Annotated Contents


Actual columns follow the annotated contents




January 7, 2000        Benazir’s Betrayal

This is Benazir's second year on the North American lecture circuit. It was reported that last year she earned US$200,000 from her twenty lectures. With such a start, Benazir's new career looks rather promising. But this should not come as a surprise to anyone, for she has the right qualifications. But what a fall for a woman of such fortunate background!

January 21, 2000      Society without Parallel


Contemporary America is not the best model human beings have evolved in history. But  it’s a society which has managed to remain vibrant and creative.


February 4, 2000      Dew on Sunburnt Roses


The agenda for change has failed to emerge. The euphoria created by the ouster of Mian Nawaz Sharif by the military has quietly disappeared from the national scene and it is business as usual, once again.


February 16, 2000   Collapse of Institutions


When all is said and done, Pakistan’s multiple problems arise from a simple cause -failure to build solid institutions. We started out with institutions left behind by the British and instead of transforming them or evolving new ones, all we have done in the last fifty-two years is to destroy what was bequeathed to us as a legacy of our colonial past.


March 3, 2000          Twenty Miles from Pakistan


Built on a scale which reminds one of the Mughal dynasties, medieval ages and grand empires, the Presidency recedes into the hills from its imposing front view at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Jinnah Avenue.


March 17, 2000        The Last Pilgrimage


It was a glorious Thursday. The date was May 28, 632 (Rabi ul-awwal 12, 11 Hijri). It was also a sad day for the Muslim community, for on this day, the Prophet of Islam departed from this world.


March 31, 2000        Haj year 2000


We had gathered from all corners of the world. Thousands upon thousands. Men, women, children, old, young, strong and weak. Responding to the urgent invitation, we all submitted: “Here I am, O Lord, Here I am…”


April 14, 2000


Another Political Void


Six months after the historic October 12 day, we are in the midst of a political void. The law of necessity had demanded the creation of this void, expediency had required the removal of all political elements from the scene, and instinct of survival had dictated the mechanisms.


May 1, 2000  Glimpses of a Distorted Culture


…This is how hundreds of madrassah students start their school day across the country. Their repetition, their drudgery and their unchanging curricula were formulated at the height of decadence of Muslim culture. Things have not changed in centuries.


Mar 12, 2000            Do we need more science?


Five years ago, on a cold March day, Professor Syed Hussein Nasr delivered a keynote address in Islamabad on the subject of science. The bottom line of his address was a clear warning to the Muslim world on the subject of modern science. The western scientific enterprise requires a very careful analysis and not a blind imitation.


May 26, 2000                        Time is running out


The coincidence of dates and the number of judges leads us to a grand finale marked for October 12, 2002 – the day when the three-year term of General Pervez Mussarraf will come to an end.


June 10, 2000           The Numbers Game


If we are to believe our worthy science minister, Pakistan will surely be a world economic power within a few years.  But before we jump to any conclusions, let us get our facts straight.


June 23          A forgotten Pakistani


It was a cold and cloudy day of April 2000. I had walked up the long road high above the historic city of Granada to a small Muslim cemetery. I had gone there to pay homage to a Pakistani whose hundredth birthday will not be celebrated in Pakistan on July 2 this year. His name was Muhammad Asad.


July 7, 2000   The ‘Oh, I See’ Joke


The June 27th meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Foreign Ministers’ (ICFM) meeting at Kuala Lumpur did what OIC has been doing since 1969: passed an enormous number of resolutions.


July 21, 2000 Recalling Islamic Clauses


The connection between the chief executive’s promulgation and the train blast is clear: while a statement from the country’s ruler proclaims Islam to be the state religion, a section of population negates, violates and contradicts the very spirit of Islam by taking lives of innocent people and by showing how helpless the rulers are in real life.


August 4, 2000          Recolonisation of the World


Ahmae sits in front of his computer screen in a small room on one of Lahore’s posh areas. He stares at the small programme file he has written in Java script. Soon the file would be uploaded to a server in California where this small part of a huge software programme would fit nicely into its proper place.


August 18, 2000       Missing national Agenda


As individuals, we should rise above the rosy dreams of a utopia modeled after the western prosperity. We should realise that the only purpose this technology can serve for a Muslim is to put enough money in his pocket to enable him to live freely.


September 1, 2000              Flip side of IT policy


For the weary reader, the title of this column may sound like a diatribe  … After all, who would dare to write against the virtual reality, for that is the only reality we know in this

age of collective amnesia.


September 15, 2000                        Muslims in the 21st Century - I


Not a single leader from the fifty-six Muslim countries at the recent UN meeting in New York could stand out as a leader of a country whose voice could not be ignored. These leaders claimed to represent more than one billion Muslims!


September 29, 2000                        Muslims in the 21st Century – II


Look at a contemporary map and you will ind a densely populated region of Asia, Africe and the Middle East where most of the 56 Muslim states are situated. These lands have been the traditional home of Muslims for centuries. Today, almost all of these ancient lands are at the bottom of the economic indicators.


October 13, 2000     Western Media’s Biases


The images shown on the TV and news media of the 12 year-old boy and his father sitting in front of a wall a Netzarim of Saturday, September 30, the volley of bullets, the agonizing cries, the shouts for help and the death of the boy produces no outrage in the West. No one paid more than a fleeting attention to this violence.


October 27, 2000 Profanity around the Haram – unpublished


Today, Hajj and Umrah have become a multi-million dollar business. The two peak seasons are the Ramadan and the Hajj when are many as two million people come to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


November 10, 2000             Islam, Science and Muslims


The familiar cliche about science in Pakistan come in many different versions: “We need science for development”; “If we do not have enough science, we will be left behind in the race for progress”; “We do not spend enough on science”. These and similar slogans have been making headlines all over the Muslim world for almost a century now.


November 24, 2000             A Friday in Jerusalem


It was the fourth Friday after the notorious visit of Ariel Sharon to Islam’s third holiest site, a visit that had left more than 260 people dead in its wake. Shortly after arrival in Jerusalem, we had rushed through the deserted streets of the Old City and were able to enter the Mosque for Isha prayer.


December 11, 2000             The Undemocratic Alliance


It is a cruel and crude joke and no one is ready to listen to it anymore. What is needed is a national plan to tackle the very basic issues. The need is for a national alliance for the restoration of human dignity, quality of life and basic infrastructure, not for the restoration of a caricature of democracy  which will bring more destruction and corruption and misery.


December 22, 2000             Making Eid a Global Affair


Will we have two Eids again? Every year Pakistan, and many other Muslim countries go through this experience of moon controversy. It is one of those perpetual controversies that is never resolved.





The News International

Friday  Jan. 7, 2000


Benazir's betrayal

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

"Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's story is one of hope, perseverance and survival as she guided the people of Pakistan from anarchy to the restoration of democracy while confined to prison," reads the quarter page advertisement in a Canadian newspaper. "Despite her many years of political imprisonment, the witnessing of the hanging of her father and the mysterious death of her brother, Benazir Bhutto continued to wage a relentless struggle for freedom. Benazir Bhutto faced oppression with courage and determination and went on to become the second prime minister ever to have been elected to the office twice and the first woman to govern an Islamic country. Come meet this remarkable world leader and visionary."

The date is May 9, 2000. The city is Edmonton, Alberta. Three other women will speak in the four-part lecture series called "Unique Lives & Experiences". The website for the series ( provides very little information to identify the organisation which has planned the event. This is what they say:

"Unique Lives & Experiences, North America's foremost women's lecture series, was developed in response to women's requests for intellectual entertainment and provides them with a forum for meaningful dialogue and stimulating interaction. Unique Lives & Experiences is a very special, multi-evening lecture series designed to motivate, challenge and enlighten anyone with a strong desire to learn from the personal experiences of our distinguished speakers. And, if you want to share the experience, an exciting Question & Answer period will give you the chance to speak your mind."

The other speakers in the series are an Olympic rower, Silken Laumann, who is called "a Canadian sports legend", a comic strip writer, Lynn Johnston, who created the chronicle of the Patterson family in "For better or for worse", and an Oscar and Emmy Award winner, Patty Duke, who will speak "with openness and courage about living with manic depression".

The series packages for all four performances start from $109, VIP series ticket is $308, which entitles you to "VIP Orchestra seating, followed by a private reception with the guest speaker". This is Benazir's second year on the North American lecture circuit. It was reported that last year she earned US$200,000 from her twenty lectures. With such a start, Benazir's new career looks rather promising. But this should not come as a surprise to anyone, for she has the right qualifications. But what a fall for a woman of such fortunate background!

Glimpses of her life are full of dramatic moments. She was born on a hot June day in 1953 in a house on McNeill Road, Karachi, which had been named Be-Nazir (without equal, incomparable) by her grandfather. Benazir Bhutto did not see her father until she was six months old. At that time he was studying in England and only returned to Karachi toward the end of the year. First child born to Nusrat, the second wife of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir was so pink at birth that her aunt called her "Pinkie", a name that would be with her for the rest of her life.

Eighteen years later, Benazir flew from Cambridge to be with her father as he delivered that historic speech in the Security Council, a speech so full of empty bravado that one shudders to read the fateful words: "We will fight for a thousand years…you want us to lick the dust. We are not going to lick the dust…I am not a rat. I have never ratted in my life…I am leaving your Security Council. I find it disgraceful to my person and my country to remain here a moment longer…my country beckons me…"

That was December 15, 1971. Two days later Zulfikar Ali Bhutto flew to Key Biscane, Florida, to meet Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on Bebe Rebozo's yacht. They assured him of ample US support and when he arrived home on the 20th of December, the presidency of the country awaited him.

The next dramatic glimpse of Benazir's life appears on June 21, 1972, her nineteenth birthday. She had flown from Lahore with her father and ninety-two others to Simla, the summer capital of the British Raj and now the capital of India's Himachal Pradesh. On the fourth day of the summit, when a deadlock had set in, Bhutto and Indira Gandhi were locked in a room to hammer out a solution. It was left to Benazir to run the stairs from her upstairs bedroom to follow the progress of the talks.

After this eventful trip to India, there are many-faceted glimpses of her life, crowded into the short span of seven years. During this time, Pinkie saw the rise of her father's fortune. She witnessed the rise and fall of several associates, who were once her father's dear friends and who were discarded by him without much consideration. Her loyalty to her father remained unflinching.

And then there was the fateful day of April 3, 1979 when she was taken out of her Sihala's Police "Camp" and driven to Rawalpindi for a final meeting with her father. She could not believe it. "No, the scream burst through the knots of my throat," she wrote later, "Papa! Papa! I felt cold, so cold, in spite of the heat, and couldn't stop shaking. There was nothing my mother and I could say to console each other…"

Thereafter, her life is shrouded in mystery. Long years in solitary confinement, dark days. Hopelessness, fears, uncertainty and finally exile. But then came August 17, 1988, a day when fortunes turned and Benazir suddenly found herself out of the dark alleys. The fatal plane crash of General Ziaul Haq, along with the US Ambassador Arnold Raphel and Brigadier General Herbert Wassom shortly after take off from Bahawalpur's military base, changed everything for Benazir.

When she returned to Pakistan, she was received with such warmth and anticipation that it was comparable to the days with her father. A few months later, she stepped into her father's office, as prime minister of Pakistan. Her triumph was dramatic and emotional. "The first woman to lead a Muslim country" announced headlines in the western press. But this was not to be a lasting image. She was young, inexperienced, unprepared and lacked a vision. All she had was her father's legacy. But she quickly lost it.

In August of 1990, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed her "corrupt" and "inefficient" government. She lost the next elections, only to re-emerge a second time when Ishaq Khan clashed with his own progeny in a war of mutual destruction. It was Nawaz Sharif's downfall that brought Benazir back to power.

But before the next glimpses from Pakistan's luxurious Prime Minister House, there were images of a quick family life: a wedding, a quick succession of children, and finally stories of a husband who would be the chief player in the final downfall.

This time in office she was experienced, but life had taught her to be pragmatic. So she learned the dark art of the kind of diplomacy which rested on lies, compromises and appeasing everyone who was perceived a as possible threat. Her own interior minister would later tell the tale of how a certain maulana from NWFP would periodically arrive in the prime minister's secretariat, have a meeting with the prime minister and leave with a warm pocket, until one day the interior minister told Benazir to hand over the keys of the State Bank to the maulana.

But this was, once again, a shortlived image. The axe fell again, by the hand of a handpicked president who could not tolerate the arrogance, the plunder and the waywardness of the first couple. Then comes the finale. Through a mutually beneficial arrangement, Nawaz Sharif lets Benazir Bhutto leave the country and then passes a verdict against her, thus preventing her return. The nation hears about corruption charges, Swiss accounts, Surrey Palace and a whole range of kickbacks, but nothing is proven. The husband languishes in jail while Benazir Bhutto re-establishes residence in England and finds a new career.

The government there is helpful, to the extent that when one of its own citizens, a certain Paul Keating, files a suit for recovery of his 375,000 pounds in bills for renovations to Surrey Palace, the case is quickly moved to camera. No one is going to hear about the gory details of the plunder of Pakistan's resources. No one is ever going to find out the source of money for the purchase of the stately mansion, nor, for that matter, details of other kickbacks and illegal wealth which she and her husband have reportedly amassed.




  Quantum Note  Jan. 2, 2000


Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal


A Day in America




It is raining. The green van of the Bayporter shuttle service arrives on time. My luggage is placed in the van and within seconds, we are on our way to San Francisco International Airport. Once out of the city limits, the driver turns on the radio to listen to traffic reports. There are three major and two minor accidents on different highways. The estimated delay time to the airport is ten minutes. I look at my watch; we are still ahead of time. The Bayporter service had already built such delays in their pick up schedule.


I look out through the window. The six-lane highway is packed with vehicles cruising at 50 mph. On this cold January morning, millions of vehicles are running on American roads: people rushing to their offices, travelers on the highways, school buses taking young children to schools, hospital vans, post office and courier service vehicles transporting millions of packets across the vast continent.


By the end of the day, a staggering number of people, parcels, boxes, letters and vehicles would have moved from one place to another. At least 859 people would have been killed in accidents, another 349 would have been murdered, based on figures from the statistics, one can calculate the victims of arsons, rapes and fires. But these cold statistics hardly provide us an insight into the working of a country which has become the sole arbitrator of  the lives of millions of people in all parts of the world.


America has appropriated the role of the sole world power through the use of its economic and technological edge over other countries. A decade ago, shortly after the Gulf War, America had boasted that it had live, real-time communication at the command level. But that was not all. An American General had claimed that by the time they would go to the battlefields the next time, they would have achieved soldier-level, real-time communication. That dream has become reality.


After the Gulf War, America has been able to sell its old stock of arms to the Gulf countries. The huge influx of dollars which came with the Gulf war helped to boost the economy and develop a new brand of lethal weapons which surpass all previous models. In a future war, American military experts boast, there will be no parallel to these new weapons.


This added muscle has necessitated expansion of espionage and other covert activities. Today’s paper carries a report about the expansion of CIA. George Tenent, CIA’s director, calls it the spy agency’s biggest recruiting drive since the end of the Cold war. A full-page advertisement in the leading journals of the country, call it “the ultimate international career”.


The numbers of new recruits are classified but the report in the USA Today (January 18, 2000) goes on to report a 53% increase in recruitment over 1998. In 1998, there was already a 57% increase over the recruitment from 1997.


All across America, CIA is attracting young graduates on campuses. The agency’s newspaper and magazine advertisements call Americans with a college degree and an adventurous spirit to apply for a career with CIA which pays handsome salaries and offers unique opportunities of working in all parts of the world. Surely, this is the beginning of appearance of hundreds and thousands of Lawrence of Arabias in the years to come.


But most Americans are still oblivious to these “ petty details” of their country’s meddling in the affairs of other nations. Most Americans are not concerned with the fate of their fellow human beings in places which are out of their mental horizon. Most do not know even the approximate location of countries in which American spies and military experts are playing havoc with the lives of innocent people. For a majority of Americans, these places only come to life when their fellow countrymen are taken as hostages or when there are casualties.


No doubt, there is a general feeling shared by most Americans that they belong to a mighty power, but newspapers and electronic media is devoid of any references to the military power. What dominates the minds and hearts of most Americans is not their country’s role in the world affairs, nor its military power, but the economic and social issues which affect their daily lives.


At the beginning of a new millennium, the American society is facing a crisis whose sheer dimensions and force would tear apart another society: moral and ethical issues which have played havoc with the good old traditions which were once at the heart of family life in this land of opportunity. But it is the remarkable resilience of the American society that, in spite of a very high level of disintegration, it manages to remain intact.


It does so, partly, through institutionalizing the process of its moral decay. In 1984, a federal law was passed which forced high schools to allow Christian clubs and prayers in schools. Today, the same law is being used by gay and lesbian groups to secure a place for their own clubs on school campuses. Likewise, through legislation, rights of single parents have been insured. Two brothers in New York have started an Internet company, The Knot Inc., which is championing the cause of gay marriages. There are literally millions of single parents all across America who are raising the next generation of Americans with values which are in stark contrast to those of the founding fathers of this strange and fascinating nation which has become a roaring model for millions of human beings living as far apart as Argentina and Morocco.


What is so fascinating about contemporary America is its ability to “absorb” almost every shock. The institutional set up which has given birth to this amazing ability is rooted in a vibrant and ever vigilant doctrine which can be stretched to any limit without fearing a breakdown. Protected against violent and radical changes through a tiered structure, which does not give any single individual extraordinary powers, the system has been functioning with extraordinary success.


Just in the past century, the American system has survived the two World Wars, the Great depression of the thirties, the student unrest of the sixties, the Vietnam fiasco and a number of domestic turmoils. Powered by an economy, which has weathered several ups and downs, the system has basically remained intact through successive dilemmas because of its ability to stretch and adopt.


This remarkable ability to adjust itself to the changing realities is built into the very working of the system. There are “think tanks” working to ensure the survival of the system. Spread throughout the country, these formal as well as informal think tanks involve some of the best contemporary minds for the process of its regeneration. University faculty members, researchers, corporate executives and business leaders are the backbone of these think tanks. Their involvement in the process of self-criticism and self-analyses produce a body of literature which is not ignored by the government. The politicians listen to these opinions and base their policies on these studies.


By now an amazing amount of statistical data has been collected which is used to forecast future trends with remarkable accuracy. No one thinks of fabricating or altering this data. No one tries to hide the unbecoming side of facts; no one is worried about the ugly realities, which the data some times portrays. This honest and analytic approach is perhaps the key to their success.


Contemporary America is not the best model human beings have evolved in history. But it is a society, which has managed to remain vibrant and creative. All kinds of ideas emerge rapidly and spontaneously. From genetic engineering to space research, America remains the driving force behind the expansion of frontiers of knowledge. Apart from its moral decadence and uncalled for meddling in the affairs of other nations, American model provides certain basic lessons for the establishment of a system which delivers and which is meant to serve and not rule.






Quantum Note published in The News International

Friday, February 04, 2000 -- Shawwal 27, 1420 A.H.





Dew on sunburnt roses


Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The agenda for change has failed to emerge. The euphoria created by the ouster of Mian Nawaz Sharif by the military has quietly disappeared from the national scene and it is business as usual, once again. This is not a hasty judgement, for we are not talking about the actual change but the process of change. It does not take 115 days to start a national debate on the future structure of the governance.

The actual change in the fundamental parameters defining the quality of life in this wonderful land is obviously a slow process. What concerns us is the lack of any genuine effort which would take us toward such a change. The hope that a vigorous national debate will emerge on the crisis of civil society in Pakistan has remained an illusory hope.

The fourth interruption in the affairs of the country by the army in 53 years disrupted the political process, created a vacuum in legal as well as political sense and has now become the defining reality of sorts. There were some fundamental differences in the way the present change came.

This time around, there were no promises of a return to democracy in the proverbial 90-day period. But the raison d'etre of the intervention was none other than a fundamental change in the way government was being run by one man. That fundamental promise had created hopes among the masses. It was this hope that created a tacit approval of the military takeover.

But this hope was like dew on the sunburnt roses; it has rapidly evaporated, leaving behind the scars of 53 years of disillusionments. The agenda for change has failed to emerge because fundamental steps required to generate such an agenda have not been taken. Instead, what we have is a series of orders meant to expedite and legalise ad hoc arrangements and produce quick-fix solutions to grave problems.

This will inevitably lead to further deterioration of the situation. The recent series of bomb blasts is a stern reminder of what lies in store if major initiatives are not taken to build a more cohesive national fabric. No government can hope to rule a society which is fragmenting at its very core. Nations are not built by executive orders. They emerge in an historical context produced by willing participation of the masses.

In Pakistan, the process of nation-building has actually never started. The country emerged, rather suddenly, on the map of the world and was immediately set on a path of internal fragmentation. The 1947 Partition smeared the map of the new country with blood, the scam of property claims dealt the first major blow to its moral fabric and within five years of independence, we were firmly set on a downward spiral which gravitated toward anarchy.

Instead of looking at the deeper causes of this internal collapse, we looked for easy ways to explain national disasters. Thus, for years, we have lived with the cheap slogans, empty rhetorical promises and quick-fix solutions. At another level, easy ways have been found to befool ourselves: The cession of East Pakistan is blamed on General Yahya Khan or ZA Bhutto or Mujeebur Rahman, the collapse of law and order is the result of RAW's activities and so on. These easy but incorrect ways of ascribing national failures on individuals and the ubiquitous "foreign agents" has produced self-defeating mechanisms at the national level.

Thus major blunders have been brushed under the carpet. Hundreds of inquiry commissions and committees established to probe into national disasters have failed to produce a single action to redress the situation. Collected amnesia rules.

In a recent series of articles in The News, retired Air Marshal M Asghar Khan has suggested various fundamental changes in all aspects of national life--from elections to education and from agriculture to the rights of women. But, like so many other voices, his voice has fallen on deaf ears. The hope that a national debate on these fundamental questions will take root as the first and top-most priority of the new government has faded; what is left behind is mere continuation of the old patterns of governance.

The fundamental steps needed to produce a major change in the present system of administration, which was designed by the colonial rulers, does not start or end with the firing of a certain number of officers of this or that corporation. It implies major conceptual changes, built-in accountability, efficiency and, above all, participation of people.

A possible way toward such a change in the context of Pakistan's history is a system which is based on greater involvement of people at the level of villages and district councils. This requires changes in the nature of institutions through constitutional amendments. A genuine process of change will immediately take roots if efforts are made to involve people in the process of decision making about problems which directly concern them. If people were to feel that they are taking charge of their affairs at the basic level, they will immediately get involved. Only through such a process can we hope to regenerate a national cohesiveness so sadly lacking in our country.

Fundamental changes are needed in the way legislation, policy-making, planning and budget-making takes place. Major initiatives are needed to restructure the infrastructure which deals with health, agriculture and education sectors. Institutions such as hospitals, colleges, universities and police require fundamental changes in their operating mechanisms.

The institutions of effective local self-government have never been established in Pakistan. The process of the so-called basic democracy started by Ayub Khan was a scam. Since then, successive governments have merely talked about these changes. And we all know that mere promises do not yield results.

What M Asghar Khan has suggested in his series of articles is a broad outline of a major change. He is perhaps the only person around whose personal integrity is beyond doubt and who has been pondering over these things for years. His somewhat hasty entrance in politics after the arrest of ZA Bhutto at the height of his movement against Ayub Khan, establishment of an unsuccessful political party and subsequent retreat into the quietness of a mountainous home have pushed him into the background, but his ideas need serious attention.

It is ironic that his own son is part of the present setup. If the vision of a fundamental change is as engraved in the mind of the son as it is in the father, we should have seen some steps toward it during the last months. Instead, there have been the usual sycophancies: functions and speeches to "celebrate and honour" the rank, empty rhetorical addresses and the rest.

The return of old faces and old ideas to the forefront has produced a mechanism of its own. The national scene is, once again, dominated by the tiring speeches of various aspirants. The architects of a scam called Vision 2010 are once again writing in the newspapers, those who were fooling the masses with promises have disappeared but promises have stayed behind and have found other tongues.

The present setup is neither the first nor the last imposed on the people of Pakistan. Its inertia, its lack of a genuine fresh start and its own internal disharmony are self-evident realities. But the force of historical process has its own mechanisms; it neither cares for nor waits for individuals. It does, however, honour those who strive to leave an indelible mark on its surface. Such persons are sadly missing from our midst.


The News International

Friday, February 18, 2000 -- Ziqa'ad 11, 1420 A.H.


Quantum Note

Collapse of institutions

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

A news item on the National pages of The News, (February 12, 2000), reads: "Nawabshah: The microwave system of the Pakistan Railways has collapsed and most of the stations on the main line have no connection with each other. The collapse has resulted in delay in the movement of trains and non-availability of timings schedule for the railway staff and passengers." It goes on to state that the "Nawabshah station information office has acquired the public address system on rent after the department failed to provide it."

While everyone is busy in forecasting, analysing and expressing opinions about an inconsequential matter which deals with the visit of one Bill Clinton to the subcontinent with a team bent on discovering the "tremendous market" of India, I have chosen this rather mundane news item as a foundation for my column today for two reasons. One, it concerns the railway system which is, or is supposed to be, the backbone of public transport in our country and, two, it shows the initiative of one man to redress a case of institutional failure.

But let me quickly make the point I want to make today: When all is said and done, Pakistan's multiple problems arise from a simple cause--failure to build solid institutions. We started out with institutions left behind by the British and instead of transforming them or evolving new ones, all we have done in the last fifty-two years is to destroy what was bequeathed to us as a legacy of our colonial past. The destruction of these institutions was achieved through a very simple mechanism: They were left to the whims of individuals who were beyond the laws which everyone else was supposed to follow.

This simple mechanism, which put certain individuals beyond any accountability, gave rise to Bhuttos and Nawaz Sharifs who treated the whole country as their personal fief. In addition, it created lesser minions and battalions of sycophants. In due course of time, the institutional structure completely collapsed and the country was left to the whims of the one in the chair. And the chair was up for grabbing by any means available.

Even a cursory analysis of Pakistan's political and social history will be enough to show that this pattern of destruction has been followed by all who came to power. No one in power has shown any interest in building institutions. This is such a pervasive malaise that the cynics allege that it is in the very psyche of our people; that we are inherently incapable of building institutions. That we are a nation which has always looked up to heros, sought messiahs, and is still looking for one.

They claim that the hopes which arise at every change in government are basically hopes for the arrival of a messiah who would deliver us from the decaying process and who would transform the whole society, as if by magic. Now this is a very serious allegation for a people who claim to be Muslim and whose religion forbids and abhors this concept. But let us leave religion aside for a while and look at the allegation that Pakistanis are inherently incapable of building institutions and they have always sought heroes and charismatic leaders.

Our history is replete with instances of this trend. Right from the days of the Pakistan Movement, the nation relied behind individuals rather than institutions. Individuals led, made or destroyed causes, created mass movements and produced major changes. Even children are taught history in a manner which leads them to believe in this magical character of individuals. In answer to the question: "Who created Pakistan?" almost all the textbooks provide a simplistic answer: the Quaid-i-Azam! Political discussions in the press, in public forums, among friends and in social meetings always revolve around individuals. Even national failures, such as the separation of the East wing of the country, are ascribed to individuals. This trend is so obvious that it is impossible to say anything against it.

But a deeper look at this attitude provides a different framework for our discussion. As a people, Pakistanis have had no experience of institutions that work. Psychologically, at least at the personal level, they know individuals count. It is an individual who provides protection, who does or does not clear their application for a phone connection; it is an individual who decides about their income tax and it is not a traffic law, but an individual, who determines whether or not they should be fined for crossing the redlight.

This lack of experiential trust in the working of the institutions is further exasperated by the daily experience of another kind. The students who study hard and who write their exams honestly do not get to the prestigious engineering and medical colleges but those who have other means, find seats in these colleges. The next door neighbour who knows how to deal with the income tax department is not charged any tax while his income is twice as much. The telephone department does not have the cable or the phone sets for an applicant who does not want to bribe but these things appear, as if by magic, for the one who knows how to slip a few bills into the hands of an individual in that same department.

These, and thousands of such daily occurrences, have become built-in realities of contemporary Pakistani society. Sometimes glossed over as "the problem of corruption" the underlying, more serious cause of institutional failure has been never addressed in Pakistan by anyone in a systematic manner. The cynics, who allege that Pakistanis are inherently incapable of building institutions, can only be correct if Pakistanis had any experience of institutions which work. They are not right in their allegation because when these same Pakistanis go to a country where institutions do work, they follow the working of institutions although their past experiences, habits and mode of thinking often lead them to devise ways which try to find a way around the system. Thus some of them end up committing petty crimes, like telephone and traveller cheques frauds.

But these moral crimes are, once again, product of a conditioning which occurs very early in their lives. When my fourteen-year-old nephew tells me that there is no point in his studying hard because in the end it would not amount to anything, he is saying so on the basis of his experience. He has already lost faith in the educational institutions and he has already suffered that tragic loss of innocence which can never be reversed.

But perhaps the real tragedy is that we have even lost the ability to feel this loss. Eleven years ago, when I returned to Pakistan after a decade of absence, I was shocked to see how ten- and twelve-year-olds had no faith left in the institutions. That same generation which has grown up knowing that there are no institutions, no laws and no objective moral standards, is soon going to rule this country. By sheer force of their personal experiences, they will never be able to establish a system based on institutions. They have never known how institutions work.

If we are to stop the process of decay, we need to look into the causes of institutional failure in our society. From political institutions to the educational system and from the institutions which govern public life to those which deal with religion, there is a rampant sense of decay and collapse. It is only through the development of a new trust in the working of our institutions that we can hope to build a society which will have a sense of pride in its own existence.

How can we build that trust? How can we establish institutions which will function according to their rules and function for everyone regardless of his or her social position and relationship to those who hold power? This question should be the foremost concern for anyone interested in rebuilding Pakistan on a solid basis.




Friday, March 03, 2000 -- Ziqa'ad 25, 1420 A.H.

Twenty miles from Pakistan

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

Built on a scale which reminds one of the Mughal dynasties, medieval ages and grand empires, the Presidency recedes into the hills from its imposing front view at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Jinnah Avenue. Seen from the outside, the building neither inspires admiration, nor awe; it is simply a marble structure with only the reminiscence of power and no character whatsoever.

Since that historic trip to Choti by a man who now faces an uncertain future, the Presidency has lost its pivotal position in the power play. The last man to enjoy and exercise the right of dismissing an elected government has also disappeared from the scene. His decision to pack the chess game of a thoroughly corrupt government had heralded a new era in Pakistan's turbulent history which gave an unprecedented parliamentary majority and almost absolute power to one man who could not handle it and ended up in a small jail in Karachi.

But the building stands and anyone strolling on the broad Constitution Avenue cannot help but look at this grand structure and feel a sense of helpless exasperation at the stature of men who have occupied this grandiose structure. Who were they? What brought them there? What did they do to the country? Where are they now?

But the Presidency is not the only building on Constitution Avenue which evokes these feelings. This avenue is full of such buildings. As one walks on the sidewalk opposite to the Presidency and looks at the marble monsters across the road, they all seem to exist in a foreign land; they all seem to be out of place. The Parliament building is not visible from the road, only its iron gate and the guards can be seen. This is perhaps the only thing that is not out of place. The caged-in building is a good metaphor for Pakistan's political history.

Leaving aside the equally imposing marble structure of the Supreme Court, one comes to a truly palatial building which has yet to emerge as a real structure in the history of the country. This is the Prime Minister's Secretariat which has successfully dodged two successive prime ministers, though both had spent lavishly on its construction and furnishing. The Mughal-style mehrabs, the turban-clad guards and the empty spaces between the white minarets all stand as metaphors of propensity of Pakistan's rulers who have a knack for empty rhetoric.

Next to the Prime Minister's Secretariat, but hidden behind it, is a building which deserved to be on the main boulevard but which has been tucked behind the imposing structures; only a sign stands beside Constitution Avenue, pointing to the presence of Pakistan's National Library. It has taken years for this building to become habitable but even after its completion, it stands aloof, hidden and is inhospitable. There is nothing warm about it. The cold and imposing structure has nothing inviting about it. As one stands facing its broad stairs, one neither sees scholars with loads of books going in and out of the building, nor students in search of knowledge. Only a few guards stand aimlessly.

The cul de sac to the library ends the "Pakistani" part of the avenue on this side; from here to the end of the avenue, there are only the foreign missions, the French School and empty spaces. But it is time to turn around and have a closer look at other side of the avenue which has slowly emerged on the scene and is still in the process of asserting its meagre being compared to the grand buildings which this side faces.

Walking north, one comes across two older buildings, the Foreign Office and Radio Pakistan before a series of newer buildings. The first of these is that of Pakistan Science Foundation. Established to provide a unifying umbrella to the country's numerous science institutions, Pakistan Science Foundation's new building is perhaps the only building on the whole avenue with an aesthetic exterior to it. Its blue tiles, modest yet symmetrical exterior and quietness is in keeping with the traditional designs and historical structures which occupy the vast cultural landscape of Islam's greatest cities.

Next to the Science Foundation, there is a building which has remained under construction for more than a decade and has gained the characteristics of ruins even before its completion: This is supposed to be the building of the Election Commission of Pakistan. The construction history of this building is truly amazing.

I used to look at this humble structure when it was trying to raise itself above ground. At one time, it seemed that it would quickly soar high above the other buildings on this grand avenue. Workers worked, machines churned out concrete and iron beams went up. But it was an illusion. That hyper activity must have been the result of a closing date for a cheque clearance for the contractor. Because after that short spell, nothing happened for months.

The building has been in the making for years. Does it need to be completed? With no elections on the horizon, there seems to be no need for its existence! But the unfinished cement blocks, the iron bars sticking out of the columns and beams, the empty holes for the windows and the characteristic odour of ruins are there for everyone to see.

Next to this building in ruins is a strange combination of two buildings. One of these used to be an unassuming simple structure with weeping walls, run down windows and unkept lawns with a small board which read: Pakistan Academy of Sciences. The other one was not there at all. In its place, there used to be just wild grass. But all of this has changed during the last two years.

The unassuming building in need of repair has been given a new look with columns and arches and the tall grass has given way to a building which seems to come out of E-7, the posh residential area of the city. The old structure is still undergoing changes and one day it might become as pretentious as the buildings on the other side of the boulevard. The new structure, the guest house of the Academy of Sciences, is still to find its character.

Further north stand two more government buildings, both similar in their exterior to the building of the Pakistan Science Foundation. Occupied by those who control the financial strings of the country, these buildings with their blue and white colours add to the same sense of historicity as that of the Pakistan Science Foundation.Perhaps the famous epithet about Islamabad--a city situated twenty miles from Pakistan--applies to Constitution Avenue more than any other place in the country.



Friday, March 17, 2000 -- Zil'Haj 10, 1420 A.H.

The last pilgrimage

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

It was a glorious Thursday. The date was May 28, 632 (Rabi ul-awwal 12, 11 Hijri). It was also a sad day for the Muslim community, for on this day, the Prophet of Islam departed from this world. But it was a glorious day in the sense that with the departure of the Prophet from this world, the final phase of the cycle commenced. In this final phase of the human cycle, no prophet will come and Allah has completed His religion for all humanity until the Day of Resurrection.

The mission of the Prophet had come to a successful conclusion three months before his death. The Qur'aan has affirmed this: "This day the disbelievers despair of prevailing against your religion, so fear them not, but fear Me. This day I have perfected your religion and fulfilled My favour unto you, and it hath been My good pleasure to choose Islam for you as your religion" (5:3).

This ayah was revealed on the ninth day of Zilhaj, in the tenth year after Hijrah, after a supplication from the Prophet while he was sitting on his camel, Qaswa. It was the same camel on which he had migrated from Makkah; the camel was now standing on a hill, Jabal al-Rahmah, Mount of Mercy, in the valley of Arafah about thirteen miles east of Makkah.

The Prophet had arrived in the plain of Arafah a few hours before after spending a night in the valley of Mina. He was accompanied by companions who had travelled with him from Madinah or who had joined him on the way to this extraordinary gathering.

Earlier on that historical day, the Prophet had sent a young man, Rabi'ah bin Ummayya bin Khalf, on an errand. He was to approach every member of the congregation and ask three questions on his behalf and proclaim an article of the constitution which he was going to unveil on that glorious afternoon of the consecrated day of Arafah in the tenth year of Hijra.

Obeying the Prophet's instructions, Rabi'ah bin Ummayya managed to contact every member of the assembly; they were sitting in groups. He went to the first group and said:

"Say, O, People, the Messenger of Allah asks: What month is this?"

When he received no answer, he said:

"The holy month (as-Shahar al-Haraam)," he said, the Messenger of Allah says: 'Allah has made inviolable for you each other's blood and your property until you meet your Lord, just like He has made inviolable this your month.'"

Then he asked the second question:

"Say, O, People, the messenger of Allah asks: 'What land is this?'"

Again he received no answer.

"The holy land (al-Balad al-Haraam)", he said, [the Messenger of Allah says:] 'Allah has made inviolable for you each other's blood and your property until you meet your Lord, just like He has made inviolable this your land.'"

Finally he asked the third question: "Say, O, People, the Messenger of Allah asks: 'What day is this?'"

When he received no answer, he said, "al-Yowmal Hajj al-Akbar", the Day of the Great Pilgrimage, "[the Messenger of Allah says:] 'Allah has made inviolable for you each other's blood and your property until you meet your Lord, just like He has made inviolable this your Day.'"

When the sun had passed its zenith, the Prophet sat on

, and began his sermon by praising Allah, as was his custom. The members of that historic gathering were seated on the sand on the slope of the hill and the words of the Prophet were repeated by criers from point to point throughout the whole assembly until they reached the farthest listener. Starting with the first, each crier identified himself, repeated the name of the previous crier along with his lineage, and the chain went on increasing. The first crier had a strong voice. He heard the words directly from the lips of the Prophet.

His usual opening words, Al-Hamdo Lil'Alllah, not only brought everyone to attention but also brought the Prophet nearer to the close of his mission. A brief pause followed the praise, then the Prophet said:

"O' People! Listen to my words for I do not know whether I shall meet you again on such an occasion ever after.

"O' People, your lives and your property shall be inviolable until you meet your Lord, just like this inviolable day and month. Surely you are going to meet your Lord and He will ask you about your deeds, so I convey [this] to you. Whoever is keeping a trust of someone else, shall return that trust to its rightful owner. All interest obligations (riba) shall henceforth be annulled; your capital is, however, yours to keep, you will neither do wrong nor be wronged; Allah has decided that there shall be no usury and all interest due to Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib is henceforth annulled; every right arising out of homicide in the pre-Islamic era (Jahilliah) is henceforth annulled; and the first such right that I annul is the one arising from the murder of Rabiah bin al-Harith bin Abdul Muttalib

"Reason well O' People and hark to my words which I now convey to you. I am leaving with you the Book of Allah and the way (Sunnah) of his Prophet (Nabi) if you hold fast to these, you will never go astray."

The Prophet concluded the sermon by asking the members of the congregation whether he had conveyed Allah's message or not. The congregation responded in affirmative and the Prophet said: "O Allah, be my witness."

This extraordinary proclamation, which ended by making Allah a witness, not only delivered the first complete constitution in the history of constitutions, it also initiated its implementation. The Prophet set the example by annulling the blood revenge and interest of members of his own tribe, the Quraysh.

This farewell sermon of the Prophet contains, in an extremely condensed form, seeds which later flourished and developed into a highly elaborate system of thought rooted in the unity of Creator, fraternity of mankind and social justice. It declared that all beings were children of Adam and Adam was created from clay. This biological unity of mankind was further emphasised at the moral and ethical levels by proclaiming that neither the black has any superiority over the white, nor an Arab over an ajami and vice versa. All human beings are equal before the sight of the Creator and the only criteria for superiority is piety.

The farewell sermon of the Prophet is one of the most important documents in the history of mankind and it has remained to this day a source of inspiration for countless Muslims. The succinct declaration is a charter of rights and obligations at two levels: It provides the spiritual, legal and moral framework for human rights and it sets out fundamental guidelines for the rights and duties of man toward his fellow human beings.

Preserved over the centuries through a chain of transmission, which is fascinatingly unique in its construction and perpetuation, this fundamental charter of human rights has tremendous relevance to Pakistan's multi-racial, multi-lingual society. If implemented, it will produce a polity which will be rooted in equality based of moral character and values and not on the basis of blood relations or tribal affiliations.

An important part of the implementation of this charter of rights was its immediate and complete enforcement, starting from the family of the Prophet. Note that he did not wait; he did not merely ask others to follow what he had proclaimed. By annulling the interest owed to his uncle and by repudiating the blood claim of his own relatives, the Prophet set an example and a procedure which is the key to any reform process: start immediately and from your own household. How many of us are willing to follow this today?



Friday, March 31, 2000 -- Zil'Haj 24, 1420 A.H.

Haj year 2000

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

We had gathered from all corners of the world. Thousands upon thousands. Men, women, children, old, young, strong and weak. Responding to the urgent invitation, we all submitted: "Here I am, Here I am O, Lord, Here I am, there is no deity except You, Surely all praise belongs to You and all favours and the Kingdom, You have no partner."

It had been weeks and months of waiting and suddenly we were at the outskirts of the Holy Land. From the moment of arrival to the moment of departure, each one of us was going experience a unique set of events that would become our Haj experience. I have chosen to devote this column to one aspect of this Haj because that level of experience is related to the social and political life of Muslim ummah.

This level of experience starts at the port of entry where hundreds and thousands of human beings encounter a series of obstacles, they are forced to stand in lines and go through a humiliating process that treats them as criminals. At this level of Haj experience, one goes through such an intense mental suffering that virtually every one breaks down. This is how it starts.

For the airborne pilgrims, the entrance to the country is restricted to two ports: Jeddah and Madinah. Once you arrive, you are quickly ushered into a waiting area, enclosed with iron grills and manned by guards who look at you as if you were about to run away from a concentration camp. After a waiting period that ranges from two to eight hours, you are hurled into a queue with a lot of shouting and pushing. The queue moves incredibly slowly because the young immigration personnel at the booths have no intention of processing the pilgrims' entrance; they smoke cigarettes, they joke with each other, they look around, and once you arrive at their counter, they stare at you and your passport for what seems to be eternity before stamping the passport.

But this is not all. With the stamped document in our hands, we were ushered into another queue that stood in front of a large room where the workers of the so-called mualam were taking the passports. This was the first place where passports and nationalities became the defining factor. This was to remain so for the rest of our stay in the country. Those of us who had come from the West were assigned a mualam who was designated by a number "20". We handed our bank drafts to the worker who stuffed our passports with a few papers and a handful of machine readable barcode numbers and stapled everything to the passport at four places.

Next came the customs officials, where most of the fellow pilgrims from Asia and Southeast Asia received their major shock: their suitcases and handbags were dumped on the counter, in some cases, they were ripped open with knives, they were scorned and their protests were totally ignored.

After the customs, one came to a large area where loudspeakers and megaphones made all kinds of announcements. The area was divided into "Haj centers" for various countries and once again one went through the painful realisation that an ummah which was supposed to be united on the basis of divine message has been badly divided on national and racial lines.

We had intended to go to Madinah first. But we were not allowed to go out of the enclosed zone. One could leave the cordoned area only by official buses that had ceased to run after sunset. "The only way to go to Madinah is by air," we were told. We rushed to the Saudi Airline office in the same enclosed area where several hundred people were standing in front of the small windows most of which were closed. No one was telling anything about the flight schedule; there were no signs, no announcements. Those who could make it to the window found no-one sitting at the seat. There were people inside but they were not interested in answering queries.

After about an hour, we found out that there are no more flights going to Madinah! "But may be there will be one flight after midnight." We had arrived at the airport at 5:20 pm and now it was 10 pm. We had not put on Ihrams with the intention of visiting the Prophet's city first and returning from there to perform Haj Qiran. We really had to go to Madinah. We hung around. While waiting, we met our friends who had missed their flight to Madinah due to the long queues at the immigration counters and who were in the same situation. We decided to wait it out.

At three in the morning, three women in our group were able to get tickets for the unscheduled flight that was leaving in ten minutes. We rushed to the departure terminal that proved to be a short hallway. We formed a queue and somewhere along the line, someone took our passports and threw them in a basket that was being carried along the line.

We arrived in Madinah and it took us another two hours to get to the hotel. My favourite city had transformed into a place filled with sick and tired pilgrims who were in a high state of anxiety. The Mosque, which had been my refuge for a month three years ago, was now a place filled with pilgrims who crowded around the shrine of the Prophet, guards who yelled at the pilgrims, young, strong men who pushed their way through the crowd and the most painful background noise of sore throats and coughing during prayers.

No-one had told us anything but after going from office to office, we figured out that the last day to go back to Makkah was not the 7th of Dhu'l Haj, which was our plan but the 5th. And we had to go to an office 24 hours in advance to inform the people there who would then send the passport to the bus terminal (or the airport).

On the day of our departure from Madinah, we put on Ihrams and arrived at the bus terminal after Fajr as we were told. But it was full four hours before the bus moved! I watched the slow movement of the passports from one window to another and finally they were sealed in a bag and handed over to the driver.

But the driver was in no rush to reach Makkah. He made three long stops for drinking tea and smoking cigarettes while the pilgrims said their prayers or ate at dirty, wayside restaurants. These wayside stops had run down mosques, with no toilet or ablution facilities.

Thirteen hours after leaving our hotel in Madinah, we arrived at the outskirts of Makkah. (The journey normally takes five hours.) The bus stopped at a checkpost where the bag with the passports was handed to a young fellow who rode the bus to the office of the mualam in Makkah. Here our passports were taken and we were handed coded wristband; from now on, we were pilgrims with no name but a number.

The sight of the House of God made us forget everything. It was the 6th of Dhu'l Haj. Almost two million pilgrims had gathered at the House of God built by Allah's friend Ibrahim who had prayed to God: "O my Lord, I have settled some of my offspring in a barren valley near Your Sacred House, so that they may observe true worship."

It was time to forget everything: the long waits were over. We were faced to face with the Holy House. Thousands and thousands of pilgrims were going round and round the House, clad in black. We joined the crowd and went around, calling and supplicating to the Lord Who had granted us the opportunity to be there out of His infinite Mercy.


Friday, April 14, 2000 -- Muharram 8, 1421 A.H.

Another political void

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

Six months after the historic October 12 day, we are in the midst of a political void. The law of necessity had demanded the creation of this void, expediency had required the removal of all political elements from the scene, and instinct of survival had dictated the mechanisms. The end result: a perfect state of political void. But what next?

The euphoria created by the military takeover has died down. Those who had pinned their hopes for a basic change have lost their hopes; those who were sceptical have become cynical and those who had been watching from the sidelines have decided that it is "business as usual". But where does it lead the nation?

Pakistan's political history shows that political vacuum always leads to the emergence or creation of new political entities. Ayub Khan created a political vacuum through various decrees. Then he tried to fill it with handpicked members of his basic democracy scheme. He failed. Masses rallied behind Fatima Jinnah. The state machinery crushed that wonderfully upright and matchless lady. Then came the torrential current: ZA Bhutto and Mujibur Rahman pulled the rug and folded the rule of the field marshal, at the height of his self-created illusion of a 'Green Revolution'.

The price was high. Very high: Months of unrest, strikes, closure of factories, disruption of the education system and the collapse of industry. The country was rent asunder. The aftermath of the fall of Ayub's regime led to civil war in East Pakistan and finally to the breakup of the country.

Then came the strange and turbulent era of ZA Bhutto. With his rise, the speed of change increased dramatically. He was indeed a vibrant person who could not rest; who could not fathom his own greatness. A person who could not live up to the great expectations he himself had created. All through his turbulent rule, there was a clamour of new policies. From education to health-care and from energy to industry, everything was to be operated on a new basis. In fact, ZA Bhutto constantly talked about a new Pakistan.

But while he talked about creating a new Pakistan, all he could do was create a new political void, albeit of a new kind. He just could not live with the opposition. So he eliminated it. One by one, he dealt fatal blows to his political rivals. Some were kidnapped and beaten into submission. Others were forced to give up politics. Some died natural deaths. And still others were physically removed from the scene. So he paid the price.

The violent summer of 1977 not only saw Bhutto's fall, it also witnessed the emergence of yet another new political void. That was the summer during which the balloon of Islamisation was hoisted, prematurely, and generated false hopes. These hopes were destined to end up in smoke. But there were ten long years between that turbulent summer of 1977 and the fatal crash over Bahawalpur which killed General Zia. Nevertheless, General Ziaul Haq was much more successful in the creation of a new political vacuum than any of his predecessors. Within two years, he had eliminated his formidable rival, established himself as the sole authority in the country and removed all those who could challenge his rule. This he did through a combination of political intrigues, instinctive survival skills and strategy. He managed to create a counter-balance to any political threats. His methodology was simple: He gave birth to the MQM and the Sharif dynasty and brought them to the centrestage.

If Pakistan's history is any guide, we can be sure that no-one will ever know what happened to the plane which went up in smoke over Bahawalpur. But we all know that the sudden disappearance of the general from the scene was nothing but miraculous for the erstwhile 'Daughter of the East'. She came, she saw and she conquered. But only to desecrate the very memory of her father. She came only to usher us into another dark era of despondent and characterless sycophants. Some would say she came only to take revenge.

Whatever her motives might have been, one thing is clear. She failed to realise that she was merely harvesting the fruit of her father's labours. She was brought to power because of a vacuum which yearned to be filled. When she failed, the same political void which had been bred over the long years of General Zia's rule also provided an opportunity to the Sharif dynasty. And the Sharifs failed, leading to another political void.

It remains to be seen what the current political void would produce. But there are already clear signs that we are once again back to square one. Just like 1958 and subsequent overthrows of the political system, we are being told that there is a need for cleanup. That once the cleanup operation is finished, everything will be alright. The whole complexity of Pakistan's numerous problems has gone, once again, through a mysterious reductive operation and the remainder is the same as before: let me clean up the mess and then we will restart the process and everything will be alright. Once again, the name of the game is "new policies". Once again, the national scene is filled with new faces who in their self-righteousness act like messiahs and tell everyone what to do.

Those who are playing the chorus of "new policies" are trapped in the same vicious circle that had entrapped their predecessors. They are trying to reinvent the wheel, just as those who came before them did. Even an orderly in the Ministry of Science can tell them that there are heaps of files stuffed with new policies formulated by successive experimentalists. There is hardly any area of public interest, from education to health and from communication to energy that has not been subjected to various experiments by successive rulers.

In the midst of this political void, the most disturbing thought is the fact that a new generation is being raised in an empty culture. This void has severed their roots from the historic past as well as from the rich spiritual heritage which had once stirred the hearts and souls of the Muslims of the subcontinent. This new generation, which is at the threshold of entering practical life, has gone through its schooling during the Zia era and has passed through the eras of two corrupt and incompetent political dynasties. Thus raised without role models and heroes, this generation is about to enter in the practical arena of life in the current political void, without hope and aspirations.

What can one expect from this generation? Their education has gone through a series of jolts, they have been subjected to the experiments of Islamisation, liberalisation and commercialism, their social values have been totally severed from the historical and cultural roots which had shaped the lives of the previous generations and they have not been given any higher goals in life. What would these young men and women do when they enter the workplace? This is the generation which will guide this country through the initial part of the current century. These young men and women of today would be in control in ten years' time. One can only guess the direction Pakistan will take at the hands of a generation so unfortunately raised on empty rhetoric, and in a corrupt political and moral environment.


Monday, May 01 , 2000 -- Muharram 25, 1421 A.H.

Glimpses of a distorted culture

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

In the middle of the room is a frayed straw mat that is broken at the corners. Placed near the straw mat is a poorly constructed bench that extends across the width of the room. Two rows of children sit on both sides of the bench. Their siparas are placed on the bench. They are reciting their lesson. Their bodies rock back and forth as they recite their lessons mechanically, without understanding, without reflecting. This is rote learning. In a few minutes, the repetition of the verses will imprint a pattern in their memory and they will move on to the next verse.

This is how hundreds of madarissa students start their school day across the country. Their repetition, their drudgery and their unchanging curricula were formulated at the height of decadence of Muslim culture. Things have not changed in centuries.

These students emerge from these one-room madaris and enter a world that has radically transformed from the days when this system was initiated. Some of them succeed in memorising the whole Qur'aan, others stop halfway and still others cannot pass beyond a few Surahs. No matter how far they go, many of these students enter careers which are connected with the mosques in some capacity. Some become imams, others find jobs as moazins and still others teach in the same madarissa.

The educational curriculum of these madaris consists of studies in the Qur'aan and hadith and some fiqh. Theoretically, students are supposed to learn grammar and Arabic as well but enough trained teachers are not available to teach these two subjects. As a result, in most madaris, students never learn any Arabic. Yet, they learn to read and recite the Qur'aan.

Many imams and moazins produced by these madrassahs now lead congregations in mosques. Some of them are brilliant orators. There is a very small fraction endowed with true religious scholarship, and most of them have a rudimentary knowledge of Islam. This sad state of religious education is not without reasons.

Relegated to the second-class ranks during the colonisation, the religious schools and education in the subcontinent was swept aside by the secular school system, which promised jobs in the bureaucracy established by the British. English was considered to be the best of languages and it did open doors for economic prosperity and a vast amount of learning in the natural sciences.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who was among the most prominent supporters of western education had to devise ways to keep a veneer of so-called religious education in his curricula but for all intent and purposes, the new educational curricula replaced the traditional educational system and within a span of fifty years, Arabic and Persian became foreign languages. This transformation produced long-term results.

One obvious consequence of the introduction of the new educational system was the emergence of a new breed of educated men and women in the subcontinent. Educated in the new schools that emerged during the first half of the twentieth century, the goal of this new generation was to go to England and obtain a degree in law or to enter the coveted Indian Civil Service. Upon their return, they found themselves at the helm of administration in the colonised subcontinent. They became black goras who did not know their own language and culture but who enjoyed high degree of power and regard among the 'natives'.

These western educated men and women became society's defining leaders and the madarissa system took its toll silently. The only role left for the madarissa-educated men was to be present at births, aqiqas and funerals. 'Khatam-e- Qur'aan' (recitation) became the high point of their itinerary in life. Any one wishing to have the Qur'aan read for the benefit of his newly born child or newly deceased relative could obtain the services of thirty or so students for a mere plate of rice and halwa, have his or her conscience cleared through the recitation and be done with it.

This madarissa tradition was kept alive because of necessity. Rites of birth and death were such that no matter how western one became, these rituals could not be done away with. And the madarissa children accompanied by the maulvi of the local masjid provided the easiest and best way of completing the rituals.

Thus madaris lived on charity. Those who attended these schools were generally from of the poor and down-trodden. With time, the educational curricula became completely devoid of any creativity and its scope diminished. Secular education, on the other hand, gained more and more converts, expanded in scope and utility and the schools that imparted this education became the bright lights of the educational system in the subcontinent. Names like the "Muhammadan School" and the "Anglo Islamic School", which had initially defined the "Islamic" nature of these western schools, were gradually replaced with more mainstream names and in due course of time, the secular schools became the norm. The creation of an Islamic republic instilled no change in this situation.

This summary reconstruction of the madarissa tradition is only a bare outline of the genesis of contemporary madarissa culture. It is merely the skeleton. A deeper study of the contemporary madarissa life would reveal astonishing facts. Children who attend these madrassahs still come from the lower strata of society. They still perform the ritual functions at the rites of birth and death and their services are still obtained for a ration of rice and halwa.

The madarissa culture of Pakistan is a sub-entity of the cultural mosaic of the country. It is a sub-entity because it has never been allowed to enter the mainstream. But out of the various crosscurrents that are currently competing for a share in power, it is this madarissa culture which has the highest stakes. Already successful in the neighbouring Afghanistan, the madarissa-trained politically conscious young men are rising in the name of Islam.

If they succeed, as they did in Afghanistan, we can only hope to have an Islam in which the defining factor will be the length of one's beard. And no one is to be blamed for this except those who have let the madarissa system to rot in its own static culture for centuries.

What is the use of these madaris across the country where students are not made to understand the reality of Islam? They have no idea of the sciences which came into existence through the unleashing of creative energy by the Qur'anic message. The lessons of virtue and piety given by the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) never reach their ears. The madaris are only producing young men whose vision of Islam is disturbingly narrow.



The News


Friday, May 12 , 2000 -- Safar 07, 1421 A.H.

Opinion Page

Do we need more science?

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

Five years ago, on a cold March day, Professor Syed Hussein Nasr delivered a keynote address in Islamabad on the subject of science. President Leghari and three hundred other guests listened to the inspiring words of the man who has spent a lifetime in thinking and writing about subjects of concern to the contemporary Muslim world. The bottomline of his address was a clear warning to the Muslim world on the subject of modern science. The western scientific enterprise requires a very careful analysis and not a blind imitation.

Then came the presidential address. Leghari, who had a special penchant for advocating science, openly disagreed with Professor Nasr and repeated his old refrain: We need science, more the better. This exchange pretty well defines the two prevalent attitudes towards modern science in Pakistan as well as in the rest of the Muslim world. Those who advocate an unqualified promotion of science are in majority and it is they who have the reigns of power. Yet, ironically, they are unable to bring about any change in the terrible structural constraints that have never allowed science to flourish in the Muslim world during the last fifty years.

The situation is so bad that one does not even want to waste words on repeating the state of so-called scientific institutions in the country. Vision-less leadership, lack of motivation and funding and above all, a total lack of direction for research are the defining features of Pakistan's science institutions. For a vast majority of so-called trained scientists, daily life revolves around going to offices, rather than laboratories and working with paper, rather than chemicals.

The rest is obvious: we cannot even solve the most basic problems of the cotton virus and health hazards specific to our own region. However, some took the successful explosion of atomic bomb two years ago as a sign of advancement in science. Those who claimed laurels for this success did not try to clarify that the process of making an atomic bomb involved enrichment of uranium through centrifuge technology and success in doing so does not amount to breaking new grounds in advancement in science.

Science grows out of a matrix whose elements include a whole philosophy and worldview on life and cosmos. The empty rhetoric that we often hear ignores all the historical, social and cultural factors that go into the making of a given scientific tradition. It repeats, ad nauseam, the colonial refrain: science is value-free and universal. This is a claim which has been discarded in the West by historians and philosophers of science but no-one is willing to pay any attention to the work of these scholars because they advocate a position which goes against the prevalent rhetoric.

A direct result of this scientism is the growth of a vague but influential thinking that Pakistan (and for that matter, most of the Muslim world) need more and more science and soon as we acquire science, all our problems will be solved. This was very much reflected in what President Leghari said on that March day not so long ago. Not only that, he went on the repeat yet another favourite line: the West is out to deny us the right to the frontiers of science and hence it is imperative for us to train our young men and women in the most advanced sciences at our own institutions.

After his address, Leghari did what most politicians do: he left the stage and went to another function and delivered another speech. A few months later, he was gone from the office. But he left behind his speeches, his rhetoric and his empty words for his successors, just like his predecessors had done. This pattern is quite obvious. We all know that other than new techniques of making money and plundering the resources of nation, the only thing our rulers leave behind is slogans and empty rhetoric.

And of course in a world radically being transformed by technology, the most trendy slogan is the "frontiers of science". But no-one wishes to go beyond the slogans. No-one wants to understand what it means to advocate scientism. For a country where the average man does not even have access to potable drinking water, the frontiers of science are indeed frontiers beyond reach.

The cost of doing science is prohibitive for Pakistan. And all our rulers who have advocated scientism during the last fifty years have always known this. When President Leghari talked about getting our young scientists trained in the "frontiers of science", he knew very well that Pakistan's annual earnings are less than that of a single respectable laboratory of the western world. He knew very well that these frontiers would remain beyond the reach for all Pakistanis. Yet he chose to spend time and energy on advocating scientism.

This attitude reflects a chronic problem in our scientific setup. Everyone who has ever sat on that chair designated for the minister of science, knows very well that there are fundamental changes needed in the functioning of scientific institutions in the country. They all know that 99 per cent of the annual budget of these institutions goes to pay the salaries and bills and they all come to know that there is no money to buy the instruments and chemicals without which there could never be any science. Yet, they all chose to ignore all this or feel powerless to change it. Instead, they all fall back on empty rhetoric and slogans. But slogans do not initiate change. Slogans do not transform institutions. They remain mere words, devoid of meaning.

Anyone really concerned about the state of our scientific institutions would quickly come to the conclusion that nothing can be achieved without a very basic change in the whole setup. One does not need to setup a commission--as Benazir had constituted--to come to this conclusion. A few minutes of basic arithmetic would be enough. And if that is hard to do, a walk on Islamabad's Constitution Avenue and its vicinity would be sufficient to expose the presence of huge buildings housing offices which all deal with science without actually carrying out a single experiment.

But the problem is much deeper than that. It is the absence of a scientific tradition which is at the root of the problem. Pakistan, like most of the colonised world, does not have a living scientific tradition out of which science could come. What we have is what Pakistan inherited at the end of colonial rule and all our institutions are designed on the pattern which was left behind by the colonial rulers. As a result for most young men and women and for most of our "leading scientists" and state functionaries, the glorious tradition which gave birth to such giants as Ibne Sina and al-Beruni, is history and Islamic studies. They are incapable of understanding that science does not grow out of vacuum; it requires a social, historical and cultural context to exist and flourish.

By relegating the pre-colonial scientific tradition spanning a whole millennium to the status of dead history, they wish to bring us to the threshold of so-called frontiers of science but they forget that by cutting the roots of the scientific tradition that had flourished in the Islamic civilisation, they are, in fact, attempting to plant full-grown trees in clay pots.


May26, 2000

Time is running out

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

On Friday, May 12, 2000, Pakistan’s military government entered a new phase of its life. It may have been a mere coincidence that the 12-member full bench of the Supreme Court chose the 12th of May to validate the military take-over of October 12, 1999. But this coincidence of dates and the number of judges leads us to a grand finale marked for October 12, 2002¾the day when the three year term of General Pervez Musharraf will come to an end.

The grounds for this validation are more or less the same as the ones which have been previously used; the judgment itself refers to this fact: It states that “on 12th October, 1999 a situation arose for which the Constitution provided no solution and the intervention by the Armed Forces through an extra constitutional measure became inevitable, which is hereby validated on the basis of the doctrine of state necessity and the principle of salus populi suprema lex as embodied in Begum Nusrat Bhutto's case.”

It goes on to justify the verdict: “The doctrine of state necessity is recognised not only in Islam and other religions of the world but also accepted by the eminent international jurists including Hugo Grotius, Chitty and De Smith and some Superior Courts from foreign jurisdiction to fill a political vacuum and bridge the gap.”

Regardless of what one thinks of these grounds, the judgment is an historic junction in Pakistan’s history: it firmly establishes a modus operandi for the “unconstitutional intervention” of an unelected agency. But that is a topic for another time.

For now, let us examine certain basic changes in the legal status of the present government: The Supreme Court has certainly put its seal on the question of legitimacy. But it has also put a time frame around that legitimacy.  This is precisely what General Musharraf had so far refused to concede. He had been vehemently opposed to the idea of a time frame. He had stated, over and over, that he will not give a time frame for elections.

With the establishment of a deadline for his rule, the General has been brought to a situation where time is against him: Every tick of the clock brings his rule closer to its end. After the passage of the verdict, a new factor has entered into the dynamics of the General’s rule: time. This simple and at this stage seemingly not-so-important factor is of fundamental importance for the future of the country.

One of the reasons given by General Musharraf for not announcing a date for elections was that after such an announcement everybody basically waits for the days to pass and nothing can be done. Given the state of our society, his observation was correct. But now that the apex court has fixed a date, the General has no option but to devise ways of implementing his agenda within a time frame.

Or perhaps he does have options: If Pakistan’s history is to be our guide, we can assume that different ways can be found to cross the deadline of October 12, 2002. But such a crossing will certainly be extremely difficult and costly.


One thing is certain: we are, once again, in a Bhutto-Zia type situation, of course with the obvious difference that unlike ZA Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif is not facing a death sentence. The politics of personal ambition and vendetta pursued by Mr. Sharif has landed him in jail. He is facing a multitude of cases but nothing can make his life worse; he is already in for life. Yet, if we were to be realistic, we must admit that he has already crossed the lowest point of his fortune and whatever happens now, is bound to improve the situation for him.

General Musharraf, on the other hand, is facing an uphill task. The expectations raised by his take over have already disappeared. The country is in the grip of a severe summer with strikes, murders, lawlessness, bomb blasts and drought. And while everyone wants to see radical changes in the system and immediate action, there is nothing but the regular daily chorus of  speeches of ministers and promises and announcements. The results which everyone hoped to see are simply not coming. This is bound to eradicate whatever support the General may have enjoyed.

With the passage of time, this erosion of tacit support of the masses will lead to a desire for change. In the absence of any viable political process, chaos will prevail. But once again using our own history as a guide, a more likely scenario will be the creation of a new version of MQM.

If we assume that elections will be called according to the time-frame established by the verdict of the Supreme Court, a genuine political process must precede  the elections for genuine political parties and candidates do not spring up from no where; they need political roots. This will inevitably bring the government to face certain tough realities.

It is obvious that the BB-Nawaz Sharif duo will be disqualified. But both parties have enough “clean” candidates who cannot be pushed out of the electoral process. And once a civilian government comes into being, there is no doubt that the tide will turn and the man facing a life sentence in a private jail can hope to see light at the end of the tunnel.

If, on the other hand, the Musharraf-led government chooses to some how ensure that the BB-Nawaz group remains outside the corridors of power, it will have to come up with drastic actions and that will be self-defeating for its existence.

The only solid foundation for legitimacy of the present government beyond the deadline of October 12, 2002 would come from a major economic revival. But in the light of the record of the past seven months, it is highly unlikely that any major change will occur in the economic situation of the country. The system  has so much inertia that unless a revolutionary change is brought, it will not move beyond rhetoric and rhetoric does not produce economic revival. Unfortunately, so far we have not seen  any sign of such a basic change.

 This is, indeed, a very serious situation. We are dealing with the lives of millions of human beings who have suffered a great deal during the last fifty-two years. Government after government has failed. There are millions of people who have been driven to such depths of dark hopelessness that one shudders to write about their travail. Remember those young men who committed suicide in the prime of their lives. Recall the cases of abuse of young women and abduction of journalists and traders. Remember the dark and brutal cells of the Zia era and the equally brutal ways of ZABhutto. Recall the days of midnight knocks.

The gravity of the situation demands urgent, fundamental changes in the way governments function in our country. There is a need to establish a national agenda and gather momentum for its implementation. Some one, some where in the corridors of power must realize that destinies of nations are not changed by the agendas set forth by one man; the whole nation has to participate in the process of rebirth.


The News International

Opinion page

Saturday, June 10 , 2000 -- Rabi-ul-Awwal 6, 1421 A.H.

The numbers game

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

On June 4 Pakistan's minister for science and technology made a startling statement. He said: "The National Science Programme will increase the country's GDP from the present level of $60bn to $200bn in a few years, through high value addition of goods and import substitution". He further stated that the "objective of the national science plan is to explore existing technologies and their direct application to accelerate industrialisation in the country. It will purely be a demand-driven exercise that will take along industry, as a partner."

Note that this statement came amidst the longest continuous trader's strike in history of the country and merely five days after the Karachi Stock Exchange Index ended near its lowest close for the year of 1,429.04 points when it also hit an intra-day year low of 1,397.27 points. Also note that this vague statement [reported in The News: June 4, 2000] comes from a man who is a chemist, a science that requires a high degree of precision. The statement does not tell us the time-frame; it merely says "in a few years". Further, it assumes that the present government and its ministers have a "few years" at their disposal.

If we are to believe that civilian rule will be restored in less than three years and if we are to take our history as a guide, we know that the new government will come up with its own wonderful plans and its own 2010 Programme. Then everyone would forget about the science plan of the minister of science. But before that happens, let us look a bit deeper.

What is more startling is the fact that the good news about the increase of the country's GDP from the present $60bn to $200bn "in a few years", merely through "high value addition of goods and import substitution", will make Pakistan a unique case of economic development which will shatter all theories of economic development. After all, a rise in GDP from $60bn to $200bn is a jump of 237 per cent!

If we are to believe our worthy science minister, Pakistan will surely be a world economic power within a few years, for most advanced countries are struggling to achieve growth rates of 4 to 5 per cent per year. But before we jump to any conclusion, let us get our facts straight.

GDP is the market value for all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given time period. Intermediate goods such as plastic, glass, cotton etc, are not counted since they are not in their final state. Including only final goods and services prevents double counting and thus avoids an overstatement of GDP. Final goods include household purchases since these items will not be used to produce other goods and services. Gross domestic product consists of four components: consumption (C), investment (I), government (G) and net exports (EX-IM).

According to the Wall Street Journal, the top ten economies of the world, ranked by real 1997 GDP are: the US $7,815.77bn; Japan $5,390.59bn; Germany $2,502.85bn; France $1,595.26bn; United Kingdom $1,172.53bn; Italy $1,111.69bn; China $828.02bn; Brazil $778.90bn; Canada $611.27bn; Spain $591.65bn.

Hence, in a few year's times, we can look forward to be in the same GDP bracket as Canada, surpass Spain (1997 GDP $591.65bn), Korea (1997 GDP $515.53bn), the Netherlands (1997 GDP $424.30bn), Australia (1997 GDP $377.81bn), India (1997 GDP $364.45bn and Switzerland (1997 GDP $309.71bn)!

If the claim made by the worthy minister is true, he must have a magic unknown to anyone else in the world. For according to preliminary estimates released by the US Commerce Department's Economic Bureau, the real gross domestic product of the United States of America increased at an annual rate of merely 5.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2000 while Pakistan is going to achieve a growth of 237 per cent!

Unfortunately, every one knows that these numbers are part of a grand numbers game which has been playing havoc with the lives of millions of Pakistanis for the last 53 years. Unfortunately for the minister, that is. Because the writing on the wall is so clear that all Pakistanis have stopped believing in these claims and their worth is no more than the daily khabarnama, which no one believes. Fifty-three years of hard life has taught our nation a few lessons and one of those few lessons is not to believe in these claims of messianic transformation of our fortunes.

The hard realities are written large: the military government has found its mouthpieces and, like the Zia era, an odd group of diverse nature has clustered around the chief executive. These are the people who have appropriated the role of reformers, cleansers and educators for a populace devoid of any effective and legitimate means of exercising its right of governance.

On a fine October day, the country was suddenly pushed into chaos. What emerged from that eventful day was one man's rule which replaced another man's rule. While 130 million people watched, new faces emerged on the television screen and in the print media. Those who were clamouring about their vision 2010 Programme, yellow tractors and yellow cabs and motorways were swiftly put aside, behind bars.

The previous set of people had violated the trust of millions of Pakistanis and therefore when they were hurled into the dark corridors no one came out in their support. But while they were on stage, they made statements just like the one made by the minister of science. Fortunately our memory is not so short. Everyone still remembers the grand claims of Nawaz Sharif and his coteries. But it is a fact that everyone who comes to power forgets the fate of his predecessors just like the new regimes forget the plans and projects of the previous government.

But the reality on the ground is far more grim and dangerous now. This summer of drought, strikes, suicides and confrontation is bound to push us further into the abyss. Sooner or later the traders would end their strike but the scars created by this confrontation will silently add to the national suffering and the country will continue to bleed.

The present painful situation reflects the same old pattern of governance. Those who hold power think of themselves as rulers with right to rule over a populace, which is not worthy of any respect, honour and dignity. They assume a role which does not provide any possibility of working toward a shared goal of national reconstruction.

The statement by the minister of science is a prime example of this attitude. Without giving any clue to the method of that magical transformation in our GDP, he assumed that by merely making a statement, which would go over most heads, he would raise the GDP from 60 to 200 billion US dollars. Just like those who prepared the tax survey forms in Islamabad's bureaucratic labyrinth assumed that by merely creating those forms, they would be able to expand the tax net.

What is needed is not the continuation of the empty rhetoric but a serious realisation that millions of lives are at stake. That a whole nation awaits its redemption in helpless agony. That at the dawn of the new century, Pakistan is facing the darkest hour of its history. With a society fractured to the core, with a polity without goals and without ideals and with a political and economic landscape devoid of hope and promise, there is the danger of a total breakdown of the civic society. Already there are signs. The mysterious death of a trader, Abdur Rahman Baiga, the rising spectre of sectarian violence and the increasing lawlessness are indicators which cannot be ignored.

Those who are playing the numbers game must know that years of empty rhetoric has taught Pakistanis at least one lesson: mere rhetoric is not going to transform their lives. They know well that these promises are not going bear anything. Pakistanis have been cheated, stung and deprived of their legitimate rights so many times that they do not believe in anything anymore, much less the fantasies of a magical rise in country's GDP merely "through high value addition of goods and import substitution."



Friday, June 23, 2000 -- Rabi-ul-Awwal 19, 1421 A.H.


A forgotten Pakistani

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal


It was a cold and cloudy day of April 2000. I had walked up the long road that goes to the fabulous Al-Hamrah. High above the historic city of Granada, is a small Muslim cemetery. I had gone there to pay homage to a Pakistani whose hundredth birthday will not be celebrated in Pakistan on July 2 this year. His name was Muhammad Asad. He had come to the Indian subcontinent in 1932 with plans to travel to Central Asia but he was persuaded by Iqbal to stay in India and take part in the struggle for independence.

Near the farthest corner of the graveyard, I found the grave I was looking for. The grave stone read: Muhammad Asad: Born July 2, 1900, died February 21, 1992. The Qur'aanic verses under the dates were from suratul fajr (the daybreak) which Asad had translated. Born on July 2, 1900 in Lwow (Lemberg), then part of the Austrian empire but now in Poland, Asad was called Leopold Weiss. He was second of three children and descendant of a long line of rabbis. His father had broken away from this tradition and had become a barrister.


Leopold spent his early years (1900-1913) in Lwow. He learned to read and speak Hebrew fluently; acquired some knowledge of Aramaic and studied the Old Testament in original. In 1914, his family moved to Vienna; young Leopold escaped from school. In 1918, after the collapse of the Austrian empire, he joined the University of Vienna to study history of art and philosophy.


Leopold had a restless nature. In the summer of 1920, he travelled all over Central Europe, doing 'all manner of short-lived jobs'. In 1922, he became a correspondent for Frankfurter Zeitung, one of the most prestigious newspapers of Germany and Europe. Leopold travelled extensively, visiting Cairo, Amman, Jerusalem, Syria (which then included Lebanon as well) and Turkey.


Toward the end of 1923, Leopold was back in Vienna. It was around this time that he gained the reputation of being an expert on Arab and Middle Eastern affairs. He was given a contract to write a book, "Unromantisches Morgenland" ("The Unromantic Orient").


He finished the book in 1924 but it did not sell well. In spring, he went back to the Middle East, first stopping at Cairo where he spent some time with Mustafa al-Maraghi, the future Shaikh of Al-Azhar. He tried to learn Arabic. In the summer of the same year, he travelled to Amman, Damascus, Tripoli and Aleppo, then to Baghdad and the Kurdish mountains, to Iran and Afghanistan. On a winter day in Afghanistan, he was told by a man: "But thou art a Muslim, only thou dost not know it thyself".


Early in 1926, he was homebound via Merv, Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent and thence across the Turkoman steppes to the Urals and Moscow. Crossing the Polish frontier, he arrived in Frankfurt. Upon his return, he delivered a series of lectures at the Academy of Geopolitics in Berlin. He married Elsa, 41, a widow with a nine year old son, resigned from Frankfurter Zeitung and signed contracts to write for Neue Zurcher Zeitung of Zurich, the Telegraph of Amsterdam and the Kolnische Zeitung of Cologne.

In September 1926, while travelling in the Berlin subway with Elsa, twenty-six year old Leopold Weiss had a powerful experience during which he became aware of the spiritual torments of his fellow travellers. He came home and found his copy of the Qur'aan at his desk, still open where he had left it. His eyes fell on the open page where he read Surah at-takathur. The next day, he sought out an Indian friend, the head of the small Muslim community in Berlin, and embraced Islam; Elsa followed a few weeks later.


Thus, Leopold Weiss became Muhammad Asad. The same year, Asad, Elsa and her son, Heiner Ahmad Schiemann (who now lives in Germany), went for haj. They travelled by ship. Shortly after reaching Makkah, Elsa died. Asad was devastated. A few weeks later, he met young Prince Faysal in the library who invited him to the royal palace. This started his life-long relationship with the Al-Saud family. Around 1928, he married Munira bint Hussein As-Shammari of the As-Shammar tribe from Haa'il. During these years in Saudi Arabia, he worked on early Islamic history, travelled extensively, lived among the Bedouins, went on a mission to Cyrenaica to assess the needs of the guerrillas fighting the Italians under the command of Umar al-Mukhtar and wrote for the European newspapers.


In 1932, a son, Talal Asad, was born (he now lives in America). Two years later, Asad left Arabia for India with plans to move on to Eastern Turkestan, China and Indonesia but Muhammad Iqbal persuaded him to stay in India and join the struggle for the creation of Pakistan. In 1934, Asad published a book that would make him famous throughout the Muslim world: "Islam at the Crossroads".


At the outbreak of World War II, Asad was interned by the British government. During the war, his sister and father were killed in concentration camps in Auschwitz and Treblinka. He was released after the war and joined the movement for the creation of Pakistan. In 1947, his ten years of extensive labour on the translation and commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari was lost during the riots. After partition, he moved to Lahore and worked for the Punjab government in the Department of Religious Reconstruction. In the early 1950s, he joined the foreign service and was sent to New York, as Pakistan's representative to the United Nations. In 1955, he resigned from the foreign service, published "The Road to Mecca" and started work on his translation of the Qur'aan.

Endowed with unusual linguistic abilities and personal experiences so rich and diverse that they seem to be coming out of a fairy tale, Muhammad Asad's life traversed a vast cultural and geographical terrain: from a highly disciplined childhood in Europe to the sun-burnt deserts of Arabia. At the same time, his was a life devoted to scholarly pursuits which have produced some of the most remarkable Islamic texts in the twentieth century: "The Road to Mecca"; "Sahih al-Bukhari: The Early Years of Islam"; "Islam at the Crossroads", "The Principles of State and Government in Islam"; "This Law of Ours and Other Essays" and his magnus opus, "The Message of the Qur'aan".

Asad's life is also an enduring tale of one man's spiritual and emotional travail in the face of enormous personal losses and upheavals. But Asad remained steadfast to his calling and devoted all his energies to the problem of regeneration of the Muslim community. Last month, a small one-day symposium was held in Vienna to mark Asad's one hundredth birthday. The fact that not many people will be celebrating his birthday in Pakistan is indicative of how we treat those who devote their lives for the noble causes that were once at the heart of Muslims of the subcontinent. It is also a sad comment on the state of our collective amnesia.




Friday, July 07, 2000 -- Rabi-us-Sani 04, 1421 A.H.


The 'Oh, I See' joke

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The June 27th meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Foreign Ministers' (ICFM) meeting at Kuala Lumpur did what OIC has been doing since 1969: passed an enormous number of resolutions. The newspaper reports coming out of Kuala Lumpur were a painful reminder of my own association with one of the top science and technology organization established by OIC under the chairmanship of the President of Pakistan. It was 1992. I had gone to Dakkah to attend a UN-OIC meeting. The meeting turned out to be an eye opener.

When I met the assistant secretary of OIC at the Sheraton Hotel, he was talking to other colleagues in a tone which reflected his long training in diplomatic affairs. This was a pre-meeting "consultation and planning session". The high point of that memorable meeting was the insistence of the assistant secretary that this is a very important meeting because UN has finally turned around and now it accepts us (OIC) as an "equal"!

But that was just the starting point. Half an hour into the meeting, I came across an inside joke which must have been making rounds in the secretariat of OIC in Jeddah for quite some time. Everytime somebody said something, one or the other member of the delegation from Jeddah would say: "Oh, I See". By the end of this prep meeting, OIC had turned into "Oh, I See". It was painful eye opener for me.

The relaxed smiles on the faces of high officials of OIC, the candor and tone of their voices, their indulgence and interest in cuisines of Sheraton Hotel and the utter lack of interest in matters concerned with environmental protection were other obvious signs which soon made it clear that "Oh, I See" is no small joke making rounds in the head office in Jeddah: it is a grand and cruel joke with the Ummah. Established in the sacred city of Makkah, by which God has taken an oath in the Qura'an, the Organization of Islamic Conference is one of those organizations that have come into existence through a mechanism aimed at checking and diffusing the genuine pan-Islamic feelings of millions of Muslims.

The long process of struggle against the colonial powers in the first half of the previous century had simultaneously generated hopes for a grand alliance of the emerging Muslim countries. It was a dream articulated by the likes of Jamal uddin Afghani, Iqbal and many other Muslim thinkers. But the dream-like idea only took shape as a reaction to Israel's occupation of al-Quds.

Finally when the "heads of states and kings" of the Muslim countries met in Makkah to urgently discuss the al-Quds question, they left us the skeleton of an organization which had the potential of providing the Ummah its own United Nations. But, as the history of the organization proves, it was merely a ploy to diffuse the very concept of Ummah which had, by then, become a dangerous threat to the global hegemony of the West.

Within a few days of its establishment, OIC turned into "Oh, I See" and since then, every single time the need arises for an organization to intervene in the affairs of Muslim countries, the response from this Jeddah-based organization has always been "Oh, I See". Whether it was the Iran-Iraq conflict, the Israeli expansion into the Palestinian lands, the uprising in Kashmir or floods, famine and drought in Africa, the organization has always looked at the situation and said, "Oh, I See". This attitude translates into passing of resolutions. As a result, by now resolutions passed by the "summits" held in various countries occupy reams of bound and unbound paper which gathers dust in various ministries of its 56 member countries and in the Jeddah head office.

The organization works through an elaborate bureaucratic process, patterned on the model of UN. In fact, it has been one of the aspirations of the "heads of states and kings" to establish an organization which would rival UN; they have certainly succeeded and surpassed the UN in at least one respect: the bureaucratic sluggishness. The resolutions passed by the meeting of foreign ministers in Kuala Lumpur are placed before the summit, the highest body in the organization, and then they will trickle back to the member states. But there, implementation would remain nobody's responsibility and except for the administrative matters, no resolution will be implemented.

The next meeting of the foreign ministers will come up with a new series of resolutions and the old ones will be forgotten. Along with al-Quds, science and technology have been the other main "concern" of the organization almost from its inception. This is reflected, once more, in the 27th session of ICFM held in Kuala Lumpur a week ago. It called "for laying greater emphasis on acquiring scientific knowledge and skill for facing the challenges of the Modern World".

This call has been echoing throughout the history of the organization in more or less the same wording. The recent conference held at the Palace of the Golden Horses passed the resolutions on science and technology in more or less the same words in which the organization has been passing these resolutions since 1969. In fact, having seen the process from close quarters, I can say with certainty that the passing of new resolutions is quite a fascinating process.

Clerks are asked to dust the old resolutions and place them in new file covers, a meeting is held prior to the official meeting of the foreign ministers or the heads of the states and low ranking officials of the planning committee change the dates and add a phrase here, a word there and make the resolutions!

But this is not to suggest that the organization has done nothing else; it has created many subsidiary organizations which were delegated the charge of implementation. In the field of science and technology, which is one of the main preoccupations of the organization, we have the fiasco of IFSTAD and COMSTECH to the credit of the organization. Based in Jeddah, the Islamic Foundation for Science and Technology (IFSTAD) was to be the super structure for a new scientific revolution in the Muslim world. It envisioned a grand plan requiring millions of dollars. Member states were called to contribute, Islamic Development Bank (IDB) donated some money, a secretariat was established and IFSTAD was brought to life. But ten years and millions of dollars later, what was left was a legacy of misappropriation of funds which were "lost in bad investments", a few volumes outlining the plans of IFSTAD and nothing more.

In 1996, the whole affair was hushed and folded into the pages of history. Established in 1983 on the proposal of recently deceased King Hasan of Morocco was another subsidiary organization, OIC Committee for Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH). The plans remained in limbo for about 5 years as COMSTECH worked out of a room in the ministry of science and technology. But just before his death in the Bahawalpur crash, General Zia ul Haq, the then President of Pakistan, appointed his science advisory, Dr MA Kazi as the Coordinator General of COMSTECH and gave one million dollars to the organization.

Dr Kazi, who lived in Karachi, founded a secretariat in Islamabad in the building of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences and thus began a new tale which I will relate in another column. For now, suffice it to say that one of the most important questions discussed by the ICFM was regarding the post of secretary-general, which was occupied by a secretary general who did not live in Jeddah. "How do you expect the secretariat to be effective when the secretary-general does not even live in Jeddah and prefers to live in his own country?" was the question one observer asked. Perhaps the answer is simple: "Oh, I See".


The News International

Friday, July 21, 2000 -- Rabi-us-Sani 18, 1421 A.H.

Recalling Islamic clauses

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

Last week, within the span of forty-eight hours, two apparently unrelated news items appeared in the national media. On Saturday, July 15th, the chief executive promulgated the Provisional Constitution (Amendment) Order, 2000. On Sunday, nine people were killed and 35 injured when a powerful timer device, planted under a seat in a compartment of the Karachi-bound Mehran Express, went off more than hundred yards away from Hyderabad Railway station. These two apparently unrelated incidents have a very strong connection that will become clear as we reflect on these two developments.

The amendment in the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) of October 14, 1999 was described "as necessary for removal of doubts about the enforcement and continuity of the Constitution's Islamic provisions". Significantly, the amendment in Article 2 of the PCO No 1 of 1999 was "inserted and shall always be deemed to have been so inserted", thus making it retroactive. The official handout further stated: "Notwithstanding anything contained in the Proclamation of the 14th day of October, 1999 or this Order or any other law for the time being in force, all provisions of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan embodying Islamic injunctions including Article 2, 2A, 31, 203A to 203J, 227 to 231 and 260 (3) (a) and (b) shall continue to be in force and no provision as aforesaid shall remain in abeyance or be deemed to have remained in abeyance at any time."

Recall that Article 2 of the Constitution deems Islam to be the state religion, 2A makes the Objectives Resolution an integral part of substantive provision, 31 pertains to the Islamic way of life, 203A to 203J relate to the Federal Shariah Court, 227 is for the provisions relating to the Noble Qur'aan and Sunnah, 228 to 230 are clauses related to the composition and working of Islamic Ideology Council, 231 is for the rules of procedure, 260(3)(a) and (b) relate to definition of "Muslim" and "Non-Muslim".

This proclamation came ahead of the chief executive's meetings with "religious leaders" and just a day before the Mehran train explosion. Both news items were followed by the usual press releases and statements that hailed the first development and condemned the second incident. As usual, an inquiry will be conducted for the train blast and no one will ever know who committed this heinous crime.

As usual, the amendment in the Provisional Order will become part of history and the country will continue to function as it has been with or without this amendment. What lies behind these two news items and the follow up is, however, far more serious and threatening. It concerns the very fundamentals of Pakistan's existence.

The train blast clearly shows that there is a segment of population of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that has decided that there is no other way left but to play havoc with the lives of innocent people. Of course, the blame has been placed on the foreign hands but let us face it: there are many splinter groups in the country that are armed and trained and their sustained actions announce in unambiguous terms that no government can stop their activities. It is also clear that it is not an overnight phenomenon. Pakistani society has reached this level of disintegration through an accumulative process that spans decades.

The connection between the chief executive's promulgation and the train blast is clear: while a statement from the country's ruler proclaims Islam to be the state religion, a section of population negates, violates and contradicts the very spirit of Islam by taking lives of innocent people and by showing how helpless the rulers are in real life. But more than that: it is a tragic comment on the contemporary realities of a country which has so much potential but which has been misruled for decades.

For all practical purposes, there is nothing that will come out of the amendment. The sole purpose of this statement was to prepare the ground for the meetings between the chief executive and the religious leaders. This is clear from the timing of the amendment as well as the subsequent statements issued by various officials and especially by Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider who said that the amendment had been made at the government's own initiative and that there was no pressure from religious parties in this connection. In our polity, such statements have always meant one thing: do not bother about this; it is merely a cosmetic action.

The dictates of expediency aside, the fundamental question regarding the very nature of statehood in Pakistan requires a very serious debate. Unfortunately, those who have no idea about the fundamentals of Islam, its lofty message and its universal appeal have referred to this statement as a victory for the religious fundamentals and a danger sign for the "liberals". The couching of argument in these two categories in itself shows a total lack of understanding about the intent and purpose of religion and its role in the collective life of a society.

By framing the debate about Islamic provisions in terms of religious fundamentalism and liberalism, those who want to derail the process of emergence of an Islamic polity in Pakistan depict a black and white picture in which all religious minded people are relegated to the dark space while the so-called liberals stand out on the bright side. And to intensify the impact of such depictions, a liberal use of adhoc terms such as Talibans and even Talibanism is made. This is done to conjure dark suspicions and to raise fears in the mind of readers that a situation like Afghanistan is just around the corner.

This loss of a sense of direction for a country that came into existence on the basis of a slogan (Pakistan ka Matlab kaya? La Ilaha Il'Llah) is, in fact, tragic. But what is more tragic is the fact that those who could contribute to the emergence of a society where incidents like the blast in the Mehran train would be unheard of, are actually locked in a paradigm fix which tells them that the only way out for them is to propagate a vague liberalism in opposition to the emergence of a society based on the teachings of Islam as if Islam had, in its very nature, a tendency opposed to liberalism.

This degeneration of a fundamental aspect of Pakistan's ideological basis into two vague terms (liberalism and fundamentalism) is indicative of the fact that the religious leadership has completely failed in showing the way to the emergence of an Islamic polity. Both in deeds as well as at the theoretical level. This failure is not specific to any one party. From the leadership of the Jamat-e-Islami to those who recently went to see the chief executive in their long robes, no one has been able to formulate a practical strategy for the process of Islamization. In fact, such a process has always remained limited to proclamations and amendments.

In real practical terms, Islamization is not something that can be imposed by the government by passing amendments and enacting laws. Real process of the emergence of an Islamic society involves people like you and me and our actions. And one need not state that at present, the governing force in our collective lives is not Islam and its moral teachings and the latest amendment in the PCO is not going to change this trend.



Quantum Note  Aug 4, 2000


Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal


Recolonization of the World


Ahmad sits in front of his computer screen in a small room in one of Lahore's posh areas. He stares at the small program file he has written in java script. Soon the file would be uploaded to a server in California where this small part of a huge software program would fit nicely into its proper place. In a few months, it will be on the market. Of course without any acknowledgement to Ahmad's existence.


Ahmad's company will receive a tiny portion of the economic gains which would be made by the parent company in California. For Ahmad, there will be nothing except his monthly salary which, it must be acknowledged, is far better than his previous job in a government department. But Ahmad has another hidden agenda: He hopes to follow the trail of his program file and one day land in the United States. It is this dream that fuels his long hours in front of the computer screen.


Three hundred and sixty kilometers north of Lahore, Pakistan's minister of Science and Technology inaugurates a software exhibition and boasts of exporting software worth millions of dollars within the next few years. Among the audience is Pakistan's elite. They all clap and the uproar produces headlines. "We have missed the Industrial revolution," states Pakistan's minister of Information in another function in Karachi, "if we miss the information revolution, we will be totally left behind."


These images of a country in the grip of a ruling group that speaks the modern jargon of development envisioned in the board rooms of IMF and World Bank are merely the outward signs of a devastating new process of recolonization which is rapidly spreading throughout the world. During the nineteenth century, colonization was accomplished through military invasions, intrigues and local lackeys. Then the process of colonization was driven by economic greed and missionary zeal. Cheap labour and raw materials were the corner stones of the economic greed and education and enlightenment were the "noble causes" which propelled the missionary spirit. The natives needed civilization, it was decided. They had to be educated. The need to be told how to live a civilized life and how to develop.


Surprisingly, the twenty-first century version of colonization is driven by the same forces: economic greed and missionary zeal. And it is operating through similar channels san the overt military occupation. The absence of military occupation is, however, not the result of any humanitarian consideration. It is simply due to the fact that it has become obvious to the colonizers that military occupation is deadly expensive, both in human as well as in economic terms. But where there is no other way, they do not hesitate to send troops, often under the disguise of UN sponsored offensive.


This new process of colonization of the world is driven by a super power which is far more deadly in its cold, calculated savagery than the nineteenth century colonizers, Britain, France and Italy. Propelled by a monstrous economic activity and driven by unprecedented invasive force, the United States of America leads the new wave of economic and cultural colonization of the world at a scale undreamt by the nineteenth century colonizers. The goal is none other than the whole globe; the object is none other than a complete Americanization of the economic and cultural moulds of all other economies and culture.


Unlike the weak military resistance met by the nineteenth century colonizers, this new sophisticated process of colonization has found ready acceptance in most of the "third" world, though there is an emerging resistance in continental Europe. Those who have perceived the grand designs of the colonizer are organizing rallies. They are protesting against the invasion. In these rallies, the mood is characterized by a defiance which nevertheless, ends up in mourning on the loss of values, language, culture and economic freedom. But the question about whether or not Europe will be able to protect its unique cultural existence against the forces of market economy is for another time. For now let us concentrate on what concerns us at home.


Unlike Europe, the new process of colonization has found ready support in countries like Pakistan. The rulers are selling it in the name of economic development, the educated class is more than willing to buy it at all costs and the common people are blindly following the glitter and glare. Unlike the nineteenth century, there is no resistance to this colonization at any level.


This is hardly surprising. Prior to that devastating year 1857, when the British Raj formally extended its octopus-like tentacles to the subcontinent, there existed the remains of a crumbling empire which was founded by that charming poet-king, Babur, who ruled by the day and dreamt of his exquisite Farghanah and Samarqand by the night. But more than the Mughal Empire, it was the centuries old synthesis of the Indian, Persian and Arab cultures which stood against the merchants of Liverpool. There was a vast system of governance, an administrative and political order and the enchanting Persian literary and poetic traditions that resisted the enactment of a caricature of British culture in the Indian subcontinent. There were Titu Mirs and Syed Ahmads who challenged the colonizers and readily paid with their blood.


They failed. They failed because the Moghul empire had become a burlesque remanent of what it was. But most of all they failed because the Islamic education system in the subcontinent had failed to synthesize a harmonious evolution to meet the needs of the changing world. This, in turn, had given birth to a decadent culture which had no roots in anything higher than the luxuries of physical existence. And in the absence of a creative intellectual force, a small number of British soldiers were able to keep a huge subcontinent in their control for ninety long years.


But the modern-day colonizer faces no resistance at all. By the time nineteenth century colonizers were driven out of the "third" world, they had already transformed those societies. When Britain, France and Italy left their colonies, they had successfully planted seeds for the recolonization. Thus the newly "independent" countries of the “third” world ripened to receive the new colonizers through the route of a short lived nationalism and a brief infatuation with socialism. The Gulf war and the subsequent long term military presence (some would say occupation) of the United States in the region, completed the process of laying the foundation of new colonization in this part of the world.


By the end of the twentieth century, there were enough "technocrats" in countries like Pakistan who would readily become tools for propagating a vision of future which sells colonizer's agenda in terms such as "Development through science and technology", "benefits of information age", "growth through population control", "modern progressive Islam" and the like. These local propagators of the colonization are blind to the devastating impact of the intellectual, moral and emotional enslavement of thousands of young Ahmads. They see nothing but export value in the software written in hot, humid and rancorous environs of hundreds of new offices in cities like Lahore and Karachi. They have no concern with the rapid disappearance of the remains of a vision of life which grew out of a spiritual realm which beheld the world as a halting place and a preparatory interlude for the beatific encounter with the Everlasting.





Friday, August 18, 2000 -- Jamadi-ul-Awwal 17,1421 A.H.


Missing national agenda

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

Last week, I received an e-mail in response to my previous column, "Recolonisation of the world" (The News: August 4, 2000). I do not know the person who sent that e-mail message but here is what it says: "The column was circulated among my colleagues. One of them came up to me and asked me a very pragmatic question: Given everything this article says is correct, what do we do about it?" That gave me food for thought. Looking at all our options, I don't see many choices.

I gather from the content of the e-mail message that it came from an office dealing with Information Technology (IT) where a group of young Pakistanis work on projects like the ones mentioned in my previous column: development of software for American companies. The person who sent the message to me goes on to state that the only way out for us is that we, as a nation, play this game of the IT industry development. He wrote: "Let us play it better than the yankees who forced us into it in the first place. Make them feel sorry they ever got us into it. This is the thing which can bring us dollars. And dollars are precisely what America uses as its main tool for colonisation."

As individuals, we should rise above the rosy dreams of a utopia modeled after the western prosperity. We should realise that the only purpose this technology can serve for a Muslim is to put enough money in his pocket to enable him to live freely. Freedom gives us the choice to live our lives according to our faith.

This may not be a representative response to a situation of our own making but it certainly gives enough insights into the serious predicament that we face at the beginning of our fifty-fourth year as a nation-state. The response sees economic freedom as empowering the individual to live according to his faith. This rather uncertain proposition coming from an intelligent person who is capable of envisioning the design behind the IT game, is a clear indication of where we have completely failed as a nation.

The assumption behind the concept of economic prosperity being a necessity for practising one's faith is obviously untenable but what is more important here is the absence of any thought of a national goal behind the model of the IT revolution. But what intrigued me most was the way this message from the unknown reader points toward the great peril that hangs above our heads.

At the root of this predicament stands the failure of our educational system. In recent years, thousands of new educational institutions have sprung up all over the country like weeds in an unkempt garden. Information Technology (IT) is the latest crush in these homegrown institutions where the only philosophy at work is how to make money as fast as possible. These institutions have passed through several phases. Not so long ago, everyone wanted an MBA degree. Prior to that, there were the two traditional channels: medicine and engineering along with the lure of CSS. But that is history. What is left behind is the IT, which is perceived as the shortest route to an H-1 visa and prosperity.

This dream must be a shared dream for our educators as well as the students. Information Technology is perceived at the official level as the gateway to the 21st century. Hundreds of computer training centres are envisioned as door crashers to this new century and a brand new crop of technocrats is raving that if we miss this revolution, we are doomed.

Amidst this clamour of a brave new future, no one seems to be interested in defining the parameters of this great revolution. No one is interested in finding out exactly what it would do to a nation which has no barriers left against anything that comes from the West. Education is not on anybody's agenda in our polity. No one is concerned about it, neither the government, nor the politicians. As a result, education and educational systems have been merely responding to market demands and those demands have been dictated by only one goal--find the shortest way to make millions.

This has produced two devastating results. First, whatever was left of the tradition of learning from the old times has disappeared. Second, the upstarts who have responded to the market demands have produced a cultural subgroup in the society which is not rooted in this soil. Unfortunately, these young men and women for whom everything traditionally Pakistani is simply abhorrent and backward, are at the forefront of a generation drawn towards a blind imitation of what they think is the American life and values.

This powerful cultural subgroup leads the youth. As a result, fundamental changes are occurring in our social makeup: the number of young Pakistanis who do not speak any Pakistani language is increasing, fast food restaurants, junk food and a consumer lifestyle restricted to the satisfaction of various appetites and devoid of any higher values is spreading throughout the major cities of the country.

One does not have to dig into cold statistics to confirm that after struggling for a few decades, almost all respectable Urdu literary journals have disappeared from the scene. The number of books of any merit in any genre of literature published in recent years can be counted on the fingers of two hands. There is not a single philosopher, thinker or intellectual in the country who can be called upon to read into our predicament, signs of what is to come. All that is left is pursuit of a material lifestyle which demands that everyone of us make as much money as possible in as short a time as possible.

And yet this single agenda has no viable route, no legitimate channel of expression. Look around and you will find that most of the consumer products are either imported or are cheap variations of imported products which have no value in the international market. Agricultural operations are based on the 19th century models of large farms run by absentee landowners and the natural resources of our land either remain unexplored or continued to be drained without any thought of stewardship of the land or sustainability. In this situation, the only way to achieve economic prosperity is by borrowing money from outside sources and that is exactly what our politicians have been doing, at least for thirty years.

This influx of foreign money has produced a huge burden of debt servicing and every successive government has failed to find a way out of this trap. The only way to exist is by borrowing more money. Every time we borrow money, we increase the national debt. With every increase in the national debt, money going into the drain of debt servicing increases. This vicious circle keeps the nation in bondage.

Perhaps at an individual level, many young men working in the IT offices are dreaming that one day, they may be able to break this vicious circle by making enough dollars through writing java script programmes for upstart companies in the Silicon Valley. But the fallacy of this route is so obvious that one need not comment on it. What is left is nothing but a chilling silence in which one can see the dismemberment of a society, brick by brick.


The News International Pakistan

Friday, September 01, 2000 -- Jamadi-us-Sani 02,1421 A.H



Flip side of IT policy

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

For the weary reader, the title of this column may sound like a diatribe against the recently unveiled first ever Information Technology (IT) Policy and Action Plan which boasts of increasing "Internet access by 400 per cent in five years" and which plans to "increase Internet penetration from current two million users to 10 million in [the] next five years." But be rest assured, it is not meant to be so. After all, who would dare to write against the virtual reality, for that is the only reality we know in this age of collective amnesia.

The only reason that I refer to this grand action plan is to express my happiness that after years of waiting and disappointments, we are finally ready to enter the 21st century. Remember, how eagerly we had waited for it! From the man from Choti who was the last president of our republic to have any real power, to the architects of that grand Vision 2010, everyone had clamoured about the 21st century for several years before it came.

But when it finally came, no one was there to welcome it. Neither the man from Choti, nor BB, nor the man who dreamed of motorways and other grand plans with promises to change our fortunes. What is more sad is the fact that the person who would be most delighted with this policy, our very dear man from Choti, is no more in the presidency.

Recall his first two years in that august building. He untiringly clamoured for science and technology while his old boss and her husband were silently busy in stacking away millions into Swiss banks and Surrey palaces. I particularly recall an afternoon in the Presidency. This meeting was about the OIC body in Islamabad, COMSTECH, of which he was the Chairman. In the middle of the conversation, Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari suddenly turned around and said, "COMSTECH should install a cyclotron."

Later it transpired that he had recently returned from the United States where he had heard the word "cyclotron" which must have sounded delightful to his ears. Cyclotron is an instrument that can create high energy radioactive atoms. But no one had told him that a cyclotron produces short-lived radio active atoms that are immediately used for research and medical purposes and it is merely one of the many high priced instruments of a bigger research complex. All he wanted COMSTECH to do was install a cyclotron! It would have been such a showpiece in our capital!

But that is a story for another time. Let us return to the grand plans our worthy science minister has unrolled. The IT policy promises to "expand Internet access to every nook and corner of the country". Our government of technocrats "will spend Rs5 billion on the information technology this year out of which 60 per cent would be spent on human resource development."

Imagine what will life be like in our republic with the establishment of four new IT universities, Virtual IT University, National Testing and Accreditation Services and Educational Internet! Unveiling the policy, our worthy minister of science said that "a series of IT Parks and Incubators will be established across the country. These will be equipped with modern facilities and matchless incentives to provide a one-stop-shop for prospective investors in the IT industry."

He also said that "the Central Board of Revenue has also been asked to do away with all duties and taxes on the hardware for research and development in the universities and engineering colleges." But the best news is that according to our minister of science, "the government is set to launch projects like Government Online, Electronic Governance Project and E-Commerce Network." This will indeed be such a revolution that every loyal citizen of our republic should come out and shout: Hurrah! We are going to have virtual government!

For those who have lost all sense of humour, let it be said that the government should arrange a virtual zone in the promised electronic governance site for them. Because these humourless creatures cannot think about anything but the cold statistical realities. They say that our republic has a population in which 70 out of every 100 individuals have never held a pen in hand and 50% of those who have had the opportunity to go through the nursery rhymes drop off before they reach grade 8!

And those who wish to wonder about access to potable water, let it be said that the new government online would provide virtual water. And as for the management of over-crowded, noisy, polluted cities, we will have virtual clean air and virtual traffic management schemes.

However, I am hard pressed to satisfy those who connect this grand policy to the motorway project of our once prime minister from Lahore who lately has not been claiming to still be the elected ruler of our republic. Or those who have longer memory and point out that this is another hoax, not so different from that grand vision of 2010 which was unveiled not so long ago with a similar fanfare and in which our worthy minister of science participated as an expert.

One can somehow satisfy them by pointing out that the bells started to toll too early for our 2010 visionary, hence he could not deliver what he promised. But it is almost impossible to satisfy the cynic who reminds us that, just after his appointment as the Coordinator General of COMSTECH (for a huge salary paid in US dollars), our worthy minister of science had claimed to raise $5 billion to bring about a renaissance of science in the whole Muslim world.

But even harder to satisfy are those who ask fundamental questions: who has given these people the right to decide how to spend billions of rupees? Other than self-proclaimed agendas, what legitimate grounds are there for the present rulers to formulate and impose such far-reaching policies on 130 million people? Especially when they are promising to leave the office in less than 26 months!

And there are those who point toward the fact that instead of paying attention to the roots, every government has been interested in the branches. Instead of concentrating on providing solid basic education, clean water, healthy and unadulterated food and clean air in the cities, those who come to power only design and sometimes execute projects that provide further luxury to those who already have an unjust share of the resources of this ravaged land.

For the masses, they leave behind nothing. Nothing but a harvest of winds. Indeed, it is the irony of our situation that these non-participatory, top down Action Plans are conceived by a handful of "experts" who either have no idea of the real ground realities which define life for millions of human beings beyond manicured lawns and swept roads of Islamabad or who wilfully ignore the plight of such a vast number of human beings.

In both cases, we are up against people who are arrogant, deceiving and uncaring. In a situation like this, how can one calmly say that there are fundamental questions about Pakistan's future, questions and issues which will define whether or not we survive as a viable political entity?

It is ironic that those who appropriate power through whatever means forget that they have no right to make such policies for millions of human beings who have never seen a classroom, who have never held a book in their hands, who have never been acknowledged as humans.

Pakistan is once again at the crossroads. There are clear signs of an internal collapse. The crisis of leadership is merely an outward sign of a much deeper crisis. Isn't it evident that our institutions have completely failed to produce leadership?

In a nation of 130 million people, all that is left is a handful of discredited politicians, a group of self-proclaimed religious leaders and a handful of technocrats who have created a virtual reality for themselves out of the resources of this land and its people. Alas, there are no statesmen who can guide the political process, no intellectuals who can analyse the malady, not even a poet who can write an elegy on the process of dismemberment which is unfolding right in front of our eyes.


The News International Pakistan


Friday, September 15, 2000 -- Jamadi-us-Sani 16,1421 A.H


Muslims in the 21st century

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The recent UN meeting in New York was dominated by the Western leaders. Not a single leader from the fifty-six Muslim countries could stand out as a leader of a country whose voice could not be ignored. These leaders claimed to represent more than one billion Muslims!

This stark fact stands out in a rather painful manner. But remember, at the dawn of the 20th century, there were neither the Muslim leaders nor the Muslim countries. Almost all of the Muslim world was then under foreign rule. The great imperial and state systems, which had established themselves in the late medieval era of Muslim expansion, had become history.

From the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century, Muslim states had been falling in the hands of the European powers. The Dutch had completed the conquest of Indonesia; the Russians and the Chinese had absorbed Inner Asia; the British had taken India, Malaya, parts of the Middle East, East Africa, Nigeria and other parts of West Africa; France had seized North Africa, much of West Africa and parts of the Middle East.

Thus by the beginning of the 20th century, European powers had completed their conquest of almost all the Muslim world. At this time, independent Muslim states existed only in Central Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan and they too were weak and under the influence of the European powers.

Thus the map of the world was redrawn by the European powers during the course of the 19th century. During this century, most Muslim societies went through a major transformation which made them alien to the cultural and spiritual forces that had shaped and guided them for more than a millennium.

It is useless to blame Europe for producing this startling transformation of the most basic institutions of the Muslim world during the colonial rule. There must have been inner weakness within the Muslim societies which allowed this transformation to happen. The fact remains that these societies were transformed at the most fundamental level through the replacement of their institutions, models, ideals and, in most cases, language of learning. This was accomplished in the following manner.

Following the conquest, assimilation or annexation, the colonised societies were subjected to a reign of terror. Old and established families were uprooted. Leading figures were executed or exiled, ruling classes and people of wealth and fame were made targets of special retribution. The continuity of institutions was disrupted and in many cases, they were destroyed in both the physical and the functional sense.

After this period, which varied in length in different societies, new institutions were planted, a new administrative system was designed, and in time a new elite was created. This group was more than willing to cooperate with the colonial rulers. Educated in the new educational system, these people had little or no respect for their history and heritage.

Intoxicated by the glamour of their rulers, men and women of this elite group considered it an unbounded honour to speak the language of their colonial masters and think and act like them. They accepted the ideas presented to them by their Western mentors without any critical analysis. Their personalities and world views were shaped by the teachings of Western philosophers and so religion had little importance for them. This elite group slowly became the leading figures in the colonised societies and the masses started to look toward them as their models.

The next phase of this process started with the second generation of this elite group. This generation was raised in luxury and comfort and was twice removed from the traditional sources. They were also removed from the period of terror and violence and were able to seek equality with the Western rulers. Most of them went to Europe for education and their experiences in the West contributed towards the development of a sense of dignity and equality.

When they returned to their respective countries, they started to demand greater power and influence in the affairs of their country. Various independence movements were thus rooted in the concept of nationalism, learned from Europe. Most countries won independence but it was not accompanied by any remarkable change in the harsh living conditions faced by the masses.

But in addition to the emergence of 56 Muslim countries, the 20th century also produced another major change: It dispersed Muslims all over the world. Today, Muslims can be found as far north as Anchorage and as far south as the southern most corner of Chile. This geographical dispersement of Muslims is the most important characteristic of the 21st century.

Most of these Muslims live as minorities in cultures that are radically different from their "home countries", though for most, the words "home countries" are but an illusion. Their predicament comes to fore at times of crisis. This centuries-old hostility of their adopted lands is not reserved for them alone; even the native citizens who speak up for Islam are subjected to harsh treatments.

A case in point is the 1995 incident in Germany. In the summer of that year, the German Bookseller's Trade Association had nominated Annemarie Schimmel for its annual peace prize. The Association had cited Schimmel's work as "furthering the understanding and knowledge of Islam". It so happened that soon after the announcement of the award, Schimmel spoke about the reaction of Muslims against Salam Rushdie's Satanic Verses, in a manner that showed her characteristic understanding of Islam. As soon as this TV interview was shown, Schimmel became the recipient of an outrage she had never expected.

The affair polarised the intellectual, artistic and political worlds, a polarisation that spread to other European countries. The point was once again brought home: Islam and Muslims remain one of the most dreaded fears in the western world.

The dawn of a new century is thus characterised by the dynamics of a large number of Muslims living outside the traditional Muslim lands. In addition, the 21st century is rapidly changing the very fabric of the traditional Muslim lands as well. The cultural map of the world is going through such a massive change that human history has never before experienced anything like this.

It is not only the internet, the wireless communication, the genetically altered seeds and the dish antennas popping up in remote villages of the world that are blurring the boundaries between Karimabad in the Hunza valley and Manhattan. These are merely outward signs of what is generally termed as globalisation.

What derives globalisation is nothing but a brute economic force borne out of a secular worldview, that sees the life of this world as the only real objective and material gains and possessions as the only thing worth striving for. This materialism knows no boundaries. It recognises no culture except the culture it generates.

Globalisation is the war cry of the 21st century. Technology is its driving force and the whole planet is its goal. What does it mean for the Muslim world? How is it going to change the lives of more than one billion Muslims? What are the possible choices for them? These questions require serious attention.

There are choices to be made. These choices are going to define the quality and nature of life in the Muslim world. But unlike the West, where globalisation has become the focus of serious scholarship, one does not find Muslim institutions where these questions are being examined from an Islamic point of view. The only thing one hear is slogans, slogans for more technology, more globalisation, more foreign investment.

(To be concluded)


The News International Pakistan

Friday, September 29, 2000 -- Jamadi-us-Sani 30,1421 A.H


Muslims in the 21st century

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

Look at a contemporary map and you will find a densely populated region of Asia, Africa and the Middle East where most of the 56 Muslim states are situated. These lands have been the traditional home of Muslims for centuries. Today, almost all of these ancient lands are at the bottom of the economic indicators.

Out of 6,055 million people who inhabit earth today, every fourth person is a Muslim. Muslims now live in places that were never their homes: from the cold regions of Alaska to the southern most tip of South America, one can find Muslim communities of different size and composition. This demographic feature is important for many reasons.

Let us recall that this expansion of geographic boundaries has a parallel in the initial expansion of the Muslim rule during the first two centuries of Islam. The major difference is in the manner in which these two expansions have taken place. In the first instance, Muslims arrived in new lands as conquerors; in the present case, they have arrived in their lands as refugees, immigrants or workers.

In the first case of expansion, they brought with them their law, their institutions, their language, their ideals and their characteristic worldview; in the latter case, they came without their law, institutions, language and civilization. But in spite of this difference, there are many similarities in the two cases of rapid expansion of the geographical domains.

In both cases, this expansion of geographic boundaries has been global in range. In both cases, the impact on world affairs has been substantial and in both cases, there has been an enormous change in the way Muslims practise Islam and live as a social group. In both cases, it has been the burden of Muslim intellectuals and thinkers to reflect and articulate the dynamics of this expansion which goes beyond mere geographic boundaries.

The earlier expansion encountered two powerful, intellectually superior and advanced civilizations: Hellenic and Persian. This intellectual encounter of Islam with Greek and Persian sciences and philosophy was instrumental in the birth of a new civilization that was to decisively change the course of humanity. What is more important to note here is that in its encounter with Persian civilization, Islam was to radically transform the worldview of a huge number of human beings, spread over a large geographic area: from the lands at the Persian-Arabic borders to the northernmost corner of Central Asia. In the process, Samarkand, Bukhara, Kiev and Ray were to emerge as centres of Islamic civilization, rather than mere outposts of an empire.

Thus, some of the most revered names in the annals of Islamic intellectual tradition come from Persia or from the areas beyond Persia; these include Imam Bukhari, Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, to name only a few.

The current expansion of Muslims is facing one advanced civilization: the western civilization with its characteristic humanist, secular worldview. The most advanced area of this civilization is science and its sister, technology. The most important facet of this encounter is clash of a theistic worldview with a secular worldview.

Let us make it clear that the foregoing does not mean that what we call "the West" is immoral or irreligious monolithic entity. What is meant is no more than the basic fact that in its overall stance, the western civilization has accepted a worldview which is secular and materialistic and which grants the individual freedom to choose (or not to choose) a religion.

Having said that, let us also point out that this freedom is played out in real life in the backdrop of Christianity. Thus, most individuals among whom the migrant Muslims live in lands which are not their traditional homelands, come from families which belonged to one or the other sects of Christianity at one point. And it is only the gradual rise of secularism that won for itself converts who formally held theistic worldviews.

Thus, at the dawn of the new millennium, Muslims living in the traditional Islamic lands form one group which can be studied as an entity and those who are living outside these lands form another entity. This is certainly not to suggest that we can group all Muslim countries in one pile and all Muslims living in the non-Muslim countries in another. What is being suggested is that for our purpose, we can discern certain common characteristics in both groups and infer certain basic realities from these common features.

Once again, a simple glance at a contemporary world map would suffice to lead an observer to certain basic cold and chilling statistical indices: from per capita incomes to literacy, from child mortality to disparity in economic growth, all recognized modern indicators present a dark picture. But the irony is that some Muslim countries have proven natural resources (oil, gas, minerals) that surpass any other country in the world and some of them are among the richest countries in the world.

However, the majority of 56 Muslim countries have abysmally low levels of quality of life. Indices of socio-economic development fail to inform us about the true nature of suffering which is the lot millions of human beings in these countries. Most of the African countries fall into this category where per capita income in 1998 was as low as 673 for Mali and 445 for Sierra Leone (compared to 18,871 of UAE and 29,240 of USA).

But these figures, based on the recently released UNFPA State of World Population Report 2000, are not the subject of this column, for they have been thoroughly disembodied in the hands of crafty politicians who use these to further their rule. What I wish to do is to lead the reader to certain results with the full recognition that these indicators neither tell the whole story nor inform us about the true nature of quality of life.

For example, while dealing with any indicator on education, we must realize that what is generally defined as education in these indicators, is merely the number of students who attend primary, secondary or post secondary institutions. This certainly does not tell us anything about the quality of this education or the impact of this education on the lives of these students.

Likewise, literacy figures which are used once a year in countries like Pakistan to celebrate a UN or a National Day of Literacy fail to tell us that in not too distant a past, millions of Muslims were robbed of their status as literate and educated by a simple switch of the standards. Muslims in the subcontinent (and in most ex-colonies) are a case in point. Within a few decades after the takeover of India by the British Crown in 1857, all those who were learned in Arabic and Persian were deemed to be of no real use for state and society because now the standard language of learning was English. Yet, these scholars and their forefathers had held prestigious positions for centuries in courts as well as in society.

But regardless of these intricacies, what concerns us here is the state of Muslims in the new millennium. What are the defining factors for them in their own lands as well as in countries where they are minorities? What are the defining factors in their lives in social, political, economic and cultural realms?

Who are the people who have normally ruled over them in their own countries? What is the nature of the institutions in their own lands? What are the most important dilemmas that they face? Are there any ways out of the present predicament or are they doomed to live lives characterised by poverty, disease, hunger and lack of decent health and education?



The News International

Friday, October 13, 2000 -- Rajab-al-Murajab 14,1421 A.H

Western media's biases

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

Twelve-year-old Muhammad al-Durah walks with his father toward the hospital where he hopes to get medicine. It is Saturday, September 30. On the way a group of Israeli soldiers spotted them and opened fired. "We are not fighting you, we are just going to the hospital," the boy's father cried out. The Israelis ignored his pleas.

Muhammad al-Durah and his father sat by a wall and the only protection his father could offer him was his own body. The father pushed the boy behind him. A volley of bullets came from the other side and pierced his thigh which was in front of his son. He felt intense pain and shouted for help. But within seconds, another round of bullets was fired. This time, the bullets went through the boy's body and killed him instantly. The father fell unconscious; the triumphant Israelis turned their guns towards other Palestinians.

This event was photographed by a reporter and a series of photographs, depicting the step by step journey of death, was flashed around the world. But within a few hours, this grotesque act of violence had transformed into a story which had nothing humane about it. Instead of depicting it in its true human dimensions, almost all of the major western news media had transformed the event into a story which had no human element left in it. From BBC in England to CBC in Canada and from CNN to ABC TV in America, everywhere, the human dimension of the killing of an innocent boy on his way to get medical treatment was totally changed.

Various versions shown on TV by most of the western media were accompanied by words such as a "twelve-year-old boy caught in the crossfire", Israeli security forces fighting the Palestinian rioters who were "shooting (sic) Molotov cocktails and stones". This magic transformation speaks volumes about the biases inherent in the very heart of western media. But it also speaks more clearly about the impotence of the Muslim media.

Before we look into the heart of this cruelty, let us first get the bare minimum facts of the story: This latest round of Israeli violence against innocent civilians in Palestine started with the grotesque visit of Ariel Sharon to the Haram al-Sharif. Palestinians know Sharon as the man responsible for the massacre of more than 2,000 Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese refugees camps of Sabra and Chatila. He had arrived in the Muslim holy site on Thursday, September 28, accompanied by hundreds of Israeli police and security men.

His visit to the Muslim holy site had a purpose; he wanted to walk right up to the third holiest Muslim site to show that the so-called peace process does not mean that Israel is going to accept any change in its stand on Jerusalem. But perhaps, more than this, there was a calculated political move to bring down Barak's shaky coalition governement.

Whatever be the motives behind the visit, the goal was achieved. Within hours, hundreds of enraged Palestinians were on the streets. But they had neither weapons, nor hundreds of armed police and security forces. All they had was stones, emotions and a feeling of deep anger against the flagrant violation of their sacred house of worship.


On the other hand, Israelis were ready with bullets. Within days, the protest spread to other parts of the occupied lands, killing more than 250 Palestinians, mostly fourteen, fifteen year old boys who were throwing stones at the helicopters and armoured jeeps!

But the images shown on the TV and news media of the 12-year-old boy and his father sitting in front of a wall at Netzarim on Saturday, September 30, the volley of bullets, the agonizing cries, the shouts for help and the death of the boy produced no outrage in the West. No one paid more than a fleeting attention to this violence.

This attitude is the making of a consistent methodology of reporting adopted by the western media. The coverage which would have raised emotions to the highest pitch had the boy been a Jew, stifled all possibilities of such emotional outbursts through various carefully used techniques. By the end of the first day, the reports had started to call the killing a result of "being caught in the cross fire" (CNN, BBC, CBC, all used this phrase). The boy was said to have "cowered beside his father against a wall as the sound of gunfire rattled around them. When the boy slumped forward there were bullet-holes in the blank wall behind them. The boy died in his father's arms." (CBC)

Please pay attention to the words, "cowered besides his father", "the bullets rattled around them", there were "bullet-holes in the blank wall"! Please note that the bullets pierced the father's leg; blood gushed out from his body, the boy was not a coward, he was an innocent twelve-year-old, like all innocent twelve-year-olds who do not expect that their lives would end beside a wall, in total helplessness.

The technique used here is rather simple: Hide the real, individual human tragedy behind generalisations. Flash images which are devoid of specific human element, make both sides responsible for the general state of violence, place blame on the Palestinians, depict Israelis as the defending party and the Palestinians as aggressors and let the good-guys and bad-guys images, embedded in the western consciousness, do the rest.

The result was stunning: Within 72 hours of the death of the twelve-year-old Muhammad al-Durah, the news media had moved on to report that the Palestinian authority had organised the riots that led to the deaths, Israeli soldiers, who were shooting at close range, killing helpless, innocent, unarmed boys, were transformed into respectable "security forces" defending their land and people and the United States called for an end of violence rather than to Israeli cruelty.

In the ensuing dilution of the tragedy, no one raised voices about these crimes against humanity, no one paid attention to what Madeleine Albright had done in Paris just before these latest criminal acts were committed by Israeli soldiers. No one paid attention to the fact she had handed a document to Yasar Arafat for signing. The documented stated that his Palestinian Authority would end violence against Israelis! And when he tried to walk out, saying, "I will not be humiliated," Albright had picked up her cell phone and called the staff to close the embassy doors! All norms of international diplomacy were thus violated and Yasar Arafat was taken as a hostage!


The reports that followed ran like this: "The boy's father, a 37-year-old construction worker--the father of seven children--has become another flashpoint. Recovering from his wounds at a military hospital in Amman, Jordan, the boy's father said, "I appeal to the entire world, to all those who have seen this crime, to act and help me avenge my son's death and to put Israel on trial." (Reported by CBC, Canada)

Notice, how the victim of violence is here transformed into a holy warrior. Notice, also the technique of direct quotes that leaves no room for doubts in the viewers minds that the words are true. Notice, also, omissions of the loss of his son, the agony of a paralysed bullet-ridden body, the strength of faith and the total absence of any reference to the violence he had suffered at the hands of Israelis. The report by CBC ends by blaming "both sides": It's Sharon's fault for showing up at Temple Mount, knowing it would incite an immediate reaction. It's Arafat's fault, for reaching back to the techniques of the intifada, which worked for the Palestinians in the late 1980s.

The most agonising part of this whole thing is that there exists not a single Muslim news agency which has the capacity to reach out to the rest of the world with a true version of events. That in spite of being the victims for decades, Muslims are always portrayed as aggressors and no one protests against this flagrant and consistent violation of all ethical norms, neither the OIC, nor the noble protectors of the holy sites. All that comes out is muffled voices, lost in the clamour and fury of high-tech images being flashed on CBC, BBC and CNN.


Quantum Note  Oct 27, 2000 UNPUBLISHED


Profanity Around the Haram

Muzaffar Iqbal


The middle-aged man had traveled thousands of miles to Madinah. He was rudely stopped at the gate of the Prophet’s Mosque. Shocked, he looked helplessly at the guard who had snatched the small leather bag from his hand. “Why?” He looked around. But no one stopped; for most of the pilgrims, it was the usual scene. “This is Madinah,” the man protested. “Madinah or no Madinah,” the guard said rudely, throwing the contents of the bag on the floor.


Within moments the empty bag was handed to the shocked man. He raised his hands skyward and prayed against the guard who just ignored him. Tears rolled down his eyes as he replaced the contents of the bag. But none of this had any affect on the guard who had now turned his back on the man.


A young couple in Ihram, full of anticipation for the Umrah they were about to perform, was stopped short by the sight of the Kabah, and then by the harsh shouts of the guards. They did not understand the words, but the tone of voice and the gestures of the guard made it clear that they couldn’t go ahead. “Women that way, not this way.” But they were on their way to do Tawaf, together. “Not from here.” Their joy at the first sight of the Kabah was slapped by the rude reception. 


Every day, similar events are repeated scores of times at the gates as well as inside Islam’s two holiest sites. Thousands of pilgrims experience this cruelty day after day.


However, the humiliation starts as soon as one arrives at the Jeddah airport.

The long queues move gingerly. Guards walk up and down the lines, asking arbitrary questions in harsh tones, the immigration personnel take forever to stamp the passports. They joke with each other, drink tea and gossip while incoming travelers stand in lines after their long flights. After the passports are stamped, the pilgrims face customs officials, treated as if they were potential criminals. Bags are ripped open, contents of suitcases are dumped on the counters and helpless visitors are humiliated. Most bear this without protest, which further emboldens the men in uniform. Those who protest, face worse treatment.


Once outside the airport, pilgrims are at the mercy of taxi drivers who try to extract as much money as they can from the passengers. Although there is a regular bus service between Jeddah and Makkah, the staff at the small bus counter is anything but courteous and there are no notice boards about fares and schedules.


Arrival in the sacred city of Makkah is one of the most powerful experiences of one’s visit, but this is immediately spoiled by those who pull your luggage here and there in order to take you to the hotel of their choice. But the worse shock comes after one has found a place to stay and recovered one’s senses. Looking around, one finds that the Haram is surrounded by a chain of five-star hotels towering above the Mosque.  Most of these grand hotels belong to the royal family, whose own palace now stands taller than the Ka`bah.


As soon as one has performed  Umrah and Ihram has been taken off, one wakes up to the reality: Instead of an aura of spirituality, the Haram is enveloped in an atmosphere of gross commercialism. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air; cheap, made-in-China products litter the sidewalks, line-ups in front of crowded fast-food restaurants remind one of Disneyland fun-seekers in similar queues. Trash bins overflow with heaps of paper plates, plastic cups and cutlery. Cigarette smoke and fried food smells combine into a nauseous mix in which the spirit writhes and the heart sinks.


But the most painful aspect is the fact that on all sides of the Haram, tape recorders and CD players fill the air with the most wonderful recitation of the Noble Qur’an, to which no one pays any attention. Crowds mill about. Outside the shops which sell audio recordings of the Qur’an,  eyes are glued to TV screens watching nature movies, the image reminds one of the Qur’anic verse about the abandonment of the Qur’an by the followers of the Prophet.


The situation of women in the Prophet’s Mosque is difficult. Every day, they pray behind the six-foot high barricades, with no view of the vast grandeur of the place.  They are allowed to enter the inner mosque along a specified route. But first, guards who orchestrate this daily task shout “Hajji, Hajji” to chase the men out, meagerly paid immigrant workers come with a mobile barricade and another group vacuums the carpets. Once preparations are complete, the women are allowed to come - they rush in, knowing that they have limited time. Immediately, the whole atmosphere is filled with loud chatter, crying babies, screaming children and scores of women caught in the crush of the crowd while black-gloved women guards, clad in black abbayas from head-to-toe shout, “Hajjah, Hajjah.” 


Over the years, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah as well as the Haram in Makkah have been expanded. This expansion has been carried out at the expense of destruction of some of the most cherishable historical sites: the birthplace of the Noble Prophet, the houses of the Companions, and the sites of some of the most memorable events in the history of Islam—the site of the battle of Trench, the place where the Prophet and his Companions planted three hundred trees to earn the freedom of Salman al-Farsi from his Jewish captor and scores of other sites.


Even places where there is no justification on the basis of expansion have not been spared. On the pretense of protection against bida’, many historical sites have been bulldozed and leveled: the site of the battle of Badr and the graves of the martyrs which stood silently and quite out of the way for more than fourteen hundred years are no more there, and the SabaMasajid, or the seven mosques around the Trench, have now been reduced to three.


The places inside the Haram have not been spared: All marks of historical events have been removed or destroyed. Umm-e Hani’s house where the Prophet (AS) was sleeping on the night of Miraj and the first endowment in Islam, the most noble Baitul Arqam where Ummar bin Khattab embraced Islam had been incorporated into a previous expansion of the Masjid al-Haram. They used to be distinguishable but now, except for a few frequent visitors, no one knows about these sites and future generations will become totally oblivious to these landmarks in the history of Islam.


Today, Hajj and Umrah have become a multi-million dollar business. The two peak seasons are the Ramadan and the Hajj when as many as two million people come to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The prices of hotels around the two sacred sites shoot up, cheap commercialism reaches a climax, and the twenty-four hour frenzy around the sacred sites produces a profanity which must be as remote from the spirit of worship as it is from any sense of piety.


This blasphemous transformation surrounding Islam’s most profound spiritual rites has been quietly accepted. The occasional voices that used to call for an Ummah-level organization which would take charge of these two sites have been silenced. The religious scholars are silent. The disempowered Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) has never had anything in its mandate about this desecration. The Muslim World League, the Arab League and scores of national religious parties and organizations all around the world never speak of it and the common pilgrim either cringes within or joins the merry-go-round.

The News International Pakistan


Friday, November 10, 2000 -- Sha'ban 13,1421 A.H



Islam, science and Muslims

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The familiar clichés about science in Pakistan come in many different versions: "We need science for development"; "If we do not have enough science, we will be left behind in the race for progress"; "We do not spend enough on science". These and similar slogans have been making headlines all over the Muslim world for almost a century now.

Those who advocate these ideas invariably demand enormous amounts of money for science. In support of their demands, they play a number game. By now this game has made enough rounds for everyone to remember that the Muslim world, as a whole, spends less money on science than France alone. After parading statistics, the advocates of investment in science promise to produce magical results as soon as their demands for the huge sums of budget allocations are met.

The nature of these "magical results" remains unexplained, however. The proponents of these ideas vaguely refer to "progress" and "development", without defining these two key terms. In all likelihood, what they mean is material wealth, comfort and luxury. If that is what is meant, then these people have no idea about what science is and what it does. It has never been the function of science to serve as a tool for these goals. It is the twin sister of science, technology, which has been used to achieve these goals.

But in Pakistan, as well as in most of the other Muslim countries, science and technology are generally taken to be almost synonyms and most of our leaders use both words without taking a breath between their utterance of these two distinct words.

But for those who ponder over the nature of words like "progress" and "development", these two words signify fundamental improvement in the quality of life for maximum number of people. Clean water, roads without potholes and uncovered manholes, clean air, basic health facilities, decent education and a civil society in which one can exist in peace define some of the most basic elements of a developed civil society.

As far as "progress" is concerned, it means a gradual process of full realisation of the potential of all individuals who make up a society. This actualisation of the inner self involves all spheres of human endeavour. Any real progress has to be toward a destination, a goal and an ideal. It also implies that those who are progressing, know where they are heading.

If the above is a reasonable construction, then this development and progress does not depend on science. At this stage of our history, what is needed for this development is the most common technology available all over the world, including many Muslim countries. Our own Heavy Mechanical Complex has been producing machines which can make wonderful roads, providing we do not cheat in use of materials and proper techniques.

We have destroyed our water reservoirs by dumping sewage wastes into those wonderful streams and rivers which once sparkled with clean water. Water-borne diseases are prevalent all over the Muslim world and water shortage is fast becoming a serious problem of survival. The recent "droughts" in Balochistan and most of Afghanistan are mere indicators of a much deeper malady which is threatening millions of Muslims. Do we need years of scientific research to find out that we should not destroy our water sources? Do we need millions of dollars to understand that water-borne diseases so prevalent in our countries are a direct result of our dumping human waste in our rivers? The answer is obvious.

But more important is the fact that it is not science, but technology and technology of a very low grade, that can help us in solving these problems. Likewise, clean air, better public transport system, better town planning and management are all integral parts of the development plans geared toward providing basic civil structures required for a healthy life and none of these require any investment in science or technology.

So, in a way, those who propagate vague slogans like "science for development" are attempting to fool people in the name of science. They know very well that countries like Pakistan cannot invest huge portions of GNP in basic scientific research at this stage. They know how much does it costs to run even a simple machine like the NMR spectrometer. They know this very well. Yet, year after year, government after government and minister after minister, we have been hearing the same chorus.

On the other hand, the serious engagement of science with society, religion and fundamental beliefs finds no room in our academic life. There is not a single department in any university in the Muslim world where science is being studied as a subject. Unlike the West, where science and its relationship with society, religion and ethics have become one of the fastest growing disciplines, the Muslim world is asleep in a blissful ignorance. All that one hears is sound and fury seeking to produce a generation of IT professionals which would be exported to the West as soon as it is ripe.

At the level where the encounter between the Muslim world and modern science really matters, the Muslim world remains unaware of the deep chasm that modern science has produced in their Weltanschaaung. There is hardly a handful of scholars who have tried to understand the relationship between the new visions of the universe which have evolved out of various scientific theories in the last fifty years and their relationship with Islam.

How did the universe begin? How are our notions of human person, consciousness and the soul being redefined by contemporary research in neuroscience and genetics? How does modern science work in its cultural and historical matrix? Whatever happened to the Islamic scientific tradition, these and other related questions have remain unexplored.

Instead, what we have is what Professor William C Chittick (State University of New York) called scientism in his keynote address delivered on November 6, at the inaugural session of an International Conference on God, Life and Cosmos: Theistic Perspectives held in Islamabad.

"Scientism," said Professor Chittick, "is a way of looking at the world that gives to science the type of truth value that used to be given to revealed scripture. Despite the fact that many modern-day philosophers, scientists, and writers have criticised scientism, it remains true that most people in the modern world, even educated people who should know better, take scientific knowledge as possessing a unique sort of reliability."

In the West, the academic scene is changing rapidly. There is a proliferation of intellectual, spiritual, and ethical questions as novel and revolutionary in character as the science and technology that inspire them. These questions cut across disciplines, challenging the conceptual limitations of any one perspective, commanding the attention of scholars from a multiplicity of intellectual disciplines and cultural and religious traditions.

The Muslim world, on the other hand, is still working with the nineteenth century paradigms of science which posited science as a value-free, neutral, objective and empirical study of nature. Today, everyone knows that there is no such thing as neutral science. Everyone, that is, except for a large majority of Muslims who have forgotten their own scientific tradition. Science arises out of a cultural and historical context and it operates in a cultural and a historical context.

Muslims cannot import western science, nor can they progress or develop by producing hundreds of papers on nuclear magnetic spectroscopy. What is needed is a serious engagement with science as such, with the nature of contemporary science, and with its relationship with society.

The ministries of science in the Muslim world need to integrate modern science with the broader paradigms and worldview inspired by Islamic civilization. Only then, a science will arise in the Muslim world which will not be a cheap caricature of Western science


The News

Friday, November 24, 2000 -- Sha'ban 27,1421 A.H



A Friday in Jerusalem

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The long line in front of Masjid al-Aqsa moved slowly. When we arrived at the check post, we saw five Israeli soldiers standing next to the barricade. They were carefully scrutinising everyone. "Last week, they were turning away every one under forty," Dr Yusuf quietly said in my ear. "Before that, they did not allow anyone under fifty. Hopefully, they will relent today."

It was the fourth Friday after the notorious visit of Ariel Sharon to Islam's third holiest site, a visit that had left more than 260 people dead in its wake. We had arrived in Jerusalem last night via the King Hussain bridge from Amman. Shortly after arrival, we had rushed through the deserted streets of the Old City and were able to enter the Mosque for Isha prayer.

But Friday prayer was a different matter. By 9 am, Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons had sealed all gates to the old city; only the elderly, children, women and some local residents were allowed to enter. "When I entered the city, I saw several soldiers beating a young student," Dr Yusuf whispered again. He had become our host in a city where we had none. His eyes were full of a sadness I had never seen before.

Palestinians have suffered like no other people in recent history. Under Israeli occupation, their homes, farms, families, children and life remain in danger. Everyone has a story to tell. We heard many.

The farmer who was not allowed to harvest his crop of olives but who risked going to his fields one day, spent all day in harvesting, then pressed the olives for oil and when he crossed the check post, Israeli soldiers dumped his oil on the ground. The mother of a recently killed 12-year-old boy, who tried to hide her grief from our eyes, the wrinkled face of an old man whose home had been bulldozed--images flash and voices resound in my ears as I move slowly toward the gate of the Mosque.

After several minutes, we arrive at the barricade and see that the Israeli soldiers are looking at every face. They let some pass and turn others away. Their machine guns and eyes remain alert. We watch them silently. When our turn comes, we are allowed to go without a word. Once inside the al-Aqsa complex, we walk silently toward the Mosque. October sun casts a golden light on the magnificent Dome of the Rock. The air is filled with tense silence as the Mosque slowly fills.

Just before the sermon, someone picks up the microphone and asks the Imam to lead a protest rally against occupation before the prayer. Some support him, others oppose the idea. The discourse turns into a heated debate. Voices resonate throughout the Mosque; no agreement is reached. Then the Imam starts his sermon and everyone listens.

After the prayer, Dr Yusuf takes us to the graves of two companions who are buried in the graveyard next to al-Quds. Ubadah bin Samat and Shadad bin Oas lie in their simple graves at the foot of the stone wall. After the visit, we pass through several check posts and road blocks and arrive at Dr Yusuf's house.

"This part of the city used to be the most beautiful area of the town," he tells us. "Now you see...," he points towards the heap of garbage. "No one is interested in the Palestinian section of the town." An Israeli settlement across the hill leaps up in front of our eyes. "This used to be a Palestinian village," our host tells us. "Now it is an Israeli settlement. Some of our own brethren sold land to them and moved away to Canada or the USA," he says with a sigh. "One can hardly blame them, to stay is to live in a state of constant fear, anxiety, humiliation. After the latest round of violence, our children have had trouble sleeping. They ask questions for which we have no answers."

Once inside the house, we are in a different space: a clean, spacious and organised house that shows the character of its inhabitants. But nothing is secure, as we learn. No Palestinian is secure. Their land, houses, children, money, jobs, everything is at the mercy of Israelis.

Over lunch, Dr Yusuf narrates eye witness accounts which have never made it to the newspapers. We hear about his South African guest who was holding the hand of his son and who was shot by Israelis at close range. He tells us about the use of dumdums, bullets which explode inside one's body. They have been banned by the UN but Israelis keep using them. Wounds inflicted by these bullets never heal.

That afternoon we visit an abandoned building with the bare minimum four walls in which twenty-five families have been lodged. They were uprooted from their homes by the Israeli settlers. They had pitched their tents on the Mount of Olives and had become a sore spot for the Israelis because every tourist who comes to Jerusalem goes to the Mountain. Finally the Israelis moved them to this building which was then under construction. They have lived here ever since. There were cardboard partitions, there was no running water.

We sat in one of the rooms and talked to some two families. A middle-aged woman told the sad story of her son who was wounded by a dumdum bullet. Someone brought coffee. Even in that state, Palestinians had not forgotten their tradition of hospitality. Every family had a unique story. Some had been evicted from their homes, others had lost their land and houses to the settlers who arrived with Israeli army and uprooted them.

Jerusalem, the city which has Islam's third holy site, was a city filled with armed Israeli soldiers who roamed around the streets, looking at its residents with suspicion and hatred. Returning to the hotel, we came across a road blockade. Teenage Palestinians were throwing stones at the occupation soldiers who had armoured cars, automatic machine guns, rubber bullets and tear gas shells at their disposal. The air was filled with teargas. We drove back into the small, curving streets and found another route to the hotel.

Prior to 1967, Jerusalem was on the route map of Hajj caravans. Muslim pilgrims went to al-Aqsa Mosque, on their way to Mecca and Madinah. Now the Israeli occupation has sealed off Palestine from the rest of the Muslim world. Al-Aqsa Mosque was expanded and developed during the reign of the two seventh century Umayyad Caliphs, Abd Al-Malik Ibn Marwan and his son, Al-Walid, at that time, its architectural grandeur surpassed all mosques. The magnificence of the architecture of the Dome of the Rock and the southern most building of the Al-Aqsa Mosque is still a witness to that grand legacy.

On August 21, 1969, the incident of arson at the Masjid al-Aqsa prompted King Faisal and King Hassan of Morocco to call a meeting of the heads of Muslim states which led to the establishment of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). Thirty years later, OIC remains mysteriously silent and ineffective while violence and state-sponsored Israeli terror reigns against innocent civilians. Its al-Quds Committee, established in 1975, has become a mere spectator to the violent acts of armed soldiers against a population which has lost everything but their unwavering faith.


The News International Pakistan


Monday, December 11, 2000 -- Ramazan 14,1421 A.H



The undemocratic alliance

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The recently formed 18-party Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) must be the most undemocratic concoction that ever existed in Pakistan. The very name of its head, euphemistically called 'veteran politician', smacks of stale feudal times. He is a nawabzadah, that is the son of a nawab, and hence, someone who by his very 'birthright' is a notch above other humans, you and me. But the most ironic aspect of this alliance is that instead of democratically electing their office bearers, all component parties have given this nawabzadah the 'power to appoint other office-bearers.' Please note once again: This alliance has been established for the restoration of democracy but instead of democratically electing its office-bearers, it gives the right to appoint its own office-bearers to a man who has no right to be in a democratic alliance in the first place. This must be the grand joke of the twenty-first century and must be included in the Guinness Book of records.

But look further and you will find more. The alliance is made up of 18 political parties, none of which has democratic moorings; they are all based on dictatorial practices. They are all hostage of a personal cult that expresses itself in the persona of corrupt autocrat, may that be a Bhutto or Sharif. But they want democracy in a country which has been ravaged by politicians to the extent that there is hardly any hope left for a decent life. Fifty years ago, contemporary Pakistan was called West Pakistan.

It was a spacious country almost as large as France and Britain together with only about fifty million people, a population density of mere 138 per square mile. Anyone who remembers Lahore of the fifties would vouch that it was one of the most pleasant cities in the world. The evening walks on the Mall, the cool and refreshing air coming from the Lawrence Gardens and the enchanting fragrance of roses and motia and the raat ki raani were the characteristic elements of this wonderful city.

But all that is left of that country is memories. And this is all because the politicians have failed miserably. If anyone can be held responsible for the transformation of that wonderful land, full of resources and hope, into what it is today, it is the political leadership of Pakistan. This leadership has failed to evolve a democratic country because it is not democratic in its makeup.

And it is this failure of the political leadership that has provided reasons and excuses for the army to usurp reign of the country so often. Had there been real democratic process, there would have been no legacy of army rule in Pakistan. But as history is a witness, there has never been a political party in Pakistan which had a democratic setup. As a result, every political government has failed. Each and every political party in Pakistan is like stagnant water filled with the stench of its own making. There is no flow of leadership, ideas, debates and discussions. In their very makeup, these parties exhale stagnation, despondency and cult.

None of the political parties have internal committees, cells, discussion groups or grass-roots fact-finding commissions where real national issues are discussed. None has a plan for the restoration of civil institutions, none has a vision for the country. Ask any political leader the most basic question about how would he or she would solve the huge problems Pakistan faces and you will be astonished to find out that no one has a solid plan.

No one has ever thought of problems like the long range direction of our educational system, in any concrete way. No has ever given a thought of establishing committees of experts who could come up with sustainable resource base and solid strategies to overcome the problem of pollution, water shortage, mass transport or any of the other issues which define quality of life for Pakistan's one hundred and fifty million people. All they are interested in is power and more power. And once in power, in money, personal glory.

Sooner or later, the military would have to go back. But what then? Would it not be in the best of national interest for this alliance to set up committees of experts to formulate a consensus on how this alliance will tackle fundamental national problems at this stage? Would it not give this alliance much more credibility if they formulate viable policies on basic national issues now? If people knew that these 18 political parties have agreed upon a solid program for restoration of national institutions, economy, education and health systems, transport and communication problems, they would look toward their coming into power with hope.

They will be willing to come out and support them. But all that such alliances have ever done is fight for a cause which brings their destruction on the very day of victory: as soon as elections are called, they split into their 18 different splinters and fight with each other. And when one of them is able to grab power, they try to eliminate all others. Our parliaments and assemblies have never been able to function on democratic principles because the kind of democracy that has been practiced in Pakistan requires a highly educated and informed leadership, a leadership that is well versed in the rules and procedures of democratic governments. We never had such leadership. We still don't. Hence it is impossible to have democracy--alliance or no alliance.

It is clear that people of Pakistan are tired of these repeated failures. Had it not been so, they would not have allowed the military to take over. People have been stabbed over and over. No one is interested in these alliances anymore. There are fundamental issues which require urgent national consensus. There is not enough potable water in the country, food is becoming scarce, educational system is without a direction, air is dangerous to inhale and mobility in big cities has become a serious problem. Every morning, the whole country wakes up to these terrible realities and strives to make it through the day. Under these circumstances, it is a joke to form alliances of political parties which have all failed because they do not have a plan to solve these problems.

It is a cruel and crude joke with people and no one is ready to listen to it anymore. What is needed is a national plan to tackle these very basic issues. The need is for a national alliance for the restoration of human dignity, quality of life and basic infrastructure, not for the restoration of a caricature of democracy which will bring more destruction and corruption and misery. But it is not just the responsibility of these 18 parties and other splinter groups to formulate basic strategies for these national issues.

It is also the duty of those who have assumed power to take initiatives and attempt a national consensus for some of the most pressing matters. For time is really running out and soon there may not be any solution possible. Perhaps the establishment of a national government with a definite plan for at least the most basic problems faced by the country is the only solution left for Pakistan's survival. These most fundamental issues are no more issues of ideology; they are factors which define the nature and quality of life, even life itself. Millions of human beings in Pakistan are suffering from respiratory and waterborne diseases; everyday they inhale polluted air, drink polluted water, their children go to schools which make them into caricatures of Western pop culture, they work in terrible conditions, they struggle to survive rather than live. These are basic realities which everyone can see. What people want is a plan to solve these problems. Anyone who can come up with a plan that can be discussed openly and in an informed manner and then put to practice will automatically win their allegiance. Such a party or group of parties would not need a nawabzadah to nominate its office-bearers.


The News

Friday, December 22, 2000 -- Ramazan 25,1421

Making Eid a global affair

Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

I recall from memory the opening of Lawrence Ziring's book, 'Can Pakistan Survive?'. It ran like this: 'On the day American astronomers were walking on the moon, Muslims in Pakistan were embroiled in a bitter controversy about whether the moon has been sighted or not for the celebration of Eid. The contempt shown in this statement is a hallmark of Professor Ziring's work on Pakistan. Yet, he was appointed as an advisor to the Pakistan Administrative Staff College from 1964 to 1966. In his 1980 book, 'Pakistan: The Enigma of Political Development', he wrote a concluding chapter, entitled 'The future of Pakistan'. In this chapter, he states: 'Pakistan must be classified with the weaker political entities. It was a premature, feeble offspring at birth and although it survived a critical infancy, it never gained the strength necessary to combat its inborn ailments.' ( p. 249)

But Ziring and his types are a topic for another time. What I want to write about today is the subject close at hand: will we have two Eids again? Every year Pakistan, and many other Muslim countries go through this experience of moon controversy. It is one of those perpetual controversies which is never resolved. Every year, there is a lot of heat generated at the beginning and end of the month of Ramadan but this short-lived controversy dissipates without a proper resolution, only to surface again next year.

However, the solution is rather simple if we spend some time on understanding the basic facts. Everyone knows that the moon goes through several phases. The months of the Islamic Calendar are based on sighting of the 'new moon.' A 'new moon' is 'born' when the moon of the previous month disappears. That is to say that the moon goes from a slightly visible crescent to a completely black sphere that cannot be seen.

About 17-23 hours after the new moon is born, a thin crescent becomes visible on earth. It is the sighting of this crescent that marks the start of a new Islamic month. This crescent has to be seen at the time of sunset. Now suppose that the moon has been born on the 29th day of the month but by sunset, its age is less than 15 hours, it will not be visible on any part of the earth. Furthermore, the next day, when it is seen at sunset, its age will be 15+24=39 hours and hence it will look very thick. This does not, however, mean that this is a second day crescent. A first day crescent can be very thin in some locations and it can also be thick in other locations because of the time difference.

In addition to this simple astronomical data, there is a religious aspect. According to the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the month starts when we see the crescent, not when the moon is 'born.' It is also reported that if in a given location, the moon is not visible due to clouds, then people of that locality should complete the month (that is, the month will be of 30 days).

Scientific basis for the sighting of the new moon is that the angular separation (elongation) of moon is the most important factor in moon's visibility besides several other factors such as clouds, atmospheric pollution, etc. At angles less than 10°, no sun light reflected from the moon can come to the earth. This means that the crescent cannot be visible from earth. This is due to the mountains on the surface of the moon that block the sunlight coming to the earth (known as Danjon effect). Between 7.2 and 8.5° the crescent is invisible to the eyes, because the brightness of this thin crescent is less than the brightness on the horizon. At elongation less than about 7.5° even telescopes do not pick the thin crescent.

An article in the Quarterly Journal of Royal Astronomical Society (1993) 34, 53-56, 'Records of Young Moon Sightings' by Schaefer, Ahmad, and Doggett tells us that the published records for moon sighting with bare eyes show that no one has ever seen the crescent of less than 15.4 hours old. This sighting was done on September 14, 1871 CE. The angular separation was 9.3°. Considering the atmospheric pollution that has occurred since then, now it is not possible to see even this kind of crescent. In recent times the crescent that has been seen with naked eye had the angle of 10.5° which corresponds to 17 to 21 hours of age.

Many Muslims feel that in this age of advanced science, it should be possible to foretell the birth of moon. There is no doubt that advance calculations can tell whether or not the moon will be born on the given date. For example, it has been calculated that on December 25, 2000, Monday, the moon will be born at 9:23 am Pacific Standard Time (PST), and it will be 5-8 hours old at sunset in North America. But the religious requirement is for moon sighting, and not for its birth. This year, the moon born on December 25th, at 9:23 am PST will not be old enough, nor far away from the sun, nor high enough in the sky to be seen. However, it will be seen on December 26. Therefore, in North America, Eid-ul-Fitr is expected to be on Wednesday, December 27, 2000.

The Islamic Society of North America, ISNA, has established a procedure for the information on moon sighting. A committee consisting of Islamic Shura Council of North America, members of the Fiqh Council, Muslim astronomer consultants, and sighting coordinators at the ISNA headquarters will hold a conference and review the reports received for moon sighting and they will then reach a conclusion regarding the beginning of the Islamic lunar month. The decision will be immediately posted on Internet:

This website also has basic facts and information on moon sighting. It includes questions by various readers which can be of help to Pakistanis. For example, some one asked: 'If the moon is sighted at any place on earth, then why can all Muslim Ummah not start the Islamic month on the same day?

The answer given was: 'When the moon is sighted in a place on earth, right at that moment there are two days and dates prevailing all over the globe. Some places have already started their next day. Those places cannot start the month at that time. They have to wait for the next sunset time to start new month, and hence their month will not start on the same day as the place where the moon was sighted.

Suppose it is possible to see the moon only in Hawaii and nowhere else in the world. Even if we know ahead of time that the moon will be sighted in Hawaii, the time of starting Islamic month will be after sunset in Hawaii (around 6pm). At that time in Tokyo, the time will be 1pm of the next day. If this was month of Ramadan, this is way past Suhoor time in Tokyo. They cannot start fasting nine hours before the month can begin anywhere in the world eg in Hawaii in this case.'

For some Muslims, the global unity of Muslim Ummah rests on starting the month of Ramadan and Shawwal on the same day. This is simply not possible as long as the actual sighting is required. And this is required as it was the practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him). There is really no harm if Muslims start and end their fasts in different places on earth on different days. This is not connected in any way with the unity or disunity of the Ummah. Even within the small Muslim state of the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), different communities were asked to observe the start of the month based on their moon sighting and not on the basis of what happened in Madinah.

In order to have a single day as the day of Eid, it is necessary to give up the criteria of the actual sighting; only then there can be a global Eid. But even this will be merely a unity on the calendar, because for all practical purposes, the actual time difference between different parts of the world would mean that Muslims will not be celebrating Eid at the same time. Is it really desirable to give up the practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to have such a global Eid?