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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pakistani Mango Reigns Supreme

India is a great nation. A billion Indians on the most fertile patch of land on our planet know a thing or two about flavour, spice and the harvest. Unfortunately, they know nothing about the excellence of the Pakistani Mango. I feel sorry for them.

Anwar Ratol - The best mango in the world.

I grew up on mangoes. Anwar Ratol was our family favourite. Every summer, crates of Anwar Ratol mangoes were purchased almost on a weekly basis. In the sweltering heat of mid-summer Punjab, our father would get buckets of iced water and pour into it dozens and dozens of greenish, gold tinged mangoes. We helped in the ritual; picking bits of husk from the sticky resin that perfectly ripe mangoes ooze from the bud.  We would wait a little, just enough for the mangoes to get deliciously cold.

Eating Anwar Ratols is a competitive pursuit. You don’t eat them; You gulp them after mushing the pulp with your thumbs and sucking the rich, flavoursome chunky nectar from the stalk end of the fruit.  You dress for the occasion too. It must be the kurta that needs to go to the wash the same afternoon. Sleeves must be rolled up and you must be seated on the cool floor as close to the bucket as possible. You carry on until there are no more mangoes. Then you calm your stomach with a nice glass of ‘kachi lassi’ - an ounce of milk watered down to repel the heat of the greatest fruit on earth.

Then you sleep.

We were also treated with the whole range of mango varieties throughout the summer. Our kitchen and the fridge remained fragrant with mangoes for the summer holidays. Monsoons brought the best crop to the shops and a good chunk of our food budget would go to the fruit sellers.

Sindhri - A gift from the mighty Indus river

Pakistani mangoes are the greatest fruit on earth. There is no doubt about it. We prepare for our thermometer bursting, electricity deprived summers by consoling ourselves in the hope of mangoes.

I know that some Indian friends are under this illusion that Indian mangoes are better. I have no doubt that their home grown fruit is more appealing for them. Had they ever tasted the Anwar Ratol ripened in the humid, unbearable heat of southern Punjab, they would change their mind.  They have never been invited to a mango party which happens under some trees by the canal. They never tried the mango Ice-cream frozen by rolling the barrels for hours by hand on the streets and plentiful scoops of it presented with chunks of mangoes freshly sliced over it. They have never stopped in a busy night market in urban Faisalabad, ogled at the golden Dueshri and Malda bobbing among the ice-cubes in a glass tank of a roadside vendor, and ordered a few kilos to share with your friends. The vendor also presents you with the watery sweet milk remedy in the end. That is on the house, usually.

To not know the earthy fragrance of a sweet Sindhri and the irresistible, bursting with a bouquet of flavours Chaunsa is one of the greatest misfortunes akin to not visiting Lahore or disliking cricket while being an Indian.

I have nothing against Indian cultivars. They seem to be adequate for the Indian palate. I also accept the fact that Pakistan is part of the Indian subcontinent, so nothing which claims to be a product of biology can ever be inherently purely Pakistani. We are all Indians.
But with the creation of Pakistan, we had effectively firewalled a few things for our great nation. The best mangoes, fast bowlers, fried breakfasts, classical singers, pop musicians, dictatorships, good TV dramas and bad films etc etc. I can carry on.  Did I say mangoes? The humble Indian mango was allowed to thrive by our nation of talented horticulturists, and fertile sandy soil planes of Sindh and Punjab. Saplings of top quality cultivars were nurtured with love and affection. A mango farmer in Sindh cries over his flood or wind ravaged mango plants as if a beloved family member died. The harsh summer season in the planes of the mighty river Sindh has given an evolutionary edge to the Pakistani mango which is apparent in its manifold qualities. Pakistan has been an evolutionary hot spot for a few choicest things. Islamists, mystery spinners, con men, mangoes!

A mango farm in Sindh - Tando Allahyar

Compared to the Pakistani mango, the Indian mango is mediocre at best in taste and flavour. Like an Indian batsman, it only gets high scores in home conditions and is ridiculously overrated by its adoring fans. I have been forced to try the Indian mango once or twice.  Alphonso, the so-called ‘king of mangoes’ is mostly skin. Not impressed! Kesar, the other famous variety, looks good, but barely tastes like a mango. Sweetness aside, both mangoes provided ample fibres to floss ones teeth while eating them. 

Our Indian neighbours are lucky to have proper democracy, first dibs at most of our shared history, a definite sense of identity, batsmen and a booming economy. But with partition, us Pakistanis got the frail economy, a constitutional crisis In every decade, Urdu humour and the best mangoes.
Chaman's mango Ice cream. One of the best!

In addition to a robust mango based summer sub-culture, mango parties, the mango Ice-cream and millions of tons of mango produce every year from Sindh and Punjab, mangoes also helped rid us of our worst dictator. Our diplomacy, both domestic and international relies heavily on the greatness of our mango. We are a nation indebted to the mango. And we wish to share this gift with the world. That is why our mango is distributed far and wide.
The Indian mango has its place in the world market. That is in the canned goods isle, next to the Bombay mix and Tilde basmati rice.

King of the canned goods isle

It is not all lost for the Indians. After all, Anwar Ratol was a migrant from India. They can definitely have some pride in its heritage. Also, they still have the best coconuts and papaya fruit.  Why not settle on that? Leave Pakistani mangoes at their rightful place. Top of the World!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Criticizing Islam

Ahmadi Muslims are at the forefront of the fight against radicalization.
Image Courtesy The Guardian Website

In his article in the Times entitled ‘Stand up for the right to criticize Islam’ Matt Ridley writes that there is a spectrum of religious beliefs, from spiritual to the violent extreme.  Ridley, himself a humanist, is skeptical even of the power of a moderate form of religion to bring about social justice and peace.
Ridley takes issue with PM May’s statement that terrorist acts are a ‘perversion of the great faith of Islam’. He thinks that Khalid Masood was follower of a version of Islam (not a perversion) and we must accept that as a fact. The religion of Islam must be criticized for its faults.
He then cites the oppression of women, homosexuals and suppression of science by religions (primarily Islam) to prove that religion has nothing good to offer to the society, and such practises do not deserve any respect.
I agree wholeheartedly. Well said Mr. Ridley!  If this is Islam, then I, a practicing Muslim myself will stand with you and criticize it.
But the question is; to whom should we address this criticism? God?  Prophet Muhammad? Saudi Royals? Irani Ayatollahs? Your neighbour who happens to be a Muslim?
I personally would address it to the clerics who have for generations misrepresented the scriptures, providing various violent political movements with religious sanctions to commit atrocities. As I am a Muslim who reads and understands the Quran, I will also take a position based on knowledge, not prejudice.  I know for a fact that this violent interpretation represents a fictitious faith born out of malice, human misery and selfish desires of the clergy. It is not Islam.
Mr. Ridley himself agrees.  He says, ‘The one thing they (terrorists) have in common is that they had been radicalized by religious preachers claiming to interpret the Koran.’
As my criticism has a clear target, Ridley like many others has erred in finding the right language, tone or even logic to address the issue of Islamist violent extremism.  In many cases, there is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the facts in favour of a deeply cynical and malevolent narrative against Islam.
This is largely due to their lack of knowledge about Islam and partly due to the traditional European indoctrination against Islam. Islam has always been a ‘pretend’ religion which had nothing new to offer to the world as Pope Benedict let slip a few years ago. All the classical European historic texts take the standard stance that Prophet Muhammad was an impostor, and Muslims were a conquering force which threatened Europe for centuries. That reptilian fear reflex has been embedded so deep in the European psyche that even the atheist scholars of today can’t help this knee jerk reaction.
Take for example Mr. Ridley mentioning over 400 acid attacks in Britain. He thinks that it has something to do with sharia-enabled men disfiguring women all across the country.  The fact is that this heinous practice was a British invention, exported to other parts of the world, including the Indian subcontinent.  Most victims come from Colombia and India. But unfortunately, people have associated it with Islam. Was this an easy mistake to make? Perhaps you will think twice before calling FGM an Islamic practice. Or perhaps not!
 It is more convenient to support bigotry with fake facts these days. What about those 400 or so acid attack victims you may ask? These were mostly gang related incidents and majority of them were men. Acid attacks and FGM, just like terrorism, have nothing to do with Islam. It is all about politics, sexual and territorial, as well as that of identity. 
When it comes to people seeking the license to mock religions and their founders, Islam becomes the obvious focus of attention.  People are being killed around the Islamic world for criticizing Islam. This is also another gross perversion of Islamic teachings. It is the clerics who perpetuate these ideas, and there is no evidence, none whatsoever in the Quran to support such barbaric acts. I, like millions of my Ahmadiyya Muslim brothers and sisters around the world, criticize these clerics and their followers with proofs, arguments and with grace.  For us, Islam is free from all blame just as the God that we worship and the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) that we love and follow.
My sincere advice to Mr. Ridley and his fellow commentators is to join us in our 125 year old campaign to reform Muslims by understanding Islam and initiating a dialogue with those we disagree. Ridicule, fake facts and divisive Islamophobic propaganda is not the solution.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mufti Hanif Qureshi, The Singing Hate Preacher Visits Luton

Hanif Qureshi gets top billing for a May 2016 event in Ghousia Mosque, Luton

It appears that Luton’s Ghousia mosque has no intention of dissociating itself from extremist clerics from Pakistan. Their latest crowd-puller is Mufti Hanif Qureshi . Despite objections raised in the house of Parliament on allowing him entry into the country, Qureshi’s appearance at various events in Luton went ahead as planned in 2016.
Qureshi is quite an entertainer.  He would have pulled a decent sized crowd in Hyde Park's speakers corner back in the day.  Like most clerics, he has the gift of the gob, but he belongs to a more talented variety. He is a rabble-rouser, a fire and brimstone preacher who craves for controversy.
In Pakistan, his home country, Qureshi’s sermons and speeches are very well-attended. He shouts and screams into the microphone, breaks frequently into the traditional song-prose style of preaching  and puntuates his speech with devotional songs. He gets the crowd going. He keeps them engaged and enraged in equal measure.
It is widely believed in Pakistan that his one such performance in Rawalpindi caused a high profile murder. The murderer was Mumtaz Qadri, who heard him speak at his local mosque. The victim was Salman Taseer, an outspoken liberal governor of the Punjab province and the topic of that particular speech.
Qureshi, like most other Sunni clerics in Pakistan have vowed to carry on with their mission of maintaining the death penalty for blasphemy an absolute law in Pakistan.  Not only that, such preachers frequently condone vigilante acts against perceived blasphemers and against anyone trying to defend the accused.
Qureshi’s performance  on the occasion of the ‘Khatm-e-Nabuwwat Conference’ in 2015 is worth noting here. It is an annual event marking the anniversary of the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslim in the Pakistani constitution.  Many mosques around the UK hold similar events every year. Most have guest speakers like Mufti Qureshi from Pakistan.


He starts his speech in sober fashion but  warms up very quickly. On what could be the equivalent of 0-60 mph in 3 seconds in oratory, he escalates from rather sombre invocation of prayers to full-blown death to apostates vitriol within minutes.
The crowd, already admiring his verbosity and his singing voice are fully engaged; chanting and singing with him and responding to his rhetorical questions. They respond with a childish zeal.
He isn’t happy at the energy levels. He tells them that blasphemers are watching them closely. He knows that the mosque was probably questioned about the purpose of his visit. He tells them that they must show how passionate they are about the honour of the Prophet. Realizing that not condemning blasphemers loudly enough could also be blasphemy, the crowd goes crazy.
Qureshi isn’t too impressed. But he must press on to more urgent matters.
His formula is simple. Its all the hits and no new material. Blasphemy, apostasy, wars, beheadings and pulling out blasphemous tongues etc. He acknowledges his hosts a couple of times and tells the crowd that UK has laws but thankfully Pakistan also has laws, much better laws - like the death penalty for blasphemy.
Then he goes on to another tirade about blasphemy.  His choice of words is careful. He avoids using explicitly violent language, but he implies violence through his interpretation of historic events. He relies on the audience’s misinformation about history to hint that violence against Ahmadis will be a heroic deed.  
He tells the crowd that Ahmadis are ‘Murtad’ (apostates) and tells them that apostates were murdered in the olden days. He glorifies it. He sings about it. He tells them that hundreds of early Muslim (i.e, Sahaba, the companions of the Prophet) gave their lives in fighting the Riddah wars. (Factually this version is incorrect. ‘Riddah wars’ is a misnomer. These were wars against a rebellion against the state).
He tells the crowd that according to the Quran, Ahmadis are Murtad and they are the ones opposing the apostates, i.e., the good guys who should follow in the footsteps of the esteemed ‘Sahaba’.  
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the algebra and come to the conclusion that Ahmadis are liable to death.  But Qureshi doesn’t say that. He tells them that apostates were murdered by strangulation by the heroic good Muslims. He urges the crowd to challenge the Ahmadis with full force. He has obviously been told not to incite violence by the organizers, but he can’t help himself. It is all tongue in cheek.  It is lightweight stuff compared to his performances in Pakistan.
He then turns his attack to the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. He is abusive, vulgar, slanderous and obscene; all of which are considered valuable assets for a sectarian preacher in Pakistan.  The crowd readily consumes the filth and responds to the presumed blasphemies of Ahmadis with gasps of shock and horror. He finishes his performance by asking the crowd to declare the Ahmadis as blasphemers. He laments the fact that they can’t do anything in the UK.  He doesn’t recommend any actions for the crowd apart from hating the Ahmadis and teach their children at home that Ahmadis are Kafir.
Since the murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow, it has become painfully clear that hate preachers wield too much influence in the UK. Amongst the many fans of Tanveer Ahmed, the murderer, the most prominent one appears to be none other than the talented Mufti Qureshi.   The Ghousia Mosque in Luton has not only hosted a hate preacher, it has allowed him to incite violence and hatred against the Ahmadis.  The sad reality is that for most Pakistani immigrant communities, these Barelvi firebrands offer a sordid entertainment which feeds their religious bigotries and makes them feel pious. 
The next Mumtaz Qadri or Tanveer Ahmed could be getting his murderous motivation from these speeches.  The government response to the parliamentary question regarding this imported  hate preacher was inadequate, and evidently, ineffective.  This has to stop!


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