the Editor: Akhtar
July 14, 2006
A Year after
the London Bombings
hapless Muslim world in July 2006 appears as precariously
perched as it was in July 2005. Not much has changed
in the intervening twelve months. What was written
a year earlier appears equally true and equally
London alone was not rocked by a series of bomb
explosions on July 7, 2005. The shock waves of the
blasts were felt across the globe, and more tremulously
in dwellings that housed demoralized followers of
a faith that preaches just the opposite of terrorism
- peace. Suddenly, a discomforting feeling filled
the air: the blame game would start anew!
For overseas Pakistanis the crushing blow was to
come a few days later. The news was chilling: The
bombers were identified as Britons of Pakistani
origin! Shezad Tanweer, who carried out the bombing
of an underway at Aldgate, had attended a madrassah
Perched precariously in the post-9/11 period, overseas
Pakistanis felt the stinging twinge of the revelation.
Pronounced guilty across North America and Europe
without committing so much as a trivial act of omission!
An eerie quiet quickly descended upon them.
But the news did not lead to an exchange of incriminations
or recriminations between London and Islamabad.
Prime Minister Tony Blair was quick to acknowledge
that a “vast and overwhelming majority of
Muslims here and abroad are decent and law-abiding
people who abhor this act of terrorism every bit
as much as we do.” President Musharraf’s
response was more than empty formalism: “The
people of Pakistan stand together with the people
of the United Kingdom in this very trying moment…
It is important that we … further strengthen
our bonds of cooperation to eliminate this menace.”
The Britons’ response to the heinous attacks
was a reminder of their World War II steeliness.
Blair’s Churchillian call for unity spurred
doctors, medics and common Brits to stream out to
rescue the injured in blood-splattered London; they
gave a singular display of the spirit de corps that
characterized Britain during the War. “As
Brits we’ll carry on – it doesn’t
scare us at all,” said 37-year-old tour guide
Michael Cahill. “Look, loads of people are
walking down the streets. It’s Great Britain
– not called ‘Great’ for nothing.”
A week later British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
spoke with due subtlety: “We are concerned
about what goes on in some, though not all, of the
madrassahs in Pakistan,” Straw said, adding
that the concern was shared by President Musharraf.
Earlier in February 2005 during the course of a
visit to Lahore, Straw had observed that the pivotal
challenge for the 21st century would be Islam’s
relations with the Western world.
What would be the nature of these relations? Would
mutual distrust give way to understanding and trust
in the years ahead? Would Islam and the West be
on a coalition rather than a collision course? Would
the 21st century be characterized by a dialogue
of civilizations rather than a clash of civilizations?
Would the West be inclined to identify Islam with
forces of moderation rather than the wily acts of
fringe, extremist groups? Would the madrassahs emerge
as seminaries that combine religious teachings with
lessons in physical and bio-sciences - a sprinkling
of computer skills, physics, chemistry, mathematics
and English - for ushering a wholesome change or
would some of them serve as breeding centers of
terrorism? Would reclusion of extremist groups precipitate
their ultimate exclusion from the global community
or would they tend to demonstrate a spirit of accommodation?
Would the sturdy, handsome Pathans, admired and
adored by Sir Olaf Caroe, do more than just legislating
controversial Hasba Bills?
In shaping these possible trends Pakistan’s
role would be decisive and catalytic. What precisely
do we need to do?
First, the supreme feeling of self-righteousness
afflicting each one of us should give way to an
exercise in self-introspection. Other faith groups
on planet Earth are as much a part of God’s
ashraful makhlooqat as Muslims. We should be seized
of our obligations to people of the book as also
to others. Self-commendation must make way for mutual
Science and technology are the greatest equalizer
– a stimulant for economic equality and resultant
peace – between nation states and community
groups. Indisputably, they account for the disconcerting
divide between the haves and the have-nots. The
creative impulse needs to be nurtured and sustained
A fresh effort must be made to incorporate natural
science within the framework of the Shariah. The
issue, to quote Professor Nazeer Ahmed, an eminent
historian, is one of constructing a hierarchy of
knowledge wherein the transcendence of revelation
is preserved but wherein reason and the free will
of man are accorded honor and respect. The classical
Islamic civilization thrived and made contributions
to science and civilization, because it sought its
inspiration not just from the schools of jurisprudence,
but also from the Shariah of nature and the Shariah
of human history. While societal balance and societal
stability were achieved through an application of
fiqh, a natural balance with nature was achieved
through an understanding and application of the
Shariah of nature (the laws of nature), and historical
lessons were applied to keep a just balance in the
matrix of human affairs. The balance was lost with
the passage of time until Shariah was marginalized
into a set of rules for marriage, inheritance, rituals
and monetary transactions.
A revision of the madrassah syllabus is no less
important. Emphasis should be placed on imparting
deeni as well as dunyawi taleem. Until the eighteenth
century, mathematics, natural and social sciences
coupled with Qur’anic spirituality formed
the syllabus of the madrassahs. Their reintroduction
is more than a pressing need today.
The Friday sermon should relay a message of hope
and love. It must be divested of hate and dismay.
Who is to be held responsible for motivating the
three young Britons, born and bred in the UK, on
the July 7 2005 suicidal course? Are all khatibs
familiar with both religious and secular education?
Can they rationalize Islamic teachings in the light
of modern knowledge? Can rhetoric and platitudes
suffice for a sermon? Islam is a progressive religion,
so progressive that Europe shied away from it at
its inception in the seventh century. The Prophet
Mohammed (PBUH) was infinitely head and shoulders
above the super Renaissance man.
With him there was no dilemma between religious
and temporal power, nor, indeed, between military
and civilian power. Church, State, and Army were
one. “His career,” according to Bernard
Lewis, “was the answer to a great political,
social and moral need” for a higher form of
religion than that which the Arabs had had before
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was much more than a spiritual
leader: he was also charged with temporal responsibilities.
In his young age he was seen as an introspective
child often ‘contemplating under the stars.’
He encountered Jews and Christians and learned about
both religions. A feminist in his own right, the
Prophet granted legal rights to women. Hazrat Ayesha,
who had an active mind, questioned the Prophet and
questioned him relentlessly without ever so much
as rattling him. How could one explain the frequent
Mukhtaran Mai aberrations by followers of his sunnah
The interfaith dialogue should be strengthened,
particularly among followers of the three Abrahamic
religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
This would help a speedier integration of Muslims
in mainstream communities.
Muslims should figure more prominently in national
and international media. So far intelligent and
incisive observations, including the scant pro-Islam
comments, have come from non-Muslim writers:
“... The Iraq war is identified by the dossier
as a key cause of young Britons turning to terrorism.
The analysis says: ‘It seems that a particularly
strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including
young Muslims, is a perceived double standard in
the foreign policy of Western governments, in particular
Britain and the US.
“The perception is that passive ‘oppression’,
as demonstrated in British foreign policy, e.g.
non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way
to ‘active oppression’. The war on terror,
and in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all seen by a section
of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam…”
– Robert Winnett and David Leppard, The Times
(UK), July 10, 2005.
“What the United States should be doing, instead
of invading and occupying countries, is re-examining
its foreign policy vis-à-vis the Islamic
world. There is no natural conflict between the
West and Islam. The followers and true believers
of Osama bin Laden are a tiny minority. The best
way to cut the ground out from under him is to develop
and pursue policies that treat all of the Islamic
countries with fairness and respect…”
– Charles Reese, Antiwar.com, July 9, 2005
A Western news agency highlighted the fact that
“Osama bin Laden is losing public confidence
in several key Islamic countries, while growing
number of Muslims are sharing Western concerns over
extremism…” The 17-nation survey was
conducted by the Washington-based Pew Institute!
Food for thought for our social scientists and academics.
The Western media is the villain as well as our
savior. Such is the enormity of our predicament.
As for Pakistani-Americans for whom the latter half
of the hyphenated identity means a great deal more
than the first without occasioning the much needed
attitudinal change in the Land of the Free, the
present picture is one of both hope and dismay.
They have had their share of successes and their
part of failures.
In terms of community service, the singular contribution
of the affluent business class of Pakistani Americans
has been the construction of buildings. Little do
the businessmen realize that bricks and mortar hardly
create institutes pulsating with the creative impulse.
They are no substitutes for foundations or endowments
that nurture higher learning and scholarship and
furnish the passport to modernity.
A beginning has to be made. Seeme and Malik Hasan
have established a business school in Colorado.
Sohaib Abbasi has donated two-and-a-half million
dollars to support Islamic studies at Stanford.
The effort needs to gather steam.
A few professional associations have played a role
in the uplift of rural Pakistan. Afflicted by the
Owadh kae nawab streak – patronizing musicians,
singers, artists, poets et al. – they have
been hardly seized of responsibilities in their
immediate surroundings. There are institutions that
they have to nurture, the fledgling community media
in the US, to name one. Deprived of popular support
the media has failed to make its mark. Barring exceptions
- Bridges TV programs and Geo TV’s Jaiza -
our papers continue to be mere rags and TV programs
theatrical portrayal of our strivings, thanks to
the indifference of the community’s well-to-do
The scene must change. Quite a few Pakistanis graduate
from Colombia and USC schools of journalism every
year. If Dawn, Herald, The News, and Newsline in
Pakistan could afford foreign-educated staffers,
why not the Pakistani-American media? True, ethnic
papers in the US don’t earn as much as Dawn
or News do but it is also a fact that the Pakistani
society at large is not as rich as the Pakistani
American community. The Congressional caucus is
a laudable initiative but it is in a formative stage
and has yet to deliver. It needs wholehearted community
support to fulfill its promise.
The Embassy and consulates can be credited with
a mixed record. They have been alive to issues at
times but totally inert on occasions when action
on their part was most needed. PAL-C, Rising Leaders
and the Intern Scheme are laudable initiatives.
The young men and women associated with these programs
are sure to make a difference at Capitol Hill.
The academics have been absent from forums where
their presence was needed most. They have been too
mute, too docile. Only Professor Akbar Ahmed seems
to be an exception to this confounding trend. He
has been engaged with rabbis and reverends in a
dialogue of civilizations to present the peaceful
face of Islam. What is more, he has successfully
introduced an absorbing course on the subject at
the American University in Washington. His stout
defense of Islam on BBC, CNN, ABC, Fox, C-Span and
numerous channels, social gatherings and through
newspaper articles has furnished a clearer picture
of the Muslim perspective on jihad, terrorism and
other current subjects. We do have role models.
There is hope.
Not sure of its cultural and historical moorings
the youth appears confused, particularly when the
absurd argument against the two-nation theory is
advanced. Earning grades and counting units, they
seem to drift listlessly while yearning for an intellectually
stimulating environment that could lend meaning
to the newly found Pakistani-American identity.
The overall picture breeds optimism: Quite a few
youngsters of Pakistan descent have excelled at
the glittering Ivy colleges and testify to the potential
of the Pakistan-American community.
Finally, in the post- 9/11 changing US, Pakistani
Americans are required to demonstrate greater civic
participation at every level. The crisis of confidence
between Muslims and non-Muslims must come to an
end. Muslims have been relegated to second-class
citizens as a result of this crisis. They must strive
for their full-citizenship status.
Barely a decade ago American Muslims clamored for
a Judeo-Christian-Muslim identity. A sea change
has taken place in the few intervening years. Some
developments have been truly ominous. What could
possibly be the long-term implications of the Indo-US
Strategic Pact signed recently?
There is a lot that our social scientists have to
think about. There is a lot that each one of has
to do to contribute to our response to the post-9/11
and -7/7 global scene.