Ramadan Reflections – II

June 8, 2016 was a pleasantly surprising day. I had the good fortune of reaching out to an old acquaintance and friend of mine, who is a Unitarian Universalist minister. He ended up inviting me to an Iftar dinner. The holy month of Ramadan is here for Muslims. Pacifica institute in collaboration with San Francisco Interfaith Council had organized an Iftar dinner at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.

As my struggle with faith continues, I seem to have drifted away from Islam. I see my life quite directionless at the moment in terms of my beliefs. I decided to attend the Iftar not just to catch up with my friend but also to reflect on Ramadan.

calvary-church
Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Franicsco. Credits: Personal iPhone

Ramadan is traditionally a month of prayer and fasting. As I’ve blogged in the past, Islam is not a monolith and Muslims are too diverse in their ways. In Pakistan, where I grew up, Islam was mostly about blindly following rituals. There was little, if any, element of spirituality. When I use the word spirituality, I mean the inner, psychological dimension of religion. To elaborate a bit more, people said their prayers because it was the done thing. People fasted because it was the norm. People did not pray or fast to reflect on their relationship with God and with humanity. They did not pray or fast to think about mortality and morality. There were no deep, philosophical discussions about what it means to be a good believer, a good child, a good spouse, a good parent, a good friend or a good citizen.

Reflecting on the Iftar dinner, I think the month of Ramadan should essentially start with an honest desire to find God. It’s fairly possible that we may not find God at the end of Ramadan. However, if we are sincere in our desire and disciplined in our efforts, we will at least find a part of our own-selves in the process. This is the essence of Ramadan for me. We are all seekers of truth and meaning. We must search for these, freely and responsibly. And there is no better way to search than sharing this personal journey with others. The path to truth and meaning is the path of self-discovery by sharing. This is the second dictum about Ramadan that was revealed to me, pun intended. Ramadan is not just about sharing food and water with our friends and family, neighbors and strangers. It is also about sharing our thoughts and ideas in order to help us in the process of achieving ever-greater awareness of the mind and heart and subsequent improvement of ourselves.

To quote my friend:

Powerful testimony tonight to the need for interfaith humility and cooperation: “My God and your God are one God, to whom let us both be self-submitted in peace.”

Even though I do not believe in the Abrahamic God in the orthodox way, I like to see God as a symbolic referent for our collective ideal, as my friend once described it. As an agnostic, my ideal for interfaith humility and cooperation is the same as my Unitarian Universalist friend’s ideal. It was a pleasure sharing the experience with him and benefitting from his wisdom. I hope to learn and grow as a universalist in the days to come.

The death of a Sufi

Amjad Sabri is no more. Who was he, one might ask? He was a qawwal and the son of the legendary qawwal, Ghulam Farid Sabri. Qawwal’s perform qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia.

I’m not an expert on qawwali or Sufism for that matter. But I know that qawwali is the mild and melodic side of Islam that has played a great role in attracting people of the subcontinent towards Islam. It is looked down upon by more conservative Muslims and considered un-Islamic by extremists. It is, however, an integral part of the Chishti Sufi Order and Amjad Sabri’s father and uncle were closely associated to that order.

Coming back to the topic, Amjad Sabri did not die a natural death. Two armed motorcyclists open fired at Amjad Sabri’s car on 22 June 2016 at my hometown, Karachi, Pakistan. Amjad Sabri was critically injured and died shortly after reaching the hospital. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for this attack.

Amjad-Sabri
Amjad Sabri performing. Credit: YouTube

What more can I possibly write? I am, as I have been many times before, at a loss of words at the inhumane killings going back in my country in the name of religion. In a blog-post I wrote last year in May 2015, I talked about how the peace-loving, Sufi side of Islam in under jeopardy in Pakistan. Amjad Sabri’s untimely death highlights this fact even more.

Things have hardly improved and have only gotten worse in Pakistan. The Islamic extremist groups are targeting any one who deviates from the orthodox, puritanical interpretation of Islam. When will this madness ever stop? There seems no end in sight. Pakistan is going to the dogs.

Beating-your-wife Bill (in Pakistan)

Things cannot get worse in Pakistan. End of May 2016, a 75-page bill was proposed by the Islamic Council of Pakistan allowing husbands to lightly beat’ their wives as a form of discipline.

According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper, “[a] husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take bath after intercourse or menstrual periods.”

It doesn’t end here. A wife can also be beaten if she ‘does not wear a hijab, if she interacts with strangers, speaks too loudly or gives others cash without her husband’s permission.’

I guess Muslim scholars in Pakistan have finally come to an understanding of Nushuz!

homer-wife-beating

It comes as no surprise that religious clerics in Pakistan have proposed this bill since the instructions to beat one’s wife are explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an. What is terrifying is the thought that the state can now potentially sponsor wife-beating. It’s more than evident that this bill will only increase domestic violence in an already violent, male-dominated and male chauvinistic Pakistani society. The Pakistani constitution already suppresses the rights to religious freedom and has done little to support the rights of minorities. This will be yet another potential law in Pakistan to take it back to 6th century Arabia.

Ramadan Reflections – I

The Holy Month of Ramadan is here (again). I posted the following on the EXMNA group on Facebook:

In this quintessentially spiritual month, I am but forced to reflect on the Being of beings. Here’s what I think:

Either we say God is a figment of our imagination. Or we say that God is greater than any finite human idea. If we say the latter, it still begs the question about making a definite statement about God, which, in principle, is greater than any human definition put forth. Is there any easy way out of this conundrum?

Following are some responses I got. The name are abbreviated to protect identity:

PR: Yes, there is no God

AS: Only the sith deal in absolutes.

MT: God doesn’t exist and if he does, he’s an asshole and not my God.

IWI do not know. And as a tiny being in this infinite universe I just want to survive and maybe thrive

FM: Remembering something that I read few years back that current concept of God (or lack thereof) in a rational way is a by product of the age of enlightenment and especially the British empiricism of Locke et al when we view the world with respect to sense-perception. In religious circles, this has reduced the concept of God to an anthropomorphic version. We, as atheists, have rejected him for exactly the same reason. As Hitchens said, “What can be asserted without proof, can be dismissed without proof”. Prior to the age of enlightenment, God was not necessarily viewed in an anthropomorphic view. I think it was Thomas Aquinas who said that one cannot say that God does not exist because God is beyond our definition of yes and no, he transcends that definition. To the point, that Newton and Rene’ Descartes wanted to prove God scientifically. People in pre-enlightenment era had a more transcendent view of God. Not to say there were people who questioned the existence in the literal way. I think the most easy way out is if we historically understand how the concept of anthropomorphic God has evolved overtime. If you consider God as a law of nature (i.e., beyond human consciousness), as Einstein did, then he is like a tree, wind or condom etc, you don’t have to worry that he will punish you for having sex in Ramadan.