Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Profiling and personal fatwas

We’re an opinionated lot that much is certain. But when criticism rolls onto censure and soon enough into the personal fatwa machine, it becomes yet another poor prognostic sign for Pakistan.

Muslim-Americans fume at being profiled and singled out for scrutiny at airports but happily join the melee of labeling people based on appearances. A hijabi is purity incarnate and only the morally weak wear shorts don’t you know?

Prejudices are transmitted and bolstered by parents and families and a good number of unfortunate people go through life not examining the outlandish, leave alone that they sound like their grandmothers. I grew up at a time when PIA chose air-hostesses based on height, weight and good looks. And since Pakistani actresses were frankly obese, my glamour ideal was a PIA air-hostess. The family was looking for a match for my uncle and someone suggested a pretty girl. My grandfather’s words hiss in my ears till today “absolutely not, she is an air-hostess!” And out went my nurtured dream of flying the skies.

I knew intuitively then and know definitely now that PIA air-hostesses endure sexual harassment because of my grandfather’s type of mindset and not for other salacious reasons. But I examined the bias that was fed me with chapatis every night. Many swallow it whole.

With welled-up tears a divorced friend asked me why it was that Pakistani men, most of them married, hit on her all the time. I wondered if it was her sleeveless outfits cut low to reveal a well-endowed cleavage. My hypothesis was Greek to her.

Not only do we presume and profile, we churn out fatwas at whim. Who would have thought that one needed intense schooling in the Quran, the sunnah, the hadith and fiqh to be able to be a mufti. Our informality knows no bounds; we brand people casually at parties, to their face, behind their back, on national television or else a session of parliament.

I have this terrible luck of running into the moral police at parties where I happen to be wearing a sari. Somehow that puts them in the frothing-at-the-mouth mode, made worse by the fact that their husbands are engaged in animated conversation with me. About nothing other than…….religion! The situation is made worse by a deferential introduction by husband to wife and as her eyes bore deep into my bone marrow she demands to know whether I have read the Quran. Surprise! I have read Maudoodi’s translation, I say, thinking that that would be an olive branch, better than Muhammad Asad or Yusuf Ali. But she’s underwhelmed and as another disapproving once-over burns my sari and ignites my hair she condescends into whether I had heard of amar bil maroof wa nahin anal munkar (promoting the good and forbidding evil). Furious at this and continued inane volleys I told them that the tragedy of Muslims was that they insisted on converting Muslims to Islam when in the Quran God says that those that believed in Him, the Day of Judgment and did good deeds, their reward was secure with God and they need not grieve (2:62). Indignantly she refuted the verse. I was trying to persuade her to be kind and take it in perspective; she had slotted me as wholly ignorant of religion. And what was she wearing: hijab, jilbab (long coat) and her daughter had a niqab on for good measure.

At this and another event I was told quite seriously that we must practice what we learn from Islam. I immediately felt a heathen in a sari. For a religion that means peace and promotes justice, these were angry, vicious people. A veiled fatwa was issued right then and there and I know behind my back if words could kill you wouldn’t be reading this.

Crowds are roused to riot on national television by pseudo-scholars like Amir Liaquat Husain and fanatics murder Ahmedis in grisly madness. Rana Sanaullah slanders Babar Awan in a parliamentary session for bribing judges for the clients he represents and goes on to call him “wajibul qatl” (one that deserves to be killed)

The intelligentsia makes up less than 2% of the population but holds Pakistan’s destiny in its hands. Blinded by bias, shuttered by ignorance and endangered by whimsical fatwas we catalyse Pakistan’s abysmal descent.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and free-lance columnist.