Sunday, July 29, 2012


Rabia Ahmed 
Pakistan Today 30 July 2012

Obviously, there’s no discrimination against minorities in Pakistan…

In one of the smaller Burroughs of London where the Pakistani population is particularly large, the local council has issued a small booklet. This booklet, by means of quotations from the Bible and the Torah, explains how the practice of fasting in Islam is a custom rather than a religious requirement. The idea is to persuade the Muslims of that area to fast less so that the local NHS (the British National Health Service) is less burdened by cases of dehydration, exhaustion, etc during Ramzan.

Outraged? Well, that information is entirely fictitious (apologies to the NHS). It was conceived in response to a discussion about children up in certain areas of Pakistan where the Hindu population is particularly large. These kids sometimes get hurt carrying lighted candles during Divali. I suggested that the Pakistan government use the Hindu scriptures to highlight the fact that both Divali and the life of those who celebrate it are sacred in the Hindu religion; then to follow this by safety guidelines regarding the use of candles.

Outraged, the person spoken to exclaimed that our government should do no such thing. It should, on the contrary, use extracts from the Quran to ‘gently’ prove to the Hindu people that the festival of Divali is entirely baseless since there is no god such as Lakshmi; that if Hindus must use lights and celebrate Divali, they should replace candles with small battery operated torches.

I adapted this incident at the beginning of my column to illustrate my point that what’s good for the goose should be good enough for the gander. But, it never is.

So for those who cry ‘foul’ at religious discrimination encountered anywhere except in Pakistan, read on. No I’m not crying ‘wolf!’ again, it is the truth from this point on that: the British NHS has this year issued a beautifully illustrated and very useful booklet entitled ‘A Ramzan Health Guide: A Guide To Healthy Fasting,’ for the benefit of its Muslim population. (Can be accessed at
It starts with a foreword signed by the Director of the Human Rights and Equality branch of the Department of Health, a Surinder Sharma, whose name suggests a familiarity with candles at Divali. Contact details follow, for the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK, the NHS Asian Tobacco Helpline, the NHS Smoking Helpline, and the Muslim Council of Britain in case of need.

The NHS booklet
Far from quoting the Bible to denigrate the practice of fasting, this booklet quotes effectively from the Quran in an attempt to explain the philosophy of fasting, and to combat the effects of overeating in Ramzan. In a section on ‘Spirituality and Food’ for example, it quotes Surah Ta’haa: ‘Eat of the good and wholesome things that We have provided for your sustenance, but indulge in no excess therein,’ and again Surah Al A’araaf: ‘Eat and drink freely, but waste not by excess, for He does not like wasters.’

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is also quoted further along the same chapter: ‘God has a right over you, and your body has a right over you.’

The booklet takes its Muslim readers step by step through the medical aspects of fasting, lists foods that are best avoided during Ramzan, and those that are of benefit, and explains why this is so.

In a chapter titled, ‘What you would gain from fasting’, it mentions a heightened consciousness of God, compassion and charity among other things that follow as a result of fasting, then goes on to explain the positive effects of fasting on health, and how best to fast if health problems are present. After another chapter dealing with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), salient points of the booklet are translated into Urdu, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, and other languages. Towards the end, there is a chapter with tips for healthcare professionals, explaining Ramzan.

Nowhere does the booklet presume to give religious advice, instead it refers the reader with questions to the religious leader of his/her community. What stands out is great sensitivity towards a minority population and its religious sentiment particularly in today’s environment, and a concern for its health and welfare.

Please find me one single similar example in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, any measure taken by its most caring government in its claimed pursuit of the well being of its minorities.

Then, (moving to the utterly ridiculous), compare this booklet for its sense of responsibility and sensitivity towards minorities in today’s environment with Maya Khan’s tawdry programmes, particularly the one airing a Hindu boy’s conversion in public…

Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘The care of human life and happiness, and not its destruction, is the first and only object of good government.’

…and of all public platforms such as television and other media.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


They departed for their heavenly abode. 
       Or more simply, 'they died.'

Left to right: B L Whorf,
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is associated mostly with the writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (not to be confused with the Klingon of Star Trek fame), and his mentor Edward Sapir. It says that what we perceive is limited by the language in which we think and speak. It also says that different languages lead to different patterns of thought.

Benjamin L Whorf was a linguist and, incongruously, a fire prevention engineer while Sapir was an anthropologist and a linguist. There are two versions of their hypothesis, one less absolute than the other. The more absolute version says that all men are totally a product of the language they speak. The milder and today more acceptable version says that the words people use and the concepts behind the language they speak help shape them to some extent. It studies the ways in which language and culture influence each other, the relationship between linguistic differences, and the differing world view of people speaking different languages.

Keeping that in mind: on the news not a day goes by without someone or several people becoming ‘luqma-e-ajal’. Translated, that means that they became ‘morsels of food for death.’ This could be expressed more simply in Urdu by saying that: (woh) mar gaye (they died).

And so people become ‘athishi ka shikar’, or ‘apnay khaliq-e-haqeeqi say ja milay’, which means that they ‘became victims of fire’, or ‘joined their True Maker’, which could be more simply expressed once again in Urdu as ‘jal gaye’, or the ubiquitous ‘mar gaye.’

I realise all these are example of dying, but that tends to happen rather often here.

Piece of liver (of the  organ variety)
A wife, sister, father, or mother are not beewi, behen, baap, or maa respectively, but a shareek-e-hayaat (partner in life), a humsheera (female sibling, who has fed at the same boob), walid-e-muhtarram (respected father) or walida majda (respected mother), and let’s not forget the ‘piece of a person’s liver’ or a lakht-e-jigar… beta or beti in simple Urdu, in English ‘son’ or ‘daughter’.

What do these florid terms, in daily use even by the press, say about us as a people?

The first undoubtedly is that as a society we are inclined to be polite bordering on obsequious.

Could the second be that we are emotional, bordering on irrational?

Should the media not follow guidelines regarding the language used to deliver news? People are dying in droves all over the country, today in Karachi, tomorrow in Peshawar, the day after somewhere else, not due to old age but because they are shot at, blown to bits or drowned as a result of flooding that could have been prevented. Bringing eternity or the Maker into reporting such events on the national news suggests an element of inevitability. It transfers guilt from those who should be held responsible to an irrevocable fate, it fudges the issue at hand. A blunt ‘mar gaye’ (died) is all that is required. 'Mar gaye' calls for investigation into the matter, a search for the earthly reasons behind such temporal tragedies. The stark reality of such deaths need not be surrounded by this linguistic bling.

Emotional terminology promotes religious and political cliches. These cliches are used in harangues to sway emotions and opinions towards irrational conclusions. When those who harangue inherit roles of authority they are seldom questioned when they abuse their positions because their language implies an awful doom for the questioner. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012


By Rabia Ahmed   Pakistan Today  10 July 2012

Our minister makes a discovery too 

Really, life in Pakistan has its compensations. We may not amount to much, we may be faint, but we’re definitely pursuing, always. Take the Higgs boson, for example:

“We have a discovery,” said Heuer, director general of CERN, speaking at a seminar recently in Geneva. “We have observed a new particle consistent with a Higgs boson,” exactly where the Higgs was expected to be.

The long-sought “God particle” may explain why objects in our universe have mass and existence, and may unlock a gateway to some of the universe’s great mysteries.

Never one to be left behind and perhaps in a bid to unlock the mysteries of her own mass and existence, our federal minister for national regulations and services made a huge discovery of her own: she observed a particle consistent with a capsule she takes to treat a high blood pressure, exactly where the capsule was expected to be: in the pan. Unlike the discovery of the Higgs boson which involved hundreds of scientists, her discovery was of course made all by her lonesome, at least initially, since the particle (or capsule) she had ingested earlier was discovered when, as breezily phrased by a national daily, ‘it came out intact in her stool.’

Let me reassure a public ever on the hunt for the inappropriate that **it happens. Even the Queen faces this dilemma every day, or at least one hopes she does.

Adalat 30, normally bright pink as an innumerable clientele of the drug will attest, was in this case as a tactful lab report noted, ‘light brown and film coated.’ 

We have in charge of our national ministry for regulations and services a personage discerning and able enough to detect a small (now brown) capsule in the midst of impeccable camouflage, who noted, what’s more, the words ‘Adalat 30’ stamped on the side of the pill facing the viewer (we hope).

“Why,” she fumed, “has this medication re-appeared this way in its original packaging? I must get to the bottom of this (matter),” and she hoofed it to her hotline to contact the relevant persons.

Let me explain: the minister possesses a hotline to relevant persons in her capacity as the person in charge of a newly formed ministry, which has under its wing the Drug Regulatory Authority (the DRA). The DRA was established after the promulgation of an ordinance by Mr Zardari on February 16 to regulate the licensing, registration and manufacturing of drugs as per the Drugs Act 1976. So this, and much more than this, concerns for her own health, prompted the minister to raise Cain as well as the federal government analyst Dr Obaid Ali, plus the entire staff of the drug regulation department.

Sadly, what should have been a masterstroke of detection was discovered to be an error. The minister, a doctor herself, failed to recall (or did she not know?) that Adalat 30 is a timed release medication, and as timed release medications do, it was returned to its sender, apparently unopened.

To quote Wikipedia: ‘Time release technology, also known as sustained-release, sustained-action, extended-release, timed-release, modified release, or continuous-release, is a mechanism used in pills, tablets or capsules, to dissolve slowly and release a drug over time.

Today, most time-release drugs are formulated so that the active ingredient is embedded in a matrix of insoluble substance(s) such as acrylic, which means that the dissolving drug must find its way out through holes (in the matrix). Some drugs are enclosed in polymer-based tablets with a laser-drilled hole on one side and a porous membrane on the other side. Stomach acids push through this porous membrane, pushing the drug out through the laser-drilled hole. In time, the entire drug dose releases into the system while the polymer container remains intact, to be excreted later through normal digestion.’

Time release technology is nothing new. It has been on the market for more than a decade.

An aghast Dr Ali, speaking to the aforementioned national daily, said, “How could such a detail which was even mentioned on the tablet go undetected by the minister concerned, the chairman of quality control, the federal drug inspectors and the top tier of managers?” adding that, “the review and processing of the said complaint reveals the level of professional expertise and competence of officers who forwarded it to the laboratory.”

Dr Ali is now, like the Higgs Boson, exactly where we expect him to be: no longer the federal government analyst, since the news report meticulously refers to him as ‘the then federal government analyst’. Pity. I’d come to like the man.

You see, it never pays, in Pakistan, to point out a minister’s incompetence. In matters such as this, our ministers are never faint, and always pursuing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


By Rabia Ahmed   Pakistan Today 17 July 2012

Deadlocked organs of state

An example typically used to explain the term ‘deadlock’ in computing is a law passed as recently as the early 20th century in the United Sates, which says, unbelievably, that when two trains come to a crossing, neither shall go until the other has passed. This is strongly reminiscent of today’s near impasse: that damned unwritten letter, contempt of court, parliamentary bills and legal rulings…all so obviously biased and self serving that this country has come to a standstill. As though there were no other problems to deal with, no power crisis bludgeoning the economy to death, no high risk of infectious disease, no deplorable literacy rate, no dreadful infant and maternal mortality, nothing else whatsoever crying for attention. What do such court decisions and bills passed by the Parliament achieve but contempt for government and court?

It is said that nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. Or else, laws which if enforced would cause (further) chaos.

There was a statement about the contempt of court bill by the chairperson of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf last week where he said that that bill was in violation of the Holy Quran and Hadith. And in case anyone failed to figure it out, he added that the bill was aimed at protecting the new prime minister.

pt 11  july 2012-f

Yes dear, we know. But then the courts may also be said to be indulging in what could be called ‘target killing’. The gun, in short, is loaded and stuttering rat-a-tat-tat-a-tit-for-tat both ways.

Someone asked who I’d support if the rental guy finds himself out of a job shortly because he won’t write letters as ordered. It’s hard to decide, they’re all such cads. On the one hand I do agree that the contempt of court bill where some individuals are above the law while holding certain positions is ‘un-Islamic’, or just plain wrong. For those who’d rise up as one at that statement and accuse me of being a female Mullah Omar, let me say that, well it is. The concept that ‘the King can do no wrong’ is a doctrine rooted in constitutional monarchies where the monarch, as the source of all law is the creator of courts of law, and as such above the law. This doctrine finds no support in Islam where no one, not even the head of state, is above the law. Remember, we are called the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’, so theoretically this law should not apply in this country. But neither, since this country considers itself a democracy and a Republic, is the Supreme Court above the legislature, and its claim to be so is absurd.

On the other hand, any talk of ‘Islam’ here smacks only of mullah-ism and everything un-Islamic, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to give a wide berth for now to people who make such statements.

We are not Islamic in any actual way, shape or form. So we’d appear to be at a deadlock here, unless you take the next thing into account, which is the law. So I’d support whoever upholds the constitution and the law, whatever it is. Here, let’s amend that perforce to: whoever breaks the law the least, or else there’d be precious few candidates.

The time to challenge a law is not once it has come into force. In a working democracy the place to challenge a law is the parliament at a time while it is under debate. The way to ensure this process is by electing effective representatives, persons aware of the views of the people they represent, willing and able to represent them. To chuck a wobbly anywhere outside of that process is to invite chaos which is where we are now.

Loaded as it is, the ‘contempt of court bill’ okayed by the parliament and signed into force by the president, is passed by a majority. Too bad, but that’s how it is.

While the Supreme Court…well, they’re supposed to mete out justice, aren’t they? Impartially.

Sending this prime minister the way of his predecessor will create an impasse much like those trains at their crossing.

The chairperson of the PTI meantime would do well to curb his predilection for the bearded side of the fence. He may not have noticed but the folks there tend to be armed to the teeth and interested only in blowing things up. With bombs. That is the least constitutional of all these options, and in keeping neither with the Quran nor the Hadith, nor certainly with themselves, given that they blow themselves up as well in the process.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


By Rabia Ahmed  Pakistan Today 3 July 2012

Concern about reproductive health isn’t quite that

A bill dealing with reproductive health presented by Atia Enayatullah has met with some turbulence courtesy the comments of Kashmala Tariq, the Information Secretary of the Pakistan Muslim League. Ms Tariq said that here in the ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan where all laws must be in conformity with Islam, the Quran, Sunnah and the Constitution, she was concerned that the bill may be in contravention of Islamic laws; that where there was any doubt of a matter being in conformity with Islamic laws it should be referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology for its opinion. Since the bill includes the subject of abortion, she added that changing the name or camouflaging the true purpose of the bill with a title containing the words ‘reproductive health’ may hide another, actual purpose from the general public, for whom abortion is a sensitive issue. She said that consensus was required, and that everybody should be taken on board in the matter.

Ms Tariq also suspects the bill of pursuing sinister ‘foreign agendas,’ saying that some NGOs may be attempting to bypass procedures by means of this bill.

Islam, closely followed by the vague threat of foreign agendas (CIA and other American plots, Zionist conspiracies, Indian subversive action, et al) with NGOs hovering in the background, and failing all else, the undemocratic angle…these are flags readily and conveniently applied by politicians here.

Kashmala Tariq, by virtue of her qualifications and experience, such as her work relating to the dreaded Hudood Ordinance, would be expected to rise beyond such clich├ęs, but that appears a vain hope. Depending on the motive, the results are useful: beards bristle, righteous breasts heave, and fat fists thump the air, and whatever the issue, it is drowned in the gunk of deliberately aroused emotion.

Islam is an unemotional religion, which has morphed under Pakistani tutelage into a spittle flying label. Stick the label onto a debate, and it acquires a somewhat Manichean ‘you are either with us or against us’ view of the world associated with Fox News, George W Bush and Geo Television.

Pakistan is a country with a population that threatens to feed off itself very soon, if indeed it isn’t doing so already. The naive view that family planning is evil is an evil in itself. To foster this view is irresponsible.

A family with fewer children is financially better able to provide for itself. This requires no elaboration. For individuals to be provided with information and facilities that bring them to understand and implement this fact is the aim of the government of every country where the population is outgrowing its resources, and Pakistan, as the third most populous state in the world has arrived at this stage.

There are many ways of limiting the population of a country to enrich the lives of its existing and future members, and abortion is one used within bounds only in extreme situations. Leaving it unlegislated encourages quacks and dangerous medical practices. Until a true Islamic society arrives with its welfare state and socialist ideals (and we are further away from it than we could ever be), the only alternative is for us to keep our numbers down so that individuals can do what the government can/will not.

And since the government can/will not, there are NGOs on the scene: Behbud, the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, Baahn Beli, Aurat Foundation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Shirkat Gah, among the better known. Like with any other group of organisations, some are better than others. To tar them all with the same sinister brush dismisses the achievements of all NGOs at one stroke.