Monday, September 24, 2007

Such a Little Thing!


Maryam Sakeenah

“On the first night of Ramadan, a breeze (‘Al Museera’)stirs from beneath the Majestic Throne_ it rustles the leaves on the Paradisic trees creating a gentle susurration; it passes through the doorways (of the heavenly abodes), making the door handles jangle, creating a melodious sound so beautiful, the like of which has never been heard before…” (from a hadith of the Prophet SAWW narrated by Abdullah bin Abbas R.A)

I felt the freshness in the air; of the evening merging slowly into those blessed first moments of the first night of Ramadan. I felt the vigour in my step as I walked out the gate just after the pre-Ramadan study circle in my neighbourhood had finished. We had studied a collection of ahadith on Ramadan_ of the springtime of faith and the ethereal blessedness it comes wrapped up in. And it had touched some deep buried cord somewhere in the recesses of the soul.

I have walked the short distance from the neighbourhood weekly Quran study circle back home many times. Meeting on the way many a sidewalk bystander ogling to pass the hours away. I have met many a prying gaze of a passing vendor, a house guard, an urchin. Outside my weekly ‘haven’, another world awaits. From the surreal to the rudely real… the eyesores of a degenerate society. Sigh.

There he comes, yet another… a street vendor perhaps. I braced up for the unnerving stare, catching in the process, a glimpse of a face_ the kind that expunged the tautness, putting me so strangely at ease.

It struck. Instantly. The white prayer-cap and the beard removed the ‘otherness’. The gaze that lowered itself, the humble step that gave a freer passage, the innocence, nobility written all over was strangely comforting_ unlocking, decoding, bringing home a message: a beautiful heart. The recognition came in an instant.

It unfurled an identity. I noticed the deep sun-tan with those long days of labour. I noticed the rough white Shalwar Kameez well-worn, having endured many washings, creased up, patched in places. I noticed the loosely hanging empty jute bag slung across the back of his bicycle and the two folded up paper bags of used cement. Clearly, this scrap seller hadn’t made a business today. Yet he persisted as the day receded… still calling out to the many affluent perhaps still dozing away amidst the buzz of the air conditioners behind thick walls and locked doors. ‘Loya raddi waich lau’ (Sell off scrap metal and paper), he called out in the empty, darkening street, perhaps the only listener to his own persistent cry. He pedaled on speedily, not completing his round to the end of the street but turning round half way to make his way back_ perhaps having learnt that there were no listening ears behind the thick walls, no one to hear or make out his locally accented cry; to notice that hole at the border of his Kameez, the empty loose sack or the well-worn, cracked up, mud-stained slipper quickly pedaling on_ perhaps to make it to the masjid in time for maghrib prayer.

It was in seconds. I felt the connecting, the bonding up. I didn’t think it up but surprised myself by suddenly calling out to him as he rode on past me, ‘Bhai!’ ‘My brother’_ effortlessly, in a spontaneous outpouring came the words. ‘Bhai zara rukna. Aap raddi bechtay hain?’ (Brother, please stop. Do you sell and buy scrap?)

He couldn’t perhaps register it as he cycled on, used to the stony, unrelenting, indifferent silence in affluent localities. For an instant I thought I had missed, and I felt the heart sink. Till, having rode a few yards ahead, he turned back to look and finally stopped, getting off the bicycle, dusting off his hands and shirt and, still with that ‘Muslim’ gentility and modest gaze that had held me, waited for me to approach. ‘Ji baji.’ (Yes, sister).

The evening cast darker shadows, the first night of Ramadan waited in the wing to gradually suffuse. Al Museera: the susurrations of the leaves in Paradise, the stirring breeze jangling the door handles… these sacred moments…

And this muddied scrap seller here with his sunburnt face irradiated, ennobled, beautified by the Sunnah… I saw it all in one radiant flash. ‘Ramadan Mubarak!’ I said. ‘Mere paas yeh Ramadan ka chhota sa tuhfa hai aap ke liye,’ I said (I have a small Ramadan gift here for you), handing out whatever I could rummage through my pockets.

Visibly surprised and at a loss for words, he said, ‘Jazakallah khair baji.’ (thanks, sister). Silence. And then, gathering himself, he added, ‘Allah aap ko iss ka bohat ajar dei. Aap ko bhi Ramadan Mubarak.’ (May Allah reward you greatly for this. Ramadan Mubarak to you too.) I noticed the flawless, unaccented Urdu and wondered where he had got it from. The labyrinth of destiny, who can make out?

Realizing perhaps the insufficiency, the inadequacy of my gesture, the unspeakability of that strange link, I added, ‘Bhai duaon mein zaroor yaad rakhye ga.’ (Brother, do remember me in your prayers).

As I made my way on, I felt lighter, unburdened, relieved. And I saw his frail figure, the beard, the cap merging into the twilight’s colours, soon a silhouette against the far end of the road.

And I wondered who he was, what was his name, where he lived… regretting not having asked. ‘Bhai’ (brother) I had called him, not feeling the need to call by a name, not feeling the need for statistics to identify. ‘My brother’, striving on life’s rocky road, striving among the pain and toil to keep to the straight and narrow, a lover of my Prophet (SAWW), a slave of my God…

As I sat on the prayer mat on the night of first Ramadan, I thought of the nameless scrap seller who must also be engaged in prayer somewhere. And I knew that the power of prayer, the faith we share creates the sacred link_ undying. I felt the indissoluble, ever-present link of Muslimhood, that thing called ‘love for Allah’s sake.’

‘What a little thing

To remember for years,

To remember with tears!’

As Flies to the Wanton Boys


Maryam Sakeenah

George Orwell was naïve. The extent of the horror, hypocrisy and double standards he lays bare in his political satire is laughably mild. Welcome to Pakistan, 2007. We are living it all. Orwell, my friends, was a mere chicken.

A day before the ‘Operation Silence’ began, Musharraf said while addressing a high-level meeting lasting four hours that a new strategy to curb ‘Talibanisation’ would be formulated. In the meeting he discussed cracking down on pro-Taliban elements ‘not just in the frontier regions but also in the cities’, specifically mentioning the strategy to deal with the ‘pro-Taliban mosque’ in the heart of Islamabad. The same day, paramilitary deployment and patrolling intensified in the vicinity of Lal Masjid, ‘clearly indicating the government’s decisive inclinations to carry out a comprehensive crackdown on Ghazi brothers… Rangers occupied the CDA flats, built bunkers and laid barbed wires… the whole place exactly looks like an army post.’ (The Nation, Tuesday , July 3, 2007).

And so the tragedy unfurled. The servile henchmen standing guard on the Presidency’s secrets quickly cooked up myths ready to be sold to a gullible public: ‘The terrorists in the mosque provoked the action, which had to be responded to.’ Held hostage by the official propaganda, we had no alternate versions to choose from. Fed on myths about the evil-minded terrorist-mullah in cap and beard with perverse mind and wretched, devious plans, we accepted the state-sponsored stereotype and talked about how well-deserved the mullah-bashing spree really was. Our human consciousness didn’t trouble us with asking questions. The series of lies continually churned out to justify the mayhem unleashed within, kept us conveniently dumbed down and acquiescing. The evil-minded mullahs had planned to make this offensive war and were using innocents as human shields… it was, in fact, a ‘hostage-taking crisis’, and the well-intentioned government was the noble savior of innocents. We kept swallowing as the media was carefully kept at a safe distance. Childishly, the ‘liberal, free media’ played along the tune in the mutually agreed-upon plan to ‘not show the dead bodies’, ensuring the smooth conduct of Operation Silence. And so we feasted on drawing-room chat conspiracy theories of the government-mullah nexus and the ‘dramatics’ staged by the Red Mosque administration.

Victims of Doublespeak. Rhetoric went on about the government’s humane restraint and desperate appeals to save the ‘hostages’ within. Big questions like why the media was kept out didn’t bother anyone much. Behind the smokescreen of shameless lies went on the murder of innocents_ unleashed terror and state-sponsored oppression that has perhaps been pushed back into the shroud of Silence_ a mystery of history. An iron curtain hulks, screening away the unspoken terrors, the unheard cries that will continue to echo long in the deathly Silence of the mosque’s debris.

The Doublespeak continued, making idiots of us all. While Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi showed extreme flexibility in renouncing all he could to save the innocents, there was an obvious lack of reciprocation by the government, a rigid unwillingness to budge and let matters resolve. The efforts made by the Ulema delegation to save the day were imperiously rejected as the state showed a blind egotism implying an unrelenting readiness to go ahead and finish it up the bloody way. For, the Doublespeak experts could do the job of duping the public so the blood doesn’t show much. One of the last things Abdul Rasheed Ghazi said: “Their unwillingness to let negotiations work shows their intent to let blood flow. If they wish to let blood flow, so be it: we are ready to embrace martyrdom.”

A greater hidden agenda, the ‘Hidden Hand’ mentioned by Chaudhry Shujaat, which made all settlements break down becomes clear. The storming of the mosque came soon after an increasing trend in the Western media to see Musharraf as 'part of the problem' and not the solution_ a 'half-hearted ally' in the War on Terror. Clearly, it is a drama staged to convince the West that we indeed are 'doing enough' to crush such elements. And the message has been sent, bringing in accolades and pats-on-the-back from Musharraf's Western allies. Because the whole affair was staged to secure an image-boost in the West for this government, the government authorities seemed very keen to go ahead and ferociously crack down on the mosque, regardless of the thousands still inside (with occasional quiet phases to show how 'patient' we are trying to be). It is clear that the government willed the mayhem, as echoed in Musharraf's shockingly brazen announcement: 'Surrender or be killed.'

And this is perhaps the greatest tragedy of this nation. The absolute failure of a democratic culture to take root, the complete subjugation to dictatorial hegemony and the perpetual crippling enslavement to vested interests of the West. The greatest tragedy is how weightless, inconsequential is the ordinary, the citizen of this country, deserving little more than rhetoric to keep him dumbed down, so that the reign of tyranny can perpetuate itself.

And this is what brings tears in the eyes_ the hard, bitter truth that human lives never weighed on anyone’s conscience; that innocent lives were, at best, as cheap as rotten scraps cast aside without feeling your jaw twitch, making way for a dirty agenda serving the Self. The bitter truth is that human beings go on being killed like flies and we go about our business. The shocking truth is that man, at best, is the ‘Lord of the Flies’, and the Lord of the Flies in us rules as the earthly overlord. “As flies to the wanton boys are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport,”said Shaekespeare. And to the lone seeker, the questioner, the dreamer, He dictates: “What are you doing here out alone? Aren’t you afraid of me? There isn’t anyone to help you. Only Me. And I am the Beast. I’m the reason it’s no go. Why things are what they are. Come now, get back to the others and we’ll forget the whole thing… Aha! This has gone far enough… do you think you know better than I do? I’m going to get waxy. Do you see? You are not wanted. Understand? We’re going to have fun on this island. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island! … Or else. We shall do you.” (From ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding)

But the stars continue to blink in the dark night sky…

Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi is beginning to be understood by the generality of our masses as the sinned-against in the episode, the principled idealist victimized by a tyrannical, corrupt system. Maulana Ghazi, they feel, was indeed right_ if general killing of the masjid inmates was what the government thirsted for, it was better to die than to give in to a system so unscrupulous, so drunken with blind egotism. And in doing so he secures a moral victory that will far outlast the machinations of this regime in the hearts of men.

However, there are still many_ the conspiracy-theorists, the mullah-bashers, the secular liberals who are utterly confused as to what to make of it all. The array of weapons unveiled that were never used, the statements by ‘released hostages’ of how they wished martyrdom, the delayed, restricted media tour of the mosque, the disappearance (‘vapourization’) of the dead bodies and so many unanswered questions stare us in the face. The whole scenario seems to challenge and completely shatter the perspective of the secularists. Of course there are still those who go on pretending, but they make themselves look more like patchwork clowns in the process. A ‘Human Rights’ activist from an NGO in Islamabad said, “The women and children who died weren’t all that innocent and so deserve no sympathy… they were extremists.”

The ones more honest than that seem to be confused and are quietly wondering what to make of it all. For, the loathed terrorist Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, in his dying, has made his killers look cruel, oppressive, unscrupulous. And if this is indeed so, his dying becomes noble, almost heroic… But this dare not be said, for it sounds ‘extremist’ (whatever that means). In his dying, the hitherto vile terrorist has reinstated boldly his ideal and his unflinching fidelity to it. He has towered above the despicable pygmies. If this isn’t a hero’s embrace of immortality, if this isn’t martyrdom, what is?

A lot of us cannot understand this, and prefer not to face what shines clear as day. Our complete disassociation with the spirit of Islam, our complete estrangement from its values and idealism explains this inability to call a spade a spade. For, the history of the Kaabah is reddened with suffering and blood, as Iqbal had said. Sacrifice and martyrdom, dying for a cause is the crowning glory of Islam. But we understand not the spirit. “Islam began as a strange thing, and will end as a strange thing. So give glad tidings to the strangers.” (Hadith)

Beelzebub (Iblis) in his Parliament, (In Iqbal’s famous poem), spoke to his subordinates about the strategy to vanquish the faithful thus: “The starving wretched one who is utterly fearless of death, extort the Muhammadan spirit from his self.” It is this Muslim spirit that makes one give life, one’s very life, to make a bold statement that makes a resounding echo in hearts. In our spiritless selves, our secularized sensibility, this ‘outrageous behaviour’ that looks curiously noble in the heart of our hearts, makes no sense. But all the same, it echoes in the heart…

And the stars continue to blink in the dark night sky…

In the far flung village of Rojhan Mazari, a tearful young man stands over a dusty grave draped in flower petals. He remembers, his voice choking with tears: “We feel we’ve been orphaned. This man shone like a full moon in the dark sky…” At the numberless anonymous mass graves in Islamabad stand men in sweat-drenched Shalwar Kameez, sobbing and praying, “These innocents are shaheed, (martyrs)” they say, “but we refuse to call them this… but with Allah, their honour is great!” At the Sports Complex, looking expectantly at the list of names and not finding her beloved only child’s, a widow from a distant village stands distraught and tearful: “He used to say, Amma, I’ll come back a learned man and serve you… I have little hope in anyone that they would help me know where he is,” she sobs. “But in Allah, in Him I have all my trust... He is my Caretaker. Allah waris hai…”

Out of the rhetoric, lies, agendas, blood, fire and debris, it is this spirit that emerges in its exquisite grandeur, ennobled with blood, sweat and tears; immortal, radiant and undying. It is this that cannot, with all the Plans of Beelzebub’s Parliament, be extorted from the hearts of men. “And while they plan, Allah also Plans. And the Best of planners is Allah.” (The Quran)

What Would You Call It?


Maryam Sakeenah

One stands the risk of being considered ignorant and unenlightened if one reads more than tectonic-plate dynamics into the quake. And this is where I feel the tragedy lies_ in our stubborn refusal to see this squarely for what it meant; in our unpreparedness to digest the message clear as day.

For, what would you call it when thriving cities are sucked into the earth in the wink of an eye; when a sudden, all-pervasive death seizes one in the act, the earth is rent asunder and mountains fly about in billowy bits? Would you call it tectonic-plate dynamics and go about your business? Would you call it another occurrence in the chaos of Darwin’s godless nature?

Zareen, a teenaged quake survivor relates the experience, remarking with bated breath how strongly she felt it was indeed the Last Hour. “Everything that happened was exactly like what I had heard about the coming of the Judgement Day. I literally saw mountains crumbling like sand, the earth giving way and landmarks disappearing in seconds. I was sure the world had finished.”

“The Great Disaster! What is the Great Disaster? And what do you know what the Great Disaster is? It is the Day when men shall be like scattered moths; And mountains like carded wool…” (Surah Al Qariah)

At 16, Zareen has understood the message, as she confides in me her firm resolve to pursue Quranic studies once she re-settles in life. I admire her.

It was a stark reminder, a warning, a wake-up call. This is the nature and reality of our lives. With all our arrogance and megalomania, our Enlightened Moderation, our alliance with the mighty U.S, our technology and development, stripped to nakedness we are weaklings. For, who can guarantee for himself the next moment? The complete failure of civil structure, communication and monitoring systems in the face of natural calamity makes a mockery of all the trappings of power man feels to have acquired with the steady march of time. We are, after all, as human and as mortal as we ever were.

“Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high.” (4:78)

Death, and the eventuality of the grave is an absolute, inevitable reality. There is no choice, no escape, no postponement of this eventuality. It is coming for you, for me, for the man there. In the long run, folks, we all end up dead. We don’t have a choice about it. We don’t have a choice about anything, for that matter, except that we can choose to be prepared, or unprepared. The analogy is that of a man being sent to a place on a mission, being told he has a time-bomb fixed to his chest that’s ticking away and you don’t know when it will explode. But you are tied to it, and it can go boom anytime. You can hear the beat in your chest, ticking away… The wise one carries the consciousness of is situation at the back of his head in everything he does. And so, he will work hard to give the world his best, for his life is his last chance. The unwise one forgets, spends his ‘heydays’ and is eventually defeated by the inevitable. Deluded, befooled. Choosing between the two ways is the freedom we have.

Some 'Tabieen (followers of Companions of the Prophet S.A.W) came to the house of A’isha and said, “O mother of the believers, tell us about earthquakes.” A’isha said, “Anytime zina (fornication) becomes widespread, & a lot of wine is drunk (consumed), & musical instruments becomes prevalent (singing girls), the earth rebels against the crimes that are being committed on top of her, so she shakes & causes buildings to tumble down & swallow the people up.” So the ‘Tabieen said, “How are we supposed to interpret this (i.e. natural disasters earthquakes)?” She said, A punishment for the disbelievers and a reminder to the believers.” (From the audio "Natural Disasters" by Shaikh Faisal Abdullah).

As Muslims, the fundamental principle of tauhid central to Islam must colour our vision of life. It means that everything that happens must be seen as a piece in the Divinely-laid scheme of things. Every occurrence fits into the mural of God’s Plan. In the Muslim’s worldview, there are no random accidents, no meaningless chaos or anarchy in nature. For, Nature is Allah’s manifestation, and its processes are by His Design. Justice is knitted into the essence of the panorama of creation and existence. It is written in the heart of the universe. It will be carried out. Nature does not let it be.

"For to Allah belong the Forces of the heavens and the earth." (48:7)

This is a pattern of history, and its lesson.

"Did We not destroy the ancients? So shall We make the later generations to follow them. Thus do We deal with the Mujrimoon (criminals, disbelievers, sinners.). Woe that Day to the deniers (of the Day of Resurrection)!" (77:16-19)

In the debris of Islamabad’s Margalla Towers were found in profusion bottles of alcoholic drinks. When the Towers went down in the seismic wave on the morning of 2nd Ramadan, screams and cries mixed with loud music played on cassette players was clearly audible. This is Death’s relentless seizure. This is how that Greater Power we turn so forgetful of, laughs at our frivolity play.

“Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?”(23:115)

Almost exactly four years ago on this date, the Government of Pakistan had unequivocally declared its all-out support to the U.S against Afghanistan, mobilizing its troops and establishing American military bases on its northern borders for the unholy crusade. Then came the dirty clandestine games in Waziristan. We strengthened the hand of the oppressor by choosing to remain the sleepwalking zombies that we are. Nature does not sit back and watch.

Interestingly, one major justification for this choice we had readily bought as a nation was that on choosing otherwise, we’d be left alone and our eastern neighbour could attack, threatening Azad Kashmir. Also, that choosing a wise alliance with the mighty West, we’d be led to economic boons. Did you hear that financial loss due to the quake amounted to U.S $ 12.5 billion? Did you hear about the ‘peanuts’ doled out as U.S aid for the quake-ravaged region? Do you remember how we had celebrated the safety for AJK and economic gain our government had so wisely and courageously ensured all those years back?

"Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the Heaven, will not cause the earth to sink with you, then behold it shakes (as in an earthquake)? Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven, will not send against you a violent whirlwind? Then you shall know how (terrible) was My Warning." (67:16-17)

The lives lost are buried and forgotten, thrown in the ashbin of history. Public memory is very short, and forgetfulness can easily be imposed on nations by creating a State-sponsored valueless, frivolous culture of eat, drink and be merry that eventually becomes lifestyle. But the heart of the earth does not forget even when we do.

“We record that which they send before them, and their traces, and all things We have recorded with numbers (as record) in a Clear Book.” (36:12)

God’s mills grind slowly, but they grind very fine.

One shudders to think of the bestiality of man on coming across grotesque incidents of looting, mutilating corpses for gold, kidnapping and abuse of the vulnerable survivors in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Now that a year is done, the lives of those thousands still hang in the balance and shadows of gloom still lurk on the horizons. Things are far from normalcy. Rehabilitation efforts have fallen off the mark and the public is unaware of the use of the funds collected. Hardly a select few have been the beneficiaries. The rest still languish in the dark, still waiting for the Godot.

The Divine message has been loud and clear. We chose to thrust fingers in our ears. We fell very, very short. The despair and hopelessness in the eyes of the survivors speaks of the apathy shown to them. Corruption, pilferage, dishonesty, greed have dehumanized us. One wonders…what then can stop man? How human are we if a warning that big cannot stay the evil hand? Yet what stands tall above all the morass is that impregnable spirit of heroic stoicism and perseverance of the affectees. May Allah bless them and give them what we withheld, an eternal abode in the gardens of Paradise.

It is important to note that the first ones to rally to the call for help, the ones who tirelessly worked and made a tangible difference to alleviate the pain were those we have officially disowned. It was the Islamist organizations who rose to the occasion most admirably and played the Messiah without making loud claims for the limelight, accolades and acclaim. That is the beauty of faith nothing can ever measure up to. That a government that cannot even produce a transparent report of the use of quake funds slaps bans on these groups and restricts them to serve an alien interest is deeply ironical.

It has been a great test, a tremendous exposition. One still longs, however, to see the learning and maturing. Sadly, the media has not done much on this front to create that vital sense of realization to make the nation do a bit of soul-searching that this calamity necessitated.

Turning away from the clear lessons, or making slight of them is the greater tragedy, for it starkly exposes how deep our descent into slumber is_ that a blitz that great, that jarring cannot rouse us to the Reminder. It makes the tragedy manifold.

“Verily, We sent (Messengers) to many nations before you (O Muhammad) and We seized them with suffering and adversity that they might humble themselves. When Our torment reached them, why then did they not humble themselves (believe with humility)? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made fair seeming to them that which they used to do.

So, when they forgot (the warning) with which they had been reminded, We opened for them the gates of every (pleasant) thing, until in the midst of their enjoyment in that which they were given, all of a sudden, We took them (in punishment), and lo! They were plunged into destruction with deep regrets and sorrows. So of the people who did wrong the last remnant was cut off. All praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.” (Surah al-An'aam verses 41-44)

What It Means to Sacrifice


Maryam Sakeenah

I hear the doorbell ring. I was almost waiting for it. I put two big, juicy chunks of meat in the bag and run to the gate. There they are, two ruddy-cheeked, barefooted kids looking expectantly. I smile involuntarily as I catch a glint in the younger one’s eye. They wish me Eid Mubarak take the bag, and leave.

It isn’t an unfamiliar scenario. It happens each year on Eid day. Running to the gate with the meat bag is one of my childhood memories and I’ve surely carried it into adulthood. I love the thrill and the warmth. It’s a simple little pleasure for which I wait year-long. For, it’s an Eid-day speciality.

I cannot imagine another situation when we would actually wait for the beggar’s bell-ringing to hand him over a big fat bag of fresh meat. But it’s that magical Eid-day spirit that works wonders on us all.

Perhaps that is what is so refreshingly different and so special about Islamic celebrations. They don’t discriminate. They don’t confine the joys to a select few who can afford to eat hearty or dress rich. They make us reach out to those that we leave conveniently forgotten the whole year round. I eat the meat as does the beggar who rang my bell early in the day. We both thank Allah, Who made me give, and Who made him get. We share an invisible bond of being Muslims. It makes us close-tied parts of a warm community, an ‘ummah.’

Eid Day sights and sounds: I hear the takbeer, ‘Allah is Great’, and the blood spurts out. A life created, sustained and owned by Allah, just like ours, is given in His Name, by His Command. What if it were my own life, my own blood, and for a cause as great as the glorification of Allah’s Name…? It transports me to battlefields where Muslims lay down their lives for the glorification of Islam. I see the corpses in pools of blood beneath the fluttering banners of victory, proclaiming the Greatness of Allah. Jihad fi Sabil illah: the Greatest Sacrifice_ parting with life itself for the cause of upholding the Truth. The ritual of sacrifice is immensely invigorating, so powerfully symbolic of the spirit of Islam. I remember Iqbal’s words: “Simple, bloodied and rich with pain is the story of this Sacred House / It ends with Hussain (R.A), it begins with Ismail (A.S).” The Prophet (SAWW)’s beautiful prayer before sacrificing is redolent with the essence of what sacrifice means: “I turn my face to the Lord and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth. (I testify that) I am on the Way of Ibrahim (A.S) and I am not among the mushrikeen. My prayer, my sacrifice,my living and my dying are all for Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. No partner has He. I am by His Command, and I am of the Submitted Ones. O Allah! (I offer this) in Your Name and for Your sake, from Muhammad (p.b.u.h) and his followers_ (this is) in Allah’s glorified Name. And indeed, Allah is Great.” (Sunan Abu Dawood)

When my student once questioned why we don’t just give some charity as sacrifice on Eid, I told her it wouldn’t be half as beautiful, for it wouldn’t afford us the opportunity to re-live the experience of Ibrahim (A.S). ‘Verily, Ibrahim was, without doubt, gentle (of disposition)’, the Quran says_ and yet he lay the knife on his beloved firstborn to take the life he knew was Allah’s trust, and to fulfil the trial set for him by Allah_ unwavering, undeterred. ‘I hear and I obey, my Lord’, he must have said. Khallas. The Quran testifies, immortalizing the memory: “When his Lord said to him (Ibrahim A.S) ‘Submit!’ (i.e, be a Muslim), he said, ‘I have submitted myself (as a Muslim) to the Lord of the Worlds.’” (2: 131)

Sacrifice is beautiful, because it is born out of passion, grated in the heart’s fire, immersed in the heart’s blood. It is one of the deepest, highest human sentiments. When you become capable of it, you become beautiful too, for you are cleansed of all selfishness and rise above the earthy smallness we’re all tied to. For sacrifice means not to put your selfish desires first, but let them wait, or let go of them for a higher cause. When you rise above the pettiness, you can then humble yourself to the One Higher and dare to sell yourself into bonded slavery to Allah. The gentler virtues of compassion, generosity, honesty that your selfishness impeded shine through you as naturally as sunlight.

Baptized in the contemporary spirit of ‘Self First’ that is national policy justifying dirty deals and sell-offs on ideology, we need a rediscovery of the essence of the Abrahamic tradition. It is politically relevant to teach ourselves that when the devil came in Ibrahim (A.S)’s way with perfectly ‘sensible’ ‘politically correct’ arguments that would have served his ‘personal interest’ in the world best, he held the course, following what his heart believed was right. He stoned the tempter not once but thrice, expressing an outright rejection of the logic that lures away from what the heart knows and believes to be true. He went on with his decision to do something he couldn’t give a single worldly-wise reason for justifying. He went ahead _unreasonably, fanatically resolute_and became an immortal paragon of heroism standing tall, with a faith that makes him larger than life. This is the lesson of history. “And who turns away from the religion of Ibrahim (A.S) except him who befools himself? Truly we chose him in this world and verily, in the Hereafter he will be among the righteous.” (2:130)

This time round, Eid ul Azha holds a special significance. The devastation in Kashmir is a moment of test that demands sacrifices true to our religious tradition. In the footsteps of a prophet (SAWW) who would give ‘like the rushing wind’; a man (R.A) who gave away all he possessed_ all_content that Allah and His Prophet (SAWW) would suffice for him; a people steeped in tribalism who shared everything they possessed_ every bit_ with penniless, shelterless foreign immigrants whom they hailed as blood-brothers: we need to live up to that glorious tradition.

It is heartening to know that socio-religious organizations are organising mass animal sacrifice campaigns in the quake-hit areas. Here lies an opportunity we can make the best of. The warm communal spirit of Islam can heal, cure and raise from the rubble the promising glow of living anew. We just need to let it take its toll!

Uninsightful Educational Reforms


Maryam Sakeenah

I remember how when I was in school, one of the toughest things the teacher asked us to do was learning the method of prayer. I remember the long afternoons I sat learning the various du'as and recitations for fear of a lurking oral test. Several years down the line, I value the training. It helped me slip easily into performing my prayers regularly and correctly when I was the right age. For several of those in my class who belonged to families where teaching Salat to a child wasn't the norm, being made to learn it at school came in handy in later years of self-awareness.

As a teacher myself now, and having developed a more seasoned vision, I often compare the English Reading Series printed somewhere abroad with our own Textbook Board Urdu and Islamiyat texts. Clearly, I see a difference. That humble, cheaply printed and colourles book with the 'Sadaqat Amanat Diyanat' monogram weighed so much more in substance than the glossy, colourful, expensively printed Oxford or Ginn series. At best, the stories and lessons in these foreign editions provided more room for creativity and imagination, created more interest and had better vocabulary. But that was almost all they could offer. On the other hand, each and every story or chapter in the locally printed text afforded the reader some valuable lesson in morality, religion, human values, ethics, social awareness or grooming. A sacred mission was palapable in every sentence of the books which the glossy foreign ones completely lacked in content, what with all the money, talent and skill they had invested. I reflect. Certainly, a lot of values that are now part of me and come naturally were implanted into me in those early years, and these books we read certainly have had a significant role to play.

My students today, and those of the forthcoming generations aren't as lucky.

Recently, the government has announced a revamp of the education policy. In the recently released White Paper titled 'Education in Pakistan' prepared by a team set up by the federal education ministry under Javed Hasan Aly, the core objectives to be pursued have been clearly stated.

It says that 'ethics... should essentially form the basis of religious education and rituals must not overtake substance as the focus of sensitisation.' Religious instruction now will not deal with rituals and traditional Islamic practices. No more methodology of prayer, fasting, Zakat or pilgrimage to be taught to students. These, after all, are 'personal matters' and it is not the task of education to deal with these. Instead, the focus here will be to promote the spirit of tolerance, ethics and universal human values.

Fed on such textbooks, the mindset that is sure to emerge is one which rejects the outward, the literal and physical aspect of the Shariah (Islamic Doctrine and Law). The focus on the inner spirit coupled with completely marginalising the literal/physical dimension can lead to a dangerous trend, much as that which led to the growth of the 'Baatineeyah' Movement which was responsible for the emergence of various groups and factions whose common thread was a rejection of the letter of the law_ the Shariah of Islam_ with a singular emphasis on the inner self and its spiritual states. Islam, however, does not bifurcate or separate the outward rituals and physical practices from their spirit and the inner states. Together, the two dimensions make a whole. Ignoring the rituals and practices reduces Islam to a spineless, insbstantive spirituality, renders it a sterile doctrine indistinguishable from Christinaity, Hinduism or Buddhism.

Building on the same point, the White Paper further states: “school education must now be designed to smoothen the turbulences of sectarian differences and develop a rational character and outlook of inclusion and tolerance”. This implies that the emphasis on what is 'right' and 'wrong' will be removed and matters of difference of opinion will not be touched upon in order to create harmony, tolerance and openness to sectarian differences. With the rituals, practices, laws, dos and donts of the Shariah thrown out, the student will find himself at a loss to even know and judge what in fact is correct, straight and in tune with the Quran and Sunnah and what is not. This will obviously lead to an unaccepptable variation in religious beliefs and practices, and eventually, deviation from the mainstream. It will lead to unclarity, confusion and ignorance. While we happily forecast the creation of a tolerant society, we do not know that with the grip on the Sources loose as ever, the ignorance and deviance it will create will only fan the differences.

For, the way to create harmony and gradual unification is to present the unequivocal statements of the Quran and the Sunnah (and the Shariah derived from them) as the Standard, the criterion and the yardstick, without indulging in any sectarian argument or prejudice. Teaching the straight and clear interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah and rationalizing it for a young mind will make all rootless, erroneous approaches quietly recede into the background. A logical, dispassionate appreciation for the clear, straight and simple letter and spirit of the Quran and Sunnah will naturally and gently be created. The Quran lays out the path to harmony and unification overcoming all divisions: "And hold fast, all together, to the Rope of Allah (The Quran), and be not divided." One only needs to understand the wisdom of this simple way to unify. The Prophet (S) said in the Farewell Sermon: "I am leaving behind two things: theWord of Allah, and my sunnah. If you hold fast to these, you will never go astray."

Strictly limiting religious instruction both quantitatively and in scope, the White Paper aims to alternatively create a democratisation of mindsets so as to bring into existence a culture of tolerance, moderation and co-existence. This is both myopic and uninsightful. Seeing Islam and the creation of a peaceful, harmonious society as diametrically opposed entities shows ignorance of Islam and of our socio-cultural dynamics. In a Muslim society, any enlightenment, any social model or democratic culture sought outside of Islam will fail. It is in a thorough, wholesome understanding of and education in Islam that creates the balanced and disciplined individual, and in turn, a peaceful, civlized society. Thinking that the way forward to be civilized and developed is to disassociate oneself from Islam and go secular is an outcrop of an ignorant mind.

Environmental awareness, personal and social hygiene, human rights and ethics are noble aims, but they should not be pursued outside of and while limiting Islamic education. For, Islam has a massive human rights and ethical content, and even guidance on preserving hygiene and environmental protection. A nascent Muslim society can heavily draw upon this untapped treasure to seek a positive direction for development. How many of us know that in Surah Rahman Allah instructs us to preserve the delicate natural 'Balance' of the environment, among other things? That planting trees is strongly encouraged and maintaining hygiene a necessary condition for the acceptance of your worship? That even a small action which benefits the community and creates comfort for others like removing a stone from the road is considered a deed carrying reward? That taking a single life unjustly is like killing all mankind? That the life and honour of a person are sacred to a Muslim? Teaching these concepts through Islam will give our younger generation a valuable sense of pride in their identity so they can lift their heads high and face the world to show it how beautiful that identity is. On the other hand, pursuing these goals at the expense of literally mutilating and marginalising Islamic education will only perpetuate the pitiable state of mental colonization and enslavement we are already trapped in.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Virtue in Strength, and Vice Versa

Maryam Sakeenah

“The purpose of the Muslim’s existence is to tolerate”, said the presenter confidently in one of his lectures on Islamic values on T.V this Ramazan. The entire series was a dedicated discourse on the values of tolerance, moderation, and the whole crop, very predictably.
It is one thing to take an aspect of Islam and exemplify it, and it is another to take just this bit and drill it in exclusively, making sure the other dimension that makes it whole is not only eclipsed but made to seem ill-fitting, redundant, contradictory, even anathematic.
Why is it that we never hear verses and instances from Sunnah about firmness against the machinations of the enemy, the readiness to defend oneself and the exhortation for Jihad ever being quoted in the same frequency on the television? It distorts the beauty and purity of unadulterated Islam.
This has created a confusion in our minds. The Muslim mind, fed on state-sponsored lectures on tolerance, unconditional forgiveness and passive acceptance of wrong, is shocked at the very clear exhortation to physical Jihad we find in Surah Taubah, Surah Anfal and other parts of the Quran, and its implementation in letter and spirit that we see in the Sunnah. Certainly, these Words of Allah don’t seem like the Islam of invariably dove-like virtues we were grown up knowing. We only knew Islam to be a toothless, meditative spirituality_ where on earth does this come from?
The end result is a confused, messed up mishmash of an understanding of Islam we are left with_ a sharp dichotomy between the dove-like and the hawk-like, so that the ideal of the Dove-Hawk who is a dove all over, but can slip into the hawk’s skin to guard its nest is lost somewhere. Islam is besieged by a tragic ideological dichotomy.
Where lie the answers? It always helps to turn back to the roots. The ethos of Islam sees virtue in strength, and strength in that virtue. That is one big reason why Islam stands out of the whole array of spiritual doctrines. It is the only religion whose founder was a ruler, jurist, soldier and lived all these roles to the fullest. It is the only religion that makes social activism and the willingness to physically struggle for it a part of its very fundamentals. It is the only religion that can see the role of religion not in the hermit’s humble hut and the cave-dwelling of a sage or a Church altar, but in such secular arenas as the battlefield as well.
This, I believe, is Islam’s Realism. Historical perspective asserts it. Students of history know that the most dynamic force that has shaped events and ideologies, and written the very fate of men_ is strength. It is the defining force, its is the last word. It is strength or the absence of it that writes History, determines the Rise and Fall of empires and ideologies. For better or for worse, strength counts. That is why no ideology that aims to matter to the world in a meaningful, definitive sense, can afford not to have it.
Yet strength in itself is not virtuous. It is morally neutral. It translates into activism or makes dominant whatever it accompanies. If it accompanies the good, morality blossoms and evil is pushed into its little dark corner. For a morally ordered world where a spade is called a spade, strength must fall in line to back the powers of good. That is why moral ideologies need to fortify themselves with strength. Goodness cannot passively sit and watch evil rule the roost and become irrelevant. The believers in values and moral ideologies simply cannot ‘let it be’, for it undermines the good they believe in, and reduces it to a romantic, Utopian notion.
For, force is by all means a moral necessity. If Salahuddin Ayubi had sat back and watched the Crusaders have their day, refusing to take to the battlefield as ‘evil must not be resisted with (the) evil (of warfare)’, Muslim civilization would have been rooted out way back then, given the hate-filled, blind passion of those who took up the battlecry of ‘Christendom in danger.’ Such a logic is clearly ludicrous, as it cannot withstand in a world where strength rules.
Realizing this, perhaps, the Christian world shunned the pacifism it professed. For purposes of physical self-defence and to expand and exert its power, it threw off the pretence and jumped so wholeheartedly into the melee, as the ability to demonstrate and exercise strength is a necessity in a world where power talks. It was the Roman Catholic Church which, long believing that ‘He who takes up the sword must perish with the sword’, sponsored relentless warfare in the Crusades. In 1099 when Palestine fell to the Crusaders, the victorious holy armies brutally attacked non-combatants who had taken refuge in the holy places, not leaving even a single hostage alive. We all know how the Spanish clergy, monitoring planned genocide, ‘purged’ remnants of Muslim civilization from Spain.
It is kind of indigestible. The saintly Christian cleric harping on peace, piling corpses in his backyard. The root of this inherent contradiction runs deep. The pacifist understands the need for strength and the readiness to exercise it in the kind of world ours is. However, the ‘secularization’ of physical strength and its ouster from religious doctrines leaves him at a loss. He is stuck between loyalty to his faith, the desire to make it prevail (which necessitates activism), and his inability to do so following the dictates of pacifism that declare physical strength ‘unholy.’ On the other hand, the call of the real world and its exigencies is irresistible, and he succumbs to the necessity of displaying strength in order to prevail. Yet in so doing, he diverges or parts from his religious edicts, and knows it. Therefore, in this Christian’s psyche, a sharp disconnection between religion and the world is created. War, which is a wholly secular concept to him, has to be taken to out of necessity. But it has to be dealt with irreligiously, as it is not within the precincts of sanctity. It is an unholy weapon, used for no nobler reason than that he cannot help it. Religion becomes only the triggering factor that fuels the hatred, his methods have nothing to do with it. War becomes a tool of necessity. As he fights these unholy wars, with the ethical orientation and the elevation of aim and objective religion provides gone, his methods and motives turn ‘unholy’ as well. Thus with the bulwark gone, the excesses and brutalities, the mean, low and lustfully selfish trivia fuelling confrontations become wholly justifiable. War is Caesar’s domain, it has to be fought Caesar Borgias’ way.
Perhaps that is why we see the Western civilization, with all the thrust on peace and pacifism that Christianity has, at the head of all major confrontations and man-made devastation the world has witnessed. The Crusades, the World Wars, the ruthless colonization of ‘lesser people’, the wiping out of an entire race of American aborigines, and now the Holy War on Terror. The parting from the pacifist Christian spirit these confrontations necessitate demeans the concept, motive, ideology and ethic of warfare. Religion is reduced to the vile force that fires the hatred that is at the heart of such warfare, and no more. War comes to be used merely as a means to subjugate, to possess and acquire, and to impose. Therefore, force becomes ‘unholy’ and is seen by the generality of men as an unholy weapon of tyranny and illegitimate hegemony.
This is very unfortunate. For, in thinking this, we stop seeing the effective use of strength as a means to a greater end_ to stay the hand of the oppressor, to make a better world, to liberate, to uphold the good and fortify it, to resist the evil. We tend to see the whole concept of warfare as invariably unjustifiable, as yet another dimension of Terror. Certainly, the ‘unholy’ war disconnected from a high moral aim and fired by greed and base desire is just that. But this misuse of strength ought not to undermine the whole utility of strength altogether.
For, strength serves importantly. If used for a higher moral purpose, strength can decisively give it the edge and effectively quell evil. It is what translates theory and sterile moral doctrine into active, meaningful implementation. It makes morality happen_ and stay. Strength counts.
It is this vision that Islam incorporates in its realistic outlook. That if goodness, no matter how ethereally angelic, is passive, it will be rooted out. That if the good don’t win power for themselves, it will fall to the lot of the evil, and evil will dominate, rule, pervade. The good then will be cornered and enfeebled, unable to make its presence felt. Humanity will dwindle into bestiality, goodness being too weak to stop the descent into blackness. When the saint lets the dogs have their day, the world goes to the dogs. This is the humungous crime that the goodness that doesn’t seek strength commits to the world. The sage and priest, with all his sermons on peace, his rosaries and meditation, who has never killed even so much as a fly, is a cruel man.
The essence of the Islamic Jihadic philosophy is that it sees force and strength as a weapon to resist and diminish the influence of evil, and to uphold and stand up for the good and true. When you have something valuable and worthwhile, when you have the Elixir and the panacea for the world with you, you are morally bound to share it, to spread its cult in order to beckon mankind towards the progression ‘out of darkness towards the light.’ You cannot sit and watch vicious, malevolent attempts to snuff it out and dampen it down, because you see its beauty, believe in it, love it, value it. Therefore, the readiness to defend it and expound it is a natural part of being ‘Muslim.’ Therefore, Jihad.
By making this concept of physical struggle for the most worthy cause a part of its religious fundamentals, Islam recognizes the relationship between ideology / morality and strength, and sanctifies it. Infact, it elevates this struggle to the highest virtue, thus instilling the desire and the readiness for absolute sacrifice for the worthiest cause. This is what creates the values of selflessness and sacrifice, courage and conviction that engender true, meaningful and enduring greatness and heroism_ the impregnable spirit of the selfless believer. This creation of the ‘mujahid’ character is the formula for change for the better. It is this creation of heroism and the readiness to prove it through acts of sacrifice that makes human effort change the Old Order and makes the peace of the Moral Order prevail.
And it is this realistic, active moral vision of Islam that creates the idea of the ‘Holy War’_ a far cry from secular warfare that destroys and oppresses, subjugates and terribly exacts. Islam makes strength a means to a greater end, ennobling it, elevating it. Strength thus becomes virtue, as it aims at creating moral order, stemming chaos, anarchy and suppression, recovering human values out of the quagmire of amoral chaos, reinstating respect for human life that comes with a belief in One God (tauhid). This is the ‘Holy War’ that does not sit and watch human blood being lost in vain to vile, mean primordial instincts; that waters the flowering of a new era with its own life and blood.
It is this higher objective Islam gives to the use of strength that makes the ‘Holy War’_ the ‘holy war’ that does not make its end justify all means; that respects its liberating ideology by purging away the unholy from its methods; that has its own set of ethics and laws for the legitimate use of force, delegitimizing all excesses. For, what aims to free, respect and elevate humanity cannot trample human rights. That is Holy War.
A comparison is eye-opening. Hold in the balance the Crusader-mentality that cannot even draw a line between combatant and non-combatant as opposed to the Prophet (SAWW)’s army who fought war as an act of faith, careful not to blemish their cause with unfair excesses. The Prophet (SAWW) specifically commanded Muslim armies not to be unfair, excessive or cruel, and to distinguish between the combatant and non-combatant at a time when the Roman, Persian and the Byzantine armies were committing atrocious acts of barbarism to make their presence felt.
It was this spirit at the heart of the Muslim ideology that made the struggles Muslim armies waged throughout their history so outstandingly shorn of these practices of war. In the second Khalifah’s time (Umar R.A), when Christian areas fell to the Muslims, Umar (R.A) wrote a public declaration: “This is the safety that Allah’s humble slave Umar R.A has granted to the natives of this city. This guarantee of safety and honour is for their lives, properties, Church and Cross, for the healthy and the sick, and the followers of all religions. Their churches will not be infringed upon, nor will they be demolished; their crosses will not be banned, nor will their properties be confiscated. In matters of religion, there will be no compulsion on them.”
When, in Umar (R.A)’s tenure, Muslims in Syria had to leave under pressure of the Romans, the Christian citizens came out into the streets in mourning, shedding tears of sorrow. The Bishop swore on the Bible saying, “I swear by this Sacred Book, if we are ever given a chance to choose our own leaders, we will choose these Arabs.”
On the contrary, ideologies and systems that outlaw the use of force show the gaping loophole of such an approach in the arena of implementation. It doesn’t work, leaving people scot-free to use whatever means can guarantee an easy victory. It is this silence about the right use of force that leads to all becoming ‘fair in love and war’, as religion has not defined the motives and parameters for you. A Western War officer writes on effective war strategies: “When bombing, the victims must necessarily include women and children and other non-combatants, for, the strategy of warfare dictates that only then can the enemy be intimidated, pressurized and forced to surrender as soon as possible.”
The distinction is clearer than can ever be explained. The concept of ‘Holy War’, when seen unbiased in its purity is sacred. It is a moral vision translated effectively into practical terms. When the prefix ‘holy’ is removed, war is reduced to the brute-force, naked barbarism, hegemony per force, imposition of injustice, subjugation, tyranny, oppression, greed, lust, devouring fanaticism for ‘lebensraum’ and an unholy mission for the extinction of the lesser and the unwanted. It is this degeneration of the concept of strength as a moral imperative into uncouth display of muscle that has made the world what it is. It is when those entrusted with the task of safeguarding and fortifying the good and true give up the mission that strength degenerates into an unholy mission of dominating and subjugating. To stop this from happening, the sanctity of strength and the necessity to use it for a higher purpose must be recognized.
Jihad must not be disowned simply because we, with our narrowness of vision can no more see it for what it is. Disassociating oneself from it is dangerous, cruel, blind, foolish, careless, criminal. For the nature of life is such that power will be won by the one willing to be strong, and leadership will fall to his lot. It will be exercised over the weaker in any case. If we wish the world to make sense, power has to fall where it ought to be, it has to back goodness and give it authority. If the good do not win it, it is grabbed by the unworthy, and misused. Because, if the saint won’t have it, the devil must_ and God save the world then! If you are not ready to win it, you let it be abused, you let the world go to the dogs, you connive in the greatest sin_ the sin of letting it be. Comfortably numb.

"And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allâh, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You the one who will help.”” Al Quran, 4: 75.

The Speech for the Defence

The Speech for the Defence

Maryam Sakeenah

It is so saddening___ after over a half a century of our national existence___ to come across morbid questioning regarding the validity of the Pakistan ideology. Agreed, we are all entitled to have our own views, but what really concern me are the grounds on which the ideology usually is attacked.
The ideology is abhorrent to us because the Islamic element in it makes it but natural that the edifice of this nation-state should be erected on the foundations of Islam. A large chunk of our writers and thinkers, who unfortunately have monopolised the print media, tamper with the ideology and twist it the way it pleases their pseudo-westernised tastes. They claim that Islam never was a basis for demanding independence from Hindu India. Pakistan was created, they say, merely to give constitutional safeguard to a minority. It may well be true, for all the highbrow intellectual reasoning, but then, if the ‘safeguard’ theory was the only reason for creating Pakistan, I daresay it wasn’t a very bright idea after all, because more than half the Muslim population of India never availed the ‘safeguard’ they had been provided with. (Let me clarify here that Muslims who remained in India did not do it by choice. They inhabited Hindu-majority provinces of India which were not to become parts of Pakistan. Migration for these impoverished masses living as dispersed groups in far-flung Hindu-majority areas was almost impossible, keeping in mind the socio-economic clime of that time. They could not but remain back there). Let us face it then, that if Pakistan was made only to give basic constitutional rights to a minority, this goal remained largely unachieved. If our ideology is only this, why, it failed in its very objective. But no, the reason why Pakistan was created was deeper and more meaningful than merely this. It was precisely to implement Islam at the level of the State. If only a constitutional safeguard was needed, separate electorates or a Muslim majority state within the Indian Union at best could have served the purpose.
This kind of a secularism-inspired interpretation of our ideology makes the entire struggle for Pakistan pointless. It is a debasement, a vilification of the glorious Islamic ideology of Pakistan. Shorn of its Islamic ideology, Pakistan, lets face it, is a mere ring of smoke; a mere speck of territory on the map won by separatists. If our founders toiled so hard for the establishment of a secular state to give basic rights to Indian Muslims, they sadly did it all in vain, for they could very well have professed their secular ideals in a secular India. It is almost ridiculous that a nation demanding separation on the basis of their religious identity should merely be clamouring for a secular state. If Pakistan was only made as a hurried-up asylum for a minority, it was not worth all that__ the struggle, the sacrifice, the horrendous massacre described as ‘more horrible than anything we ever saw’ by the British.
No, Pakistan is worth all that and much more. Pakistan is the culmination of the wishes and ideals of a nation of a hundred million who took to the streets chanting ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya, La ilaha illallah!’It is the mighty cause that made them willing enough to relinquish hearth and home; it was the vision of Iqbal and the fiery passion of Jauhar; it was the Will of Allah. Quoting the Senior Bhutto, in one of his charismatic speeches at the apex of his political career: ‘Pakistan is not a man-made country. It is a God-made country… it is the creation of the surge of Islamic nationhood. It is the product of an earth-shaking idea. It is a revolution cut out of the Heart of History… Pakistan is a live revolution’.
The great tragedy at partition was an unforeseen disaster caused by the mindless whipping-up of anti-Muslim hatred by the Hindu leaders. It was not a choice that the Quaid made, but a rude shock hurled at him to tarnish the rationale behind his struggle. It was a tragedy insidiously engineered by those who injected the poison of communalism in the frenzied masses. Sad, that it blemished the whole process of Pakistan’s creation. But we need to see facts in their true light, lest it mislead us into mistaken judgement. It will also be relevant here to consider that since partition, 16,000 anti-Muslim riots have occurred in India, and over 7000 mosques have been demolished. It just lays bare the Islam-hatred that is endemic in the body-politic of India, despite its empty boasts of secularism. The failure of ‘secularism’ to diffuse this atmosphere of fanatical hatred against Muslims proves the absolute inability of the two widely different religions to coexist in normalcy. It vindicates the raison d’etre behind what our leaders deemed imperative for our existence in 1947. It proves the foresight, wisdom and judiciousness that inspired the Pakistan idea. Should we not revel in the fact that we have a homeland of our own? A home where we can live without the rankling fear or insecurity that our less fortunate brethren across the border had to suffer in 1992 and recently this year, simply for professing their religious beliefs?
The actual process of the ground-laying of the ideology had begun centuries ago. In the words of the Quaid e Azam: ‘Pakistan was created the day the first Indian national embraced Islam.’ This process reached its culmination and got enrichment from Iqbal’s visionary idealism. The pan-Islamic content of his message makes it clear that he stood for the establishment of an Islamic State. His 1930 speech at Allahabad also proves the point. It was this essentially Islamic ideology that laid the basis for the Pakistan Resolution on 23rd March, 1940and gave impetus to the movement in its final phase.
The Quaid e Azam said: ‘The Musalmans are not a minority. They are a nation by every definition.’ It just makes me wonder: What is it that makes us greater than a mere minority crying out for a fair deal? What is the basis of this nationhood of ours? What lifts us above the bounds of race, ethnicity and culture? What was it that galvanised us from ‘a frustrated mass of people’ into ‘a nation with a future’? It was the Islamic Ideal, which, according to the Quaid is ‘…the relationship that knits the Muslims into one whole… the formidable rock and the sheet anchor providing base to the Muslim Millat.’
The historical 'rebuke' that the fall of Dhaka poses on the Pakistan ideology is also an oft-used reasoning to show that the ideology was 'drowned in the Bay of Bengal in 1971.'
Truth, however, is far removed. What was exposed in 1971 was not the weakness of the ideology, but the myopic vision of the then rulers who thought an equitable parity of the two wings as entirely redundant. As for the current state of affairs, (which to many is indicative of the Pakistan idea being wrong at the very outset), it only lays bare a lack of integrity, sagacity, and commitment on the part of the faces that enter and exit the political stage. That and not the wrongness of the ideology is what lies stripped to nakedness.
The following statement by the Quaid is significant in dispelling the claim of the secularists: ‘Pakistan not only means freedom and Independence, but also the Islamic Ideology which has to be preserved, which has come to us as a precious gift and a treasure.’ And that is not all: ‘In Pakistan lies our deliverance, defence and honour. If we fail, we perish and there will be no sign or symptom of Islam left in the sub-continent.’ Can anyone deny that he was fully conscious of the Islamic content of the Ideology, to realize which he strove so hard? If Quaid e Azam had wanted a secular Pakistan, it beats me how he could then play Iqbal’s ‘Khizar e Rah’ (Guide to the Way). Surely, Iqbal never wanted him to ‘guide’ the Muslims to secularism when he wrote to him: ‘The Musalmans of India look up to you to guide them out of the storm that is coming to India’. How could the two leaders__ one of whom was a Pan-Islamist through and through__ collaborate for the realization of Pakistan, if their ideological views were so irreconcilably disjoint? Quaid e Azam never wanted a theocracy, true. But then, a true Islamic State never is a theocracy. It is not like the archaic Roman Papacy with its exploitative clerical hierarchy which ironically, was ‘divinely anointed’, and hence past accountability to the masses. An Islamic State, as opposed to that, is a practical, modern, forward-looking entity based on the unsurpassed egalitarian principles of Islam which to date serve as a beacon-light for mankind. In the words of the Quaid: ‘…I am sure that our constitution is going to be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam. Today, these are as applicable in modern times as they were 1300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught us equality of men, justice and fairplay to everybody…in any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocracy to be ruled by a priest...’
Quaid e Azam was a thorough democrat.__ I cannot see why his commitment to democracy implies a secular aspiration. Can anyone say that a religion whose Khalifa was open to question or even blatant allegation of unscrupulousness by the most obscure ordinary is undemocratic? In a time when tribalism and hereditary rule were en vogue, Islam first came up with a system of majority voting for deciding matters which could be referred to public consent. Islam has in it the true spirit of what democracy stands for. It lays immense stress on equality, civil liberty, justice and the provision of security and basic rights to all. It does not take inspiration from man-made Western parliamentary democracy with all its loopholes__ a system which edifies itself on the ignorance and unawareness of the easily swayed ordinary. Islam’s democracy is a class apart, for it does not condone demagogism or populist tactics, nor does it allow its God-given Law to be tampered with by self-serving autocrats. It takes inspiration from its own moral code as laid down by the Creator, which holds forever and for all. That is what the Quaid meant when he spoke his historic, ideology-setting lines: ‘ It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, the Prophet (SAW) of Islam. Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles. Our Holy Book has taught us that our decisions in the affairs of the State shall be guided by discussions and consultations.’ This statement clearly rules out any hint of secularist aims that may be ascribed to the Quaid. It distinctly alludes to the essentially Islamic idea of governance by consent and council.
Quaid e Azam looked forward to a State where all were equal, irrespective of religious differences. That is exactly what an Islamic State aspires to, unlike the ‘secular’ regimes of today which shamelessly condone the boorish denunciation of minority creeds and sacrilege to their worship-places. How can a religion whose Founder (SAW) equated unjust harm done to a zimmi as harm done to his own self, ever allow religious discrimination under its jurisdiction? Islam guarantees complete freedom of religion and security of life and property to all its law-abiding citizens, regardless of religion. The meticulous rule of the Four Caliphs serves as evidence for all to see.
Advocates of secularism detest the synchronization of ‘religion and politics’. When religions that have difficulty in looking forward are endowed with political dimensions which they intrinsically lack, a spurious mishmash results. Yet Islam is not a religion but a ‘Deen’. A Divine Law Code encompassing ALL aspects of life, ranging from the personal, spiritual and individual to the social, political and economic. Divorcing it from politics will be like mutilating it. Islam is all about justice, rule of law, peace within and peace without__ and that is exactly why it is important for it to stay together with politics. When implemented in its wholeness, Islam adds a moral dimension to politics, transforming it into selfless statesmanship__ almost public servitude under the All Seeing Eye of the Almighty. In this way, it purges away immorality and unscrupulousness from politics and ensures that morality instead of expediency remains at the heart of politics. Therefore, it is imperative for Islam to remain wedded to politics. For if not, the starkly realistic prophecy that Iqbal made so many years ago will doubtlessly prove true: ‘Juda ho deen siyasat say to reh jati hay changezi’. (When religion is separated from politics, only tyranny remains).
I will give Quaid e Azam the last word on it, for sadly, his ideological views are most grossly misread, misunderstood, misinterpreted and abused:
‘Every Muslim knows that the injunctions of the Quran are not confined to religious and moral duties… everyone except those who are ignorant knows that the Quran is the general code of the Muslims. A religious, social, civilizational, commercial, military, judicial, criminal and penal code, it regulates everything… and our Prophet (SAW) has enjoined on us that every Muslim should possess a copy of the Quran and be his own priest and guide. Therefore, islam is not confined to the spiritual tenets and doctrines or rituals and ceremonies. It is a complete code regulating the whole Muslim society, every department of life collectively and individually.’
To people who would still like to believe that Pakistan was not created in the name of Islam, let it be known that is not all that easy to improvise and manipulate the past. Our glorious history is indelibly carved out in the hearts of our people. Let it be known that yes, unsavoury though it may be, the basis of our nationhood is Islam, and that religion is a very, very potent power which you cannot conveniently choose to ignore or shy away from. It can build nations out of mere populations, it can change boundaries, it can never be lopped off from the social structure, never extorted from the hearts of men.
To those whom our ocean of post-partition difficulties turns sceptical of the ideology, let me quote a saying of the Quaid-e-azam:
" It is by resisting, by facing disadvantages, hardships and suffering and maintaining your true convictions and loyalties that a nation will emerge, worthy of its past glory and history, and will live to make its future greater and more glorious in the annals of the world."
This is the idealism of our founding fathers that we failed to rise up to. We betrayed that vision. The pioneers bequeathed to us the legacy___ a strong, promising ideological basis for development; a glorious dream to build reality on… we failed them.
Yet now, we shamelessly whine about the founders being wrong at the very outset. It is interesting to consider the fact that had Pakistan been well on the way to the progress that the ideology aimed at, we would never have thought of questioning it. We sit back complaining and haranguing over things because manna didn't drop into our mouths unasked. The ideology was never wrong, we wronged it, we sinned against it, we betrayed it.
Then what right do we have__ we, who are merely fair-weather companions__ to speak against what we ourselves misappropriated? It is absolutely disgraceful. It is like the kettle calling the pot black; it is like biting the hand that fed you. We are because of that ideology; we owe our existence to that same ideology which is now so odious to us__ and 'odious' because things didn't happen our way. We have chosen to belie our own existence; we have chosen to discard our own identity; we have chosen to bite our own noses to spite our own faces; we have chosen to humiliate our own name, much to the glee of our enemies who will fully capitalize on this fact. We just did not deserve to be the proud bearers of that glorious ideology built on the noble principles of justice, peace, equality and freedom as enunciated in Islam.
It is deplorable that we are unable even to see this simple fact that in order to make the ideology translate into visible success, we shall have to begin by valuing it truly. This will be our stepping-stone to that 'tangible gain', the absence of which disturbs us to the extent of turning us sceptical. Then let us light the candle, come what may, to the idealism of our founders who won us our home. Let us do our bit, lest darkness pervade all over, distorting our judgement, clouding our vision.

The Panacea for Our World

Maryam Sakeenah
The Age we live in offers a poignant illustration of ‘Might is Right.’ Man’s eternal aspiration to create a just, civilized society and an enduring peace on the planet has proven an elusive chase. For, we today are as far away from the Ancient Ideal as our early ancestors who used to live in caves. In fact, things have worsened considerably. We live at the basest, meanest, lowest level of the Humanity that Allah created in His Image__ we have proven ourselves true to the word the Quran uses for fallen Man__ ‘Asfalasaafileen’__ ‘The lowest of the low.
We have poisoned our lives with materialism, disdainfully banishing from life ‘Faith’, which is the ‘force of life’. The ethereal for us holds no significance at all, for our Revered Deities are all terrestrial. In the Childs play we call politics, the overriding principle is of the godliness of the Powerful and the slavish obedience of The Rest. ‘It is better to be feared than loved’ said Machiavelli__ (that lucky man is the wisest sage humanity has ever produced)__ his maxim holds true for our day as well as ever. What can make one feared by the weak is his formidable might__ a might that is always right; a might that abuses, exploits, tyrannizes, oppresses, victimizes__ and yet is Always Right. Full Stop.
This ‘Might is right’ syndrome leads to a most blinding delusion of Omnipotence. This drug dupes the sublunary demi-god until, in a fit of megalomania, he begins to speak in God’s language, commanding obedience from the menial. He alone becomes his entire world, while beneath his Ivory towers all is scum. Since the god has already taken care to strike terror in little, quaking, awed hearts, obedience comes in rather easily.
Such is the state of our world today. It is a world where criminals responsible for war-crimes and genocide become world leaders and torchbearers of the ‘civilized world’; where Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded for holding your peace over the breach of international law; where bloody slaughter of innocents is disguised under the euphemism ‘collateral damage’; where dastardly lies, naked to the bone become Established Law; where justice itself is unjustly and selectively implemented. The ghastly world Orwell prophecised in his ‘Nineteen eighty-four’ has finally materialized, and very, very insidiously. We have gone grossly wrong somewhere.
And this is where. For certain complex reasons (to discuss which is beyond the scope of this article), the West has become disenchanted with their religion (mark the stress on ‘their’). So they have conveniently thrown theology overboard on their mad way to ‘progress’. Progressed they have, in the material sense of the word, but on the deeper level, they have quite visibly degenerated. It is the Freudian ‘id’, the reservoir of all carnal/animal instincts that holds sway over the Ego of the man of the west. It is this same spiritual bankruptcy epitomised in the dirty culture of bars, pubs and casinos that inspires their arrogant international policies that exploit, suppress and oppress. It is all rotten at the centre.
But it is also very brilliantly luring. The developing world eyes the brilliant ‘progresses’ of the ‘developed’ world with awe and appreciation, and a desire for taking the same road to ‘enlightenment’ trodden on by the West. This kind of a slavish outlook has rendered the Third World defenceless to the great tides of enforced ‘development’ sweeping across the ‘lesser’ states. It has led to the growth of treacherous ploys for economic imperialism like the globalization phenomenon. It has also led to a servile and complexed self-perception in the Third World, and an unquestioning obedience of the diktat coming from the west. We too have begun to think of religion as being irreconcilable with ‘modernity’, and as anathematic to whatever is ‘progressive’ (in the West-influenced connotation of the word). This has ingrained in us a kind of apologia and a sense of shame for being identified with something as outdated as religion. It was the Western system of clergyship that corrupted their religion, rendering it beyond reform and practical implementation in statehood. Yet Allah has provided against a similar plight to our religion by making no room for clergyship in Islam. Besides, Islam is Allah’s last and final, hence consummate Deen, and therefore, extremely implementable in all times. Moreover, the Creator Himself has taken upon Himself the guardianship of Islam’s original Shariah. Sadly, though, aping the ways of the secular world, we choose not to realize the extremely adaptable nature of our religion (by virtue of the unique mechanism of ‘ijtehad’). Islam’s potential for providing a strong ideological basis for edifying a powerful, self-sufficient modern state goes painfully unrealized. Religion is not in fashion, so none of it, we say.
And this is where our problem lies__ in the rejection of religion. This is the disease plaguing our bedevilled planet. While some ingenious spin doctors have suggested the casting away of religion as the easiest solution to terrorism, this very idea speaks of a lack of perception and depth of insight on their part. It is precisely the separation of religion from politics that leads to heinous crimes sponsored and condoned by the Powerful to be perpetrated on the powerless. When we call for religion being forced apart from politics, we only show how much we lack in understanding the spirit of Islam and its scope for implementation in any age.
It is only in religion that morality has a well-grounded permanence. It gives morality an eternal validity. Some may argue on the contrary that morality is inherent in us, so the imposing force of religion is not quite required, but let me say that selfishness and an archetypal inclination to immorality to the extent of brutishness is also inherent in us. Minus the imposing force of religion, the animal in man quite often dominates the human. Human history is coloured with the blood of innocents shed by oppressors in power. It proves the rather jarring truth that man is quite an untamed savage when let on the loose. So the only solution is not to let him on the loose__ and Islam provides us with this solution.
Islam places morality at the heart of domestic and international politics, and thus cleanses it from the immoral. It sets up barriers against the commission of excesses. By making morality religious Law and making the trespass of this Law a punishable offence, Islam ensures the flourishing of a society within the parameters of religious values.
Shorn of religion, morality is often likely to be subverted to expediency. It is expediency, then, that becomes the ruling force, and everything else has to bend itself into that mould. Ethical principles then become secondary, often coming into conflict with the exigencies of the changing times. We then hear of immoral and even cruel things being done in ‘supreme national interest’, and sometimes even in the mere personal interest of certain individuals in power.
‘Interest’ is a very changeable concept. Whatever is in your interest today might not be so tomorrow. ‘Interests’ often make you switch loyalties, flout moral codes and give up principle. In fact, the ‘interests’ of a world that feeds itself on aggrandizement and prides itself in hegemony need not always be morally correct. In order to ensure that morality regulates all political manoeuvring and the world still remains a live-able place for ordinaries, we need to keep religion and politics together.
Having established the need for religion and politics to go together, I will now talk about why an Islamic State is essential for a Muslim society. An Islamic state ensures that morality always gets precedence over expediency. Islam, let me clarify, is not mere religion, but a ‘deen’__ a complete code of life in all its aspects. It not only emphasizes the development of a relationship with God, but also lays down a definite scheme of social behaviour to be adopted in result of that relationship. It clearly lays down what is right and what is not, and demands its followers to keep themselves hedged-in within the limits of the Shariah. A Muslim ought to regulate his life in entirety according to the personal and spiritual, social, political and economic tenets of the Shariah. The implementation of the socio-political aspect of the Shariah is only possible in the presence of a law-enforcing authority at the top. This authority has the power to direct all social/political/economic life of a nation. According to the celebrated writer Mohammad Asad:
“A good deal of (Shariah) law can become effective only through a
consciously co-ordinated effort of many individuals__ that is, through a
communal effort… An individual, however well-intentioned he may be,
cannot possibly mould his private existence in accordance with the
demands of Islam unless the society around him agrees to subject its
practical affairs to the pattern visualized by Islam. The creation of such
social conditions as would enable the greatest possible number of people
to live in harmony (is the ultimate aim of Islamic law).”

An important part of Islamic social doctrines is ‘Amr bil maroof’ and ‘Nahi anil munkar’, meaning ‘the enjoining of good’ and ‘the forbidding of evil’. For the smooth execution of this commandment on a larger and more responsible scale, a powerful law-enforcing authority is imperative. This law-enforcing authority can only be an Islamic State, without which this part of the Shariah will always remain largely theoretical.
A common apprehension regarding the amalgamation of religion and politics is that it might lead to the growth of ‘fanaticism’. To allay this fear, let me clarify that an Islamic state embodies the ideological basis for a nation’s development. It is vested with the power to curtail ideological deviation from the mainstream state religion. With a careful monitoring of the ideological aspect, dissent and deviation (including a fanatical and narrow interpretation of religion) will surely diminish. Besides, with the existence of a strong Islamic authority representing the religion and its followers, watching over the interests of all its citizenry, the sense of deprivation and insecurity which fires fanaticism will inshallah lessen markedly.
Thus, in the establishment of an Islamic State, we have an opportunity to rise again to our feet from our fallen state and create a better world to live in for those whom the ‘civilized world’ has ostracized. Sad, though, that in our blind fascination for secularism which we identify with ‘progress’, we love to look at all talk of religion as ‘impractical idealism’ and cry for its dismissal from politics. And so we continue to suffer in the wretched throes of godlessness.

The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here


Maryam Sakeenah

The proud façade of Liberia’s historical monument overlooks war-ravaged Monrovia, reading, in bold white lettering: ‘The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here.’ The city around struggles to keep a tenuous peace after decades of a civil war that ravaged the country. The irony of the words painted on the interface is stinging.
For, Monrovia today is deeply scarred with the aftermath of a terrible, long-drawn war. Refugees living in extreme poverty, most of them shelterless women and war orphans inhabit the many refugee camps and UN shelters. ‘The war has been bad,’ says a social worker here, ‘It has done great damage among us. It’s terrible having no home, no food. People are scattered like that all around.’
The civil war started by rebel leader and former president Charles Taylor has now abated and one finds UN blue helmets everywhere. But peace in Liberia came too late, after the war had raged on for over a decade with the international community especially the US_ that Liberia considers itself closely allied to_ not stepping in to stem the violence despite the nation’s desperate appeals. When peace finally was made possible, there was little left to save.
Liberia, historically symbolizing the liberation and freedom of Africa and being born out of the American Dream, has suffered. A young Liberian student whose family was lost to him in the war says as horrible memories resurface in his mind, “We forgive them for all that happened, but we cannot forget. For the damage it has done to us is all around us, everywhere.”
The war’s toll has been enormous. One wonders, how did it come to this? Especially, when one considers Liberia’s close kinship with the U.S and the long history of association and strong ties with the country. The bond the two nations historically shared is very palpable on the street. One finds teenagers going about wearing shirts carrying the U.S flag, bandanas and baseball caps. Some of them carry telling messages: ‘Be thy brother’s keeper’, a Biblical dictum thoughtlessly cast aside in the cold, hard, all-too-real arena of international relations. “We are born out of America,” says a reflective middle-aged Liberian, “and our education is strictly from America.” Others wonder why with the U.S and all it stands for so vital in that society, the expected intervention of the U.S was so belated, so half-hearted. A sentiment of disillusionment bordering on anger is certainly perceptible. “We want to know why America didn’t help_ we are part of America, and our people died,” says a young Liberian. A tearful woman, being one of the few fortunate ones airlifted into safety by U.S helicopters_ having the privilege of U.S citizenship_ is very vocal about the American policy, “They should have just stepped in and taken over_ everybody expected them to.”
The question turns baffling when one compares it to American intervention in the Middle-East, Iraq and Afghanistan. Expectant, desperate, bleeding Liberia, one finds, happened to be outside the area of America’s newfound strategic interest. An expert on African affairs insightfully remarks: “Liberia has been America’s abandoned mistress. Throughout the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies, it was essential to what the Americans wanted, but with the emergence of new interests, it was abandoned and neglected. The message Liberians got to hear was that in this world there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests_ a message hard to take, indeed.”
The pieces fall into place as one goes back into Liberia’s past. It all began with America’s slave trade on the West coast of Africa. For years, the slave in America’s plantations struggled under oppression and cruelty. In 1791, bolstered up by the new spirit of freedom in independent America, the slaves sought their chance to turn the tables. There were slave revolts in which angry slaves killed their white masters and won emancipation. It sent waves of fear in the minds of slave owners who felt that those still struggling under slavery might emulate the practice, encouraged by freedom granted to slaves in the northern territories. The apprehension resulted in the formation of the American Colonization Society_ a conglomeration of U.S diplomats, abolitionists and terrified slave owners who decided that freed slaves, instead of being allowed to remain creating desire for freedom in the still enslaved blacks, should be shipped off to West Africa. Ostensibly, they would be repatriated as free citizens in a free African society, thus reducing dangers of slave revolt and spreading the ‘civilizing influence of Christianity to the black continent.’
The blacks had considered freedom in a society that had not accepted their humanity as incomplete. To them, the offer of repatriation to Africa was like ‘God’s Promise’ of final emancipation and a return to the ‘motherland.’
This was, by far, a rosier view of things. The slave settlers on the West African coast brought with them the experience of slavery under Americans. Most of them had been second, third or fourth generation Africans in America and had by then readily internalized the American experience. Here in the African wilds, they could not mingle with mainstream indigenous African life and culture, and looked down upon its rawness as barbaric. They considered the coercive civilization of Africans as a noble mission and carried it out with missionary zeal. More importantly, American supervision and scrutiny of the lives of these settlers remained strict and close. Reports of the conduct of their personal lives were sent home to ensure the settlers lived there as sufficiently American, sufficiently Christian. It is also significant that in building up the place, the settlers devotedly followed the American pattern, naming places after those in America and even copying Western architecture.
Gradually, the settlers rose to a hierarchy of exploiters and oppressors to the locals. It created sharp schisms in the society, and the civil war can be traced down to this bad start. Through the subjugation of indigenous people and their culture, the settlers tried to establish a central ruling elite committed to the making of a ‘Little America’ for the dissemination of civilized, liberal, democratic values, with heavy financing from the U.S.
In this new social order, the locals were as second class citizens at best, under a black ruling elite who carried in themselves the colonizer’s attitude, unleashing a sort of neo-colonialism with black-skinned Americo-Africans at the forefront.
Twenty years later the settlers declared the formation of ‘Liberia’_ an ‘independent African republic.’ It was hailed with fanfare as it was the only black republic in Africa and became a sort of symbol of African independence and freedom, thus the name ‘Liberia.’
The capital was named ‘Monrovia’ after U.S president James Monroe who had facilitated the neo colonization with heavy financing. The flag was a replica of the U.S flag, as was the government seal. The constitution was drawn up according to the American constitution, idealizing American values and the culture of liberality, freedom and democracy. Quite significantly, any reference to the locals and their rights was entirely absent.
The senate and the government was supported and financed by leaders of the Western world. However, soon the democracy transformed into an exploitative oligarchy which started coercively sending indigenous blacks to America and the European countries for little or no wages, never to return home. It was slavery de facto, but never stated as such. The settler elite made money out of the trafficking while the League of Nations feebly objected. Even at home in Liberia, rubber plantations grew, worked by indigenous blacks in conditions much the same as under the American slaveowners. Rubber turned into Liberia’s ‘gold’ as the growing automobile industry in the U.S created billionaire tyre magnates like Harvey Firestone.
Fast forward to World War II. The Liberian army faithfully served the U.S to guard the African coastline and beat back suspected attacks by the Axis powers. In the cold war years, Liberia again played faithful anti-communist ally and virtually became a ground in Africa for anti-communist propaganda with the Voice of America and the CIA setting up their headquarters here.
On the homefront, Liberia had by now grown steadily to become a two-tiered society. Given its firm fidelity to American Capitalism there was a Westernized, moneyed elite at the top, subjugating a poor indigenous population. This was aggravated by ongoing political turmoil and exploitation by repressive and corrupt military coup leader Samuel Doe’s regime in his desperation to hold on to his unpopular rule and weakening power. As Doe ensured American support by his virulent anti-communism propaganda, dollars flowed in to help Doe safeguard against an imagined ‘possible communist threat.’ President Reagan announced, ‘A firm bond unites us with Liberia.’
The money flowing in was used up by the Doe government officials and cronies resulting in extravagant ways of the corrupt elite. The man on the street was forgotten and as disillusionment and deprivation turned into anger and frustration, Doe resorted to terror and violence as his defence, particularly directed at the tribes enemy to his own. As Doe armed tribes for terrorizing the other, the ugly face of violent tribalism raised its head.
As the country seeped deeper into turmoil and the communist threat dissipated in the early 1990s, the U.S significantly disengaged itself from Liberia. Doe felt threatened and insecure without the U.S, and wide opposition brewed up. Desperately, the president clung on tighter to terror tactics.
Enter Charles Taylor, a charismatic U.S-educated rebel leader who vowed to start a destabilizing armed struggle against the unpopular president. Financing his war with smuggled money from neighbouring Sierra Leone’s diamond mines, Taylor adventured with shocking war tactics. He whipped up massive support of the youth, cleverly recruiting young boys in his rebel army by promising them an AK-47, a baseball cap and a tee-shirt, and a hope that with these they could get all they needed. Golding’s insane world of savage boys in the wild materialized as reckless teenaged boys armed with guns sold themselves to the civil war.
After the rebels gunned down Doe, Charles Taylor was installed as president, quickly followed by a massively rigged election; but the violence and furore he had ignited went on unabated. The trends set by Taylor were quickly taken up by emboldened tribal warlords who did not accept Taylor’s regime. The rebellion against the government was, in fact, a venting out of long bottled-up frustrations for repression of the indigenous people. The civil war widened itself, now directed against Taylor himself_ it became an all-consuming fire, a madness gripping Liberia and shattering it forever. As the country desperately appealed to the U.S to save it from itself, American helicopters came to airlift U.S citizens, but the toll on human lives continued to rise. Whitehouse diplomacy said loud and clear: “Liberia to us is like any other country. We have no real interest there.” James Bishop, a former U.S diplomat reflects: “Liberians assisted us in our worst times, when we were in need, and frankly, we have let them down in their time of greatest need. They look up to the U.S as one might to a godfather or a godmother, but we have been negligent godparents.”
In the absence of help from the international community, it was the Union of African Nations led by Nigeria that rallied to the nation’s plea. The peacekeeping soldiers were hailed as heroes and saviours by the suffering population and their presence created the conditions for a ceasefire and hopes of a return to stability dawned. The U.N eventually moved in with its peacekeeping battalions too. Peace has returned to Liberia, but it is not only tenuous but much too delayed, for the great damage far outdoes the healing.
The toll of the civil war has been humungous. The country’s infrastructure seems to be in tatters, almost literally, but that is by far the least of the war’s corrosion. It has been a tragedy of enormous proportions to the society. A whole generation of Liberian youth were robbed off their humanity, turned into reckless killing machines, brain-controlled and trained to obey power blindly. More than 70% of the rebel soldiers were under 18, committing unspeakable atrocities on their own people. A ruddy-faced teen rebel explains: “We kept ourselves high on drugs. It made us free. Kind of overbrave, for nothing then moves you. You can kill and laugh all day.” These distorted, perverted specimens of human nature are the worst, the irreparable scars of war.
The boy-rebels, long separated from families and having no homes to return to, lived on the thrill, the adventure of shoot-and-kill. Some of them hardly know why they did it. A twelve year old rebel smilingly tells: “I fought cos I like it. No, I am not too young as you may think, for I can kill.” Some have emotional reasons: “I fought Charles Taylor for he killed my family.” Others insist they are not without cause. A young rebel asserts: “Liberians suffered. And I want to tell everyone that we did not fight a foolish war, but a war to liberate Liberians, okay?”
Yet, beneath the touted bravado of the boy rebels lurks deep sadness, the tragedy of their lives criminally toyed with. ‘Dirty Rebel,’ as he likes to call himself, was a rebel group leader proud of his killing track-record. In the days the war was on full swing, he shared private views with journalists at a run-down inn: “The gun is my mother and my father. When I am hungry, it can get me food, and when I am sick, it gives me medicine. So as for now, this is my mother and father. When I in school, I won’t kill, but in the war when I have the gun I do many things that make me to feel bad. Sometimes I cry when I sit alone, but when I am like this with other children who do the same things, I don’t feel bad. During this war, I killed many people… so I will ask for forgiveness. After I turn this gun over, I will register and go to school, and I will not think about killing no more. Yeah.” Today, lots of boys in rags, sunken-eyed and bony, walk about as eye-soring remnants of the war; most have limbs amputated, and have no families or home.
On the other side are the victims with bitter memories, poverty and homelessness to live with. The worst struck are the orphans, widows and the many women raped by marauding rebel soldiers, mostly in gangs. 17 year old Emilia, gang-raped and mother of a three year old recounts her tale: ‘They killed my brother before my eyes and asked me to bury him…I feel very deep sad, sometimes I feel like I am dead too.” But young Emilia has risen from the ashes and aspires to become a counsellor for raped women and a journalist to tell the world her side of the story. “I encourage the people to share their experiences so that the world knows how we feel.”
Hawa, the only survivor of her family, brutally gang-raped has still not recovered from her trauma. “They open the door and came in, threatened to kill if I hollered. The pain was in my body… I bear it. So other one go, other one come. My body was hurting, I couldn’t even get up… and two of them were children. They just used me in ugly ways. I feel bad. I can’t just laugh cos God faces me and asks me to laugh. My heart break in half. I don’t have a home, I don’t have a man. I think God wanted me to stay with them, but I don’t have nobody.”
Yet, in the darkness and the pain, courage, hope and faith survive still. Mariama Brown, a voluntary social worker who herself suffered greatly in the war has adopted 13 war orphans and runs a refugee shelter, counselling and healing hundreds of suffering women. With her characteristic candour, she says, “Women like Hawa are the reason why I started this centre. I said to myself, I have to go for this, I have to learn to counsel these women, and learn to treat victims of rape. We are building a little community, and I feel good for that. My strength comes from those I serve. They are happy, rejoicing, smile on their faces. I feel so good now, so happy, and when I go home, I can sleep deep like a drunken woman.”
Out of history’s wounds, the morass of ‘civilization’, policy, diplomacy, interest, exploitation, tribalism, the missionary zeal for Westernization, power and the ‘love of liberty’, it is the indomitable spirit of selflessness, humanity, large-hearted charity, love, hope and faith that heals; it is this that stands tall and endures above all.