Turn the tables

On Saturday evening a group of men attacked a mosque in Manghopir, they slapped the children, ransacked the mosque, kicked the shelves holding the Quran, smashed and broke the loud speakers and threatened and accused the children of disrupting a carol.

How dare the mosque call for prayer while the children were singing carols? It’s been a week now and instead of the culprits being punished the victims have apologised fearing their lives.

Are you shocked, outraged beyond belief about the sheer apathy on such an outrageous event?

Atrocious. Barbaric. Despicable. Isn’t it?

Well, let me ease your pain, here’s what really happened:

On Saturday evening a group of men attacked a church in Manghopir, they slapped the children, ransacked the church, kicked the altar which had the bible on it, smashed and broke the loud speakers and threatened and accused the children of disrupting prayers.

How dare the children sing carols while they prayed? No FIR was registered; instead the Christian community apologised to the attackers.

It should all make sense now the apathy. The absence of outrage, the fear of death that forced the victims to apologise to their attackers, it all fits in just perfectly.

There’s no need for an outrage, no action should be taken against the attackers because it must have been the fault of the Christian children who must have deliberately been singing carols loudly to disturb the prayers.

The joyous little kids preparing for mass were faced by an angry mob carrying an axe. Their cheerful singing turned into frightened whimpers. They may never sing carols again. Good riddance!

We must also applaud the Imam Sahab who brought both community leaders to reconcile. Reconcile they must. The Christians should tell their children to not deliberately disrupt prayers, to not use the mic and loudspeakers for a few hours once a week as an excuse to disrupt the concentration of the pious Muslim men as they pray, they must be careful. Next time they plan on singing carols, they must shut the doors and windows of the church tightly so that their devious ways do not interfere with the sacred.

For the Muslim men, they shouldn’t have slapped and attacked the children but its okay since they were angry. Who wouldn’t be if the loudspeakers disrupted their concentration? It’s unfortunate but the Christian community should understand it is the children that caused the outrage. Imam Sahab is secretly delighted this happened, those few good men might as well receive a pat, for they will be topic of discussion at street corners, at shops and in houses.

Verses will be quoted and murders will be reasoned. All will be merry again.

Did you hear about Shahzad Warraich? He was dug out of his grave, exhumed because his burial could have resulted in a ‘law and order’ situation. Save your outrage please. Do not be deceived by his name. Just another one of them Ahmadi’s ‘posing to be a Muslim’ they should know better than to think that we’d share our ground of burials with them.

Twenty-nine more of them were dug out of their graves recently, maybe now they’ll understand, apologise and take their dead elsewhere.

What about the mobile company that had to issue a disclaimer about their religious beliefs in a daily newspaper. Because of course if you can’t type ‘Muhammad’ on your mobile phone it must be the doing of the devious Ahmadi’s, just another one of their ploys to reject our faith.

This will happen again and again because this isn’t just bigotry. Its blind, raging hatred that can stand no other. And it is our silence that has and will continue to let it breed.

Ask yourself, would you remain silent if the same had happened in a mosque? If a group of men had ransacked a mosque because the fajr prayer disrupted their sleep, if your loved one was dug out of his grave from a graveyard?! If you had to prove your religious beliefs in fear of losing your business, would you then justify it and encourage others to remain silent?

If this isn’t the society you wish for yourself and your children, why contribute in making it that way for the ‘other’?

Why then the apathy when it comes the other? It’s the Christians, the Shias and the Ahmadis now. It will not be too long till this blind, raging hatred engulfs us all too.

If we don’t find it in ourselves to stand against bigotry, to express outrage against this barbarism, to be compassionate towards those that suffer than we’d be well on our way towards self-destruction. Heck, we’re already there.

Policing Ramadan undermines its principles

First published in the Guardian – Comment is Free Belief Section.

Pakistan’s Ehtram-e-Ramzan (respecting Ramadan) law makes eating, drinking and smoking in public places during the fasting hours of the holy month illegal. The punishment for any infringement can be three months in prison and a possible fine. It is a legacy of the Islamificaton policy pursued during the dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s. His notorious regime was also responsible for the blasphemy laws.

In only the first week of Ramadan, 25 people were arrested and jailedfor eating in public in the city of Faisalabad alone. In another incident in Sargodha, two people were arrested for eating and three for serving food.

The law extends to all “public places” prohibiting business in restaurants, canteens, hotels and even cinemas during fasting hours. In fact, the definition of “public place” includes: “any hotel, restaurant, canteen, house, room, tent, enclosures, road lane, bridge or other place to which the public have access”. The fact that even a “house” or a “room” are defined as public places is absurd but it also makes conviction far easier, legitimising moral policing even inside the confined boundaries of one’s house.

The only exemptions – as mentioned in clause five of the ordinance – include a kitchen or canteen at a hospital serving food to patients; railway stations; and primary schools. Children under the age of 12, patients and travellers are exempted from fasting according to the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

Most supporters of the law believe the law is necessary to maintain the sanctity of the holy month and argue that the sight of people eating in public may hurt those who are observing fast. But if fasting is believed to be a practice to promote tolerance, humility, compassion and self-control, the law is seemingly unnecessary and against the very principle of Ramadan.

Dr Khalid Zaheer, religious scholar and dean of the faculty of arts and social sciences of the University of Central Punjab, believes that the ordinance is a bit harsh and could have been avoided. “There are no clear instructions for such laws in the Qur’an. There are only a few instances where a state has the authority to question believers over a certain obligation; payment of zakaat (tax paid by Muslims) or jizya (tax paid by non-Muslims living in a Muslim country) being a primary example. I am certain that if we dealt with such matters more reasonably, people would respect the sanctity of Islam – in fact most do so and were doing it before the law was carried out. But forcing people to do it or, worse, punishing them if they fail to oblige, is only going to discourage people from taking Islamic teachings more seriously.”

Even though the law states that it is only applicable to Muslims, in 2009two Christians were arrested under it. The very existence of the law leads to a presumption that a person indulging their appetite during fasting hours is purposely disrespecting the holy month and therefore should be punished.

“The idea behind the law was not to force people to fast, but to make them refrain from eating in public whether Muslim or non-Muslim. If that is the kind of logic the law derives, in the name of Islam, than what about Muslims living in non-Muslim countries or in places where they are a minority?” Zaheer said.

Vigilant moralism makes a society inherently oppressive, forced to believe in the notion of enforcing sanctimony rather than truly believing in it. But Islam lays great emphasis on intent – even the five obligationsare based on the intent of the believer – and laws of this kind make for effective moral policing but hold very little religious or spiritual significance.