Caught in a Juloos
By Rafiq Ebrahim
Glen Ellyn IL

Once again in the enchanting city of Lahore, during a short winter get-away from the icy winds of Chicago last month, I was leisurely walking along a street. With me was a friend, Sally, a Tribune writer who was on a tour to South Asia to gather interesting and not very well-known facts about our culture for use in the novel she was working on. We stopped by a sugarcane juice vendor, and just as she had finished her third glass of the body-nourishing nectar, we saw a huge mass of people coming in our direction. They were carrying placards, banners and signboards with various messages boldly displayed.
The procession demonstrating mainly against the publication of blasphemous cartoons, had other messages too, such as denouncing the role of the government in protesting against this blasphemy, boycotting Danish products and imposing a ban on the import of goods from some European countries. One or two signs described Bush as a mass-killer, another sign demanded basic necessities for the poor.
“Islam is the most reasonable religion, and the Prophet Commands respect,” said Sally. “Let’s join in the rally and voice our condemnation of the cartoons.”
Such a comment from a non- Muslim naturally gladdened my heart, so we got into the crowd amid loud chanting of Allah-o-Akbar. People in the procession were of all ages and genders, looking very solemn, as they walked on with brisk, thundering steps. From all angles it appeared to be a peaceful rally, but when I looked back I saw a small group of people carrying cricket bats, clubs and sticks. They also had gunny bags full of what looked like stones. I asked one of them the reason for carrying all these. “Can come handy if the police attacked us,” he said.
Suddenly, Sally shouted, “Get away from here. What on earth are you doing?” I turned around and saw an innocent-looking guy searching for something on the ground just below Sally’s skirt. He raised his hands and said, “I am sorry, I am sorry, I was just looking for the pacifier my baby just lost.” That seemed to pacify Sally too, but a fierce- looking bearded man standing nearby, emitting flame from his eyes, caught hold of this man and shouted, “You should be ashamed of yourself. Why don’t you have a beard on your face? Do you consider yourself Muslim?” The man hurriedly made good his escape from the scene.
A few minutes later, “Allah!” Somebody said in a deep, sonorous voice, which got Sally shaken. It was repeated at short, regular intervals. Though Sally was a God-loving girl, she could not take it any more, so we got away from this Allah-chanting guy.
Just when I thought everything was going well, an object was seen flying in the air, which then got lodged on Sally’s head. It was a soft, black Jinnah cap. After a moment’s shock, she just laughed and adjusted it properly on her head. “May as well wear it till the owner comes to reclaim it,” she put in.
Soon, we heard a chorus, “Bush, stop the killing of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Then someone said loudly, “Fulfill our basic needs. Don’t crush the poor.” We walked on and I saw one of the guys getting restless. He looked here and there and asked me, “Do you know if there is a washroom nearby?” I shook my head and he kept asking other people the same question. Then he rushed out of the procession.
Most of the shops on the road were closed, but some shopkeepers dared to keep their shops open. The hostile group which carried bats, clubs and stones got agitated at seeing these shops open. Some members came out waving their bats and sticks, and the next moment they began attacking the poor shopkeepers. Soon it was free-for-all. They started looting shops, smashing the windshields of the cars parked on the road, and damaging motorcycles.
Pretty soon, we saw a couple of police trucks approaching. The cops came out and the crowd throwing stones at them. I was struck with panic, for I knew that if the police started hauling people, Sally, a foreigner sporting a Jinnah cap would be one of the first victims. In a jiffy, I grabbed her arm and whisked her away from the rally, which had become violent. We jogged, and then ran to avoid the unpleasant happening.
Later, in a coffee shop, Sally, taking off the cap and respectfully putting it on the table, said, “What was all that about? What was the objective behind staging such a protest? Certainly, it was not against the publication of those cartoons! If it was for that purpose, the meaning was lost. People were just expressing their grievances, letting out their frustrations in a way that could never achieve anything. There was no clear objective, and yes, no unity.”
I had to painfully agree to what she said. After a moment’s thought I said, “You are right Sally. It was just a venting out of long-endured frustrations of the poor masses. They do not live in livable houses, jobs are scarce, no good schools exist for their kids, there is contaminated water to drink, non-availability of electricity in most houses turn them into hell, unapproachable medical facilities and a host of other problems plague their lives. As for unity, there is no such thing among our people. The whole Muslim community is disunited. That’s one reason we suffer all over the world.”

 


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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