Author Archives: Raza Raja

Why Strategic Use of Islam Failed

By Raza Habib Raja

Any state once it is in existence strives to maintain its integrity. All the state institutions are inherently geared to ensure that the state’s writ remains effective and moreover the cohesiveness is not jeopardized.

The problems of cohesiveness and effective writ become more complicated if the country is not ethnically homogeneous. Presence of various ethnicities, keeping other things constant, would require extra care and vigilance to ensure cohesiveness as there will always be tendency to secede.

That is why states which are characterized by presence of sub state ethnicities try to promote what is known as Civic Nationalism.   Civic Nationalism does not have ethnicity as its prime determinant but rather tries to subdue the ethnic identities and cultivate allegiance to the “Country” instead. Failure to do it effectively may result in the breakup of the state.

Any country which at the time of its existence is multiethnic would try to cultivate Civic Nationalism and would exert efforts to manipulate identity is such a way that people would prefer to identify themselves first as nationals and then as members of a particular ethnic group. Theoretically and for that matter even ethically, there is nothing wrong with this concept. Civic Nationalism, if CORRECTLY, cultivated would smoothen out grievances and prevent discrimination on the basis of any ethnicity from emerging.

How does that integration take place? Diverse ethnicities may associate themselves with a federation due to some common factor in the beginning but in the longer run they will associate with the federation, if they are convinced that they are getting a right mix of economic advantages and political autonomy. It has to be remembered that identity based on language and race may become dormant at times but it does not simply disappear. Whereas it is desirable that people should identify themselves with the “country” at the same time it is not possible that their ethnic identities will simply vanish.

Complications start emerging when you try to cultivate Civic Nationalism in the wrong manner. In my opinion Pakistan’s present ethnic strife lies in the way we have tried to cultivate civic nationalism. Instead of integrating diverse ethnicities in a proper manner, we have tried to whip up the only common factor, Islam and supplemented it with coercive tactics whenever any ethnicity has raised its voice.

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Nazeer Akbarabadi: The Hindustani Poet

This is a very interesting article sent to us by Ms Razia Hussain. Apart from a brief biography of the poet, it is an excellent analysis of language as well as the social circumstance prevailing at that time. It talks about a language which later on evolved into two major languages, i.e. Urdu and Hindi. A must read for language buffs and also for those who want to have a look at history through a completely different perspective

By Razia Hussain

Nazeer Akbarabadi (1735-1830) was one of the first ‘Hidustani’ poet – unfortunately he turned out to be the only one.

In early 1700s a new language was emerging in and around Delhi. This language was a mixture of some local dialects (Hindvi and Bhaashaa) and Persian, the language of the royal court. There was no formal script, grammar and no prescribed rules for this language. The formation of this un-named language was as organic as the formation of the society at the turn of eighteenth century in the northern sub-continent. There were Hindu aristocrats, eager to learn Persian to gain favor of the court. There were people of Persian and Mongolian decent already rooted in the culture of the sub-continent. Presence of East India Company was ever more felt in larger cities. Political tensions were high, there were many players and the balance of political power hung precariously between them all. At this precise juncture in history, when the fates of a society, a polity, a nation and a language were hanging in a balance, a linguistically gifted genius happened to be taking lexical snapshots of these accounts in his poetry.

Axes of Hindustani

The claim that Nazeer was the first and only Hindustani poet requires some explanation. There is no definition of Hindustani language. It is probably this hypothetical ideal of a language –the mother of modern Urdu/Hindi registers. As mentioned earlier, Urdu/Hindi are a result of an organically evolved language from local Sanskrit based dialects and Persian. One axis of Hindustani is, therefore, along the various languages it has evolved from: Sanskrit on one end and Persian on the other, with various local dialects in-between. The few foreign words of Portuguese and Latin come through the dialects (absorbed from Portuguese traders) whereas Turkish and Arabic come through Persian.  Second axis of Hindustani ran along the social status of the speaker. Persian was the medium of instruction of higher education, and viewed similar to how English is viewed in modern day subcontinent. Education, though not always, also reflects the economic status of people because it is a luxury only the rich can afford. Therefore, in 1700s, a wealthy and/or educated person was more likely to use Persian vocabulary than not. Third axis of the language depicted the religious affiliation of the speaker. Islamic terms did not have Sanskrit words and Hindu terms did not have Persian counterparts. Therefore Hindus were likely to resort to Sanskrit based words whereas Muslims had more Persian vocabulary at their disposal. The third axis, however, was the weakest because as mentioned earlier, wealthy Hindu families routinely acquired formal Persian education.

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Why it is impossible to repeal blasphemy laws

By Feroz Khan

Babar Awan’s statement proves that the state of Pakistan is incapable of removing any laws once they are created on the basis of religion. In the last few days, if anyone has noticed, the statements coming from the officialdom have gradually obscured the issue. Therefore, one has to applaud Babar Awan for his honesty and candor for calling a spade a spade. In this sense, Babar Awan stands heads and shoulders above those minions of Pakistani politics, who do not have the moral and intellectual courage to state the truth in Pakistan.

First, Salmaan Taseer proclaims that Asif Ali Zardari will pardon Asiya Bibi and then, the minister for minorities, Bhatti, says that Zardari will pardon her but it will not be an immediate pardon and will take time. Then, comes a statement from Zardari’s office that since Asiya Bibi has filed an appeals, Zardari will wait for the appeal process to run its course and wait for the court judgement, on the appeal, before issuing a pardon. Zardari is a cunning politician and by saying this, he has taken himself off the hook and created a situation, where he does not have to take a decision on the matter. He has cleverly deflected international pressure and opinion by saying that the matter is being considered and he cannot prejudice the legal proceedings by issuing a pardon at this stage.

How long will this process last? The courts in Pakistan are an expletive deleted, when it comes to delivering justice. No judge, in their right mind, will over turn the judgement of the lower courts and risk a premature death at the hands of religious parties. Judges, when they decide cases like this one, think of their families and how to protect them from the backlash and not what the law says on the matter. This means that the proceedings will be made hostage to the procedural nature of the legal system in Pakistan and may take years; while the poor woman continues to languish in jail. In the mean time, as is the wont of our times, a new crisis will emerge and this issue will fade into a quiet, unmourned death.

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Latest Gem from the Ministry of Tourism: “Taliban are the true followers of Islamic ideology”

 By Raza Habib Raja

Dear readers please see the following excerpt from Dawn

“MANSEHRA: Federal Minister for Tourism Maulana Attaur Rehman has said that Taliban are the true followers of Islamic ideology and the US has been creating hatred against them.

“Ulema and Taliban are the true followers of Islamic ideology and America is the biggest terrorist of the world, which is creating hatred against them,” said the minister while speaking at a public gathering in Allai here on Tuesday.

Mr Rehman said that the ongoing spate of terrorism could not be eliminated until the US and the world gave equal rights and respect to the Muslims.

“It is a misconception that Ulema and Taliban are against coexistence of people with different religions, in fact it is America which is against the interfaith harmony to maintain its hegemony on the world,” said Mr Rehman, who belongs to the JUI-F”.

Now this is a guy who has been appointed as Federal Minister for Tourism by PPP led government. I seriously think that although politics is the art of compromise, but this non sense should not be tolerated.

PPP since it belongs to the liberal side of the political spectrum should take serious notice of such statements as these undermine its liberal credentials. Although Maulana sahib is not from the PPP but his party is a key ally.  Moreover, I vividly remember when Rana Sanaullah, the Law Minister of Punjab, met Sapah Sahaba for an electoral adjustment in Jhang, Salman Taseer actually wrote to Shahbaz Sharif blaming him of supporting Islamic fundamentalists. Likewise his stupid statement requesting Taliban, to stop attacks in Punjab were also construed as some kind of “alliance” of PML N with the hardliners. Some prominent journalists even wrote lengthy articles on that. Whereas I fully agree that criticism on Shabaz Sharif was justified, but fairness demands that PPP should condemn their allies also. Lets for a change show some REAL self introspection!

I think the major problem with both the major parties, PML (N) as well as PPP, is that they stand ready to go for occasional “practical” compromise with the hardliners. They forget that such so called pragmatic compromises have a deteriorating effect on the society’s ideological fabric as more and more ground is ceded to forces of extremism.

And PPP, due to its liberal orientation should be even more careful and therefore merits criticism. However here I have constantly seen that whenever you are critical of PPP, even with sincere intentions, you are branded as pseudo liberal or reminded that other parties have also conducted similar excesses. I think it is for the party supporters to realize that there are areas where criticism is justified and instead of justifying their party leadership, they should pressurize them.

And by the way, what is this guy doing as a Minister of Tourism? I mean what kind of tourism are we trying to promote here? Are we out of our senses? Is this the image of Pakistan we are trying to sell abroad?

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Wives of Job: A Woman’s Perspective

This is a very interesting and bold article sent to us by Ms Kiran Rizvi which gives female perspective on the male centric cultural narrative

By Kiran Rizvi

The story of the biblical character ‘Job’ or Ayyub, has intrigued me ever since I first heard it at the age of seven. Job was a wealthy man who had many wives and children and was the head of his clan. Apparently, one day Satan pointed out to God that the reason Job was so pious and thankful was because he had many things to thank for, at which God took some objections. God was determined to demonstrate to Satan that Job would be thankful under all circumstances. As a proof, God took away all the wealth of land and cattle and Job and his family had to live in poverty, yet Job remained thankful.  Job’s wives and children died off, yet he remained thankful. Job himself was subjected to unspeakable diseases; it is said that as the worms would fall off of his open wounds, he’d put them back and offer thanks to God who had bestowed His blessings upon him. After having proved to Satan that Job was indeed a pious man with our without the favorable circumstances, God returned all the wealth and cattle to Job and he acquired new set of wives who bore him many more children than before. Job was well rewarded for his steadfastness and patience. The story ends here..or does it?

The first time I heard it, I was struck with despair. As soon as the story teller ended the story, my first question was, “what about the wives and children who died for the sake of this experiment?” The story-teller said that it was the will of God, they had to die. “The point of the story,” he added “is that Job was patient, thankful and steadfast in his faith. The story is not about his wives and children and cattle. You are missing the point.” Missing the point? Whose point? Am I missing the point or the point-of-view? I had so many questions. Why was only Job’s patience rewarded and why were his wives and children punished in the process? Did Satan effectively tricked God into making Job suffer, even if only temporarily? Why was God ‘conversing’ with the Satan in the first place? A child’s curiosity knows no bounds.

When I grew up I realized that Job was not the only person in Bible or history whose point-of-view happened to be more important than that of his peers. History was written from the point of view of winners or rulers or at least the writers of history. The losers, the subjects and the cultures without a writing system were treated like Job’s wives…collateral damage in the grand scheme of things. History is not the only thing affected by the plague of point-of-view. Religion is another major example.

Every religion sees the world from its point-of-view, which happens to be the most correct, of course. I remember watching a debate on TV recently over the Islamic law of apostasy. A Christian who converts to Islam should not be killed by Christians for his apostasy, but a Muslim does deserve to die if he converts to Christianity. The debating Islamic scholar on the TV was trying to defend this law because converting to Islam saves souls, something his opponent, a prominent Christian scholar, claimed to do as well. The real battle was whose point-of-view was valid. It was clear that if this apostasy happens in Pakistan, the mullah will get his way and if it happens in a Christian country, the bishop will get his.

 The religious texts are almost always revealed through men, written down by men, interpreted by men and legislated by men. Whose point-of-view, do you think, is reflected in this process? A gross misconception is that “Islamic Law” is written by Allah Himself. People defend Islamic teachings, interpretations and legislations as if they are divine, nothing can be farther from the truth.  A man can divorce his wife with or without reason in the blink of an eye, but a woman has to get a judge’s permission to divorce her husband. A judge, who can be bribed, threatened or manipulated. It is quite clear whose point-of-view is being catered here. There are other laws and interpretations that blatantly disregard women’s rights to safety and property etc. These laws and interpretations are not only defended by Muslim men, but also by Muslim women who are mislead into believing that challenging these interpretations is synonymous to challenging Allah Himself!

Time has come that we re-examine our stories not just from Job’s point-of-view but also from his wives’ perspective. Where we question why was God in counsel with Satan and why was Satan interested in Job’s piety? It will be a mistake to take the centuries old stories at their face value without investigating into the various point-of-views injected in them over the course of time.

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The Real Culprit Is Not Anti Blasphemy Law, It is the Way We Approach Religion

Raza Habib Raja

Right now, the news of a Christian woman being convicted and sentenced to death by a lower court, are making headlines in some of the liberal segments of society. The kind of sick society we are, I am not surprised that it is not inviting the outrage at a broader level. The Urdu newspapers have hardly given it the coverage but what is most regrettable is the overall virtual absence of large scale condemnation. The newspapers in Pakistan are commercial entities and cater to the “tastes” of their mostly rightwing conservative customers. Heck, even Talat Hussain has to transform into Ansar Abbassi when he writes in our “national” language.

 In that small liberal segment, actually a fringe in our society, the blasphemy law is under criticism with calls to repeal it. I would like to point out to all those that they are just targeting a symbolic thing. Culprit is the not the law. Of course law should be repealed, but repealing alone will never solve the issue. For that matter no one has actually been executed after even being convicted. Let’s not forget even if the law was not in existence, people would have simply killed the woman. In fact in blasphemy cases, people have been even killed in the jail when their cases were in progress. Repealing the law will only remove a symbol of religion’s infusion with state; it will by no stretch of imagination prevent people from becoming violent. For that matter repealing it without addressing the real issue will cause people to become even more bigoted than they are now. In fact the law cannot be repealed through democratic ways in the first place until the major issue is tackled.

The real issue is the general religious bigotry which is rampant in the society which in turn emanates from the mindset and the overall cultural set up of Pakistan. This cultural set up gives religion extreme reverence and cultivates an identity based on it, which is extraordinarily sensitive on all the religous matters.  This reverence of religion and the resulting bigotry is primarily cultural though has state as its major patron.  The issue is not restricted to the fusion of religion with state. State is one of the patrons of religion, but is not the sole determinant of its reverence.

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Setting the Record Straight: What it Really Means to be A Critical Supporter

Raza Habib Raja

At times, you know it when the bait is thrown to you to infuriate you and draw you into needless argument. And yet you take the bait, because the resulting “duel’ gives you the opportunity to set the record straight. If you consider yourself as a political activist and you pursue politics with passion, you would naturally hate it when your good intentions are doubted upon and when despite clear evidence to the contrary you are branded as a bigot or (if you are really lucky) as a “confused” wannabe liberal.

I have always believed that the greatest sign of maturity is to pass statements, particularly of strong nature, only when you have full information. And even if you have information, one should still be cautious while interpreting intentions of those who differ from us. Most importantly, as mature human beings we need to realize that not all who differ from us are enemies, bigoted, pseudo liberal or for that matter even less intelligent than us. In social sciences the room for disagreement, even if you belong to same side of the political spectrum is quite substantial. I have said it before in my articles and now I am forced to reiterate it again: You can be critical about some steps and decisions of a mainstream political party and still be a supporter. If you do that then you will actually be a REAL critical supporter of that party. And yes you can even oppose a mainstream liberal party and yet be a liberal. Liberalism is not defined by outright and unconditional support of any party.

It’s really unfortunate that I have to write this post but frankly I was left with no choice. Our editor Raza Rumi published an article which condemned the treatment which Sherry Rehman received. After publishing of the article, he and other PTH authors are being made target of a slandering campaign where they are being branded as bigots, pseudo liberals, burgers, closet conservatives and even Taliban supporters. Continue reading

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