My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite gaining independence, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.
read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal - the national
poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously,
and when I left school, I was considered among the elite of the country
because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.
Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’
[Long Live Pakistan] in school functions, I considered my own culture
backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about
religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mulla.
of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars
or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up,
things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all
religions were considered anachronism. Science had replaced religion and
if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All
supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin,
who with his half-baked theory of evolution, had supposedly disproved
the creation of men and, hence, religion were read and revered.
European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The
horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had
left a powerful impact on the Western mind. To understand why the West
is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain
and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also
the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced
the Europeans that all religions are regressive.
the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the
selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was
a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached.
Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there
was an overemphasis on rituals.
I feel that humans are different
to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be
intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to
reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for
political gains by various individuals or groups.
Hence, it was a
miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was
the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my
childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but, love for her that I
stayed a Muslim.
However, my Islam was selective. I accepted
only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to
Eid days and occasionally, on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking
me to the mosque with him.
All in all I was smoothly moving to
becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all, I had the right credentials in
terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English
aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives
for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and
instead become a ‘desi’?
Well, it did not just happen overnight.
Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited
gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I
was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to
see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies.
Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing
in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are
superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was
the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the
oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from
While science, no matter how much it progresses, can
answer a lot of questions - two questions it will never be able to
answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens
to us when we die?
It is this vacuum that I felt created the
materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then
one must make hay while the sun shines - and in order to do so one needs
money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a
human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and
Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest
materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost
60 percent of the population consults psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in
modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and
Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have
the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily content with
material well being and needs something more.
should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to
Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high
principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the
moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their
selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people
of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam
has to be a liberal one.
Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was
removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 1970s. Its direct
impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate is 60
percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single
mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but
the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While
science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey
showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than
whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.
1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was
around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over,
especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan, during the
Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people
being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.
There was a
sequence of events in the 1980s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an
says: “There are signs for people of understanding.” One of them was
cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game,
the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in
fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time. But
it was not until Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ that my understanding
of Islam began to develop.
People like me who were living in the
Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the
Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or
flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I
decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do
so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research
and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like
Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study
of the Qur’an.
I will try to explain as concisely as is possible,
what ‘discovering the truth’ meant for me. When the believers are
addressed in the Qur’an, it always says ‘Those who believe and do good
deeds.’ In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and
the other toward fellow human beings.
The greatest impact of
believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The
Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and
respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow
before other human beings. Moreover, since this is a transitory world
where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed
prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a
result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism,
ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does
not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them,
one controls them.
By following the second part of believing in
Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being
self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty
gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less
privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather
than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.
I have become a
tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the
underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is
because of God’s will, hence, I learned humility instead of arrogance.
instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I
believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done
to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, “Oppression is
worse than killing.” In fact, only now do I understand the true meaning
of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace.
Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew
existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in
Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going
through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human
being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic
traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the
rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In
fact, some of the finest individuals I know live there.
dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the
rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as
being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g., dumping toxic waste
in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the
West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.
of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary
groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam
through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject. It
reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants
only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group
that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a
defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous
attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.
to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extremes. In
order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of
our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam
Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in
God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us, there is “no
compulsion in religion.” However, they must arm themselves with
knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses
at extremism the problem is not going to be solved.
calls Muslims ‘the middle nation’, not of extremes. The Holy Prophet
(peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry
whether people converted or not. Therefore, there is no question in
Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.
Moreover, we are
told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their
prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever
went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the
high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders.
the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with
their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive
people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of
Islam has to be a liberal one.
If Pakistan’s Westernized class
starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight
sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a
progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the
Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles
accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this
happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets
its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a
universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was
called a Mercy for all Mankind.