Monday, 17 November 2014

House of Prayer for All Nations?

I was amazed and impressed when I read the news about Muslims attending their Juma prayers and listening to the Khutba in a cathedral in Washington, USA. (Read news story here)

Anyway, after reading about this historic event, 3 thoughts came to my mind, and I invite you, the reader, to also reflect on them and share your views:

Firstly, many American Christian leaders are against the idea of inviting Muslims in their churches. If that is the case, then what do they make of this verse:

'..these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations' (Isaiah 56)
Is this verse only for the Temple of Solomon? Does it not apply to modern church buildings?  

Secondly, the organizers of the event claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. While this is an amazing claim, they need to explain what they really mean. If the God of the Christians and Muslims is the same, then why have two different religions? Why doesn't every Muslim get baptized or every Christian recite the shahada

I think a more accurate statement would be that both Christians and Muslims are monotheists. But then again, some Muslims will object.

Lastly, I agree with the comment that Christians should also be allowed the freedom to worship in the same manner at mosques in Saudi Arabia. But is this possible in the light of what the Holy Qur'an teaches? It is about time Muslims explain the reason why non-Muslims are barred from entering the holy cities of Islam.

My personal opinion is that this was indeed a great gesture by the Washington National Cathedral. I fully support it.

What do you think?

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Equation of Death

The world is shocked as a violent mob burnt two Christians and their unborn child in a brick kiln. 

Just when you think that we can take a break from the usual business in Pakistan, some citizens take it upon themselves to shock and shame humanity in new ways. 

But here is the question: Was this violent and inhuman act expected?

Most agree that given the situation of Pakistan, no one needs to be surprised by these incidents. And unfortunately, they are right.

However, while journalists, politicians, public intellectuals, and activists talk about factors like illiteracy, poverty, lack of law & order, they fail to consider that many a times it is a not a class issue, where the illiterate kill and the poor die. 

That is not true at all. Salman Taseer was the governor of Punjab when he was shot down. Dr. Abdus Salam became a Nobel Laureate when he was forced to leave his country. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi was a published Islamic scholar with his own TV program when he had to seek asylum abroad. 

Likewise, when Taseer's murderer was brought to court, he was showered with petals by lawyers. 

Hundred examples can be quoted, but I believe these will suffice. The point is crystal clear: Extremism is beyond class and education. No one is safe.

In an earlier post, I discussed the intellectual persecution of Christians in Pakistan. Consider the fact that Islamic and Urdu textbooks in Pakistan feature content that, if not hate speech, is definitely propagandist in nature.

However, the majority of the people who get to read such material early in their lives are Muslims. I remember in primary school (when we still wore shorts), a friend of mine asked me:

'Why do you recite the national anthem? Why don't you go to England since you are Christian'?

Keep in mind that I was educated in an English medium private school. And this is just one example of this kind attitude that I witnessed. 

The bottom line is that the people who run our country, who are of course Muslims, need to muster up the courage and call a spade a spade. They need to put 2 and 2 together to solve the equation of death.

Please keep the children of Shama and Shahbaz in prayers.

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Monday, 3 November 2014

To Drink or Not to Drink: That is the Question

Minority rights in Pakistan are in the news as of late, at least as far as English-language publications are concerned. Today's blog post deals with a couple of news stories on recent attempts to change legislation pertaining to the consumption of alcohol in Pakistan and its legal ramifications. 

(You can find the stories here, here, and here)

The first story talks about a petition filed by the Federal Shariat Court, or simply FSC (the body responsible for ensuring that all legislation done in Pakistan is in compliance with Islamic law), in the Supreme Court to revise the punishment for drinking alcohol. 

The interesting thing to note is that 'Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan observed that there was no absolute prohibition of drinking in the Qur'an as it was only restraint.'  

Such statements have been made previously by religious scholars. Examples include the late Fazlur Rehman Malik, who stated on national TV that 'drinking alcohol was a not a major sin in Islam and that alcoholic beverages with less than 5 per cent alcoholic content should not be considered unlawful'. 

Of course, most Muslims will disagree. However, it is true that there are some verses in the Holy Qur'an which give the notion that drinking alcohol is allowed under specific conditions.


'O you who believe! Approach not As-Salat (the prayer) when you are in a drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter....' Sura 4:43

 They ask you (O Muhammad SAW) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: "In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit." 2:219
As you can see, these verse do not forbid the use of alcohol even though the substance itself is criticized. However, Muslims scholars say that these verses were abrogated by 5:90, which reads:
O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, - of Satan's handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

The rationale presented here is that the Holy Qur'an increased the force with which alcohol was condemned gradually so that people can naturally give up the habit. Fair enough, but the problem is that the holy book of Islam is not arranged chronologically. So, it needs to be proven beyond the shadow of doubt which chapter was 'revealed' when in order to subscribe to the popular argument of abrogation.

Now let's move on to the other two stories, which are inter-related. Apparently, Christian and Hindu MPAs are trying to pass a bill in the Parliament that bans alcohol for non-Muslims. 

You see, alcohol is banned in Pakistan, but it can be imported and manufactured locally for non-Muslims. 

The politicians pressing for the ban are right in stating that by banning alcohol for Muslims while making it's distribution open for non-Muslims creates a constitutional bias against religious minorities. And more than that, Christians and Hindus are often mocked as drunkards by the majority. 

The bill also says that the ruling on alcohol has often lead to corrupt police officials creating 'fake, false, frivolous cases against minorities'. This is true, however, the bill ignores the fact that whether alcohol is banned or not, minorities will continue to be harassed and persecuted.

But why ban the drink altogether? The Bible- just like the Holy Qur'an and other religious texts-talks about the side-effects of alcohol consumption (which any good doctor can also tell you). However, the Bible also calls gluttony and adultery sins worthy of eternal punishments. But does that does not mean we outlaw food and sex. 

I am not aware of what Hinduism teaches in this respect. I have yet to open the translation of the Bhagvad Gita that I enthusiastically purchased a few months back. 

So in conclusion I would say that not only is there a need for a more open and in-depth discussion of what each religion teaches about alcohol consumption, but any legislation shouldn't ignore the fact that drinking is a social reality. 

What do you think? Please state your religion as well when you comment.

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