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Chand Bibi or Tara Bibi, someone got flogged, right?

Tuesday, April 12, 2009

By A.H. Cemendtaur

The Islam of the Taliban might have any danger of being challenged from within were there an alternate "modern" interpretation of Islam

First came a video of a girl being flogged by a bearded man, held down by two other bearded men, and watched by an all-male audience -- the conversation taking place in the video is in Pashto. It was claimed that the girl in the video was a 17-year- old named Chand Bibi of Matta, Swat, who, as seen in that video, was being punished for a suspected illicit relationship with a man. The airing of the video was followed by a public uproar, first nationally, then internationally.

The public commotion woke up the human rights activists and the political leaders of Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan got into action and took suo moto notice of the situation; newly reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ordered the Inspector General of the NWFP to produce the girl in his court.

And now we see the denial. We are told that Chand Bibi is fine, that the girl in the video is somebody else, that the flogging shown in the video did not take place in Swat, that the incident must have happened somewhere else.

What is that refusal telling us? That the video is fake? The people in the video don't look like they are acting. If they are indeed actors, then the producer of the video should be really proud of the film and the video can easily be claimed to be Pakistan's befitting reply to the iconic horror movie The Blair Witch Project. But speaking more seriously, the video is real, the incident did take place -- where it actually happened, or what is the name of the girl being whipped is beside the point. The crux of the matter is that some people understand Islam to be about flogging and beheading, and want everybody living in their sphere of influence to live according to their particular interpretation of Islam.

The Islam of the Taliban might have any danger of being challenged from within the Islamic faith were there an alternate "modern" interpretation of Islam on the scene. But such an entity does not exist. Let us be more specific. Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar or Qazi Hussain Ahmed has a beard because the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had a beard. But if you have a Muslim name such as Asif, Yousuf, Iftikhar, Ashfaq, Nawaz, Imran, or Altaf, and you don't have a beard then you need to explain your "Islamic" logic of not keeping a beard. If Munawwar Hussain's wife or Baitullah Mehsud's daughter remains in hijab then it is because the Prophet's wives and daughters remained in hijab. But if you claim to be a Muslim and don't keep your wife and daughter under hijab then you have to make clear the "Islamic" rationale under which these female members of your family don't observe purdah.

But why do you -- if you are a Muslim -- need to have an Islamic interpretation of things you do in your private life? Because you are a Muslim and according to the "other" group, the Quran asks all Muslims to enter the faith completely. But why should the "other" group tell all Muslims what should they be doing, because, unless a particular "modern" Muslim belongs to a minority and marginalised group, she/he is -- at least in the matters of religion -- living a paradoxical life. She/he wants Islam to be a private matter, but accepts the religious leadership of people who by and large believe Islam to be a complete way of life that should be governing all aspects of our existence including the government, the economy, social life, punishments for crime, and everything else in between. The "modern" Muslim accepts the leadership of the "other" side of the Islamic leaders by praying behind them (regular, Juma, Eid, or burial prayers); by accepting their captaincy during birth, marriage, and death rituals; by performing Haj under their mentorship and by seeking religious advice from them.

The dichotomy described above -- considering faith a private affair and accepting the religious leadership of the people who are against keeping faith a private affair -- would have any chance of survival were there an alternate leadership that would speak the language of the present guardians of Islam and approve the "modern" Muslim's attitudes towards life through arguments based on Quran and Hadith inferences. Where is that alternate leadership in Islam? Where is that Maulvi, Mufti or Imam who would acknowledge that whereas flogging was a routine affair in Islamic history; that whereas women were stoned to death in those times -- times hailed by many as the golden era of Islam; that whereas people are still being beheaded in Saudi Arabia, the flagship of Islamic countries but would say that whereas all that is true, the flogging, the stoning, the beheading should all now be considered un-Islamic?

In short, presently no such non-bearded, feminist, human rights activist, Hafiz-e-Quran or Alim-e-Hadith walks this planet who would challenge the Taliban interpretation of Islam and galvanize the "modern'" Muslims around him/her. Till that happens, religious people who have done their homework and are ready to precisely tell Muslims what Islam is about -- that Islam is about living the way life was lived in the 6th century -- would keep flogging the followers of the wishy-washy Islam.

Courtesy: The News International