership. Power struggle and dominance issues started dividing the Muslim Ummah into groups. Politics crept in to Islam and likes and dislikes based on who deserves what authority and title started to emerge. Islam evolved in Arabia where many traditions were common and ethnic diversity not that significant. But as Islam spread over larger areas, its structure became more complex, its original laws and principles had to be made slightly “flexible” to adapt to the local culture and traditions. Governance systems and style of rule made certain leaders stronger than the other. Some leaders became more strict than the others, some misused their power and authority against the weak and the oppressed. Soon conflicts within the Muslim world became strong enough to form sects and sub-sects and these sectarian divides became powerful enough to form boundaries and create separate Islamic states. Today these divides are so strong that one sect of Islam considers other sects as non-Muslims. Millions of humans have been killed and slaughtered in the name of “right” Islam.
As stated earlier, Islam’s expansion into areas away from Arabia posed new challenges. Pre-Islamic Indian subcontinent was a culturally rich civilization. Buddhism and Hinduism were the main religions which were dominant. It was a highly advanced and developed civilization which had made great progress in mathematics, science and medicine. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, children have always been taught fake and made up history that teaches them how poor the state of people was before Islam and how the “pious” and “brave” Muslim warriors came and saved the people of the subcontinent. Had we been taught actual history that taught us who we really are, how rich our culture and civilization was and how gradually Islam became the dominant religion in the region, we would have less psychological, cultural and societal issues today. We would be more tolerant towards our fellow countrymen and our cousins across the borders. Even more important would be the identity dilemma that we face as a nation. Half of us believe that we are Arabs with some Afghan and Central Asian bloodlines. While this may be partially true for a small number of our countrymen in the North West, majority of us must accept the facts that we come from the East and that our ancestors were not Arabs or brave Mongols but “ordinary people” of what is today called Bharat (India). Real history lessons would make us feel proud of our origins and not push us towards seeking a new fantasy identity.
I am sad that even in the year 2014, where information is accessible so easily and freely, majority of us Pakistanis are still delusional and confused about our Identity. In fact majority of us are confused about the difference between religion and culture. We think that Islam is our identity and hence we are all Arabs. Nothing could be further from the truth! Once we realize that we originate from a culture which was far richer than Arabia, Europe or any other place on earth, only then will we realize and understand our identity and its true worth. We need not call ourselves Indians because we are not any more, but we need not deny that we do have a common heritage and ancestry, in fact to some extent our culture today should be even richer than current India because of the new integration of Afghan and Persian cultures with the influx of refugees who came to Pakistan in the 1970s and 1980s and settled here and made Pakistan their home.
Today Pakistan, at one point stands united against the menace of terrorism and extremism and at the other point it is struggling with its internal issues of growing religio-ethnic intolerance and lack of acceptance. Our obsession with religious identity and false belief that we are the sole guardians of Islam, is what is killing us. As a nation we need to learn to appreciate the true spirit of Islam rather than following militant jihadi mindset of malicious mullahs. Our new generations who are lucky to be not influenced by Gen Zia ul Haq’s version of Saudi Islam and who have access to more factual information would have to rebuild a Pakistani society which will look beyond religious and ethnic differences to form a nation that will truly represent the actual purpose of Pakistan… A homeland for the Muslims and other minorities of the subcontinent. Where all citizens will be guaranteed equal safety, protection and rights. Where there will be no discrimination against any race or religion. Where justice will be served by the honorable courts of law. A Pakistan the world will respect and love!