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Paradise pulp: How religion imbues the public sphere in Pakistan? – by Nadeem Paracha

Paradise pulp

Three vignettes revealing how religion really imbues the public sphere.

Sticking out

Ever since the 1980s, stickers asking people to pray have become a common sight, especially in buses, and on rickshaws. Of course, there is certainly nothing wrong in asking a person to say his prayers, just as there is nothing wrong if that person chooses not to heed this advice. It’s a matter between the individual and God, simple as that.

Of course, the latter part of this suggestion does not bode well with most of my fellow Muslims. Religious and sectarian plurality and diversity, though found in abundance in Pakistan, ironically remains to be one-way traffic. But thank heavens this country is not (and will never be) like Saudi Arabia where a ‘moral police’ ushers people like goats into mosques.

I do wonder, though, how they keep missing the ‘there is no compulsion in faith’ part in the Quran. Or do they?

Anyway, back to the stickers. Recently I saw two (one in an elevator and the other on a taxi).

The one in the elevator read, “Namaz parho, iss sey phelay tumari namaz pari jai” (say your prayers, before your (funeral) prayers are offered). The other sticker, on a taxi, had the following text: “Namaaz paro! Ho sakta hai yeh tumhari akhri namaz ho” (say your prayers! They may be your last!).

Now why on earth would one be so apocalyptic about a simple matter like praying?

My grandmother used to say that praying is one of the most peaceful and relaxing activities. Certainly, the celebrated author of the stickers has other ideas on the issue. I mean, he is issuing an indirect death sentence! In a round about manner, these messages are saying, ‘pray or die, you fool!’

This reminds me of a telling experience from 1988, when I was still at a college in Karachi. A friend and I were driving back from our college, when we got stuck in a traffic jam in Karachi’s Saddar area. In front of us was a battered bus whose driver was driving rather rashly, trying his best to run over anyone who dared venture their car or bike in front of his big bullying bus.

On the back of the bus was a poster-sized sticker that read: “Hairat hai, tumhein namaz parnay ki fursat nahi?” (Strange, that you don’t have time to say your prayers). By now thoroughly irritated by the way the bus driver was going about his business of harassing motorists, I lit myself a cigarette and fiddled with the car radio to see if Radio Pakistan was playing any old Mehdi Hasan songs.

But my friend who was at the wheel kept glaring at the bus that was now right in front of the car. He then started to read the sticker aloud. Then suddenly, during a red light, he found an opening and screeched right beside the bus where the driver sat (Gabbar Singh style): “Aray oh, Samba!”

The bus driver casually started back.

“Array oh, Samba,” my friend said again, “Peechay sticker tho bara bariya lagaya hooa hai,” (you have put a great sticker at the back of your bus). “Laiken bhai jan,” my friend continued, sarcastically, “heirat hai, tumhein bus chalaney ki tameez nahi!” (strange, that you have no manners when it comes to driving a bus).


Open jest

A colleague of mine has this habit of cracking faith-based jokes. He’ll tell you Sikh jokes, he’ll crack Christian jokes, Hindu jokes, and Jewish jokes.

Late last week he approached me early in the morning and said that I must hear his brand new Hindu joke. The joke wasn’t all that funny, so he tried to make up for it by cracking a new Jewish joke. It made me smile, but as he waited for me to praise his wit, I asked him what would happen if we turned these jokes into Muslim jokes?

“What do you mean?” he inquired, sounding somewhat disappointed.

“Well,” said I, “I believe if the characteristics of these jokes are switched and made Muslim in context, they would still be relevant.”

“Why should I crack Muslim jokes?” he asked, all surprised.

“Why shouldn’t you?” I asked.

“Because I’m a Muslim,” he said, without any hint of irony.

“I see,” I said. “So being a Muslim gives you the right to make fun of all other religions?”

“Yaar Nadeem, why do you have to be a party-pooper?” he said, irritated but still smiling.

“Dude, all l I asked was how come you never crack any Muslim jokes?”

“And I told you why,” he replied.

“Yes, you did, but that’s such a hypocritical thing to do. Making fun of all other religions but your own,” I said.

“Okay, forget religion. I’ll tell you a fantastic new Pathan joke instead,” he announced.

“Okay,” I said smiling, “but after that I would like to hear a Punjabi joke, a Sindhi joke, a Balochi, and a Mohajir joke as well.”

“Never mind,” he replied, caustically. “I’ll tell you a sardar-ji joke instead.”

“No, tell me a Taliban joke first.” I said.

“What’s a Taliban joke?” he asked, in all earnest.

“Now that’s a joke,” I laughed.

“Ah,” he shot back, sarcastically. “The wonders of Marxist humour.”

“Marxist humour?” I laughed again. “If Marxists had any humour, Groucho Marx would‘ve been hailed as the finest Marxist!”

“Yeah, whatever that means,” he groaned.

“Cheer up, mate,” I said, patting him on the back. “Today’s jesters thrive on predictability, so I shall cheer you up with some predictability too.”

“Predictability?” he inquired.

“Yes,” I said, opening my gmail account on the computer. “Here. Look at these brand new Zardari jokes that were forwarded to me this morning.”

“Oh, I get it,” he said, giving a cynical sideways smile. “To you, Zardari jokes are equivalent to bad, predictable humour, right?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Oh, just because you are a PPP sympathiser… ”

“No,” I interrupted. “Just because I’d like to think of myself as a man with a fairly good and tasteful sense of humour.”

“What gibberish,” he said, all worked up. “You’re full of taunts about Aamir Liaquat, Zaid Hamid, mullahs and the jihadis!”

“Yes,” I smiled. “Like I said, I’d like to think myself as a man with a fairly good and tasteful sense of humour.”

“And you called me a hypocrite?” he said, mockingly.

“No, I called you predictable,” I replied.

“Well, you’re as predictable,” he said.

“Okay, let me tell you a brand new joke,” I said.

“I’m sure it’s about Osama, Zaid, or Zakir Naik,” he grumbled, nonchalantly,

“No. It’s about Muhammad Bin Qasim,” I announced.

“Right,” he said, agitated. “Mr Paracha cracks another joke about a Muslim leader. How predictable.”

“Okay, I’ll crack another new joke, then,” I said.

“About whom?” he asked.

“Another Muslim leader,” I announced.

“Sorry, not interested,” he shook his head.

“What? A patriotic Pakistani Muslim is not interested in a new Zardari joke?” I asked, smiling.

His sullen, half-angry expression returned: “Very funny.”

“Precisely,” I smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”


Spam pals

Ever get those strange emails most of which (thankfully) end up in the spam section?

Supposed wives of former African dictators asking you to make a massive fast buck by helping them get their quasi-cannibalistic dictator hubby’s stolen wealth into a bank account in Pakistan. Or emails about weird sounding ‘pharmaceutical’ companies advertising pills that can help enlarge certain external sensitive body parts of a man or a woman.

Such ‘pharma’ emails also have some amazing ‘before and after’ pictures in which the person in the before part looks perfectly normal, but turns into someone who’s just been injected with a diabolic cocktail of steroids concocted by a diminutive mad scientist!

What else? Oh, yes, sometimes in the spam I come across these colourful emails sent by cosmic reborn Christian organisations, one of which constantly asks the readers to stop listening to someone called Hannah Montanna (I’m not joking).

I had absolutely no clue who Hannah Montanna was until these emails made me ask one of my 14-year-old cousins. So I did try to listen to a few of her songs, but found them to be pretty awful (yes, yes, I know they are for preadolescents).

But since I grew up listening to all those ‘dangerous’ rock bands like Floyd, Zeppelin, Sabbath and Nirvana (and Beelzebub himself, i.e. Muhammad Rafi), I’d like to disagree with my cosmic Jesus Freak spam pals. Ms. Hannah is certainly not a devil worshipper; on the contrary, I think the devil is more likely to worship her! The pervert.

So there, I do not listen to Hannah Montanna. But then these emails also warn the readers to stay away from drugs like marijuana and LSD, not because they are bad for health, but because they were “spawned from (ahem), Satan’s sperm.” (By the way, why only marijuana and LSD? Why not also cocaine, heroin and crack? Whose sperm are they spawned from?)

Okay, then. On to some other spam stuff. How can I miss the ones that go on and on with pictures and formulas and lines from the Holy Scriptures about the ‘proof of modern scientific breakthroughs in the Quran’?

None of these ramblings make an iota of sense, but it’s a good way of telling young Muslims, “Hey, what are you guys doing studying all those useless school and college books on biology, chemistry and physics. All of it is already in the Quran, you fool.” Yep. Tune in, turn on, and drop out – only to end up in Farhat Hashmi’s study circle.

But I can imagine it must be great fun scribbling all this convoluted stuff; like writing an invigorating new episode of Star Trek in which the green-blooded Vulcan, Mr. Spock, converts to Islam when he discovers the enigmatic formula of time travel and Klingon crab soup in the text of these ancient emails floating for centuries in outer space.

Such emails try to persuade ‘modern, pro-science liberal Muslims’ (read: bad Muslims) when they realise that the usual ritualistic and traditionalist Tableeghi stuff wont cut much ice with these ‘pathless’ folks. So, use modern scientific terms and symbolism, only to conclude, it is all there in the Holy Book.

A brilliant book of guidance is thus turned into a pseudo-science manual. Why? It’s simple. If one ‘straightens’ an ignorant Muslim, paradise beckons. But if you bring an educated one ‘back on the path,’ Lord knows, some posh prime real state awaits in beautiful heaven.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and

Source: Dawn

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  • “Amar bil maroof” (encouraging the doing of good deeds) and “Nahi annil munkir”(forbidding the evil) is an essential part of Islam. There are many Quranic ayahs and Ahadith on this topic. Many a times because of his ignorance about Islam, NFP’s criticism of such issues becomes myopic. And as for cautionary tone of the messages, one should keep in mind that there are several verses in Quran where Allah is inviting to truth by informing of good tidings and there are several others where Allah is warning. The Prophet (pbuh) has been given the titles “Basheer” (the messenger of good news) and “Nazeer” (the warner). Now, if NFP has problem with Muslims doing what Allah has enjoined them to do then it would be good for him to leave the belief which his critical analysis and rational thought does not accept. After all, “there is no compulsion”. He would be welcome to disapprove and mock anything which Muslims do in obedience to God.
    Applying scientific formulas on Quarnic verses may be naïve as Quran is not a textbook of science. Also science changes every day, so there is no need to bend the verses to fit into the scientific data. The several verses mentioning the universe and other creations invite us to ponder over the Lord’s attribute of being “Al-Khaliq”, thus strengthening our faith. This does not imply that a Muslim should stop studying biology, chemistry, etc. However, NFP’s tone is quite belittling and from where is he dragging Farhat Hashmi into the whole issue? She never asked Muslims to stop studying science. She also does not belong to the category (zaid hamid, hamid mir, etc) by whom NFP is so often offended. Perhaps NFP cannot stomach the fact that many people are showing interest in understanding and learning Quran not from any “madrassa moulvi” whom he could easily brand as illiterate or narrow minded but from a Phd scholar in Hadith Sciences from University of Glasgow.
    NFP has a penchant for scathing criticism but it’s quite amusing how strongly he comes up in defense of the current Mr. President and present government. NFP is just a “cultural critic” and not any political or economic analyst who could understand the importance of good governance. Actually, countries that do not put a check on credibility and financial integrity of their public officials flourish the most. Nations that create armies of ministers and ministries succeed in every field. Governments that run on loans, empower their economies. Provision of jobs on party basis is the best example of adherence to merit. Ban on making jokes about the president is epitome of freedom of speech. And oh! Why am I pointing out these simple rules that out government has so efficiently adopted. These are not our peoples’ problems. But that namaz sticker on that taxi IS! TAKE IT OFF!!!

  • @Oojee
    Very true. And you wrote you comment without anger or mocking, so it makes even more sense. I do not know where nadeem paracha is going with all this. And i am not even sure about the likes of jamaat islami, imran khan, zaid hamid etc …. Even if someone’s ideas appeal to me, i want to give it some time. Mianarawi …middle ground …it is forgotten. All the above mentioned people including paracha living on fringes. I do not want to label nadeem paracha but i do not think he is level headed when he is writing his views.

  • It is most worrying when people like nadeem paracha use the privilege of education and knowledge for their personal moments of fame. Yes, Nadeem, indeed education is a privilege in Pakistan or should i say quality education? Who are we, the younger generation, supposed to follow. Each one famous has his own set of hypocrisies. Mr. Paracha is most worried about ideological corruption, false hopes and jihadi tendencies occupying the younger ones’ minds. Why is he not worried about the systemic corruption, bad governance, baradri system politics, dynasty politics and injustice in Pakistan. Isn’t every ill in the society due to the prevailing injustice? Whether it is economic injustice or any other injustice, it has a fall out. I pay my taxes and i am talking about the huge indirect taxation in Pakistan, still what do i get? Ok. i do not want any facilities from the government other than the security of my life, my assets and my family. Can i have that? Can this government provide me this much? No is the answer i guess. Why are you trying to do here Mr. Nadeem? Thumping your intellectual superiority. All your mocking. Ok. Agreed. you are more educated, more refined, with a superior intellect and with infinite wisdom. So if this is out of the way and you have succeeded in making your point. Do you have anything else to say? Anything which is more compassionate, more humble, more sincere, more thought-provoking and less abstract. Abstract is the word i think i was searching for. I will be very happy when instead of nitpicking you have concrete solution for the real problems of this society. Agreed, we do not have that much intellect, perhaps you can make it more simpler for us un-educated, uncivilized and idealistic fools. I will be indeed thankful to you for that.

  • In their writings people like nfp, are never focusing on “solutions” to “real” problems. Carping about Islam is just their style of writing. It’s their vocation. Because of lack of governance and economic instability, our country is one the brink of destruction. And what do we get form such “intelligentsia”: sermons of intolerance and schism.

  • @ mughal
    I see no connection of your comment to the argument under discussion. It’s more like criticism for the sake of criticism.
    Idrees Zubair and Farhat Hashmi are world class educators and they are running an “international” organization. Dr Farhat had earlier been busy in Islamic education in Dubai.

  • oojee :
    @ mughal
    I see no connection of your comment to the argument under discussion. It’s more like criticism for the sake of criticism.
    Idrees Zubair and Farhat Hashmi are world class educators and they are running an “international” organization. Dr Farhat had earlier been busy in Islamic education in Dubai.

    So why these World Class Preachers left Pakistan for Canada????

  • Darul Ashaat i.e. Taqi and Rafi Usmani and co. [I hope you remember their statement about Blackwater] and by the way these two “Yajoo/Majooj” have declared “Banking” a Halal act through Fatwa. If you are quoting their Fatwa then please read Fatwa against them: [The News Published the story and link is now dead, guess why???

    Islamic banking, TV channels against Shariah, declare religious scholars Saturday, August 30, 2008 News Desk

    RAWALPINDI: Describing the existing Islamic banking by any name as against the Shariah and forbidden, religious scholars belonging to Fiqhi Majlis, Karachi, have decreed that banks working in the name of Islamic banking are not different from other banks and dealing with them is illegitimate.

    The decree was issued in a meeting at the Jamia Farooqia in Shah Faisal Colony chaired by Maulana Salimullah Jan, President of Tanzeematul Madaris and Wafaqul Madaris, and attended by reputed religious scholars from all over the country. The meeting also discussed in detail the status of Islamic television channels in accordance with the Shariah and described their research and experiences in the light of questions and problems received at their respective centres. Some scholars also presented their research papers in this regard.

    On the occasion, Maulana Salimullah Jan said that the religious scholars were contacting banks that had been claiming to practice Islamic banking and did research on the prevailing banking practices in the light of the Holy Quran and Sunnah. He said they also held meetings with modern economic experts. He said after detailed consideration, the scholars unanimously declared the Islamic banking and television channels as illegitimate. The scholar also said the kinds of pictures of a living being so far introduced were liable to be dealt with in accordance with the religious commandments. He said the launching of any type of television channel or participation in any television programme declaring it was needed for preaching had also been declared illegitimate. He said the scholars appealed to the Muslims to avoid television like other deeds forbidden by the Shariah.

    The participants of the meeting included Mufti Abdul Hameed Deenpuri (Jamia-al-Aloom Islamia, Banori Town), Mufti Habibullah Sheikh (Jamia Islamia, Clifton), Mufti Rafiq Ahmed and Mufti Saif Alam (Banori Town), Mufti Abdullah (Khairul Madaris, Multan), Mufti Ghulam Qadir (Darul Aloom Haqqani, Akora Khattak), Mufti Ahmed Mumtaz (Jamia Khulafa-e-Rashdeen, Karachi), Mufti Zarwali Khan (Jamia Ahsan-al-Aloom), Mufti Ehteshamul Haq (Jamia Rasheedia, Turbat, Mekran), Maulana Saeed Ahmed Jalalpuri (Alami Majlis Khatam-e-Nabuwwat), Maulana Dr Manzoor Ahmed Mengal (Jamia Farooqia), Mufti Hamid Hassan (Darul Aloom, Kabirwala), Mufti Abdul Ghaffar (Jamia Ashrafia, Sukkur), Mufti Saaduddin (Jamia Ilmia, Lakki Marwat), Mufti Gul Hassan (Jamia Rehmia, Sarki Road, Quetta), Mufti Rozi Khan (Darul Afta Rahania, Quetta), Mufti Qazi Salimullah (Darul Huda, Khairpur), Nazir Ahmed Shah (Jamia Farooq-e-Azam, Faisalabad), Mufti Saeedullah (Jamia Arabia Naeemul Islam, Quetta), Mufti Samiullah (Jamia Farooqia), Mufti Ahmed Khan and others.

  • They view it to exist as something that clearly isnt of any importance to what we are talking about. Some think it as just plain odd to allow such thing to happen alas they do anyway and without any consent but thats just the way it is.

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