I’d be a fool to deny there’s religious intolerance in our society. And not just ours either – the issues is prevalent in the entire Muslim world in one way or another. But surprisingly, there are also hundreds of examples of this society proving otherwise.
Ghani Khan, scholar and brother of Wali Khan is considered one of the greatest pashto poets. The majority of his fans include completely uneducated people in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwah’s rural areas who have his poetry memorized. In his poetry Ghani Khan mocks God, Angels, the concepts of heaven and hell and disparages Mullah-ism. He was once interviewed by PTV Peshawar, and he jokingly said that God has taken his wife from him and how he wish God had one too so that he could steal her. I still remember how everyone around me used to laugh at this gag. There were some people who did believe Ghani Khan’s poetry was sacrilegious, yet he used to roam around in Charsadda and Peshawar without fear.
At the time of Afghan-Russia war, many people, particularly in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwah started joining the Communist Party in Pakistan. There was a student political movement known as Democratic Students Federation who also believed strongly in Communism. The funny thing about the majority of these communists was, they hardly knew much about the actual philosophy of communism, but the atheist part. They would openly divulge that they were atheists, and not worry about being harmed. The movement wasn’t limited to intellectuals alone, but many labor rights activists, who happened to believe in atheism, or, what was wrongly termed as communism.
We used to laugh at religious people labeling all atheists as communists.
After the cold war, some people did revert back to Islam, but not all of them. In fact I still know many of these people who don’t just admit to being atheists, but also denounce God and Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH). The last time I was in my village, this guy comes to see me while another friend was in the middle of offering his prayers. My atheist friend joked that he is praying to the wind, for there is no one up there to listen to him. When the religious guy was done with prayers, he only responded with laughter.
Our folklore is filled with jokes about God, Angels, Mullahs, Heavens and Hell. Not just that but there are even anecdotes about wrong translations of Quran. One I’d like to mention: the Pashto word for Tweezer is Noosey. They say, once a man came to a Maulvi asked him if it’s OK to pick his nose hair with a tweezer according to Islam? The mauvli got confused and told him he will look for an answer in Quran. When the man returned the next day, the Maulvi had prepared an answer for him. He quoted from Quran, “wa nusni alaikal khair” which he then proceeded to translate in his own way. “It’s OK (khair) to pick nose with a Tweezer (Noosey – Nusni).”
It’s just one of those thousands of jokes which one might think will land you in jail under blasphemy law.
In my opinion, although Punjab is a more religiously conservative place compared to Khyber Pukhtoonkhwah, there are so many examples which prove Punjabis are also religiously tolerant.
Quran shuns skeptics and transgressors. Yet there are many poets who questioned or mocked religious ideals. Hum ko maaloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin – dil kay khush rakhnay ko ghalib yeh khayal accha hai, Asadullah Khan Ghalib comes to mind. The apologists, though, try hard to interpret this couplet in a politically correct way, but I don’t agree with those interpretations. He was not just famous for his beautiful poetry but also his satirical takes on God and Islam.
I can carry on and probably end up writing a book giving such examples.
The only time I have witnessed a display against Blasphemy with my own eyes, is probably one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I remember getting stuck in traffic in the midst of a demonstration in front of Peshawar’s branch of KFC. They were demonstrating against those sketches mocking the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There were few bearded people I could see, and you could tell they had a good idea of what they were doing, but accept those few people, I saw two groups of people fighting over a big television set in KFC. Each group claimed they touched the television before the other.
The fight went on till a maulvi came in the middle and he settled the conflict by equally distributing what they referred to as Maal-e-ghaneemat. I remember it as if it happened yesterday. The majority of those people had not even a clear idea of why they were there. I even heard one kid asking another why they are there. That was not a display of an intolerant religious society, but plain stupidity. Kids from schools and colleges were running around, destroying and burning everything, stealing and clearly they were not out there to demonstrate against those sketches but looked quite excited they got this opportunity to just do damage.
Coming back to Tolerance, I think the only way you become completely tolerant is when you are dead. That is the time when even if your enemy comes to your grave, and he spits on it and curses at you, you can not even feel his presence. Of course there are people who would get offended if they hear others mocking at their religious ideals. Hell, I hardly tolerate if someone tells me Pulp Fiction was a bad film. Getting offended is something human and no matter how hard we try, some emotions are hard to control. It’s just the extreme kind of reaction people give when they are offended. That is what needs to be condemned.
Our society has many flaws, and religious extremism is probably the evil number one we need to tackle, but even today after so much religious polarization, it will be unjust to call this society religiously intolerant. It’s just those few violent kind of Mullahs who have hijacked the entire society. In a country of 180 million, a crowd of five hundred thousand doesn’t qualify to represent the entire population of the country, but they are enough to instill fear. Which was quite evident after the murder of Salmaan Taseer when even these so-called brave news anchors couldn’t talk about. The politicians hardly spoke about his murder.
I am not saying that these few Mullahs come from outer space or they are part of an anti-Pakistan conspiracy; they are from this land and they are psychopaths. Distorted history taught in our schools, economic instability, energy crisis, Arab-ization of society and political instability all help these Mullahs keep on expanding their followers. It’s like, on a pleasant day when you are happy, even if someone collides with you on a sidewalk, you just smile at him and apologize to him even if you knew it was his fault, and on a bad day you might end up fighting with him or at least cursing him silently. So it’s a bad day in our life, but the problem is it’s a bad day only because we made it bad.
A bad day is not even an excuse for us to start fighting with people or get what they call, mushtayel, agitated easily, but try to think about it and first work hard to contribute in correcting our mistakes. Co-exist, be moderate, be sensible and be a good human being.