Monday, November 4, 2013

From ‘Stranger to history. A Son's journey through Islamic Lands’ by Aatish Taseer

My travels in Pakistan had made me feel that the extremism had seeped much deeper than my father was willing to admit. I felt that Pakistan's problems were ....existential; that the original idea on which the country had been founded - the idea of a secular nation for Indian Muslims - had eroded .....forcing it to invent enemies to justify its failure..

‘To build Pakistan,’ Salman Rushdie wrote in Shame, ‘it was necessary to cover up Indian history, to deny that Indian centuries lay just beneath the surface of Pakistani Standard time. The past was rewritten; there was nothing else to be done.’

Even though the Prophet’s family had been the custodians of the Kaba, it was not his first choice as the new religion’s direction for prayer. Thomas Patrick Hughes wrote, in the nineteenth century:
At the commencement of Muhammad’s mission, it is remarkable that there is scarcely an allusion to the Ka’bah, and this fact, taken with the circumstance that the earlier Qiblah, or direction for prayer, was Jerusalem, and not the Ka’bah, seems to imply that Muhammad’s strong iconoclastic tendencies did not incline his sympathies to this ancient idol temple with its superstitious ceremonies. Had the Jews favourably received the new prophet as one who taught the religion of Abraham, to the abrogation of that of Moses and Jesus, Jerusalem and not Makkah would have been the sacred city …….
But the Jews did not welcome the Arabian prophet, Mecca itself only came in the last years of his life ……Prophet and his armies occupied Mecca and destroyed the idols in the Kaba. It was then – two years before the Prophet’s death – that the ancient pagan pilgrimage common to all the tribes of Arabia was recast in an Islamic mould…
…..Professor Palmer’s introduction to the Koran:
Here, then, Muhammed found a shrine, to which, as well as at which, devotion had been paid from time immemorial; it was one thing which the scattered Arabian nation had in common – the one thing which gave them even the shadow of a national feeling: and to have dreamed of abolishing it, or even diminishing the honours paid to it, would have been madness and ruin to his enterprise. He therefore did the next best thing, he cleared it of idols and dedicated it to the service of God.

....though the mosques were empty in Tehran, though I hardly heard the call to prayer, never saw a woman fully veiled or a man with a beard, unless he was a government man, the revolution had not been kind; it had brutalized its children. And where religious feeling had departed, new psychoses had crept in.

I .....was looking at an Iranian magazine with an Indian film star on the cover - the always amazing reach of Bollywood.....

That summer of 2002, I crossed the border [into Pakistan] ….We drove away from the border…. The country that opened up …. seemed so familiar that one expected the diversity of the Indian scene to reveal itself. And when it didn’t, it was unsettling. It really was an India for Muslims only.
The other feature of the landscape that troubled the eye was the absence of women. On the other side of the border, women had been riding bicycles – some in Punjab, with long plaits, had been on scooters and mopeds – but here, in crowded places, I could see thousands of men, many dressed like the officials at the border in salwar kameez, the same macho ease about them, but few women ….Their presence, slight as it was, seemed to be a matter of permission....

Karachi, though it was the closest thing to a representative Pakistani city, was not like Istanbul was to Turkey or Tehran to Iran, not a city where a fifth or a sixth of the population lived, .....a rough estimate put it at 16 million in a country of about 160 million. Pakistan....was largely rural. People had said to me, 'You dont know the soul of Pakistan till you know feudal Pakistan.'

There's a Sindi saying: "Love and revenge never get old."

(edited on 20-May-16)

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