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Live, and for God’s sake, let others live


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Lamps were put out. The Imam freed his followers of all their obligations and said: “You are free to go now.” This was a lesson in freewill.

No one left. This was a tie of love. They all died with him, a lesson in commitment.

Lamps were put out again and everybody cried their eyes out. Most of the tears were for the martyrs of Karbala but some were also for those killed in the mosques, imambargahs and streets of Pakistan.

Khalid was the only Sunni in the crowd, defying centuries of biased indoctrination. He disagreed with many things said there, but stayed and focused on the message of Karbala.

Khalid is not shy of conceding that he learned this tolerance from the West, where he lives now.

“Eid Mobarak. Allah bless you, our dear Muslim brothers and sisters,” said a sign outside the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington metro area.

We were having a live discussion in cyberspace, focusing on attacks on mosques and imambargahs in Pakistan.

One participant, Ahmer Mastikhan, posted this picture of a church congratulating Muslims on Eid-ul-Azha. This reminded others of how they said their juma and Eid prayers in various churches, when they did not have mosques in America. Now there is one in every neighbourhood.

“They not only gave us their space but also covered their icons and paintings when we said that we could not pray in a room which had images,” said another participant.

“The Imam’s fight was for freewill, the freedom to choose and to disagree. He made his point but those who opted out did not get the point. And since then, they have been living in subjugation,” said the speaker, as Khalid listened.

“The Imam’s fight was for human dignity. Only a few responded to his call and now we are disgraced everywhere we go,” the speaker went on.

“Who knows it better than those Muslims who live outside the Islamic world,” Khalid said to himself.

In the cyber-space, someone posted an opening statement and started the discussion:

“The problem with us Muslims is that we believe in the impossible. Both Shias and Sunnis believe that one day the other side will see the truth and accept them as the only true followers of Islam. This is not how it works.

“The divide that happened 1,400 years ago will always be there. One side is never going to recognise the other. Once we accept this, we can move to the next best option: accepting the differences and learning to live with them.

“This means accepting the fact that Shias will always be Shias and Sunnis will always be Sunnis. There never is an ultimate victory in a religious dispute. So the only option is to learn to live with each other.”

“Hundred per cent agreed,” said Naeem Malik, a Virginia resident.

Javed Rafique Siddiqui joined the discussion from Houston, Texas, arguing that Shias and Sunnis have been living in peace for centuries. “The recent intolerance is based in politics,” he said.

He also blamed some Muslim countries, particularly Saudi Arab and Iran, of fanning these differences. “This has to stop.”

Afia Salam, who was participating from Karachi, also agreed with the opening statement. “We should agree to disagree. The Holy Quran tells us to look for commonalities even with people of other faiths. Why cannot Muslims find commonalities among themselves?”

M. Siddique of Maryland, urged Muslims to focus on the spirit of the scripture as a whole and not on snippets.

Samir Gupta, who lives in New Delhi, said the opening statement applied to India-Pakistan differences as well as to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

He pointed out that there were serious differences within the Muslim ummah and Muslims should not try to gloss over those differences.

“There are too many parochial, group and tribal divisions within the Muslim world for it to function as a cohesive religious/political unit,” he argued.

M Siddique said that one good example of people focusing on the ritual and not on the spirit of the scripture is how Muslims, at least in South Asia, compete with each other to buy the most expensive animal during Eid-ul-Azha. “But few remember the spirit of Abraham’s sacrifice.”

Samir said that instead of idealising or sanitising their history, Muslims should learn from the mistakes made in the past.

“Don’t get into a debate over which historical figure was right or wrong, this will lead you to more troubles,” said M Siddique.

Javed Siddiqui advocated an “open debate between the saner elements on both sides, without rejecting the other side in a judgmental way. Find a middle ground.”

Mohammed Hamza of Falls Church, Virginia, emphasised the need to distinguish between difference of opinion and brutal killing. Today’s violence, he argued, was a new phenomenon, and was linked to regional politics. “This brutality is part of a bigger problem, which is fanaticism and Pakistan’s establishment seems incapable of dealing with it, which scares me,” he said. “We should also hold accountable these miserable politicians and tighten the noose around their neck.”

Waji Shah from Pakistan said that powerful international forces wanted to divide Muslims and they also were fanning sectarian differences.

M Siddique argued that no outside forces could make the people of a country fight each other if they were not willing to fight. “They only exploit an existing situation,” he said.

Waji Shah, however, asked who was funding groups like the Pakistani Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba and “who published Nebraska manual?”

M Siddique said the University of Nebraska manual, which encouraged jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan, and Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor caught in Lahore, did not create sectarians differences. The differences were already there and the Zia regime was an eager partner in the Afghan jihad.

Waji Shah claimed that the groups were used in the Afghan war were now stirring troubles in Pakistan and were paid by external powers to do so.

“Why are they taking tainted money if they are so holy?” asked M Siddique. “If something is for sale, people will buy it.”

Waji Shah claimed that the Pakistani government did not have the power to stop those who were killing innocent people.

One participant from Washington, DC, suggested that the Muslims had the tendency to gloss over unpleasant historical facts. He claimed that Shias and Sunnis have fought in almost every century during the last 1400 years.

“Religion is a personal belief. Attempts to externalise it have always caused bloodshed,” he argued.

M Siddique said religious infighting was an old phenomenon and Christianity too has a history of bloodshed in the name of religion. “The paradox is that any belief system, when not institutionalised cannot be classified as religion. A person can believe in Allah, but if he rejects the Sunnah, technically, he is not a Muslim.”

Zishan Haider Naqvi of New Delhi agreed with the opening statement as did Arvind Sharma.

Balouch Bilal, Geneva, Switzerland, emphasised the need to learn to live with each other.

Sattar Rind, Hyderabad, Sindh, said he did not see the Shia-Sunni fight ending in the near future.

Mirza Iftikhar Shaheen, London, UK, said while the opening statement was correct, “who will teach our religious scholars to tolerate each other and live peacefully?”

The problem, he said, was within the Muslim ummah, which was refusing to learn tolerance.

“I am ashamed when a non-Muslim points out how Muslims are killing each other,” he said.

Zahid Ali, Kuwait, said “compromise is key to better living.”

Muhammad Tariq Khan, Karachi, agreed with him.

Naveed Iqbal, Dubai, said it was difficult to learn to live peacefully who disagreed with you. “Even in the West, people are still learning to do so,” he said.

“How can you expect the citizens of an under-developed nation like Pakistan to accept each other?” he asked. “We will always have differences and we will never be at peace because underneath, we are all racists, sexists and fundamentalists.”

“Poor governance, foolish People, terrible results,” commented Mazhar Chughtai of Springfield, Virginia.

“Live and for God’s sake let others Live,” said Mohsin Bashir Awan of Fairfax, Virginia.

When the maps were put out, we left for our homes, waiting for the terrorist to strike again so that we can have more discussions. What else can we do?


The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

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Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (21) Closed

Gerry D'Cunha Nov 26, 2012 12:47pm
muslims have lost tolerance in them - they think only their practice of islam is right and will lead them to heaven. A wrong concept!!!!!
Mahmood Raza Tariq Nov 25, 2012 02:52pm
Why cannot Muslims find commonalities among themselves?
Aslam Khan Nov 25, 2012 01:46pm
Sunni - Shia divide has been largely theological. But they've always lived together for centuries and have always been identified as Muslims. Its now that the world understands that there are probably two versions of the same religion with much more deeper faultlines than earlier conceived. Lets defeat this argument and come out in open to support the moderate elements amongst each other. It will sideline the hardliners. A notable and highly suspecting absence so far has been our Ulemas who give sermons to safeguard the human lives but have failed miserably to manifest it in any sense. The day they decide to sacrifice, it will be the end of the complete game.
Joe Nov 25, 2012 01:00am
By quoting people who think and care, this profound article illustrates two sensitivities in dialogues among Muslims. It is refreshing and disturbing. ... Refreshing: It is refreshing how the writers' messages illustrate that modern secular societies allow people to practice their religious beliefs peacefully and openly. The strongest faith comes from their freedom to think, learn, feel, and exercise that faith, and to grow within it. ... Disturbing: It is disturbing that modern religion-centric societies tend to gravitate toward a polarized political system imposed into civil law, interpreted by some person who is, at his core, entirely human and fallible but who decrees what is "God's law". Faith becomes "this way, or else." Anwar Iqbal has given another touching article.
sattar rind Nov 26, 2012 02:52pm
no one will allow to any one to live in the name of God. this is the human history. if any one want live let they adopt the instinct of survival that is bound to fitness. this is way of living. world is constantly in war since years.... therefore, if you live get equal power and balance the equality . you see no one fighting against the Taliban ... and would they stop killing innocent people in the name of God? No.. that i am sure. but when you give them the tough challenge than they will think twice for the attacking on civilians. Israel is killing the Palestine people. did they done anything wrong ? No. but they have no power to balance the Israel therefore they are being killed. its poetic request that for the God sake allow us to live....nothing more.
alimh133 Nov 27, 2012 12:59am
How can any woman or man claim to know what God wants? It is ridiculous.
Aamir Nov 24, 2012 08:06pm
a good discussion. We need to accept each other as we are. Human life is above all differences.
ilmanafasih Nov 24, 2012 08:03pm
What a beautiful beginning of "Live and for God's sake let live" with what a horrific conclusion, "When the maps were put out, we left for our homes, waiting for the terrorist to strike again so that we can have more discussions. What else can we do?" Anwar I could scream at you, what are you saying, but deep within I am scared, really scared that you may be right.
AHA Nov 26, 2012 11:42am
You two are the lucky ones to have such tolerent families.
AHA Nov 26, 2012 11:46am
Muslims have been at each other
I. Haider Nov 25, 2012 12:05am
Here is from a person whose mom is Sunni and father is a Shia. Whose grandmother was a Sunni and grandfather a Shia. He has lived all his life like this - but with teachings of love, care and tolerance from both sects he has been exposed too. There are differences - Yes in opinion and in Interpretations but no fight. The fight is when two parties are up against each other. In Pakistan there is no Shia Sunni fight; there is just killing of Shias. It's a one way streak. One party is looking to Mass Execute and Target Kill where as the other trying to live another day. A simple question: What is the Shia extremist wing - their version of killing machine called? It is not there or else every Shia will not be a sitting duck in Pakistan. Knowing Sunnis so well; their belief system does not allow this bloodshed and hatred towards Shias or even towards any other religion. The Taliban and the Sipah-e-Sahaba, yes extreme like hell but are NOT Sunnis. Please do not defame Sunnis by associating them with Taliban and Sipah-e-Sahaba. Taliban and that kind of mentality is the biggest scourge on the face of the earth. What Pakistan suffers is not Shia-Sunni fight but the growing Talibanization of the society in spirit and matter. I think we all know what religion and sect Taliban belongs to... and it is not Sunni ideology. The observation is by a Pakistani who lives in San Francisco Bay Area and his best friends inlcude Shias, Sunnis, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and even Athiests.
human Nov 26, 2012 12:48pm
Muslims are secular when they are minorities. They want sharia law as soon as they are majority. Bitter truth, and truth it is.
human Nov 26, 2012 12:51pm
They not only gave us their space but also covered their icons and paintings when we said that we could not pray in a room which had images,
S. A. M. Nov 25, 2012 09:37am
Yes the world is a place for everyone. the sooner the people of our country realise this the better. the moment you step out of Pakistan you realise where you stand and start understanding that other people do not always take religion as a parameter to gauge someone's status. It is more of human structure they consider the peronal traits of that man or woman. I remember one fine day a guy went up to one of our classmate and said hey I am also of your religion the girl said "SO".
Rao Nov 26, 2012 02:08pm
We have great Hindu temples in Southern part of India, but hardly any in Northern part of India because most of the Muslim rulers who ruled the Northern part were all intolerant of other faiths and indulged in destruction and looting of Hindu & Buddhist shrines. Nalanda University, which used to be a great learning centre for the whole of Asia was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193. Its huge library, a treasure house of ancient literature burned for months together This intolerance continues to this day.....No wonder Shias, Sunnis etc kill each other.
Gerry D'Cunha Nov 26, 2012 12:58pm
Jennifer: the british government needs to put a strict law to cancell, the nationality of these so called muslims who ask for sharia law in a christian country - ask these same muslims if they would force the government of pakistan to abolish the blasemey law in pakistan? hyprocrates!!!
Tahir Nov 25, 2012 01:38pm
I am dreading the day when another "secular" leader will emerge again in Pakistan to declare another sect non-Muslim and so on and on. Surely, more needs to be done instead of gasping in exasperation "What else can we do?" Spare a thought too for the other sect in Pakistan that has been cruelly outcast as kafirs.
Imran Nov 26, 2012 10:41am
Same here bro, my dad's a sunni and mom's a shia. Peoples eyes pop out when they hear this but actually its very common in our family and there are no troubles whatsoever to speak of.
Jennifer Nov 26, 2012 12:33pm
Can muslims really learn to live and let live...I doubt it...from my experience living in the UK, I find the Muslims most intolerant and abusive to others beliefs... They never appreciate how generous the government is as they have allowed them to pop mosques in every nook and corner yet they are fighting for sharia law now...imagine...does any muslim country have special laws for other religions. Arent everyone tried under sharia in Islamic countries...ask the same people fighting for sharia in UK to move to saudi and they will not move an inch...
AHA Nov 26, 2012 01:31pm
So true. That belief is at the heart of the problem.
Janjuah Nov 26, 2012 09:07am
All sunnis and shias must undersatand and accept one point which is that this difference is being manipulated by politics........ and only politics. we have been living under the same religion