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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Growing old: Ageing population brings novel challenges

Pakistan’s elderly population expected to swell from current 6.6% to almost 16% in 2050.

Pakistan’s elderly population expected to swell from current 6.6% to almost 16% in 2050. Pakistan’s elderly population expected to swell from current 6.6% to almost 16% in 2050. Pakistan’s elderly population expected to swell from current 6.6% to almost 16% in 2050.
KARACHI: “My brother’s wife and children call my mother crazy. She suffers from dementia; she is not crazy,” said Zahra, daughter of 81-year-old Jabeen Fatima.

“The family does not want her to be a part of social gatherings anymore, even though she is mobile and likes social interaction. It is very tough to make people understand,” Zahra added.

Jabeen Fatima belongs to a middle-class urban family but faces social isolation and a lack of proper care, as well as reluctance on her family’s part to house her.

She is one of Pakistan’s 11.6 million people, or 6.6% of the total population, over the age of 60; by 2050, this number is expected to reach 43.3 million people, or almost 16% of the country’s expected population. This requires the country to adopt completely new approach to health care, retirement, living arrangements and intergenerational relations.

Increasingly older

The number of older persons is growing faster than any other age group, says a new report ‘Ageing in the twenty-first century: A celebration and a challenge’ released by the United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International.  In just 10 years, the number of older persons will surpass 1 billion people—an increase of close to 200 million people over the decade. While two out of three people, or 66%, aged 60 or over, live in developing and emerging economies today, this ratio will rise to nearly four in five, or 80%, by 2050.

Legislating for the elderly

Sharmila Farooqi, special assistant to chief minister Sindh for media, and chief guest at the launch of the report, emphasised on the importance of national policy and legislation for the elderly in Pakistan. She said the provincial government will extend support and take appropriate measure for the passing of a legislation that ensures the rights of the elderly. The Senior Citizens Bill, however, has been pending in parliament since 2007.

“This bill could help in protection of rights of the elderly,” said Waqas A Qureshi from HelpAge International.

“We need to introduce a system of non-contributory social pensions, in recognition of old age poverty, as well as better health services for the elderly. Our aim should be inclusive development,” he said while talking to The Express Tribune. He pointed out basic things, like availability of wheelchairs and ramps in public places or availability of elder-age-friendly food packages in flood-affected areas that could help the elderly live a dignified life.

Health care would include investment in prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases, he added.

Old, but working

According to the report, 47% of older men and nearly 24% of older women participate in the labour force. Yet, despite the contributions that an ageing population can give to society, many older persons all over the world face continued discrimination, abuse and violence. Creating livelihood opportunities for the over 60s is, therefore, important, the report says. Speaking at the report’s launch in Karachi, UNFPA Representative, Rabbi Royan, said the speed and scale of demographic change very often can catch us off-guard, and therefore it is important that countries be prepared.

New challenges

A growing elderly population, the rising cost of health care and a shift in the social value system are creating new challenges. What do the elderly need?

“A nursing home is a good idea if someone cannot perform daily self-care activities. But if they are not totally dependent, the elderly should be in families or facilities, with assistance,” said geriatric specialist Dr Arifa Jamal.

“This gives them more control over their lives and makes them feel less helpless. As a society, we have to re-learn to incorporate elders,” she added.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2012.

Pakistan’s Emotional Wave: Malala

— 28 October 2012
Pakistan’s Emotional Wave: Malala

As a human rights’ activist who tries to ruffle just the right feathers and create enough noise through my write-ups on both print media as well as via social networking, I know that I have to do this. I understand the reason and the wisdom behind the uncountable hash tags on the names that became iconic symbols of the fight against oppression – Mukhtar Mai, Asiya Bibi, Rimsha Masih and now most recently Malala Yousafzai. Expat friends who sometimes, with undoubted sincerity, look at the problems of Pakistan from a distance, have a naïve and simplistic take on things when they say: “Talking about all of this in the media presents a negative image of Pakistan”. Yet those of us who are working at grass root level are facing the multiple complex issues Pakistan faces; it is an inner imperative that commands us to voice our concerns – for catharsis, to make sense of things, to at least be able to do something. And rid ourselves temporarily of that helpless feeling. Also simply because by raising a voice, some change may eventually come through, even if not in our lifetime.

So no, I am not promoting silence.

But as the news of that brave little girl Malala being shot hit my ears for the first time, a nagging fear tugged at my mind strings, not just my heart. Time has proven the fear right.

Malala is everywhere – on adverts of eateries and on Madonna’s back, on the social media and on prime time television. Everyone is talking about her. All of this is not worrisome and understandable. But a few things are worrisome to say the least.

What is worrisome is that Malala, now an icon of girl’s literacy and courage is being juxtaposed opposite the debate whether drones are acceptable in our territory. We become so swept, unknowingly, by a wave of collective unbridled emotion that we start to discriminate between our dead and injured. The “collateral damage” of innocent men, women and children killed in drone attacks are justified. Malala’s name, ironically, is being used and misused to focus so much on one issue that the others take a back seat. And not just the drone issue. Those killed in Sibi, Darra Adam Khel and the usual are not given the emphasis they should be given and damages this country suffers on a daily basis.
But so heart-wrenching is the image of that little child smiling at you with the book in her hand that anyone who dares to say that “hey, this is important, but the other issues are important too” will be bludgeoned into submissive silence because there will be an onslaught powered by raw emotion. Questions like “what kind of a human are you? Don’t you feel bad for that child? What if she was your daughter?” are flung across tables and forums. People daring to ask the right questions sincerely are not being allowed to do that.

I should not be misunderstood here. I am praying for Malala. I am angry and hurt and it does not make sense to me why a child should be punished for wanting to gain knowledge. I am hurt, as a woman, that it is becoming exceedingly difficult for women to survive in this society. I am struggling to keep my optimism alive in the face of all this insanity, and still trying to hope and believe that better tomorrows await Pakistan. I am all for Malala.

I’m, however, not willing to take up causes without enough reflection, without studying into it, without finding out the background. I am not willing to under-emphasize other important causes, though right now Malala is the cause closest to my heart too. The cynic in me does want to know what’s the catch and who will benefit from this tidal wave upon tidal wave of uplifting of rights. Extremists? The agencies? Super powers? Who? I may never know. But I will at least reflect.

What is again worrisome is that even the intelligentsia and the educated are peer pressured into having to say something about these issues; otherwise we put them in slots and assume they don’t care. So they feel duty-bound to say more, tweet more, and share more. In so doing (and forgive me for my nastiness here), we all become heroes for the day. We all are champions of human rights. We curse and display histrionics whenever an act of oppression or terror happens and in so doing advertise ourselves as people who care.

What we do not realize is that at times, thoughtless activism and careless remarks can complicate issues. Like a tangled ball of wool or a broth with too many cooks, the end result is nothing but chaos. And that is chaos without order.

My concern, and request, is simple. As a citizen of Pakistan, we all have a right to speak up, and vent and express. But reflect before you utter. Think before you hash tag. Choose your words carefully. You do not want to be doing something that will further escalate an already volatile situation and give a chance to opportunists to make their buck and sell their goods. It is a choice we make. One we must make responsibly.

Published in

Inequality at the office: Pakistan amongst bottom three in gender gap at work


“Male colleagues who joined work with me are now 2 ranks above me, simply because they are men and have social connections with male bosses. Will the discrimination ever end?” said Sidra Khan, banking executive while talking to The Express Tribune.

Her sentiment is echoed in a recent study of 135 countries published in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report.

The report ranks Pakistan among the bottom three countries on perceived gender inequality in the workplace, accompanied by Chad and Yemen.

Pakistan has moved down the rankings – from 133rd to 134th position in a year.

The report covers more than 90% of the world’s population, and examines at how nations distribute resources and opportunities between women and men.

According to its findings, Pakistan performs below the global average on all four sub-indexes – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment – and now occupies the last spot in the Asia and Pacific region.

While women may be closing the gender gap with men in health and education sectors, they still struggle to get top jobs and salaries, the report says.

“Gaps in senior positions, wages and leadership levels still persist,” even in countries that promote equality in education and have a high level of economic integration among women, the report adds.

Disinvesting in the women

“The low ranking on the index tells us that we are not investing in our girls and women. The level of economic attainment of Pakistan has not benefited women,” said Roshaneh Zafar, Managing Director Kashf Foundation, while speaking to The Express Tribune.

“We need to recognise that gender equality matters for the future progress of the country. We can’t continue this process of disinvesting in 50% of our population, it’s simply untenable. The unfortunate Malala incident is a result of 65 years of such neglect,” Zafar added.

With women making up 50% of countries’ human capital, governments needed to find ways to benefit from their talent, said Saadia Zahidi, senior director at the World Economic Forum.

“If that capital is not invested in, countries are going to lose out in terms of their long-term potential,” she added.

Patriarchal mindset

Women activist and researcher Afiya Zia said the findings of the report did not surprise.

“When all other indicators show a certain trend, the trend will be duplicated in the economic sphere. We cannot blame it on the religion, considering that the status of women is much better in some other Muslim countries,” she said.

“The inherent problem is the patriarchal mindset that trails into the workplace as well, both in the public and private sectors,” added Anis Haroon, Chairperson National Commission on the Status of Women. (With additional input from AFP)

Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2012.

My first by-line at The Express Tribune after I joined on the 22nd of Oct.


Is waqt to youn lagta hai ab kuch bhi nahin hai…. (Faiz)

Is waqt to youn lagta hai ab kuch bhi nahin hai
mahtab na suraj na andhera na sawera
ankhon ke dariche main kisi husn ki jhalkan
aur dil ki panahon main kisi dard ka dera
mumkin hai koi wehem ho mumkin hai suna ho
galiyon main kisi chaap ka ek akhiri phera
shaakhon main khayalon ke ghane per ki shayad
ab aakey karega na koi khwaab basera
ik bair na ik mehr na ik rabt na rishta
tera koi apna na paraya koi mera
mana ke ye sun-saan ghari sakht bari hai
lekin mere dil ye to faqat ek ghari hai
himmat karo jeene ko abhi umr pari hai

Only Once In Your Life…. (By Bob Marley)

This is for all those who have loved and lost. Love can come in your life & knock on your door many times. But the love Bob Marley mentions in this beautiful quote from him comes along but only once. Blessed are those who find such a love, and are lucky enough to be able to keep it. Those who lose it….well….at least they got to experience it. And those who never knew it never really lived a life worth living.

“Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry about what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever. Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it’s like being young again. Colours seem brighter and more brilliant. Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all. A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day’s work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there’s no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby. Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do. Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon. You open your heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.”

How to Win Men, Control them and Keep them

A few years back, a book called “Why men Love Bitches” became a best-seller. It was a smart read. I suspect the smart title was one reason why it was such a big hit.

But the biggest reason was this: Every woman wants to be loved. She wants to progress from being a doormat to a dream girl. And she wants to be loved in a way that she has some autonomy or control over her life, if not his. And what the heck, she deserves it, if she is sincere and devoted. In short, she wants to know how she can win men, control them (without them knowing it, if she is smart) and keep them.

Is this a woman who is assertive and aggressive? One who openly questions patriarchy? One who threatens men?  One who may be seen as a belligerent?

Or is this a woman who intuitively just knows what to do to achieve this objective?

Who is a woman who can successfully control and keep her man?

And if she does want to win, control and keep her man, what is her best bet? How can she do this?

Dale Carnegie was too general for women’s taste buds. She needs to know specifics when it comes to being the boss with men.

This is what this blog is about.

But to get to the gist, read it till the end. Otherwise you might be pelting stones at me for causing rifts between families or spreading hate-speech.

What is your image of a sharp, in-control woman?

We love stereo-typing. And so when presented with this question, we have a certain image in mind. Outspoken. In your face. Telling off everyone. Brash confidence. Yelling on top of her voice….a voice that turns a man into a timid mouse.

Of course, the answers depended on where the person being questioned is coming from. Simple theory of relativity. So the people from a more traditional background think this woman is almost always dressed in without-sleeves, is an economically empowered woman who does not cook, probably smokes and has more male friends than female.

But if the person asked came from a modern set-up and is anything like the above described person, she will think that this is a woman who is smart in a subtle conniving way. She knows how to manipulate her man through her cooking and silaai karhaai (sewing) skills. She has an M Phil in family politics and is a Ph D candidate in “Mard ko qaabu karnay kay chaaless tareeqay” (40 ways to control and subdue a man). She has grown up in a joint family system and is really chalaak (shrewd) behind the miss goody two shoes demeanour.

I am not big on stereo-typing. So to me, this woman can be from any back ground. If we are looking for the word “controlling”, basically it is the same techniques. Just the way it’s done will change according to the context.

 Tried and Tested Techniques to Control Your Man – Are These Myths?

It could be a seedhi saadhi in a lawn ka 3 piece shalwaar kameez who just put the biryani on dum or a woman in a palazzo and a tee stepping out of a coffee meet. End of the day, the same predictable techniques are used. And men fall for them every time. Even those men who have seen the evil Parveen Mumaani adopting the same techniques and have sworn to themselves they will never be manipulated. Men will be men. And in certain instances, one has to say “thank God for that”!

Technique 1:

Go Passive Aggressive. If anything he does or doesn’t do upsets you or you find it irritating, go a little quiet. The desi aurat is usually very good at this stuff. But even the modern women can master the skill. In such a situation, a woman can do any or all of the following: She can bang utensils in the kitchen. She can cook and clean as usual but not sit with him during meals. She can (and this is the ultimate) stop talking to him – the tried and tested “chup kee maar”. He usually may not be interested in or listen to a word of what you rant about on a daily basis, but when you are upset his radars will pop up and he will either ask “kya hua” (what’s wrong) or go out of his way with a guilty look on his face as if he is responsible for destroying world peace.

The important thing here is never, I repeat, NEVER tell him what actually is wrong. Just keep saying “nothing’s wrong” which basically means “everything you ever did is wrong, dude”. The thrill will stay alive. He will rack his brain over what is actually wrong and in the process may actually redeem himself by fixing not one but many of his faults.

Technique 2:

Withhold Affection. Don’t be as lovey dovey as normal. Men don’t notice when it’s all ok, but they are quick to notice when it’s not. So you could eat your meal before him and not wait for him, pretend to be either disinterested or asleep when he attempts to make conversation, or pretend to be busy. Do not ask him “kaisee lag rahee hoon mein” (how do I look?) when you doll up and don’t cook his fav food. And refuse to go to that daawat with him.

Technique 3:

In course of talk, ill-talk about other women and re-iterate how you are the best thing that ever happened to him. And the other women could be celebrities, his exes, his sisters, cousins, friends or even your saasu maa. Start a sentence with “I don’t know how women can do this” and very subtly praise yourself. Or more loudly if he can take it. Brain-wash!!!! Make him feel you are innocent, naïve and kindness personified.

Technique 4:

Always Have a Trump Card Ready. In more olden or desi contexts, the fear of her brothers or the fear that she will go to her mom’s house (or maika as we call it) can be a good threat. You can also bring up your son to be your knight in shining armour, make the dad a bad guy, and make him the “abba agar aap ne ammi ko kuch kaha to….” type son. He will come in handy.

If you are an educated, defiant, emancipated and self-reliant woman, once in a while you should give him the dose of “I can leave you” or start spending more time at work jub tak seedha na ho jaye.

But What Do You Actually Want? To Win and Keep him? Or to Control him?

The above techniques are, sadly, used in societies across the globe in different ways. And if the purpose for these is the almost evil manipulation of the men in our lives, something is wrong with us…..and the us could be the men or the women. Seriously.

Women – If he gives you respect, space and love, why would you want to control him in the first place? Winning his heart, yes, is a good goal, but one should not have to try too hard for it and resort to insidious ways. Otherwise is it really worth it? And keeping him – well, for that you need faith in yourself. And if you have given a 100 % to your relationship and he still decides to walk away or walk apart, maybe you should rethink whether he is that important or not.

And Men – After you have had your last laugh at the above evil techniques or rediscovered that your woman has used some of them on you, think carefully. If she is passive aggressive, may be you don’t allow her to communicate enough. May be you are not open to working out issues. May be she is afraid of your anger and hence has no option but to go passive aggressive or to use the trump cards. May be she praises herself and demeans other women indirectly because she wants appreciation she doesn’t get from you. Maybe withholding affection is her way of making you realize what that feels like when you are cold.

But if either of us attempt to control in the sense of bullying, something is wrong somewhere.

The winning of hearts is an entirely different story. It may require a separate blog altogether.


What actually works is an attitude of mutual respect. Of equality. Of understanding. Of compromise. No one should be the controller, neither the controlled. And for that, no one has to walk ahead. You have to walk hand in hand. Side by side.

For that, honesty works. It does not mean saying any and everything that runs through your mind. It does not mean you don’t use wiser and more intelligent responses. But it does mean that you are inherently sincere to the man or woman in your life. You are not consciously out to control them or to change them or to rob them of a sense of self. You both are there to bring out the best in each other. Complement. Complete. And love each other. In more ways than one.

Would it not be great that instead of controlling him, you could be his wings to fly with? But so beautiful is what you have together that after every flight, he comes back to his nest, which is you?

Of course by flights I do not mean infidelities. And letting each other be does not mean everything is allowed because you are not “controlling”. There are always some basic values in a relationship. And there are adjustments to be made. And those should not be seen as curtailment of freedom.

But if we are having to resort to the Star Plus methods of dominance, something is wrong somewhere. Unconsciously sometimes we may go a little quiet. We may have to make our voice heard through firm behaviour. We may have to make our “person” understand certain things. But the purpose is to win and keep. Not control.

But where to will I run from You, my Beloved?

May the Nur (light) of the Qur’an guide us all

The Qur’an tells many glorious true stories. And the miracle that the Qur’an is, every time I need a lesson or a sign or guidance in life, God brings into my heart via the pages of the Qur’an the message He wants to convey to me. Provided, of course, I reach out to the Qur’an. For God comes to us at speed when we go toward Him walking, but it is we who must take that first step, out of our own free will.

Out of the numerous true stories in the Glorious Qur’an, two have clung to my heart inseparably. One is that of Moosa (as) or Moses, particularly how he evolves as a person in Surah Taha. From prince of Egypt to fleeing assassin to shepherd to the Prophet who leads his people out of bondage and confronts Fir’aun (Pharoah), finally to reach his destination of talking to his Creator. I relate to it in ways I cannot describe.

The Qur’an, you see, like all things beautiful, must be understood through a delicate balance of the heart and mind. And because Wahi (divine revelation) came on the Prophet’s (saw) heart, I do not see any way the Qur’an can be understood but through loving devotion and thoughtful deliberation, with every fibre of your being committed to understand it with positivity. Only when you allow your heart to be an empty vessel in God’s hands can the essence of the Qur’an begin to flow in.

I, obviously, know nothing. All I know is that reading the Qur’an, to me, is an act of worship fueled by His love.

I digressed!

The second story from the Qur’an that never stops knocking on the door of my heart is in Surah at-Taubah.

It is the story of the 3 who stayed back!

Ka’ab Ibn MalikMurarah bin al-Rabee’ and Hilaal bin Umayyah: The 3 blessed, sincere, devoted companions of the Prophet (saw) who had time and again proven their sincerity to Allah, His Messenger (saw) and Islam. But when the Prophet (saw) summoned every Muslim who had the ability to fight in the name of Allah for the tough battle of Tabuk, these 3 stayed behind!

The others who stayed behind were either the disable or the hypocrites. The hypocrites were of course lured by the pull of money, for it was date harvest season. Also, the journey was to be one of inconvenience. The sweltering Arabian desert heat kept them back.

But these 3 simply procrastinated. Like we all do, many a time, they intended well but delayed a good deed.

Regret set in when it was too late to join the troops.

On his return the Prophet (saw) said nothing to the hypocrites. But these 3 were worth salvaging. And so they were taught a lesson.

The story is best told in an account in the words of Ka’ab ibn Maalik (ra). And reading this story in detail if you have not already is a must. (

When the Prophet (saw) asked him his reason for staying back, Ka’ab told the truth like very few can in such a circumstance would. He said: “… Allâh, if I was in the presence of any other man from amongst the inhabitants of this World, I would avoid his wrath by presenting an excuse for I have been granted the ability to speak in an eloquently persuasive manner. However, I am aware that if I utter a lie today in order to seek your pleasure, certainly Allâh will cause you to become enraged with me in the future. Alternatively, if I inform you of the truth, thereby causing you to become angry, I may nevertheless hope for Allâh’s Pardon. No, By Allâh I have no excuse to present. I had never before been stronger nor wealthier than during the time I neglected to accompany you.”

The Messenger of Allâh (saw)replied: “In relation to this man – he has spoken the truth. Therefore, stand until Allâh pronounces judgment in this matter.”

When something is worth saving, it is saved by Allah in ways He alone Knows the wisdom of. Those ways are often painful. And teach us lessons we understand the importance of years later. Or may be never in this lifetime.

And so, these 3 who were worth saving, were taught the lesson of their life!

A boycott of 50 days by the community. Ordained by Allah. The pain of not having even the Prophet (saw) talk to them. Even their families showing a disgruntled attitude to convey what it meant to them to say “Labbaik” (I am here) to the call of Allah, and what saying no to that call could result in.

Every time I read Ka’ab’s account, my eyes are filled with tears. For so true was this man’s faith that even while being so severely reprimanded, he never questioned the Prophet’s (saw) decision. Rather, he connected himself more and more with Allah in those days of isolation.

He said: “On the morning of the fiftieth night, I performed the Fajr prayer upon the roof of one of our houses. I was experiencing a condition which Allâh had mentioned in the Book: ‘My soul had become contracted, and the earth had contracted upon me despite its vastness.'”

Eventually, glad tidings came through the verses of the Qur’an. “He also forgave the three who remained behind…” [Qur’ân 9:118]. It is legend how the same community which had boycotted them welcomed them back and healed that pain.

The 3 had been taught a lesson the hard way. Just like sometimes Allah teaches us a lesson the hard way.

We wonder why we didn’t get admission in a certain college. Why we didn’t get married to a certain person. Why we were fired from a certain job. Why did this and that happens.

And then, faith steps in and reminds us that Allah wanted you to learn something no book could teach, but only time could. Only hardship could. Only loss could.

Particularly, THIS is the verse that has stuck to my heart as the ultimate reality:


And [He also forgave] the three who were left behind [and regretted their error] to the point that the earth closed in on them in spite of its vastness and their souls confined them and they were certain that there is no refuge from Allah except in Him. Then He turned to them so they could repent. Indeed, Allah is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful. (Qur’an 9:118)

There is no refuge from Allah except in Him…..there is no refuge from Allah except in Him.

This makes me think of a little child….the mother reprimands him, he cries and still hides his face in his mother’s lap. What other place could be a better sanctuary?

And Allah, Ar-Rahman, loves us more than 70 mothers’ love put together, as a hadith tells us.

So when we are in trials…..trials that are ordained by Him, and also the trials we bring upon ourselves through our callousness and neglect, whom do we turn to to save us from Allah’s displeasure but to Allah Himself?  Where do we run to where He is not with us? For we are like animals in a safari….we live on this earth, deluded by our limited freedom, that we are free. But where do we run to from Allah’s jurisdiction? From His domain?

And do we actually want to run away from Him? In a world so fleeting where change is the only constant, the one relationship never changing is between God and His creations – us.

We suffer change and grief and loss. Parents die. Siblings move away. Friends change. Kids grow up. Love becomes stale. Break-ups happen. Marriages whither.

And through it all, whom are we naturally drawn to when we feel weak, alone, isolated, vulnerable? Allah and Allah alone.

People come and go as do jobs and joys and sorrows.

But Allah is the only constant.

The sooner we realize this the better. For He is the One who decides to bring a certain trial on us to teach us a lesson, but He is also the only one who has the power to replace sorrow with laughter and anxiety with peace.

In Defence of the Mullah


Visualise this. There is a guy with blood shot eyes, a kill-joy demeanor, a furrowing brow, wearing his shalwar nearly up to the knees and beard reaching down to the knees. You hear him say “haaza haraam” to everything while unnecessarily using a heavily-accented Arabic. He has more than one wife, probably, and multitudes of children; with no inkling about what’s happening in the world and living in a bubble (somewhat similar to how the Americans look at life, maybe?). He wears a suicide jacket or maybe only gives khutbas that endorse that ideology while carrying an invisible gun of hatred for the minorities. And to add to that, his hair has to be dripping with oil and he must burp loudly after every meal, praising Allah.

The above is a stereo-typical profile of what we call a “Mullah” in Pakistan. That is how we imagine a Mullah and expect a Mullah to be; more obnoxious maybe, but not less. ShoMan’s (Shoaib Mansoor) famous Lollywood flick “Bol” (which was more sermonic than any khutba and had scores of over-lapping social issues taken up in an over-dose) had the brilliant actor Manzar Sehbai in the role of the fundo-mullah “Hakeem Sahab”. With eyebrows that reminded one of curtains that flutter with a breeze, a despicable holier-than-thou attitude and the most bizarre interpretations of things, Hakeem Sahab was shown as the stereo-typical Mullah – he hated daughters and beat his wife and….the works!

Characters in movies and teleplays which give a stereo-typical image of the Mullah are abundant. One such play is on air as this blog goes into print – a play in which the religious man rushes to the mosque five times a day and also religiously ridicules and insults his wife at least five times a day.

Mullah bashing is our country’s intelligentsia’s favourite sport and now ours too after terrorism affected the future of cricket in Pakistan. It’s fun, it costs nothing (except that you have got be social media savvy-cum-troll to do this) doesn’t make you sweat or disrupt your couch potato routine. Plus it gives you a serious high! One umbrella term “Mullah” and you can get away with any kind of catharsis and venting, just like with the one term “Rumi” you can announce to the world that you are a spiritually evolved, deep being.

While not every symptom of the Mullah syndrome is exaggerated, many are. In a post-Zia reactionary Pakistan ‘Mullah’ is a bad word with a negative connotation.  In reality, it is not so simplistic. To begin with, we have to carefully look who we term as a Mullah. Liberals (I have to use this term, reeking of compartmentalization only because it is most easily understood) will usually see a person with a certain outward signs of being a strictly practicing Muslim and often, if not always, assume a lot of what is written above. There is anger and bitterness against this breed which makes people pass comments like “Mullahs have high jacked Islam” and “Who are Mullahs to tell us what Islam is?”

Let us attempt to understand the two broad divisions of people that we usually tag as Mullahs. The first is the scholars, the preachers, the Imams and the teachers; people who have taken upon themselves the tough job of trying to keep religious knowledge alive. With an increased awareness about religion, a re-kindled curiosity in Islam and more readily available literary sources have made studying religion easy on a personal level. That in itself is a very positive attitude. Half-baked knowledge, however, is often more perilous than no knowledge at all. For this, each one of us wants to stop relying on the above mentioned group of Mullahs. We all wish to do our own ijtihaad and we think that following them and the varied interpretations of certain rulings of Islam is an insult to our intelligence and spirituality. Hence, each one of us wishes to be an aalim in our own right. We are willing to learn about every subject in the world from experts but not Islam. In that, we want to indulge into “self-medication”.

The reader should not misunderstand me here. I am cent per cent in favour of studying, discovering and understanding religion on our own. I am also aware that in this world of egoistic human beings, even men of faith and scholars fall into the dangerous pitfall of churning out fatwaas that have hidden agendas. Assuming that all Ulama (Islamic scholars) have hidden agendas therefore writing them all off and believing that we can figure out everything on our own seems to be an unnaturally simplistic and naïve attitude. In defense of this type of Mullahs, I would say that there are gems among these – wise and learned; both in religious sciences as well as in spirituality, genuine people who see religion as a tool that benefits humanity.

The second type of Mullah is of course the archetypical one. The village simpleton whose parents put him in amadrassa at age 7 where he grows up memorizing the Quran not out of love but compulsion, a regular victim of caning for every mistake. This Mullah, it is true, knows very little about the world outside his bubble. He has had very little exposure and is easily high-jacked by extremists if he is not one himself already. This is the one that we usually avoid but are dependent upon for nikaah or shrouding and burial rituals, simply because we, the intelligent Muslims, do not know enough duas and rites ourselves.

Among these, there are also the soft-hearted true worshippers of Allah whose soul is pure, and who impact lives in a positive way. We often quote the Mukhtar Mai incident when we talk about the patriarchal Mullah-driven women’s rights’ violations. However, we forget that it was the village Imam who supported Mukhtar. Many of Pakistan’s most credible charities are steered by men of God who may not be the most educated in a worldly way, but know enough to know that the quickest way to attain the pleasure of Allah is to serve humanity.

There is also a third type of Mullahs emerging these days. They are modern, tech-savvy and have probably studied in universities abroad. You will find them tweeting both fun things and religious things on their iPhones while combing through their beards with their fingers. They are pleasant, amiable and believe in peace and harmony. They have a tough job as they are somewhere in the middle, struggling with moderation.

Stereo-typing is a dangerous sport, as is Mullah-bashing when done in a non-discerning manner. To be gullible and absorb any and every narrative from the microphone of a mosque and everything coming from a podium is a crime. But so is to write off every good soul attempting to re-connect humanity’s weakened connection with the Creator. These are dangerous times. We have to make cautious and informed decisions. However, apathy towards religion and religious people is something we do not have the liberty of doing.

Originally published here: