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Questions about burning

Questions about burning
Nadeem Farooq Paracha gets into another tricky conversation.
Recently I happened to meet a young man who was born and raised in Manchester, in the UK. He had returned to his parents’ country with his siblings in 2006, some seven months after the dreadful 7/7 episode. He approached me while I was returning from the parking lot opposite my office building.
‘Aslamalaikum!’ he said, smiling widely and brightly.
‘Walaikumaslam,’ I replied, noticing a hint of that Manchester accent in his greeting.
‘Brother, where can I find a mosque here?’ he asked, that accent now all-to-prominent. I told him about the two mosques in the area and guided him how to get there from the place were we stood.
‘Thank you, brother,’ he said, smiling brightly again.
‘My pleasure,’ said I, making my way towards my office building. But long before I could reach it, I heard his voice again.
‘Yes?’ I turned around.
‘Which of the two mosques should I go to?’ he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders, thought for a moment and told him any of the two mosques should suffice.
‘Oh, okay,’ he said. ‘But which one do you go to?’ he asked.
‘Err … none,’ I replied.
‘Do you go to any other mosque here if not these two?’ he asked, politely enough for me to allow him an answer.
‘No,’ I said, with a vague smile. ‘I haven’t been to a mosque in a long time.’
‘But why, brother?’ He asked, still smiling brightly.
‘Well, I … ‘
Before I could finish answering the question, he interrupted: ‘Why don’t you join me in prayers, brother?’
This got me interested. I walked towards him. ‘You’re not from here, are you?’ I asked.
‘No, brother, I was born and raised in England. My name is Ashfaq,’ he said, shaking my hand.
I offered him a cigarette. ‘No, brother, I do not smoke,’ he said.
‘Ashfaq, I am Nadeem. Do you mind if I smoke?’
‘Not at all, brother.’ He smiled.
I invited him to have a cup of tea with me at a nearby dhaba. He agreed. We both sat and ordered some tea and biscuits.
‘For how long have you been here?’ I asked.
‘A year and half, now. I’m studying economics at a university in Karachi.’
‘So, how has Pakistan been treating you so far?’
‘It’s nice. It’s my country,’ he proudly said.
‘Yes,’ I smiled. ‘But very violent too.’
‘Yes,’ he said, laughing. ‘I’ve gotten my cell phone stolen twice.’
‘Haven’t we all,’ I said. ‘The crime and violence have rocketed in the last many years.’
‘Yes, I have heard some horror stories,’ he said, shaking his head.
‘And yet our mosques are always full of pious worshippers!’ I said.
He started at me, then looked down at his cup of tea, finally cutting a knowing smile: ‘Is that why you do not visit mosques?’
‘Partly, yes.’ I said.
‘But, brother …’
‘You can call me, Nadeem,’ I politely interrupted.
‘Alright,’ he said. Then folding his arms in front of his chest he began: ‘Brother Nadeem, praying is one of the most important pillars of Islam and …’
‘Are you a part of the some preaching group?’ I asked.
‘Do you say this because of my beard or the way I speak?’
‘Both,’ said I.
‘Is that a problem?’ he inquired.
‘Should it be?’ I asked.
‘You tell me,’ he said.
‘Brother Ashfaq,’ I said, now folding my arms in front of my chest. ‘Don’t you think that had the Muslims spent more time philosophically and rationally determining and investigating the message of the Qu’ran instead of reducing the intellectual discourse in this regard to the matters of ritual and outdated dogma handed down to us by some rigid old men, the sight of full mosques could have then really meant something more than mere ritualism?’
Ashfaq unfolded his arms: ‘Brother Nadeem, what do you mean by rational investigation? The Qu’ran does not need any investigation.’
‘It needs a fresh interpretation,’ I said. ‘It needs to be interpreted according to the needs of Muslims in this day and age. It is full of metaphors and allegories. It is meant to be interpreted, isn’t it? That’s what most rational Islamic scholars have been trying to do for so long.’
He listened with utmost attention, then spoke: ‘This still doesn’t mean you stop going to the mosque, brother Nadeem.’
I laughed and that surprised him. ‘What’s so funny, brother?’ he asked.
‘Can’t you see, Ashfaq?’ I said. ‘That’s all that matters to you. Who is going to the mosque and who isn’t. Then, when you do find someone who does visit a mosque your next question will be about the way he is praying, or if he is wearing the right praying clothes.… What about the more intellectual and philosophical debates within Islam? They need to be addressed a lot more urgently, don’t you think?’
Ashfaq went into a thoughtful trance of sorts, running a finger around the tips of his cup of tea. Then he spoke, quietly, as if speaking to himself: ‘But such ideas create confusion.’
‘Confusion?’ I inquired, genuinely surprised. ‘I think what you mean is that such ideas create Muslims like me!’ I smiled.
‘How can you be a Muslim if you do not pray?’ he asked.
‘Volia!’ I threw my arms in the air. ‘My being or not being a Muslim begins and ends in my head. I am more concerned about the answers we Muslims are giving to those who are accusing us of violence and destruction. The state of Muslim intellectualism is the pits these days. We are collapsing inwards with outdated talk about  laws constructed hundreds of years ago by inflexible men and their followers who would like to see Muslim societies turn into static totalitarian societies! What is our intellectual response to all this? Is it science, philosophy and reason, or is the response only about nice, brightly smiling Muslims like you who are only obsessed about cramping as many Muslims in a mosque as possible? The intellectual and political space in Islam is being filled by theological dogma, self-righteous antics and mere ritual. Wake up!’
Ashfaq smiled: ‘Brother Nadeem, calm down. All I asked you was to come pray with me. Why so much anger?’
I smiled back: ‘Tell me brother Ashfaq, how did you respond to the 7/7 event in Britain?’
‘I prayed for the well being of all Muslims,’ he said proudly.
‘Of course, you did,’ I said, with a smile of resignation. ‘But, being a good Muslim, did you also pray for the non-Muslims who died in the suicide attacks?’
Ashfaq went into the trance mode once again. ‘Brother Nadeem …are you by any chance a non-Sunni?’
I laughed out loud: ‘Brother Ashfaq, are you by any chance an idiot?’
Ashfaq went all serious: ‘You don’t have to get offensive, brother.’
‘Ashfaq, what sort of a question was that?’ I said. ‘Am from this sect or a that sect of Islam? I was talking about something a lot more meaningful than sectarian.’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ he said. ‘Islam is for all mankind.’
‘Fine,’ I replied, ‘but how do you plan to prove this? Wouldn’t you rather set a more reasonable and intellectual example in this respect rather than a ritualistic one, or worse, a violent one, like that of the fanatics?’
‘I am not a fanatic,’ he said, his eyes now ogling repressed anger.
I offered him a cigarette.
‘I told you I don’t smoke,’ he said, politely pushing away the offer.
‘You may as well now,’ I said. ‘You have already missed your prayers.’
He worriedly looked at his wrist watch: ‘That’s correct. I did.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I smiled. ‘You wont burn in hell for this.’
‘You are right, brother, I wont …’ he replied, and then in a quiet but foreboding tone, added: ‘But you will.’

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267 Responses to “Questions about burning”

  1. Abhishek says:

    Awesome! You are brilliant. I wish every Pakistani understands the rational of peaceful living and then we will see Pakistan grow too.

  2. Salman says:

    NFP, if you are an atheist I don’t have a problem with that, but please stay quite about the things you don’t know. Please discuss anything but Islam.

  3. vinod says:

    It is a truth that Muslims and Hindus living in America or England have, some how, become more staunch and ritualistic. Some how we are missing the spirit and message of Prophet or the Hindu rishis and finally the Allah or God or Bhagwan and wasting our lives by performing rituals without even trying to understand the message. Sad we think and believe that following rituals blindly we will become a good Muslim or Hindu. Two world wars were fought by the church going good Christians?

  4. Nice article, as we are Muslims it is our duty to offer prayers to glorify ALLAH and to thank HIM for everything he has given to us. We can never deny of saying prayers by wasting our time in arguments.

  5. Parveiz says:

    All the seeds that Zia-Ul-Haq and the Military Establishment and ISI have sown in the 1980s are coming back to haunt us.

    The Taliban is what we have brought out of the closet.

  6. Iza La. says:

    Do you think that that was the right way to get your point across? Didn’t you ultimately contradict your ideals by your mere talk that made him miss him prayers? We all are beatified with Intellect and conscience, we have the capability to make sound judgments on our own. We all as Individuals are very different. And yet the same. I agree with what you were trying to say to that other Gentleman, but i think you could have said it in a more adequate way. Not just shoving it down his throat. It made you look like a bigot.

  7. abbas says:

    How can you be a Muslim if you do not pray?’ he asked.< <>>>

    The English Muslims of Pakistani origin in England seem to completely miss out on in terms of the global society that they live in much like their compatriot Muslims in Pakistan itself.

    One can be a sectarian Muslim, one can be a fundamentalist sectarian Muslim, one can be a globalist Muslim without the baggage of attached sectarian denominations, one can have a Muslim identity with an attached prefix of the national state that one belongs to, with varying degrees of emphasis.

    Then in the next genre of definitions one could be a pious Muslim, a Muslim with a deep desire for religious observance, a Muslim with the not so deep desire for religious observance, a Muslim with little desire for religious observance, or a Muslim with no desire for religious observance, but yet with a preference to the answer when questioned about one’s religious beliefs would be with a simple answer “Muslim”.

    And let me not overlook that some Muslims that I have met in the West would not hestitate to call themselves “Agnostic Muslims”. How about if I prefer to describe myself an Atheist with a Muslim background so in reality an athiestic Muslim.

  8. abdul says:

    Religion was created for the well being of mankind. Religion should serve man and it must not be other way. so it has to change according to the time. Sadly, most of the muslims believe that what was said thousands of year ago, should still hold and people should be guided by them… too much importance of religion is the root cause of the backwardness of muslims.

  9. Ravi says:

    Good one Nadeem. This is one good way to deal with people who take themselves and their ideals too seriously.

  10. Dilip B says:

    Mr. Nadeem,
    I think you are right in the perspective that Religion is upto indvidual who follows it.
    As far as prayers are concerned , if you chant allah’s name from heart ,we even do not need to go mosque or church.
    This is all our saints in India told so far.

    If I am not intervening in someone’s religious activities (e.g attire/food etc) , then i do have right that no one should intervene in my religious activities till the time those activities are privately done (not creating disturbance for others) and activities are not anti-national.
    People in pakistan should think about country first rather than muslims in other country.
    People in india will talk about religious rights about hindus in Pakistan/Malaysia/pakistan or Europe as they know thye are following their religion in every difficult situation they had to face.Religion is all about tolerance for your people either they are of same faith or another.

  11. Dilip says:

    Mr. Nadeem,

    Where were you so far? you have to make this big..seriously…all the best!!!..I wish you meet Zaid Hameed one day and put your discussion points here :)

  12. zobal says:

    NFP, you have a narrow view of prayers. i agree we should have a rational approach to religious issues but obeserving Namaz is ordered clearly not metaphorically. NFP you seem to take the whole of Quran for a metaphor. Now that’s a very narrow approach too.

  13. Ramiz Butt says:

    This article should help each Muslim to see the damage rigid dogmatism is causing to the social life of Muslims especially Pakistanis. The world looks at us with supect which Indians get plum jobs in IT and Software due to their openness towards democratic ideals. An average Indian is welcomed everywhere while Pakistanis are seen as a member of a failed state. I lament not being born in India. Indian Muslims are much better off since they dont have any baggages.

  14. iblees says:

    The intellectual pill is hard to swallow for ‘Ashfaqs’ and skeptical one is utterly out of question. You did well though. :)

  15. Anjum Eshrati says:

    Asim says: Looking at the discussion, it proves that managing masjids is responsibility of the state. We have to regulate Masjids and Madrasas. Pakistan gave enough religious freedom to Masjids and Madrasas and look what happened

  16. MH says:

    I quickly browsed this article and in that limited time found at least one fallacy (equating the present unrest situation with mosques full of people as the unrest is not because of mosques being full) and acts of indecency (calling a visiting student “an idiot”). This is certainly not the etiquette that our religion Islam teaches us so I can’t comment on its origins.

    I understand our contemporary readers are hard pressed for time so I propose that they familiarize themselves with the role model of all Muslims at:

    before they starting criticizing one of the requirements of our religion.

    There will always be people who are going to be thankful to their creator (God) for the gift of life and will be have patience dealing with difficult situations in life. They will not get bogged down by spending 5 minutes in praying and thanking His majesty. And there will always be people who are going to be ungrateful to God and hasty in affairs (trying to grab as much as possible while they are alive).

  17. Afaque says:

    I am not defending Talibanization (should actually be read as Tribalization) or their interpretation of Islam but trying to correct some miss-representations here. Just because some hill-billies of Swat are trying to hijack the concept of Sharia to impose their tribal culture on others, let us not delude ourselves into abandoning Islam.

    I reading here that Namaz is a matter of choice for Muslim or prayer is to happen not performed. Well being a Muslim is a matter of choice of course, but once Muslim, practice of its tenets is not. One can declare him or herself a non-Muslim and do whatever he or she wants who care, however, owning Islam means practice of its tenets, and Namaz is one of it.

    Islam is different from many other dominant religions of the world such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, as it is not mystic religion; rather it is a religion of practice. It means the religion is a way of life. By practicing the tenets of Islam we improve our conduct with friends, neighbors, strangers and enemies. It provides beyond prejudice a kind of lifestyle that establishes harmony and peace starting from self discipline. To improve one

  18. Mohammed Hassanali says:

    Hello everybody,
    I fully agree with the views of Nadeem Paracha.
    There are two very basic questions that have to be answered in my opinion in order for Muslims in general and us Pakistanis or let

  19. Asim says:

    Looking at the discussion, it proves that managing masjids is responsibility of the state. We have to regulate Masjids and Madrasas. Pakistan gave enough religious freedom to Masjids and Madrasas and look what happened…. Uneducated, ignorant, extremist people become imams and teachers of masjids and madrasas and government had/has no check and balances. I even heard of a case where an Indian RAW agent became Imam of a masjid and ignorant people did not know what he was teaching. Imams and religious leaders teach what they want and what they understand. Many also work for certain political and financial objectives. Similarly shrines are known for selling drugs and making money, and their teaching do not conform to Islamic teachings and people call it as teaching peace & harmony. We need to wake up.

    Here is my suggestion of what to do (Probably many people already suggested similar idea throughout history):

    All Masjids and Madrassas should register and report to central governing body.

    Selection process of Imams and religious teachers should be regularized under supervision of Islamic scholars from different parts of the world and proper structure should be established. Imams and madrassa teachers should have some minimum government recognized qualification in Islamic studies and should have grade above certain thresh hold. Qualification in other fields should be a plus point. There should be a thorough background check and furthermore records regarding their character should be clean in their careers.

    Furthermore it should be ensured that government does not manipulate the above structure & system, in order to control people to achieve any devious political or financial objectives. Strong provisions should be made where people are taught to think freely, logically and with proof as this is part of Islamic teachings.

  20. Anjum Eshrati says:

    God is the creator of all things. In the universe as we know it (which is very little), our planet is less significant than a single grain of sand in the Goby desert. God loves us many times more than a mother loves her children. Indeed, when I take one step towards Him, he comes two steps forward; and when I walk towards Him, he comes running to meet me halfway. How can I just wait for prayer to ‘happen’ to me? How can I not take prayer as a responsibility? We must work on our relationship with God more than we work on our relationship with my loved ones. God, who created me and gave me so much that I did not deserve, asks me to pray five times a day. His Prophet, His most beloved, prayed five times a day and more. Who am I to wait for prayer to ‘happen’ to me?

    God gave man the free will and then asked him to surrender to Him and to seek His pleasure. Prayer is the first sign of surrender. When I pray, I do so willingly and lovingly. It is a Farz, a duty, a responsibility that I love to perform.

    Remember: God is loving but He still is God. This life is a test and those who fail this test will fail God. Satan is clever to find many excuses to keep us away from God. Read this (Holy Quran, 36:60-64):

    “Did I not enjoin on you, O ye Children of Adam, that ye should not worship Satan; for that he was to you an enemy avowed?-

    “And that ye should worship Me, (for that) this was the Straight Way?

    “But he did lead astray a great multitude of you. Did ye not, then, understand?

    “This is the Hell of which ye were (repeatedly) warned!

    “Embrace ye the (fire) this Day, for that ye (persistently) rejected (Truth).”

  21. Nadir says:

    This article is not about praying or not. Its about getting our priorities straight. But I dont think thats going to happen as long as we keep doing things merely for “sawaab”. “Br” Ashfaq could have started cleaning the road just outside the Masjid, which I am very sure was littered with all sorts of filth. No, but he chose to go to the Mosque (note, more sawab for prayers in Jamaat than praying at home). There is more sawab in Bajamaat Namaz than in cleaning up the street. And dont tell me “safai is nisf imaan”. Half the country probably does not even know what “nifs” means. Is it 1/2? Is it 1/3? Why couldn’t they just translate it as “Aadha”?

  22. Moiz says:

    While I agree that the so-called ‘terrorists’ of today persist in wrong/blind interpretations of the Koran and of various vaguer instructions in it, the undeniable fact remains that to be a Muslim certain tenets HAVE to be followed, which include praying.

    What Mr. Paracha is writing here is an echo of the western dogma regarding ‘updating’ the religion. It DOES need to be better understood in light of the problems faced by Muslims today. That however does not mean that the basic tenets are ignorable. Being Muslim involves more than just calling ourselves so.

  23. Anjum Eshrati says:

    Gujrinder Singh Jee: There are more than one billion Muslims, and hundreds of millions of them pray regularly and remember Allah. Without a doubt, 99% of them do not have a klashnikov. What are you talking about? Our Klashnilov holding Mullas are not Muslims, whether they pray or not, it does not matter.

  24. Anubha says:

    I read words like ‘farz’, ‘duty’ and ‘responsibility’ associated with ‘Namaaz’.

    I have just one question, when a mother loves a child or a man loves his father, is she or he merely performing a ‘duty’?

    Can love ever be made in to a ‘duty’?

    ‘Namaaz’ or any other form of prayer is an expression of love. It is intimate.

    This is also why one can not really ever ‘offer’ a prayer, rather praying has to ‘happen’.

    It is also not about ‘discipline’ or ‘control’, rather it is about letting go of every thing, the good and the bad, and surrendering yourself completely. This ‘surrender’ can not be ‘done by you’. Again it has to happen on its own.

    Finally -

    ‘Khuda hi detaa hai taufeeqe’ aashiq’e warnaa,

    Kisi se dil ka lagaana koi mazaak nahin’


  25. jay says:

    Honestly, as humans of all religions, we have managed to collectively mess it up. We have chosen to use it as a crutch to justify the worst atrocities to the human race.

  26. Prayers should be offered says:

    As for Mr Gurjinder I would like to share with you the concept of praying in Islam. Praying in Islam is not at all about paying lip service to Allah (SWT). Instead Allah (SWT) wants us to understand the verses we repeat each time, to contemplate on them and then to confess our faith in Allah(SWT). Hence just as a mobile battery needs charging every now and then similarly our faith needs to be recharged intermittently.

    In your post you have stereotyped the practicing muslims as carrying a Kalashnikov and breeding hatred towards the disbelievers. But they can

  27. Prayers should be offered says:

    Mr Aamer Aziz the purpose of my post was only to highlight the significance of

  28. Seema Javed says:

    While I agree with most of your argument Nadeem, I would beg to differ on prayers. Prayers whether performed at a mosque or in the home are obligatory and I do not see any debate on that. It is also a very personal choice on whether we are or are not able to pray five times a day. The point of prayer is to be in a state of spirituality and if this particular pillar of Islam is ritualistic, then it is so to the extent of a ‘ritual’ that is performed five times a day. Maybe ritual is the wrong word to use here. Maybe ‘habit’ might be a better word. But a ritual or habit that cannot be imposed on others. Of course judging a person by whether he prays in a mosque or not, or if at all is making things too black and white. Having said that, I myself do not pray five times a day although I would like to be able to get into the ‘habit’ of doing so.

    Intellectual discourse/investigation into the Quran is a healthy thing but where do we draw the line? There are things which one has to accept ‘blindly’ in religion.. like the belief that there is a God..there is a heaven and there is a hell..there will be a day of judgement..I do not have time, space nor inclination to go on and on over such a vast subject but I hope you get my drift? Sometimes excessive analysis might stray us from the truly spiritual to the truly cynical?

    Make no mistake, no way do I condone what is being done ‘in the name of Islam’. I feel distressed at the thought of Talibanisation overtaking Islam…sehar tariqs letter among the comments was close to my heart and I truly feel her disillusionment because my own daughter, such a patriot at heart with the energy to do all to give back to her country also feels helpless and hopeless given the current state of affairs.

    All we can hope for….and I would like to borrow Mr.Obamas phrase if I may…. is ‘change’. Surely that is the only constant in life..or has nothing changed in the small history of Pakistan?

  29. Gurjinder Singh Sahi, Canada says:

    Prayers should be offered, I have a view which I wish to share.
    God is seeking the love of its constituents and not rituals in the prayers of people. I wonder how can a man pray in due sincerity extolling the love of Allah with his eyes on the Kalashnikov and the malice in his heart towards Allah’s own creations.To reach the other end of the bank of the river, you have to leave this side of the river. In my limited vision, I cannot see how would it be possible for a mortal human being to lend glory to the name of God. God is not to be glorified in words but he has to shine through in man’s actions. Once again just because reciting scriptures is easy does not make it to be right as well.If God knows all, he can see through the fraility of our actions also.So whom are we trying to kid here.Consider for a second, religion to be pure milk and politics to be pure poison. How much of poison(a drop)do you think one needs to destroy religion?

  30. Afaque says:

    The article is cynical. It reflects a “mid-life crises” of a self proclaimed intellectual; the one who has lost his identity along his self respect in the maize of western ideas and no yield philosophical discourses. Now he has no clue what the all-overwhelming religion holds for him and what he has lost over the years while his undisciplined life has wandered him off from the essence of his own society, religion and culture.

    Ah! This reminds me of all-so-common Pakistani characters of the late seventies and early eighties who under their spiraling smoke of cigarettes used to talk about, Hegel, Marx, Engels, Tolstoy, Lenin and Mao but knew nothing about Islam besides their given names. It wasn

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