Where high ideals meet ground realities



Merely hours after the ban on YouTube was officially lifted, a resolution has been tabled in the National Assembly seeking restoration of Friday as the weekly holiday. ‘Pakistan is still following footprints of Britain by not observing public holiday on Friday. We are deprived of blessings of this day and facing disasters,’ says the resolution. The resolution was likely referring to disasters other than some of our lawmakers. By the look of things, reason is going to continue taking a battering at the hands of religious zeal for years to come.

Three years ago, in what was another triumph of zeal over reason, YouTube was banned. We are back to square one after the unbanning, but exactly what purpose the ban served is still an unresolved mystery. True, it has been made clear that we are very ‘sensitive’ when it comes to our religion. But was there ever any doubt about that?

We’ve been here before. It was the senior Bhutto who first changed the weekly holiday from Christian Sunday to Muslim Friday. It was a cynical move on the part of Bhutto, who himself was by no means devout, designed to appease fanatics. This pretty much sums up our history: it is either a government proactively employing a gimmick, or it is timid leadership only too willing to yield to pressure. The infamous Hudood Ordinance is a case in point; it started life as a deliberate gimmick, but owes its longevity to a dearth of courage required to repeal it.

In a country replete with disturbing things, what is perhaps most alarming is the fact that much of this gimmickry has been ‘Islamic’. This tendency of associating everything with Islam is bordering on some sort of a mental disorder. Once something is perceived to be ‘Islamic’ – whether from the start or becoming so along the way – it needs super-human courage to get rid of it even when it is obvious that it was a bad idea to start with. We were never renowned for producing people of such valour.

The resort to this sort of gimmickry started very early. Pakistan was created in order to champion the cause of Islam, we are told. ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya; laa ilaaha illallah’ may have been after-the-fact, but no nuanced account of the creation of Pakistan stands any chance against this pithy slogan. For naming it the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ we again get full marks for religiosity. Of our Objectives Resolution it can safely be said that the history of legislation never has and never will see anything like it.

In fact, such is the tenacity of this mentality that when we actually managed to script a rare national success story, it had to be called the Islamic bomb (no less)! I am surprised we are not teaching Islamic fission to our physics majors.

In Pakistan we like to dignify all our important occasions by opening the proceedings with recitation of the Quran. So it is that all sorts of lies and sundry immoralities are sanctified by God’s name. This has been the standard practice for our parliament as well. An ordinary mortal would have been forgiven for thinking that it will be well-nigh impossible to improve upon this quite satisfactory state of affairs. Not so our Captain Safdar, thanks to whom, all our National Assembly sessions will henceforth feature a naat in addition to the aforementioned recitation.

Saving children from blasphemous videos, changing weekly holidays, starting official events invoking God’s name, dignifying parliamentary proceedings with devotional compositions, and swearing uncompromising loyalty to the Almighty in crowded rallies are all very well. But will God’s children start getting justice in our earthly courts any time soon? How about clean drinking water, access to a doctor, and a little dignity? These are the real questions to be addressed. I earnestly hope the answer is not a pious ‘Inshallah’.

Talking of religious zeal, two things are conspicuous by their absence. While beads and beards are everywhere, simplicity and a noble indifference to money and the luxuries it can buy – standout features of the life of the Prophet (PBUH) – are sadly never on display, even among the most pious. In their place, firmly entrenched is the corporate version of Islam – J. Islam, if you will – according to which, making of much money is supremely desirable, if not absolutely mandatory.

Zeal is never a good indicator of sincerity. In fact, one is usually inversely proportional to the other. Making loud noises, banning sites, and burning flags come cheap. Leading decent lives and caring for people takes some doing. Are we, as a nation, capable of doing anything, not because religious zeal appears to demand so, but because it is the decent thing to do? Short of this, are we capable of showing a little more restraint when it comes to verbally declaring our undying love for a hero or commitment to a cause?

I am not optimistic on either count.


  1. After reading Abdul's comment, I am convinced nothing is going to change unless we Separate Mosque & State, Jihad of the Pen is required. And that is exactly what you are doing @momophd. Nice work 'MashaAllah'

  2. Bhutto had the right idea about how to govern a state such as Pakistan. You are absolutely right about the state of affairs and being back to square one. However, don’t you think religion and state is far from being separated? The pen is indeed a weapon but, I believe, those who have the power of using the pen as a tool of influence have vested interests that are from being eradicated?

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