Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) - Message for Contemporary Time

(Discourse during Jalsa Seeratun Nabi (PBUH) in Calgary April 29, 2018)

Good evening and wish for peace for everyone

First, I would like to thanks to the organizers for giving me this opportunity to talk in this very special event. Ladies and gentlemen from last 14 centuries Prophet Mohammad PBUH’s teachings are inspiring millions of people around the globe, in Islamic faith he is the last messenger of God.

In this short discourse, I would like to focus on Prophet Mohammad’s teachings from secular point of view and how we can get guidance from his teachings to improve our behavior and relation with other fellow humans in our time.

To comprehend the teachings of prophets, reformers, philosophers or revolutionaries we must know the time and space they came into this world. Like ordinary humans, these great and holy personalities also live in their time. Just imagine if somebody don’t live in their own time then he/she would be irrelevant from the community/society he is going to reform. Although they lived in the civilization and culture of that time but their vision provides gateway for the future. With this fundamental we must understand chronicle and life in 7th century Hijaz (today’s Saudi Arab), the time and space of Prophet Mohammad came.

This means, yes, we can abstract principles and fundamentals from the teachings of Prophet Mohammad PBUH for the benefits of humankind in 21st century but if we tried to bring back 7th century’s norms with same desert culture then I would say human society and development don’t work like that and most important that was not the intention of his message. We can’t stop the clock but we can abstract guiding principles from the message for the betterment of humanity.

Let me share one simple example: Prophet Mohammad suggested cleanliness and hygiene on several occasions. So, from his teachings we can abstract the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. But use of 7th century’s techniques and tools for cleaning may not better option in 21st century. In this example tools and techniques are not permanent value but cleanliness and hygiene is.

Living in 21st century’s collective human wisdom one thing is clear for most of us that religion or ‘dean’ is guidance for personal morality that could leads people towards divine and spirituality – we should not lose this fundamental point that religion is personal matter. We should not oppose humanity by using scriptures or interpretations of scriptures.
There is no doubt the message of Islam that we received from Prophet Muhmmad has powerful component of social and economic justice with equality among all humans regardless of cast or creed and this is very much well-matched and I can see fully compatible with Canadian Charter of Rights. But things are not that simple, as evil and bad wishes also working to divide humanity on different lines and in religion they use extremist interpretations to exploit believers for there interests.

We need to understand that religion by its spirit is volunteer scheme to accept morality, spirituality and social interaction between individual and society; it can’t be forced by power of government or by militant groups. If God’s plan was to send religious scriptures to force on people by power then he would be appointing kings/warriors and other dominating people as prophets. God picked prophets from ordinary folks with high moral and spiritual character. They promoted love for all humans regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation:  

Quran: 17/70: وَلَقَدۡ كَرَّمۡنَا بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ  “We have honoured all humans” 
Means respect for all human, regardless of any ethnic, linguistic or social affiliation. Same message again repeated in Quran 49/13: Therefore, human dignity is preserved for every human being; the only difference among people is their morals, not their race nor their colors. This is core teachings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH and we can see lot of examples from his life where he practice this teachings.

Let’s peek at current situation in some of the Muslim countries.... and to see how this peaceful message was exploited for power struggle…. due to variety of reason and predominantly global imperialistic agenda and regional proxies there was political vacuum in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and tribal areas of Pakistan, and when extremist religious narrative become leading agenda in that vacuum then we saw atrocities and complete devastation by extremist religious groups and they exploit religion for their power game. People use to say truth is the first victim of war but in this case other than truth peaceful message of Prophet Muhammad PBUH was another victim of this war on terror. The lesson to learn from this difficult time of the history is - we must oppose spreading religious narrative by power of state or by militant groups, this is totally against the teachings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH’s life in which we can she most tolerant and peaceful person: Quran 109/6 لَكُمۡ دِينُكُمۡ وَلِىَ دِينِ
“For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”

Ladies and gentlemen this is the most secular statement coming from one religious scripture and this is the teaching of Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

Further to that in Quran 5/32 it is stated:
“If anyone killed an innocent person it would be as if he killed all mankind and whoso save the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind” this is the importance of life in Prophet Mohammad PBUH’s teachings and his life is full of examples for kindness, compassion and gentleness.

Social justice and equality is fundamental rule of modern state, let’s check what Prophet Mohammad teach us about Social justice: Quran 4/135 - O who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor”

Another fundamental of modern state is economic justice: For economic justice Prophet Muhammad teach us two fundamental points: First to make your source of income based on honest and legitimate business. Secondly, from your earning or saving give it back to needy in the society: Quran 2/219 - And they ask you what they should spend in the name of Allah, Say, that which is beyond your needs”

In this part Quran suggested spending all you have more than your need to help unfortunates in society.
About this quote of Quran national poet of Pakistan Allama Iqbal described:

جو حرف قل العفو میں پوشیدہ ہے اب تک
اس دور میں شائد وہ حقیت ہو نمودار

Modern civilization may discover the wisdom that is hidden in the command of re distributing the wealth to needy. Traditionally religious narrative protects capitalist but this is the most progressive command on economic justice … and it is coming from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH.

Quran described the title of Prophet Muhammad: 21/107: وَمَآ أَرۡسَلۡنَـٰكَ إِلَّا رَحۡمَةً۬ لِّلۡعَـٰلَمِينَ
“And We have sent you (O Muhammad SAW) not but as a mercy for the mankind of this universe”

Being believers of Quran, this is the parameter that the teachings of Prophet Muhammad are based on compassion and mercy for humanity – and if somebody interpret or exploit other way around then we have this parameter to reject as contradiction with his title as mercy for the mankind.

In the end, I repeat again: respect for all humans, social, economic justice and equality are the basis and core values of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.

Thank you very much for your attention.
(Asjad Bukhari, Calgary 29 April 2018)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

MapleTV Talk with Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy - In response to Ms Tazeen Hassan’s Blog on Express.pk

No doubt Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy’s academic area is nuclear physics but his talk in Calgary and particular interview was about the role of civil society to bring alternate narrative to help Pakistani society to get out of growing extremism. Readers can watch his talk from following link). And the interview Ms. Tazeen is talking about is not yet released by Mr. Jamsheed Qureshi of MapleTV.
Extremism: Alternate Narrative - Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy

As I remember the format set by moderators of that session was - after anchor’s talk with guest - in second part audience supposed to ask questions. Regardless of that Ms. Tazeen interrupted discussion number of times. I guess labelling Dr. Hoodbhoy as ‘media darling’ and audience of that session as “pseudo liberals” is nothing but showing frustration and bashing. I was not expecting that low from her.
I meet first time with the author of this blog Ms. Tazeen Hassan during under question talk with Dr. Hoodbhoy in Calgary, Canada. I got impression that she is strong opinionated personality with open for discussion. After the recording, I had conversation with her and comprehended same issue with her as most of the followers of Islamism (political Islam) are struggling – and that is lack of comparative study of political and legal system lay down by traditional and radical Islamic clergy/scholars/authors. During her discussion, she was keep quoting one or two references from Quran in favor of respect for human life and when I brought the question of the rights of women, minorities, slavery and Jihad/Qatal in traditional and radical Islamic literature of Fiq and Tafseer, I got the answer that these are from illiterate Mullahs and then I asked what scholars we suppose to follow to understand real Islam and answer was read Quran. I remember giving her quotes from Quran, normally given by Taliban and other Islamist, in contrary to collective human wisdom of 21st century on Slavery and the rights of women and minorities (in this case none Muslims in Islamic state). I was glad to see that she was also not agreed on parts of these issues as those Islamist believe. No doubt this wave of terrorism and extremism in Muslim countries have strongest links with American foreign policies and proxy wars in the region but the justification and multiplication to accelerate the problem is coming from Islamist interpretations of scriptures. Jihadists are exploiting that with full strength, ignoring that side by persons like Ms. Tazeen is also a part of biggest problem.

One of her argument: Western civilization did lot of atrocities with indigenous aboriginals in North America and Australia also – I acknowledge and I asked does that give Muslims a justification for doing the same on the name of faith/Allah? Isn’t tragedy for brining this type of counter argument to justify atrocities committed by Taliban and ISIS type Islamist groups in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya etc? I ended my discussion with Ms. Tazeen with promise to having another session with her on these issues. InshaAllah one day we’ll sit and discuss again to clarify our point of view to resolve some of the questions that arise in our and in every Muslim’s mind.

In this blog in one side author is apologetic about Maulvi sb and in the same time giving her opinion that most of the Maulvis are ignorant they don’t know about Islam. The question is not rather Maulvi is ignorant or knowledgeable the issue is directly or indirectly clergy contributed significantly to spread extremism and violence in Muslim society and apologetic rhetoric like under question blog are also a part of problem. This is undeniable fact that most of the Maulvis in Pakistan are spreading hate and dividing humanity by exploiting scriptures. Criticizing Dr. Hoodbhoy or anybody is freedom of expression but I would suggest to build your argument based on facts not on emotions and labeling like ‘media darling’ ‘pseudo liberals’ etc. People like Dr Hoodbhoy are putting their lives in danger to set the narrative that may bring Pakistan back to normal and peaceful society and we should acknowledge them instead of wrongfully labeling them.

Regarding Maulvi’s power in society – I want to share two facts: in last 10 years Jihadi maulvis killed over 70,000 innocent Pakistanis in terrorist and sectarian violence, material losses are immeasurable. Most recently they besieged capital of the country for three weeks and beat up law enforcement personnel and in the end state went on knees to accept their demand, this is the power of ‘maulvi bechara’.

Regarding the issue of population without planning – I guess Ms. Tazeen forgot the legislation and efforts China did to control the population bomb and India is all together different story where large number of population is living under poverty without necessities of living. No doubt uncontrolled and unplanned population is biggest issue for all sectors of Pakistani society.
Asjad Bukhari, Canada

P.S. Link to Ms. Tazeen’s Blog:

Monday, April 3, 2017

Poem for Disappeared Bloggers - Asjad Bukhari

In Pakistan, a new brigade of activists is emerging from the waves of extremism and terrorism. These progressive and liberal activists are trying to set the narrative to combat extremism and keeping the debates about rationality, place of religion in the public domain, civil military relationship alive on social-media and significantly influenced public discourse in the last couple of years. This narrative is much needed for struggling state to encounter extremism. In January 2017 five of those activists / social media bloggers disappeared (kidnapped). Following Urdu poem, I wrote for them.

Sawali Utha Liay

Bhokon ka samnay sa niwalay utha liay
Pyason ka samnay sa piyalay utha liay
Karnay ko qatal koi na qatil ko jab mila
Kuch rahgeer bholay o bhalay utha liay
Roshni ko tergi mein rakhnay ka ha azam
Dil ko laga sawal tu swali utha liay
Ahlay qalam ka hath mein jab dekha hay qalam
Sab Oryanon nay hath mein bhalay utha liay
Asim, Waqas Haider ko khush hein utha kay aaj
Aawaz a haq uthanay hee walay utha liay

Thursday, March 16, 2017

God and State: a dangerous mix – Asjad Bukhari

In these days in some of the Muslims dominating countries question about the relation between state and religion is burning issue. Some consider this as war of rhetoric between liberal VS fanatics. In reality in Muslim societies it is fundamental question of our time to decide the domain of religion - rather state can dominate the narrative for or against religion OR it is personal matter. For example if somebody is wearing hijab or growing beard or wearing any religious symbol or practicing any ritual or prayer as per his/her believe that individual should have free option without “big brothers” interference. Same goes with religiously motivated personal morality - as long the person is not breaking the law of land or not hurting or forcing others they should be allowed but state should not make the laws as per somebody’s religion or religious interpretations.

We need to understand that religion by its spirit is voluntarily scheme to setup morality, spirituality and social interaction between individual and society; it can’t be forced by power of government or by militant groups. If God’s plan was to send religious scriptures to force on people by power then he would be appointing kings/warriors and other dominating people as prophets.

Let’s go back to current situation in some of the Muslim countries.... due to variety of reason and predominantly global imperialistic agenda and regional proxies there was political vacuum in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and tribal areas of Pakistan..... and when religious ambitions and narrative become leading agenda in that vacuum then we saw atrocities and complete devastation by religious groups and that was as per their interpretation of Islam. If we are sincere with Muslim majority countries like Pakistan and its people then we have to oppose spreading religious narrative by power of state or by Jihadi militant groups. If state stays neutral about religion and don’t have any religion then state can treat every citizen equally. State should allow all citizens to practice their religion as long they don’t force on others or don’t break the law of the land.
Professor Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim’s book “Islam and the secular state: negotiating the future of Sharia” is great reading on this debate.

We should have this debate on all levels to resolve this conflicting point of mixing of religion and politics once and forever.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dr. Tariq Ramadan – from Islamist to Reformist - Asjad Bukhari

Tariq Ramadan is prominent Islamic writer and professor of contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University.  He is from high profile religious family with excellent academic credentials. Founder of Muslim Brotherhood Hassan al Banna was his maternal grandfather. His father Said Ramadan was a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood and went into exile during Gamal Abdul Nasser’s time from Egypt to Switzerland where Tariq was born.
As part of his Canadian tour 2017 organized by CJPME (Canadians for Justice and peace in Middle East) he delivered his talk in Calgary under the title “Creating Thriving Societies in Troubling Times” on 18th January 2017.

Highlights of his talk:
One should not oppose humanity by using spirituality; Don’t accept what is unacceptable; Challenge your politicians as Canadian not as Muslim or some other ethnic or geographic identity;  Muslims should join mainstream politics, raise voice for all injustices whether it is for blacks or for aboriginals or any one; Raise your concern to your elected leaders and argue them not to support dictators and military rulers in other parts of the world; Don’t accept double standard, if human life is important in Europe or North America it should be important in other parts of the world as well. He criticise west for supporting Gulf States and completing ignoring their human rights records.

His talk was full of appealing sentences that would help multicultural society like Canada to come together. My focus was looking for his views about political Islam or in other words Islamism.  Then there were two relevant questions where he touched that:

Answering the question regarding apologetic behavior from Muslims after terror attacks, he said we should condemn those acts as it goes against the basics of Islam but we should put in perspective the motives and causes of those acts of terror as well. For me this sounds typical “but” and this answer would bring us again into apologetic narrative.   

I asked the question: In my view other then imperialistic agenda political Islam is another reason for the uprising and trouble in Muslim World, how important it is to encounter the narrative of political Islam and how we achieve that? He suggested regarding political Islam we have to be careful, we should not classify all of Islamists or political Islam under one list.  Some are reformists and some are legalist. Some want to change into Islamic system peacefully and some are violent. We have to differentiate them. With this answer I comprehend that in his view nothing wrong with political Islam as long the movement is peaceful. 

In my view this is the point where Muslim societies need clear vision to separate religion from power politics. Narrative from Islamists is: Islam is a complete system of morality, justice and governance, whose sharia laws and principles should be the sole basis of governance and everything else in life. Establishment of Islamic state is the ultimate goal of message of Islam.  Until this point every Islamist group is on the same page but when it comes to develop the module and implementing Sharia then every sect and school of thought has its own interpretation and every group is too charged then it is inevitable to avoid armed conflict. That is another debate rather that so called sharia law that allows slavery and too many other controversial things is applicable in this DNA age or not.

Since the Afghan jihad of 80s the destruction of Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Iraq and parts of Pakistan made it very clear that using religion as political ideology is gateway to exploit religion - once you allow the exploitation of religion then nobody has full control on that. This is the most slippery road for societies.  In this regard it is important to recognise that the narrative created by the founders of Muslim Brotherhood and Jamat Islami of Pakistan made huge influence on Islamic insurgence and terrorist groups like Taliban, ISIL etc. Ayman Zawahiri was Muhammad Qutb’s direct student and he was the mentor of Osama bin Laden and other leading members of al-Qaeda and Taliban. Lines between violent and none violent Islamists is very thin and it is only a matter of opportunity and situation and all can jump into violent jihadi armies.

 Tariq Ramadan as Reformist:

In Tariq Ramadan’s writings and lectures one can see two different standpoints and prospects. One for Muslims living in the western world and other about Muslims world and political Islamic movements in that part of the world. For some critics it is double standard that is creating confusion and giving excuses for extremist Islamist groups to exploit Muslims for political and personal agendas. But in Tariq Ramadan’s point of view most of the issues involved religious texts that Muslims take seriously, so simple act to condemn would not change anything in Muslims societies but opening the debate on these issues can lead towards reforms in those rules.
In terms of interpretation of Islamic theology he is reformist. These are the significant areas of difference between his views to traditionalists: He rejects binary division of the world into the ‘house of Islam’ (dar al-Islam) and the ‘region of war’ (dar al-harb). He is against all forms of capital punishment but suggests that Muslim countries could remove such laws after wining popular narrative on this issue and without foreign pressures.  He sees hijab as an Islamic prescription, but he suggests it is against Islam to compel a woman to wear hijab. He is also tolerant about music. He condemns suicide bombing and maintain that terrorism is never justifiable, even though it can be understandable in terms of political resistance.

No doubt Tariq Ramadan is most influential reformist in today’s Islamic theology with large following around the globe.  I hope he realise that the problem with Islamists (political Islam) is: Once they take the power then these reformist ideologies will supersede with classic Shari law that is mostly based on 7th and 8th centuries tribal desert culture and it clearly contradicts in several areas with 21st century’s basic human values. We witnessed this in Afghanistan of 90s and parts of Iraq and Syria. Separating power politics from religion is the only way to resolve this conflict. Make religion as personal matter for spirituality and morality and public law should made on secular ground.

Monday, December 12, 2016

16 Dec 1971

16 Dec 1971 and fall of Dhaka is one of the most tragic and painful chapter in the history of Paksitan. Tragedy within that great tragedy is even after 45 years still officially state of Pakistan never told our coming generations about reasons and factors that lead to that tragic end. There is no doubt since the creation of that nation India and Pakistan are hostile and enemy to each other and India did what enemies normally do. Indian attack on East Pakistan in 1971 and training of Mukti Bahini was one chapter of the story. Pakistan as a nation still keep ignoring its own mistakes and only highlighting enemy’s contribution.

Following are essential readings on this subject for the folks they are in search of truth (most of these sources are available online):
1. Witness to surrender by Siddique Salik
2. Kitna Qareeb Kitna Door by Mahmood Shaam
3. The Great Tragedy by Z. A. Bhutto
4. One of the prime source on that tragedy is “War Enquiry Commission Report” known as Hammoodur Rahman Commission. The Final Report also called Supplementary Reports is still remained classified in Pakistan but from time to time the parts of that leaked to media.
5. Shahabnama by Qudrat Ullah Shahab (chapters relating to early years of Pakistan)

We should always remember: If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we are doomed to repeat them.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Turkey - Unsuccessful Military Coup and Aftermath

In modern history we learned from several events that military intervention and rule is not the solution to any problem rather it is greatest problem by itself, great to see Turkey never went on that road again. Now it is also important to investigate the real motive and culprits behind that bloody military actions. Looking to the track record of this type of events in Turkey, maybe we would not able to find the truth behind the bloody episode of unsuccessful military coup of July 15, 2016, but that is clear Erdogon is/will use this as opportunity to penalise his political opponents. I am afraid political victimisation and human rights abuse will rise in Turkey in coming weeks and months. We saw in recent years that Erdogan style of rule is bit of totalitarian and we should not forget that Hitler was also democratically elected.

Dismissal of over 2700 judges across Turkey in the blink of eye is strong signal in that direction and that is dangerous for the rule of law and democratic values in the country. Looks like hit lists of undesirable judges was ready even before recent bloody events. When that unsuccessful military cope was in progress, Fethullah Gulen and the followers of his reforms movement were the first to condemn that and they called that action absolute danger for the country and unacceptable. Fethullah Gulen’s call for investigation to probe into this unsuccessful coup allegations is reasonable demand. Contrary to that Erdogon regime put all of the blame on Gulen and large number of activists and followers of Gulen movement are arrested. Looks like human rights situation and political victimisation will rise in Turkey in coming days.

If we look at the background, Fethullah Gulen was Erdogan’s political ally until corruption allegations surface in 2013 on president’s son and on top government officials. Later on Erdogan put all of the blame of those charges on Gulen and his Hizmet movement and called that unsuccessful civilian cope. Interestingly in response to those allegations, instead of investigation on corruption charges government crackdown on judges and storm Hizmet offices. Erdogan government had said that the corruption investigation and comments by Gulen were the long term political agenda of Gulen's movement to infiltrate security, intelligence, and justice institutions of the Turkish state. These charges were almost identical to the charges against Fethullah Gulen by the Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Turkey in his trial in 2000 and he had previously been tried in absentia in 2000, and acquitted in 2008 from these charges.

Gulen movement’s religious views and practice of Islam are based on Hanafi Suni School of thought with more emphasis on interfaith dialogue. They also follow Turkish Sufi traditions. One can find several similarities in Fethullah Gulen’s reformist views of Islam with Javed Ahmed Ghamadi of Pakistan (although Ghamadi is not into sufism). In past Gulen has criticized secularism in Turkey as "reductionist materialism". However, he believe that secular approach that is not anti-religious and allows for freedom of religion and belief, is compatible with Islam. He also said in one of his press release, in democratic-secular countries, 95% of Islamic principles are permissible and practically feasible, and there is no problem with them. The remaining 5% are not worth fighting for.
In practical politics we can see Erdogan regime is more leaning towards Saudi Arab and Wahabism, opposing to that Gulen movement has firm stand against Saudi Arab’s policies to spread wahabism/extremism among Muslims. Similar difference comes on Syrian issue. Gulen is strongly against Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil war. While rejecting the Turkish and Saudi government's desire to topple President al-Assad.

It is bit early to come to some conclusion. Coming weeks and months are important to see where Turkey is heading for – rather progressive democratic republic or going towards the kingdom of Erdogon the magnificent.

Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) - Message for Contemporary Time

(Discourse during Jalsa Seeratun Nabi (PBUH) in Calgary April 29, 2018) Good evening and wish for peace for everyone First, I would lik...