Tag Archives: Islam

What do Hitler, OBL and Stalin have in common? And is there a correlation between religion and ethics?

“God bless Mujahid bin Laden”

“God bless Sheikh Mujahid Osama bin Laden, and no consolation for the ignorant (Jahil) parrots of the West”

These were the comments I read under the following (liberal?) image I came across Facebook… so here is some food for thought (or not depending on how indignant people get in the comments).


The poster/picture was shared by a Jordanian friend and the commenters below were mostly Arab, (though I think Pakistani readers would have similar reactions). Now the general sentiment of the comments was agreement with the captioning of the personalities, all except for Osama bin Laden who people tried to defend. What makes the goal of  killing for religion (OBL), better than killing under Communism (Stalin)?

Here is another comment: “First: Hitler was a disbeliever, originally did not believe in Christ, Second: Osama bin Laden, a man who acted when the world sat idle”

(BTW Hitler’s religious beliefs are actually not conclusively proven unreligious, however Nazism and neo-nazism today is heavily grounded in Christianity)

What does this kind of defense of OBL mean? Do people outraged at Osama’s presence on the above poster support suicide bombing? Do all these people not see killing as a crime whether it is Americans or Jews or Muslims?

Its not only us Pakistanis with masses of extreme wight-wingers, upset with liberalism, secularism, feminism and everything left of centre. Most of the religious world is rife with such destructive sentiments. The way a mass of us has been celebrating Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of  Salmaan Taseer, the same type of type of support groups popped up on Facebook for the neo-nazi Norwegian killer, Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 92 people in 2011. And it didn’t end here. In an act of provocation the Thor Steinar clothing company, associated with the neo-Nazi scene, has opened a store in eastern Germany called Brevik, a name almost identical to Breivik. Neo-nazi parties and groups exist across Central and Western Europe and are condemnable. There are many many examples of music groups, hate groups, individuals and churches that are know for being anti-Semite, pro-white and Christian. The difference is maybe in the quantity of support for these groups and national laws that does not give them space for great national and international impact.

So when people who share the viewpoint of the image, say that OBL is evil, or a murderer, or just an all round bad apple, its not because he was Muslim or that they are pro-West/USA, its because of his actions. Anyone who has such a disregard for human life is evil. That is why we have law, and criminal codes and prisons and punishment, so that a Mumtaz Qadri does not wake up one day and go on a rampage because he does not agree with what you are saying.

But is there a correlation between religion and ethics? Are religious people more moral than atheists or agnostics?

Studies have found no difference between religious and non-religious individuals on unethical behaviors such as dishonesty and cheating, while a negative relationship was found between use of illegal substances and individual religiousness*. Kidwell et al in 1987 found no relationship between religiosity and ethical judgments of managers. Religion may not be the key to making you a good (or a bad person), and there is no conclusive study to say otherwise.**

The picture also seems to show a (weak) correlation between mustaches and ethics. Get over it.


*See Hood, R. W., B. Spilka, B. Hunsberger and R. Gorsuch: 1996, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach (Guildford Press, New York). Also see Khavari, K. A. and T. M. Harmon: 1982, The Relationship between the Degree of Professed Religious Belief and Use of Drugs, International Journal of the Addictions 17, 847–857.

** See Parboteeah, Hoegl and Cullen: 2008, Ethics and Religion: An Empirical Test of a Multidimensional Model, Journal of Business Ethics (2008) 80:387–398.

Pak Tea House, August 2012.


The ‘F’ Word

Published today at Pak Tea House. Ruffled a lot of feathers. 

You tell a male that this day forth he must not go out to work, he must marry to support himself, he must take permission from his wife or parents before he goes out, that he doesn’t need education… he would find such restrictions ridiculous. When a female has the same sentiments, she is thought to be ridiculous.

The sentiments of the sexes can be the same, because as humans we are similar and equal. This notion of gender equality is what has been riling up conservatives, stirring up traditions and changing cultures for centuries.

The strongest counter argument against feminism is based on physical traits. That men are physically stronger and so must go forth and earn. Women are weak and must go forth and be a tool of biological production.  Thus men and women have some pre-assigned roles, and this physical design is cemented into culture, religion and politics. This whole she-bang is part of traditional conservatism, and the doctrine is ancient (demise in the late 1800s). Many conservatives in the west do not even subscribe to this gender-separation view at all. This is of course not true for many other societies like ours.

Feminism is not an ideology based on female superiority. Just like racial justice or religious tolerance are not doctrines that advocate racial or religious supremacy. Formally it arose in the late 1700s as a rights-based liberal reaction to conservative political philosophy and a revision of liberal thought. The grand-daddy of liberalism, a man called John Locke in the 17th century premised the role of the state on the provision and prevention of natural rights of humans. Humans are free and self-governing because they are naturally rational and able to make decisions.

This was a radical challenge to dominant conservative thought; like the divine right of kings, feudal aristocratic supremacy, political representation for only the moneyed, educated and pedigreed, and an unquestioning faith in the clergy. Versions of which exist here and now. A hundred years later, a lady (called Mary Wollstonecraft, mother to Mary Shelly of ‘Frankenstein’ fame) put up her hand and added to the liberal shift saying: “Hey Locke talked of natural rights of humans. Is only the male a human being? Are women not as rational, intelligent or mentally capable? Should we also not work, be allowed to own land, vote, and contribute to society and economy.” How radical/unacceptable/scandalous/wrong!

So it was ironic to read this extreme conservative viewpoint by a girl called Paras Abbasi who has the opportunity to study at one of Karachi’s best institutes and has the opportunity to voice her concerns publicly. Let me quote from this article that represents the prevalent feminophobic position:

“What favor are you doing to the woman (specifically) and a human in general by brain washing her to work rather than letting her take care of her house and bring up her children?… And coming back to those who think women need the very same rights as men… How about dragging all the daughters to the borders to fight for the country if any war breaks out, just like we do to the sons of our nation? The reality is we cannot afford it…respect what importance both of us have been given naturally.” 

Feminism does not blame the male solely, it’s the female as well that perpetuates her own role in the patriarchal drama. As Nabiha Meher puts it: “Mothers collect dowries and makes sure their daughters are always presentable, always ready to impress any eligible… when these young women do want to work they are held back by their… If sisterhood did exist, wouldn’t their mothers fight for them?”

I hear you Paras Abassi. I hear you everyday. Telling me that its okay to say that I want to marry rich, that I deserve to live off a male, that I must have children to be a successful and complete human being, that I can’t serve my country as a soldier, that I cant travel without amahrem, that my career comes second to the happiness of my husband, that my children will be wasted if am a working mother.

It is not okay. If my rights and life is based on the fact that I am physically different from a male, the logic of the anti-feminist argument is no different from that that of a racist or of a creationist.

Must the female be boxed up in such spaces or can we allow for her to have the potential to be much more? It is not a debate for me. Political and social equality is my right, regardless of my sex.

*The title is borrowed from my colleague Qursum Qasim who wrote a similar themed article back in 2007.

Zindabadman and Chaudhry Chamkeela to the rescue!

The Friday Times, July 2nd

99 Muslim comic book heroes??

There used to be a little book shop in Fortress Stadium in Lahore, where as a child, my mother would take me to buy comic books. This was the early nineties, and the comics were often yellowing since most of them were from the 80’s and 70’s. My favourites were the X-men and Wonder Woman. An older cousin of mine would always sift through them for Spider Man. And my mother would look for Star Trek and Archie comics. She herself liked them and felt that action comics would build character (she of course insisted on Enid Blyton as well). And the best part was that each comic book cost only 5 rupees.

Thus obviously, I was labelled a geek in school in my teens I was on a ceaseless quest to protect my comic books from being sent to the kabaria by mistake since most of were really fragile after having been read more than Harry Potter. As I grew up things got more and more ridiculous to the extent that I wanted to do my Masters dissertation on the relationship between politics and civil rights and, well, comic book narratives. My professor loved the idea, but my father clutched his forehead and shook his head (I eventually wrote about Gramscian theory in case you were shaking your head as well).

Getting to the point, reading comic books in Pakistan, is an activity that is somewhat out of the ordinary. Archie digests, of course, were once very popular, but on the whole the comic book experience has a niche market of consumers in Pakistan. Yet, most of us have has significant exposure from movies, cartoons and TV shows. So I was thinking about Pakistan, and how it’s portrayed in foreign films, and then how the terrorist villain in Iron Man also speaks Urdu. There has to be some reference to Pakistan in the traditional canonical comics right?

Not so much. In a passing reference, Iron Man talks to guerrillas near the afghan border and Ms Marvel has a villain bothering her called Ghazi Rashid who is allegedly a Taliban.

Pakistani comic books are very rare. In 1998, OUP published The Quaid- Jinnah and The Story of Pakistan, written in a comic book fashion as part of a ‘Muslim Heroes’ series. There is no X-man with x-ray vision hailing from Quetta.  Most protagonists are American, Wolverine is Canadian with some other X-men being of diverse nationalities, other than that there are no famous desi heroes. But there is a comic book that offers Muslim superheroes!

In 2008, Tashkeel Comics published The 99, the first attempt at a positive illustration of Muslims, and desis, in mainstream comics. The 99 are a band of Muslim superheroes each from a different country who each possess a superpowers after discovering one of the 99 Noor jewels that were hidden after Halagu Khan invaded Baghdad. The heroes each possess the qualities exhibited by the 99 monikers of Allah. The effort to have a cultural impact based on a modern and telling of Islamic values has been well received by the west with the comic books being available in the US. Saudi Arabia banned the comic already, but sales are booming in Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, and Malaysia. All in all, the Muslim Superheroes are a success but I firmly believe that its import into Pakistan will be met with many a fatwa and death threats. I actually don’t think the comic book is bad having read the first issue and would like it to flourish, so I won’t write more about it in case its creator, Naif Al-Mutawa, has to go into hiding. It is a comic book created for culturally contextual entertainment, and should not be taken too seriously.  If you are a comic book enthusiast, go search for it.

I await the time, when we have some writers in Pakistan who can draw up some superheroes that can capture the hearts minds of little children and they can marvel at The Adventures of Zindabadman and Chaudhry Chamkeela.