Commentaries Editorials

Taliban, the Politics of Death, and our Obligation to Speak

That the Taliban claim certain mastery over the methods and instruments of death is no secret. They taliban_pickuphave proven their skills at killing their civilian brothers and sisters quite consistently over the last decade or so. The question that we need to pose to them and to many other like-minded groups is simply this: Do you have a politics of life?

Dispensing death is the easiest things in the world, given the fragility of human body and the power of tools of destruction that we humans have created. But to create conditions that sustain life requires a lot of doing! So, at the end of the day, how would Taliban, if they were to establish their so-called just system, make people’s lives better and would transform Pakistan into a place where living with dignity becomes a right and not just a privilege?

No ideology–religious or secular–can succeed if it does not contain a plausible narrative of life. A social system succeeds only if people see it as a life-giving system and want to become a part of it. Forcing people into a way of life through violence is like putting people in ideological concentration camps and using the religious rhetoric as a path to dignified gas chambers.

And we all know what happens when a powerful group of citizens decides that a certain part of population is undesirable and a danger to the body of the nation: This line of thinking leads only to death camps and gas chambers.

The whole purpose of any civilizational project is to privilege physics (politics) over nature. Much that I disagree with this nature versus politics dichotomy, as it relies on an instrumental logic, it has always worked under certain rational assumptions:

  • That humans are no longer able to sustain life in the state of nature.
  • A Government is necessary to protect them and to create conditions that enable life.

Law is meant to enable life and the role of justice and punishment is to maintain the established order. But to establish an order  through punishment and threat of violence and death is not the right method. To be a part of any system, people must voluntarily become a part of it knowing that after they accept to be a part of a community they will have to live by its rules. To force people into a “community” through violence and then to keep them enclosed is exactly opposite of voluntary participation in the communitas. And this is what the Taliban hope to accomplish: to force people into an ideological straightjacket and then keep them there through coercion and force. Thus, a politics of death is the only mode of action available to them. Taliban, it seems, are trapped in the logic of their own ideology: since their vision of the world is based in force and not in love, they must, automatically, become more violent and death-driven, for signs of love, within this masculinist narrative, are markers of weakness.

I keep writing about these subjects, knowing that the Taliban certainly do not read this, and if they did, they are not likely to be persuaded by my argument. So, what is the purpose of these words that I craft painstakingly and then throw them into the wind? I have no clear answer. maybe, it is my way of saying that I disagree with what Taliban stand for and since I cannot change much, I will, at least, say something about it, for silence is the ultimate form of surrender and, for me, surrender has never been an option.

Cultural silence and general apathy are dangerous signs: they lead a nation to put other humans in death camps. Not speaking against epistemic and physical violence will only lead us to our material and spiritual annihilation. We always assert that ours is a religion of peace, for that is the Arabic root of the word Islam, but do we seriously work to make this statement a real-life project. If we are about peace, then where do these brothers of ours come from? These brothers of ours who in the name of our God have decided that it is perfectly desirable and even virtuous to kill, maim, and destroy ordinary citizens of our country. What logic drives this insanity? Why should we accept it as our fate?

Yes, there are always material reasons for our actions. Yes, we are partially a construct enabled or encumbered by our surroundings. But we do not need to be rich to understand love, nor do we need to be scholars to understand compassion and kindness. I have travelled extensively to the farthest regions of Pakistan, regions considered “backward”–yes that is the term they use in Pakistan–and found the most natural kindness and compassion from amongst the very poor and destitute. Compassion and care of the others have been a part of our culture for thousands of years: we do not need a college degree to learn these values, and we certainly do not need English medium schools to learn these values!

So, what is it that  baffles me the most about Taliban: Their extreme lack of compassion and love. If they are adherents of Islam that I understand and if they read the Qur’an and Hadith and want to follow the sunnah, then how come they completely miss the most alluring part of all these texts. Every time I see images of Taliban–brandishing foreign-made guns and riding the pickups also invented and produced in the West–their faces offer no trace of the kind of compassion and love that is supposed to define a general Muslim demeanour. I see no difference between these stern faces and the faces of other gangsters from other parts of the world, gangsters who, in this realm of privatized violences, terrorize the common people to gain their material or spiritual ends.

As a nation we are in dire need of inventing new narratives of selfhood and nationhood: the ideal narratives would retain the best of our tradition and the best of what the world has to offer. A reliance on a purist past will not do; it will only produce more monstrosities like the Taliban. There is no natural path to the past: past is only textual and when we read the textual signs of our past, what we bring to the act of reading decides what we seek and see in the text. There is no unmotivated, unmediated engagement with history, nor is there an accidental transition to a bright future. To forge a future with a total reliance on history is a complete denial of the present and without the present–our only tangible signpost–one can neither retrieve a useable past, nor create a better future.

So, what the Taliban do in our streets, cities, villages and public spaces is nothing less than the destruction of the present to overwrite it with a simplistic and purist narrative of the past. If we lose, we would have lost the past, the present, and the future and such a loss of all temporalities is unsustainable.

It is time for us to wake up as a nation of living breathing beings and say it in our different voices that those who can so randomly and callously kill, maim, and destroy our brothers and sisters do not have our silent acquiescence. Yes, it is time to speak, for silence is now only a slow march to the death of our culture!


Freedom to Kill, Taliban Style

Shia in Arabic
Shia in Arabic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To say that the murder of 82 of our fellow citizens is an atrocity is stating the obvious: But to make the Laskar-e-Jhangvi and members of other such monstrosities to see it as a monstrous act is another questions. How did we get here? What has brought us to a place in our history where one group from amongst us declares another “killable” and then goes on to perform a cowardly act of murder? And all in the name of religion?

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a monstrosity that arose from Sipa-e-Sahjaba in 1996, the organization that was launched by  Maulana Jhangvi during the time of Zia-ul-Haq.  Lshkar is a  group of brainwashed sunni youth fed upon the myths of shia practices that, somehow, insult the three of the four caliphs. There is no truth to these claims, but when it comes to indiscriminate killing of minorities, it seems, truth happens to be the first casuality. That most of our Sunni Ulama are openly hostile to their Shia brothers and sisters is beyond doubt. Even some as learned as Dr, Israr Ahmed displayed a pathological hatred of the shia. What distinguishes the Lashkar is that the entire edifice of their bloody politics is built around an open hatred of the shia.

While it is absolutely fine to have differences of opinion and have an open discussion about issues of right and wrong, sacred and profane, the current practices in Pakistani public sphere about all minority groups–Muslim-or non-Muslim–have left the so-called “state of exception” and become the norm. This should not come to us as a surprise, especially since we have allowed our mullahs to use their mosques to spew hate about other groups  without any legal or governmental restraint to their rhetorical acts of terror against other citizens of Pakistan.

The tragedy in Quetta, is, therefore,  not just an event; it is a symptom of our larger problems. It is also a reminder that no religion, no matter how pure and unsullied can bring us peace and love if its practitioners do not want to practice peace and love. It is sadly ironic that when we are asked about Islam, we always tell people that Islam means “the religion of peace” but in our every day lives, those who have hijacked the so-called Islamic identity understand only the politics of death and destruction. Obviously, we are to blame for this. In the last sixty years as a nation we have neither altered the socioeconomic hierarchy of our inherited colonial national identity, nor have we been able to construct a public sphere of civilized discourse. And now, surprisingly, the most vengeful and hateful elements of our religion have somehow taken it upon themselves to force upon us a nightmarish interpretation of the very sacred core of our religion.

I know this atrocity has brought a large number of Pakistanis to the streets to condemn these attacks and to stand in solidarity with their shia brothers and sisters. We need more of this solidarity. And we need a perpetual critique of every action that the murderers perform and we need to challenge them at every step, for what they do, have done, and propose to do is not Islam, and if this is the only interpretation of Islam then we are all doomed. A religion without love has no hope to create a transformative way of life. I do not think Islam is a religion without love: one glance at the life of the Prophet is enough to teach us that “muhabbh” is the ultimate essence of Islam.

So, let us force these lashkaris and their sympathizers to show us if they are truly Muslim. We need to ask them to show us something more than death and destruction and we need to ask them about love.



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Commentaries Culture Religion

Shams-ul-Iqbal Shams: Pakistani Artist and Calligrapher

Last week was the second time in a year that I had the pleasure of visiting the old campus of International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI). On both these occasions, I was there for an academic conference, and while there was able to view the most exquisite work of Sham-ul-Islam Shams.

Originally from Saidu Sharif, Swat, Mr. Shams was born in 1958 and works as an assistant in the Swat revenue court. In his spare tome, however, he creates masterpieces of contemporary Islamic calligraphy. Mr. Shams comes from a distinguished Muslim family and his father, Fazl-ur-Rehman Faizan, was an author of over twenty-five books including Pashto translations of Sa’adi’s Gulistan and Bostan. All that I have learned is from “my father and the artist M. M. Sharif” says Mr. Shams, in his modest manner, when asked about the progression of his work.

An avid scholar himself, with an extensive collection of rare books in Pashto and other languages, Mr. Shams displays his art freely and has never sold his work for profit. He also has quite a few students in Kabul and usually bears the expenses of his exhibitions out-of-pocket.

Mr. Shams is an expert on all major Arabic scripts including Kufi, Nasta’aliq, Diwani, Shikasta and others and mostly uses natural media (leather, stone, leaves, bones etc.) to produce his works of calligraphy.

Besides his calligraphic art, Mr. Shams also writes poetry in Pashto and has  appeared in various public and televised poetry readings and poetry shows. He is influenced by the works of Rehman Baba and mostly writes Sufi poetry. His father was his firstt poetry teacher.

Mr. Shams is also teaching his art to his two children and hopes to establish a calligraphy institute in swat. “There is not a lot of work being done in this area and not many teachers are available” says Mr. Shams.

Let us hope that his work will be more widely recognized nationally and internationally and that he will be able to pass on his skills and vision to the next generation of Pakistan in general and swat valley in particular.


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Shooting Malala Yousafzai: Another Low in Taliban Politics of Death

It was not a random act of violence: it was a targeted shooting sanctioned by the higher echelons of Taliban in Swat. The target: a fourteen year old, courageous girl who chose to speak against the Taliban. That this is a new low in the list of Taliban atrocities in Pakistan is fairly obvious. But this act alone provides us yet another proof that there is nothing holy, Islamic, or honorable in the way the Taliban conduct their daily business. This act is also a reminder to us all that if we do not stand strong against the death-politics of Taliban, even our children, who otherwise should be safe in a just war, can be targets of premeditated, cold-blooded murder. That this organization, this monstrosity called Taliban, fights and kills in the name of Islam is yet another thing to seriously ponder. Do we, at the end of the day, want them to hijack what Islam means and express it in such acts of murder?

Our ulama, it seems, are still ambivalent about Taliban. Other than a few words by some fringe groups, I have not yet heard any loud condemnations of these actions by the stalwarts of major Islamic political parties in Pakistan. What does this silence mean? Are the Jamaat and Jameat busy consulting their scholarly commentaries to figure out that shooting  fourteen year old girls in cold blood is not right?

Meanwhile, it seems that this might be the turning point for the Taliban fortunes in Pakistan: not many Pakistanis can now offer any legitimizing apologetics for the actions of these so-called Muslim fighters. It has been my opinion for quite some time now that the Pakistani people need to clearly express their distaste and opposition to Taliban: this act of terrorism against an unarmed minor should, therefore, become a lightening rod in mobilizing the public sentiment against the Taliban and their apologists.

The reason given by Taliban leadership for the attempted murder of Malala is also ludicrous and would have no standing in any interpretation of Jihad or rules of engagement. The Taliban spokesman said that she had been targeted for “openly criticizing Taliban,” and we are to take that as a crime punishable by death at the hand of a masked assassin. What law, what Islamic rule, what Qura’nic verse suggests that criticizing the “mighty” Taliban, killers of children, is a capital offense?

What is Taliban vision anyway? Is it to make Pakistan “Islamic” through death and murder? And if so, does it not prove the point made by detractors of Islam that Islam is a so-called religion of the sword. What good is an Islamic nation, if Islam is  imposed by a violent minority and kept in place through acts of murder and fear of reprisals? These are the questions that we Pakistanis should be asking ourselves and of the Taliban.

Death, death, death: Is that the only way Islam can work as a political force? I hope not.

So, let us stand together steadfast and resolute. Let us tell these murderers that our children and our daughters, Malala and others, are not open targets and those who kill and hurt children are neither Muslims nor decent human beings and, I am pretty sure, there is a separate hell for people who hurt children.

And let us ask our Ulama to take a stand: condemn the killing and maiming of our children!!

Note: This where we will post any statments against this atrocity  by Pakistani religious scholars. Please post them in comments for us to collate:

1. Thank you Ulama of Sunni Ittehad Council for issuing a Fatwa against the shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

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Muslim-Baiting to Muslim Hating

At least five people are dead, including a dedicated US diplomat who had risked his life during the Libyan revolution to stand with the people of Libya against the tyranny of Qaddafi. These people certainly did not deserve to die especially since they had nothing to do with the film produced by a producer whose real identity is still not fully clear.

Let us examine our own actions first. A clip of this movie (Innocence of Muslims) is posted on YouTube. The Egyptian media start talking about it. A group of Muslims then attacks the US embassy in Cairo and another group attacks the US consulate in Benghazi. The second group ends up killing four people, including the very ambassador who had fought alongside them during the revolution. Does this meet any criteria of Islamic sense of justice or Islamic mores on political alliances? Of course it does not?

The shariah is clear: one cannot punish randomly for wrongs committed by specific people. Thus, if an American makes a film about Islam and insults the prophet, it does not make every American a suspect and a criminal. The diplomatic missions of all countries within Islamic nations are places of Aman, places that need to be protected at all costs. Attacking them, therefore, is not only wrong under international law but also immoral in terms of Islamic rules of Aman and protection provided under national and international treaties.

So, absolutely, without a doubt, all attacks on US embassies in wake of this new scandalous attack on Islam are haram, forbidden, and immoral.

The movie, of course, is the cause of this series of tragic events. The movie falls into a specific genre that happens to be the main concept in my forthcoming book: poetics of incitement. This kind of poetics, which has its attendant politics, involves picking up topics most sensitive to practicing Muslims and then rendering them in one or the other art form.In all cases the producers of these texts always claim that their purpose was to challenge Islam and Muslims to rethink their practices and that they have the artistic license to do so.

Now, of course, there is another brand of racist opportunists who abuse this freedom of expression and end up producing works with no artistic merit but with a huge potential to enrage common Muslims. The cause of this rage, thus, offers itself as a proof of what is to come. Or in other words, such stupid movies and books claim that by attacking Muslims where it hurts the most they will, somehow, be able to smoke out the most intolerant practitioners of Islam. And when these intolerant Muslims perform the unspeakable acts of burning building and killing innocent foreigners, the actions are then offered as a proof of Muslim atavistic nature and inherent intolerance. The same logic is being applied by at least one person involved in the production of this tasteless piece of ordure.

Mr. Steve Klein was deeply involved in the production of this film. That his involvement in this production is not free of malice and bigotry is painfully obvious. This self-proclaimed warrior goes around US mosques looking for the lurking Islamic terrorists and finds it his patriotic duty to do so. That this kind of private crusade has been allowed to continue in today’s America is what we should be protesting about. Would he been able to do this kind of surveillance and offer his silly proclamations against any other ethnic or regional group in the United States. Somehow, it is believed, the tragedy of September 11 has given him the right to go on a perpetual witch hunt against Muslims in America. And, let us not forget, he is not the only one: many a GOP lawmakers have made it central to their campaigns to scapegoat American Muslims just to “secure” their base and get a few votes.

Another sad pathetic participant in this sad attempt at self-promotion is Pastor Jones, famous for public burnings of the Qur’an. He was proud to show the video clip of this so-called movie to his parishioners. So, what do these people get out of these actions: to prove that Muslims are irrational and dangerous? But you are likely to enrage even some regular Muslims if you threaten to burn their book, especially since you cannot force them to see your act from the perspective of your own cultural and religious sensitivities.

So, in the end then, Muslims are inherently evil and prone to violence because they, somehow, refuse to see the world with the eyes of the very people who are attempting to goad them into violence. And when this violence erupts, as it has over a vast global landscape, these minions of hate can then tell us that they were right all along and the proof is on the TV screens. So, basically Muslims must become passive, inert, and docile and must show no rage or anger when the most sacred in their religion is mocked and derided: That seems to be the only  way to prove that Muslims are decent people.

Let us not forget that those who caused this rage are no model Americans either: Pastor Jones in no way represents the American tradition of tolerance and compassion and is rather a great example of sanctimonious bigotry; Mr. Klein is unapologetic vigilante anti-Islam bigot and in no way represents America, and we are not even sure what the elusive Mr. Bacile (or whatever his name is) stands for. These three represent the worst of America and should not be allowed to become symbols of America to the Muslim world.

On the other hand, our mullahs should not incite the kind of rage that makes their followers lose their common sense of decency and justice, especially if they seek revenge on those not even remotely responsible for this sad episode in tasteless ” reformation” of Islam by yet another group of bigots.

So, let us stand firm against all forms of cultural imperialism and bigotry, but let us also condemn the senseless killing of the innocent and especially the attacks on Western embassies. They are in our lands under Aman, under international treaties and to protect them is not only our international responsibility but also our moral obligation.

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On Dishonest Maulvis, Harsh Laws, and Minority Rights

Last year when the case was being made to alter or abolish the blasphemy laws, the argument from the liberal and progressive minority of Pakistan was mobilized primarily to point out as to how the law could be misused to persecute minorities. At that point, the case of Asia Bibi was at the forefront of the struggle. That debate was stilled soon after the murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhattit.

The case of Rishman (I do not think this is not her real name but I use it to assert her humanity) has taught us that we were right all along. Here is an instance where a local imam himself inserted the pages of the Qur’an in a bag that was brought to him as evidence. His reason: “This would make the case stronger in getting the Christian family evicted.”

There are many things wrong with this action. First of all, it is an immoral act of the highest degree: bearing false witness is a serious offense in Islamic jurisprudence, especially since the punishments are so severe. In fact here is how one Hadith describes it:

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 8.7  Narrated by  Abu Bakra

Allah’s Messenger (saws) said thrice, “Shall I not inform you of the biggest of the Great Sins?”  We said, “Yes, O Allah’s Messenger (saws)”  He (saws) said, “To join partners in worship with Allah; to be undutiful to one’s parents.”  The Prophet (saws) then sat up after he had been reclining and added, “And I warn you against giving forged statement and a false witness; I warn you against giving a forged statement and a false witness.” The Prophet (saws) kept on saying that warning till we thought that he would not stop!

Secondly, it tells us the absolute internalized intolerance toward minorities that these mullahs and their followers display. If the poor minority citizens of Pakistan are to be evicted from their shanty towns and hovels, where are they expected to go? Why is it necessary to get them evicted through malicious and falsified accusations?

Thankfully, an honest Muslim named Hafiz Zubair, and we need more of them, came forward to testifythat the Maulvi himself had inserted the pages of the Qur’an in the plastic bag, which, according to the definition of blasphemy by the maulvis, is a serious offense. We would now like to see the maulvi taste the same medicine: he should now be tried under the same law, for his act is not only illegal and immoral but also blasphemous according to the very law that he and his ilk support and have killed for.

We Pakistanis often use India as the bogeyman to justify our policies and our communal behaviors, but compared to Pakistan, India is much more complex and tolerant democracy in which minorities do not just live as passive right-holders at the mercy of the majority. It was, let us not forget, the fear of minoritization that had become the main cause for the Pakistan movement. Now that we have been a nation for over sixty years, we have been responsible of the same actions toward minorities that we had feared would be our lot in a united India.

For all of us who believe in human dignity, honesty, and compassion it is imperative to speak up and to challenge all messengers of hate and injustice: If  Islam has to survive and remain pertinent in the modern world, its best attributes must guide us and not its most intolerant interpretations.



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Rishman: Another Victim of Unjust Laws and Communal Hatered

It seems that those who claim to police the sanctity of the majority religion in Pakistan are on a constant and unending witch hunt. Their victims, or targets, mostly always happen to be poor and destitute women from the Christian minority that already lives a perilous existence in our increasingly intolerant country. A few years ago we witnessed the case of Asia Bibi who was charged under the blasphemy laws and in the wake two courageous opponents of the law were killed by the so-called protectors of the faith.

The victim this time is a poor, unlettered minor named Rishman. Those who have accused her of blasphemy assert that amongst the papers that she collected in the street to use as fuel for a cooking fire were some pages of the Qur’an. And thus having burned those pages, she has, somehow, blasphemed. Needless to say that our first concern should be to speak about the nature of this life: why does a child have to gather fuel in the streets to cook food in the so-called Islamic republic of Pakistan.

A board of seven physicians have attested that Rishman is a minor and does not even have the IQ commensurate with her age. No one saw her burning the so-called pages and, most importantly, being unlettered, she would have not even known what she was burning. Neither the intention nor the act can be proven. So, how is it that this case is even on trial and that she awaits her fate in jail without a recourse to due process or even a bail.

Is this what we have become as a nation: a bunch of ghundas who pry on the weak in the name of religion. Is this how Islamic jurisprudence works? Does Islam permit arresting and jailing children for committing offenses even when they might not even had the metal capacity to discern right from wrong. My reading of the Sharia tells me that the justice system in Islam cannot be arbitrary and that the rules of evidence are extremely strict to protect people from false accusations.Which Qur’an are these mullahs and their followers reading?

It is time we stood up against these messengers of hate: we need to declare once for all that Pakistan does not only belong to Muslims. That all those who live and abide by the laws of the country are its citizens and are inherently equal. Let us stop our mullahs and their followers from dictating as to what kind of nation we ought to be.

Let us stop blaming and arresting children in the name of religion: it defies the basic dictates of human dignity, cheapens the value of law, and darkens our future.

Yes, no more of these witch hunts. No more public or legal prosecution of minorities. No more injustice in the name of religion.

We have had enough of your  bigotry!


Pitfalls of a Religious National Identity

Hadith Oliyankara Juma Masjid
Image via Wikipedia

There is myth in the public politics of the nation that underwrites the political narrative of religious political parties. It is a myth of a sacred and unsullied past. The common belief is that if the nation could, somehow, retrieve and emulate this idealized past then all our problems will be solved. Surprisingly, no one actually explains or streamlines as to how a future Islamic Pakistan will function: the future is posited as a natural outcome of a turn to religion.

Now, we know that even at the height of its symbolic and political power, Islam was by and large a very pragmatic political system. As the Muslims conquered the persian and Eastern Roman empire, their approach to governance was based in tolerance and acceptance: they accepted and appropriated the differences that they could appropriate, but also allowed their non-Muslim citizens a fair degree to fluidity and freedom in practicing their particular religions.

This, sadly, is not the case with the religious-minded political parties in Pakistan. Yes, they pay lip service to the rights of minorities, but the system that they envision creates a national space divided between those considered full citizens–Muslim men–and those not so equal. A national imagination underwritten by this view of the real has its inequalities pre-inscribed in this narrative. There are, of course, material causes for the rise of Islamist politics in pakistan: The Islamists, at least, promise a restructuring of the Pakistani public sphere,which the neoliberal system absolutely cannot. This future restructuring–in which the least shall, they are told, will be the first–can be very seductive as it is revolutionary and not reformative in nature.

In true sense though, even if this future were to be realized, would it not create a nation at the mercy of only one dominant group? Can we have a viable nation if it is divided between has and has beens not on the basis of material resources but in terms of their pure, immanent ontological being? Can there be a just system if people in a nation are considered ontologically unequal?

Religion, in my humble opinion, will fail to solve our problems and would rather fracture the nation even more. We know what happened when a certain group with a certain specific view of Islam came to power: Afghanistan became a death world. If we continue on this path of unreflective Islamization of the public sphere we will also become such a death world.

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On Minority Rights in Pakistan

It is astonishing to see that the so-called Ulama offer historical truths to their audiences without ever mentioning that history is not really transparent and unmotivated and often presents the views and perceptions of the dominant groups. The treatment of religious minorities is also based in this flawed retrieval of historical truth and this atavistic perception of a modern Islamic state.


Image, Courtesy Viewpoint Online.



After the brutal murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Ms. Asiya Nasir, a Christian member of Pakistani National Assembly, made a courageous and passionate speech in the national assembly. [The speech can be viewed here]. I have watched this speech numerous times, for in its tragic appeal also lies an incipient hope for a better Pakistan.

In the wake of Shahbaz Bahtti’s murder, Ms. Nasir puts the very question of what constitutes a Pakistani under a serious challenge. This question about the nature of a Pakistani identity is crucial, for it can decide the fate and future of Pakistani nation-state.

Ms. Nasir, one could say, in her historical retrieval of the contributions and sacrifices of Pakistani Christians inserts this marginalized community into the very heart of the nation, for after all, in her words, the Christian community was given a choice to move to India but they, as future citizens of what was to be a composite, cosmopolitan nation, chose to stay. They should, therefore, be included within the national promise as equals.

We cannot have it both ways: either we become a democracy in which all citizens—regardless of their religion, gender or other identities—are treated as equal right holders, or we stay the mockery of a nation that we have become: defined by a religious constituting power as opposed to the constituted power that at least, in theory, promises all citizens of Pakistan an equal humanity in the eyes of the law.

In her speech, the honorable member starts with a reference to the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti but soon moves on to challenge the very idea of Pakistan as an Islamic state. She points to the official portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and then asks him a direct question: “Is this the kind of Pakistan that you had promised us?” Her criticism of the current imaginary of Pakistan is, therefore, offered in comparison to the kind of Pakistan that Jinnah had envisioned and promised, a Pakistan in which the minorities would have had equal rights. The devolution of Pakistan into an Islamic republic, in this argument, is a failure of the Quaid’s dream and also a failure of the promises made to the minorities.

Ms. Nasir reminds her audience that when Pakistan needed the Christian votes to ask for a separate nation-state, the Christians had voted for Pakistan: their presence in the Pakistani public sphere, thus, was not an accident of history but a matter of choice. Now, however, the same Christians whose votes were coveted at the time of partition are treated as second-class citizens. The arguments, thus, rests on the kind of nation that was promised to the minorities and that the current definition of the nation as a purely Islamic state is nothing but a broken promise.

Ms. Nasir also has some pointed questions for the government: “Why did you not provide sufficient security for Shahbaz Bhatti?” and “Why there has been no clear declaration by the Prime minister and the President to hold the murderers accountable?” The obvious reason for the indifference of the leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party, the party that had benefited from Shahbaz Bhatti’s loyalties, is because he is a Christian and thus, it seems, his life was not as valuable as that of a Muslim.

Ms. Nasir also points out that the minorities have reached a point in their history in Pakistan that they are seriously questioning whether or not to remain in Pakistan. If the current treatment of the minorities continues, she states, then the minorities will have to choose to leave Pakistan.

Ms. Nasir’s speech is also made in the spirit of patriotism as a true Pakistani claiming equal rights in the national public sphere just like the Muslim citizens of Pakistan. This claim to equal treatment is also bolstered by the examples of Christian sacrifices for the cause of Pakistan, the sacrifices that have been elided from Pakistani history due to the “distorted history” being taught in schools. “We have not been given equal rights in sixty-five years” declares Ms. Nasir, and it is time now for the government and the people of Pakistan to recognize the Christians as equal citizens of the state.

The question of rights is, therefore, crucial to creating a more tolerant and humane nation and Islam, I am sad to say, will not solve this problem for us, especially the kind of historical retrieval attempted by our Ulama.

There is a perception amongst the devout Muslims that if we revert to a purely Islamic articulation of the nation, all our problems would be solved. This, of course, is a grand illusion created by the rhetoric of the mullahs and their followers and this rhetoric is made acceptable by cherry-picking Islamic history and by completely foreclosing any new and liberating interpretations of the Islamic sacred.

It is astonishing to see that the so-called Ulama offer historical truths to their audiences without ever mentioning that history is not really transparent and unmotivated and often presents the views and perceptions of the dominant groups. The treatment of religious minorities is also based in this flawed retrieval of historical truth and this atavistic perception of a modern Islamic state. This, in a way, foregrounds the role of constituting power over constituted power. [I am using Roberto Esposito’s discussion of these two facets of power to make my point. For details, see Esposito. Bios]. In such a project, the worth of the individual and the larger political entities is determined through recourse to a transcendental constituting power. But while in most of the cases the constituting power ceases to exert itself and creates a space for the constituted power to function independently, in case of our Ulama the constituted power of the Pakistani constitution is always under constant pressure from the metaphysical constituting power of the Muslim sacred. It is this reversal to a purist past that allows them to create unequal subjects within the Pakistani political space. Thus, even though they live in a modern nation, the individuals in Pakistan, based on their gender and religious identity, get divided into active and passive right holders. As a consequence, Only Muslim males seem to enjoy the full rights and humanity of real citizens, while women and minorities are reduced to a passive political identity, alive but not really fully realized political beings.

It is this nexus of power and religion that Ms. Nasir’s speech challenges, for if Pakistan really wants to be a democratic and humane polity, it must accord equal rights to all its citizens and no amount of purist religious retrieval should be able to trump that.

The saddest thing about our Ulama is that they have chosen to elide all views contrary to what they deem a proper interpretation of the sacred. Thus, while our mullahs can quote their respective scholars, none of them seems to acknowledge the existence of scholars such as Mumtaz Ali and Fazlur Rahman who, at least, attempted to force a more nuanced and enlightened interpretation of the sacred. These are the silenced histories of Muslim past that must be retrieved and foregrounded if Islam is to play any positive role within the Pakistani public sphere.

Meanwhile, in the absence of any such movement in Pakistan, I would declare my own personal stance: I stand with my brother Shahbaz Bhatti for his humanity, his wisdom, and his sacrifice and with my sister Asiya Nasir for her courage to ask some apt and hard questions.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)

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My Fellow American Website

I just recently got an email about this wonderful website that offers the best of America. There project about Islam–offered against the usual racist representations of Muslims–is commendable. Here is their statement/ pledge about American Muslims:

They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.

Please visit their website:


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