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Thursday, December 18, 2014

To kill the Swine..

From the book 'Revelation Rationality, Knowledge and Truth'

The real task assigned to the Promised Christ in this prophecy was to purify the human society from inhuman behaviour and some evil habits which the swine symbolizes. There are many animals and birds which steal the fruits of the farmer's labour for the sake of their survival but do not destroy the crops and trees just for the fun of it. The swine stands out among all the animals in this destructive tendency. The swine is also notorious for eating the corpses of its young ones. No other non-marine animals are known to devour their young ones when they die. A bloodthirsty lion, or even a ferocious wolf, will rather die of hunger, woefully sitting beside the dead bodies of their brood, than to even dream of eating their flesh. Dogs do not eat the corpses of their dead puppies either. Pigs and boars, it should be remembered, are vegetarians, yet by some devilish instinct they relish eating the corpses of their young ones. Evidently therefore, the message implied in this prophecy has to be to wage a Holy War against the perverted habit of humans to be inclined to genocide and to feel free to usurp the rights of the weak. The pig's habit of eating its own piglets could be likened to the child abuse of the modern age. Child abuse may be directed against one's own children or against the children of others, either way it is swinish in character. Recently it has become a subject of common talk in modern society, so needs no further elaboration. No other animal can match humans in this ugliness.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Peshawar Massacre: Who will avenge our children, and how?

In Peshawar, the Army Public School must have been a prestigious institution. A place in the school will ensure good education fit for middle-class children. Today the school was attacked by seven Taliban terrorists who probably never saw the inside of a proper school. They went around asking who were the children of Army personnel and shot them dead. This must have been tiresome and slow as many children were not from  military families. Then, they killed indiscriminately.

In anger and desperation, I followed the twitter feed and various websites for more details. With each update, the count increased, my heart sank lower and lower.

I  remembered today a retired Christian officer from Pakistan Army and two civilians who I met a long time ago. He was a proud cavalry man if I remember correctly, the two civilians were much more intriguing.

In the early-1990s, in my college days I had the opportunity to spend some days in a Pakistan Army guest house in Rawalpindi. It was adjacent to the 'Artillary Mess' which offered lounging and dining for the officers. Here I met Major Anthony. He must have been in his late 60s then. He told me the stories of his younger days, when he used to study at Gordon College, run by the Christian missionaries in Rawalpindi. He used to be a long distance runner in his college days. The college was famous for its sporting and academic excellence. He remembered fondly how the students finally persuaded an ageing professor to get married. They found him a match, another teacher from Lahore. They celebrated the marriage in style. The whole college went to Lahore and brought Mrs Professor back in the best wedding precession he Anthony ever took part in.
'Those were the good old days'. He used to say.

He never mentioned the nationalization of the college in the 70s and its inevitable decline. Anthony also remembered vividly his great luck, when as a young officer in the Army, he was appointed as the protocol officer to the visiting Queen Elizabeth during the Ayub Khan dictatorship.

'Those were the good old days', he would say.

Then his conversation would move to how he lives his retired life in peace and how his wife is still enamoured with the Royal family and collects all the memorabilia she can get her hands on.

I remember him well, because I never met anyone like him since. I met other Pakistani Christians, mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds. And I felt ashamed to see their plight. Post-Islamization era Pakistan is no place for minorities. No respect, no life.

In the same Army mess, I once saw two young men. Confident, educated and civilians. One day, they dropped by for a cup of tea with a friend, and they found me in the sitting room watching TV. Greetings were exchanged. They wore shalwar qameez and waist-coats and had beards. I knew the type from my personal experience. Middle class, religious types. 'Jamaat-e-Islami' types. I sat with them while they chatted away with their friend. One of them mentioned the conspiracies being hatched against the Ummah by the Jews. It was a common excuse for all the misfortunes of Pakistan.

One of the bearded gentlemen mentioned the Protocol of the elders of Zion. 'They (Jews)  buy out all the copies of the book as soon as it is published'. I had heard of the book and must have read about its content by that age, but never took it too seriously. But this man was making his argument with such force that I still remember the whole meeting. Both of the visitors believed in a global conspiracy, Pakistan being its prime target. They left after tea. Their friend who remained behind mentioned that both his friends were in ISI, the Inter Services Intelligence agency.

There was a Pakistan where Major Anthony thrived, made a life and retired with honour and dignity. And then there was a Pakistan of conspiracy theorists, religious zealots who fantasized themselves to be playing a great game.

And these middle-class Jamaatia types had now a foothold in Pakistani deep state. ISI was swamped by such ideological zealots, both uniformed and civilians. Zia era Islamization had a profound impact on the composition of the ranks in Pakistan Army. Megalomaniacs like ISI's DG, Gen. Hameed Gull inherited the hubris of Afghan 'Jihad' victory and created a monster which no one could tame, even the ISI.

As a college and university student, I witnessed the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its slow creep into Pakistan from the frontier region. Like a damp patch on a wall, it keeps growing, gathering mould. Taliban  were now accepted as genuine and rightful rulers of Afghanistan. ISI had its allies providing the much needed strategic depth against India, while they kept mutilating and maiming the minds of a whole generation of Afghans and Pakistanis.

The generals who resisted a coup during the successive, spineless democratic governments had kept a strong control on all the things that mattered to them. They nurtured a poisoned generation which fought a proxy war in Kashmir. I knew another middle-class Jamaatia-type in university who trained for Jihad over the summer holiday and was killed while crossing the line of control in Kashmir. I knew many more who didn't want to go, but were happy to glorify those 'brothers' who went and became martyrs.

There are Jamaatia types and then there are the Taliban types. Jamaatias are middle-class, educated, from the urban centers of Punjab and KPK. They are happy to facilitate the lesser classes to pick up the gun and fight for whichever Jihad is underway at the time, the Taliban types; from the tribal belt or rural Punjab. They are the side product of a village welfare system, where the Madrassah takes on the surplus child from a poor family. The child eats leftovers, gets abused and radicalized.

The same abused, radicalized children grew up, and in the name of a fantasy cause, murdered over a hundred middle-class children in cold blood in Peshawar yesterday.

Pakistan seems to have woken up after this massacre. Only a year ago, the same city saw over 120 Christian worshippers killed in a similar attack on All Saints Church. But no one cares for them. No revenge for the Christians. Almost 100 Ahmadis perished in Lahore in 2010, and it went unpunished even when one of the assailants was handed over to the police.

There will be revenge for the children, for right or wrong reason. This will bring an end to the Taliban fundamentalist at least in the tribal areas for now.

But who will punish the middle-class Jamaati types who have caused this mess in the first place?


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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Quran and the West - A history of prejudice.

When UKIP’s Lord Pearson says that Muslims should address the violence in the Quran, he is most definitely not pretending to be ignorant. He should know that there is a counter narrative available for those who wish to listen; that of a peaceful, non-political Islam in which Quran and the Sunnah (conduct of the Prophet of Islam) still hold a central, fundamental position.

Even Lord Pearson’s critics can’t help but defend his ‘intellectual’ message.

Andrew Brown says that in a ‘literal sense’ the Quran does contain an ‘unpleasant and violent political message’. I wonder what exactly he means by the phrase ‘in a literal sense’. What is literal? Is it ‘taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or exaggeration.’ as Google informs us?

Or in the case of the Quran it must mean contextomizing the text?. i.e., the literal reading of the Quran which teaches its readers a violent political message can only be done if each ‘problem’ verse is read in its usual and most basic sense… without any context: Both historic and textual.

Let us discuss a bit of historic context.

The first contact of the Muslims with the West was a hostile one. The Byzantine Empire shrank and eventually retreated under the onslaught of Muslim armies from the time of Umar, the second Caliph. Since then, misrepresenting Islam has become an age old western tradition.

We have a Greek-Syriac text from the time of Umar which informs its readers of a ‘false prophet of the Saracens’ whose armies have invaded Palestine.

That was an inevitable, unavoidable war. Empires did not suffer barbarian tribes for too long before sending armies to neutralize them. But these were no barbarians. They were a society of converts to a religion which taught morality and required its followers to proselytize it to the world. A clash was inevitable. And for the Byzantines, it resulted in a defeat.

By now you must be wondering why I am digressing from the issue of context to the problematic Quranic verses. If you want that discussion, pick up a copy of the Quran and a book on the Sira of the Prophet.

I want to discuss the historical context of these periodic statements put out by politicians and academics about revising the Quran, discarding some of it, denouncing it, even banning it. That is the real problem here.

So where were we? Yes, Islam’s encounters with the Byzantine empire...

Centuries later, by the time Islamic civilization was in decline, Orientalist missionaries started producing literature on Islam. They belonged to many denominations of the Christian faith, but had one thing in common. They could not bear to accept any virtues in the Holy Prophet or his message.

According to them the rise of Islam had nothing to do with the actual message of the Quran. Socio-economically speaking, Islam was a product of an Arab renaissance of sorts. With a culture in love with its language and tribes taking pride in their poets – A nation was aching to unite under a cause to challenge the Byzantine and Persian Empires who had dismissed them as illiterate nomads for too long.

Add to the mix a poet who aspired to be a prophet the same as those who came to the Israelites.

D C MacDonald writes about how Quran came into being;

‘Muhammad’s brain had for long been treasuring up such things (sic. segments of Old Testament); but treasuring them up with the most singular, most unparalleled inaccuracy; and then making them over with the utmost freedom of imagination.’

Take SW Koelle for example, another 19th century Orientalist who faithfully reproduces passage after passage from Ibn e Ishaq’s Sira while commenting on the person of the Prophet with the aim to negate any heroic quality that was apparent or implied in those writings.

In the 17th Century, George Sale translated the Quran into English and in his opening notes introduced it as ‘the Book what that false prophet very grosly invented’.

Title page of Sale's translation of the Quran

With such a rich history of academic prejudice, no wonder that the western scholarship never could look at the Quran in a neutral light. They hated and feared both the book and its bearers.

The same thought process has been inherited by the present day Orientalist-Historians. No longer burdened by Christian faith, they do not want to glorify Christ the Saviour and demean all the false prophets who came after him. But because Islam challenges the perceived notions of those who research it with an open mind, it does take a lot of effort to oppose it.

The first reaction is to reject the text as a forgery; something post-scripted to fit a changing geo-political landscape of Arabia. Any parallels with the older scriptures are considered plagiarisms and interpolations by unknown editors of the Quran. Any departures from the Bibilical narratives are just mistakes and evidence that the author of the Quran must have taken any apocryphal stories and adopted them for their new book.

Patricia Crone accepts that the Quran was indeed uttered by a person called Muhammad, but she is not convinced if Mecca ever existed. Similar doubts have been raised by Tom Holland in his recent work. Another attempt to discredit the Quran was made by Luxenberg,who thinks that it originated as a Syriac text outside of Arabia and transformed into classic Arabic over a period of time.

One of the new theories states that Islam was in fact a doomsday cult which just carried on growing. Early Muslims were awaiting the Armageddon imminently. Maybe this explains the fanaticism of the Muslim armies who conquered the world.

However, the message of the Quran, its conviction on absolute justice, equality of human kind, rights of women and social justice, has all been ignored due to prejudice. Muslims did not come out of Arabia with a nationalist cause; they came out because they had something to share with the world. And they made sure the world knew of this treasure - the Quran.

We cannot deny that there is a problem with the Muslim world today. It is a problem of literal reading: but not of the Quran itself. It is of the disparate Hadith texts which require even more context and validations than the Quran. The creed of Salafis and Wahabis, the two factions of Sunni Islam providing almost all the fighters in ISIS and Al-Qaeda, are Hadith-centric. i.e. They believe the Quran to be the word of God, but they dare not understand its words without a Hadith reference. This means that if a verse’s explanation is not accompanied by an alleged explanation by the prophet himself or his esteemed companions, or those who came immediately after them - it is not a valid interpretation.

In fact, in Orthodox Sunni Islam, the Quran has been the secondary source of doctrinal authority for many centuries.

This approach restricts the understanding of the Quran to a particular era of history which is only remembered for its violence. Nations were at war with each other, slavery was still a common practice and society was still being ruled by very tribal traditions. The ideas of citizenship, loyalty and national identities were very different then.
In fact it was the Quran which spurred on the Muslim civilizations around the world to take huge leaps in philosophy, science, arts and culture which benefited the whole of mankind.

How strange it must be to live in the 21st century; in the era of the Internet and smartphones and idealizing a medieval lifestyle at the same time.

So the next time someone blames Quran for the punishment of beheadings and hanging for apostasy, blasphemy and heresy, or stoning to death for adultery or homosexuality, please remember that Quran does not prescribe such punishments at all.

This debate on how to interpret Quran has been going on among theMuslims for many centuries, and it will continue for the time to come. But if history has taught us anything, it is that reform is an ongoing process which may take centuries.

The problem is not the Quran, it never has been. The problem has been those who twisted the meanings of the Quran to create suspicions, and those who ignored its message. And above all, those Muslims who were given this gift and they chose to replace it with the opinions of men.


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