Thursday, 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto - 1953-2007 - An Obituary from the Heart

It is with great sadness and pain that I write about the untimely death of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan. The first female leader of a Muslim country and the leader of the largest political party in Pakistan was assassinated today.

After addressing an audience in Liaqat National Park in the garrison city of Rawalpindi it is alleged that a lone assassin opened fire and shot her in the neck and then detonated explosives strapped on him that killed over thirty people.

This is a shameful and ghastly attack on a political leader and a time of great sorrow for the nation of Pakistan. Since its inception Pakistan has been fighting for its national identity between the Mullah’s who demand an Islamic state and those who sought a state infused with Islam yet progressive and cultural. Benazir was a beacon of progress as she had been aware of the needs of bridging the gap between Pakistan’s rich heritage and the modern world. Every political leader in the world is accused of corruption and sleaze but in every political leader there is something good which they have all contributed to society. Why is it that we hear so little of the corruption charges against other political leaders in Pakistan?

As a woman, Benazir faced great hardship from those men who used every means to discredit her. From using faulty Hadith (sayings of the prophet) against female political leadership to corruption charges, they spared no means to dismiss her. Just recently I saw another despicable way of discrediting her on youtube where someone had posted a fake photograph of her exposing herself. As we are aware that conservative and political Islam places a huge emphasis on the outward appearance of people, especially women, this was a way of saying that she was in some way a lesser Muslim. Another accusation against her was the fact that she did not wear the head covering tight enough.  Against all this non sense, she marched on.

Benazir fought against all of these and showed the world that she was a woman focused on the progress of Pakistan. Benazir, as a woman, managed to lead a nation dominated by men and show the same calibre and charisma that the Qur’an shows in the case of the Queen of Sheba (Bilqis – Surah Naml). To take someone’s life in this way is something far from the realms of Islam and this is an act motivated by a political Islam which angers and depresses me. Let us not forget that the prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was one of the most powerful woman in the land and she was one of the greatest protectors of the prophet when the community refused to accept he was a prophet. The prophet’s other wives were also just as powerful. Aisha is credited with narrating many thousands of sayings of the prophet. I am fully aware of the warts and all that are associated with Benazir but she gave hope to the many hundreds and thousands of women in Pakistan, and around the world, to raise their voices against patriarchy and male domination not just in the political sphere but also the religious and cultural. For how long will we continue to muzzle the voices of women? For how long will women accept their voices to be muzzled because they have accepted patriarchy as a given in Islam?

The politics of Pakistan has a rippling effect on what happens in British/Scottish Islam too as the link between our two countries is strong because of emotional and familial ties of the first generation of Muslims in the UK, who are predominantly from Pakistan, and also the fact that the subsequent generation are still going back to Pakistan to find marriage partners and we continue to import Pakistani born Imams to lead us in the Mosques. Those Mosques who think that they can fool us into believing that there is progress by having British born Imams must not think we are that foolish to realise that they may wear the faces of British Muslim but their training, teaching and regressive Islamic understanding is from the same madrassas (seminaries) who exported the previous bunch!

Pakistan also has a very poor literacy rate and those wanting blind conformity have no intention of changing this status quo. Was an Oxford and Harvard graduate maybe just too much to handle by such people? Did they not want Benazir to be a role model to a new generation of educated Pakistanis who could stand on the international academic platform and be recognised for their expertise? How many international academic experts do we know from Pakistan? Why are the so-called Muslim leaders in Scotland so reluctant in highlighting this courageous woman's contributions to the Muslim world? I find it astonishing that they remain cold hearted and dismiss her even after her death. Even the prophet Muhammad stood for the funeral of a Jewish person stating that he had a duty to stand for a soul had died. Where is the mercy and grace to which Muslims pray to five times a day? Is it then not a weakness of faith when the faithful fail to find a positive word about the deceased? Much soul searching needs to be done all sides!

And so we must all seek progress in Pakistan in order to see progress in the UK. The two are interlinked and will continue to be interlinked for a very long time. The death of Benazir will be welcomed by all the narrow minded Muslim bigots but let there arise from this a wave of progressive voices who shout louder than those who want Muslims to conform as one uniform monolith. God bless us all! May the soul of Benazir be graciously accepted into the gardens of heaven and her sins be forgiven in the same way we seek the forgiveness of every deceased, Amen.

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