Inter-faith dialogue: Where are we going wrong?

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This blog post was originally published on Laaltain magazine

ashrafiWhile lurking around my Twitter timeline one morning I came across a tweet by Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, a repost containing a link to his article about inter-faith and inter-sect dialogue from a couple of months earlier. Realizing I had nothing better to do, I decided to engage with Mr. Ashrafi by asking whether Ahmadis were part of this ‘inter-faith dialogue’ he was championing. Much to my surprise, he actually responded by saying:

It’s not a surprise that a vast majority of Pakistani Muslims regard members of the minority sect Ahmadiyya as non-Muslims, with hardline clerics insisting that it is a different religion altogether. But what Tahir Ashrafi said in the tweet was a step further. Maulana actually claimed that “Qadiyani [a derogatory term for members of the Ahmadiyya community] is not the name of any religion” implying his refusal to recognize Ahmadiyya as a faith altogether.

With my curiosity now aroused, I tweeted back asking whether or not the purpose of inter-faith dialogue was to stop religiously fueled attacks on minorities like the one that took place in Gujranwala recently, resulting in the deaths of a woman, two minors and an unborn child belonging to the minority Ahmadiyya sect.

As expected, I did not hear back from Maulana.

The need to satisfy my curiosity then took me to Maulana’s article in the Daily Times, in which he boasted about the success of his ‘inter-faith’ dialogue efforts. However it was evident that there was no representation of the Ahmadiyya community in his article, an absence which Ashrafi probably justified by the opinion he presented in his tweet.

But then he claimed “[…] the representatives of all sects and religions also agreed on a code of conduct during the conference.”

So I want to ask him, is it really an ‘inter-faith dialogue’ when there’s no representation of a faith that has been persecuted for decades?

According to the article, all other Muslim sects decided for Ahmadis – in the absence of Ahmadi representation – the following:

The issue of Qadyanis was also discussed in detail during the conference. It was clearly stated that no Islamic scholar in Pakistan has ever issued fatwa to murder Qadyanis nor do religious leaders allow the killing of Qadyanis. There are some obvious religious differences between the Muslims and Qadyanis, but the rights of Qadyanis as citizens of the country that are guaranteed in Pakistan’s law and constitution should be respected. Qadyanis should also comply with the law and constitution, and Muslims should also respect that.”

Great, we appreciate that. But is it really enough? In spite of the claim that no Muslim cleric has ever issued an edict to murder Ahmadis, they remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the country. If there’s no fatwa encouraging violence against this group, then clearly there’s enough implication that motivated the police to just stand there and watch silently while the mob was setting people belonging to this sect ablaze, not to mention the celebrations of the mob after the attack.

I am sorry but there is something wrong with this picture. Inter-faith dialogue doesn’t mean sitting only with representatives of the faiths that you’re comfortable with; it means sitting together with people of all faiths, even the ones you don’t agree with, or in this case, you can’t even tolerate. Only then can the process of real religious co-existence begin. Let’s be honest, if you can’t sit with a representative of the Ahmadiyya community in a room where ‘inter-faith dialogue’ is taking place, how do you then expect society to grasp the importance of inter-faith tolerance?

Ask yourself Maulana: shouldn’t the aggrieved party have a say in the whole dialogue process? What right do you have to decide for any community without giving them a voice and then continuing in your failure to protect that community?

I am sorry Maulana, but the problem is much graver than ‘averting clash between Sikhs and Hindus’ as you claimed in your article. Minority faiths, particularly of the Ahmadiyya community, the Shia Hazara community, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians are being targeted frequently. Clearly this model of ‘inter-faith dialogue’ is not working. It seems that any inter-faith conference without representation of all faiths is nothing but a gathering to enjoy free food and talk endlessly about an issue that is not going to improve until sincere efforts are made in this regard.

Women shouldn’t drive, says the creep behind the pretty face

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This blog post was originally published on Laaltain magazine

jjJunaid Jamshed – our very own pop sensation turned religious personality – has been called out before for his Tableeghi Jamaat-influenced preaching but has managed to maintain a deceptively innocent and arguably moderate persona on TV for years. Whatever the reason, Junaid enjoys a warm place in viewers’ hearts as he continues to host highly commercial shows, including Ramazan transmissions, year after year.

It is only recently that I became aware of the shocking creep behind the ‘cool-maulvi’ persona that came out in one of the shows on TV, where he made highly inflammatory comments about women and how to ‘control’ them that should be regarded as outrageous by any standards.

In Nida Yasir’s show, Junaid Jamshed was heard passing judgments on women, claiming that those who watch TV soap operas and other such shows all day won’t give birth to pious children like ‘Khalid Bin Walid’.
Next, the former pop sensation and so-called heartthrob revealed how he dealt with the insecurity he felt from his wife. Admitting that his wife ‘was’ very pretty in her youth, he said he didn’t teach his wife how to drive a car fearing she might leave him.

He then uttered the golden words of wisdom for men in an already patriarchal society that should put any sane mind to shame:

If any man is watching…I want to tell him that the biggest favour you can do yourself is to not teach your wife how to drive a car or a motorcycle…because if a woman makes it a habit to stay out of the house, she cannot remain at home”

In case you didn’t know, this is misogyny 101 right here. It’s the same attitude that is threatened by women’s empowerment; the same mentality that believes in stopping women from knowing their rights; the kind of thinking that even prevents women from getting an education.

We all remember why the TTP attacked Malala, don’t we? I won’t compare savages like the TTP to the ignorant former pop sensation but the narrative is the same. And it is one that can potentially lead to violence against women. Who knows what the insecure macho men who took Junaid Bhai’s advice would do when their wives asked for rights.
The show’s presenter Nida Yasir, a prominent TV personality herself, countered the argument by asking about a situation where women were forced by circumstance to manage things themselves, including paying bills, going to the markets and running households.

To this, the wise Junaid Bhai simply said that ‘hypothetical’ scenarios should not be presented to him, adding that he doesn’t even want to answer such unlikely things. The ignorance displayed by a man of his prominence is quite astounding. I know dozens of real life examples where widows and women whose husbands left them have to deal with the harsh reality of lives all by themselves. These women are left with no choice but to work and support their households alone.

But that’s not even the point. Even if women have their husbands and other male relatives around, is this how a woman’s life is to be controlled – first by her father and brothers and then by her husband? Should society give the right to any control-freak to essentially cut the wings of the women in his house according to his own whim?
This is the very mind-set we all have to stand up against. Women are not the property of men, they never were. They are as much a person as any man. They also get their lives just once and have every right to spend it the way they want. They must have an equal chance to build their careers and independence.

We must raise our voices by calling out creeps like Junaid Bhai on this and demanding a public apology from him. We have to make it clear to such men that it’s not okay to control a woman’s life just because your petty little ego might get hurt.

Through this article, I would also urge Junaid’s wife to take matters in her own hands and learn to drive if that is what she wants. She shouldn’t need her husband’s permission for this.

And lastly, to the men who might have taken Junaid Jamshed’s advice too seriously, no relationship is worth controlling and imposing if it’s built upon trust. If you and your wife trust each other, she won’t leave you no matter how many times she goes out. On the other hand, if your relationship is not built upon trust, your jealousy and insecurity cannot keep your woman from leaving you, even if you were to keep her chained.

In case there was any doubt that Junaid Jamshed was presenting an Islamic opinion on that show, I’m afraid not. Here’s what a Sahih Hadith has to say:

Abu Huraira reported Allaah’s Messenger (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) as saying: Good amongst the women are those who ride camels. One of them said: They are pious women of the Quraish, and the other one said: The women of the Quraish are kind to the orphans in their childhood and look after the wealth of their spouses.

(Ref: Sahih Muslim, Chapter: Concerning the Merits of Women of the Quraish, Hadith number: 6137)

Malala Under Attack Again – This Time by Taliban 2.0

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This blog post was originally published on Bertelsmann Stiftung’s FutureChallenges.org.

Malala_Yousafzai_Oval_Office_11_Oct_2013_cropBy reading this title, you might be wondering what in God’s name I mean by “Taliban 2.0.” Well, they are the people among us who pretend to be progressive but leave no stone unturned when it comes to being apologists for the very ideology Taliban carry out. You see, I don’t believe Taliban are the only people openly taking up arms and committing acts of terror against innocent people. No! It’s beyond that. The Taliban’s is a sort of ideology that has been around for ages. There have always been people living among us who support the very ideology we all loathe. Now equipped with digital technologies, these people are operating on a whole new level – the next level, if you will – hence, “Taliban 2.0.”

Teenage education equality activist Malala Yousafzai – whom you might also know as the girl who was shot by Taliban – has come under attack once again. The recent controversy in Pakistan mostly surrounds around her book, I Am Malala. She is accused of something as grave as committing blasphemy merely for petty issues such as the book not “carrying the Islamic salutation ‘peace be upon him’ where the names of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) are mentioned” among others.

Unless you’ve been asleep or living under a rock, you know by now that Malala Yousafzai has been made a controversial figure within Pakistan, mostly by the keyboard warriors on the Social Media. It’s not just the social media though! If you talk to urban middle-class people in Pakistan, you see extremely polarized views, many of which are heavily based on conspiracy theories.

Other objections include instances where her quotes have been twisted. For instance, there is one where she mentions that her father found Salman Rushdie’s anti-Islam book offensive but believed it to represent freedom of speech.  In response, critics have said that Malala is merely a tool being used, or rather abused, or even exploited, by the ‘evil West’ for its own agenda. The conclusions put forth by Taliban 2.0 are that she has maligned the image of the country and tried to make us look bad – as if we had a presentable image in the world at the moment. If anything, Malala’s work has boosted the image of the country with the perception that even in the war- and terror-stricken areas in Pakistan, brave and vibrant people like Malala exist.

Almost all of the things being said by this faction of the society are either misunderstandings or  purposeful accusations intended to discredit Malala’s work. Lists of all of those accusations along with detailed rebuttals to each are available at this blog.

This is the bottom line: This war on terror will take a lot more for Pakistan than just a number of battles. We are up against a mindset, an ideology that believes in the use of force – no matter how ruthless – in order to impose its agenda. Why is it no surprise that the heads of two Islamist political parties that have elected members in assemblies have openly called the Taliban commander killed in the recent drone strike a martyr. Maulana Fazalur Rehman went one step farther by saying “even a dog would be considered a martyr if it’s killed by Americans and Jews.” Well, what do you know: this little blog post of mine would then also be considered to be the words of a Jewish agent.