STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

I reside in Mississauga, one of cities encircling Toronto in the shape of a horse shoe. This city has attracted immigrants from around the world. The flavor is multicultural including many Pakistanis. Our incumbent Mayor Bonnie Crombie along with the City Council recently passed a motion permitting Maghrib Azzan to be broadcast from Mosques during Ramadhan.

I believe the cities of Milton and Brampton have done it too. A very inclusive gesture greatly appreciated. It was the reasoning behind this decision that touched my heart. “People need comfort and familiarity during these difficult times”. There will be no gatherings as per prevalent provincial guidelines. Such acts make the society homogenous.

Kindness, compassion, love and affection is the corner stone of all religions. In a world becoming more and more inward looking, it is a huge whiff of fresh air. Our biases and prejudices, religious or racial, only murky the waters. Life is a blessing of God; why not fill it with joy and mercy? Why mutilate it with hate and intolerance?

These questions have existed since times immemorial. They were more than adequately answered by our Holy Prophet, Peace be upon Him, over fourteen centuries ago. The message conveyed in the Holy Quran is not just for Muslims only; it is for the entire humanity. It promotes forbearance, tolerance and justice for all.

The message unambiguously stipulates adherence to truth, forbids fraudulent transactions, honesty in earnings “rizk-e-halal”, cleanliness and adoption of a pious life. It dictates how a society interacts within itself. It was the beginning of an era of enlightenment. It elevated the levels of humanity that would earn God’s blessings hereafter. More importantly it established a code of conduct amongst interacting individuals.

The revelation of Holy Quran conveyed by Prophet Mohammad, Peace be upon Him, and the values he espoused found widespread following. Starting with a handful of adherents, the ripples spread and expanded the faith around the globe. A quarter of the global population is Muslim, 2nd only to Christianity.

Moving forward through centuries, in 1947 Pakistan came into existence. It was to be home to Muslims of the subcontinent split between the East and West Pakistan. Muslim League led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah spearheaded this movement. It was a political party, not a religious party. Only two religious parties existed at this point in history. Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind and Jamiat-e-Islami. Unfortunately both opposed the idea of a separate homeland.

After partition the political powerbase revolved amongst the mainstream political parties. Religious parties found their niches but their influence on the political scene was limited. They gained some traction in the early seventies during Bhutto’s regime. However their heydays started with General Zia’s regime and the Afghan War.

That is when the country veered to the right adopting conservatism as a way of life. After General Zia seized power, he wanted to hang onto it. He realized that religious groups could provide him the political support base he needed. These groups had emerged in the previous decade and were seeking patronage to grow their influence. It was a marriage of convenience. During this period religious groups grew their political base, influence, access to wealth and weapons.

While Muslim League finally emerged as the pall bearer of yet another dictator, Jamaat Islami, JUI (Fazal) and many other smaller entities emerged as power brokers. They did not muster enough votes to become national contenders. However they learnt how to stay relevant to obtain a share in power. They gained the ability to disrupt governance, paralyze the system through outright agitation or through acts of violence conducted by their proxies.

A glaring example was Maulana Fazal’s raid on Islamabad. It brought the whole nation to a standstill. My sources tell me thousands of illegal vehicles were smuggled into Pakistan on this occasion.

As the stranglehold of these groups grew amongst the people so did their conflicts and intolerance for each other. There is no “papacy” in Islam yet these family run enterprises tightened their grip on leadership. Islam as a unifying belief has splintered into sects and clans. Unfortunately each one of them clings to their school of thought as “the sole truth” in exclusion of other believers. This is the root cause of conflict.

What is more heartbreaking is the Ulema blaring away on media espousing only the love and obedience to God. Agreed, it is a must. But what about His creations? What about the love for fellow beings?

Not enough is said about it. The compassion of our Holy Prophet’s message has gotten lost in all the wrangling going on within our society. As narrated earlier, four out of five virtues of Islam, truthfulness, fairness and avoidance of fraud, honesty, and cleanliness pertain to interaction amongst humans. This aspect of religion has taken a back seat. Entire emphasis is on piety. That also focuses mainly on how opposite sexes interact. What a farce!

That is a huge omission by those who claim leadership in Islam. This will never change and improve our conditions. The adherents shall continue to ignore the real message. We will continue to lie, cheat, hoard, sell impurities and litter as a way of life. The true principals of Islam will continue to be ignored. They are a hostage to its own misguided proponents. The message from the pulpit should change radically.

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