The recent protest in the US against the Islamic Cultural Centre near the site of the former World Trade towers hurt us all.
Almost a decade back, we had a performance in school. To sound unique, I presented a bible story. It was disqualified; instead a couple of puzzled faces looked at me strangely. After that, I remained uninvited to iftar parties. The issue re-emerged when I decided to stand for the school’s council election.
The opposition was about doubts regarding trusting a Christian with the student office of a predominantly Muslim school. The fellow students were further annoyed when they got to know that I had read the bible despite being a Muslim. It pinched me then that a mere school post was beyond my reach if I were not Muslim.
These days, everyone seems stunned at America’s discriminating behaviour. Yet a mere glimpse at our own history would be shocking. From extra-judicial and target killings to burning of property and restrictions on religious practices, Pakistan has it all.
Twenty years ago, Babri mosque was demolished. The news that a temple will replace the demolished mosque was distressing. The community that destroyed our religious structure wanted to substitute it with their own. The anger regarding the Islamic centre is similar.
Pakistan and the Muslim world will have to accord respect to other religions to attain it for themselves elsewhere.
A priest wanted to burn the Quran in the US. Thankfully, their president intervened to prevent the absurdity. But an entire colony of Christians was burned in Gojra and our president couldn’t even publish the official report on the carnage.
Our fury on the Indian Gujarat’s massacre was reasonable but we neglect the Pakistani Hindu community which suffers regular human rights violations, especially abduction of young women and their forced conversion to Islam. On a bus to India, I met some of these Hindus and almost all of them had applied for Indian immigration. These are the indigenous communities of Sindh who have been around for thousands of years. If they want to flee now, something is very wrong.
Our social fault-lines don’t just include a split with non-Muslims but also along sectarian, creed and caste lines. We aspire for a united Muslim umah (nation) and justice for Palestine, but fear condoning attacks on ahmedis within Pakistan. A Barelvi mosque cannot operate peacefully in a Wahabi majority street and vice versa.
Perhaps it is human instinct to identify oneself with one group and disown those who appear dissimilar. But on considering the differences of religion, caste, creed and genetic make-up, the only person I can relate to is — me. My mother was born Barelvi and converted to Wahabism. My father was Wahabi but went the Barelvi pathway. Consequently, I am one of those rare Muslims who have been perpetually confused about all sects. But the world doesn’t compose of one person but many.
We need to accept the diversity of the world. The six billion people on Earth have different races, ethnicities, religions and beliefs. They outnumber us in every way. For one billion Muslims we have five billion non-Muslims. The chances are that we will have to work for and with them. Many of us have already reached their universities and workplaces. So rather than being forced to live with them, let’s learn to live with them.
One day I was eating with a friend in college. I commented on the taste of the shawarma. After giving her a bite I realised she was a Shia. Furthermore, the shawarma cook was Christian. So what to do with it? Just like all prejudices, my decision boiled down to economics. The shawarma was expensive for my student allowance so I took another bite. It tasted just the same.