Archive for the ‘ Iran ’ Category

Sindh Saves the Day

By Nadeem F Paracha for Dawn

Plans are afoot to build the world’s first ever international Sufi university near Bhit Shah in Sindh. The main purpose of the institution would be to promote interfaith and intercultural education to tackle extremism in the country.

Such a thought and project could only have come about in Sindh. Especially in the context of what Pakistan has beengoing through in the last many years.

Not only have the country’s other provinces – especially the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – become central targets of horrid terrorist attacks by extremist organisations, the Punjab in particular has also been witnessing a steady growth of faith-based conservatism within its urban middle and lower middle-classes.

When extremists (calling themselves ‘Punjabi Taliban’) attacked the famous Sufi shrine, Data Darbar in Lahore late last year, economist and political analyst, Asad Sayeed, made a rather insightful observation.

He said that had such an attack on the Darbar taken place twenty years ago, thousands of Lahorites would have poured out to protest.

But not anymore. The attack on one of Punjab’s most popular Sufi shrines was simply treated as just another terrorist attack.

Though it is now clear that the Wahabi/Deobandi extremists have been going around blowing up Sufi shrines frequented by the majority Barelvi Muslims, the Barelvi leadership has looked elsewhere, putting the blame on the ever-elusive ‘foreign hands.’

Journalist and intellectual Khaled Ahmed once wrote a telling tongue-in-cheek article about the annual gathering of the Dawat-i-Islami in Multan.

The Dawat is the Barelvi equivalent of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamat. Both these outfits are considered to be non-political organisations who are more interested in evangelizing their respective versions of Islam and its rituals. One should also mention that both these (sub-continental) strains of Islam accuse one another of being ‘flawed Muslims.’

Ahmed wrote how after Dawat’s huge congregation in Multan, when police found some bullet-riddled bodies of Dawat members, the outfit’s main leadership simply refused to acknowledge the glaring evidence that pointed towards the involvement of an opposing Sunni sect’s organisation in the murders.

Ahmed adds that Dawat leaders began babbling about ‘outside forces (RAW, CIA, Mossad)’ who wanted to create disharmony between Pakistan’s Barelvi majority and the Deobandi and Wahabi sects.

Barelvis: From moderate to militant

One can understand the above-mentioned episode as an example of the confusion Barelvi spiritual leadership has gone through since the 1980s.

From its inception in the 18th century and until about the mid-1980s, the Barelvi sect was largely apolitical in orientation, non-Jihadist and followers of some of the most relaxed dictates of the Hanafi madhab – the first of the four main Islamic schools of law that is also considered to be the most moderate.

‘Barelvi Islam’ (as it is sometimes called) is purely a sub-continental phenomenon that fuses elements of Indian Sufism with the folk and populist strains of various cultures that exist in the sub-continent.

It is also called the ‘folk Islam’ of the region in which a high degree of tolerance exists between various faiths, sects, classes and ethnicities and in which the puritanical aspects of other Islamic sects are eschewed and even rejected.

The Sufi shrine and an intense reverence of the Prophet (PBUH) play a central role in Barelvi Islam. Its populist and moderate make-up helped it become the majority Sunni sect amongst the Muslims of the sub-continent.

Two of its leading opponents have been the Sunni Deobandi sect (also a product of the subcontinent) and the Saudi-inspired Wahabism.

Both have accused Barelvis of ‘adopting Hindu rituals and practices’ and assorted ‘heresies.’

In spite of being the majority sect amongst Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, ‘Barelvi Islam’ hardly ever had a coherent political expression in shape of a mass-based political party or organisation.

Its spiritual leadership remained pro-Jinnah (unlike Deobandi organizations of undivided India), and various Pakistani political leaders have continued to appeal to the symbolism and lingo associated with various populist aspects of Barelvi-ism.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was the most successful in this respect.

Bhutto was also one of the first leading Pakistani political figures to undertake the act of regularly visiting various famous Sufi shrines in Sindh and Punjab.

Barelvis are in the majority in Sindh and the Punjab, whereas Deobandis are largely centred in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and in the Pushtun-dominated areas of Balochistan.

Until the 1970s Barelvi-ism also prevailed among many of Sindh and Punjab’s urban middle-classes, especially those who considered themselves to be progressive and likely supporters of secular politics.

However, the arrangement in this context was suddenly disturbed with the arrival of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in 1977.

Dipped in the political Islam of scholar and Jamat-i-Islami (JI) chief Abul Ala Mauddudi, Zia soon moved towards infiltrating the spiritual and political nerve centres of Barelvi-ism in an attempt to ‘reform’ them.

Barelvi dominance across the country’s religious landscape reminded him of Z A. Bhutto’s populism (which he, like JI, considered to be ‘vulgar’ and ‘un-Islamic’), and from 1979 onwards Pakistan under Zia also became one of the leading client states of Saudi-generated Wahabi propaganda and aid.

Stunned by the ‘Islamic revolution’ in the Shia-dominated Iran in 1979, Saudi Arabian monarchy and its Wahabi Sunni religious elite began seeing Pakistan’s Barelvi-dominated make-up as venerable to Shia-ism’s revolutionary symbolism and also of socialist propaganda, especially with the arrival of Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

At least that was one of the reasons used by Zia and his Saudi allies to draw the United States into giving Pakistan billions of dollars worth of aid and arms.

With the aid also came Wahabi propaganda literature and preachers who along with Pakistani Deobandi and Wahabi spiritual and political groups began setting up madressas and mosques.

These madressas operated as institutions that would indoctrinate young Pakistanis – most of whom were immersed in the non-Jihadi traditions of Barelvi-ism – and prepare them for Jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Bralevi tradition had also not been very kind to the ulema and the clergy.

To address this, Zia also began describing famous Sufi saints as ulema and banned (in the media) all criticism and humour aimed at the clergy.

The Afghan war, Saudi propaganda, the mushrooming of Deobandi and Wahabi madressas and televangelists, and a concentrated campaign by the Zia regime to equate the dictatorship’s capitalist-Islamist makeup as something in accordance with the Shariah and with ‘Jinnah and Iqbal’s vision,’ had a telling impact on Pakistan’s religious sociology.

In the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa many moderate and progressive Deobandi strains that had prevailed in the province began sliding into the sect’s more radical dictates, coming closer to the puritanical Wahabi and Salafi ideas about faith.

This slide was celebrated by the Punjab-dominated military as a successful blow to the secular and ‘treacherous’ Pukhtun separatist tendencies.

In the Punjab, the province benefited the most from Zia’s Punjab-centric capitalist maneuvers. This coupled with unprecedented remittances coming from Pakistanis who had begun going to Arab Gulf states to work from the 1970s onwards, gave birth to new moneyed classes.

Many from the petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie sections began moving away from their Barelvi heritage and towards more puritanical strains of faith.

Their Barelvi past now reminded them of their lower status and economic modesty, whereas they began relating their enhanced economic standing with the adoption of the more puritanical strains of Islam.

That’s why the growth of puritanical Islamist and sectarian organizations that Punjab saw under Zia, a lot of their local funding came from Punjab’s nouveau-riche and petty-bourgeois trader classes.

Interestingly, it was also the same classes that also pushed the Barelvi leadership to become more conservative and radical. Those sections of the Punjabi petty-bourgeoisie that stuck to Barelvi-ism encouraged their spiritual leadership to compete with the Puritanism and radicalism of the growing number of Deobandi and Wahabi groups.

This trend saw the first ever emergence of radical Barelvi groups. In the early 1980s, the Dawat-i-Islami was formed to counterbalance the growth of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamaat that had begun making deep inroads into Punjab’s bourgeoisie and the military.

The Dawat discouraged the Barelvis from indulging in antics associated with the region’s folk Islam, emphasising an increased reverence of holy personalities and encouraging holding of recitals of naats and milads instead of quwalis and dhamals. The last two became associated with the practices of the lower-class Barelvis.

In 1992, emerged the Sunni Thereek (ST). A Barelvi outfit that emerged from the splintering of the oldest Barelvi Islamic political party, the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP).

Such occurrences did not really help the Barelvi sect defend its traditions in the face of the state-sponsored Deobandi and Wahabi onslaught –  rather, these organisations began turning Barelvi-ism into an equally anti-pluralistic and militant political phenomenon.

Sindh saves the day?

By the 1990s, Zia’s manoeuvres and Saudi involvement in reshaping Pakistan’s religious tradition had seen Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab become hostage to various violent Deobandi/Wahabi outfits and new-born Barelvi reactionary-ism.

The Punjab also saw a rise in the use of reactionary political and religious narratives within its lower-middle and middle-classes, whereas in Balochistan attempts were being made (by intelligence agencies) to neutralize secular Baloch nationalist militancy with the help of puritanical evangelical outfits. The agencies had already done this successfullyin Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the 1980s.

But what happened in Sindh? Barelvi-ism in Sindh (outside Karachi) has always been a lot more secular and pluralistic than the Bareilvi-ism in the Punjab.

Its  sociology  in Sindh heavily revolves around the staunchly secular historicity that the province’s famous scholar, GM Syed’s literary work generated.

He described a highly pluralistic and secular reading of Sufism as being the cultural and religious make-up of the Sindhis and it is this narrative that still rules the roost in the province’s social and religious psyche.

This is one of the reasons why Zia completely failed to impose his version of Islam here. Also, just like the majority of the Baloch who equate puritanical Islam with the ‘Punjabi civil-military elite,’ so does the socio-political discourse in Sindh.

On the other hand, in Karachi, though Zia-backed Deobandi and Wahabi radical outfits did manage to find a foothold, two things have always worked against these outfits here.

The first is the fact that the sprawling ethnic, sectarian and religious diversity found in Karachi actually absorbs and neutralizes any attempt by an outfit to impose its version of Islam.

Secondly, MQM, a party that first emerged as a mohajir nationalist group, adopted almost the same populist Barelvi symbolism and lingo as Bhutto did in the 1970s.

Also, the other two big political parties in the city too are secular: the PPP and ANP.

Though the Sunni Thereek (ST) has managed to infiltrate some sections of MQM’s support, ST is Barelvi and anti-Taliban (albeit reactionary).

In spite of the rampant crime and ethnic tensions that are a constant in Karachi, it will not be an overstatement to claim that Karachi along with the rest of Sindh today stands to be perhaps the only (ragged) sanctuaries in present-day Pakistan that are (comparatively-speaking) largely free of the factors that have created opportunities in the Punjab and KP for violent extremist activity as well as for reactionary conservatism to now become a mainstay in Punjab’s bourgeois psyche.


Bahrain: Two Seas, Two Sects

By Lauren Vriens for The Huffington Post

For the past six months, I’ve lived in a country nicknamed the Las Vegas of the Middle East, replete with neon lights, clubs and prostitutes. But I’ve also been living in a country of sandy villages, lined with black flags and small mosques. This is Bahrain. The country’s name means “two seas” in Arabic, but it might as well be a metaphor for its division between two sects.

After the first protester died on February 14, the existing tensions between the Sunnis and the Shia have heightened. Some observers say this clash has its roots in a geo-religious power struggle between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia; the more likely story is one of tension between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

The country is rife with rumors that every Shia household has either a Hezbollah flag or a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini hanging in the living room. But as hard as journalists tried to press at Pearl Roundabout, the locus of the demonstrations, protesters just shrugged when asked about Iran’s influence. “This isn’t about Iran. This is about me being able to feed my children,” one woman said.

On Monday night, there were allegedly 300,000 people protesting around the Grand Mosque in favor of the government. Only 20 minutes away, a hundred thousand, if not more (no Bahraini newspaper has provided an estimate), were protesting against the regime.

Shias will say that the pro-government rally was half comprised of wealthy Sunnis who benefit from the status quo, made clear from their accessories of Gucci sunglasses and Hummers. The rest of the rally-goers were Sunnis from Pakistan, India, Yemen, Syria and other countries, speed-tracked to citizenship by the government to increase the Sunni percentage of the population.

Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, there has been a palpable fear among Sunnis that Bahrain is one step away from becoming a mini-Iran, where women are required by law to wear black chadors and the only alcohol to be found is fermented in the neighbor’s bathtub.

An allegiance between Bahrain and religiously strident Iran is the Sunni minority’s worst fear — much of the country’s wealth is dependent on its vices. The money generated from Saudi weekend tourists looking for a good time consists of nearly 25% of the economy according to the U.S. Embassy. If democracy comes to Bahrain, the majority Shia population could, conceivably, end all the fun and harm the economy.

My co-worker, a Sunni and a former financial trader, thinks that democracy is a good thing — “Arabs need reform and modernity; in thousands of years, not even one word has been added to the Arabic dictionary” — but she just applied for papers to move to Australia. If democracy comes to Bahrain, she doesn’t want to be here for it.

The lynchpin that is keeping this country the way it is — the home of a Formula One race track, the base of the U.S.’s Fifth Naval Fleet and a favored place in the Gulf for business meetings — is the monarchy.

The royal family has two faces, however. The first is busy promoting the country as “Business-Friendly Bahrain,” as its visa stamp reads. The second is systematically and deliberately oppressing a portion of its population, largely because of fears of an Iranian coup.

In 2001, King Hamad put forward the National Action Charter, a referendum that signified political reform and his wish to distance himself from his father’s reign of terror against dissidents in the ’90s. The U.S. applauded him for his efforts in correcting his family’s legacy of human rights abuse.

Since then, the regime has painstakingly dismantled any serious political opposition through cleverly-placed veto powers, arrests, torture, and other dictatorial tricks. In late January, police blasted a 15-year-old Shia boy in the face with birdshot. Things like that happen all the time.

The main Shia demand on February 14, at the outset of the protests, was simple: an elected Prime Minister, rather than an appointed one. This was a reasonable request. But once the mercenary Sunni riot police fired rubber bullets at sleeping men, women and children in Pearl Roundabout, there have been cries for the whole regime to step down.

It is unlikely that the monarchy will fall any time soon (if it even comes close, Saudi Arabia will allegedly roll its own tanks over the causeway), but the government could assuage the situation and keep the country from civil war, or from grinding to a complete stop as the numbers in Pearl Roundabout grow daily.

The recent release of 23 Shia political activists is a step in the right direction, but the most important thing the government can do is focus on closing the income gap by boosting its human capital development and training programs, like Tamkeen. Forget about the Iran Boogeyman and bring in the opposition for genuine dialogue and debate. The more the monarchy alienates the opposition, the more radical and eastward-leaning the opposition will become.

Regardless of the tactics the monarchy takes, it needs to start soon. It cannot just keep its finger plugged in the dike, or else the sea may just well come crashing in.

World To Valentine’s Day: I Love You, I Love You Not

By Kristin Deasy for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty

The East is coy when it comes to celebrating Valentine’s Day, with some countries banning it as a Western imposition, while activists in other countries use the traditional day of love to play politics.

In Iraq, three youth groups have called for a Valentine’s Day rally in Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, which like many regional capitals bears the same name as the Egyptian square that made headlines recently during the country’s uprising.

Following the lead of countries like Egypt and Tunisia, where protesters took to the streets demanding political reform, these young Iraqis are using Facebook to call for an end to the political deadlock and rampant corruption in the country. The corruption watchdog Transparency International lists Iraq as the fourth-most corrupt country in the world.

“We chose February 14, Valentine’s Day, to prove to the world that we have made the Valentine’s Day of Iraq. We are here today to express our love for Iraq. Iraqi protester Nawf al-Falahi told Reuters today.

“Our demand is not a difficult one, we demand reform of the situation,” Falahi added. “There has been no tangible change since 2003 and until now, there is no development. We want [the government] to fulfill the promises they made before the election, their promises were rosy. We want them on the ground. This is the only thing we want.”

For these protesters, any thought of celebration is cut short by the condition in the country. “We are so upset. We can’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, because we have a lot of problems,” one woman tells RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq, “like the shortage of items on our monthly ration card, a lack of electricity, and poverty.”

Iraq’s protests come as an opposition demonstration is set for today in neighboring Iran, where the opposition Green Movement has defied a government ban to call for a march in solidarity with protesters in Egypt and Tunisia.

Supporters of the Iranian rally have been posting a “V” on their personal Facebook profile pages in a nod to the “V for victory” sign used by the opposition during the country’s 2009 antigovernment protests and, perhaps, also in recognition of the coinciding holiday.

Valentine’s Day is generally seen as a Christian holiday, but it is actually pagan in origin, arising out of the ancient Roman Lupercalia festival. Early efforts by Christian leaders to “Christianize” the pagan feast led to its observance as a feast day honoring a legendary third-century Roman priest allegedly named Valentine.

Over time, however, the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day moved from a day of Christian piety to a more all-embracing celebration of love, particularly the love between couples.

This is a point of concern for authorities in many Islamic countries, who cleave to traditional moral values not typically associated with the modern celebration of Valentine’s Day.

The Uzbek newspaper “Turkiston” wrote on February 12 that “forces with evil goals” were behind “making the ‘lovers’ day popular,” while in Kazakhstan last week a youth group symbolically destroyed Valentine’s Day cards for local media to protest the attempt to introduce a “foreign” holiday.

Over in Russia’s Belgorod region, officials banned St. Valentine’s festivities for the sake of the people’s “spiritual safety,” with one local government spokesman telling reporters that “we could just as well have introduced a Vodka Day.”

Updating The Language Of Love

Iran, meanwhile, forbids unmarried couples from socializing publicly, a policy that tends to have a chilling effect on most Valentine’s Day plans.

But the policy is difficult to enforce on the country’s swelling — and often defiant — younger generation. For example, a Tehran-based author who wishes to remain anonymous is currently at work on a book, “The Persian Dating Glossary,” which includes the explanation of various Persian slang words used to circumvent Iran’s dating restrictions, including “doostmamooli,” a word that roughly translates to “regular friend” and is used to refer to someone with whom there is absolutely no romantic involvement.

The word evolved from the more ambiguous “doost,” which literally means friend but also serves as the basis of weightier words like boyfriend, girlfriend, and best friend.

So this year, Iranian authorities issued a particularly strict warning against “producing any products related to Valentine’s Day, including posters, brochures, advertising cards, boxes with the symbols of hearts, half-hearts, or red roses.”

The Islamic authorities’ worst fear is being realized in Thailand, where 14 couples from around the world are set to compete in a marathon kissing contest to see who can keep their lips locked the longest.

The event is to challenge a German couple, who last year set the world record of the longest continuous kiss, which lasted over one full day.

“We successfully broke the world’s record with seven couples still kissing after 32 hours, 7 minutes, 14 seconds,” contest organizer Somporn Naksuetrong told Reuters. “Anyhow, the contest is still continuing, as only one couple will be named as the new record holder. We still don’t know how long the contest will last.”

A Pakistani Take

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Valentine’s Day draws a mixed reaction. Young women browse in a shop decorated with Valentine’s Day gifts in Peshawar.
“If we look at it from the religious point of view, then it should not be celebrated because this is based on a Christian celebration,” says Ajab Khan, a young student at Peshawar’s Institute of Management Sciences. “But if you look at it from a different perspective, then I think there is no harm in it because people are happy to go out and give each other presents.

Khan points out that in the English city of Southall, commonly known as “Little India, where many South Asian festivals are held, whether its Eid, the Hindu festival of Holi, or a Christian celebration, “the whole Asian community is happy with it. So why shouldn’t we be a part of it as well in Pakistan? I don’t think it can harm anyone or will affect our religion.

“In my opinion, it’s good to celebrate it and it’s not only for couples. You can give presents to your friends, or even give a rose to your mother.”

The holiday brings back memories for Maskeen Aka, who lives in the Pakistani city of Karachi. He associates it with an ancient Pashtun custom called “rebaar,” in which a messenger would be sent — usually a child — with affectionate greetings or to share news between loved ones.

The practice has slowly disappeared in Pakistan thanks to the growing availability of telephones and Internet technology, but Aka sees a hint of it in the observance of Valentine’s Day.

“I am almost 50 years old now,” he says. “I have also done [rebaar] for some time. Rebaar means to ask about one’s health. In old times, life was very simple and there were no letters or telephones. So it was used to find information, and there would occasionally be messages sent back from the other side, and that was how it came into being.”

‘No Life Without Love’

In Central Asia, Valentine’s Day is a new holiday there because it was not observed under the former Soviet Union.

These countries tend to take a more pragmatic approach, with flower shops and candy stores upping their prices today in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

A Kyrgyz student, Ermek, explains his reasons for observing the holiday while buying flowers for his girlfriend at a Bishkek market, saying, “We need such a holiday, a day of love.”

“If people don’t love each other, how will they get married? There is no life without love,” Ermek says. “I know my girlfriend loves roses, and that’s why I’m buying them.”

It seems that regardless of what countries celebrate the controversial Valentine’s Day, love is what makes the world go ’round.

Global Sufi Fest Attracts Thousands

As Reported by the Times of India

Soulful renderings of Sufi music by wandering minstrels from different parts of the world left the listeners spellbound here at the three-day ‘Sufi Sutra’ which ended on Sunday.

Besides Indians, Sufi singers and musicians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Syria and Tajikistan presented mystic Islam through songs, dance and poetry.

Notwithstanding the current political turmoil back home, an eight-member Egyptian Mawlawyiah troupe enthralled the audience by an audio-visual of music and circular dervish dance whirling around singers in a circle.

A Bangladeshi team, led by Anusheh Anadil, sang the household songs of the famous 18th century poet-philosopher Fakir Lalon Shah, on whom based the recent Golden Peacock winning Bengali film ‘Moner Manush’.

The ‘bauls’ and ‘fakirs’ of West Bengal’s Nadia and Murshidabad districts were huge hits by their spontaneous, simple and meaningful lyrics.

Another Bengal team led by Armaan Fakir presented the little-known ‘Bangla Qawwali’. Traditionally performed at the Dargahs, the devotional songs had ‘Dhol’ and ‘Khol’ as percussions replacing Tabla.

The first Sufi ensemble also included the ‘Warsi Brothers’ from Hyderabad, Delhi’s ‘Druv Sangari’ and team, ‘Mirs’ from Bikaner and ‘Haji Md Ahmed Khan Warsi’s team from Uttar Pradesh.

“It is a peace concert in times of violence. We want to bring a convergence of ideas about truth, harmony, self-belief and peace through music. It is a celebration of the quest for the divine through love,” organiser Amitava Bhattacharya said.

Besides musical performances, the festival included workshops and exhibitions to showcase the traditional culture, beliefs and music of the Sufi mystics.

“We had more than 10,000 people at the open-air concert, while more than 700 people, including young students, learnt about Sufism at the pre-concert workshops,” Bhattacharya said.

The event would also help the poor musicians, most of whom were from the rural areas, to earn a livelihood, he said.  The festival was organised by in collaboration.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteIt’s a sad reality that singers from a  country rich in Sufi history and traditions like Pakistan, are  unable to attend this festival due to the 60+ year friction between the two brothers India and Pakistan. They are two halves of one nation.

Cultural exchanges like these, billions in cross border trade, Bollywood and Lollywood collaborations, sports matches, etc are just some of the things the two are missing out on due to their relations. We hope one day peace can finally come to this ancient and holy land that is the subcontinent.

Thou Shalt not Mock or It May Cost You Your Life!

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

In the wake of the murder of Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab a couple weeks back, I did a great deal of contemplation about the situation in Pakistan and the current state of affairs of Pakistan and indeed in much of the Muslim world.

The current situation, especially in Pakistan and when it concerns the rights of the non-Muslims, is apparently the worst of anywhere in the Muslim world. Indeed, the plight of Asia Bibi, (also known as Aasia, Ayesa Noreen) Islam and Islamic Blasphemy laws have come under rightful scrutiny as of late.

One question that tugs at the heart of the debate for me is why is it that Muslims seem to get so very offended to the point they want to KILL you over a remark or something that comes out of your mouth? As Americans, we wonder to ourselves, “Haven’t they ever heard of sticks and stones may break my bones, but words don’t hurt me?!

Sadly, what the fundamentalist preachers at all the podiums of their Friday sermon or khutbah, nor any of their brethren on the run and in caves like the Taliban and Al Qaeda fail to realize that we are all God’s children. And God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, or whatever name you assign him, he is One and the same God of all religions. He is too big to fit into just one religion, concept, version or story of him.

And we all are his creations. Not one of us is superior over the other in his eyes and he judges us all equally. To him, the children of these three religions and its offspring’s are all related to each other. Adam being the first man, then Eve, and then all the Biblical figures and names such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, yes especially Jesus. He is their Messiah too!

Jesus, in fact is mentioned some 28 times in the Muslim holy book, Qu’ran whereas their own prophet Muhammad is mentioned only 4 times. And the fact that Jesus is also considered by Muslims to be the Messiah, it is sad that his followers should get such abject treatment in Pakistan and sadly, many Muslim countries.

If only the bad guys realized the connections between Christians and Jesus only then would a Pakistani Christian woman, suffering needlessly in a cell tonight going on 2 years away from her children in solitude, and constantly fearful for her life, would see her horrific ordeal come to an end.

These people are incapable of understanding basic rights, freedoms and even the unhindered concept of free will. No, they are primitive minded in their their spiritual and daily lives. They fail to see that a Christian’s God and a Muslim’s God are the one and the same. And he never would agree to laws like Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws at all. Why? Well because the Muslim God is known first and foremost as a Gracious, Merciful, Compassionate God.

In fact, the Arabic phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim is a beautifully poetic phrase which offers both deep insight and brilliant inspiration to the average Muslim who says it countless times as he or she starts each day and till they rest their head to sleep. “ It has often been said that the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim contains the true essence of the entire Qur’an, as well as the true essence of all religions. Muslims often say this phrase when embarking on any significant endeavor and the phrase is considered by some to be a major pillar of Islam. This expression is so magnificent and so concise that all except one chapter of the Qur’an begins with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.”

The common translation:”In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate” essentially is saying that God is compassionate, and full of grace. So how would this God punish Asia Bibi? What would he do if he is so full of compassion and mercy? Would he even punish her? And if he is such a gracious and a compassionate God, then wouldn’t he feel that nearly a two year jail sentence in solitary is already far more than her crime not to mention being away from husband and children and being worried about mob vengeance on her or the death penalty?

That God may act in a multitude of ways and we cannot ever know till said Judgment Day. That is what Judgment Day is all about after all. In fact, this is probably one day when the man upstairs works overtime judging all of us mankind, from the beginning with Adam to the last standing comes till Tribulation and the End of Days. It is only he, the Creator who will do the judging and this is something that the men with the loudspeakers who climb to the top of the minaret five times a day to call the faithful to prayers, just do not really understand, in my opinion. They apparently constantly seem to forget and pass judgment from the pulpit and this in turn helps set the “popular” opinion amongst the ultra-religious faithful of Pakistan’s society.

My only prayer to this Creator is that may he keep Asia Bibi safe tonight and continue to give her strength. And if God should call her home and have her die a death at the hands of the real savages those that not only kill but shockingly, in your name, then please Allah grant her heaven just as you should governor Salmaan Taseer, a man who was only defending the rights of all your children, including those of other faiths. He was being compassionate and gracious towards a fellow human being God, as he was only trying to emulate his creator, You Lord. Ameen.

And while you are at it Lord, will you also please let the imam at the microphone know that “Thou shall not mock, should not cost you your life.” Afterall, “Thou shall not kill is one of your top 10 commandments, whereas mocking prophets or religious figures does not make the list!

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is a Sufi Muslim who is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at and at other websites such as,, and as a freelance journalist and writer. He asks that you like the Official Facebook Page of Pakistanis for Peace to get the latest articles as they publish here:!/pages/Pakistanis-for-Peace/141071882613054

China’s Wen, India’s Singh Make Little Progress at Summit

By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Thursday in New Delhi, the main event of a three-day summit aimed at building trust and reducing long-standing irritants. But they announced no substantive breakthrough and little progress on border disputes, access to shared water resources or security issues.

Nor was there any apparent progress on India’s bid to open Chinese markets to its software, pharmaceuticals and farm products. New Delhi also remains wary of Beijing’s regional ambitions and its ties with Pakistan, India’s nuclear adversary.
The two rising Asian superpowers made some modest progress on the economic front, pledging to expand trade to $100 billion by 2015 from $60 billion at present and try to reduce the trade gap. China is India’s largest trading partner, but trade flows are heavily weighted in Beijing’s favor.

The two leaders also agreed to set up a hotline, and both sides spoke about the need for improved ties.

“I hope that my visit will help increase our cooperation in a wide range of fields and raise our friendship and cooperation to an even higher level,” Wen told reporters on leaving a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace.

“A strong partnership between India and China will contribute to long-term peace, stability, prosperity and development in Asia and the world,” Singh added.

But any move to turn the regional cooperation rhetoric into reality will quickly run into roadblocks, analysts said, given the nations’ differences over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s long-standing conflict with the international community and continued warfare in Afghanistan.

China appeared keen to outdo the recent visit to India by President Obama. Chinese officials brought a contingent of 400 business executives, compared with the 250 American business men and women who accompanied the U.S. leader. And they signed $16 billion worth of business deals, compared with America’s $10 billion.

Singh and Wen reportedly discussed many of their nations’ core differences, including Pakistan; divided Kashmir; and the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader based in northern India and considered by Beijing to be a “splittist” enemy of a unified China. But neither side made any significant concessions.

The two nations agreed to keep working on peacefully resolving their lingering border disputes, the focus of a brief war in 1962. Talks have languished for years.

China claims much of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, whereas India wants China to back away from a slice of territory it controls in Kashmir, the disputed region largely divided between India and Pakistan.

“It will not be easy to completely resolve this question,” Wen said in a speech. “It requires patience and will take a fairly long period of time. Only with sincerity, mutual trust and perseverance can we eventually find a fair, reasonable and a mutually acceptable solution.”

In other words, said analysts: Don’t hold your breath. Add it up, they said, and this meeting — the 11th between the two leaders in five years — accomplished relatively little.

“Issues that fuel mutual mistrust, such as Kashmir for the Indians and Tibet for the Chinese, were addressed, but not substantially,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. “The boundary dispute has not been resolved. There’s no road map.”


The West is Being ‘Outmanoeuvred’ by Violent Islamist Extremists: Tony Blair

By John Swaine for The Telegraph

In a speech in New York, the former prime minister said that warnings over the past week of new terrorist plots against Europe should remind people that they remain under threat.

Mr Blair said a “narrative” that Muslims were under attack from the US and its allies, who act out of support for Israel, had been allowed to take hold, aided by “websites and blogs”.

A fresh confrontation is needed because it will be impossible to defeat extremism “without defeating the narrative that nurtures it”, he said.

“The practitioners of extremism are small in number. The adherents of the narrative stretch far broader into parts of mainstream thinking,” Mr Blair told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It is a narrative that now has vast numbers of assembled websites, blogs and organizations.” Mr Blair said it was “absurd” that some people were surprised at how powerful Islamist extremist groups were, given the amount of funding they received and indoctrination they spread.

“Measure, over the years, the paucity of our counter-attack in the name of peaceful coexistence,” he said. “We have been outspent, outmaneuvered and out-strategized.”

Mr Blair said a tendency to “sympathize” with extremism was not only dangerous but also disempowering for moderate Muslims, because it made people resent them as much as extremists.

He said he was “intrigued” by the fact that western leaders, including Barack Obama, the US President, felt the need to condemn Terry Jones, a pastor who threatened to burn a Koran.

“Suppose an Imam, with thirty followers, in Karachi was to burn a bible,” he said. “I can barely imagine a murmur of protest. It wouldn’t be necessary for the President of Pakistan to condemn it because no one here would remotely consider he supported it.”

The former prime minister also called on the west to make it “crystal clear” to Iran that their acquisition of a nuclear bomb would be unacceptable to the entire “civilized world”.

“Go and read the speech of Iran’s President to the United Nations just days ago here in New York, and tell me that is someone you want with a nuclear bomb,” he told those who disagree.

He stressed that the achievement of a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine would remove “much of the poison which the extremists use”.

And he defended his decision to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, saying: “whatever you think of the original action, we enabled the people to choose their Government”.

Mr. Blair last night appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman on American television. He said that satirists like Letterman had been wrong to paint George W. Bush as unintelligent. “You don’t get to this position by being a fool,” he said.

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