"In the strongest terms, Muhammad decried the mistreatment and exploitation of the weak and unprotected. He called for an end to false contracts and the practice of usury that had made slaves of the poor. He spoke of the rights of the underprivileged and the oppressed, and made the astonishing claim that it was the duty of the rich and powerful to take care of them. ‘Do not oppress the orphan,’ the Quran commands, ‘and do not drive away the beggar’ (93:9-10)…
This was a radical message, one that had never been heard before in Mecca. Muhammad was not yet establishing a new religion; he was calling for sweeping social reform. He was not yet preaching monotheism; he was demanding economic justice.”
—Reza Aslan, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam
Zoroastrians claim a privileged relationship to #Iran as they identify Zoroaster as an indigenous Iranian prophet. Thus, they consider themselves the spiritual progenitors of Iranian culture and regard themselves as responsible for protecting, transmitting, and promoting Iran’s cultural heritage.
Fozi provides an ethnographic example of an exhibit organized by the Zoroastrian Students Society at a park in North Tehran that included examples of a sofreh, or traditional spread, that also plays an important role in the Iranian New Year’s festivities. He notes that in their explanations, the Zoroastrian representatives attempted to present rites that are now popular among Muslims as essentially Zoroastrian, thus portraying themselves as progenitors of these rites.
At the same time, Zoroastrians must be careful not to overstep their bounds as a minority community under the Islamic Republic. On occasion, they carefully align themselves with the Shi’i majority against the shared historical consciousness of Sunni Arab invaders. Indeed, the memory of the Arab invasion of Iran is highlighted in Zoroastrian rites and serves both as a point of differentiation and alignment with the Shi’a, since it at once suggests that the Shi’a were Zoroastrians who were somehow corrupted by Arab influence, and that the legacy of the Shi’i struggle against Sunnis marks them as having authentic Iranian roots alongside Zoroastrians.
Ultimately, Fozi suggests that Zoroastrians hold that their faith has deeply shaped Shi’i cosmology, modes of prayer, and its ecclesiastic order, but that Zoroastrians are still superior, distinct, and more authentically Iranian than the Shi’a.
She laughs when I ask her about the sexism she might have faced earlier in her Sufi singing career, in such a male-dominated environment: “The concept of being a man or a woman doesn’t cross my mind. I’m neither on stage, I’m a vehicle on stage for passion.” She is dressed androgynously today as she always is: beige, buttoned-up collar kameez (long tunic) and shalwar (trousers), with a traditional Sindhi print shawl draped over her chest. “I’ve never felt the need to challenge anyone else – I should be concentrating my energies on challenging myself.” To an extent it’s true: Parveen’s talent transcends any gender expectations back home; she is adored, just as much as her peers Mehdi Hassan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan have been.
The yearning tormented my mind:
I searched the heavens and the ground;
I looked and looked, but failed to find.
I found Him inside man at last.
Muhammad is said to have thought very highly of dervishes, and is considered to be one of them. Eyuboglu  mentions an anecdote in which Muhammad wants to see the dervishes who are also beloved servants of God like him. Going to their teke, he knocks on the door, and when he is asked for his identity , he replies “I am the Prophet”. He receives a shocking answer; “Someone as grand as the Prophet would not fit into this door!”. Just when he is about to give up, God suggests that he should try once more; “I am God’s ambassador”, he says. “No thanks, we have nothing do to with ambassadors.” Muhammed is again shocked and angry, but God askes him to try once more. This time he says “I am the servant of the poor” which gains him enterance into the tekke.
"Yunus Emre", S. Eyuboglu, Cem Yayinevi,Istanbul, Turkey, 1980
On March 9, hundreds of houses of poor and helpless Christians were once again burnt down in the so-called ‘citadel of Islam’ – Pakistan. This bestial crime was committed in the name of ‘love’ for the Prophet (PBUH) and to protect his ‘honour’ by thousands of frenzied Islamists who call themselvesaashiqaane Rasool (lovers of the Prophet).
In the normal course of things an accuser would have waited for the investigation to be completed and the law to take its course, but not in the Land of the Pure. Islamic zealots from the area decided to take the matter into their own hands and attacked the mainly Christian janitors’ Joseph Colony, setting ablaze more than 200 homes. As their houses and belongings were reduced to ashes, police present at the sight merely watched the spectacle as bystanders, making no effort to control the mob.
The Supreme Court noted that no party, including the police, was actually trying to unearth the facts behind the incident and held the police and the Punjab government responsible for their failure to stop the arson. The court also rejected the Punjab government’s report on the incident, adding that the latter had clearly learnt nothing from the Gojra affair – another incident of arson on July 31, 2009 in which a rumour about the alleged desecration of the Quran propelled thousands of enraged Islamists to attack a Christian town, Gojra, near Toba Tek Singh. In that incident, eight Christians were burnt alive and 18 others injured. Fifty houses were torched and a church was destroyed. The suspected perpetrators of the attack were activists of the defunct Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (now active as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat). Subsequently, on February 11, 2011 they reportedly coerced the Christians to withdraw cases against the 150 Muslims allegedly involved in the attack. The SC also castigated the Punjab government for not making public the judicial commission’s report on Gojra.
Following the arson, the so-called mujahideen were irked when the Punjab government announced compensation for the victims. In an editorial in Jarar, a publication of the Jamat-ud-Dawa, they wrote ‘They were sweepers. They had no valuables. Their loss was petty, but they got compensation of 200,000 rupees each, which was increased to half a million rupees. And these sweepers are still complaining. They even damaged public property during protests in Lahore and Karachi…”
The Badami Bagh incident flies in the face of those who are hell-bent on not only keeping the current blasphemy laws intact, but also on making them harsher: Deobandi sectarian outfits like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah Sahaba are demanding death sentences for those accused of criticising the companions/wives of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) – never mind how flimsy those charges. Those making such demands argue that if the blasphemy laws are revoked, the public will take the law into their own hands each time a case of blasphemy surfaces. Clearly, the public does not need a law to do just that, as witnessed in Badami Bagh. All it needs is a whispering campaign by assorted individuals and organisations for their own agendas, from sectarian and religious bigotry and hatred to land-grabbing.
Badami Bagh is not the first (nor almost assuredly will it be the last), incident of violence against Christians and other minorities in Pakistan. Over the years, and in recent years increasingly,hundreds of Muslims, Christians and Ahmadis have been killed (some burnt alive) and thousands of houses torched in the name of the Prophet (PBUH) – the same Prophet who would forgive even his worst enemies and through his goodness inspire them to voluntarily embrace Islam.
“The blasphemy laws are highly controversial. The advocates of this law support the death penalty for blasphemers citing Ibne Taymiyyah’s book, Assarim-al-Maslool. Interestingly, the same book says that a non-Muslim cannot be awarded the death punishment under the blasphemy laws because Hadd can’t be enforced against a non-Muslim: he/she must be tried under tazeer. So, the supporters of the blasphemy laws don’t quote Taymiyyah’s full work,” says renowned Islamabad-based jurist, Dr Aslam Khaki.
The outreach of the blasphemy laws is interesting to note in this country. The poor find it next to impossible to register an FIR (First Information Report) with the police, even in the case of murder, without the help of the High Court or the Supreme Court. Blasphemy is the only ‘crime’ whereby an FIR is instantly registered. In this case, the police spring to action regardless of the facts.
The level of our moral decadence can be gauged from the reaction of our lawyers – supposedly one of the most educated classes of this country – who showered rose petals on Salman Taseer’s assassin. Political parties are equally callous. Frontier Gandhi, Bacha Khan’s Awami National Party (ANP) is an ally of the PPP. In September 2012, senior ANP leader and federal railways minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, announced that USD100,000 would be awarded to the person who killed the maker of the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims. No action was taken against him either by the ANP or the PPP. Bacha Khan would have wept. But other parties are equally culpable in the blasphemy law and religious extremism issues. The PML-N has, by its silence, actually fostered sectarian and extremist outfits in the Punjab. And Oxford-educated politicians like Imran Khan have also expressed support for such laws, using the same argument that is put forward by Islamists.
A chilling thought, but probably true. The question is, what Islam is Pakistan following? Today it is a country where minorities do not even have fundamental rights as human beings, where suicide attacks are carried out during funeral prayers, where hoarders increase the prices of foodstuff exorbitantly during the holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims label each other ‘infidels’ and go on killing sprees in the name of jihad. In this citadel of Islam, Eid is celebrated on three different days and Muslims continue to kill Muslims, let alone minorities, and mow down women and children, the aged, the infirm, the rich and poor – and all in the name of Islam.
Sam Harris has used his views about Islam to justify a wide range of vile policies aimed primarily if not exclusively at Muslims, from torture (“there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like ‘water-boarding’ may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary”); to steadfast support for Israel, which he considers morally superior to its Muslim adversaries (“In their analyses of US and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so… . there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah”); to anti-Muslim profiling (“We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it”); to state violence (“On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right. This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that ‘liberals are soft on terrorism.’ It is, and they are”).
Though ‘harshly secular’, as he describes himself, Eqbal - like others who knew him, I cannot bring myself to refer to him more formally - is quick to praise elements of religious thought and practice that he found admirable: among them, the work of the great Islamic religious scholars of India who opposed partition and the idea of nationalism, which they regarded as an anti-Islamic ideology that ‘proceeds to create boundaries where Islam is a faith without boundaries’. For Eqbal, ‘the perils of nationalism’ compare with the curse of religious fanaticism, taking on a still more virulent form when the pathologies merge in the post-colonial state - a configuration that is a harsh image of what came before, he argues.
The deep failure of the anti-imperialist movements, Eqbal continues, was to embrace the western ideology of nationalism, forgetting the warnings of those who were most revered: Rabindranath Tagore, for one. There is tragic irony in the fact that ‘Tagore, an anti-nationalist, ended up providing the national anthem to two countries of South Asia’, which have suffered bitterly for rejecting his lessons.
Eqbal quotes Franz Fanon, with whom he worked closely, on “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness”. That is the title Fanon gave to his ‘enlightening last thoughts’, which Eqbal strongly endorses. Fanon ‘saw with clarity the pitfalls of nationalism, the kind of structure it will produce, the dependencies that develop, the post-colonial state that will be nothing more than a new instrument of imperial domination’, with ‘the emergence of a collaborative elite’ who will be ‘the golden boys of airlines, of the jets’.
Eqbal himself saw the post-colonial state as ‘a bad version of the colonial one’, with the same structure of ‘a centralized power, a paternalistic bureaucracy, and an alliance of the military and landed notables’. The new elite are the inheritors of the old: the propertied classes, the intelligentsia, the bourgeoisie, ‘as heartless in its lack of concern for the poor, in some ways even more so, as the colonial state’.
'They are building a system of apartheid in which the poor are separated from the rich and the rich are connected to the west, to the metropolis.' There is no 'recolonization' because there was no true decolonization. Production-consumption structures have barely changed, though the dependency relations have become more diversified. In the BBC documentary that Eqbal directed on South Asia as seen through his own eyes and experience, he includes a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 'who was so prescient in catching the mood of disillusionment with the decolonized post-colonial states'.
Eqbal describes with warmth and feeling the Sufi tradition that he remembers from his childhood in a village in Bihar, where Sufi worship united Hindus and Muslims. Simple and unpretentious, ‘they preached by example’, living ‘by service and by setting an example of treating people equally without discrimination’. They appealed to the most oppressed, offering ‘social mobility, as well as dignity and equality to the poor’.
Modern Mecca also reflects some of the most egoistic and greedy traits of human life that the Prophet and his religion wanted to eliminate, especially in very house of Islam. Ever since the creation of Saudi Arabia in 1932 after the conquest of that land by Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, the holy sites of Islam have started to lose their cultural integrity and the Hajj has increasingly become a capitalist venture. Spirituality has gone out of the window to be replaced by consumerism. Every aspect of Hajj has become an opportunity to make money and to promote business and state hegemony. The class divide at the pilgrimage is also blatant. This circus takes place every year under the watchful eyes of the Saudi religious and political authorities, embodied by the satanic clock tower which hovers above the Kabah.…
Spending enormous amounts of money on self-glorification and self-exhibition by buying luxury goods goes simultaneously with praising the Almighty, and that, too, in comfort: Those who can afford to pay thousands of dollars per night for a room in the clock tower can ensure for themselves utmost opulence. In fact, the clock tower advertisement sells its room as ‘Divine Stay.’ Before the pious reach heaven thanks to their Hajj, they might as well stay in God’s company while on earth. If to reach God in the afterlife is through Hajj, then it seems that to reach Him in this life is through money. The internet connection in these places is called ‘Holy Internet.’ Maybe it is a hotline to God. A part from the clock tower, the Kabah is surrounded by other five-star hotels, which shows that class differences are well and alive. So much for the much talked about Muslim solidarity. One thing, though, that has be stated is this: The meaning of Hajj is lost if you to the Mecca and stay in a five-star hotel.…