Archive for the ‘Newspaper Articles’ Category

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in Daily Times on December 17, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Any government can remain in check if the opposition played its role vigilantly and the ruling party’s lapses are reported by the media. However, when media fails to report on sensitive but rampant cases, and the opposition is no better when they come in power but do only lip service to make their position look intact to voters and justified to their critics, it is the responsibility of society to make a note of the ongoing political, social and economic atrocities. For instance, more than 475 Shias have been killed this year in Pakistan to date, with this number increasing every day. The opposition is nowhere to be seen and the indifference of mainstream media to the gravity of the issue is making matters worse. Whilst I hold the federal government responsible for the law and order situation in Pakistan, I cannot give a clean chit to the provincial governments, which ought to provide security to their citizens.

A few days ago, my friend Raza Rumi wrote an op-ed titled, ‘Shahbaz Sharif and his admirable running of Punjab’ that was printed in a national daily. Apart from admiring Mr Sharif for the good things done by his government, he expressed his concern about the rise of extremism and militancy owing to the fragile implementation of law in the province in the following words: “There is a perception that the PML-N is soft on extremist and sectarian groups, due to reasons of electoral adjustment and perhaps, ideology as well. This is a serious omission, which might haunt the party if it comes to power in the next election, as there will be no excuse of a ‘hostile’ federal government and its failures to curb terrorism.” I, strongly but respectfully, disagree with the notion that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) leniency towards groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (now working under the label of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat [ASWJ]) is a mere perception.

The ‘lovey-dovey’ liaison of the PML-N and ASWJ/SSP is nothing new. The PML-N has time and again sought the SSP’s support to contest elections and the latter has rarely disappointed the former. In the recently concluded by-elections in which Punjab saw a thumping win for the PML-N, the ASWJ announced to support the PML-N’s candidate, Haji Nawaz Chohan, in Gujranwala’s constituency PP-129. The announcement came from the ASWJ’s district president Arshad Hameedi at a religious seminary as the latest display of public affection between the two parties. Electoral alliances are not aimed at charity; these alliances are established as a trade-off between two parties and they are motivated by a shared ideology. In February 2010, the provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, visited Jhang on a by-election campaign for a provincial assembly seat. He was seen interacting with Ahmad Ludhianvi of the ASWJ as he took the hardliner cleric to a drive in his open top jeep with official patronage. Is it appropriate for a provincial law minister to take a radical cleric with him on an election campaign? Did Mr Sharif take any action against his law minister for giving an unprecedented protocol to the head of an organisation that considers Shias as infidels?

In an interview expressing his biggest concern, the slain former Punjab governor, Shaheed Salmaan Taseer said, “I worry about terrorism. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)‚ which is in government in the Punjab‚ has old linkages with and a natural affinity for extremist organisations like Sipah-e-Sahaba‚ Lashkar-e-Jhangvi… Let’s face it: terrorists need logistical support from within — somebody funds them‚ somebody guides them‚ and somebody looks after them — and that support is coming from the Punjab… You can’t have your law minister [Rana Sanaullah] going around in police jeeps with [outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba’s] Ahmed Ludhianvi‚ whose agenda is to declare Shias infidels and close down their places of worship‚ and then say you want harmony in this province. You can’t have the chief minister [Shahbaz Sharif] who is also the home minister‚ standing at Jamia Naeemia pleading with the Taliban to please not launch attacks in the Punjab because he shares the same thinking against the US as they do. What message does this send out to the local magistrate and police officer?”

As per the report, ‘Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge’ by the International Crisis Group published in 2009, “The recent upsurge of jihadi violence in Punjab, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, demonstrates the threat extremist Sunni-Deobandi groups pose to the Pakistani citizen and state. These radical Sunni groups are simultaneously fighting internal sectarian jihads, regional jihads in Afghanistan and India and a global jihad against the West… The Pakistani Taliban, which increasingly controls large swathes of FATA and parts of the NWFP, comprises a number of militant groups loosely united under the Deobandi Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that have attacked not just state and western targets, but Shias as well. Their expanding influence is due to support from long-established Sunni extremist networks, based primarily in Punjab, which have served as the army’s jihadi proxies in Afghanistan and India since the 1980s. Punjab-based radical Deobandi groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) provide weapons, recruits, finances and other resources to Pakistani Taliban groups…The SSP and LJ are also al Qaeda’s principal allies in the region.”

Mr Sharif’s government needs to see the writing on the wall. Promoting, appeasing and pandering to such extremist outfits can win the PML-N an extra seat or two in the next elections but in the long run, it will be devastating for the fabric of our society and the law and order situation in the province. According to another media report, the PML-N and ASWJ has struck a deal on electoral adjustments in the provincial and National assemblies in the upcoming general elections. It is just a matter of time before the two parties end up contesting elections together. I agree that the good things being done by the government must be appreciated but at the same time, we must not condone government officials festering extremism this or that way.

On the other hand, in February this year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan expressed its resentment over the performance of the Punjab government when the court was told that several water filtration plants had not yet been completed in the province despite being started many years ago. Non-existent or insufficient infrastructure for clean water and sanitation poses serious health risks. In countries like ours, up to 80 percent of all environmental diseases are because of lack of clean and safe drinking water. Less than 50 percent of Pakistan’s most populous province Punjab has access to piped drinking water. Less than 30 percent of the rural population has access to safe drinking water. Assisting the apex court on polio and hepatitis, Professor Dr Faisal Masood and Professor Dr Javed Raza Gardezi informed the court that the poor and unprivileged class is bound to drink contaminated water because this is all they are being offered. The absence of clean drinking water is resulting in increased infectious diseases like polio and diarrhea.

Punjab government is far from being an admirable one. CM Shahbaz Sharif and his running of Punjab can be best described as the old adage goes “Among the blind, the squinter rules.” Instead of dumping billions of rupees running a parallel education system (Danish Schools) Mr Sharif could have made the existing system more viable. We must appreciate the positive steps being taken by the incumbent government but we should avoid going over the top in praise of a government that has many serious questions to answer.

Source: VIEW : Tintinnabulations of a vandalised future — Ali Salman Alvi

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Editor’s NOTE: The following piece, penned by Majid Sheikh, was published in Dawn on November 24, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Dawn without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

IN our school and college days we all loved to assist friends set up `sabeels` alongside Lahore`s traditional `Ashura` procession, providing cold drinks to the thousands who mourned. Sects and beliefs never mattered then. But then neither did one`s religion.
For well over 1,332 years, the tragedy of Karbala moves everyone who hears about it, be they Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh or any other religion. This is one incident that brings out the need to support those with a moral position.

As children we attended the `sham-ighareeban` with our Shia friends, and learnt the lesson of supporting those in the right. Everyone respected the beliefs of others. Yes, there were always a few silly chaps who wanted attention, but they were at best ignored.

The ancient city of Lahore is connected to the tragedy in no uncertain terms.

Historical accounts say seven brave warriors from Lahore died while fighting in the Battle of Karbala. It is said their father Rahab Dutt, an old man who traded withArabia in those days, had promised the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) to stand by his grandson in his fight to uphold the truth.

That pledge the brave Rajput Mohiyals of the Dutt clan from Lahore upheld.

Today they are known as Hussaini Brahmins, who lived in Lahore till 1947.

Then there is the fact that besides the Hindu Rajputs of Lahore, in the battle also fought John bin Huwai, a freed Christian slave of Abu Dharr al-Ghafari, whose `alleged` descendents, one researcher claims, still live inside the Walled City of Lahore.

I have been on the track of these ancestors for quite some time and have been able to trace one Christian family living inside Mori Gate. They claim to have a connection with a `Sahabi` whose name they cannot recollect. M. A. Karanpikar`s `Islam in Transition`, written over 250 years ago, made this claim, but I do not think it is a claim worth pursuing.

But the most powerful claim of Lahore as the place where the descendents ofHussain ibn All came lies in the Bibi Pak Daman graveyard, where the grave of Ruquiya, sister of Hussain ibn Ali and wife of Muslim ibn Ageel, is said to exist.

Also graves here attributed to the sisters of Muslim ibn Ageel and other family members. Many dispute this claim.

But then no less a person than Ali Hasan of Hajweri, known popularly as Data Sahib, came here every Thursday to offer `fateha` at the grave, informing his followers that this was the grave of Ruquiya. The place where he always stood to offer `fateha` has been marked out, and his book also verifies this claim. Mind you detractors exist, of this have no doubt, but the supporting evidence is quite strong.

Let me begin the story of the Dutts by going through the record of the Shaukat Khanum Hospital and the recorded fact that Indian film star Sunil Dutt, who belonged to Lahore, made a donation to the hospital and recorded the following words: `For Lahore, like my elders, I will shed every drop of blood and give any donation asked for, just as my ancestorsdid when they laid down their lives at Karbala for Hazrat Imam Husain.

Makes you think -but then there is this account which says that the seven sons of Rahab Dutt lost their lives defending the Imam at Karbala. The Martyr`s List at Qum verifies this. History records when the third thrust by Yazid`s forces came, the Dutt brothers refused to let them pass. The seven Punjabi swordsmen stood their ground till they were felled by hundreds of horsemen. In lieu of the loyalty of the Dutt family to that of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) was coined the famous saying: `Wah Dutt Sultan, Hindu ka dharm, Musalman ka iman, Adha Hindu adha Musalman.` Since then, so the belief goes, Muslims were instructed never to try to convert the Dutts to Islam.

A grieving Rahab returned to the land of his ancestors, and after staying in Afghanistan, returned to Lahore. I have tried my very best to locate their `mohallah` inside the Walled City, and my educated guess is that it is Mohallah Maulian inside Lohari Gate. Later theymoved to Mochi Gate, and it was there that the famous Dutts lived before 1947 saw them flee from the hate of the people they gave everything for.

The most interesting thing about the Hussaini Brahmins is that they are highly respected among Hindus, and even more amazingly it is said that all direct ancestors of Rahab Dutt are born with a light slash mark on their throat, a sort of symbol of their sacrifice. I was reading a piece by Prof Doonica Dutt of Delhi University who verified this claim and said that all true Dutts belong to Lahore.

I must point out to an amazing version of these events that an Indian historian, Chawala, has come up with. It says that one of the wives of Hazrat Imam Husain, the Persian princess Shahr Banu, was the sister of Chandra Lekha or Mehr Banu, the wife of an Indian king Chandragupta. We know that he ruled over Lahore. When it became clear that Yazid ibn Muawiya was determined to eliminate Hussain ibn Ali, the son of Hussain (named Ali) rushed off a letter to Chandragupta asking for assis-tance. The Mauriyan king, allegedly, dispatched a large army to Iraq to assist. By the time they arrived, the Tragedy of Karbala had taken place.

In Kufa in Iraq a disciple of Hazrat Imam Husain is said to have arranged for them to stay in a special part of the town, which even today is known by the name of Dair-i-Hindiya or `the Indian quarter` The Hussaini Brahmins believe that in the Kalanki Purana, the last of 18 Puranas, as well as the Atharva Veda, the 4th Veda, refers to Hazrat Imam Husain as the avatar of the Kali Yug, the present age. They believe that the family of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him)is Om Murti, the most respected family before the Almighty.

All these facts bring me back to our days as school children working hard to provide relief to the mourners on Ashura. Reminds me of our neighbour Nawab Raza Ali Qizilbash, who invited us to his `haveli` every year to see the preparations before the event. Raza Bhai is no more, and neither is the tolerance that we all enjoyed so much.

Source:  Karbala and how Lahore was involved  – Majid Sheikh

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in Daily Times on November 17, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Fanaticism has been kept in the mainstream by those for whom it is a game to extract money out of organisations after rampant looting and killing. People then think of only an exodus as a means of survival, hence leaving behind the land to be ruled by those who have a singular aim to grab power by means of terrorism. Swat, with high mountains, green meadows and clear lakes, once known as the Switzerland of the region, where winter sports and tourism were a normal trend, is now marred by the chilling account of the barbarous and bloodied persecution of those who tried to defy the Taliban. Vested interests of ‘some’ with terrorism have destroyed the region as a business hub, which in turn has cracked the backbone of the economy of Pakistan and has left the state with no tourism. Hundreds of the inhabitants of Swat region were massacred by the Taliban and their misery only came to an end when the government launched a major military operation in 2009, despite facing opposition from the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and religious parties.

The fanatical bent of the human mind always opposes any kind of progressive, scientific education since it will inevitably make the succeeding generations question their diktat, which will consequently topple their kingdom of regressive dogmatism complemented by terror logistics. Religion galvanises people, but misinterpreted religious sermons galvanises the ignorant and uneducated. These people form the vote/power bank of such voices, because due to ignorance their sermons sell; therefore, education is only opposed by fanatics. More than 800 school buildings have been blown up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA to date and the campaign is not over yet. The silence of religious parties in Pakistan over this destruction is quite meaningful, which clandestinely endorses the militants’ argument that educating girls is in breach of the teachings of Islam. Islam does not ask its followers to keep girls uneducated. In fact, it holds education for girls as obligatory as for boys. Malala Yousafzai, who stood for the principles of peace and education, thus jeopardising the hegemony of these thugs, was an obstacle in their greater plan of destabilising Pakistan further.

Malala spoke about education and a secular Pakistan, which is the biggest thorn in the side of their business agenda of terrorism, and that is the reason why she was added to a Taliban hit list in 2011 and, subsequently, attacked in 2012. After an abhorrent campaign run by Islamist goons on social media, casting all sorts of doubts on the assassination attempt on Malala, their full of hot air leader, Fazlur Rehman stamped his approval upon the lamest of conspiracy theories about the 15-year-old who is undergoing medical treatment after surviving miraculously in the attack.

Almost four weeks after Malala and her two friends, Shazia and Kainat, came under attack by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in her hometown, Swat, the eponymous chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Maulana Fazlur Rehman termed the assassination attempt a drama. Addressing the ‘Islam Zindabad Conference’ in Karak, he said, “Pictures shown on social media have shown the whole character as suspicious because there was no sign of injury after the bandage on her head was removed.” This meant that Malala had not received any injury in her head since there was no sign of one after the bandage on her head was removed.

A couple of weeks ago, in the op-ed pages of a national English daily, a similar article with the title, “Shame on You, Mr Khan” was published in which the writer had bashed the chief of the PTI, Imran Khan, for being a ‘coward’ on account of his statement he gave in a television programme. While condemning the attack on Malala, Khan had said that his party had local affiliates and supporters in the restive areas of Pakistan, of the likes of Waziristan and FATA, and thus he could not give statements against the Taliban because that would make them [supporters] the Taliban’s targets. The column went viral on the social media, so much so that Hamid Mir invited Khan to his show and grilled him about that column and throughout the programme, he kept repeating the title of the aforementioned show. While I agree that Khan’s statement was not a brave one, I am taken aback to see that none of the writers have penned down any criticism on Fazlur Rehman for his despicable statement. Or maybe Mir should invite the maulana to his programme only to fire a barrage of ‘Shame on you, Fazlur Rehman’ for the sake of fairness, if not for anything else. The whole world of some of the writers would have come crashing down around them had such a statement, similar to Rehman’s, come from Imran Khan. Just because Khan listens to all the criticism directed towards him should not become license for his unabated bashing.

I am not surprised to see a group of politically ignorant people celebrating ‘Aafia Day’ on November 10 as a rebuttal of the Malala Day declared by the UN on the same day. Trying to compare apples and oranges, Maulana Fazlur Rehman went on to compare the case of Malala with the case of Aafia Siddiqui in an attempt to cash in on the sentiment of the public associated with Islam, since using religion and anti-Americanism always works wonders in Pakistan, bearing in mind people’s sentiments. Maulana Rehman said, “While everyone was outraged over the attack on Malala Yousufzai, there was silence on the issue of Aafia Siddiqui.” Malala became a victim of a fanatic’s bullet, which wanted to silence her struggle for awareness, whereas Aafia Siddiqui wanted to make many victims.

Let me make it very clear that the two cases cannot and should not be compared. Aafia Siddiqui, 40, was convicted by a US court for attempted murder, armed assault and other charges; Malala Yousafzai, 15, on the other hand, stood against extremism and terrorism, vowing for peace and girls’ education in a time when the Taliban were bombing schools in Swat to deter girls from going to school. During the five years of her disappearance, Declan Walsh, who was The Guardian’s correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2011, reported that Aafia visited her uncle, Shamsul Hasan Farooqi, and pleaded with him to smuggle her into Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, insisting that she would be safe with them. Aafia’s first husband, Amjad Mohammed Khan, an anaesthesiologist, has already disclosed that after the September 11 attacks, Aafia pressed him to go on jihad to Afghanistan and work as a medic for the Mujahideen.

Malala epitomises bravery and peace in the face of terror and barbarity. Her courage has won the hearts of hundreds and thousands of people across the globe. As the government of Pakistan plans to honour Malala by opening special schools in her name for poor children, the world calls for a Nobel Peace Prize for the 15-year-old. She, now, has the support of more than 124,000 people who have signed an online petition asking the Nobel Foundation to nominate her for the prestigious award. Forlornly, there was no Malala Yousafzai moment in Pakistan. The attack on Malala could have been a turning point in the war of our survival but it was not to be. Conspiracy theories got the better of the bitter reality, commandeering vulnerable minds. Here’s hoping Malala would recover soon and resume the fight against bigotry, extremism and oppression. Here’s hoping that Kainat and Shazia pursue education with a rejuvenated resolve. It is high time we stood for all the Malalas who are deprived of education and basic human rights to strive for a better, progressive and tolerant Pakistan.

Source: VIEW : Guillotine of intolerance and guile of hypocrisy — Ali Salman Alvi

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in Daily Times on November 10, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Places of pilgrimage are not the property of the country they are situated in; they belong to the entire community of the people of the same faith. Therefore the demolition of revered sites should be done only when the entire community gives its endorsement to it. In the case of Saudi Arabia, where the richest heritage of Islamic history is located, the demolition of such sites has been carried out dictatorially, merely keeping the teachings of one school of thought — Salafism — in mind. There is not a thought about the sentiments of millions of Muslims all over the world who hold these places in profound reverence for their religious significance.

The Saudi monarchy is all set to raze at least three of the world’s oldest mosques and the green dome over Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) grave as a multi-billion expansion project of the Masjid-e-Nabvi is initiated. The current expansion plan is a continuity of the Salafi agenda pursued by the Saudi monarchy that kicked off in 1925 when the first monarch Ibn-e-Saud demolished the cemetery al-Baqi that contained the graves of many of the Prophet’s (PBUH) relatives and companions. In the same year, the monarch also demolished the tombs at Jannat-ul-Mualla in Makkah where one of the Prophet’s (PBUH) wives, grandfather, and other ancestors are buried. All this happened despite protests by the international Islamic community.

In Medina, the Saudi regime bulldozed the grave of the father of the Prophet (PBUH); the house of Sayyeda Fatima (SA); the Salman al-Farsi Mosque; the Raj’at ash-Shams Mosque; the Prophet’s (PBUH) house where he lived after migrating from Makkah; the house of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq; the house of Imam Ali where Imam Hasan (AS) and Imam Husayn (AS) were born; the house of Hazrat Hamza; the graves of the martyrs of Uhud and the complex (mohalla) of Banu Hashim in Medina. Last but not the least, the Saudis demolished house of the Prophet’s (PBUH) first wife, Khadijah, and built, of all things, a public toilet block on the site. Makkah is fast turning into the Manhattan of Saudi Arabia with the construction of scintillating shopping malls, seven-star hotels and skyscrapers.

While no one denies that due to the increasing number of pilgrims on the occasion of Hajj, the expansion of Masjid-e-Nabvi is indispensable, one can conveniently preserve these holiest and richest heritage sites of Islamic history without hampering the expansion project. But given the track record of the Saud family and the manner in which the Saudi regime is going about it, the expansion project remains a worry. Has any authority other than the Salafis been taken into confidence regarding all this expansion? The answer is no. Solely, the Saudi monarchy’s consent to demolish ancient mosques, shrines, and other historical and archaeological heritage sites of Islamic history is clearly antipathetic towards other schools of thoughts of Islam and the sentiments of millions of Muslims living worldwide. This plan of destruction is not about the Saudis’ obsession with concrete and steel; it is not merely about, as generally perceived, accommodating more and more pilgrims; in fact, it is about the Saudis’ adoption of Salafism, an austere and uncompromising elucidation of Islamic teachings that is in vehement antipathy towards mounted graves and shrines.

Rambunctious rioting on various issues has given Muslims an aggressive, intolerant tag, but the issue on which a protest should happen, there is an absolute white lull. Why on earth are all those enraged Muslims who went on a rampage not too long ago, protesting against a reprehensible video ridiculing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), as silent as the dead on this plan of demolition? In my humble opinion, there are a couple of reasons behind this disastrous and hypocritical silence. Firstly, it is the rise of Salafism, courtesy countless seminaries funded by Saudis, and the second reason is lack of awareness about the demolition plan in the Muslim world.

I am not surprised to learn it was The Independent, a British newspaper, which carried the report, uncovering the plan of the Saudi regime. In an ideal world, the very same report should have been aired from the platform of a television network of the likes of Al-Jazeera. Needless to mention it was the Egyptian Al-Nas, a very religious channel with the motto: “A channel that will take you to heaven” that aired the trailer of The innocence of Muslims. Unheard of until that point in time, it led to widespread violent protests in the Muslim world. Even after the publication of the aforementioned report in The Independent, why Muslim media in general and Pakistani media in particular is mum over this grave issue remains a serious question. The silence speaks volumes about the Saudi influence over the so-called free media.

In most of the Muslim world, shrines have been built over the graves of some of the Prophet’s (PBUH) relatives, his companions and some saints. Paying visits to these shrines is also commonplace, but Salafism despises such practices and views them as a pagan practice before the call to Islam. Contrary to Salafi beliefs, there is a deep reverence attached to visits to these places among a significant populace of Muslims. Millions of Shia pilgrims gather at the Shrine of Imam Hussain at Karbala every year on the occasions of Ashura and Arb’een. Shias from all over the world pay visits to holy places in Iraq, Iran and Syria throughout the year.

The Saudis’ obsession with annihilating the graves has gone to such an extent that in 2007, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs of Saudi Arabia published a handbill calling for the much-venerated green dome over the Prophet’s (PBUH) grave to be demolished and the graves of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Abu Bakr and Umar to be flattened. The pamphlet was endorsed by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz al Sheikh. Similar decrees were issued by one of the 20th century’s most prolific Wahabi clerics, Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymeen. The connection between flattening graves and bombing shrines becomes obvious. In a nutshell, where Salafis are in power they are flattening graves, and where they are not they use violent tactics such as bombing shrines in order to deter people from visiting them. Al‘Askarî Mosque, a Shî‘ah Muslim holy site located in the Iraqi city of Sâmarrâ, is one of the most important Shî‘ah mosques in the world. Its dome was destroyed in a bombing by Salafi extremists in February 2006 and its two remaining minarets were destroyed in another bombing in June 2007, causing widespread anger amongst Shî‘ah Muslims. I strongly believe that Allah Almighty is not intimidated by mounted graves, and on a relevant note, Islam, as a religion, is in no danger from shrines. Those who think this is the case should look for another religion to embrace.

Whilst their masters are authoritatively bulldozing graves in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Islamist fanatics are busy in bombing shrines in Pakistan and curbing the entry of women into shrines in India. This is dealing a deadly blow to the Indo-Pakistan culture where scores of people, irrespective of the religion they follow, participate in festivals and devotional fairs celebrated at the shrines of the saints who spread Islam in the subcontinent with the power of the word, not the sword.

As per a report by the Washington-based Gulf Institute, 95 percent of the 1,000-year-old sites in Makkah and Medina have been demolished in just the past two decades. The silence of the Muslim world and especially of those Muslims who do not get tired of offering their lives in the name of the Prophet (PBUH) is not only disastrous but hypocritical as well. The rate at which these sites are being razed is beyond appalling. After all this ‘expansion’, what will be left in the name of Islamic heritage and history? This question haunts me big time. It is a matter of conscience and faith and it can be only be aroused by self-introspection.

Source: VIEW : A whiff of Misoneism towards history and heritage — Ali Salman Alvi

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in The Friday Times on September 28, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the write-up on my blog from The Friday Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

In July this year, an enraged mob of more than 2,000 people in the Chanighot area of Bahawalpur snatched a mentally unstable man accused of burning pages from the Holy Quran from police custody and burned him alive.

Last month, a 14-year-old Christian girl suffering from Down’s syndrome was accused of burning pages from the Noorani Qaida. As communal tensions rose, Christians began to leave the area in fear. Subsequently the investigation officer told the court that there was proof the prayer leader who incited the mob, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, had in fact tampered with the evidence and added the pages into the bag of trash that Rimsha had burned.

These incidents and many others like them indicate that a serious effort is required to prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue that needs to be handled with great care.

Pakistan has a 97% Muslim population while Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities comprise the rest of the 3%. In a country where minorities are already concerned about their safety, it is not likely that a sane person would commit blasphemy on purpose. Whether and allegation is true or false can only be ascertained in a court of law, and not by mob justice.

Only seven cases of blasphemy were registered since the inception of the law in 1927 to 1986, according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace. In 1986, the Gen Ziaul Haq regime added Section 295-C to the Pakistan Penal Code, making blasphemy punishable by death. Since then, a staggering 1,058 cases have been registered. Of the accused, 456 were Ahmadis, 449 were Muslims, 132 were Christians and 21 were Hindus.

Apparently, Section 295 has become a handy legal mace to settle measly personal scores and threaten rivals for monetary gains, predominantly in small towns and rural areas. Judges in the lower courts usually come under pressure to convict the accused charged under the statute.

Over the years, attempts to amend the statute have seen rigid opposition from religious parties and invited threats of bloodshed from militant groups. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto tried to amend the blasphemy law to make sure it was not misused to intimidate religious minorities, but she failed. Even Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf, a secular military dictator, could not amend the blasphemy laws because of imminent and severe retaliation. Major political parties are reluctant to call for amendments in the law to ensure that it is not misused, because they fear similar retaliation.

In 2010, Article 10 of the constitution was amended to introduce the clause of due process into the criminal justice system. The amendment provides that a person charged with a crime is entitled to due process. This due process clause applies to the blasphemy statute as well. Pakistani courts must not apply the blasphemy statute disregarding the due process and basic fundamental rights of life, liberty and freedom of religion protected under the constitution.

I am not proposing that Pakistan should allow blasphemy, but that blasphemy cases should be thoroughly investigated. The first and foremost priority should be to establish whether the charges filed under the blasphemy statute are genuine. Section 295-C must be used in cases of malevolent attacks on the Muslim faith and even in such cases it should not be construed and applied in a manner that negates the right to due process and to the rights given to religious minorities under Islam as per Article 227.

Source: COMMENT: A word of caution by Ali Salman Alvi

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in Daily Times on September 29, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Our history is witness to the fact that on the planet earth we have no competitor when it comes to self-torment and making an exhibition of ourselves, thanks to our unparalleled expertise in shooting ourselves in the foot. No foreign agency — be it RAW or MOSSAD — has the potential to inflict even an iota of the damage we can inflict on ourselves, that too, quite voluntarily. Just when the world thinks we have hit rock bottom, we shock it by stooping to new depths of insanity. Be it the barbarous public lynching of two brothers in Sialkot that left us with our heads hung in shame or the deplorable murder of the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer by his own security guard and the subsequent glorification of the killer as a hero of Islam, we never cease to stoop low. In July this year, a mob of more than 2,000 enraged people snatched a mentally unstable man accused of burning pages from the Holy Quran from police custody and burnt him alive in Chanighot area of Bahawalpur. I feel sorry for the psychiatrists who try to look into the reasons behind our intolerant behaviour of going violent on little things since this mental disorder of ours is not only incomprehensible, it is rather incurable. How did torching that man strengthen Islam? What purpose has it served? Where is this frenzy driving us? What message are we sending to the world? We better figure it out sooner rather than later.

 

In the latest development in the Rimsha Masih case, the investigating officer has submitted an interim charge sheet before a trial court claiming that the complainant, prayer leader Khalid Jadoon Chishti, was in fact guilty of tampering with the evidence by adding Holy pages in the bag Rimsha had been carrying. There was no evidence or witness to prove that the blasphemy-accused girl was seen desecrating the Quran. It is high time that a serious effort was made to stop the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

 

Blasphemy is an extremely susceptible issue that needs to be handled with great care. No Muslim even of the weakest faith can disregard the sacrilege of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) or the Holy Quran. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a staggering 97 percent Muslim population while Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities comprise the rest. Yet, looking at the rate of blasphemy cases being registered, presumably, Islam faces almost all threats, existential in nature, from the land of the pure. In a country where minorities are already facing almost all kinds of challenges, why would any sane person dare to commit blasphemy? If the person charged with blasphemy is rather fortunate, police would arrest her or him; otherwise, mob justice is served to the accused.

 

Laws are made on the basis of creating order and promising peace where governance is challenged, whereas statistics suggest that the blasphemy law has only polarised our society. As per a group of Pakistani Christians, only seven cases of blasphemy were registered in all in un-partitioned India and Pakistan from 1927 to 1986. The National Commission for Justice and Peace says that in the last 25 years, 1,058 cases of blasphemy were registered. Of the accused, 456 were Ahmadis, 449 were Muslims, 132 were Christians and 21 were Hindus. Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code comprise its blasphemy laws. During Ziaul Haq’s regime, another addition to the blasphemy statutes was legislated in 1986. Section 295-C reads: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” Section 295 has gradually become a handy legal mace to settle measly personal scores, threaten rival families for pecuniary gains and practise myopic versions of Islam, predominantly in small towns and rural areas. Judges in the lower courts usually come under pressure to convict the accused charged under the statute.

 

Azam Tariq, the slain head of the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, now working under the deceptive label of Ahl-e-Sunnat wal-Jamaat, wanted to expand the blasphemy statutes to another level by including the defiling of the companions of the holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as a punishable offence. In a bill he submitted in the National Assembly, known as the Namoos-e-Sahaba bill, he proposed death or life imprisonment for any person who by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the companions of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The bill was, quite understandably, aimed at persecuting the Shia community that has its own set of inveterate views about a few of the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH)’s companions (the bone of contention between two major sects of Islam, i.e. Shias and Sunnis), lawfully. Thankfully, the bill was never taken up by parliament for voting.

 

Legislation when it encompasses any aspect of a particular religion requires extra care and vigilance. Religion always ignites passion, emotions, whereas laws require evidence, proof and witnesses. Religion always creates torrential ripples of disagreement if ideologies tend to differ whereas laws are made to hold society in unison. Minorities’ exodus through any form is questionable in a republic that upholds the rights of its citizens. Polarisation of society on a large scale can cause a civil war and wars fought on/over religion have no end because they are beliefs of various individuals. Thus laws should be such as to allow cohesively all religions to flourish peacefully.

 

Over the years, attempts to amend the statute have aggravated rigid opposition from religious parties and invited threats of bloodshed from militant groups. When Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister of Pakistan, she tried to amend the blasphemy statute as it was being misused to intimidate religious minorities, but she could not succeed in doing so. Even General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, a secular military dictator, could not amend the blasphemy laws, anticipating an imminent and severe retaliation. For the same reasons, major political parties are found reluctant to correct the law. Realising the political difficulties of amending it, I ask the authorities and the judiciary to build safety measures around the inherent faults of the blasphemy statute, particularly Section 295-C of PCC that attracts capital punishment. While the castigatory part of the statute is lucid, the definition of blasphemy remains vague and open to an individual’s interpretation.

 

In 2010, Article 10 of the constitution was amended to introduce the clause of due process into the criminal justice system. The amendment provides that a person charged with a crime is entitled to due process. This due process clause applies to the blasphemy statute as well. Pakistani courts must not apply the blasphemy statute disregarding due process and basic fundamental rights of life, liberty and freedom of religion, protected under the constitution. I am not proposing that Pakistan should allow the defiling of the Prophet (PBUH) but blasphemy cases need to be thoroughly investigated and the first and foremost priority should be to establish the genuineness of the charges filed under the blasphemy satute. I submit that Section 295-C must be reserved only for malevolent attacks on the Prophet (PBUH) and even in such cases, it should not be construed and applied in a manner repugnant to due process and Article 227 that reads: “All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” Religious minorities enjoy certain undeniable rights under Article 227, which no other law can take away.

Source: VIEW : Abating tolerance and blasphemy laws — Ali Salman Alvi

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published as the lead article in Daily Times on August 6, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Minorities in Pakistan have long confronted a nexus of numerous grave issues, the likes of intimidation and seclusion, pushing them against the wall. The situation has turned out to be a can of worms for this unprivileged section of society who now strive for their existence as they face the biggest challenge — of survival in the hostile conditions besieging them. In Pakistan, the ratio of Hindus alone is reduced to 1.6 percent of the total population as compared to 20 percent in 1947. The representation of the other minorities at all ranks has been negligible too.

From the case of Aasia bibi, a mother of five, who has been sentenced to death under the Blasphemy laws by a local court, to the deplorable murder of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain federal minister for minorities’ affairs, the situation seems to spiral out of control. So much so that the prayer leader of the well-known Mohabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar offered Rs 500,000 for killing Asia bibi during one of his sermons at the Friday prayers, adding that the payment would be made from the mosque’s fund. If the unproven case of blasphemy against Aasia bibi and the subsequent murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were not enough to take the bull by the horns, this statement alone should have set alarm bells ringing in society. Unfortunately, though, no action was taken — neither by the concerned authorities nor by the Supreme Court, which has an eye on any chance to take a suo motu action promptly — against those responsible for making the lives of the beleaguered minorities more vulnerable and thus festering the exponentially growing menace of extremism in our insensitive society. The public mindset that condones this kind of extremism was cultured and endorsed under a decade-long military regime of General Ziaul Haq from 1977 to 1988. A whole generation of Pakistanis has grown up with textbooks producing a mindset that conflate Pakistani patriotism with Islamist ‘exclusivism’ whilst another generation is in the making on the same lines of thought.

Contorted Islamisation of those who have altered it by degrees ad nauseam of extremism, manifests when it comes to a show of tolerance and reverence to other religions. It is a society that fervently hails unjust and unscrupulous practices, such as condoning the extremist mindset and glorification of the terrorist figureheads like Osama bin Laden, terming such praxes a great service to Islam. Oddly, a whopping majority of Pakistanis believes that Islam is exactly what they think and whosoever thinks otherwise would definitely end up in the deepest parts of hell for being an infidel. But is it truly indispensable that we have to give the world a sneak peek into our depleted society regularly? From the sickening display of hero-worship of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of the governor Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, to the blatant marginalisation of the underclass minorities being broadcast live on television, we never cease to stoop lower and lower. Just when I think it cannot get any worse than the monstrosities I have witnessed, it gets worse, making a mockery of my wishful thinking.

The latest nail in the coffin is driven by none other than the unparalleled queen of sanctimoniousness, Maya Khan, which involved converting a Hindu boy to Islam during a primetime Ramazan special show being broadcast live on national television, taking the issue of intimidation and segregation of religious minorities in Pakistan to another level. In a matter of a few minutes, the 20-year-old Sunil officially converted to Islam under the guidance of a cleric to be followed by a packed studio audience congratulating and yelling suggestions for his new Muslim name prior to being renamed to the consensus choice of the zealous spectators — Mohammad Abdullah. Distressingly, the channel did not realise the message that whole escapade disseminates to the minorities living in a country where they already face a number of grievous issues. To any sane person the message was loud and clear — that no other religion in Pakistan enjoys the same reverence as Islam does — and thus the only way of survival for the minorities living in the ‘Land of the Pure’ is to embrace Islam. The ecstasy with which Sunil’s conversion was hailed and the congratulatory messages that followed clearly depicts that the fever of extremism is growing more and more.

Matters of faith, belief and religion are highly personal and they should not be commercialised. Religion should not be bought or sold through a channel’s TRP ratings. Televising the conversion must have been profitable for the channel but inevitably, it has further strengthened the trend of commercialisation of Islam. Religious beliefs are polymorphous in nature and they do not happen or change overnight. This was exactly the reason why Sunil replied incoherently about his intentions when asked what motivated him to accept Islam, as most of his responses gyrated around praising Sarim Burney Trust where he worked. What his work environment had to do with his conversion remained an elephant in the room. To me Sunil has just landed in hot water, as he has to make some other decisions quite soon. One of them being which school of Islam he would follow as there is a variety of options available, each calling the other inferior and in some cases, ‘infidel’.

I believe it is not just Maya Khan and her escapades of chasing couples in parks or converting Hindus to Muslims; the crisis is definitely more serious. The quandary lies in the mindset that makes many feel that it is in line with the ethical parameters of any civilised society and to get that distorted school of thought on track, a biased and controversial media is barely a solution. A much needed code of conduct, which has been vehemently opposed from the ranks of the electronic media, is found missing. Thus, its absence is one of the major reasons why such bizarre shows are aired without any system of checks and balances. Article 25 of the Constitution states, “All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law”, whilst Article 36 maintains, “The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.” It is high time we as a society recognised the need of living in a culture of respect and tolerance for those who differ ideologically from a particular set of beliefs. Media needs to mend its ways and come up with a code of ethics to be followed by all channels operating under PEMRA. In the holy month of Ramazan, media should be spreading the message of peace and inter-faith harmony instead of airing such codswallop that propagates negative propaganda about Islam, making a mockery of religions followed by scores of people out there. With the psyche represented by the likes of Khan, there is an identity crisis among the minorities, alluring the fanatics rather than admonishing their practices and their diktats. Those who have been trying to gag the voices and slaying minorities — be it Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis (religious minorities) or Shias (populace minority) — in the name of religion, are achieving pyrotechnical Pyrrhic victories against humanity. Religious intolerance will only aggrandize fanaticism because intolerance will eventually make reasoning dead and people parochial in their way of thought.

SourceDaily Times – VIEW : Coup d’état and pandemonium of extremism — Ali Salman Alvi