Friday, January 15, 2016

A Peep into the Pakistani Psyche

Muhammad Asad was born Leopold Weiss, an Austrian Jew. He was able to feel the intrinsic truth of Islam through personal experience and study. So he entered that faith in the past century. He provided services to the then nascent Pakistan, by working on its ideological foundations. He concluded that the parliamentary system could be considered as the modern equivalent of the function of Islamic concept of shoora. He explained his position in his brief work called “The Principles of State and Government in Islam”. Thus he tried to justify the existence of a modern parliamentary nation state working on Islamic principles as the answer to Islamic government in the modern world.

Today we are at a better position to understand the validity of this assumption through hindsight. The experiment that is Pakistan has shown us the futility of trying to implement Islam top-down. Islam, by definition, can only be practiced based on the methodology that the Prophet (SWAS) taught us, i.e. from the grassroots changing one heart at a time. When a critical mass of the population has internalized the message, they will willingly submit to every Islamic command. Trying to ram Islamic Law down the throat of a population that does not even understand the holistic concept and implications of Islamic monotheism is a recipe for failure.

The strange marriage of Islam and the modern nation state has resulted in a unique psyche of a people. State indoctrination through its educational systems and media has produced a nation whose social problems can only be understood by understanding this psyche. The education system from grade 1 to university teaches a form of Islam which is intertwined with modern nationalism. It does this through its “Islamic & Pakistan Studies” curriculum, which is a compulsory subject for all. Through it, the student learns how the Muslims have a unique identity as compared to other religions and how this justifies that they should have a separate homeland. It is argued that if they did not separate from the Hindus they would have dominated them economically. Thus use of an ideology of deprivation to divide people is ingrained in the Pakistani mind. This scarcity mentality, of being a taker rather than being a giver, drives the average Pakistani. The subsequent shattering of Pakistani society into ethnic groups and sects is a direct result of this mentality. Every group is ready to work together to address economic and social deprivations and threatens to separate.

This ideology shows how the seeds of materialism that were sown at the conception of the Pakistani state have resulted in a complete tearing apart the social fabric of the current Pakistani society. Everybody from the head of the state to the common man is running the economic race, except a very small minority. People have organized themselves into groups and they feel no remorse to oppress others for their own economic and social well-being. The end result has been a total collapse of human values in a society where even brothers fight for their inheritance. Cheating, violence, theft, bribery, killing, kidnapping for ransom, etc. are common everyday happenings. People have become so used to them that it does not affect them anymore.

In this warped way of thinking all concepts are turned on their head to give a new meaning. Learning, which has a very high status in Islam, is now engaged in only to earn. In general, people have given up reading. They read just enough to earn their degrees and progress in their careers. For the most part, government only invests in education which can provide the graduates jobs. There is almost no investment in the social sciences, which are so important. The social sciences are the keys to developing human thought and consciousness. Unfortunately, not many bright Pakistani minds are pursuing them.

The holistic concepts of Islam are so brutally mashed to justify nationalism that they have become enigmatically difficult for the normal citizens to reinterpret. The fact that they have already studied “Islamic Studies” throughout their education deludes them into thinking that they already understand everything. The distance from Arabic, causes the average Pakistani to grope at different “isms” which they have studied in English to try to explain Islam to themselves. Many educated Pakistanis try to understand the Quran though English or Urdu translations. Although, they certainly gain some gems of wisdom in such a study, what they can achieve through direct Arabic reading and study is incomparably vaster. It will affect their hearts and minds more. Such is the miracle of the Quran. The Sufi traditions of Pakistan which were influenced by Hindu practices, have transformed Islam so far from its pristine original, that the ordinary Pakistani has trapped himself into centuries of un-Islamic concepts and practices.

Thus we have a society today that is steeped into materialism and uses Islam to complement, justify and perpetuate that materialism. For the most part, the population is deluded that they understand the religion. Generally, their concepts, culture and practices are alien to the Islamic ethos. They tend to justify every good or bad thing they do using the religion. They are excited into a jingoistic high at the mention of Islam. They get very emotional on hearing hollow slogans which politician after politician has exploited. No doubt, many Pakistanis have left Islam or became disenchanted by it, by observing the society around them. Many migrants to Western countries shed their religion when they shed their Pakistani citizenship due to the tight coupling of the two in their minds. The hope for Pakistanis as well as all Muslims, is to return to the pristine teaching of Islam through learning and practice. The unnatural wedding of Islam to nationalism and the crude manner that it has been implemented has inadvertently caused strange consequences in the Pakistani psyche. Only when the psyche of a critical mass of people has reformed, can we hope for a reformation at a macro level. Until then the real struggle is to reform oneself and those around us through the prophetic methodology of tarbiyya.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Holding Onto Hope

It seems almost all there is to life is related to our perception of it. People who have a habit of harboring positive thoughts have a happy life while those who keep complaining, experience bad consequences in life. In the process, they experience difficulties, miseries and depression. This perception has a direct effect on the quality of one’s life. This is a natural law. Indeed Allah (SWT) says in a Hadith Qudsi:

Allah the Most High said, ‘I am as My servant thinks (expects) I am. I am with him when he mentions Me. If he mentions Me to himself, I mention him to Myself; and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly greater than it. If he draws near to Me a hand’s length, I draw near to him an arm’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed’

One of the scholars once advised: “if you see someone carrying many glasses in a tray in an unbalanced fashion, do not even say that the glasses will fall. Indeed if you do so they will certainly fall.”

The Prophet’s (SWAS) life is full of so many events in which having hope seemed so incredibly difficult. The changes of things going his way were so small, yet time and again he never lost hope or became depressed. On the outskirts of Makkah when they were just about to be caught outside the cave of Thawr he reassured Abu Bakr (RA):

“If you do not aid the Prophet - Allah has already aided him when those who disbelieved had driven him out [of Makkah] as one of two, when they were in the cave and he said to his companion, "Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us." And Allah sent down his tranquility upon him and supported him with angels you did not see and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowest, while the word of Allah - that is the highest. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise” (9:40)

Indeed optimism was a prominent characteristic of his personality. He has been reported to have said:

“O son of Adam! You are free to choose from what befalls you in your life, between despair and hope, pessimism and optimism. However, you shall find your hope and optimism with Allah, and your despair and pessimism with Satan, 'in order that he may cause grief to the believers. But he cannot harm them in the least, except as Allah permits' [Al-Mujdilah: 10].” (Bukhari and Muslim). 

Certainly, having good positive thoughts and good opinion about Allah is a form of worship. He (SWAS) said:

“Hoping for good is also an act of worship of Allah” (Tirmidhi and Hakim).

Regarding persisting with patience in difficult times, he (SWAS) is reported to have said:

“Whoever abstains from asking others, Allah will make him contented, and whoever tries to make 
himself self-sufficient, Allah will make him self-sufficient. And whoever remains patient, Allah will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience” (Bukhari).

As we approach the end of times, the global news seems sadder by the day. Life seems to get harder and harder. With a loss of human values in modern societies, crime, violence, indecency, etc. keeps increasing. Our younger generation faces challenges that we never dreamed about. Despite all the atmosphere of negativity, we must not give into complaining for indeed if we take the time to reflect deeply we will realize that despite all these problems we enjoy countless blessings.

Try to reflect and write down only 3 things in your diary that you should give thanks about for that day on a daily basis. If you do this exercise persistently, your outlook, health, the quality of your life and the events that will proceed from it will all improve. Countless scientific experiments in the field of Positive Psychology have shown this to be true. See

Remove all negatives from your life. Stop listening and paying attention to those who only complain. Trash your TV as even watching the news every day is a recipe for chronic depression these days. Replace them with positives. Volunteer in activities with group of people who are improving the condition of humanity. Be with those who are positive and their positivity will affect you.

Know that having good hopes is a natural medicine to a fulfilled and happy life. You have the power as to what attitude you adopt. Be positive. Allah (SWT) loves positive people who are engaged in constructive activity and do not have time for negativity. Engage in exercises that build gratitude. It has shown to have amazing therapeutic value. Be with positive people and cut off all avenues of negativity from your lives.