Category Archives: Philosophy and Religion

In -Tolerance


If weather was an indicator of how things are on ground, the skies would rain ash. Its ironically lovely outside right now with just a hint of softness in the cool breeze while countless tyres burn on Karachi’s main artery, twitter is abuzz with MQM, PPP and ANP political parties’ love-hate triangleship and the vast majority of the citizens cower at home for fear of losing an arm, leg or precious neck.

See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil needs a revision. The newer version could read “see everything, don’t hear, don’t speak’. For we all know what happens to those who do. Swan songs aplenty in the journalist world to remind us of consequences.

And what about tolerance? Bookish knowledge some say. Time for action, say others. The result? Mobs going wild and the scars of the 90’s in Karachi scratched and bleeding once again.

Extremism has no religion. A resident of Balfour's Siyabuswa township runs for cover as service delivery protests turned violent.

Extremism is a word, not a religion. Cross border dialogues turn into hate tirades and finger pointing but at the end of it all is an individual. In my short period of analysing extremist culture over time in different people from around the globe and more so in Pakistan, the picture has been multidimensional. There are those who feel angry and frustrated by events at a local or international level or those who grow up in the unjust world of lanes where might is right and in order to survive, one must hit hard. Many turn to religion using basic belief systems sans any analysis or psychosocially appropriate zeitgeist and use dogmas to establish an easy basis for intolerance. In order for me to be right (and obviously I am right), you must be wrong.

Many others use an extremist identity to resolve their own inner conflicts – a sense of belonging, a sense of support that makes them go on in life, provides them with purpose and eventual fulfilment. Life satisfaction as a double edged sword one may say. It would be a happy ending for all concerned if that ideology would stay contained. Yet, as the followers grow, it spirals into a movement instead and group-think being the time-ticking-bomb it is, it is bound to create a sense of fulfilment now in group ideals. Hence aggression and all its associated features come into play.

Karachi has been a bloody playground for party people since ages. Partition and a hunky dory time period passed in a dream and then we had individuals who spoke – the young student leaders who later banded, disbanded and created group-think. Now, its not even group-think, its instinct-think and the law of the jungle integrated. The one with the loudest voice – literal or metallic, gets heard and then there is an even louder silence.

MQM behind my removal as home minister: Zulfiqar Mirza.

Now we have Zulfiqar Mirza with his anti-MQM statements and the people’s voiceless but action filled rebuttal? Among the nameless faces of pyromania there are quite a few having a party and the venue happens to be the road outside. While Federal Interior minister Rehman Malik apologized on behalf of Mirza to appease the offended, dogs, a donkey, several public transport vehicles and private cars have borne the brunt of most of the anger. Goodbye ozone layer. Hopefully we won’t need you. Goodbye effigies and goodbye outbursts, the people need something more substantial that cringes and whines.  Such is the mindset of a tough minded audience while peace lovers look on in shock and disgust. Hundreds gather near Zulfiqar Mirza’s home in Karachi, children chant slogans like a mantra and the onlookers far outnumber the activists.  There are videos of people clapping and dancing in rallies in Badin, Hyderabad and other parts of Pakistan. If it were not for the burning tyres, the whole thing would look like a festival. Bonfire anyone?

Understood, no one likes to be called ‘hungry and naked’ and be reminded insolently that they were provided shelter; much in the manner of a landlord lording over his bonded labourers, yet is Zulfiqar Mirza’s speech incentive enough for anger? Were offended Karachiites hot headed enough to leap to action at the whip of a tongue of flame? A tongue is a tongue, not a gun and while an apology has been made to the hurt sentiments of the migrant populace, the unwittingly blown speech bubble includes names, and party politics along with an entire community. It will not be an easy task to smooth out everything in 48 hours by issuing ultimatums to those with a tongue to leave the city while the city dwellers vent their feelings conveniently by smashing their own utensils. Truly the angry mind doesn’t think. By the same formula, heaping all Urdu speakers into a pile and associating all of them with the name of MQM doesn’t work either.

TV channels are having a field day replaying the video taped speech over and over again. Much like a cricket ball by ball commentary we have shots of the background revealing who shook his head, who didn’t, who smiled, who tapped who on the shoulder and when. Welcome to the world of masala mix.

Time to make a third amendment for in-tolerance: See nothing, hear nothing and most definitely SPEAK NOTHING. And ofcourse those who are blind, deaf and dumb will do nothing.

Yet among all the gore, there are glimmers of light – the population that can differentiate between the right to speak and the right to vent was till yesterday sending sympathetic messages for the unfortunate  blasts in Mumbai and receiving equally thankful and understanding responses from the other side. Flip side of the coin, Pakistan and Afghanistan again gained an infamous image for exporting terror. Export? Both are busy battling the weeds in their own gardens.

And where there are gardens, weeds will grow.

In… tolerance.

Featured images courtesy

 http://whatisyourrrintelligence.blogspot.com/2010/02/balfour-culture-of-entitlement.html

http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Politics/08-Apr-2011/MQM-was-behind-my-removal-as-home-minister-Zulfiqar-Mirza

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Defining the Sufi – Heart and Soul


Intoxicated by the Wine of Love.

From each a mystic silence Love demands.

What do all seek so earnestly? ‘Tis Love.

What do they whisper to each other? Love.

Love is the subject of their inmost thoughts.

In Love no longer ‘thou’ and ‘I’ exist,

For Self has passed away in the Beloved.

Now will I draw aside the veil from Love,

And in the temple of mine inmost soul,

Behold the Friend; Incomparable Love.

He who would know the secret of both worlds,

Will find the secret of them both, is Love.

Fariduddin Attar – Translation by Margaret Smith

In the beginning there was Love.

Love, light, longing and the dearly Beloved – the Friend of all. All those who love Him. Sufism enshrines itself as a form of expressing an ancient Covenant: the  Sufis being friends of Allah who strive to leave worldly desires behind and show loyalty to their beloved by engaging in perpetual ‘remembrance’ and ‘zikr’. Synonymous with the ideals of higher ecstatic ‘states’ or ‘ahwal’, the heart of the Sufi longs for final ‘survival’ that is ‘baq’a’ of his ideals.

Sufism is not a simple word to define. Its forms are culturally determined while its traditions have undergone transformations through the centuries and the various nations who came in contact with it. Perhaps it would be simpler to say what it is not.

It is not a form of Islam or a derivative of the Holy Qura’an but there is no doubt that it was an important means of bringing the masses closer to Islam in early days. Sufis were initially approached with something between awe, curiosity and ridicule and later as their influence grew, they managed to capture more than just attention. They captured and captivated hearts.

Sufism cannot even be defined as a religion. Unlike structured religions, while it has a ‘pathway’ or ‘tariqa’ it does not have a single rigid doctrine. Its followers have their own brotherhoods and while they are divided in spirit and practices, their object is the same – the love of Allah.

It is also not a ‘union with God’ as many sources claim, as it gives the idea of ‘the  realization of God’s uniqueness’ rather than a blending or forging. Most Sufis reject the idea of finding Allah within oneself. They rather view the contemplation and appreciation of His beautiful creations as a means of reaching Him.

Some sources have shown the influence of Christian, Hindu practices on Sufism and said that it is an evolution of the desire to mould the oft viewed stern Islamic practices and provide a softer outlook. Yet, there is a major difference. The historical context shows that while the Sufis may have indulged in seemingly libertine practices, they never were dubbed as clergy, or believed in the trinity or in incarnation. Much has been lost in translation. Julian Baldick, the author of several books on Comparative Religion refers to the word ‘Saint’ which, according to him, has been liberally used in translation by British writers for Muslim mystics. While the term has a completely different connotation of heroic piety in Christianity, the closest counterpart is ‘Wali Allah’ which means ‘friend of Allah’ and the patron of those at a lower level of contemplation of His supremacy.

Another reference looks at the etymological roots of the word Sufi, calling it the Islamic continuation of Greek philosophy or the Sophists. There is incidentally quite a bit in common between both Sophists and Sufis. Both strove to teach and were elitist in nature. However, that is where the similarity ends. While Sophists  never tried to reach the masses and remained in minority, rejecting the common’ man, the Sufis did just the opposite by making sure that their message was  comprehensible to all.

An offshoot sometimes confused with the Sufis, takes the form of a Hellenized Islamic Philosophy and is called ‘Hikmat al Ishraq’ or the wisdom of Oriental Illumination. Here the contextual difference is vast. The Sufis, immersed in their ideal of togetherness or a strong bond with the Creator and lacking interest in worldly affairs, have no desire for immediate escape either. The other side lacks interest in attaining the love of the Creator and instead focuses on an ordered perception of the Universe dominated by a mysterious Angel. Their escapist ideology, of ascension and integration into space by means of purifying their thought to gain heights of Spiritual mastery not apparent to other mortals, deviates far from simplistic Sufi notions of life.

So then, what is Sufism and what do the Sufis themselves have to offer as an explanation. The answer lies in the metaphorical content of their sayings and  writings. Sufism is a mystical tradition that has been taken as one of the highest forms of living the ideal of a life filled with ‘tasawwuf’. Tasawwuf – literally ‘wearing wool’ was a term initially used to pinpoint those who were not interested in the material world. Wool in its raw rough form being used to  fashion a rather crude basic tunic or garment known more for its resilience than its comfort. According to the historian Ibn e Khaldun, “This knowledge (Tasawwuf) is a branch of the sciences of Sacred Law that originated within the Umma. From the first, the way of such people had also been considered the path of truth and guidance by the early Muslim community and its notables, of the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), those who were taught by them, and those who came after them.” Another connotation lies with the term of ‘As’hab e Sufah’ or the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) who led simple lives and spent their time learning from him and in prayer.

Hence, Sufism has its leanings towards dedication with a pure heart. Be it the soulful stirrings of poetry sublimated in ‘ishq e ilaahi’ and the ‘love of Allah’, deliberate self abasement in the slightest wrongdoing or even a bid to give up all worldly distractions, Sufism binds the Sufi heart and soul with his Maker. A bond that is only strengthened with time and the only definition it needs is ‘belief’ and ‘intent’.

References

Baldick, J. (2000) Mystical Islam – An Introduction to Sufism.  Tauris Parke Paperbacks. London, New York.

Keller, N. H. M. (1995) The Place of Tasawwuf in Traditional  Islamic Sciences. Retrieved from http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/nuh/sufitlk.htm

Sieny, M.E. (1989) Muslim Heroes. International Islamic Publishers Ltd. Karachi, Pakistan.

Wahiduddin. Intoxicated by the wine of love. Retrieved from http://wahiduddin.net/sufi/sufi_poetry.htm