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

November 24, 2012

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.