Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Ahmadiyya Muslims: Who has the right to label a 'non-Muslim'? Are we playing God?

I've been thinking about the Ahmadiyya (sometimes spelt Ahmedi) Muslims lately because I came across this heart wrenching article about a lost hero of the state of Pakistan. It seems that religious politics draws a veil over the hearts and minds of Muslims that fail to honor something great. For further information on the Ahmadiyya Muslims see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmadiyya and further info on Professor Abdus Salam see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdus_Salam

Dr. Abdus Salam: Beyond Physics by Adil Najam
Published at http://pakistaniat.com/2006/11/22/abdus-salam-physics/

As reader zamanov has reminded us elsewhere, today marks Dr. Abdus Salam’s 10th death anniversary. It should be a moment of deep reflection for all of us. He would have been as great a man as he was even if he did not won the Nobel Award in physics. But we would have conveniently forgotten him. That he did win the Nobel Award is a source of cosmetic and hollow pride for many Pakistanis. Cosmetic and hollow because it is also a source of visible unease. Even when we acknowledge that he was a great scientist (after all, the Nobel Committee thought so), we are uncomfortable acknowledging that he was a great man whose significance goes beyond his science.

As a brutally honest editorial in today’s Daily Times points out, “we are scared of honoring Dr. Salam.” We must not be.

Dr Abdus Salam (1926-1996) died ten years ago. He was the first Pakistani to get a Nobel Prize in 1979. But he might be the last if we continue to allow our state to evolve in a way that frightens the rest of the world. Our collective psyche runs more to accepted ‘wisdom’ than to scientific inquiry; and even if we were to display an uncharacteristic outcropping of individual genius the world may be so frightened of it that it might not give us our deserts.

Picture shows the road named after Abdus Salam in CERN, Geneva

We are scared of honouring Dr Salam because of our constitution which we have amended to declare his community as ‘non-Muslim’. When Dr Salam died in 1996 he had to be buried in Pakistan because he refused to give up his Pakistani nationality and acquire another that respected him more. But the Pakistani state was afraid of touching his dead body. He was therefore buried in Rabwa, the home town of his Ahmedi community whose name is also unacceptable to us and has been changed to Chenab Nagar by a state proclamation. But that was not the end of the story. After he was buried, the pious, law-abiding and constitution-loving people of Jhang, which is nearby, went over to Chenab Nagar to see if all had been done according to the constitutional provisions regarding the Ahmedi community to which he belonged.

And what did the constitution say? It said that the Ahmedis are not Muslims, that they may not call themselves Muslims, nor say the kalima or use any of the symbols of Islam. The original amendments to the constitution were passed by Z A Bhutto, a ‘liberal socialist-democrat’, and subsequent tightening of the law was done by the great patriot General Zia-ul Haq. Thus both the civilians and the khakis had connived in the great betrayal of Dr Salam.

After the great scientist was buried in Chenab Nagar, his tombstone said “Abdus Salam the First Muslim Nobel Laureate”. Needless to say, the police arrived with a magistrate and rubbed off the ‘Muslim’ part of the katba. Now the tombstone says: Abdus Salam the First Nobel Laureate. The magistrate remained unfazed by what he had done but Dr Salam’s grave is actually the tombstone of a Muslim culture that Pakistan had inherited from the founder of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. But ironies fly thick in Pakistan. In Jhang, for example, where Dr Salam grew up as a precocious child, the schools that he endowed with scholarships and grants now teach communal hatred rather than the love that he had in mind when he gave them his money.

Meanwhile, the Ahmedi community is under daily pressure and anyone with a twisted mind is free to persecute them.

Abdus Salam was born in Jhang in 1926. At the age of 14, he got the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination in Punjab. The whole town turned out to welcome him. He won a scholarship to Government College, Lahore, and took his MA in 1946. In the same year he was awarded a scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he took a BA (honours) with a double First in mathematics and physics in 1949. In 1950 he received the Smith’s Prize from Cambridge University for the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to physics. He also obtained a PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge; his thesis, published in 1951, contained fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics which had already gained him an international reputation.

In 1954 Dr Salam left his native country for a lectureship at Cambridge University. Before the Pakistani politicians apostatised him, he was a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, a member of the Scientific Commission of Pakistan and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President from 1961 to 1974. Pakistan’s space research agency Suparco was created by him and it is only symbolic that a group of Shia workers of Suparco were put to death in Karachi in 2004 by sectarian terrorists. Like Dr Salam, a lot of gifted Shia doctors have had to leave Pakistan because of the state’s twisted policies.

Dr Abdus Salam got his Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979. It was a most embarrassing moment for General Zia who had “supplemented” the Second Amendment to the constitution with further comic disabilities against the Ahmedis. He had to welcome the great scientist and had to be seen with him on TV. Since the clerical part of his government was already bristling, he took care to clip those sections of Dr Salam’s speech where he had said the kalima or otherwise used an Islamic expression. It was Dr Salam’s good luck that one of the believers did not go to court under Zia’s own laws to get the country’s only Nobel laureate sent to prison for six months of rigorous imprisonment. Dr Salam then went to India where he was received with great fanfare. He had gone there to simply meet his primary school mathematics teacher who was still alive. When the two met, Dr Salam took off his Nobel medal and put it around the neck of his teacher.

Let us admit in a whisper that Pakistan did issue a stamp commemorating Dr Salam years ago lest the government come under pressure to remove it from circulation. It is also true that his alma mater, Government College Lahore, now a university, has named certain ancillary departments and academic sessions after him following a long period of obscurantist domination. But Pakistan needs to feel guilty about what it has done to the greatest scientist it ever produced in comparison to the lionisation of Dr AQ Khan who has brought ignominy and the label of “rogue state” to Pakistan by selling the country’s nuclear technology for personal gain. Can we redeem ourselves by doing something in Dr Salam’s memory on this 10th anniversary of his passing that would please his soul and cleanse ours?

Aziz Mian: Mujh Azma'nay Waley - Oh You Who Tests Me...

I’m guilty as charged for losing sight of spiritual depths and concentrating on current affairs relating to politically motivated understandings of Islam. I raised a few questions relating to the Scottish Islamic Foundation in hope that it would help progress. Let me be clear, I’ve never said that the progressive approach is the correct one, maybe the progressive vision is a load of nonsense, I am willing to accept that but my aim in raising questions is not to score points against others but to add to the debate and most certainly not to be understood as some form of 'leader', quite happy being understood as a Muslim on a spiritual journey finding his way to God in Scotland.

Questions are a good source of strength for it is only when we question what we believe in that we truly understand what we are. So let us not get all defensive on the questions but reflect on them in union. God is my witness that my desire is only to see a flourishing and beautiful Scotland where Muslims dwell in security and safety without the use of political motivations for it is only through love and passion that God blesses hearts. Och well, no point in getting our knickers in a twist because time will tell what the best approach is/was.

So, I’m presenting another of Aziz Mian’s Qawallis which will hopefully bring us all back to our main focus, God. During this month of fasting our focus must remain on God. Enjoy…

Aql kay soog mar daytay hai
Ishq kay roog mar deytay hai
Aap khud koi nahi mur ta
Doosray log mar deytay hai'

The burdens of the mind kill you
The weeping heart laden with the burden of love kills you
But no one dies on their own accord...
It is always someone else who kills us...

Comment: These verses have touched me profoundly as I tried to understand what they actually meant. The burdens that we all carry are numerous to the detriment of the hearts death which fails to see the light of God. I understand this verse to say there are so many factors in our lives that ‘kill us’ or kill our soul from God.

Mujhe aazmanay waley, mujhe aazma’ kay roo’ay
Meri daastan-e-hasrat woh suna suna kay roo’ay

The one who tests me cries after testing me
He tells the tales of my desires over and over again and weeps

Comment: I think this verse is talking about the Great tester, God. God tests the believers on earth to see in what way they will react to the obstacles placed before them. But there is a twist. It presents God with emotions, the emotion to cry at the state of the believer being tested. That as God recalls the tales of the tester He wept. A powerful image where God is not that silent, all empowering force that sits back and watches but here showing the believer that God is more than just present.

Koi aisa ahl-e dil ho jo fasana-e-mohabbat
Aray jisay mein sun’akay ro’o
Aray mujhay woh sun’akay ro’ay

Someone who dwells in the heart of passion, love,
Someone I cry for after telling them…
Someone who cries after telling me…

Comment: We seek this ‘someone’ in many different forms. It could be through our delusions of a ‘true love’, wealth, prestige, power but in fact the search but start and end with God. That it is only God who must dwell in the heart of the believer. For it is only God who listens to the sorrows and grief of the believer and weeps at their state.

Jo son’a’i anjumun mein shabhay ghum ki aap bhi’ti
Ka’i roh kay musqura’ay…ka’i musqura’kay ro’ay

Someone who narrates/recalls in the congregation the soul’s distress
Some cry and then smile…some smile and then cry

Comment: I understand this congregation to be the Great Day of Judgement when everyone is presented before God. It is here that God and the self tell the tale of life. It is here that some cry and then smile and it is here that some smile and then cry. Powerful imagery which makes us all consider what we have to smile and cry about in our lives.

Aray mein ho bewatun musaffar
Mera naam bey kasi hai
Mera koi bhi nahi hai
Jo galay la'ga kay ro'ay

I am a wild traveler without a nation
My name is destitution
I have no one
Who will embrace me and shed tears

Comment: This is pressing the believer to consider their self without the restrictions. That the nation becomes a metaphor for all sorts of restraints that society and the puritans try to enforce. That destitution and understanding the sorry state is the path to realising that there is infact no one greater than God who embraces the believers and shed tears for them.

Meray paas sey guzar kur array meri baat tuk na pooch’i
Mein yeh kaisay maan ja’o … array kay woh door ja kay roo’ay?

He passed by me yet he failed to inquire about me
How am I to accept this…that He went afar and shed those tears?

Comment: Does God actually listen to us? We don’t see this God so the rational mind may consider that God does not exist. This is a verse which raises that exact question that when the believer turns to God and expresses their distress God doesn’t seem to listen and how is one to believe that God has been moved to tears on the believers state?

Kabhi mujhsey rooth kur woh, array jo milay tey rastay mein
Mein un’hay mana kay roo’ya, array woh mujhay mana kay roo’ay

That time when he had turned away from me, He met me in the path
I embraced and cried at that moment, He embraced me and cried at that moment

Comment: This is Aziz Mian’s own verse in which he talks about the union with God. That during the believers life time there are ups and downs in the relationship with God. The time when there is a tiff between God and the believer and the believer meets God on the path is recalled. The path could be life or the path to heaven, this could be any of these ‘paths’. It is here that the believer embraces God and weeps. That these tears are of a lifetime that God has been watching throughout and it is at this same spot that God moves forward for the embrace and also cries.

The tears and embraces between God and us are maybe something missing in our spirituality....