Archive for the ‘ Pakistan ’ Category

OMG! It’s Muhammad’s footprint

Pervez Hoodbhoy in New Humanist:

The sudden appearance of the Prophet Muhammad’s alleged footprint in the sleepy village of Dharabi near Chakwal has sent a wave of religious excitement across Pakistan. At a three-hour drive from Islamabad, Dharabi is now attracting tens of thousands of visitors from Swat to Karachi. They seek blessings, spiritual enlightenment, miracle cures and relief from life’s other stresses. A road that is sparsely travelled in normal times is now clogged with traffic, vendors of food and drink are having a field day, new businesses selling pictures and holy paraphernalia have sprouted, and a permanent shrine is under construction. The village could not have hoped for better.

My encounter with this phenomenon was accidental and preceded the heavy rush that came in subsequent weeks. While on the way to Chakwal, I became curious about the heavy police presence. Upon inquiring, I was told of a recent momentous event – a giant footprint was said to have suddenly appeared, which the local Muslim scholars promptly declared to belong to the Holy Prophet. But this had ignited a fierce war of words between various religious factions in the larger Chakwal area. Some believers insist that the Prophet had left the earthly world once and for ever, while others contend that he revisits it periodically to remind followers of his presence. The police had been called to prevent physical violence.

Several weeks later the story hit the national press. And when I spoke villagers I had met in Dharabi I discovered that new embellishments and inventions are being added to the original narration of events. Village sceptics, on the other hand, are being silenced and speak only on condition of anonymity.

The story begins on 12th Rabi-ul-Awwal (the 12th day of the third month of Pakistan’s lunar calendar), the Prophet’s birthday, when celebrations were held as is village custom. This involves cooking sooji ka halwa (a sweet dish of semolina and almonds) in large flat iron dishes called karahis. Since there are no stoves large enough for the purpose, shallow holes are dug and then filled with twigs, charcoal or other flammable material. After the cooking is done and the fires have dimmed, the holes are filled with loose earth. On that particular evening there was a heavy rain shower.

That evening a woman looked out into her backyard and saw a glow that appeared to move. In her excitement, she summoned her mother-in-law, who says she saw it too. It appeared very briefly and was not seen subsequently (although a six-week-later version is that it lasted for three days and was so bright that the house did not need electric lights). The women also claimed that the glow was accompanied by a sweet smell. In the morning, the cooking area was discovered to have a mysterious ground impression: a huge footprint.

What scientific explanation exists for this phenomenon? If you Google the ‘Dharabi miracle’ you will see countless photographs and hastily made celebratory videos of the miracle. By straining the imagination, some may be able to see a footprint. But its enormous size – three to four feet long – would indicate that it belongs to the long-sought mythical Himalayan Yeti rather than any human (or human-sized divinity). The shape of the impression can be more plausibly explained as that of loose earth, brought together by rainwater, from two adjacent irregularly rounded cooking holes. It could also be the water-distorted image of two heavy round karahis of different sizes placed on the soft earth. Or it could simply be deliberate fraud.

Assuming that the women had their wits about them, and had not been overpowered by the devotional intensity of the day’s celebrations, the softly glowing ephemeral light could have multiple explanations. First, it is possible that a swarm of phosphorescent insects was somehow attracted to the cooking area. Bioluminescence in insects is a well-known phenomenon. As in the common firefly known as jugnoo, ‘cold light’ is produced via chemiluminescence.

It could also be that the organic matter buried in the holes, assisted by the heat of imperfectly quenched coals or twigs, could have converted into methane and phosphine gases. The latter is known to oxidize spontaneously upon coming into contact with air and can burn at a low temperature causing glowing light. Apparitions in western folklore, such as Jack-o’-the-Lantern or Will-o’-the-Wisp, have been traced by scientists to various flammable gases and insects.

A detailed investigation would involve looking at the soil composition, local entomology and recorded statements of different witnesses. It seems, however, that the Dharabi event will be ignored by Pakistan’s scientific institutions, of which there are well over two dozen. With exorbitant budgets but zero or little scientific output, some are housed in shiny new buildings on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue. These include the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, the Committee on Science and Technology in the Islamic World (COMSTECH), the Pakistan Science Foundation and the Pakistan Council on Science and Technology.

Unfortunately not one of the above or, for that matter, any other Pakistani scientific institute has ever debunked the unreasonable and anti-scientific attitudes that prevail in this increasingly devout country. For example, after the October 2005 earthquake killed nearly 100,000, none challenged the view in the public media that this tragedy was a consequence of our bad deeds, such as watching television or allowing unveiled women to go out of the house.

To be sure, superstitious beliefs exist in other countries as well. One recalls the hysteria in 1995 following the discovery that Lord Ganesh, the Elephant God, would ‘drink’ milk if a spoon of milk was held up to his trunk. Even minor temples in India overflowed with superstitious devotees. So great was the rush that a traffic gridlock resulted in New Delhi and sales of milk jumped by 30 per cent.

Fortunately for India an independent body, the Indian Rationalist Association, was quick to show that Ganesh’s milk drinking had a physical explanation. It was shown to be simple capillary action – which everyone learns about in school. The surface tension of the milk was pulling the liquid up and out of the spoon, before gravity caused it to run down the front of the statue. To its credit, India’s Ministry of Science and Technology confirmed the explanation and the country’s religious craziness slowly abated.

With such precedents, surely it is time for Pakistan’s Ministry of Science and Technology to investigate the so-called Chakwal miracle, as well as the many similar superstitions that delude our people.

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Who is responsible?

Sana Saleem in Dawn:

Lahore is often known as the heart of Pakistan; the hub of culture and arts, the centre of education, the city of gardens, with the prominent aspect of the city being its ancient history and its deep-rooted connection to Sufism. Living in a city steeped in heritage and culture, Lahoris are known for their fun-loving spirit. This very spirit was attacked on July 1, when two suicide bombers attacked Data Darbar, shrine of the patron saint of Lahore.

The attack killed 45 people and left more than 175 injured.

This is not the first time a shrine has been attacked, previously the shrines of Rahman Baba and Mian Umer Baba in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have also been attacked.

Attacking Data Darbar on a Thursday night was an obvious target – that is the night when the shrine is teeming with worshippers as well as those seeking shelter and food from all walks of life. There is no question that the attack was well-planned – CCTV footage showed scenes of carnage and the bombers just moments before they blew themselves up. The footage showed a security guard chasing after one of the bombers shortly before the bomb went off – body parts and blood splattered everywhere as the survivors fled in all directions.

The most common reactions after the attack are that of denial, with many pointing fingers at foreign involvement. Statements such as “these terrorists can neither be Muslims nor Pakistanis” echoed from the common man to those in authority. Despite a history of intolerance towards Sufism, the notorious TTP has also declined any involvement in the attack claiming they do not attack ‘public places Usman, 16, who was identified as the alleged suicide bomber by the authorities, was later reported to be a victim of the attack.

I was asked a similar question : What does the attack on the Ahmedis and on Data Darbar mean? Is this sectarian violence or do terrorists not have a religion? According to The Pakistan Security Report there have been over 249 terrorist attacks across the country, killing around 1182 and leaving over 995 injured. Not a single so-called ‘foreign’ terrorist has been arrested so far, clearly ruling out the possibility of foreign and/or non-muslin suicide bombers at work. As for the possibility of a conspiracy that foreign agencies could be involved, we must understand that the nature of such involvement is opportunistic.

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Spiritual malaria?

Nadeem F. Paracha in Dawn:

A recent fatwa from a ‘Saudi Council of Muftis’ has this advice for fellow Muslims: Do not say [or write] ‘mosque.’ Always say ‘masjid’ because mosque may mean mosquito. Another myopic case of Saudi malaria perhaps?

Certainly.  But that’s not all. The grand fatwa goes on to suggest that Muslims should not write ‘Mecca’ but Makkah, because Mecca may mean ‘house of wines.’  I am serious. But then so are the Muftis. They certainly need to get a life.

But I’m not all that surprised by such fatwas that usually emanate from Saudi Arabia. While vicious reactionary literature originating in totalitarian puritanical Muslim states impact and mutate the political bearings of various religious parties and groups in Pakistan, ‘social fatwas’  like the one mentioned above also began appearing in the early 1980s to influence the more apolitical sections of Muslim societies.

Reactionary literature generated by the Saudi propaganda machine started being distributed in Pakistan from 1979 onwards, mostly in the shape of pamphlets and books.

Duly translated into Urdu, they glorify and propagate violent action (jihad) not only against non-Muslims (or infidels) but also against those Muslims who fail to follow the thorny dictates of a certain puritanical strain of the faith.

What’s more, there was nothing so clandestine about the whole process. Because along with mainstream religious parties and jihadi groups during the so-called ‘anti-Soviet Afghan jihad,’ the state of Pakistan also encouraged the unchecked proliferation of this arrogant, myopic and hate-spouting literature.

To the Pakistani state (during the ‘Afghan jihad’) such literature and propaganda were essential to introduce and expand a kind of ‘Islam’ that was historically alien to the religious ethos of Pakistan’s majority Muslim population.

It was alien because for centuries, the political and cultural dynamics of the subcontinent had been such that for survival and posterity’s sake, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other religious groups of the region, had to adapt and tolerate each other’s religious convictions and rituals. Such a process eschewed religious Puritanism and repulsed any attempt (Hindu or Muslim) to impose a hegemonic social strain of their respective faiths.

The extreme strains in this respect remained on the fringe, both Hindu and Muslim.

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Fear and silence

Mohsin Hamid in Dawn:

Why are Ahmadis persecuted so ferociously in Pakistan?

The reason can’t be that their large numbers pose some sort of ‘threat from within’. After all, Ahmadis are a relatively small minority in Pakistan. They make up somewhere between 0.25 per cent (according to the last census) and 2.5 per cent (according to the Economist) of our population.

Nor can the reason be that Ahmadis are non-Muslims. Pakistani Christians and Pakistani Hindus are non-Muslims, and similar in numbers to Pakistani Ahmadis. Yet Christians and Hindus, while undeniably discriminated against, face nothing like the vitriol directed towards Ahmadis in our country.

To understand what the persecution of Ahmadis achieves, we have to see how it works. Its first step is to say that Ahmadis are non-Muslims. And its second is to say that Ahmadis are not just non-Muslims, but apostates: non-Muslims who claim to be Muslims. These two steps are easy to take: any individual Pakistani citizen has the right to believe whatever they want about Ahmadis and their faith.

But the process goes further. Step three is to say that because Ahmadis are apostates, they should be victimised, or even killed. We are now beyond the realm of personal opinion. We are in the realm of group punishment and incitement to murder. Nor does it stop here. There is a fourth step. And step four is this: any Muslim who says Ahmadis should not be victimised or killed, should themselves be victimised or killed.

In other words, even if they are not themselves Ahmadi, any policeman, doctor, politician, or passerby who tries to prevent, or just publicly opposes, the killing of an Ahmadi, deserves to die. Why? Because anyone who defends an apostate is themselves an apostate.

Aha.

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Letter From Karachi

The Facebook Fiasco and the Future of Free Speech in Pakistan

Madiha R. Tahir writing for Foreign Affairs Magazine:

More than 30 people have been murdered across Karachi this week in politically motivated violence between Mohajirs and Pashtuns, but it is Facebook — or rather the controversy raging over its ban in Pakistan — that draws a crowd. When Facebook hosted a page encouraging users to submit cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in mid-May, many Pakistanis reacted by denouncing the Web site as blasphemous on the grounds that Islam prohibits images of Muhammad as part of a wider edict against idolatry. Some have taken to the streets.

On May 20, my rickshaw puttered alongside a large rally organized by the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami. Hundreds of young male protesters moved in knots behind an overstuffed bus adorned with a banner reading: “To protect our Prophet against blasphemy, we will even sacrifice our lives!” In other times, these young men might have protested the countrywide ban on Facebook, which lasted from May 19 to 31, but last week they were marching resolutely in support of blocking the site. For them, Facebook had insulted their religion and community; for the country’s leaders,the ban was political currency. Even as five bomb blasts shook Lahoreand U.S. drones attacked the Federally Administered Tribal Areas last week, Pakistan’s Islamist organizations pressed ahead with demonstrations against Facebook.

The Jamaat-e-Islami rally came to a halt outside the gates of the Karachi Press Club. Inside, a press conference was getting rowdy. “Contempt of court!” shouted a rotund reporter interrupting Awab Alvi, a dentist known in the Pakistani blogosphere as Teeth Maestro. Alvi was one of four speakers attempting to reframe the debate about the ban as a question of free speech rather than of blasphemy, but the reporters shouted him down.

More here

Pakistan’s unsung genius

Sarah Alam Malik blogging for DAWN:


Perhaps the last major breakthrough in the world of particle physics came in the 1960s when Dr Abdus Salam, a Pakistani physicist, proposed a mathematical model that unified two of the four fundamental forces in nature and described them as different aspects of a single force. The unification of two forces into a single theory, known as the electroweak theory, was a major stepping stone and earned Dr Abdus Salam, Sheldon Lee Glashow and Steven Weinberg the Nobel Prize in 1979.

Decades later, when studying particle physics at Oxford University, I came across Dr Salam’s name for the first time. I may not have fully appreciated the consequences of the theory he proposed and the reason why he was awarded the Nobel Prize, but I knew it was important and it gave me immense pride. I wanted to tell everyone and anyone that the Salam in the Glashow-Weinberg-Salam Theory was Pakistani. That Pakistan, a third-world country was capable of producing great scientists and contributing to the advancement of science on an international level. I knew this was a rare and special moment. It isn’t often that Pakistanis are awarded the Nobel Prize.

It was not until I started my PhD that I realised the significance of Dr Salam’s contribution. Since the theoretical model he postulated was central to my research, almost an entire chapter of my thesis is dedicated to it. Dr Salam’s electroweak theory predicted the existence of a set of particles called the W and Z bosons (subatomic particles). Indeed, the subsequent discovery of these particles in 1982 was a great triumph for the theory! I earned my PhD thesis by measuring with utmost precision the properties of the W bosons predicted by Dr Salam’s theory. In the course of communicating my research to people, it was impossible to omit his name. For a country that doesn’t have a long list of notable figures to celebrate, I found it surprising that Dr Salam was not a household name. For a man who put Pakistan on the world map and etched his country’s name into scientific history, he was astonishingly downplayed.

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In our beginning is our end

Ardeshir Cowasjee in DAWN:

We must read to remember. The early days of Pakistan were far from halcyon, though those of us who lived through them look back with some nostalgia. Whatever progress we have made in this country’s 63 years of life has been, as it turns out, on the negative side.

Where have we progressed in leaps and bounds? Well, in the scale of wholesale corruption, political and administrative ineptitude, and bigotry and intolerance and their accompanying violence — they were all there at the beginning which was in itself violent.

Perhaps the presence of founder-maker Mohammad Ali Jinnah for the first year of Pakistan’s life kept things somewhat in check, though his loyal lieutenants did take advantage of his state of health. His exhortations of Aug 11, 1947 to his constituent assembly were in vain.

All that he laid down — tolerance, equality of citizenship, the shunning of corruption, nepotism and jobbery, and above all that law and order was the first priority of any government — was all lost. It was never digested, the quality of manpower saw to that.

Having dipped into an OUP 2010 publication, The Culture of Power and Governance of Pakistan 1947-2008 by Ilhan Niazi, it has sadly dawned upon me how misplaced was the early enthusiasm for the new country and the belief that the words and teachings of Jinnah would prevail.

In January 1949, governor of the Punjab Francis Mudie sent a note to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan complaining that Punjab Chief Minister Mamdot was one up on the centre and even Jinnah “every time that they have intervened and the feeling is growing that the centre is powerless even when the government is hopelessly corrupt and the administration paralysed … no questions of policy are even contemplated”.

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