Friday, September 28, 2012

Religion is not Politics

One of the sad realities of our time and our nation is that everything gets politicized here. From personal to social to religious, everything evokes a political reaction leading to the development of a society where friends cannot share their feelings and thoughts, where we are scared to ask friends how they are feeling because of the fear of labels assigned to us.
I am grieved by the silence that surrounds me in the wake of the video that hurt the feelings of Muslims around the world. I know we are a very caring nation and I know that we care for our friend’s feelings and reach out to them when they are hurt. But I did not know that the fear of talk about religion puts limits our care.
Two things are very evident from the recent events. 
Firstly, non-Muslim Americans do not understand how their Muslim friends and neighbors feel about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). 
Secondly, those who do understand this relationship, do not know how to talk about it.
The way Muslims revere the Prophet (pbuh) is very different from religious icons and personalities in other religions. We do not draw or sketch him out, we do not have any pictorial or visual images attached to his personality out of respect. We are taught to be closer to him than our own souls and loving him is the foundations of Islam. He taught us about the God that we worship. He taught us about caring for our neighbors and loving our sisters, daughters, and mothers. He taught us to be compassionate to those who wrong us. He is the one who gave us our identity in connection with the creator.  He is the reason I struggle to achieve so much every day and put up a happy face when tough times come. He is the one who taught me to love all, love that comes from deep inside the heart, and he is the one true love for millions of us. Our whole belief system rests on our deep love and faith in him, his character, his word, and his perfection. Loving him deeply and from the depth of our souls is what we teach our children as they grow up. He is dearer to me than my mother, father, and my children. Then how am I supposed to react to a video that attaches a cheap image and dirty voice to someone revered so deeply by myself and billion Muslims around the world. How would you feel if someone did that to your mother or spouse or to someone who is the dearest soul to you?
It hurts, it hurts very bad. It pains me to hear the words and the debates going on about the video targeting my Prophet (pbuh), I shed tears of sadness and see several around me doing the same in an effort to cope with the grief and agony they are experiencing. I hope America understands the kind of pain Muslims are going through. But even for those that do, it is difficult for them to talk about it. Unfortunately, religion has been politicized so much in our country that people are scared to reach out to their Muslim friends and neighbors and console them. Talking to several Muslim friends, I realized that no one cared to ask them how this whole situation affected them, they go through their daily routines burdened with this grief and not being able to express it. They feel sad, frustrated and depressed. Some feel terrorized with sealed lips. Others have found ways to express themselves through writing or talking to family. I am lucky that two of my friends, amongst the hundreds that I have, did talk to me about it. But I wonder if I would have received the same response if I was going through a family tragedy involving my parents or children, probably not. I would have been able to count on my friends and the healing process would have been easier. Isnt this a sign of broken communities where everyone is on their own, but this is not true otherwise, then why do religion makes everything fall apart, why is everyone so scared to touch the subject.
We want to build communities of love and care for our children, around all issues and religion is one of them. Religion is personal just like family and friends, it is only about whom I love and whom I care for, it is what we deeply feel inside, it is what makes us who we are, it is not politics and does not need to be politicized. I think we lack communication skills to talk about religion. It is time we start creating forums of dialogue where dialogue can happen around religion, respectful and open dialogue, dialogue to help people heal and feel loved and cared for.
After all religion is not politics!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Eight Steps for Overcoming Islamophobia

A dear friend of mine, Jay McDaniel a professor of religion at Hendrix, wrote an article in response to Brian McLaren's "Evangelical Christians and Islamophobia" which I am sharing with you all.


Eight Steps for Overcoming Islamophobia

by Jay McDaniel (in response to Brian McLaren)

I do no know Brian McLaren personally, but I like much of what he writes.  I teach Contemporary Islamic Thought to college undergraduates, and I also have many friends who are Muslim.  In addition I edit this website, which has readers in many parts of the world, including the Middle East.

Like Brian McLaren I have evangelical Christian friends in the United States who are Islamophobic.  Some send me e-mails with capital letters and exclamation points warning of the evils of Islam.  I am always troubled by the hatred in their e-mails, even though I know that the hatred is an outcome of fear.

I am a Christian, too.  I know there are things to fear in life, and I do not want to pretend that the world is not a dangerous place.  Still, as a Christian, I am not comfortable with hatred.  The New Testaments says that perfect love casts out fear.  (First John 4: 18).  I agree.  I think we Christians can be much more loving in our approach to Islam.  If you are Christian and tempted by Islamophobia, I offer eight steps for healing.

First, if at all possible, make some friends with Muslims in your community.  Get to know them.  Don't begin with theology.  Begin with shared meals and storytelling.  Get to know their children, too.  Play soccer together.

Second, recognize that those who are burning embassies and murdering people are a minority.  Condemn their actions with as much righteous indignation as you need; advance the cause of free speech with all your might, if this is your issue.  But do not hate them.  Know that they, too, carry God's image in their hearts.  And know that they are trying to defend something they love.

Third, watch portions of the video that produced their rage.   I have seen it and, like so many, I find it sad and disrespectful.   Ask yourself how you would feel if this video was made about someone you loved very much: say your mother or your father, your sister or your daughter.

Fourth, get to know some of the history behind the animosity of some Muslims toward the United States.  Come to understand the realities of European and American domination of the world in the last two centuries.  Understand that the domination has been cultural as well as political.  As you seek to understand the history of colonialism, do not limit yourself to sources found in "Christian" bookstores.  

Fifth, undertake a study of Islam as a complement to making friends with your Muslim neighbors.  As you do so, look for what wisdom and beauty it can offer you, but do not expect perfection.  No religion is perfect, not even Christianity.   Also recognize that any religious tradition -- including Islam -- is much more than its teachings and its ideas.   It is a way of living that consists of attitudes, ways of relating to others. art and architectures, sounds and longings.  Don't think you learn about Islam by reading the Qur'an.  You learn about Islam by making friends with Muslims.

Sixth, reframe the very idea of Islam in your mind.  Think of Muslims and Jews and Christians as an extended family, all of whom seek to live faithfully in the tradition of Abraham.  Think of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) as a guide in this tradition, who was a messenger of wisdom, too.  Think of the Qur'an as a living text from which you can learn, even if you do not think it the very word of God.   Recognize that Islam carries within its heart a spiritual tradition -- Sufism -- which touches the deepest aspects of spirituality.  Consider the possibility that Jesus was indeed a muslim, not in the sense of belonging to the religion of Islam, but in the sense of seeking to live a surrendered life in which the will God reigned in his own heart: "Not my will but they will, Oh Lord."

Seventh, try a little process theology.  Learn to think of Islam and Judaism and Christianity as living traditions which can grow and develop over time, never fully defined by what they have been in the past.  Recognize that, today, the leading edge of their growth may well lie in local contexts, where Muslims and Christians and Jews work with people of other faiths and no faith to help build communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, ecologically wise, and religiously diverse, with no one left behind.

Eighth, try following Christ.   It is especially important to follow Christ in response to those Muslims who are frightened by and revile Christianity.  Brian McLaren put it so well:

The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies. 

Know that, as you take these steps, you do not need to give up what is most important to you, your desire to follow Christ is you are a Christian.  Rather they are ways of helping you follow Christ even more.

One of the leading Christian thinkers in the United States today, John B. Cobb, Jr. speaks of Christianity as a Way of living that excludes no ways.  By this he means that, for those who follow Christ, being open to wisdom from other traditions, and being creatively transformed by that wisdom, is an essential dimension of following Christ.  It reflects a trust that, wherever there is truth and goodness and beauty of any sort, it is of God and from God, however named.   

For those among us who are Christian, we follow Christ by defending the innocent and affirming our faith, but equally as important, by loving our neighbors as ourselves, including  our Muslim neighbors.   We have so much to learn from them.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Udhoorey Khawb (unfinished dreams)

Gwadar, a small fishing village purchased from Oman in 195I that was promised to be the new economic hub of Pakistan. Gwadar's warm watered deep sea port was finished in 2007 and from water, temperatures, geography, size, it has has enormous trade potential and all that it needs to become the next Singapore or Dubai. So it was very understandable when I saw many of our friends and family purchasing land or investing in Gwadar. Not only Pakistanis, many international players were in the picture as well when it came to developing Gwadar port. 

I had never been to Gwadar, so obviously really looking forward to this work trip. I stayed in the Pearl Continental Hotel, constructed on top of the Mountain with water on three of its four sides, is definitely the grandest structure in the town. Lofty views from all windows, Hashwanis did an outstanding job on this wonderful piece of luxury and it was a treat staying there. Did feel pretty royal... since the hotels services and schedule were contingent upon what I needed and when I needed them. Actually the hotel was partially closed and the only two rooms occupied were of my team and ofcourse when the hotel run their services, around your schedule, how much more fun your stay becomes. 

Outside the hotel was another story. Several places around the town were reminiscent of development that was once planned or even started but never carried through completely. Below is a picture of the beach where a sign stands saying "Site for the Seaside Public Park" Its been years....

One of the streets sill has a string of the solar panel lights watching you with unlit lamps with lost or stolen batteries telling you a story of dreams never realized 

Here is the Sports Complex where teams could have been playing football, families could have been sitting and cheering there teams and communities enjoying a fun filled Saturday but the arena remains empty with howling winds blowing empty pieces of glass and paper from one corner to another.  

What you see behind me in this picture is what was constructed to become the Gwadar Gymkhana Club with all its hussle and bussle of games, swimming, golf, a diverse crowd of many nationalities enjoying he facility, a haven for the elderly who were choosing to retire in the so-called well planed town of Gwadar, atleast that's what it was imagined to become.

I am so glad that I took this trip and met locals and saw the place I had been hearing about for years. But I left with a heavy heart, a heart filled with sadness and grief. Thinking of the large static cranes belonging to the Port of Singapore Authority standing like aliens watching over the sheer poverty and deprivation of the Balochi fishermen. Thinking of the dirty beaches littered with trash, idle children running behind donkey carts, widows  looking for any work to support their families and unfinished structures of development that look into your eyes and mockingly tell a story of how the leaders of this blessed country have robbed them once again.

Monday, July 30, 2012

King of All Fruits!

One of big reasons I want to travel to Pakistan in summer is MANGOES!

I tasted the first mango in this trip and it took me back in time to my childhood. Hot summer afternoons when everyone would be sleeping and we would slip out of the bedrooms to play in the grounds with large mango trees bent with loads of ripe and unripe mangoes. Hitting the identified with rocks and long sticks and fighting for the best catch, running away from honey bees, and sitting in the shade in the end to count and evaluate our catch. The sweetest, juiciest, refreshing and best fruit I've ever had, no doubt the King of fruits and a taste of heaven. 

Did you know that mangoes have been eaten since 5000 years ago. They had been a symbol of love in ancient times and not to mention that Bhudda is mentioned to sit and meditate under a mango tree. The famous paisley design that we eastern women have on every second piece of clothing we own is actually based on the shape of a mango. 

I didnot miss a day of having mangoes, sometimes several times a day. Forgot to mention the smell of the mangoes. If you have a few mangoes sitting in the basket of the dinning room the whole house would be smelling. And interesting enough now mango smell is found in many sprays, candles, etc in the west as well. 

The other fun thing about mango is that once the season starts, it takes away the worry of feeding picky kids. Mango is eaten fresh, raw, with bread, in milkshakes and smoothies, as toppings, sauce or chutney, in cakes and desserts, etc The creative possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gwadar International Airport

We all know about Gwadar's strategically important geographical location. I have been hearing about the interest of so many international players in this deep sea port, loads of foreign direct investment especially from China, and not to forget many Pakistani Americans including our friends who invested in Gwadar's housing schemes, thus I considered myself lucky to be visiting this small fishing town along the Makran Coast.

Firstly, no direct flights to Gwadar from Lahore, only from Karachi that goes twice a week in the mornings. I had to fly to Karachi last night to take today's flight to Gwadar. And that is the worst part of going to Gwadar...there is no time efficient way for this travel. 

Getting into the ATR plane from Karachi to Gawadar...

Arrived in Gwadar, walking from ATR to the airport entrance...

Gwadar International Airport... the smallest airport I have seen ever!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gender Mainstreaming in Horticulture and Fisheries

Rural women generally have less access to productive natural resources and opportunities such as education, capital, land, etc.  Gender mainstreaming is not a replacement of targeted women focused policies, instead adopting a gender perspective means focusing on BOTH men and women and their relationship with each other and natural resources in projects so that both can equally benefit from the development policies.  The important point is that Gender Mainstreaming should never be a one time exercise rather an integral part of the entire planning and implementation process that continues throughout the life of the project.

Women are not very visible in agriculture in Balochistan but as I have started my interviews, it is evident that they are playing a vital role in the agricultural activities in Balochistan. But their productivity is low on farm related work and is more concentrated on homebound components of agriculture sector such as fodder chopping, seed sorting and cleaning, pre and post harvest produce handling, live stock management and dairy production.

The project focuses on Fruit farms and fisheries, both largely male dominant professions in Balochistan. According to a national baseline survey, the majority of the producers, farm owners, and agribusiness owners are men. The proportion of men farm owners is 99.56 percent whereas women own farms very rarely and haven't found any in Balochistan. It will be challenging to engage women directly in agricultural activities in most areas of Pashtun and Baloch belts in the province without grassroots level mobilization and village and community level. If the team desires to increase its impact on women, they will need to establish linkages with community based local organizations having expertise in working with women.