Two Best Friends

During journey through the desert two friends had an argument and one slapped the other.

The one hurt wrote in the sand:

Later they reached an oasis and decided to take bath. One who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning but the other saved him. Then he wrote on a stone:


The friend who had slapped and saved him asked, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?”

The other replied, “When someone hurts us we should write it in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”

Prejudice Distorts Minds

Prejudice is like poison. Unless purged out of one’s mind in early stages, it can spread like cancer and make one incapable of differentiating between right and wrong. Of the many kinds of prejudice, the worst is to believe that one’s own religion is superior to all others, which may be tolerated but never taken seriously or accepted as equally valid as one’s own. The most misunderstood of the major religions today is Islam, which, after Christianity, is the second most widely practiced religion in the world. It also gains more converts than any of the other religions.

Prejudice against Islam was spread in Christendom from the time Muslims gained dominance in the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. Christian crusaders failed in their missions to crush Islam in its homeland but continued to vilify its founder, Muhammad (may peace be upon him). The emergence of militant Islamic groups like Al-Qaida and Taliban gave them reasons to do so. The attack on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on September 11, 2001 provided fresh ammunition to vilifiers of Islam. Since then Islam-o-phobia has been deliberately spread throughout the non-Muslim world. The two principle contentions of the anti-Islamists are that Islam was spread by the sword and that its Founder-Prophet was not the paragon of virtue that Muslims make him out to be. It can be proved by historical evidence that Islam was not forced upon the people; it was readily accepted by millions because it offered them new values, principally equality of mankind and rights to women that were unheard of in those times. In countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Islam was not forced on the population by Muslim invaders but by Muslim missionaries.

Muslims are extremely sensitive to criticism of their Prophet. A popular adage in Persian is: ba khuda diwaana basho, ba Muhammad hoshiar! – “say what you like about God, but beware of what you say about Muhammad.” They regard him as the most perfect man who ever trod upon the earth, a successor of Adam, Moses, Noah, Abraham and Jesus. He was the last of the prophets. If you honestly want to know how Muslims see him, you ought to take a good look at his life and teachings, which had been revealed to him by God. It would be as wrong to judge him by the doings of Al-Qaida and Taliban or by the Fatwas periodically pronounced by Ayatollahs and half-baked mullahs. You do not judge Hinduism of the Vedas and Upanishads by the doings of Hindus who, in the name of Hindutva, destroy mosques, murder missionaries and nuns, vandalize libraries and works of art. You do not judge the teachings of the Sikh Gurus by the utterances of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and by the murder of innocents by his hooligans. Likewise, judge Muhammad by what he taught and stood for and not by what his so-called followers do in his name.

Muhammad was born in Makkah in 570 AD. He lost both his parents while still a child and was brought up by his grandfather and uncle. He managed the business of a widow, whom he later married. She bore him six children. He took no other wife until she died. He was 40 years old when he started having revelations while in trance. They proclaimed Muhammad as the new messiah. Such revelation kept coming at random, sometimes dealing with problems at hand, at other times with matters spiritual. They were memorized or written down by his admirers and became the Qur’aan, which means recitation. It should be kept in mind that Muhammad was not preaching ideas of his own but only reiterating most of what was already in the Judaic creed. Allah was the Arabic name for God before him. Similarly, Islam was ‘surrender’ and salaam was ‘peace’. Makkah was the main market city of the Bedouin tribes. They gathered at the Ka’aba, the huge courtyard with the black meteorite embedded in it during two pilgrimages – the bigger Haj and the lesser Umrah.

Muhammad accepted Judaic traditions regarding food which is Halaal (lawful) or Haraam (forbidden, such as pig meat), names of the five daily prayers and circumcision of male children. Muhammad only asserted the oneness of God that did not accept of any equal such as the stone goddesses worshiped by different tribes. Muhammad never forced people to accept his faith and indeed quoted Allah’s message of freedom of faith. “There must be no coercion in matters of faith – la ikrah f’il deen.” Further: “And if God had so willed, He would have made you all one single command; but He willed otherwise in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then with one another in doing good works!”

As might have been expected, Muhammad’s mission roused fierce hostility. Many attempts were made to assassinate him but he had miraculously escaped. Ultimately, in 622 AD he was advised to flee from Makkah to Medina. This is known as the Hijra (emigration) and recognized as the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Makkans made a few attempts to capture Medina but were ousted. Muslim armies led by Muhammad triumphed and returned to Makkah as conquerors. By the time Muhammad died in Medina in 632 AD, the Arabian peninsula was united as a confederacy of different tribes under the banner of Islam.

Most of the ill-founded criticism against Muhammad is directed towards the number of women he married after the death of his first wife, Khadijah. This has to be seen in the perspective of Arabian society of the time. Tribes lived by warring against each other and looting caravans. There were heavy casualties of men, creating serious gender imbalance. Widows and orphans of men killed had to be provided with homes and sustenance. Otherwise, they took to prostitution or begging. So they were given protection by being taken in marriages. Also, matrimonial alliances were a good way of creating bonds between different tribes. Muhammad did nothing not acceptable to his people. He went further: he was the first teacher to proclaim that the best union was a monogamous marriage and fixed the maximum limit to four, provided a man could keep all of his wives equally happy – which was most unlikely. The pertinent verse in the Qur’aan reads: “And if you have reason to fear you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among other women who are lawful to you, even two or three or four; but if you have reason to fear you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then only one.” Bear in mind that at that time polygamy was the norm in patriarchal societies all over the world.

To make a beginning in clearing your mind of anti-Muslim prejudices, I suggest you read Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time. Armstrong is the leading writer on comparative religions today. She is not Muslim.

This article by Khushwant Singh was published in The Telegraph, Calcutta (India)

Everything we say and do in life has consequences. Just like throwing a stone into a pond sends ripples across the water.
We are free to say and do as we choose but the consequences of our words and actions are our responsibility.
How many times have hasty words been spoken making a wedge between once loving friends or spouses?

Sometimes we think something bad about a person and in anger or when emotions are high, we make those thoughts vocal. If we could have waited a little, these negative thoughts may well have been replaced with more kindly ones.

To speak or act while in a state of anger is really a mistake. It is a good idea to hold your tongue and wait until the next day. If the same level of emotions is present, then speak out, but most chances are you will have forgotten why you were angry.

[The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (that is, Allah directed the believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend.] [Sura 41 Fussilat, Verse 34]

Are Human Being Better than Animals?

After witnessing what India is doing in Jammu Kashmir, Israel in Palestine, America and her partners in Afghanistan, Iraq and border tribal area of Pakistan, when I see the following pictures, I am forced to think that animals are better than the human being of the present-day-world. 



























The dream team

Pakistan sighed with relief at the formation of the PPP-led four-party coalition government amidst fears that the presidency’s intrigues could succeed in breaking-up the PPP-PML shindig. Our despondent soothsayers now insist on giving the PPP-PML duo no more than a few weeks before they fall apart over the restoration of the judges. One hopes that cynics end up eating their words yet again, and the PPP-PML marriage lasts a bit, as this bodes well not only for the country but also for both parties. In our current political milieu the distinction between objective analysis and wishful thinking is indeed clouded. But the desire to see the PPP-PML partnership survive the establishment’s mischief is rooted in the fact that this coalition is a product of Pakistan’s intrinsic democratic needs and realities, and must be fortified.

The present coalition government has been formed not in the absence of contrary wishes and efforts of the presidency and our foreign friends, but despite them. Only a few months back General Musharraf and his patrons in Washington were busy cooking up a coalition of the willing to continue his rule, but with a quasi-democratic facade. The idea was to orchestrate an alliance between “moderate” forces in the country to press forward the national agenda single-handedly forged by the general, especially vis-୶is the US war on terror. Such a “dream team” led by the general was to include the PPP, the ANP and the MQM, together with the King’s League. Had the design succeeded, it would have been a disaster of gigantic proportions for multiple reasons ? not only for Pakistan, but also for medium- to long-term Pakistan-US relations.

First of all, like all moderate nations, Pakistan’s majority falls at the centre of the ideological spectrum. At a time of significant international turmoil due to the war on terror and the level of distrust within the Muslim world, contriving a leftist government in Pakistan would have polarised the nation further. It would have pushed the centre-right PML-N further right towards the religious parties. Come the next elections, the pendulum of state power would have swung in the other direction, with the PML-N and the religious parties firmly committed to a more rightwing and openly anti-US agenda. Second, the political decisions reached by such a leftist alliance would neither have been consensual nor effectively enforceable. For, as an implementation arm with a representative face, a leftist government beholden to the general could possibly fare no better than the general’s own all-powerful government of the last eight years.

And finally, a west-sponsored leftist political alliance would have been psychologically disempowering for this nation. It would have strengthened the conspiratorial view that the establishment, together with our foreign masters, continues to hold the sovereignty of the people of Pakistan hostage. And in this regard the present coalition led by centre-left and centre-right mainstream parties is the best thing that could have happened to Pakistani politics. It is irrelevant that all members of the US envisioned dream-team are now also a part of this coalition (with the recent inclusion of the MQM) because (1) the terms of reference of this coalition are indigenous and not dictated by the establishment or Washington, and (2) it includes the PML-N, which will ensure a centrist balance of such a coalition.

The street wisdom of the day suggests that a PPP-PML-N alliance is unnatural and its future bleak. The argument is that (1) these parties are archrivals and the next electoral contest will also be between them, and (2) they will either part if the judges are not restored, or, once the judges are restored and the president removed, the PML-N will have no reason to remain in government any further. But such simplistic logic does not hold if one delves deeper. Let us return to the fault lines threatening our polity: the civil-military divide, the extremist-moderate divide and the centre-province divide. The reality is that neither a PPP government nor a PML-N government can by itself make progress vis-୶is these divides.

The institutional imbalance between the civilian democratic institutions and the military — the bane of democracy and constitutionalism in Pakistan — cannot be fixed so long as mainstream parties are engaged in vicious confrontationist politics. If democracy is to be strengthened and the military kept out of the political fray, as agreed in the charter of democracy, the mainstream political parties need to forge a united front. Both the PPP and the PML-N have suffered due to the military’s kingmaker role. Before returning to competitive politics they must ensure a level playing field where neither party is tempted to use khaki crutches for political aggrandisement. So if the PML-N decides to quit the government once its immediate goals are achieved, it would be imprudently regarding only sheep as its competitors while not thinking of the wolf that endangers the entire herd.

Also, in devising an effective policy and strategy to confront extremists and suicide terrorists in Pakistan, there exist no perfect solutions. Difficult decision will have to be made based on political compromises and ground realities. Unless all political forces and stakeholders consensually settle upon a policy to fight extremism and a strategy on how to implement such a policy, neither will the policy be uncontroversial nor its implementation effective. It will be all too easy for any mainstream force left out of the loop to poke holes in the policy for partisan political gain. Further, if they are sagacious enough, both the PPP and the PML-N will realise that they also need to stay together for purposes of party reconstruction.

The PPP needs to re-establish itself in Punjab, without which it is not possible to run an effective government at the centre. And the PML-N has once again been reduced to a Punjabi party, with pockets of support in the NWFP and Balochistan. Just as the PPP’s choice of ministerial portfolios highlights its focus on the need to reconstruct its support base in Punjab, the PML-N needs to utilise its share of public authority in the centre to build itself up within the smaller federating units. And such a reconstruction will take time. Thus, if the PPP-PML-N leadership wishes to institute lasting pro-democracy structural changes in the polity, as opposed to going back to the era of electoral musical chairs of the ’90s that ended up discrediting representative politics itself, they need to conscientiously invest in their alliance.

Let the coalition government create a level playing political field, so that from here on neither party is completely routed when caught at the wrong side of the establishment. And then, with the rule of law upheld, an independent judiciary in place, a sovereignty of parliament entrenched, and broad bipartisan consensus existing on how to erase the fundamental fault lines threatening the polity, we can return to fair yet competitive partisan politics. During this critical phase of restoring democracy and constitutionalism, the coalition partners must keep the deal-making mindset and political wheeler-dealers at bay.

Apart from the few controversial advisers appointed by the PPP, the cabinet choices have been praiseworthy and logical. Almost a decade of opposition politics had separated the wheat from the chaff. Many erstwhile top-tier leaders of the PPP and PML-N had blown along in the direction of the wind like opportunists always do. Consequently, there were no questions about the political integrity and loyalty of those who had braved the general’s intimidation. The federal cabinet is a bipartisan talent pool as it includes the most competent people of integrity our representative politics has to offer at the moment. But the parties must remember that while integrity, common sense and loyalty are the more required traits among those capable of holding cabinet positions, competence and independence along with integrity are the virtues to be sought among top bureaucrats.

A desirable bureaucrat is one who can highlight sensible policy choices for the decision-makers, assemble effective strategies and get them implemented ? indeed, a rare combination these days. And to that end our democratically elected decision-makers need sensible thinking heads, and not yes-men. Prudent policies and effective implementation are two mandatory ingredients of good governance, which cannot be ensured unless considerations of merit trump those of loyalty. The federal cabinet should borrow a page from Shahbaz Sharif’s success story in Punjab. He made the Punjab government a sponge for bureaucratic talent by refusing to surround himself by sycophants, by encouraging dissenting opinions, and, finally, by infusing his team with the discipline to implement policies.

If the PPP checks its urge to dole out public office to loyalists with thoroughly tainted public image and the coalition government makes senior bureaucratic appointments on merit, the new federal government could indeed become a dream team.

Babar Sattar, a lawyer based in Islamabad, LL.M from Harvard Law School and a Rhodes scholar
Published in The News on April 05, 2008