The pogrom-like atmosphere gathering apace vis-a-vis its minorities in Pakistan is a far graver threat to society than is commonly realised. Sunnis, the majority community, do not appear to perceive that what is at stake is not an ‘altruistic’ concern for some weak, insignificant others. The larger framework of our lives—capitalism, and its partner in the abomination of our collective existence, nationalism—works to make us think and act as if ethical action towards others is reserved for exceptional moments of ‘altruism’, rather than being the everyday condition of a decent life. This destitute conception of ethics has come to pervade more and more of our lives, including our ‘religion’, which increasingly appears as a domain distinct from its own heart: ethics. Like everything around us, our ethics and religion too are fast becoming content-free.
What is at stake is the character, meaning and quality of life as such, inclusive, above all, of Sunniism and the integrity of its own nature and traditions. It is one of the key teachings of the Abrahamic faiths (and beyond, for example, in the Indic concept of karma) that what is of equal concern in acts of injustice and violence is the impact they have on one’s own soul. This cosmological insight is also at the origin of the philosophical tradition where, in Socrates and Plato, virtue is cultivated in the care of one’s own soul. Both rest on one fundamental: the most basic, enduring pleasure of life—the ground and potential of all other pleasures—is the pleasure of one’s own soul. Simply put, one cannot be a scoundrel to others without becoming a scoundrel to oneself. It cannot be denied that there are pleasures to be experienced in the ego of the scoundrel, but their destitute and transient quality is a common experience. The extreme survivalism of capitalist-nationalist society has worked to suppress this basic truth: it is quite possible to survive, to live a long life (even one endowed with wealth, power, status) and yet never to experience the reality of life. Indeed, without the enlivenment of the soul, even if one survives, one might as well be dead—indeed, our present condition increasingly resembles rotten death, not ripened life.
Most immediate to the question of ‘minorities’, the ricocheting impact of violence on the soul of the perpetrator is evident in the rapidly declining quality of the life of Sunniism itself—in the everyday evacuation of Sunni piety of its ethical content, in the menacing quality of its sanctimoniousness. The disclosure that the Christian child Rimsha Masih’s accuser, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, a mosque-imam, had himself planted “blasphemous” material to get the child caught was most revealing. Chishti—a stain he is upon the exalted name of South Asia’s largest Sufi silsila—may be a particularly egregious scoundrel, but the twisted disposition of his piety is by no means devoid of affinity with the emergent character of the society of his co-sectarians.
It is hardly a contentious claim that Sufism, or tasawwuf, has since almost its origin—an origin shared with Shiaism, above all in the person of Imam Ali, to whom almost all Sufi silsilas trace their beginnings—been the heart and life of Sunni Islam. (Without it, it would appear historically to be merely a doctrine of the legitimation of de facto order and power.) Far from being some minor ‘sect’ or ‘mystical cult’—modern categories that correspond little to our historical, religious experience—Sufism has in fact pervaded in innumerable ways the everyday social space of Sunni Islam, existing as the enlivening articulation and inheritance of its aesthetic, ethical, philosophical and spiritual content. Coinciding with the Platonic teaching of theosis, or “becoming like God”, tasawwuf has been the kernel of Sunni Islam, proceeding from the Prophet’s injunction to “cultivate the ethos of the Divinity”.
Thus, the destruction of ‘minorities’ (including, massively, of the Shia) coincides logically with an unprecedented assault on Sufism—and not just in the heretofore inconceivable, physical attacks on the millennial graves of its greatest exemplars, the literally and metaphorically suicidal attacks on the sanctuaries of its saints. It is mirrored, spectacularly, in the daily erosion of the expansive ethos and sublime conceptual world bequeathed to us. What we are witnessing is the disinheritance of the vast treasures historically given in Sunniism, which is fast becoming a monstrous shadow of itself.
We may survive the destruction of our minorities, but without the soul that makes life worth living, the soul that makes its deepest, highest and ownmost pleasures possible. And without this life of life, we might as well be dead. In fact, for the most part, we evidently already are: with our pleasures increasingly those of the living dead, the infernal pleasures of vampires.
(The writer, a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University, is an assistant professor at Habib University, Karachi. He’s a recent convert to Shiaism.)
Apropos Nauman Naqvi’s piece Soul Suicide (Oct 15), sometimes there is more earthy wisdom in a single Sufi song comprehensible to a wood-cutter than in a whole book of scripture that needs interpretation. I speak as a recent discoverer of the magic that is Begum Abida Parveen’s rendition of Sufi songs.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
>> in matters of re-interpreting Islam, so as to make it consistent with human values of modern times such as tolerance , liberalism, broadmindedness and a spirit of give and take.
That would not be a re-interpretation. It is more a matter of which parts of the scriptures one focuses and expands on. The mullahist Islam, favored also by anti-Islamic Zionist and Sanghi propagandists, is not the Islam of Sufis nor of other moderate/progressive Muslims. This can be seen in a host of recent speeches, publicatons and internet websites. However it has to contend with some very powerful antagonists, the main one being petro-dollar Wahabi Islam. Let us see what this century brings.
Ref : ANWAAR
I have already said in my previous post that ,"....(B)oth religious ideology as well as the way it is interpreted by its followers do matter ".
And in matters of re-interpreting Islam, so as to make it consistent with human values of modern times such as tolerance , liberalism, broadmindedness and a spirit of give and take, Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism are far far ahead of it and its followers. Let us be aware of the vicious grip the conservative and fanatical preachers have on the minds of the ordinary Muslims in the Indian Sub-continent. The near mortal punishment which a poor ragpicking Christian girl escaped from recently --all because of the vicious machinations of a Mullah in Pakistan is fresh in our memory.
Belif in God is a matter of Faith. One can neither conclusively prove nor disprove the existence of God. If there is a God, He/She/It can only be a single Entity. A Hindu may call It Bhagawan, a Muslim- Allah and a Christian Yahova or Jesus. Does it really matter which name we give to this Entity or the rituals we follow in our prayers ?
I am a Hindu . My prayers are more spiritual than religious. I do not at all believe in the mumb- jumbo of Hindu religious rituals . I do not follow them at all. I am not a temple-goer either. Along with a Christian friend, once I prayed in a Church. I was immensely impressed by the serenity that prevailed there . I have a soft corner for Jesus, who spread love, peace and brotherhood. But I am totally against the concept of religious conversion. And incidentally the pace at which Hindus are converting to Christianity in Andhra Pradesh is unbelievable !! Some of my close relatives did so. I do not approve ot it . Why should one convert ? If there is a God, it should be only one Entity. So why change your religion ? I do not mind worshipping in a Church/ Mosque or a Temple. Does it really matter what you call your God or how you worship the Almighty ?
We all know that all religions are man-made. Hence, logically there should be scope for continued interpretations of religious scriptures to make them consistent with changing times and emerging human values. It is here that Islam and Muslims lag behind .
Religions shoud exist for the Spiritual Wellbeing of Humanity and NOT the other way round.
>> no religion other than Islam can be brought in to justify killing of an apostate.
The Bible says, "And he should go and worship other gods and bow down to them or to the sun or the moon or all the army of the heavens, .....and you must stone such one with stones and such one must die." This is from the Book of Deuteronomy which is sacred for both Jews and Christians. The Quran prescribes no punishment for apostasy, but some Hadiths do. Hadiths often support Judeo-Christian traditions. Moderate/Progressive Muslims oppose any punishment for apostasy.
>> "Even the most conservative and reactionary Hindu cannot now swear by Manu's harsh interpretatons of Caste system among Hindus in modern India."
So it is not the scripture that makes the difference, but how much a society has been able to ignore or re-interpret the scripture. This is an area in which Muslims still have a lot of work to do. The following article addresses some of these points:
Ref : Anwaar
Prof Reza Aslam's argument that there are no religions but only followers of these religions who have to be blamed... that religions on their own do neither good nor bad to humanity, and it is the followers who do it is amusing and unconvincing.
Normally in modern times religious texts have the flexibility to be interpreted either in the interests and welfare of humanity at large or made to justify divisive, hateful and violent behaviour among its followers. In this context, it is Islam which has a greater flexibility to be harshly interpreted or misinterpreted, as comparedd to the other major religions.
For istance, no religion other than Islam can be brought in to justify killing of an apostate. Can any one quote any religious sanctity either in Bible, Hindu religious texts or Buddha's preachings for punishment to its former followers ? Or take the case of punishment to people who go astray in their personal lives, such as adultry. Do religious texts of Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism prescribe stoning of the culprit, like Islam does ? Is there any ambiguity in Islam on this punishment ? Does not Islam sanctify stoning ? Who has to be blamed for this inhuman punishment to the unfortunate victim? Islam or its followers --Muslims ?
Yes , interpretation of religious preachings and sanctions does matter. And many religions have reformed their inhuman aspects . Even the most conservative and reactionary Hindu cannot now swear by Manu's harsh interpretatons of Caste system among Hindus in modern India. Even in ancient India the athiest Charvakas enjoyed freedom of speech and went unpunished by the Hindu religious Orthodoxy. Now a Hindu or a Christian can openly say that there is no God. Can a Muslim say it openly and survive in the Wahabi-dominated lands?
So both religious ideology as well as the way it is interpreted by its followers do matter.
>> I was talikg about the present times..not about past.
You are right. Prof. Reza Aslam addresses the same question in an article in the New York Times: "Here is the simple, unavoidable truth: there is no such thing as Christianity, Judaism, Islam. There are only Christians, Jews, Muslims. Religion promotes neither love nor hate, neither war nor peace, neither democracy nor fascism. People do those things, and in religion they will find the justification for any and every answer to whatever question they ask. So, the question is not whether Islam promotes democracy. The question should be: “Do Muslims promote democracy?” And the answer is some do and some don't, as is the case with followers of every religious tradition on earth."
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