Monday, 21 March 2011

It's Not Just a Game!!!

The roads are deserted as 170 million people eagerly watch the final moments of the 40th match of the Cricket World Cup 2011 between Pakistan and Australia. Pakistani right-handed batsman, Abdul Razzaq, swings his bat with a flourish and finishes the match with a Four to Australian bowler, J.J. Krejza's ball. Team Pakistan has won the match by 4 wickets from it's most formidable opponent!  

As the whole country rejoices after the big win from Australia, I look around me and wonder at the nonchalance of some people who claim it to be 'just a game' and 'nothing to be excited about'. Agreed, it is just a game. Not so for the Pakistanis, however. For us it is far more than that. 

A country torn apart by corruption, terrorism and clashing beliefs, the Pakistan of today has lost much of its former glory (the little it had, that is). Our people are crushed beneath the weight of our government's debt and inflation; struggling daily to make ends meet. However, be it in the remote areas up North of the country or the heart of the capital city, there is one thing that holds Pakistanis together - Cricket! This 'mere game' has managed to achieve that feat which people in intellectual circles and parliamentary sessions only debate about. How can we negate an INSTITUTION that sends an entire nation's pulse racing?! 

Since the Sri Lankan team was attacked in Lahore during it's tour of Pakistan in 2009, no international cricket match has been played in Pakistan. Because of this 'security problem', even though the World Cup 2011 is being hosted by South Asia, none of the matches will be played in Pakistan, the country with the largest and most passionate fan following. One only has to go out on the streets on a day when Pakistan is playing for proof of our fixation with cricket. If people aren't following the match on TV screens while going around their daily business, they have their ears glued to the radio to catch the live commentary, lest they miss any crucial moment. 

I lost my interest in cricket soon after our team lost the '96 World Cup, dejected by our team's performance and disgusted by the endless cases of 'match fixing'. This year, however, it's different. Even though the 'spot-fixing scandal' last year came as a rude shock to the nation, my pulse still races with the rest of my countrymen during every Pakistan match in this World Cup. Every time I pray for my team it is accompanied by the plea, "it's the only thing my people have left, don't take it away from them". 

This also goes out as an appeal to the Pakistan cricket team. Don't let your people down. Don't take away from them one of the few things they have left to be proud of. Even if you don't win, play with dignity. 

Coming from someone who is not even a die-hard cricket fan. This is not just a game! For my nation, it's a ray of hope. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Of Women's Rights and Mosques

Here is an appeal to all my sisters of women’s rights organisations who are busy protesting against veils and chaar diwari. (Don’t take me wrong, some of them are doing commendable work!) While you’re on the subject of women’s rights, why not ask for public areas for women to pray?

Then again, how can I blame the women when our self-righteous brothers sitting in the mosques look at a woman in horror if she dares enter and ask whether there is any place for women to pray. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where we have at least two mosques in every little town, women have to think more than twice before entering one. Maybe they think women should not be out of their homes to begin with? Those who pray regularly, that is. Perhaps we have sinned so grossly by stepping outdoors that we are no longer entitled to stand for prayer?

Our maulvi brethren, the custodians of our mosques, are apparently too busy measuring beard lengths and conspiring Hajj scandals to go through the trouble of making suitable arrangements for women to pray. Is a little space and a separate entrance asking for too much? Before my brothers start foaming at the mouth chanting "thou shalt not pray alongside men" or "women can't pray in the mosque", let me ask them, would you rather have us praying in the open receiving curious and otherwise stares from throngs of men? The Prophet (PBUH) never forbade women from entering the mosque.

‘Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from going to the mosque of Allah.’ [Sahih Muslim Vol.1 Chapter 177 Hadith No.886]

I have read several articles written by Muslims in America and Europe perpetually looking for convenient places to pray and ending up praying in changing rooms and I find myself relating to them. They, at least, have the excuse of residing in Non-Muslim countries. Pretty much proves that women are second grade citizens in Pakistan.

I’m sure many people won’t identify this as a big problem in a country where the general public has to struggle for basic human rights. Women are not the only second grade citizens in this country. However, I feel this issue has to be pointed out as it is symbolic of the hypocrisy that is rife in our society.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking at my brothers enviously as they enjoy the luxury to pray pretty much any where, while I think of the most convenient way to pray in my car. 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Yeh Tera Pakistan Hai Ya Mera Pakistan Hai?

He watches his target from his hiding spot as the poor innocent victim goes around his daily business. He slowly takes out his gun. Aims for the prey's heart. "Steady now", he tells himself. He holds his breath and...*BANG!* 

No, this is not another case of public shooting or target killing that we witness every other day. This is a whole new case of "you've been tagged!" The "gun" that every Pakistani wields these days is the Tagging Gun. Ever seen the staff of a superstore holding gun-like objects which they use to paste price tags onto items? That's about it. 

Similarly, Pakistanis walk around holding tagging guns ready to label anyone and everyone at our whim. Long gone are the days when these labels were limited to Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Hindu. Our new and improved list of tags range from Sunni, Shia, Brelvi, Deobandi, etc. and now have evolved to the point where we have the all-famous Extremist, Liberal, Secular, Islamist, Moderate etc. etc.

The Pakistani flag has two colours, Green and White. Green is supposed to represent the Muslims and White, the "minorities". Everyone is happy... NOT! Where has my Pakistan gone? The country that boasts of differing cultures, languages and landscapes has now become a battleground of clashing opinions and beliefs. Ik parcham ke saaye talay hum aik hain? Unfortunately not. 

While we are busy labeling people left, right and centre, what about people like me? If I wear a hijab and pray five times a day; does that make me an Extremist/Islamist? Wait, I have a strong inclination towards the creative arts and I believe in "freedom of speech"; does that make me a Liberal or a Moderate Muslim?  I have had the opportunity (good or not, I'm not quite sure) to experience a little bit of both "extremes" but I perpetually feel like I don't belong anywhere. When in artsy fartsy circles, I stick out like a sore thumb because of my appearance. When amongst (supposedly) religious circles, I'm expected to play the role of a docile, silent and obedient woman - something I'm most definitely not! One group talks about keeping religion out of the affairs of the state and the other talks about a complete overhaul of our system. I feel like I'm caught in a constant tug-of-war between both worlds. 

When I attempt to explain to my foreign colleagues what it means to be Pakistani, I usually find myself stuck at a crossroads. What DOES it mean to be Pakistani? Once we find the answer to that, maybe we can finally move on to other pressing matters like ... oh, I don't know... basic human rights perhaps? Obviously, it's far more important to determine whether Pakistan is a secular state or not, right?