Allergic to Halal

A while ago, an old friend of mine said in one of our irreverent conversations that he had become ‘allergic to halaal’. He had been living in a blissful haze of intoxication for a whole week, prior to our conversation, which also happened to coincide with his birthday. Alcohol is abundant. So are other intoxicants. And there is no shortage of good food, music and friends. On top of that, living life in a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, how can life not be full of passion to party out loud? How can life not be beautiful for a free-thinking, free-spirit such as my friend?

Hail to thee, blithe Sprit!

Bird thou never wert…

My friend’s story is similar to mine in many ways. We both had philosophical questions about the existence of Allah and finality of Prophethood. We both had longed to escape from the stifling and conservative environment of Pakistan. And we both had started drinking (alcohol) together. Although our career trajectories have gone in different directions and our lifestyles are very different now, there are certain liberal views that we both strongly believe in. One such belief – which may be evident by now – is that humans should have the freedom to do whatever they want, as long as their actions are not physically, mentally, financially or in any other way damaging anyone else.

This brings me to a fundamental question: Why is a self-indulgent, hedonistic lifestyle so looked down upon by Islam? I do not think I have a definite answer to this question. For Muslims in Pakistan, however, such a hedonistic lifestyle is satanic. The Islamists would consider such individuals to be worthy of murder (wajib-ul-qatal). I think otherwise.

Much like the famous Urdu poet, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, I’d go as far as proclaiming that it is perfectly all right to be drunk in a mosque. According to a couplet attributed to Ghalib: let me drink in the mosque, o pious one! Or tell me a place where God is not present?

Since God is, by definition, present everywhere, there’s no escaping. Whether one drinks in the mosque or the pub, it doesn’t matter. And it shouldn’t matter. But it does matter for an average Muslim. Drinking is an abominable sin. And so is gambling and eating pork.

But more than drunkenness, what is it that the world needs the most? It is love. I’d say let’s get drunk and then make love in a mosque. I will surely be lapidated to death for drunkenness and fornication by the lovers of Prophet Muhammad the Peaceful. Why is getting drunk and making love so sinful and immoral?

My friend’s hedonism and all of my vagrant, heretic thoughts are an outcry over the extreme religiosity that has become a hallmark of Pakistani Muslims. We find the traditional interpretations of Islam as too narrow and restrictive.

For example, when Musa (Moses) asked Allah to show Himself, Allah leveled the mountain and Musa fell unconsciousWhen Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Muhammad, Danish flags and effigies were burned by Muslims in Pakistan. Allah cannot be seen and Muhammad cannot be drawn. What more restrictions would Islam put on us heretics of the highest order?

I don’t care if Muhammad is drawn with time-bomb turban or dancing with heavenly virgins. For me, however, the following picture represents one of the most offensive cartoons about Islam.

offensive_cartoon

If this is what Islam has become, I would be better off as a kaafir. I decry all beliefs and practices that make us barbarians like the one’s depicted above.

Bulleh Shah said it all:

Burn the prayer rug, break the clay pot, 

Divest yourself of rosary, bowl and staff. 

Those who love – proclaim repeatedly and loudly, 

‘Eat the forbidden! Forsake halaal!’(a lawful diet)

I’d rather burn the prayer mat than the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. Why? Because a supposed heaven that is thought to be achieved through violent, heinous actions can go to hell.

Updating the Islamic OS

A while ago, I came across an interesting blog by a fellow Muslim agnostic, Hassan Radwan. In particular, I thoroughly enjoyed reading his blog-post titled ‘Will the “True Islam” Please Stand Up!’ as it seems to say much of what I am saying in this piece. There is no “True Islam”!!

The extremist are also Muslims much as the Muslims who say that extremist Islam is not Islam. And that the best way to fight extremist, literalist interpretation of Islam is through engaging in an open and honest discussion about the religion. It involves criticism, scrutiny, introspection and reinterpretation.

My wife’s uncle, Prof. Tahir Masood, who survived the attack that killed Prof. Shakeel Auj last year, wrote an article on religious tolerance and intolerance. Following is the article in JPG image format:

tahir_masood_article_nayya_ilm_e_kalam_chahiyay

The article is in Urdu and is too lengthy to translate for the time being. However, towards the end of the article, he said that for religion to survive in this day and age that is characterized by material well-being and technological progress, a new Ilm al-Kalam (science of discourse) is needed. The onslaught brought about by secular, atheistic thought is powerful and Islam, in particular, seems quite ill-equipped.

Prof. Tahir Masood, who used to have a beard before the assassination of Prof. Auj, has now shaved it off. I don’t know the exact reason for this move. It’s possible that he may be trying to distance himself from the religious forces operative in the country in general and the University in particular. What’s certain, however, is that his life is in danger and he needs to be extra cautious with his sayings and actions.

Coming back to the topic, I whole-heartedly agree with the ideas of Prof. Tahir Masood and Hassan Radwan. In my humble opinion, Islam is in dire need of an Iqbalian reconstruction of sorts. Any such attempt of reconstructing Islam can possibly lead to the creation of yet another sect. It is, however, precisely in the creation of a myriad sects that the essence of Islam can be truly appreciated. To elaborate a bit more, sects and schools of thought reflect differences. And it is difference, at a philosophical level, that ultimately leads to evolution, creativity and improvement.

If the entire population of earth started to believe and act in exactly the same beliefs and manner, respectively, how can we expect any novelty to arise? How can knowledge possibly advance and fresh avenues of understanding be explored? Misinterpretation and re-interpretation are, therefore, the sine qua non for the progression of human intellectual thought. One must constantly re-examine and re-evaluate ancient ideas and see what newer ideas can be generated from the bosom of the older ones. This would require one to differ from one’s predecessors. Intellectual schisms are inevitable. One must, however, be constantly careful to restraint one’s emotions so as to not turn the intellectual differences into a bloody war. 

Islam is certainly not any different. It is, at the end of the day, a human enterprise insofar as humans believe in it and try to live their lives according to its message. Islam needs remodeling and I hope my generation continues to strive to periodically update Islam. Islam 2.0 is the need of the hour.

Every news (from Pakistan) is bad news

This year, in April, I blogged about the assassination of Sabeen Mahmud, who was the owner of an artsy cafe cum social forum in Karachi, Pakistan called The Second Floor. A few days ago, I found out that a key witness in Mahmud’s murder case was shot dead in my hometown.

The key witness was Mr. Ghulam Abbas, who worked as a part-time driver for the late Sabeen Mahmud. He was with Sabeen in the car on the day she was murdered. Officials from the Counter Terrorism Department believe that ‘driver’s murder was an act of targeted killing.’

Last month, in August 2015, the home-minister of Punjab, Shuja Khanzada, was killed in suicide attack in his office. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a Sunni militant group with strong ties to Al-Qaeda, accepted responsibility of his assassination. Shuja Khanzada was involved in the operation that killed Malik Ishaq, the head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

shuja-khanzada
Shuja Khanzada: Ex-Home Minister of Punjab, Pakistan

Almost every month, we hear news of someone being killed for speaking out and acting against the growing militant forces in Pakistan. A certain interpretation of Islam, unfortunately, is one of the main driving forces behind many of these extremist groups.

My blog is a testament to the fact that certain interpretations of Islam are extremely violent with absolutely zero tolerance for dissidents. As I continue to write about the rising death toll in Pakistan and critiquing Islam, I sometimes wonder what my actions may entail. My own safety is one issue. But a more important matter is the development of a counter-narrative. We need to understand and highlight the role that Islam plays in motivating the target killers and the suicide bombers.

Those Muslims, who say that the target killers and suicide bombers in Pakistan, are not Muslims, are completely wrong. Those people, who say that murders such as these are politically motivated rather than religiously driven, are partially wrong. Whereas the murders of Sabeen Mahmud and Shuja Khanzada do have certain political flavor, there is an equal amount religious fervor as well.

Furthermore, in Islam, the line between religion and politics is quite blurry. Islam, in its origins, is a religiously driven, political movement. I believe it is imperative to keep on writing and keep on reflecting and critiquing Islam. There seems no other way out of it.