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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A small town with an even smaller heart

If you profess to be a Muslim, you are required to pray five times a day. An adult male must attend the mosque to pray in congregation as many times as he can. That is why you can hear muezzins call to prayer, the Adhan, in all towns and cities around the Islamic world. Five times a day, the muezzin invites the faithful to his mosque to fulfill their duty towards their God.

A Mosque is like a second home to a Muslim; his first if he achieves the spiritual devotion as intended by the scriptures.
Now imagine a town where the local residents have tried to block the building of a Mosque for a tiny community. Imagine how hard it is to be a practicing Muslim having no access to a  mosque. The townsfolk have a serious reason for their rejection of this mosque. They think that it would be a serious threat to their way of life. Not only that, they feel that any such construction would be against the religious tradition of the town and the country. Mobs attacked the under construction mosque numerous times despite repeated attempts by the community to seek police protection.

The community dropped the plans to build their mosque for the sake of maintaining peace in their small town and instead agreed with the local administration  to build a residence in its place. They had an Imam to accommodate and living quarters of the mosque would have been ideal. Mosque or no mosque, the Imam was there to stay to cater for their spiritual and educational needs. But the locals weren't content with this arrangement. They wanted a guarantee that no prayer congregation could take place in that house.
You will be shocked to learn that a sworn affidavit to this effect was also duly signed by this community.

This all happened more than ten years ago. Now the community has received various threats from their neighbours to stop using the facility for prayers. They suspect that the Imam may be leading some of his visitors and guests in prayers in secret. The local police has been reminded of the affidavit and requested to take immediate action against the clandestine activities of this group.

It could easily have been a story of Christian, Mongol, Hindu or Sikh oppression of their Muslim subjects in the past.

But this story is about Pakistan: A Muslim majority country where these particular Muslims are not Muslim. Their mosque is not Mosque. In this town of Tatlay Aali, near Gujranwala, like the rest of the country since 1974, Ahmadis are a non-Muslim minority. Since 1984 they have no rights to build a mosque or call it one. Now we have learnt that according to the pious and right-minded residents of TatlayAali, they can't even pray within the confines of their homes as it is considered to be against the law of the land.

I heard this story from an acquaintance and had it verified. For me it came as no surprise as I have seen it happen numerous times before. Back in the early 90s, I witnessed the destruction of the under-construction mosque (or Qadiani temple as described by the press) in Rawalpindi. Local mullahs petitioned against the mosque in the courts and as a result, many thousands of Ahmadis in Rawalpindi are still without a mosque of their own.

Tatlay Aali is a typical small town in Punjab. It probably could still be classed as a village, but increasing urbanization in the region has blurred the line between a village and a small town even more. It probably used to have a diverse population. A beautiful Sikh Gurudawara still stands tall, although deteriorating due to lack of use and maintenance.
I don't need to explain why the Sikhs left. A small Christian community also lives here.

Like the rest of the country, terrorism and religious extremism are threatening the very core of this society too. In Tatlay Aali, you hear the news of armed militants seeking safe houses in the local madrassah and engaging the local police in a shootout. A seminary teacher also got arrested for training small children for terror activities.

Tatlay Aali: Four terrorists with their pressure cooker bombs. Image courtesy

It also appears to be a good spot to hide and negotiate ransom for kidnappings.

The town isn't doing  so well on the moral front either.
While the local seminary provides shelter to terrorists, crime against donkeys makes headlines. Four poor donkeys were abducted by thieves and their skinless carcasses were discovered in the fields. I am puzzled myself, but in a country where donkey meat has been served in many a restaurants as mutton, donkey hide must have its uses.

Another news item described a case of incest - rather the rape of a girl by her father. Also in the news are numerous stories of murder and abductions.
Human rights commission of Pakistan reported in 2008 two harrowing incidents in Tatlay Aali . One, of a labourer whose fingers were chopped off by a landlord for refusing to do his bidding, and of a family of seven sold in slavery to another landlord for just over 1400 US dollars.
A young man commits suicide after having an argument with his older sister. Whereas the local police arrested a number of gentlemen on drug and alcohol related offenses. Police also discovered a brothel and arrested few people.

Organizations of various Sunni or Wahabi affiliations are aplenty in this part of the world.

One news site lists all the happening news in the region and almost the whole page is full of statements from religious leaders of this town decrying the threat of secularism to the country. One Jamaat-e-Islami leader told a rally that one should never compromise on the belief of Khatme nabuwwat, the finality of prophethood.

A leader of Sunni Tehreek laments the fact that crimes of corruption, nepotism and armed robberies are rife in the area, sewers and garbage dumps are overflowing on their streets and people are suffering under the current government.

Despite a couple of seminaries, dozens of constitutionally acceptable Mosques and tens of religious organizations, the very small Pakistani town of Tatlay Aali seems to be festering in all sorts of depravity and moral ills.

Should I be surprised that the congregational prayers of a small group of Ahmadis are a threat to the town's religious way of life?

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