Writer’s Block

I’m suffering from a writer’s block and don’t know what to blog. To extol the virtues of science and reason or to bash the vices of religion and superstition. To write about the problems of Islam or to lament the status quo in Pakistan. It’s a tough time and a rough patch.

How do I overcome the difficulty of effective communication? In fact, the inability to communicate. How can I once again flow in a creative flow? To experience the Current, which Merrell-Wolff calls the “Soma”, “Nectar”, the “Ambrosia of the Gods”, the “Water of Life”, and the “Baptism of the Spirit”?

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A representation of writer’s block by Leonid Pasternak (1862 – 1945). Source: Wikipedia

One way out of this state might just be to write. Write whatever that comes to my mind. Whatever words that pop to my mind. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes it’s just emptiness. Sometimes it’s all jumbled up jargon; incoherent thoughts and incomplete sentences. It’s pure nonsense…

I want to experience what I call the “State of Qalandar.” I will write more about it in a future blog post. I see the State of Qalandar as something similar to the Current of Merrell-Wolf. I am yet to complete the reading of Pathways Through to Space. I have been occupied with other things but I hope I get to finish before the end of the year. Let’s see what happens.

I profess Merrell-Wolffism. There is no God save for the Current and Merrell-Wolff is Its Prophet. Amen!

There you go. I’ve let out a heretical thought. A proclamation that can potentially get me brutally murdered like Mashal Khan. What can I say? I am a heretic of highest orders from the standpoint of orthodox Muslims. But I’m also a seeker of the Current. My quest is not unique and many individuals before me have tried to tread this path of agony and isolation. The reward, in my opinion, is greater than any imaginable or unimaginable wealth. Let’s see how far I fare.

I sign off for now. Farewell until the next post!

The Murder of Mashal Khan

And so it happened! The brutal murder of a University student in Pakistan, Mashal Khan, over allegations of posting blasphemous content online.

Mashal Khan was student of journalism at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, Pakistan. He was accused of running a Facebook page that posted apparently blasphemous content. On April 13, 2017, Khan was violently murdered by a student mob on the university campus. Reports suggest that there were at least 25 policemen present when he was killed.

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Mashal Khan

Last month, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, showed his support to crackdown on blasphemous content on social media. According to a tweet made by the official Twitter account of Nawaz Sharif’s political party, blasphemy is an “unpardonable offence“.

At this point in time, I literally don’t have anything to say. My mind is completely blank at the senseless violence that is happening in the name of Islam in Pakistan and that is supported by the Pakistani state itself.

I do, in the strongest of terms, condemn in the inhumane murder of Mashal Khan. I don’t know if he posted blasphemous content on social media but even if he did, killing someone so mercilessly is simply unjustifiable.

I have been maintaining this blog for almost two and half years now and a lot of what I write can clearly be considered blasphemous by Pakistani standards. I will continue to write and support Mashal and everyone who is putting up a valiant fight against the cancerous sore of fundamentalist Islam in Pakistan. Mashal, you live forever!

No Escape from Pakistan

No news from Pakistan is surprising when it comes to suppression of freedom of expression. A few days ago, I found that a Pakistani judge at Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ‘called for a ban on social media sites in Pakistan, due to the spread of ‘blasphemous’ images online’.

Not only that, he wants the names of the people, who are responsible for making such blasphemous content, to be put on the Exit Control List (ECL). This will prevent such individuals from leaving Pakistan.

The decision of this judge in Islamabad is a clear reflection of the kind of thinking prevalent in Pakistan. The thinking that people should be tried and executed for freely expressing their opinions. The thinking that all efforts should be made get hold of such individuals.

Sometime back, I blogged about an incident in which the then-premier of Pakistan made a rather inappropriate statement that those who are unhappy in Pakistan should leave Pakistan. However, with judgements such as these, it seems that it’s not even possible to escape Pakistan. Things aren’t getting any better.

Blast at Sehwan Sharif

Last month I blogged about my strange affinity to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. This evening my heart sank when I heard about a terrible bomb blast that took place at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan.

ISIL has accepted responsibility for this attack and it comes as no surprise, given how un-Islamic Sufism is from the perspective of Islamic fundamentalists. I was teary eyed when I read the details of the attack on Internet. 75 people were killed and more than 200 were injured in the attack, many of whom were women and children.

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Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

It goes without saying that the barbarians who perpetrate these heinous acts are extremely determined in their goal. That is, to eradicate from Pakistan everything that stands for peace, love, tolerance and acceptance of the other.

Just a few days earlier, there was a bomb blast in the city of Lahore, Pakistan that killed at least 13 people and wounded several others. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban-linked armed group, claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman for the group warned in a statement that the blast was “just the start”.

It’s becoming clear that Pakistan has become a breeding ground Islamic extremists and any voice that dissents from the fundamentalist narrative of Islam will be squelched. I am just at a loss of words and only wish things were not so bad in my home country. Long live the spirit of Sehwan! Jhulelal!

Missing Bloggers of Pakistan

Recently, it came to my attention that a number of social media activists and bloggers went missing in Pakistan. The identity and the motives of the abductors are still unknown. However, what’s common between all these activists is their vocal opposition of ‘religious extremism and the Pakistani authorities’ abuse of opposition activists.’

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Protest to recover missing blogger, Salman Haider.

Jibran Nasir, a vocal activist, held a conference to discuss about the missing people. In turn, Aamir Liaquat Hussain, televangelist numero uno, launched a smear campaign against the bloggers, Nasir and Jang Media Group in Pakistan. The smear campaign was launched as part of a TV show called ‘Aisay Nahin Chalega’, which is aired on a controversial channel called Bol TV.

What’s unique about this situation is that for the first time, to the best of my knowledge, voices critiquing the status quo of Pakistan on blogs were tried to be silenced. This is an unprecedented event that is very scary. People criticizing extremist Islam on the Internet are abducted.

Although abduction related to e-proclamations is something new, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise given the conditions in Pakistan. Time and again, grave human rights violations are perpetuated in Pakistan. To quote an article published on this incident on Al-Jazeera:

Dissent or critique of state policy is not only not tolerated but snubbed in a way that an example is set for others. It has been happening to outspoken voices against religious conservatism, state’s appeasement of clergy or the military establishment for years.

It’s really a sorry state of affairs in Pakistan. There’s no room for freedom of expression, even on the Internet. The madness of religious extremism is growing stronger day by day and there seems to end in sight…

The Spirit of Qalandar

I have a confession to make. Even though I am deeply troubled by the metaphysical claims of Islam along with the growing religious extremism in Pakistan and elsewhere, I do have this strange affinity for the mystical aspect of Islam. It’s hard to talk about it in public and it’s equally difficult to rationalize it internally. Nonetheless, I find something rather intriguing about Sufism, which I cannot exactly pinpoint at this juncture of my life.

There is a particular Sufi saint, who has been an object of my fascination since 2013. His actual name is purported to be Usman Marwandi but he is more famously known as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. I like to call him LSQ for short. Time and again, I find myself gravitated to this saint and end up doing some online research related to him.

As his name suggests, he was a Qalandar. Qalandars were wandering Sufi dervishes. According to one online source, Some Qalandars practiced asceticism and often used hashish, alcohol, and other intoxicants… Particular to the Qalandar genre of poetry are terms that refer to gambling, games, intoxicants and Nazar ila’l-murd – themes commonly referred to as kufriyyat or kharabat. The writings of Qalandars were not a mere celebration of libertinism, but antinomial practices of affirmation from negative action.’

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The Qalandar in contemplation and in the movement of dancing poster. © Museum of Ethnology, Munich

For the last few days, I have been venturing once again into the world of Qalandariyat. In my latest search, I came across an online article titled ‘The Holy Fool in Medieval Islam.’ Following is a passage from the online article:

As a social phenomenon, the origin of the qalandar is yet undetermined, but the concept made its entrance into Persian literature in the early eleventh century as a paragon of spiritual virtue. In contrast to mainstream Islamic mysticism, the qalandars never established a closely reasoned doctrinal scheme but their teachings was centered around a common esoteric orientation emphasizing inner contentment, tranquility of the heart and prevention of self-conceit. Notorious for their coarse behavior, the qalandars attempted to destroy all customs by committing wicked acts, not as an exit out of society, but in order to conceal the sincerity of their actions from the public view. By overturning conventions they strove to expose the hypocrisy of the established order and question its values. For the qalandar, holy foolishness was not primarily an attempt at moral instruction but an ingenious way to fight spiritual pride.

This in turn, naturally, led me to Google the term ‘Holy Fool’ which I found quite unique and equally interesting. I landed up on a book chapter titled The Holy Fool. The chapter was from a book called Majnūn: The Madman in Medieval Islamic Society by Michael W. Dols.

It was but natural for me to come across a description of the Qalandars, while reading this chapter. Following is what I found on Qalandars while reading the chapter:

In later centuries, some Muslims invited reproach and disapproval by behaviour that was offensive to others. This intentional transgression of social mores became the hallmark of the Qalandars, who adopted many of the teachings of the Malāmatīs. The Qalandarīya were eclectic, also being influenced by other religious traditions, notably Buddhism and Hinduism. They were usually quietists and antinomians, who wandered across the Islamic world, like modern-day hippies, outraging public opinion. Although attempts were made during the Middle Ages to distinguish between the true and false Malāmatī, the Qalandars came to predominate and to usurp the term.

In Muslim India, such a Qalandar was known as a malang, who sought complete dissociation with the external world. These mendicants were remarkable for their use of narcotics, their clothing and hair-styles, their personal ornamentation, and their laxity in adhering to obligatory Islamic precepts.

It seems that Qalandars took the beliefs of Malamatis to an extreme. The logical step for me was to next understand the beliefs of Malamatis. Following is what I found in the same chapter:

According to the teaching of the Malāmatīya, a Muslim should similarly conceal his chaste inner life, thereby avoiding the danger of hypocrisy that the conventionally pious encountered. The recorded teachings of this group of mystics ‘is not a closely reasoned internally consistent system, but rather a number of tenets which centre around the basic Malāmatī doctrine that all outward appearance of piety or religiosity, including good deeds, is ostentation. … In accordance with these tenets, the Malāmatī has to struggle continuously against his desire for divine reward and for approval by man.’ Consequently, the Malāmatī did not participate in the obligatory devotional exercises or those of the sufi orders but prayed and fasted in secret. He did not dress differently from other Muslims or follow a solitary life; he adopted a despised vocation and refused a prestigious one; and he concealed his poverty, so as not to attract communal charity. The elimination of the conventional signs of piety from an individual’s life often left the impression that he was disreputable or impious and, therefore, the object of malām, blame or reproach

qalandar-painting
A painting by artist Ali Abbas depicting malangs. Courtesy: dawn.come/news/1047734

After reading all this, I believe I might have realized my fascination with the Qalandars. The reason I am sharing all these passages is to represent the kind of inner struggle I am facing as a secular human being who, thanks to the onslaught of science and philosophy, has lost faith in Islam. I am equally disturbed by the kind of hypocrisy that characterizes Muslims especially the ones living in Pakistan. They would do a lot in the name of Islam that supposedly has nothing to do with the classical understanding of Islam.

The inner struggle is either to come to terms with the vast nothingness of the cosmos or to find some semblance of sanity and meaning that is so desperately yearned for. This quest of mine can be viewed as “spiritual” by some though I would refrain from using the term spiritual to describe my searching. In some sense then, perhaps, I am a Qalandar. I am a Qalandar insofar as I ridicule outward piety and religiosity and partake in Islamically forbidden activities such as drinking alcohol and eating pork.

As I have blogged before, my apparent heresy is a function of the overt piety and extreme religiosity characteristic of Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular. I am a heretic out of contempt for what Islam has become. I am also in some way an antinomian. I reject socially established Islamic morality since it hinders personal growth and self expression. For an antinomian, faith alone is needed for salvation. For a Sufi, love of God is what truly matters. For a searching agnostic such as myself, self expression is important. It is through self-expression that the inner potential of one’s self is actualized, which, in turn, creates further possibilities of creative unfolding.

I write in the spirit of a foolish Qalandar and will continue doing so. Dama Dam Mast Qalandar!

Jinnah and Jesus

Muhammad Ali Jinnah – for those who don’t know him – was an Indian lawyer and statesman, who  is credited for creating the nation of Pakistan. He is called the Father of the Nation in Pakistan and is more commonly referred to as Quaid-e-Azam (The Great Leader).

Interestingly, Quaid-e-Azam was born on December 25, which coincides with the supposed birth of Jesus Christ. In Pakistan, December 25 is a national holiday. Yesterday night as the world celebrated Christmas, I, as a Pakistani former Muslim, ended up reflecting on the significance of Jinnah and Jesus.

I wonder what our relationship is with Jinnah and Jesus and what significance do they hold in modern times for an average Pakistani Muslim? Are there any ideals that one can learn from these two individuals and incorporate in one’s daily, post-modern life? Perhaps. But an even more fundamental question is: do I really know Jinnah and Jesus well enough?

For all I know, Jinnah was a liberal. That is, he was not a very religious, practicing Muslim. He smoke, drank, loved dogs and was very Western in his ways.

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Jinnah with dogs. 

He was a far cry from the kind of Shariah imposing clerics that dot the Pakistani political landscape these days. Some would argue that Jinnah foresaw a liberal and tolerant Pakistan while others like to portray Pakistan as a Shariah governed state inspired by the 1400 years old ideals dictated by Prophet Muhammad. The ground truth is closer to the latter claim. Whatever might have been Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan, it is surely hijacked by puritanical mullahs who are hellbent in making Pakistan the most intolerant and backward country on the face of this earth.

While Jinnah spoke of liberty, Jesus spoke of love. Jesus, in principle, should be revered and celebrated by Muslims since the Qur’an explicitly declares him to be a prophet of Allah.

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Jesus and Mary in old Persian miniature. Source: Wikipedia

In Islam, Jesus is portrayed as carrying over the same message of Allah as prophets before him and guide people to the straight path. The Qur’an is, however, replete with verses speaking about the various miracles Jesus was able to perform such as bringing food from heaven, creating birds from clay, healing the blind and the lepers and brining dead people from life. All these miracles were performed by the permission and will of Allah and Jesus is not portrayed to be divine in Islam.

Even though Islam extols the status of Jesus, it is really unfortunate that Christians in Pakistan are a persecuted minority. Somebody made a tongue-in-cheek tweet of Jinnah:

jinnah-tweet

One of the most well known parts of Jinnah’s first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 is as follows:

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

Pakistani Muslims have gone off on a tangent from this ideal of religious freedom and tolerance. This year alone, as I had blogged about previously, more than 70 people were killed and hundreds were injured during Easter celebration in Pakistan. Pakistani Muslims are not concerned about teachings of Jesus or the vision of Jinnah. I hope people learn from the lives of Jinnah and Jesus and help in creating an inclusive and tolerant society. Until then, there seems no end to this madness.