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For God's Sake, Don't Exploit Religion for Political Gain
|by Firoz Bakht Ahmed|
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood religions in the world is that which Prophet Mohammad originally presented before us. I am not using the term 'Islam' because I, a dilettante in theology, know not what this term means in today's world.
According to Gaurav Sabharwal, an ace Delhi state debater, it is clear that Islam's precepts have undergone radical metamorphoses due to various political, social and pseudo-religious factors. It's heartening to see young non-Muslims like Gaurav. His heart goes out for all Muslims as the cliché "All terrorists are not Muslims but all Muslims are terrorists" gains strength.
Indeed, this has been a cause of concern for those who wish to appreciate Islam in all its splendour and beauty - or else, a man named Shoaib Mansoor would not have risked opprobrium, his social reputation and his physical security by making an audacious film that strips façade down to naked truth.
The Pakistani filmmaker's "Khuda Kay Liye" revolves around two families. One consists of a girl named Mary, who has been born and brought up in Britain and is the daughter of a Muslim man who has led a licentious lifestyle and has been associated with various foreign, non-Muslim women.
The other consists of two brothers - Mansoor and Sarmad - who are extremely passionate about music and have liberal, supportive parents. While Mansoor exhibits tremendous courage of conviction and is certain that his artistic pursuits do not contravene religious doctrine, Sarmad seems a bit confused and, in his search for religious sanction, solicits the advice of an orthodox cleric, Maulana Tahiri.
Not only does Maulana Sahab convince Sarmad that music is haram (unholy), he brainwashes him. By citing that Muslims across the world have been subjected to persecution and humiliation at the hands of the West, Tahiri convinces Sarmad to become a jehadi.
It is important to explain the context of the word jehadi as it has been misused and abused by those who in the name of religion want to annihilate innocents.
The term jehad has been misinterpreted to conjure up bizarre images of violent Muslims forcing people to submit under duress. Islam rejects violence in all its forms but the jehadis take that path without caring as to what impact it can have on a common Muslim by making him a usual suspect. According to Prophet Mohammad, jehad is the inner struggle for virtue to submit to god in all walks of life.
Not only does Sarmad relinquish his artistic work, he also changes his physical appearance to match that of a "holy mullah" (as explained to him by Tahiri). Sarmad sports a beard, wears a proper salwar and begins reading namaz (an activity that was earlier not a part of his life's routine).
Mary's father, fearing the ultimate stigma of allowing his clan to lose its Muslim identity (an inevitability if Mary were to marry her British lover), takes her to Pakistan on the pretext of acquainting her with her "roots".
In Pakistan, he has no compunction in forcibly marrying off his daughter to Sarmad (who is her first cousin) and bequeathing to her a life of misery in the backward tribal area and the Taliban stronghold of Waziristan.
In the meantime, Mansoor makes his way to Chicago to learn music. Here, he falls in love with Jeanie. Though, initially, Mansoor shuns marriage by citing drastic differences in his and Jeanie's cultures, he ultimately acquires his parents' consent and marries her.
But fate spares none the wrath of its menacing vicissitudes. An incident that established, universally, a cruel bond between Islam and terrorism transpires - 9/11. While Mansoor falls prey to the CIA's desperate, unreasoning and reactionary racial profiling regime, Sarmad is consumed in a struggle against the US' retaliatory strikes on Afghanistan and the depredations of the anti-Taliban sects.
In the end, Mansoor is tortured to insanity, Sarmad is overwhelmed with contrition for the sins he has committed in the name of religion, and Mary, though emancipated of the Draconian fundamentalist society due to the relentless diplomatic efforts of her British lover, takes her daughter (Sarmad raped Mary at Tahiri's behest) and decides to educate women in Waziristan.
I believe substantial segments of our population - not just Muslims - have been left behind for some reason or the other. They are all alienated from society but express their dissent in different ways or outwardly motivated by different causes. In the case of Maoists, it is some outdated economic ideology.
In the case of Muslims, perhaps, it is aggressive posturing by the 'new rich' (from Gulf money) brainwashed by Imams wrongly interpreting the Quran. In any case, we need to find a solution that is not Muslim-centric but human-centric.
The objectivity of "Khuda Kay Liye" makes it extremely credible for the common person who has no knowledge of the intricacies and nuances of Islamic faith. What impressed me most about this film was that it neither blatantly attacked extremist perceptions nor vehemently supported moderate outlooks. It merely personalised the applications of Islamic theory and gave complete liberty to the beholder to draw conclusions.
However, the film did highlight how those who exploit religion for political and commercial gain are complete hypocrites. Also, the film showed that logic must govern human action. Eventually, Sarmad realises that he, as an instrument of depraved pseudo-clerics, has committed sins that are beyond expiation - he has taken innocent lives, consummated his illegal marriage against his wife's will and been a cause of tremendous heartache for his parents.
What is ironical is that both brothers suffer dearly - the one who became a fanatic and the one who remained a moderate. This shows that the actions of a few bring reproach upon the entire community - the dastardly step of the fanatics (orchestration of the 9/11 attack) left Muslims exposed to the evil of discrimination.
Mansoor's statement embodies the message I wish to convey at this point of my article: "That a few Muslims are terrorists does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists.
"Likewise, that a few uncouth, barbaric and statute-bound Caucasians have tortured me does not mean that the entire Western World endorses my torture."
Mary's story elucidates an immutable sociological fact - "human dignity and free will cannot be sacrificed for the sake of religious beliefs". Rather, a faith that makes one compromise one's humanity is not a faith at all.
The director's veritable mouthpiece is actor Naseeruddin Shah. He is portrayed as a pious, but logical and reasonable cleric who, as a testifier for prosecuting counsel in the court case to decide Mary's daughter's custody rights, uses simple arguments from the Quran to prove that injustice had been done to Mary. He also explains that attire or physical appearance does not determine a person's devotion to religion and that an action that harms an innocent being is not 'Holy'.
The director subtly admonishes the West for its role in compelling the simplest of Muslims to become rebels (even Mansoor, desperate for relief from the CIA's brutal torture, admits, against his actual sentiments, that he loves Osama).
Another simple, yet thematically powerful scene is that in which Mansoor plays a classical tune on the piano and all his classmates, who belong to different ethnic and religious domains, join in. This scene not only shows that art is the plank that bridges all rifts but also proves that music is not unholy (in fact, prophet Dawood used to recite the Psalms, revealed by God, to the accompaniment of a flute-like instrument called Mizmaar).
In conclusion, all I, as a complete layperson, am urged to say is: Khuda ke liye mazhab-e-insaniyat kee tauheen mat karo! (for god's sake don't insult the religion of humanity).
(Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a commentator on social and educational issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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