Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to Spoil Your Ramadan?

Easiest way is to come across a Tariq Ali article and you are effectively done.

Talk about the power of denying God.

But Allah (SWT)'s injunction about disbelievers are rather clear.
He (SWT) has said that whether you invite them to Islam or not it is the same.
An another place we are advised to adopt the attitude to you your way and to me mine.

When they affect you, the people who deny God, then the matters are different altogether.
Like this article.

Let us say a few things about it.

I never believed in God, ...
 This is a tragedy, whether you realize it or not.
... not even between the ages of six and ten, when I was an agnostic.
This either does not help the situation. But agnosticism at least free from the surety of atheism.
This unbelief was instinctive.
So is belief. Only if you had chosen that route.
I was sure there was nothing else out there but space.
There are galaxies also - as far as you can see. Talk to astronomers - even if they too are not believers. Even they will tell you about the wonders of the space and time. And if you are talking about unexplored space then scientifically you can not talk about - science is about empiricism. And even if one agrees with your argument, for the sake of argument only, then also we are left with the question who created the space you are talking about.
 It could have been my lack of imagination.
Apologies Mr Ali. The matter is slightly more serious than mere imagination. Imagination is a facility and blessing  bestowed by God. The relevant thing in the present context is completely different - it is responsibility. Also felicity. You might rush to denounce the latter but the matter is much serious.

In the jasmine-scented summer nights, long before mosques were allowed to use loudspeakers, it was enough to savour the silence, look up at the exquisitely lit sky, count the shooting stars and fall asleep.

You do not have to be a disbeliever to do that.

The early morning call of the muezzin was a pleasant alarm-clock.
From here, we wish that your life had taken a different turn then it did.

There were many advantages in being an unbeliever.
Believers are aware of them. Beloved Prophet (PBUH) said that Jannah has been covbered by hardships and you have decided to avoid them. The problem is not of immediate ease - the problem is of overall deal being bad.

Threatened with divine sanctions by family retainers, cousins or elderly relatives – ‘If you do that Allah will be angry’ or ‘If you don’t do this Allah will punish you’ – I was unmoved.

Clearly you were not thinking wholistically.

Let him do his worst, I used to tell myself, but he never did, and that reinforced my belief in his non-existence.

He does not punish immediately.

My parents, too, were non-believers.

This too is a tragedy though you are not realizing it.

So were most of their close friends.

That is understandable - this was a choice like the choice to be unbelievers.

Religion played a tiny part in our Lahore household. In the second half of the last century, a large proportion of educated Muslims had embraced modernity.

It started earlier but the fact remains that this was a disaster both for them as well as Ummah for many of the people you are talking about were the cream of the society - because of their education. You need not shed any tears for Allah (SWT) does not need even the pious - let alone those who decided to leave Islam.

Old habits persisted, nonetheless: the would-be virtuous made their ablutions and sloped off to Friday prayers. Some fasted for a few days each year, usually just before the new moon marking the end of Ramadan. I doubt whether more than a quarter of the population in the cities fasted for a whole month.

Allah (SWT) is aware of that and hence Muslims too are aware of that. Allah (SWT) has told multiple times in the Noble Qur'an that those who adopt piety are indeed very few. Conclusion is that your observation is not a discovery.

Café life continued unabated.

That too is true in some or even many cases but still you got to watch out about selective reporting.

Many claimed that they had fasted so as to take advantage of the free food doled out at the end of each fasting day by the mosques or the kitchens of the wealthy.

This rises, at most, to childhood follies and is not useful to make any point.

In the countryside fewer still fasted, since outdoor work was difficult without sustenance, and especially without water when Ramadan fell during the summer months. Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, was celebrated by everyone.

We hope you notice that you are reporting one side only - leaving out the pious. It amounts to negative thinking when you report the negatives and leave out the positives.

One day, I think in the autumn of 1956 when I was 12, I was eavesdropping on an after-dinner conversation at home. My sister, assorted cousins and I had been asked nicely to occupy ourselves elsewhere. Obediently, we moved to an adjoining room, but then listened, giggling, to a particularly raucous, wooden-headed aunt and a bony uncle berating my parents in loud whispers: ‘We know what you’re like . . . we know you’re unbelievers, but these children should be given a chance . . . They must be taught their religion.’

You can not claim that Allah (SWT) did not give you an opportunity to turn back.

The giggles were premature. A few months later a tutor was hired to teach me the Koran and Islamic history. ‘You live here,’ my father said. ‘You should study the texts. You should know our history. Later you may do as you wish. Even if you reject everything, it’s always better to know what it is that one is rejecting.’ Sensible enough advice, but regarded by me at the time as hypocritical and a betrayal.

Wrong placing of hypocrisy as well as betrayal. Your Creator and Sustainer has been betrayed by you. It should alarm you that He (SWT) is Haleem and Merciful to continue your sustenance.

How often had I heard talk of superstitious idiots, often relatives, who worshipped a God they didn’t have the brains to doubt? Now I was being forced to study religion. I was determined to sabotage the process.

And no one forced you to do that - you volunteered.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that my father’s decision may have had something to do with an episode from his own life. In 1928, aged 12, he had accompanied his mother and his old wet-nurse (my grandmother’s most trusted maid) on the pilgrimage to perform the hajj ceremony. Women, then as now, could visit Mecca only if they were accompanied by a male more than 12 years old. The older men flatly refused to go. My father, as the youngest male in the family, wasn’t given a choice. His older brother, the most religious member of the family, never let him forget the pilgrimage: his letters to my father always arrived with the prefix ‘al-Haj’ (‘pilgrim’) attached to the name, a cause for much merriment at teatime.

Point noted - your family has Hajis in it. We acknowledge that these were somebodies and not nobodies who were making their way out of Islam. Verily we are for our Lord Most High and unto Him is our return.

Decades later, when the pores of the Saudi elite were sweating petro-dollars, my father would remember the poverty he had seen in the Hijaz and recall the tales of non-Arab pilgrims who had been robbed on the road to Mecca. In the pre-oil period, the annual pilgrimage had been a major source of income for the locals, who would often augment their meagre earnings with well-organised raids on pilgrims’ lodgings. The ceremony itself requires that the pilgrim come clothed in a simple white sheet and nothing else. All valuables have to be left behind and local gangs became especially adept at stealing watches and gold. Soon, the more experienced pilgrims realised that the ‘pure souls’ of Mecca weren’t above thieving. They began to take precautions, and a war of wits ensued.

This does serve as a reality check but is not an argument against Islam. You can find problems with present day Arabs too. For example their over indulgence in materialistic things. This too is not an argument against Islam. This world is not Jannah - hence it has bad things. This world is not the hell - it does have some ease, happiness and pleasure for most of us.

Several years after the trip to the Holy Land my father became an orthodox Communist and remained one for the rest of his life. Moscow was now his Mecca. Perhaps he thought that immersing me in religion at a young age might result in a similar transformation. I like to think that this was his real motive, and that he wasn’t pandering to the more dim-witted members of our family. I came to admire my father for breaking away from what he described as ‘the emptiness of the feudal world’.[1]

Combined with the footnote we get the hint - you belonged to an influencial family. At the end you might be a convenient darling of the west but that can not be taken as an achievement. You might be actually living in no man's land. Please understand that the Soviet Union is no more and the west, your present home, never took communism as the ideology. You chose to outcast yourself from Islam and the adopty society has not completely overcome its racism and communism is a reviled ideology. If you are feeling at home at all then it looks like a multiple delusion to our eyes.

Since I did not read Arabic, I could learn the Koran only by rote. My tutor, Nizam Din, arrived on the appointed day and thanks to his heroic efforts, I can at least recite the lines from the opening of the Koran – ‘Alif, lam, mim . . .’ – followed by the crucial: ‘This book is not to be doubted.’

You make it sound like an injunction. You got that wrong. It is an assertion, "There is no doubt about this Book".
Allah (SWT) is asserting the truthfullness of the Book - whether you believe it or not is upto you. There is no compulsion in religion.

Nizam Din, to my great delight, was not deeply religious. From his late teens to his late twenties, he had worn a beard. But by 1940 he’d shaved it off, deserted religion for the anti-imperialist cause and dedicated himself to left-wing politics. Like many others he had served a spell in a colonial prison and been further radicalised. Truth, he would say, was a very powerful concept in the Koran, but it had never been translated into practical life because the mullahs had destroyed Islam.

The cream of Muslim society took to communism and there would be effects of that. One of these effects is that communist will poke fun at Mullahs - thinking of them as simple minded pleibians. Allah (SWT) has given people varied intelligence and people may use it as they want - Allah (SWT) has bestowed some free will in man. Some people misuse it to disobey Allah (SWT). One such calamity is the communist calamity when Muslim intellectuals en masse turned to atheism in the form of socialism, Marxism, liberalism and all that. But so what of that? But do give due credit to US but also realize that these ideologies were buried by us Muslims in the sands on Afghanistan in 1989. Your words of 2002 can not be fonal words - unless you are espousing some new ideology by now. Communism has failed and burial took place at our hands.

Nizam Din soon realised that I was bored by learning Koranic verses and we started to spend the allotted hour discussing history: the nationalist struggle against British imperialism, the origins of terrorism in Bengal and the Punjab, and the story of the Sikh terrorist Bhagat Singh, who had thrown a bomb in the Punjab Legislative Assembly to protest against repressive legislation and the 1919 massacre of Jallianwallah Bagh. Once imprisoned, he had refused to plead for mercy, but renounced terrorism as a tactic and moved closer to traditional Marxism. He was tried in secret and executed by the British in the Central Jail in Lahore, a 15-minute walk from where Nizam Din was telling me the story. ‘If he had lived,’ Nizam Din used to say, ‘he would have become a leader the British really feared. And look at us now. Just because he was a Sikh, we haven’t even marked his martyrdom with a monument.’

The least one could conclude from it is that terrorism charges slapped on Muslims do not hold water in various ways. Secondly the history of Marxism can not be absolved of atricities. Final comment is also curious. Pakistan was created in the name of Islam so in what way it is justified to raise monuments in the memory of an atheist?

Nizam Din remembered the good times when all the villages in what was now Pakistan had Hindu and Sikh inhabitants; many of his non-Muslim friends had now left for India. ‘They are pygmies,’ he would say of Pakistan’s politicians. ‘Do you understand what I’m saying, Tariqji? Pygmies! Look at India. Observe the difference. Gandhi was a giant. Jawaharlal Nehru is a giant.’ Over the years I learned far more about history, politics and everyday life from Nizam Din than I ever learned at school. But his failure to interest me in religion had been noted.

You are lost in the woods. British took India from Muslims. Think of it as a continuation of Crusades. The way you have spent your life should make it it easy to realize that. You must have come across enough evidence to the same effect but you did not keep it because you were busy proving Marxism - the ideology that stands empirically falsified. Now if you look at it in this way then Pakistan, even if inadvertently, finds itself at the forefront of defending Islam. You might not agree with that but even US has realized that in spite of being at the forefront of the war on terror Pakistan has different ethos. It is said that you have failed to understand your own country of birth - intellectual charm of communism has served you deception only.
A young maternal uncle, who had grown a beard at an early age, volunteered to take on the task. His weekly visits to our house, which coincided with my return from school, irritated me greatly. We would pace the garden while, in unctuous tones, he related a version of Islamic history which, like him, was unconvincing and dull.

You forgot to mention that in that age no one like school also. So focus on aversion to Islamic education is bit self-serving.

There were endless tales of heroism, with the Prophet raised to the stature of a divinity, and a punitive Allah.

Prophet (PBUH) should not be raised to that level, indeed. History of Islam is full of heroic episodes and there are more than 1400 years of that. Unfortunately many people have fallen to the charm of western history. True, they decimated many Muslim empires, Mughal, Ottoman, Sokoto, Egyptician, Spanish. That is true. If that had made you switch sides then there is some thing to worry about - your credibility.

As he droned on, I would watch the kites flying and tangling with each other in the afternoon sky, mentally replay a lost game of marbles, or look forward to the Test match between Pakistan and the West Indies. Anything but religion. After a few weeks he, too, gave up, announcing that my unbeliever’s inheritance was too strong.

Religion is a responsibility and you have managed to escape that. Unfortunately no congratulations are due. You have failed in your duties to your Lord and more. Unfortunately that can not be explained to you. If you deny God then it is not possible for any one to explain to you what your duties are towards your wife and children. You might be thinking that you are a wonderful husband and a father but on the Last day your opinion will serve you nothing but sorrow. Even in this world you are deprived of those blessings of islam that Muslims receive in this world. I suppose by now you have stopped celebrating Eid or at the most it is a Kheer an Sewayeen day. There are other blessings that are more difficult to explain. Pleasure of bowing before your Lord Most High is one of them.

During the summer months, when the heat in the plains became unbearable, we would flee to the Himalayan foothills, to Nathiagali, then a tiny, isolated hill resort perched on a ridge in a thick pine forest and overlooked by the peaks. Here, in a relaxed atmosphere with almost no social restrictions, I met Pashtun boys and girls from the frontier towns of Peshawar and Mardan, and children from Lahore whom I rarely saw during the winter became summer friends. I acquired a taste for freedom. We had favourite hiding places: mysterious cemeteries where the tombstones had English names on them (many had died young) and a deserted Gothic church that had been charred by lightning.

Can not perceive much Mullah and Heretic connection here. If pashtun and freedom connection is being pointed out then one should also be reminded now that like the Soviets they have this time beaten the hell out of the Americans. Sad because US is your current hero. Perhaps no country would like to be your hero henceforth - because of the Pashtuns.

We also explored the many burned houses. How were they burned? I would ask the locals. Back would come the casual reply. ‘They belonged to Hindus and Sikhs. Our fathers and uncles burned them.’ Why? ‘So they could never come back, of course.’ Why? ‘Because we are now Pakistan. Their home is India.’ Why, I persisted, when they had lived here for centuries, just like your families, and spoke the same language, even if they worshipped different gods? The only reply was a shrug. It was strange to think that Hindus and Sikhs had been here, had been killed in the villages in the valleys below. In the tribal areas – the no-man’s-land between Afghanistan and Pakistan – quite a few Hindus stayed on, protected by tribal codes. The same was true in Afghanistan itself (till the mujahedin and the Taliban arrived).

What happened in India is mirror of that. So what is the point again? Neither Mullas created Pakistan nor herectics could stop it. You shall agree that distane of MA Jinnah from Mullas is considerable.

One of my favourite spots in Nathiagali lay between two giant oaks. From here one could watch the sun set on Nanga Parbat. The snow covering the peak would turn orange, then crimson, bathing the entire valley in its light. Here we would breathe the air from China, gaze in the direction of Kashmir and marvel at the moon. Given all this, why would one need a multi-layered heaven, let alone the seventh layer that belonged to us alone – the Islamic paradise?

The pleasures of this world are nothing as compared to those of Jannah. You do not understand that and by now you might have lost the ability to understand that. There are Muslims who have seen what you have seen but still realize that better things are possible. The prickly part is that you are not expressing your own feelings - you a pandering to the balcony.

One day, to my horror, my mother informed me that a mullah from a neighbouring mountain village had been hired to make sure I completed my study of the Koran. She had pre-empted all my objections. He would explain what each verse meant. My summer was about to be wrecked. I moaned, groaned, protested, pleaded and tantrumed. To no avail. My friends were sympathetic, but powerless: most of them had undergone the same ritual.

You are complaining about the hardships of learning. Someone might be fooled but most people will not be. Your aversion to Islam was clear from the word go. This technique of belabouring a point using different individual events is like arty movies from India - boring to the suffocating level. Are you sure people read your books? They might be stopping at page 15 and regretting their investment. People are interested in people but not in the mundane details. After all people have their own sorrows - they are not looking for yours - unless these are the people from family or the friends. And now that we have pointed out to you about family and friends it will be worth it to add that after your arrival in the west they have moved one step above on the Evolution ladder. They have done away with the family and friendship is friendship of convenience. In all probability you might be clinging to family. That might be the last goodness left in you - if at all.

Mullahs, especially the rural variety, were objects of ridicule, ...

By whom? By people of your ilk only.

... widely regarded as dishonest, hypocritical and lazy. It was generally believed that they had grown beards and chosen this path not out of spiritual fervour, but in order to earn a crust.

You are resorting to calumny here.

Unless attached to a mosque, they depended on voluntary contributions, tuition fees and free meals. The jokes about them mostly concerned their sexual appetites; in particular, a penchant for boys below a certain age.

Exceptions apart, this is a slander.

The fictional mullah of the storytellers and puppet-shows who travelled from village to village was a greedy and lustful arch-villain; he used religion to pursue his desires and ambitions. He humiliated and cheated the poor peasants, while toadying to landlords and potentates.

Exceptions apart, you were over doing your act in earlier lines themselves. It is hardly different from talking about pre-nuptial life of your father. Strange that you are concerned about your own reputation - your own credibility. Selling your soul might sound like a magnificent deal and in reality it is not.

On the dreaded day, the mullah arrived and, after eating a hearty lunch, was introduced to me by our family retainer, Khuda Baksh (‘God Bless’), who had served in my grandfather’s household and because of his status and age enjoyed a familiarity denied to other servants. God Bless was bearded, a staunch believer in the primacy of Islam, and said his prayers and fasted regularly. He was, however, deeply hostile to the mullahs, whom he regarded as pilferers, perverts and parasites. He smiled as the mullah, a man of medium height in his late fifties, exchanged greetings with me. We took our seats round a garden table placed to catch the warming sun. The afternoon chorus was in full flow. The air smelled of sun-roasted pine needles and wild strawberries.

When the mullah began to speak I noticed he was nearly toothless. The rhymed verse at once lost its magic. The few false teeth he had wobbled. I began to wonder if it would happen, and then it did: he became so excited with fake emotion that the false teeth dropped out onto the table. He smiled, picked them up and put them back in his mouth. At first, I managed to restrain myself, but then I heard a suppressed giggle from the veranda and made the mistake of turning round. God Bless, who had stationed himself behind a large rhododendron to eavesdrop on the lesson, was choking with silent laughter. I excused myself and rushed indoors.

The following week, God Bless dared me to ask the mullah a question before the lesson began. ‘Were your false teeth supplied by the local butcher?’ I enquired with an innocent expression, in an ultra-polite voice. The mullah asked me to leave: he wished to see my mother alone. A few minutes later he, too, left, never to return. Later that day he was sent an envelope full of money to compensate him for my insolence. God Bless and I celebrated his departure in the bazaar café with mountain tea and home-made biscuits. My religious studies ended there. My only duty was to substitute for my father once a year and accompany the male servants to Eid prayers at the mosque, a painless enough task.

An essay is not a biography.

Some years later, when I came to Britain to study, the first group of people I met were hard-core rationalists. I might have missed the Humanist Group’s stall at the Fresher’s Fair had it not been for a spotty Irishman, dressed in a faded maroon corduroy jacket, with a mop of untidy dark brown hair, standing on a table and in a melodious, slightly breathless voice shouting: ‘Down with God!’ When he saw me staring, he smiled and added ‘and Allah’ to the refrain. I joined on the spot and was immediately roped into becoming the Humanist rep at my college. Some time afterwards when I asked how he had known I was of Muslim origin rather than a Hindu or a Zoroastrian, he replied that his chant only affected Muslims and Catholics. Hindus, Sikhs and Protestants ignored him completely.

There was a fluke here and you were taken in. Wrong peg to hang your life on.

My knowledge of Islamic history remained slender and, as the years progressed, Pakistan regressed. Islamic studies were made compulsory in the 1970s, but children were given only a tiny sprinkling of history on a foundation of fairytales and mythology.

For a change try talking about Israel in the same manner.

My interest in Islam lay dormant till the Third Oil War in 1990.[2] The Second Oil War in 1967 had seen Israel, backed by the West, inflict a severe defeat on Arab nationalism, one from which it never really recovered. The 1990 war was accompanied in the West by a wave of crude anti-Arab propaganda. The level of ignorance displayed by most pundits and politicians distressed me, and I began to ask myself questions which, until then, had seemed barely relevant.

The third one will be Yaum-Kipur war? Well we Muslims have been battered all through out the history. We are there. Marxism ended in 1989.

Why had Islam not undergone a Reformation? Why had the Ottoman Empire not been touched by the Enlightenment? I began to study Islamic history, and later travelled to the regions where it had been made, especially those in which its clashes with Christendom had taken place.

Enlightenment is the process by which the Europe put Christinity of Dark Ages fame in its place.
Islam on the other hand always has remained pristine. Beloved Prophet (PBUH) said that there will be a reviver of my Deen every hundred years. There is no similar element inherent to Christianity. Islam remains ever fresh. Unfortunately you have succumbed to the worldly charm of western materialistic thought. You would like to replicate that in Muslim world. Well Allah (SWT) gave the Arabs the oil and now they have all the things that your beloved west has. Why does it not prove to you that worldly sustenance comes from Allah (SWT)? If you still insist on asking why Muslims have not kicked Islam out of their life the way the west has throown the baby with the bath water then the answer is simple. A Muslim is a person who submits to the Will of Allah (SWT). If they too rejected Islam like the Christians rejecting Christianity then they will not be Muslims. And prosperity has nothing to do with rejection of Islam. Think Arab oil again.