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20 December 2010

Excursions into Dystopia

A few days ago a caption of an article on a website caught my attention. It went something like this: ‘May Allah save Islam from Pakistan’. What a simple but insightful caption, I thought. In fact what a valid appeal to the Almighty. Think about it; what else can a decent Pakistani believer ask for after witnessing all that has taken place in this country in the name of religion.

How far down the spiral we have tumbled while pretending to proudly carry the burden of being a self-proclaimed citadel of Islam. What else can an upright believer ask from the Almighty when every other day he or she comes across some of the most hideous acts unfolding in the name of faith.

What else to ask God but to save his religion in a country where, for example, a decent doctor is booked for blasphemy just because he threw a visiting card in the bin; where poor men and women are framed by cheats under the same law to settle personal scores— a law whose historical, theological and legislative bases are so openly questioned by knowledgeable Islamic scholars.

Yes, what else to ask from God but to save his religion in an Islamic republic where Muslims kill Muslims just because they think that only their sect represents the true faith; where to gain all the good that is promised by God in the afterlife, young men are readied to blow up innocent women and children; where religion has become an attire and a specific kind of look; where it is propagated and used as a hazy political manifesto to convolute the most bigoted policies; where it has become a gaudy manifestation of such spiritual and esoteric wonders as nuclear bombs, fantasies of conquest and a license to bully anyone you do not agree with.

How ironic then is that instinctive and knee-jerk excuse/slogan repeated ad nauseam every time we find ourselves cornered by our own hypocrisies or when we desire to achieve a particular political or cultural result. These are the occasions when we say, ‘Islam is in danger’.

Many of our political-religious leaders, military dictators and, ultimately, the people at large have been using this line for years. The truth, unfortunately, is that while we keep ourselves busy counting (and supposedly countering) the many dangers that Islam faces from any number of malicious enemies out there can it be suggested that perhaps one of the biggest dangers faced by this religion has always come from those who claim to serve it?

Is one then also justified to feel angry at all those modern and educated Muslim leaders of pre-partition India who finally decided to adopt the Islamists’ slogan of ‘Islam in danger’, in order to secure a separate homeland for Muslims? Sure they were talking about a progressive, modern and democratic Muslim state, but they forgot that when they began applying Islamist slogans to attract certain reluctant Muslims to the idea of Pakistan, they were giving credence to the very forces which had called their leader an infidel.

Ever since then we have been fighting the many ‘enemies of Islam’ — most of them somewhat imaginary — putting on them all the blame of what really are blunders and mishaps committed by us and us alone. Pakistan has become the perfect paradox in its topsy-turvy journey to becoming a half-baked theological state. Islam in this country is worn on its peoples’ sleeves; it is demonstrated through loud rituals and attires; everybody keeps evoking the names of God and the Prophet (PBUH); and yet so much hatred, bloodshed, intrigue and exploitation takes place in their name.

What’s even worse is when most of us just simply refuse to see such a blatant dichotomy. The thinking is that, since to us Islam is always in danger, thus all this malice taking place in its fine name too is a diabolical scheme of its ‘enemies.’ Of course it is. But most of these enemies are we ourselves.

We linger complacently in our comfort zones situated in our pea-sized myopias, believing we are reigniting the economic, political and cultural glories of our ancestors by putting hollow prefixes of Islamic-this and Islamic-that, when the truth is far more startling. For years it us alone who have been eating away at the very soul of a religion we claim to love.

But true to form each time our eyes wander towards its depleted condition we begin to shout, ‘Islam is in danger!’ We begin to point fingers at what we call ‘enemies of Islam’ attacking us innocent Pakistanis from all corners. Then in desperation we begin to attack non-Muslims on our own soil, and then the differing sects, all the while cannibalising a faith we claim to be saving.

Pakistan may very well have become the world’s first theological dystopia — an over-promising Utopia gone awry. Is it too late? I would like to hope not — at least not until we, one fine day, take a peek into our own heads and hearts instead of all the elusive bogymen that we’ve always been told are constantly hiding underneath our beds.
By Nadeem F. Paracha