Thursday, January 17, 2013

Moderate Muslims

I-Spy-Tahir-Qadri became a popular car game during our stay in Pakistan last month when posters of the Islamic scholar suddenly cropped up all over the city of Lahore.

"There he is!" my daughters, who'd seen him plenty lecturing on TV at my parents' place, would cry out after spotting one of the thousands of banners tacked behind rikshaws, plastered on billboards or hung from walls to announce the return of Qadri, a lawyer, politician and scholar. He had hitherto been in self-imposed exile in Canada for seven years after receiving death threats from terrorists who he had condemned.

Qadri is the latest religious figure to enter the political scene in the Muslim world ahead of elections. Like their compatriots in other countries, the Pakistani people are awakening to a newfound desire for self-determination, with many turning to Islam anew to help create a peaceful and just society, one finally free from Western control and its accompanying government tyranny and corruption, rampant poverty, out-of-control terrorism and shortages in public utilities, such as gas, electricity, and water.

But, Muslims, beware: What you see is not always what you get!

The fact is, imperialists who have been making fat profits from the natural and labor resources of Muslim lands for centuries are not going to go away that easy.

In fact, they are two steps ahead.

Aware for years of renewed interest in the political dimensions of Islam (victories of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algerian elections in 1991 and Hamas at the polls in Palestine in 2006), imperialist countries like the United States have been cultivating relationships around the globe with "moderate Muslims" (to  replace the historic role of dictators) as those who "advance U.S. interests and values abroad," according to the 2007 Rand report entitled Building Moderate Muslim Networks. Indeed, moderates have risen to prominence in countries like Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt and now Pakistan.

God: "These are the people who buy the life of this world at the price of the Hereafter: their penalty shall not be lightened nor shall they be helped." (Quran 2:86)

"The problem with us Muslims is we are so emotional when it comes to the name Islam so any one, any party that has Islam in it, it's like masha Allah, we have to go with it," observed Hesham Tallawi, TV host of Current Issues, last month. "No, some people are using the name Islam because it many Arab and Muslim countries."

These moderate Muslims are being plucked from academia, clergy, community activist circles, women's groups and the journalism profession. After "ensuring that their activities converge with long-term U.S. strategic goals," they are funded and channeled into leadership positions in Muslim countries to help sustain imperialism, capitalism and globalization through the spread of "liberal Western democracy" They must espouse nonsectarian legal codes and modern interpetations of women's rights while at the same time demonstrate "opposition to concepts of the Islamic state" in the form implemented in Iran, the report says.

"I am not in favor of a theocracy," Qadri, who is founder of the international NGO Minhaj-ul-Quran and supported a military coup by Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 1999, told a reporter from Britain's Channel 4 News on January 16. "I am in favor of democracy and constitutionalism."

While Qadri's sudden and well-funded catapult into Pakistan's political arena (much like previous Western-backed velvet or color revolutions around the world) sends alarm bells ringing,  his repeated praise of European "democracies" during his long march and his reluctance to criticize the decades-long U.S. role in the destabalization of Pakistan (no mention of historical Western support and funding of extremist groups now terrorizing Pakistan in his 450-page Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings) is telling.

This is what he was quoted as saying in the New York Times this week: “I can’t say that Pakistan will become America or Canada in a couple of years. But we want a reflection of America, to put the process on track.”

Muslims struggling for Islamic self-determination must be careful of dubious characters in religious trappings, as history shows such figures have duped Muslims in the past, misleading them just as they approached the mouth of victory.

During the Battle of Siffin, Ali, husband of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times), nearly defeated the army of Muawiya until Muawiya's soldiers hoisted copies of the Quran on their spears as a last resort.

When Abdullah ibn Abbas saw this, he commented: "The battle is over; the treachery has begun."

Thank God, Qadri wasn't the only scholar who stole the limelight this week.

A peaceful, indigenous movement for social justice under the banner of Islam (and not "democracy") emerged on the global political scene from within Pakistan under the leadership of a lesser-known cleric by the name of Raja Nasir Abbas. He grabbed the hearts and minds of people all over the world when he refused to bury the bodies of nearly 100 people--martyred in last week's bombings in the city of Quetta--as a protest against the continued terrorism and targeted killings of Shiites in Pakistan.

This "Lion of Pakistan," as he is now affectionately being called, organized a sit-in (duplicated in cities around the world in sympathy and support) to demand that incompetent government officials be fired and security promised.

Balochistan's provincial government was dismissed Monday.

On Thursday Qadri called off his protests after the federal government agreed to give his movement a say in appointing a caretaker prime minister ahead of elections later this year. The settlement did not, however, force the immediate resignation of the thoroughly corrupt President Asif Zardari and his officials.

Instead, Qadri and Zardari's information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira embraced in front of the crowd and declared the agreement "a victory for democracy."

Indeed, as Pakistani poet Allama Iqbal wrote:

Ajab teri siasat, Ajab tera nizaam
Hussain say bhee marasim, Yazeed ko bhee salaam

Strange is your politics, odd is your system,
Having relations with Hussain, while giving salutations to Yazeed

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Our Driver Mohammad Yasin

Too many of our conversations revolve around the driver, I complained to my husband last month while visiting family in Pakistan, but now that I'm back home I find myself blogging about you-know-who.

"Is the driver here yet?" we would ask one another first thing every morning. Mohammad Yasin, a fifth-grade passed, husky man and father of four who lived in a nearby village, wound up as our driver (long story) for our three-week stay in Lahore. He was perpetually late.

Throughout the day: "Where is Mohammad Yasin?!" (Sleeping in the car with the seat reclined all the way down.)  "Mohammad Yasin sent back his veggies and lentils (from his lunch plate)." "Mohammad Yasin says he wants to go home (mid-day)."

Me in the car: "Mohammad Yasin, slow down!!!" "Mohammad Yasin, please don't smoke in the car!" "Mohammad Yasin, no talking on the phone while driving (especially in LOUD Punjabi)!"

At first, it was Mohammad Yasin's poor work ethics and offensive personal habits that irritated me. But soon I realized his presence was bothersome for a more significant reason.

As Mohammad Yasin chauffeured us around, he was a constant reminder of the disparity between the rich and poor in this world as well as my gluttonous role in perpetuating it.

Wearing his faded yellow "Los Angeles" jacket, Mohammad Yasin drove us to overpriced boutiques (I didn't have the time or nerves to deal with unreliable tailors.), where one child's outfit cost more than his month's salary.

During meal times, he was given Rs. 150 to eat from a street vendor while we ate at M.M. Alam Road's finest restaurants.

And while his family usually went without dessert (as he told me when I asked which sweets his children like), we frequently asked him to stop by Gourmet bakery for patay- or gajar-ka-halwa (pumpkin or carrot dessert) anytime our stash at home went low.

While God allows people to freely consume in accordance to their income levels, honor, respect, status, age, etc., he also strictly warns against israf or extravagance (considered the thirty-second Greater sin), which is defined as wasting or spending more than is necessary.

With so many people like Mohammad Yasin (and others in even more dire straits all around us on the streets of Pakistan), I realized how over-the-top our "normal" level of spending and consumption really is.

God: “…and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Quran 7:31)

"Anything that is in our custody--time, resources, sustenance, children, skills--that God has given us, we should be careful in the use of the blessings of God," Dr. Syed Abbas Naqvi instructed in a recent Friday sermon.

“Do you think if God has bestowed someone with wealth, it is because he is His beloved?" asked Imam Jafar Sadiq, great grandson of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times).

"And if He has given less to someone it is because he is low? No! It is not so. Whatever wealth is there, it all belongs to God. God gives it to whomsoever He wishes as a trust and He has permitted the trustee to eat, drink, wear clothes, marry, and ride from it, (but) in moderation. If he has excess he must distribute it among the poor and fulfill their needs. Then whoever follows the Divine commands, whatever he has eaten, drunk, worn, married and riden in moderation, all this is lawful for him, and if he does not act upon it, everything is haram (unlawful).”

Among the most superb examples of someone who lived (and not just talked or blogged) about justice and balance in this world was Ali, husband of Fatima.

A man went to see him on Eid holiday and saw that a tightly sealed bag was brought before Ali, the caliph of the time, and assumed it contained jewels. But when Ali opened the bag, it contained dried pieces of bread, which he softened with water.

The man asked Ali why he painstakingly sealed food that even a beggar would not care to steal. Ali smiled and said: "I keep it sealed because my children try to substitute softer bread, containing oil or butter in it."

The man asked, "Has God prohibited you to eat better kind of food?"

Ali replied: "No, but I want to eat the kind of food which the poorest of this realm can afford at least once a day. I shall improve it after I have improved their standards of life. I want to live, feel and suffer like them."

Although we never came close to foregoing fineries like Ali used to, after three weeks of togetherness our family had moved from irritation to guilt to some sort of compassion for Mohammad Yasin.

My eleven-year-old started nudging me in the backseat and whispering: "Be nice to him, Umma!" whenever I chided him for not slowing down for speed bumps.

My husband once suggested we get him a separate table inside a restaurant.

Even I developed a soft spot for Mohammad Yasin, and found myself sharing my pomegranates, including my favorite sweet bedana (seedless) ones, with him.

"You don't have to," Mohammad Yasin said, taken aback as I handed him the bag from the backseat.

Yes, I do.