Cowasjee on Pakistani Muslim Mindset
Letter to Mr. Ardeshir Cowasjee
Dear Mr. Cowasjee,
I read your columns frequently and have come to admire your pluralistic credentials. However, in this particular column listed below, you have failed to differentiate between religion and its practitioners.
Two examples from your column are addressed. Please note that it is not the religion, it is the individual that is responsible for the bad actions. Kindly refer to Laser Barking at Terrorists and Hate Sermons for a fuller grasp of the idea.
1) Qur'aan and Sunnah. Both morality and law are thus seen to be based on an irrefutable given proposition, and rejection of this logic is seen as tantamount to heresy.
It is not the Qur'aan and Sunnah, it is the interpretation or translation that is the problem. I have found that people are willing to look at the differences and some times, they feel betrayed for the wrong translations dished out to them. I do hope that you know the story of the Yemeni Judge who had challenged 300 Al-Qaida prisoners to find in Qur'aan where it tells them to kill innocent parties, and not only they could not find in the given three months time, but they felt betrayed that their leaders misled them. We Americans claim to be most civilized and indeed we are, yet, we Americans have been misled and that has cost 650,000 + 3,900 + 4,000 Lives and billions of collateral damage, just as Muslims have been misled. I do agree that there is huge leadership vacuum, Muslims need some one who can lead the community in the right direction.
2) From amongst all the major religions of the world, both of the East and the West, it is only the Muslim religion which has largely remained as it was five hundred years ago in its moral, legal and social precepts. This is the mind we encounter today. It is a closed mind and though seemingly Muslims know the language of modern thought, it does not mean the same for them.
Certainly, many a Muslims are closed minded, unfortunately they are the leaders, the likes of one who ran away wearing the Burqa from Lal Masjid. What a shame! The public should know that Maulana Abdul Aziz is a Chuwwa (rat). He is a deen ka tajar (merchant of religion) and will do anything to save their tail but send the poor suckers to kill themselves. Dawn ought to consider commissioning writers to address this issue. The message to the masses ought to be, ask your leader to be in the front line, let him be ready to sacrifice his life, then you should follow him, if the leader believe his life is dear and yours is worthless, he is making an idiot out of you and simply don't follow him, however we need to offer an alternate leadership to them to follow, so they don't go crazy.
As far the "five hundred years ago" sentence is concerned, I must share with you that wisdom of Qur'aan is perfect, as the Gathas, the Bhagvad Gita, the Bible and other holy books are, it is the understanding that is the problem. As referred to earlier, if you have the time, we have the answers, please take a look at the websites www.WorldMuslimCongress.com and www.foundationforpluralism.com
With utmost respect.
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The national/Muslim mindset
By Ardeshir Cowasjee
MANY of the e-mail messages I receive in response to my columns ask questions about the strange behaviour of those put in positions of power and leadership.
I am normally stumped and can only reply that after 60 years of living in Pakistan, the Pakistani mindset continues to elude any comprehension.
For example, one e-mail exchange of last week :
Sunday, June 24 : Sir, you rightly criticised the CJP's May 12 visit to Karachi. Why did he not use a little bit of common sense — avowedly a rare commodity these days? Had he done so the Karachi carnage could have been avoided. But, hats off to the CJP team, which didn’t miss the chance of watching the warm welcome next day on TV — no matter if it cost lives and left widows and orphans.
My reply on Monday, June 25: I am afraid I will have to live through life without understanding the workings of a Pakistani Muslim mind. My loss!Response received on Tuesday, June 26: It is very easy to decipher a Pakistani Muslim mind. Basically it’s a part-time mind. A staccato fit of thinking drives Muslims nowadays. The rest is just hypocrisy, obscurantism and loud talking about past Muslim achievements. I am born in a Muslim family — well, quite liberal — but I don’t have answers to a lot of questions. And the irony is that nobody is willing to answer them. So at present I am a low profile secular — at least not moderate and enlightened.
But I now have various clues, after a visit paid last week to Professor Adib Rizvi’s Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) and to its Centre of Biomedical Ethics and Culture (if you don’t know what this means e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) efficiently headed by Professor Dr Farhat Moazzam, where I was handed a copy of that department’s publication — Volume 3, Issue 1 of May 2007. The lead article is written by Professor Doctor Manzoor Ahmed, Rector of the International Islamic University, Islamabad, entitled ‘Reflections on our Mindset.’ Light has dawned, thanks to the good Rector.
He generously puts down the problems confronted by Pakistani society partly to our participation in the global ambience and partly to “our own cultural underpinnings.” He deplores the fact that from a relatively benign and less offensive society of half a century ago, our hallmark now is the “decreasing tolerance level, increasing aggression and violence, the dulling of moral sensitivity and brash dogmatism . . . .”. He rightly says that “There is also a tragic change in the attitudes and mental make-up, especially of those whose basic function was to serve as the conscience of our society, i.e. the upholders of religion.” There is, he says quite aptly, something wrong with the learning behaviour of today’s youth.
Whence has fled moral outrage? he asks. There is none when it comes to gang rape, karo kari and honour killings — but there is when it comes to the levy of bank interest. Where is our moral sense? Members of the Senate, some years ago, supposedly enlightened and educated, refused to vote for a resolution condemning the honour killing of a young girl in broad daylight and with the connivance of the mother.
It is important, says Rector Ahmed, to analyse the Muslim mind to understand why it is becoming increasingly myopic. “Let me borrow the paradigm from Erich Fromm. His analysis of European acceptance of dictatorships in terms of an escape from responsibilities is a plausible psychological explanation. This partly applies to any mental make-up which accepts authoritarian roles of any kind. In addition to this general pervasive principle, there are additional factors working in the mental make-up of the Muslims, one of which is the crisis of identity and a subconscious dread of disintegration.”
Fair enough — from the very outset Pakistan, whether masquerading as a democracy or under outright military leadership — has leant towards authoritarianism. It has always had a one man (or one woman) rule — never of a political party or even a junta. The individual who wields the ‘danda’ has always been supreme until overtaken by another ‘danda’ wielder.
The Rector goes back to history, to the first 40 years of Muslim history, marked by wars and conflict. Stability was achieved only when a form of monarchy was established and the Muslim state transformed into an imperial power. Authoritarianism put its foot firmly down. Society accepted and acquiesced not only in political authority of the monarchs but also developed their structure of knowledge primarily on that basis, and thus developed Muslim dogma.
“In Pakistan, this same dogma now provides the given major premise which cannot be challenged and cannot be understood differently from what it apparently meant to the early people, and conclusions can only be deduced from discovering analogous situations. My understanding of this is that apparently what was good in the 7th century remains good in the 21st century — the Muslim mind of Pakistan is unready to face the world as it is and unwilling to update itself.
“Under this paradigm, it is easy to see what happens to the whole structure of knowledge. In the field of morality nothing can be good or bad sui generic; it becomes good or bad by fiat, by declaring it to be good or bad as coming from God . . . . . . Law making also remains dependent on this logic; laws can only be deduced from what is given and nothing new can be entertained which is not already subsumed in the given premises, i.e. Quran and Sunnah. Both morality and law are thus seen to be based on an irrefutable given proposition, and rejection of this logic is seen as tantamount to heresy.
Naturally, this paradigm of knowledge was, and still is, very conducive to political authority. Thus the whole society was constructed on the ‘command-obedience’ framework and free play of mind was considered to be a disintegrating factor.”
There seems little hope, after reading this. But then things get worse and veritable hopelessness sets in. The Muslims of the world of the 17th century refused to appreciate the significance of the European Renaissance. They “closed their minds totally and remained mired in the paradigm they had developed earlier.
This was based on an abounding fear that they would lose their identity if they accepted the conceptual structures of the West. From amongst all the major religions of the world, both of the East and the West, it is only the Muslim religion which has largely remained as it was five hundred years ago in its moral, legal and social precepts. This is the mind we encounter today. It is a closed mind and though seemingly Muslims know the language of modern thought, it does not mean the same for them. This is a form of mental block . . . to unravel the working of a closed mind and to suggest ways and means of opening it is a multifaceted task.
Inputs have to come from sociology, psychology, philosophy and religion for working out a reasonable criteria and norms for developing a balanced mind. Social policies of Pakistan have to be redesigned accordingly. It is a tremendous task but I should think that it is worth our while that we begin talking about it so that one day we may start reversing the mental decay that has set in society.”
Try explaining all this to the two clerical brothers of the Lal Masjid up in Islamabad, or to the girls swathed in black from the seminary next door and they will probably either issue a fatwa or launch a suicide bomber. The same applies to the thousands of madressahs of this land, to the illiterate, to the semi-educated and even to the educated whose minds remain firmly shut against logic, common sense and progress.
One must assume that the International Islamic University of Islamabad, with its good Rector Ahmed, has started the process of attempting to reverse the mental decay and usher the youth within its portals into the 21st century. But this is not enough. It will have to happen in every single educational institution — from primary school to university — and in every madressah which will be problematical as there is little likelihood that the clerical fraternity will undertake a lightning reform of their mindset.
It is suggested that the non-‘fatwa-foisters’ get to know more about what this learned Islamic scholar has to say by e-mailing him at email@example.com.
To give the devil his due, our present head of state and government, President General Pervez Musharraf, at the risk of his life, has tried to preach tolerance, or ‘enlightened moderation’ as he calls it. He needs the people’s help.