Wednesday, April 27, 2016


The so-called custodians of Islam: focusing exclusively on sex

From across the room the grouchy cat glares reproachfully at me. It is normally she who sits in this chair right under the sign on the window saying, ‘Beware of cat,’ staring at people walking along the street. That is her prerogative, and her chair, or so she thinks. Instead, while Lahore resignedly switches on its air conditioners it is I sit who in that armchair at my son’s house in Denver, Colorado nursing my cup of hot tea, idly watching the occasional snow flake skim the heads of pedestrians as they walk their dogs, hurry to and from work, jog, bike, and otherwise go about their business.
Most people are wearing jackets against the cold, except one young woman stowing cartons in the boot of her car across the street. I watch as she goes into her house and comes out again and again to load her car.  Because she is busy and houses are heated here she is wearing flip flops, shorts and a sleeveless shirt. This however is not why I mention her. I do that because of all the men passing her on the sidewalk as she moves between her house and her car not a single man stares or even looks twice at her. I sigh and leave the window and the cat immediately reclaims the chair. There’s nothing unusual about that, neither about the cat nor the lack of stares. In this country that we love to hate, whose morals we loftily denigrate, it is unusual for men to stare at women. You can leave that to the men who live in the land of the pure, encouraged in their actions by the clerics.
To rational persons who appreciate its common sense take on life, it is frustrating the way the self-styled custodians of Islam mind the morals and sexual life of the world, or like the cat, they think it is their prerogative. What a woman may wear, how she may laugh, where she may go, what she may do, whom she may meet…their brand of Islam revolves around such matters; for them the common sense take on life mentioned above does not exist. This pre-occupation with sex is an obstacle to progress, apart from being embarrassing and obscene, particularly given other, more pressing issues, such as the Panama leaks that have surfaced recently indicating corruption at every level, or Chotoo’s gang of thugs in the Punjab which says something about law and order in the country.
There were floods in Pakistan this year, again. The Guardian newspaper reporting about the floods observes that ‘poorly built homes across the country, particularly in rural areas, are prone to collapse during the annual spring rains, which are often heavy. Severe weather hits Pakistan annually, with hundreds killed and huge tracts of prime farmland destroyed.’ So we need proper houses and flood barriers, both natural and artificial.
The drought in the Thar Desert is in its third consecutive year. A report notes that this already hot and dry desert in Pakistan is set to become hotter and drier. Thar requires improved farming and animal husbandry systems, rainwater storage, greater attention to forest conservation, and access to water. Somehow.
Illiteracy is probably one of Pakistan’s greatest issues, illiteracy rates among women even greater than among men. We need to educate everyone, men, women and children. We need schools, preferably ones with walls and a roof, effective teachers and a curriculum that needs to be overhauled from the ground up.
We badly need to focus on contraception, which, please note, is not the same as focusing on sex. A smaller population would be less likely to outstrip the water supply in Karachi, or cause land erosion and floods. Perhaps we could manage enough schools to meet the needs of fewer people.
Ignoring all these matters requiring attention two male Muslim high school pupils in Switzerland, no doubt influenced by conversations at home, chose to focus on shaking hands with female teachers, saying the practice runs counter to the injunctions of Islam. They were therefore exempt from the practice by the school concerned. Can any argument prevail against such narrow minds? You cannot after all be forced to shake hands which is a valued custom in Switzerland denoting respect. A cultural guide advises diplomats to shake hands with everyone present when in Switzerland, with men, women and children, both when introduced and when leaving business and social meetings.
My sympathies are not against the people who commented angrily on the report in Western newspapers, recommending that migrants, if they could not bring themselves to honour their adoptive country’s customs, and teach their children to do so as well, they should go back home.
Muslim parents would be well advised to turn their children’s attention towards their own cultural shortcomings, to work towards resolving these and the immense problems that exist in the Muslim world, the corruption, the callousness, the devaluation of life and liberty. Young Muslims need to be aware of the wide, wide gulf between the haves and have nots in the Muslim world and to marshal their energy towards ending it. And they must turn away from the influence of clerics who lead others into error with their bizarre interpretations of religion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


 Published: April 26, 2016
I’m curious to know; what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education and who’s to take a decision on the matter? PHOTO:REUTERS
In Pakistani schools, making it compulsory to study the Holy Quran is a bit like insisting the prime minister to take a cruise along the Panama Canal for his birthday, never mind that it’s supposed to be a beautiful spot.
Yet, compulsory Quranic studies is apparently in store for young Pakistanis according to a speech given by the Minister of State for Education and Professional Training, ‘Engr’ Muhammad Baligh ur Rahman.
Mind you, speeches given by government ministers are often so much chaff, but still, speaking at Al-Huda International School’s fourth annual day celebrations (where else?) ‘Engr’ Rahman said that;
“This process would be initiated after consulting all the provinces through the platform of Inter Provincial Education Minister’s Conference (IPEMC).’’
The minister explained that Nazra Quran (learning to read the Quranic script) would be taught from grade one to grade five, and ‘proper’ Quranic education with translation would be taught to students of grade six to grade 10 in all public schools.
I’m curious to know; what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education?  Whose interpretation takes precedence when our religious ideals constantly conflict with one another? Why on earth should one officially go down that road, when you’re bound to be stuck at an intersection?
It’s sort of like Alice in Wonderland, when Alice, wishing to know which road to take, asks the Cheshire cat:
“What sort of people live here?”
“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw, “lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. They’re both mad.”
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice protested.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Seeing that we had little choice and were born here, you could wave your hand towards Gilgit and say,
‘Up that way lives one community of people,’ and this way’ waving your hand around Punjab, ‘lives a substantial population of another.’
‘Down that way,’ waving your hand towards Sindh ‘lives another group of others.’
‘And across that way’, waving your hand vaguely towards Afghanistan, ‘lives a group of people who, along with many of those living in this country think that every community but theirs is mad and bullets are the best way to eliminate the differences .’
The reader looks confused.
‘Does that make sense?’ you ask.
‘No,’ the reader says flatly.
‘Good! Good!’ you say with some satisfaction. ‘It only means you are mad as well, like the rest of us. Welcome to Pakistan.’
Which brings us back to the question; which of these people would you consult as to what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education? And what do you do about those segments of the population for whom the Holy Quran is not valid at all?
Well the government could and apparently does exempt this segment of the population, the non-Muslims, from studying the Holy Quran. Having said that, a little boy Naveed Rafique hailing from Chak-21 GB, Jaranwala enrolled in a government school near Faisalabad was recently barred from sitting the viva for Islamic studies because the examiner felt he must perform ablutions before the exam, and Rafique, being Christian, did not know how.
Now in Punjab, Islamic studies is already a compulsory subject. If you happen to belong to one of the hapless non-Muslim communities you can take Ethics instead. But Rafique’s school could not afford to hire an Ethics teacher for him – the only non-Muslim in the school. Rafique was therefore forced to opt for Islamic studies, but come exam time, he was unable to take the viva.
Question 1: How many schools are there in the country that can ill afford additional teachers like Rafique’s school?
Answer: Many.
Question 2: How many people do you suppose think the way the examiner did in Rafique’s school?
Answer: Many.
Question 3: Are they mad or are you?
Answer: I’m not, so they must be.
Well then, good luck for a consensus on what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education. Oh, and welcome to Pakistan. You fit right in.
Now duck, there’s a bullet headed your way. Or mine.