As Ramadan begins, the gap between the rich and poor in Pakistan continues to widen. The top portion of the picture shows an Iftaar dinner arranged by former Pakistani President Asif Zardari while below Pakistani children scavenge for food at a garbage dump. Where is justice and the taqwa that Ramadan is supposed to build?
With 60 million people living below the poverty line in Pakistan — one third of its population — life is pretty grim for these unfortunate people. It is little better for the rest barring the tiny parasitical class at the top whose thieving ways have been exposed, yet again, in the Panama Papers. Not much is expected to come out of such revelations since those doing the stealing have turned it into an art form and know how to hide the evidence and wriggle their way out of any accountability. Foreign banks also do not cooperate in such matters. Naturally, they do not want to run themselves out of business!
When the British political theorist Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) first coined the expression, “life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” in his famous (or infamous, depending on one’s outlook) book, Leviathan, he was of course referring to 17th-century Britain and not Pakistan — the latter was not even in the realm of potentialities at the time — but it could just as well apply to today’s “land of the pure.” Hobbes’ account emphasized the animal nature of man, leaving each to live independently of everyone else, acting only in his or her own self-interest, without regard for others. This produces what he called the “state of war.” The only escape, according to Hobbes, out of this situation was to enter into contracts with each other — mutually beneficial agreements to surrender one’s individual interests in order to achieve the advantages of security that only a social existence can provide.
The elite in Pakistan have probably never heard of the “social contract” — coined by another European political thinker, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) — or if they have, they do not intend to practice it. Their entire life revolves around putting their grubby hands on whatever they can get hold of. The inevitable result of this is the impoverishment of the masses.
We referred to European political thinkers and philosophers because for the Pakistani elite, everything Western is superior. Some 60 years ago, smoking pot was considered a social ill. Truck drivers and other low-level workers indulged in this nasty habit. Calling someone a charsi (pot smoker) was a derogatory term in Pakistan. Today it is fashionable and children of the elite indulge in pot smoking because it is socially acceptable in the West. One could cite many other examples but the point should be clear.
Let us return to the subject of the Muslim masses, especially in Pakistan. This year, the month of Ramadan will start in the first week of June. Since most Muslim countries are located between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, temperatures in these regions soar to 40 or 50 ºC. It is extremely hot during the day, so hot in fact that many animals, like buffalos and cows try and spend their daylight hours in muddy village ponds to cool their bodies in the oppressive heat.
The heat subsides somewhat at night but given extended periods of blackouts in Pakistan when electricity is shut off, life for the average person is intolerably difficult. Imagine a person fasting for 15–17 hours a day in blistering heat. The poor do not even have fans, much less air conditioners in their homes. Those who can afford air conditioners — a huge luxury — are not much better off if there is no power to run them.
The elite have no such problem. The manner in which the system is structured, the elite get their electricity supplied 24/7, hence they cannot imagine what it means to live in the blistering heat. It has also been observed that most of the rich and well to do in Pakistan do not fast, yet they organize elaborate iftar parties. One cannot find space in five-star hotels during Ramadan because they are booked solid for iftar parties. It must be nice to have iftars without fasting. It must make one a good Muslim!
Pakistan is the only country in the contemporary world that came into existence in the name of Islam. The secularists that have hijacked and control all institutions would like to banish Islam from Pakistan. The Pakistani elite have more in common with their Hindu counterparts in neighboring India than they have with their own people at home. This applies to food, clothes, taste in music, and lifestyle. Apart from their names, there is little to distinguish the Muslim elite from their Hindu counterparts. Not surprisingly, some in Pakistan have started to question whether there was much point in creating Pakistan at all.
These people also blame Islam for all the ills but conveniently ignore the fact that Islam has never been implemented in society despite nearly 70 years of existence. Pakistan’s entire system is thoroughly secular in nature whether it applies to laws, customs, or other mores. Whatever little Islam is found exists at the individual level confined to rituals.
Pakistan’s real dilemma is that the elite want to take it in one direction — secularism and subservience to the West — while the masses want Islam in life. This is not mere speculation. On April 27, the American research body, Pew Research Center, released a report based on questions to respondents in 10 countries with significant Muslim populations. Pew asked, “whether the Qur’an should influence laws in [their] countries.” At least 78% of respondents in Pakistan said they “strictly support” the policy that teachings of the Qur’an should influence the laws of the country.
The question was posed in the following words, “Which of the following three statements comes closer to your view: 1) ‘laws in your country should strictly follow the teachings of the Qur’an’; 2) ‘laws in your country should follow the values and principles of Islam but not strictly follow the teachings of Qur’an’; and, 3) ‘laws in your country should not be influenced by the teachings of the Qur’an’.”
While there was wide variation in the responses of people in different countries, the Pakistanis were ahead of everyone else with 78% saying the country’s laws should adhere strictly to the teachings of the Qur’an. Another 16% said the country’s laws should follow the values and principles of Islam, even if not very strictly and only 2% said Islam should not have influence on policy-making. Thus, a massive 94% of the country’s population is either strongly or mildly in favor of Islamic laws and principles. One would be hard pressed to find this reality reflected in the country’s laws or the manner in which it is governed. The tiny parasitical class, sitting at the top of the caste pyramid — less than 2% — makes all the policies and usurps the country’s resources.
Interestingly, the next group of Muslims that wanted Islamic laws to govern their lives are the Palestinians under Zionist occupation. At least 65% of them spoke in favor of Islamic laws basing them on the teachings of the Qur’an. The Palestinians’ response is interesting and revealing; they are living under Zionist occupation and have found that only Islam offers them the kind of moral and emotional support that enables them to withstand Zionist brutalities and oppression. If we add the other 23% that would like to see their society’s laws follow the values and principles of Islam, even if not very strictly, it means 88% of Palestinians are in favor of Islamic laws.
Is there a correlation between the attitude of the Pakistani people and those in Palestine under Zionist occupation? The two regions are vastly different but their outlook on Islam and Islamic principles is remarkably similar. Would it be appropriate to draw the conclusion that the people of Pakistan consider themselves under occupation? While not under direct foreign occupation, Pakistan’s independence has been largely symbolic. The elite are totally subservient to foreign masters that manipulate the country’s policies and often dictate who should occupy important posts.
The ruling elite in Pakistan believe that there is already too much Islam in the country and they cite that as the reason why the country cannot make progress. In fact, many of them argue that Islam should undergo the same kind of reformation that Christianity experienced if Pakistan or any other Muslim country is to make progress. What these people ignore is the fact that Church had become extremely oppressive and there was a rebellion against such oppression. Islam needs no such reformation. Muslims achieved their Golden Age when they adhered to the teachings of the Qur’an. Muslims did not launch the Crusades; they have never had any Inquisitions nor any periods of witch-burning. These are all the hallmarks of the Christian church. Any person with even a little sense would rebel against such barbaric practices.
In the contemporary age, we can see that when Muslims have been faced with overwhelming odds, they have managed to survive and surmount the challenges by adhering to Islamic values and principles. In Palestine, for decades the secularist PLO held sway and made little headway against the Zionist occupiers. When Hamas and Islamic Jihad emerged on the scene, they made significant progress against the Zionist aggressors. The same holds true for Hizbullah in Lebanon. The most striking example of the revival of Islam has been witnessed in Iran where after the victory of the Islamic Revolution and despite decades of sanctions, the Islamic Republic has made remarkable progress. Today, Islamic Iran stands as an example of steadfastness, independence, and integrity. Is there any Muslim country that has been able to achieve so much despite such odds and so many challenges?
Islamic Iran’s example should inspire Muslims everywhere to take a principled stand on issues affecting them. Challenges are a part of life but those that deal with them based on Islamic teachings are bound to come out ahead. The condition is that Muslims must first make the commitment. As Allah (swt) reminds us in the noble Qur’an, “Allah will not change the condition of a people unless they are prepared to first show a willingness to change their inner selves” (13:11).
The choice is ours.