COMMENT: Good news...and bad news —Munir Attaullah - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Source :\11\17\story_17-11-2010_pg3_2

Our problem is this obsession with fine details in the search for defining a ‘true’ Muslim. In this process, anyone who does not see matters exactly as I do, is quickly declared by me as beyond the pale of Islam

Eid Mubarik, my friends. Have I good news for you on this auspicious day!

And, believe me, when I say ‘good news’ I am guilty of a massive understatement. For, we are talking nothing less than revolution here. King-size. What is more, there is enough of it to bring tears of joy to every shade of critic and pessimist who has long lamented that Pakistan could so easily be the utopia of our dreams if only...

So, here it is. I am reliably informed that, very soon — or, if you prefer the alternative phraseology commonly employed, the time is not far off now — every Pakistani will turn a new leaf and become a true Muslim (excluding, of course, those unfortunate enough to belong to the religious minorities. I was not vouchsafed if they will be converting). And, for the first time in history, the era of the Khulafaa-e-Rashideen will return to serve as the template for the state. Justice will prevail, and be seen to prevail, and the falah-o-behbood (welfare) of their fellow ghareeb awaam (poor masses) will be the sole concern of rulers and citizens, alike.

But please do not ask how I know this. It is my right as a journalist not to reveal my unimpeachably reliable sources. Nor, I confess, do I have any clue why suddenly after so many centuries, or how exactly, all this will come about. Maybe it is all related to the era of Dajjal and the imminent ‘End of Time’ that will soon be upon us. But my knowledge — if it can be called that — of such esoteric scholastic matters is scant. Better ask that of the practitioners of Ilm-al-Ghaib.

Anyway, when our best known brains consider ‘how’ and ‘why’ irrelevant when predicting the imminent demise of the president and the government, why should this concern me over much? I say it will happen because I think it will happen; and I think it will happen because I want it to happen, and I want it to happen because everyone will live happily ever after.

Thrilled by this wonderful prospect my innocent self hastened to discuss the good news with my alter-ego (hereinafter called AE), who just happens to be a bit of a cynic. This is a routine sort of exercise for me. It helps bring a touch of reality to those wider flights of fancy that naturally accompany over-weaning enthusiasm.

But I better warn you. There is also some bad news. And the bad news is that AE’s critique of my optimism was far from reassuring. In fact, it was so downright disturbing that I have decided to include you in the debate by presenting a few of the matters we discussed.

Me: Will it not be great!? What could be better news on this glorious day of Eid-al-Adha that soon we will all become true Muslims, and adopt the Khulafaa-e-Rashideen (KR) model in letter and spirit?

AE: But who is a ‘true’ Muslim? A Wahabi? A Deobandi? A Barelvi, or some other? And who will decide that? As for your hope that we can replicate that bygone era of the first four Khulafaa, and by so doing usher in another golden age, I think you are flying in the face of modern realities that make any such construct absolutely impossible. For example, will that mean there will be no Shias left? Remember, there were no Shias (or other sects we see now) in the KR era. Will our leaders be chosen and removed the same way (chosen for life by a small coterie of influential insiders, with murder the only option of removal)? Should our judges be appointed by an Amir-ul-Momineen and the courts dispense justice without the litigants being represented by lawyers?

Me: You may have a point about altered circumstances, but surely good principles are immutable and do not become redundant with the passage of time? What I probably meant is not that we should literally bring back a bygone era but that we should apply the principles upon which it flourished. Anyway, for a start at least, surely everyone could sink their minor doctrinal differences and agree on a set of core beliefs (like the five pillars of Islam) that would describe a Muslim?

AE: Sounds reasonable. After all, Christianity too has many sects and they are not at war amongst themselves as to who is or is not a ‘true’ Christian. The trick is not to get too involved in the fine details. Our problem is this obsession with fine details in the search for defining a ‘true’ Muslim. In this process, anyone who does not see matters exactly as I do, is quickly declared by me as beyond the pale of Islam. Now what gives anyone the right to pass such judgements? If we really want to argue passionately about doctrinal matters, why can we instead not confine the debate to who is, or is not, a ‘good’ Muslim? At least that will have the civilising effect of softening such otherwise acrimonious discourse.

Me: So it is possible for us Muslims to stop this deadly in-fighting? After all, are Hajj and the day which follows it not shining examples of matters on which we can all agree?

AE: Yes, of course it is possible. But only if we learn to conceive of age-old principles in a modern context and not blindly follow those who will divide us by using religion for their own vested interests. You talk of holding fast to principles. Then why, for example, on this particular Eid, is it really necessary to sacrifice tens of thousands of animals? If the falah-o-behbood of the people is really of such overriding importance, would it not have been better for us to settle for only a symbolic sacrifice and donate the live animals to those who have lost their livestock in the floods?

Me: Maybe. I must admit I had not thought of that. But do we not celebrate today, through the ritual sacrifice of an animal, that wonderful story of how Hazrat Ibrahim (SAW), in obedience to the wishes of Allah, was prepared to even sacrifice his own son?

AE: Well, I am not going to get involved in a discussion here about the authenticity or otherwise of a story from the mists of antiquity. Should anyone — even a prophet, and at the dictate of even the Almighty — be prepared to commit an act which today everyone would consider murder pure and simple? Do our own modern day suicide bombers not commit murder using the same argument?

I prefer to look at this story from a different perspective. It is a symbolic tale of a watershed in human history; the time when the barbaric and commonly practiced hitherto cult of human sacrifice to appease the gods was finally considered repugnant to human values. And that is cause enough to celebrate. So, again, Eid Mubarik!

The writer is a businessman. A selection of his columns is now available in book form. Visit

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