Smokers' Corner: That's that


New Member
Mar 31, 2010
Wasif 21, graduated from a college in Karachi. He is a budding musician, has a band, a recently acquired day job (at an advertising agency) and dreams of travelling abroad to get a master's degree.

In what, I asked him?
"Islamic Studies," said he.
I was obviously taken aback.

Wasif was a bit surprised at my reaction: "Did you know Farhat Hashmi did her PhD in Islamic Studies from University of Glasgow in Scotland?"

Her name rolling out so profoundly from a 21-year-old young man made me realise how different his generation is. Especially compared to the one I belonged to. The one which danced in the streets of Karachi and Lahore at the demise of the Zia dictatorship and looked euphorically towards a more democratic Pakistan.

Wasif is very much like Aman from Islamabad and Javad from Lahore. Both are about to get themselves enrolled in a high profile university in Lahore. From there they want to get their degrees and then join a bank. They are quite hip about latest western trends, watch Hollywood and Bollywood movies with great interest, but will suddenly swing to the far sides of conservatism whenever the talk of Islam, US, Imran Khan or Osama props up.

After talking to these young men, I figured that the whole concept of contradiction (let alone hypocrisy), seems quite conveniently alien to this lot.
Another interesting thing that I discovered about them was that almost all of them had at least one relative or friend associated with an evangelical Islamic organisation. Such organisations, even up until the early 90s, were usually believed to be only associated with the petty-bourgeois.

But some believe that in the wake of liberal democracy in Pakistan in 1988, various intelligence agencies got involved in a "strategic" and "cultural" programme designed to safeguard Zia's so-called "Islamisation process", and that perhaps these organisations are a result of this clandestine resolve. According to Tariq Qadir, a former member of the Arrahman Arrahim organisation, the sole aim of new organisations such as the one he became a part of is to take care of the anxiety pangs of people among the educated classes who'd been attracted by the more puritanical sides of Islam in the 1980s and were now feeling uncomfortable with their modern lifestyles clashing with their new-found beliefs.

He said these classes were searching for "scholars" who'd tell them what they all wanted to hear: that it is okay to enjoy the amoral fruits of modernisation and still be a moralistic Muslim. Tariq says that this in a way justifies hypocrisy and that this notion is usually the "bait" with which these organisations pull the more moderate, middle and upper-middle class people into their ranks.

"As the mullahs were encouraging a more brutal form of hypocrisy among the poor, these organisations are justifying a more sophisticated level of hypocrisy amongst the privileged classes," Tariq adds, smiling. Islamic evangelical organisations got a boost (both financial and social), due to a sudden surge in their ranks of people belonging to the moneyed classes.

Also, in the late 90s, a string of celebrities in the form of pop musicians, actors and cricketers started to join such groups. It almost became a trend among affluent young men and women to frequent lectures organised by such organisations. "Well, that's what these organisations are here for," Tariq says. "Becoming a part of them means getting an Islamic label while continuing to do things that have nothing to do with saadgi (austerity), or modesty!"

I asked Tariq, now 31, what made him leave Arrahman Arrahim and then the Tableeghi Jamaat? "Commonsense," he said, grinning. Iffat, a passionate activist of Women's Action Forum (WAF) in the 1980s and now a mother of two teenage sons, summed up the situation with an air of resignation: "What is happening to today's young generation regarding religion is an outcome of what happened during the Zia regime. The process of institutionalising hypocrisy that Zia started has now been strengthened by everyone from jihadi organisations to mullahs to even organisations which are catering to the more well-to-do segments of society."

I asked her how working mothers like herself see the current generation's topsy-turvy tendency to fall in with amoral modern lifestyle and then fall out to go to the other extreme by joining reactionary jihadi outfits or conservative evangelical groups. "It scares me," said Iffat. "But what can a young, educated person do today to express him or herself politically and creatively?"

She added: "When we were growing up in the 1970s, we had ample opportunities to express ourselves and never found the need to wear our religion, or for that matter, our wealth on our sleeves. But in the last three decades, we have seen the whole concept of Pakistan espoused by our founders collapse. It's a question of identity. Young people in the last many years have no idea what Pakistan stands for anymore. The progressive forces seem to have been vanquished."

Maybe the progressive forces have been diluted and depoliticised and the liberal youth are left only to undertake trivial creative and social pursuits in the name of liberalism. "That's it!" said Iffat, excitedly. "When it comes to doing something worthwhile you can identify with, it seems these days a young man or a woman just has these religious organisations. It's an identity thing."

I asked her what her reaction would be if her sons ended up joining an Islamic evangelical organisation. "Well, I'll pray to God that they keep their newfound beliefs to themselves and not impose them on their unwilling friends, wives or children."

"But wouldn't they be compelled to spread their newfound enlightenment?" I asked her. "Unfortunately, yes," said Iffat. "But that's that, I guess."


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