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Ramazan shows are like a slice of Pakistan: A bit of religion followed by a lot of gossip

Published: June 15, 2016

These shows are a reflection of what is going on in our society. These Ramazan shows are a slice of Pakistan today. A bit of religion followed by a bit of gossip and a bit of extravagance and a bit of unethical humiliation of someone who cannot stop us from doing so and a bit of retail therapy – all in a single breath.

For those of us who grew up watching PTV, religious shows were an integral and beneficial part of the daily routine. Anything that came on PTV, we watched. As a member of the PTV generation, I grew up watching the daily afternoon show where the recitation of the Holy Quran was taught, and I don’t recall missing Majlis-e-Shaam-e-Gharibaan on any tenth ofMuharram, even as a Sunni.

Religion, as presented on TV back then, was something to be respected and honoured on the media. I recall care being taken even about the kind of advertisements that were run between religious shows, if they were any at all.

But then the Aalim Online era begun. Make no mistake; as an objective bystander I appreciate the fact that Aalim Online was the first show that brought Islamic scholars of different schools of thought on the same podium, and acted as an interfaith forum of sorts. Many similar shows followed, providing useful information.

But then something dangerous happened. These shows started bringing in ratings. And advertisements. And money. Ramazan, followed by Eid is of course heyday for marketeers and consumerists. Therefore, religious shows were morphed into Ramazan religious shows – all in one type – with the azaan, religious scholars and verses of the Holy Quran in one hour and full throttle live entertainment show the next.

Every one followed this trend. Money kept rolling in. Ramazan’s spirit of giving was abused into marketing gimmickry. Thousands of motorbikes are given away to people who are willing to sacrifice their self-respect and let their humiliation be broadcasted for it. Karachi’s legendary killer motorbiker boys keep increasing on the streets of a city where 23 million or more reside, but there is no dependable public transport system.

Sadly enough, these shows are a reflection of what is going on in our society. These Ramazan shows are a slice of Pakistan today. A bit of religion followed by a bit of gossip and a bit of extravagance and a bit of unethical humiliation of someone who cannot stop us from doing so and a bit of retail therapy – all in a single breath. It may be very easy for the affluent upper tier Pakistanis to judge the people coming on these shows for that motorbike and say,

In kee koi izzat e nafs nahin?”

(Don’t they have any self-respect?)

But the reality is that in a society with such drastic socio-economic disparity, we often cannot relate to what winning a motorbike or a mobile-phone means to the masses. They struggle every day and pretend to be carrying on a comfortable life, but in reality are exhausted by financial crunches.

Here we are, witnessing the beautiful spirit of this month being hijacked by money making machines. These shows, for instance, Pak Ramzan Amir Liaquat Show and Jeeto Pakistanwith Fahad Mustafa, in the long run, will have disastrous and sustained effects on our social fabric. Some are beginning to show already. Thanks to the fact that gifts are given even if the person does not know the answer to “which are Pakistan’s neighbouring countries?” the bar for intelligent general knowledge quizzes is not just being lowered but has been smashed. Levels are also being lowered with regards to collective entertainment. Publicly ridiculing others is considered funny, or people pretend that it is funny because the host is often being praised collectively, so that s/he is happy with the audience and gives away a gift.

There is certain decorum – call it adab, if you may – that is required for religious and spiritual messages to permeate a heart. When that is absent, the soul does not absorb the beautiful messages Ramazan is transmitting to it. When a large part of our post-iftar eve is spent watching these shows even though we criticise them, something inside us dies.

What’s worse is that the few genuinely informative and interesting religious shows that are on television in Ramazan, such as Baran e Rehmat with Hamza Ali Abbasi, also lose their credibility due to the blanket assumption of viewers that all Ramazan special shows are just the same sub-standard offering. The genuine scholars are respected less due to those who have not yet embodied the beautiful spirit of Ramazan, and in fact of Islam. Thus, some genuinely good shows no longer get the recognition they deserve.

Do the hosts and producers of these shows realise what a powerful medium they have in their hands, and how productively this could be used to propagate the real ideals of Ramazan like charity, hospitality, simplicity, love and compassion?

Maybe it’s time to make it a regular dua in Ramazan that may Allah (SWT) guide those who have been given this power to use it responsibly.

To Amir Liaquat Hussain about Taher Shah & the big snake

Mr Amir Liaquat Hussain

Assalamualikum.

You have done a lot of things in the past that have scandalized, traumatized and shocked people. More evolved people, at least. But you have a huge fan following of naive masses who still are head over heels over you. You know very well, sir, how to win them over. You are very entertaining to some. And so you have been going on.

As someone who is always the devil’s advocate and likes to see the good side in people, I have always liked to think that you, like all of us, are a combination of good and bad. Secondly, no matter what, you talk with love and reverence about our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw). And so I always try and give you the benefit of doubt.

But this time, Amir Sahab, you have pushed it to far. And it is better that I say it to you directly as an open letter, rather than back-biting about you.

In yesterday’s Amaan Ramzan transmission of GEO, aired at Iftar time on 25th July 2013, you publicly humiliated and insulted this singer called Taher Shah who sang the viral song “Eye to Eye”. You made fun of him, embarrassed him, touched the grown man’s hair and brought attention to it in an offensive manner, cut short his song as he tried to sing, and you put a huge snake on his shoulders.

To Taher Shah, I digress and give a very short message: Sorry that this happened, Taher. But you should have known what you are getting into. And for the record after seeing you insulted like that, I am feeling remorse that I laughed about your Eye to Eye, although it was hard not to, but I accept I should have done better than mock.

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Coming back to Amir Liaquat Sahab. Well, sir, this has nothing to do with Taher Shah really, or about one particular show. My worry and concern is at deeper levels.

The first and foremost is that people call you, for reasons best known to them, an Islamic scholar and as a member of clergy. And that places HUGE responsibility on your shoulders. Because you are the most prominent pop tv cleric as they are calling you, people associate everything you do with Islamic scholars. We, the human race, love to stereo-type and pass sweeping generalized statements. We make people heroes too quickly and write them off too soon. And so I have heard friends say “ALL Islamic tv shows, specially in Ramadan, are drama. They will do anything for ratings. Look at Dr Amir! They are ALL the same.” Fact is, they are not! I have heard humble and peace-loving Muftis and Aalims on tv imparting their knowledge, some of them not there for money or ratings but simply because they feel they must share the knowledge they have. It is disturbing to see that they are being doubted because of something that someone else might be doing.

Secondly, I have honestly and sporadically respected you for the fact that your love of Rasool Ullah (saw) is so intense. When you initially became a celeb, your naats and the way you talked about the Sunnah of Rasool Ullah (saw) and his life and times was very motivating. But what’s happening now, sir, is that in the same sitting you are mocking people which is against the Sunnat of my beloved, may upon him be peace, and you are also reciting durood. Yes, we all make those mistakes at times. And we shouldn’t. But with honour comes responsibility. You, sir, represent a lot more than the average man. Your voice is heard by millions and your sentiments are echoed across the globe. You need to be more careful with the trust people have vested in you.

Many feel that your current way of distributing gifts in your shows when they answer questions is unethical. I don’t think so. “Neelam Ghar” is legend in Pakistan, and you are filling that gap. So good for you. But how come people respected Tariq Aziz sahab so much but you are under such tough scrutiny? Because it all depends on HOW something is executed. You need to re-think how you are doing it.

Other morning shows have also been known to have orphan or abandoned children given to couples who wish to adopt. Why did it make to the international media when you did the same? Why did it hurt people so when you gave that baby away? Again, sir, its the way you did it. On one side lawn and motor bikes were given away and on another a human baby! That is simply in bad taste.

There is nothing wrong if media persons, to encourage people to take parent-less children as their own, with legalities and background check, have such things on their shows, though it’s debatable if such private things should be done on media in the first place. But if the element of respect and decorum is missing, it even makes a good act unsavoury.

Please re-think all that you are doing and the precedent that you are setting. Otherwise you may be the most watched anchor person but not the most respected.

Let’s give Shaista Wahidi a break

April 10, 2013

I’m not a Shaista Lodhi fan, but i was irked by how people on social media kept taking her divorce as “a big drama”. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Shaista Wahidi, sometimes referred to as Dr Shaista or Shaista Lodhi is Sahir Lodhi’s sister. The brother-sister duo have a way of ruffling both the wrong feathers and the right ones; they can be called ‘famous’ or ‘infamous’.

Shaista is one of Pakistani television’s most known faces. People have loved her and have been irritated by her simultaneously, but have not been able to ignore her. We have talked about her antics, her typical laughter in which she covers her face with her hand, her metamorphosis in how her face looks and have broken her down multiple times.

One of the most consistent faces on the mini screen, she disappeared for a few months, only to appear again on a promo the night before her re-venturing on Geo’s morning show. While Shaista looked the same, perhaps a bit slimmer than usual (which has also been inviting speculation), something about her had changed. Skimming through channels, once I caught sight of her on this show, I couldn’t change the channel. While it was very obviously a promo show meant to create hype of her return to the mega screen, parts were real – one could see a real person beneath the glamour.

She was asked about what she did in this hiatus of a few months and she confessed to having re-discovered her faith and religion, of having started to enjoy her namaz. She said she had found what she took too long to discover. She was moved to tears, almost choking, as she shared how she had discovered realities of faith. An almost worried Ahsan Khan hosting the show called for a break.

For those who still wondered, Shaista confirmed that she was no longer married to the father of her children. She said as to ‘why’ the marriage didn’t last, this was her personal business but maintained that her children’s father is a “very good father” and that she didn’t intend on bad-mouthing him on TV.

(Shaista with her children. PHOTO: PUBLICITY)

And this is the point where this blog needed to be written.

Here was a woman going through what was  very clearly a tough time in her life. She paid the price for being a celebrity and gracefully handled the questions, rather than pretending that this chapter never happened in her life.

Yet, in a very typical voyeuristic pattern, while people devoured the air time and watched Shaista carefully on the show, social media in the following hours started showing comments in which everybody thought all she did was “a big drama”. Sadly, when it comes to celebrities, we are mind-readers, clairvoyants and know-it-alls.

Being a woman and a mother, I know what a soft spot children hold in a parent’s heart. I believe that people suggesting that Shaista was using her divorce and children to gain publicity was callous. Why do we assume the worst of celebrities, it baffles me.

Others were upset as to why she talked about her divorce on television. “How low can these celebrities go for fame?” they were asking on social media.

(Shaista Lodhi with her husband before they got divorced. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT)

I am not trying to be the devil’s advocate, but simply in the spirit of empathy, I imagined what any woman would do in her situation.

In a live television show, with live calls from the viewership, any and every kind of question can be asked. A media person in her position does not have the liberty of pretending that something never happened; she has to face what happened and be answerable even in the most intimate matters of her life.

That must be tough.

Ironically, one of the most difficult things for a woman to live up to is divorce in our society, and playing directly in to this statement was peoples’ response on Shaista’s divorce.

On Shaista finding solace in God, there were crude prophecies that “Shaista will play her religion card in the upcoming Ramadan. It is a publicity gimmick!”.

It is also not easy for people here to accept that one is drawn towards religion. A backlash starts, in which a person is placed under a microscope, in which perfection is expected. Celebrities who have begun to tilt towards religion have had a tough time in our society. Ironically, those very people who feel as though religious people are too judgmental are quick to judge those who as much as mention a connection with God.

But for me the saddest part is how bitter and mistrusting we have become. Celebrity or not, we no longer take people at face value and assume negative intentions on the part of others. We call it realism.

We call believing what people say naivety.

This is surprising when we are all too willing to wipe a tear on listening to celebrities talk their hearts out on Oprah, but we seem to just scoff and mock when those closer to home do the same.

Dr Shaista is not known to me and I am not particularly a fan of the woman, but she is a woman on a journey like all of us and has had some ups and downs in her life. It is not my place to decide whether her decisions were right or wrong, nor can I say with surety what is in her heart. All I can do is wish her the best of luck, and get on with my life.

Shouldn’t we all do the same?

What will we achieve from ripping her dignity to shards?

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter @FarahnazZahidi

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/16863/lets-give-shaista-wahidi-a-break/