Training engineers when the nation needs poets

Pakistan was founded by poets. Our heritage is found in the words of those who understood and related to the world using their hearts as well as their minds. They understood that the world was too complex for easy answers, and they left a legacy not of formulaic solutions but of words that require thought and interpretation. Sometime ago, however, we began down another path. We saw the world breaking away in a technological revolution that seemed to provide better lives through science. As we sought the luxury and privilege that science could bring, our poetic heritage fell out of fashion. Today the dream of every family is for children to become doctors or engineers. But somehow this has not translated into the scientific utopia that we expected. Could it be that we have trained too many engineers, when what our nation needs is actually poets?

Hajrah Mumtaz’s column in Dawn is an excellent explanation of the problem that has resulted from our obsession with science over humanities.

Science teaches certainties that have the equivalent of a moral upper hand through being absolutely and invariably correct. In this way, we have in people the inclination to either totally accept as right, or totally reject as wrong, ideas and attitudes. And so, quite possibly, we have a society that is one step closer to allowing extreme viewpoints or ideologies to take root.

Students of the social sciences and humanities, by contrast, are taught to navigate their way through endless possibilities with no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to light the path. Philosophy, history, literature, anthropology, etc are all areas that require the student to traverse the grey areas and the ‘what ifs’, where the only moral upper hand can be logic and rational, coherent debate. These subjects ask the student to take in context and connections and search for alternatives.

And Hajrah is not the first to notice link between engineers and an intolerant, unrealistic mindset

According to personality experts, engineers are more likely than humanities students to view society like a big machine. And when that machine breaks down, engineers often tend to think it can be fixed by eliminating the so-called bad parts and replacing them with good ones. This clear distinction between right and wrong, good and bad, broken and fixed, appeals to scientific minds, which are more likely to be troubled by the idea that life might have messy moral gray -areas. It’s a mindset of “either the equation works or it doesn’t,” says Mitchell Silber, head of intelligence analysis for the New York Police Department. Silber says this mentality helps explain why engineers are more likely to make literal interpretations of Islamic holy writings that appear to call for violence or jihad.

This is a mindset that I worry is becoming increasingly common: the view that if we can just fix what is wrong, then all will be fine in society. We even hear scientific analogies used to describe the problems: Corruption is ‘cancer’, politicians are a ‘weak link’. These analogies provide easy solutions: Cut out the cancer and we will be cured, replace the weak link of the chain and we will be strong.

But society is not a body or a bridge. Politics is not medicine or engineering. What we are suffering from is not a broken leg or a faulty carburetor that can be mended. Our ailment is in the soul, and the answer cannot come from science. There is no pill that can cure us.

Actually, this dilemma is not new. Prophet Sulaiman (PBUH) is revered for his wisdom and judgment, and this wisdom comes not from science but from the understanding of the human heart and the soul as given him by Allah. Approached by the shepherd and farmer, an engineer or a doctor might have advised as Prophet Dawud (PBUH) to give up the sheep as compensation though this would surely ruin the shepherd. This is the ‘black and white’ understanding of the case. But Prophet Sulaiman (PBUH) saw a better way – on that restored the farmer without ruining the shepherd in the transaction. The wisdom that Allah gave to Prophet Sulaiman (PBUH) was the wisdom of the poet, not the training of the engineer. Is it any coincidence that the Holy Quran was revealed in verse?

I have never heard a single person argue that any of the political parties are without fault. Political parties are made of men, and men are imperfect. Show me a man who has no mistakes in his past, who is thoroughly without fault. Show me the man of impeccable character in the world who does not, even only to himself, look back over his life with some feeling of regret over things done or not done. Show me this man, and I will eat my own shoe. So why do we keep looking for the leader of impeccable character, for the secret formula for success?

The body may be like a machine, with bones and muscles and organs that function together to keep us alive. But we are more than merely the bodies that we inhabit. Doctors and engineers play a vital role in our society. They fix the machines by keeping us healthy, giving us bridges that do not collapse, and buildings that shelter us from the elements.

But we must not neglect that other part of our selves that is not body but soul. Recall the words of Rumi, that deepest influence on our own Allama Iqbal.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

This field beyond the ‘black and white’ world of wrongdoing and rightdoing is the place not only for lovers and friends, but for politics especially. It is here that we will find the answers we are looking for over laughter and tears. It is in this field that we will come to understand not only each other, but ourselves also.

The Real Blasphemy

the real blasphemy

The case of Aasya who has been sentenced to death under blasphemy laws exposes the real blasphemy that is taking place under our very own eyes and it may not be what you think.

According to a report in Express Tribune, Aasya was accused by Qari Salim of denying the prophet hood of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But as her attorney SK Shahid explains quite correctly, “how can we expect a Christian to affirm to Muslim belief?”

This is an important point that we must think about. If denying the prophet hood is punishable by death, then must that mean that all Muslims are actually under penalty of death, does it not? If you accept the prophet hood then you are Muslim according to Shahadah.

But putting to death anyone who is not Muslim, even putting to death anyone just for denying the prophet hood of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is against Sunnah! It was the prophet himself who established Dastur al-Medina was it not? This was the prophet himself establishing the law that did not require death to any Jew or Christian but gave them their own rights to co-exist peacefully.

Also, does not the Qur’an also refuse the idea of killing non-Muslims simply for their beliefs?

Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.


I am no cleric but I can use the brain and the reason that Allah granted to me. I can use my own eyes to read the words of Qur’an and study the life of the Prophet. And it seems to me that it is obvious that the real blasphemy is coming from such practices as we see agaist Aasya. And I am not the only one who can see this obvious fact. Mansoor Raza wrote in Dawn the following:

At the recent PR seminar, Dr. Zaheer mentioned that even though there are several mentions of blasphemy committed by the polytheists of Makkah and hypocrites of Madinah against Islam and its Prophet (PBUH), no worldly punishment has even been hinted at in the Qur’an.

Instead, the Qur’an urges Muslims to ignore what the blasphemers were doing, to not participate when they blaspheme, and create circumstances that do not allow blasphemy to take place. Dr. Zaheer pointed out that Muslims must apologise to non-Muslims for the unwarranted crimes in the past committed against them in the name of religion to ease tensions. He stated that Muslims should condemn, or at least not hold those individuals as their heroes, who murdered non-Muslims accused of blasphemy because they become inspirational to the youth of the community.

But if that was not even the worst, which surely it must be, the National Commission for Justice and Peace has declared that “up to 80 percent of the time blasphemy charges are filed against people to settle personal scores.”

We witnessed a terrible mass killing of Christians only one year earlier in Gojra which was also originally justified by blasphemy laws only to learn after investigation that the claims were false.

This is what has caused Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) to declare that the laws should be abolished.

‘It’s an arbitrary law, which has been badly misused by extremists and influentials and should be abolished,’ said Iqbal Haider, co-chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

‘There is no option but to abolish this law. More than that, the government should revive the secular nature of the state as our founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah envisaged, otherwise it will aggravate religious unrest,’ he said.

This is not Islam that justifies such killings. It is only evil that can justify such an act. We must stop giving killers some excuse by providing the justification of blasphemy laws. This is a left over from the rule of Zia-ul-Haq which was not Islamic but a cynical exploitation of religion as attempt to control the people for his own agenda.

Some people say that the laws cannot be revisited now because it will cause extremists to commit violence as a backlash. But I hate to be the one to tell the news that extremists are already attacking this country.

You cannot eliminate the menace of extremism by giving in to their demands. By building a society of tolerance and peace as envisioned by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and before him Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Only then will this madness come to end.

We have to protect our women and children

O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness…on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity.
Qur’an 4:19

The peaceful religion of Islam came to be known at a time of much oppression against women. Its teachings sought to directly stop the brutal treatment against women that was so common in society. Holy Qur’an, as revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him), emphasizes again and again the value of women and the respect and love with which all people should treat one another.

The message of the Prophet (pbuh) was to all of humanity. The term “mankind” acknowledges no difference between man or woman.

O mankind: Reverence your Guardian Lord Who created you.
Qur’an 4:1

Islam firmly rejected the common practice of infanticide, and further still encouraged parents to love and nurture their daughters.

When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned for what crime she was killed.
Qur’an 81-89

When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child) his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance and) contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on!
Qur’an 16:58-59

Economically, Islam revolutionized property rights and inheritance by granting women what was owed to them and more. Not only did Islam grant women greater financial opportunity than had ever been known before, but it gave them pretty biased financial security! Along with keeping her inheritance, a married woman did not have to spend a penny on her household – she was to be entitled to all her husband’s earnings in the upkeep of her home. Muslim women were to be guaranteed safety throughout their lives – as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and yes, even as divorcees.

Marriage, repeatedly described as a beautiful bond between two people, can only take place with the full consent of the bride and the groom. Divorce is allowed as an absolute last resort, but it is permissible in Islam.

And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah and His messenger.
Qur’an 9:71

So why then have Islamic countries become so morally bankrupt? The same cruel attitudes towards women that Islam worked to eradicate are still in place – in the NAME of Islam. What an ugly twisting of Islam’s message.

Take for example the concept of “Jirga Justice.” In Pakistan, groups of men convene to discuss local issues and problems in an effort to resolve them. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The only problem is that these jirgas are perfect examples of the violence and evils done to women in society.

In a recent jirga in Shikarpur, a tribesman accused two men of having improper relations with two of his wives. This tribesman had killed both those wives a month ago, but now wanted punishment for the two men as well. The jirga decided two girls, aged 12, and 9, would be married off into the complainant’s family. Thus, the matter was resolved.

In this scenario, we can see the disgusting disregard for the basic rights of women. It should be noted the jirga expressed no concern for the two women the complainant killed a month ago. There was no declaration of their rights. They had none. As for the two girls, 9-year old Shami would be married to a teenage boy and 12-year old Sadia would marry a man 30 years older than she was.

There is no Islam in a society that uses women as currency. There is no faith in a culture that allows jirgas to order murders and rapes as proper punishment. This reveals a gross disconnect with the Prophet’s message, one he not only preached but also lived. His first wife, (and the first woman to convert to Islam), was the esteemed Khadija. She was an intelligent businesswoman and respected in society. The Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, was beloved to him, and he cared for her just as the Qur’an asks all parents treat their children.

Thus, the practice of using women as currency is not just inhumane it is patently unIslamic. In today’s Islamic Republic of Pakistan, we can see much rioting and anger for the treatment of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui (a woman accused and then tried in a court of law), and complete silence for the millions of women who suffer within its borders.

Are they not “Quam ki Betiya,” or the nation’s daughters?

Perhaps the saddest thing about all of this is that there actually are laws against jirgas. Pakistan’s judicial system has found they usurp the power of the state and are therefore unconstitutional. Such was the ruling of the Sindh Court in 2004.

The struggle against oppression has begun. The courts have done their job and found that rulings that violate human rights are unconstitutional. Now it is up to the people to take legal action and raise awareness of such issues. The conclusion we can draw from this is that only through democracy can we protects the rights of all people. In Pakistan’s short history, the decades of martial law and military dictatorship have allowed governments to tread on the rights of anyone they dislike. In a successful democracy, that cannot be allowed to happen. It is a system of government that gives voice to the voiceless, and like Islam, does not differentiate between male citizens and female citizens. We have come very far in having these laws on the books but the work (evidently) does not end there.

Allowing such treatment to continue is no different than siding with the Taliban, for these are their practices, their perversions of our faith. Eliminating the chaos and killings the Taliban wreak on Pakistanis starts with the simple step of condemning their ideas. In a recent press release, the US State Dept strongly condemned the stoning of a woman in Orakzai, by members of the Pakistani Taliban. She was murdered as a crowd of onlookers watched, as though this was a form of entertainment for the public. In order to put a stop to this, the condemnations must come from within. Pakistanis must realize that the nation, its people’s safety and future depend on taking action now. At such a critical juncture, we must decide what our principles are and how to guard them against barbaric men.

We have to protect our women and children.

In the name of humanity, and in the name of Islam.

As Pakistanis, we should not see a difference between the two.

New Study: Pakistani Youth Are Moderates

Pakistani youth are serious about their own religion, but do not want to impose it on other people, a new study conducted by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) has revealed.

The latest issue of ‘Conflict and Peace Studies’, a quarterly research journal of the institute carries the outcome of the study focussed at examining the thinking patterns of Pakistan’s youth, the Daily Times reported.

According to the PIPS survey involving postgraduate students from 16 public and private universities and postgraduate public colleges across the country, 92.4 per cent respondents overwhelmingly considered religion to be an important factor in their lives, though 51.7 percent admitted that they did not offer prayers regularly.

In what may come as a surprise to many, 79.4 per cent of the surveyed Pakistani youth thought that the Pakistani Taliban did not serve the cause of Islam.

While 85.6 per cent respondents believed that suicide bombings were prohibited in Islam, 61.7 per cent people supported military operations in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

According to the survey, 95 per cent Pakistani youth favoured women education. (ANI)

How to respond to Quran burning idiots

I hope you had a beautiful Eid. For the most part, I did. The only thing that threatened to sully it was this idiot in America who was organizing a burning of Quran. But I was not going to let him have the satisfaction of ruining this most special day for me and my family. I wouldn’t let him have the satisfaction of anything of the sort. In fact, if he would have been here, I would have invited him to eat with us.

Wait, what? That’s right. I would have invited him to eat with us. Sounds strange? It shouldn’t. If I ignore him, he will only carry on with his media stunt (because that’s all it really is, isn’t it). If I yell and scream at him, I am just feed the monster. But if I open my home and invite him in; if I embrace him and hold him close, then what choice does he have but to stop his madness?

Think about Surah 41:34

The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity (will become) as though he was a bosom friend.

Hating is easy. It is the work of the devil himself. What else do we see that brings such death and destruction into the world? This man in American – I will not call him cleric or pastor or any other holy title, for he is only a man – this man is doing the work of the devil. He is trying to sow hatred so that the devil can reap death. We do not need any more hatred. What we need is love and forgiveness.

Think about Surah 3:133-134

And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord; and a Garden, the extensiveness of which is (as) the heavens and the earth, it is prepared for those who guard (against evil). Those who spend (benevolently) in ease as well as in straightness, and those who restrain (their) anger and pardon men; and Allah loves the Muhsineen (doers of good (to others).

I did laugh a bit when I read today that Daily Times called this man a ‘Taliban of a different faith’. Anyone who will burn Holy Quran or bomb a mosque or slaughter Christians in Gojra or children in Palestine or Jews in New York City…all of these are of the same faith. The faith of hatred and death. And this is against the word of Allah and the teachings of the Prophet (SAW).

The responsibility is for us to guard ourselves and ensure that we do not become one of this evil faith, that we keep to the word of Allah in principle and not only in our symbols. The Daily Times issues a warning that we would all be well to heed:

Last but not least, let us look within ourselves. Muslims the world over, including Pakistan, have been denying and abusing the rights of people from other faiths. Whether it was the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban or the murderous rampage against minorities in Pakistan where churches, temples and houses of worship have been targeted, we have all acted like the pastor at some time in our history. Point to ponder.

Point to ponder, indeed.