Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Where will our priorities take us?

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based think tank.

Where will our priorities take us?

In 1258 Halaku Khan invaded and captured Baghdad, the capital of Abbasid caliphate. It was the prime seat of civilization and learning of its time which was totally destroyed by the uncultured Mongols while Muslims were massacred. This single historic event is one of the most painful in the Muslim history and every Muslim family routinely tells this story to its children while giving the reasons for this tragedy and lessons to be learnt. The most common narrative is that people and Ulema of those times had gotten into useless academic debates about religion which did not have anything to do with people’s problems. The two examples most commonly cited are the discussion about hen’s egg and its kosherness, and the debate about Koran being alive so needing jinaza and proper burial. The Ulema and intellectuals indulged themselves into meaningless discussions ignoring the pressing problems of the people and defense of the country, making Baghdad vulnerable. Pakistan’s current religious political parties apparently opposing the military led government finally found out an issue where it can get tough with the government threatening resignations, protests and other extreme measures. The hot issue is the women protection bill which was a partial repeal of the hadood ordinance enforced by another general, Zia ul Haq. Apparently how we treat accused adulterers is more important than educating millions of Muslims, or providing them with health care, or giving them human dignity or in short, haqooqulibad.

Priorities play a very important role in shaping the future of nations and individuals alike. Factors determining the course of events are nearly always well appreciated but it is the correctness of priorities that eventually differentiates the winners from losers. Academics is important for students as are the physical activities and social skills, but if a student spends too much time on developing social skills while ignoring academics, he is bound to suffer no matter how much lip service he gives to the importance of studies and sports. In the medieval ages the Christians found a biblical verse, “thou shall not let a witch to live” most important and history is full of stories of priests looking for witches and burning them alive. We in Pakistan many times find reason for extremely heavy spending on defense from Quran forgetting that more verses can be found about education, health or human welfare. When Christian’s priorities were messed up they suffered as a group and were repeatedly subjugated and humiliated. For the last few centuries unfortunately the Islamic world is facing tough times and it may be time for some introspection and straightening of priorities. It is our wrong priorities that may be causing repeated tragedies.

Analyses of the current state of our priorities can be pretty distressing. Despite being the followers of the only religion which repeatedly stresses on education we are continuously spending the least on educating our children. Islam showed this world the first truly welfare state where all the necessities of the people were taken care by the state but today our governments are terribly negligent. Despite democracy introduced millennia ago, the Muslim world is ages behind the world in this respect. Islamic civilization built strong institutions when such things were unheard of and today our institutions are in a pathetic state. Islam was the pioneer in raising the issue of human rights (haqooqulibad) and today others remind us of our duty to give rights to our people. Judicial system is crumbling. Corruption, which is a form of stealing from the weak, is rampant and the list goes on and on. Just a few days back a student wing of a religious political party in its annual report said that 7 million Muslim children are denied basic schooling but it was not considered important enough to be followed or acted upon whereas women rights bill was.

We are blessed with the only religion which is “Rehmat” and our Prophet (PBUH) “Rehmatulalamein”. It is the only religion which is not only a set of rituals but encompasses all aspects of life of individuals and the state. It is the only religion stressing education and human rights. Although we still give lip service to all these aspects but we fail to give it the importance and priority it deserves. I am yet to see our religious leaders protesting against illiteracy or peoples political rights as a religious duty. But when it is a gender issue or any other issue involving interests of leaders they can be active rather proactive. It is not to say that gender issues are not important but they are not the only important issues and we must be careful not to allow anyone to dilute the attention of people from their real issues by fostering such issues for their own designs.

Actually it was malookiat which managed to routinely relegate the issue of haqooqulibad with all its aspects for its only political and other interests because it was based on denial of people’s political rights. The strategy was simple. All focus was diverted from welfare of the people to issues not easily comprehensible by the simple people. This strategy while effectively increased the power and influence of the approved clergy it also secured the Kings leaving more resources and money in their hands. No wonder it was a very suitable situation for the Muslim Kings and so they nurtured this thought. Even if we see the 11 year tenure of Zia in Pakistan who proclaimed bringing in Islamic law we see the same trend. He failed miserably to bring in the rule of law, or educate or give rights to the people but effectively introduced some punishments and started discussions about gender issues.

Today, despite being 20% of the world and controlling most of its resources the situation of the Islamic countries is pathetic to say the least. Everyday scores of Muslims are being killed around the world on one pretext or others. Our young have been effectively labeled terrorists and humiliated at airports. We did have a renaissance of sorts in the last 40 years and our people are honest, sincere to the extent that they are ready to sacrifice their lives for their faith. Our mosques are full of Namazis and Ramzan is observed very solemnly but still our conditions are not improving. The world was astonished to find a few thousand Japanese kamikazes willing to die for their country but now the list of willing suicide volunteers seem to be unending. Their “jazba” when combined with the American technology could defeat, rather uproot a super power but the same jazba alone could just muster martyrs. Our weakness in factors other than jazba and imaan is due to our messed up priorities causing lack of education which needs money and other resources our rulers want to keep for their lavish lifestyles. This sufficiently explains our sorry state of affairs.

It is about time we correct our priorities. We acknowledge that people welfare cannot be divorced from our religion. We realize that it is our religious duty to educate our children. It is our duty to provide them the necessities of life. It is our duty to give them dignity. It is our duty to assure them of their political rights. Only once we realize our duties we can be able to fulfill them and create a society the world might admire and maybe follow. Only then we can earn respect of the world we lost centuries ago. The world does not heed to talks no matter how sweet but results and we have only uneducated deprived people being oppressed by despots in the Islamic world. Basically we are sending a message that our system cannot fulfill the needs of our people and modern times. Unfortunately during all this tragedy the intelligentsia is more interested in gender and other issues not directly related to peoples problems. Sounds suspiciously like the Baghdad of middle ages with its messed up priorities. If we do not correct our priorities we will invite the same fate. We still have time but do we have the resolve to correct ourselves is yet to be seen.

Na samjho gey to mit jao gey aye Hindustan walo
Tumhare daastan bhi na rahey gi daastanon main.

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