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Questioning the unquestionable

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Religion in Pakistan

Adolescence is strange. Stranger still is the seeping realization that you don’t fully believe everything that you’ve been taught since childhood. You have questions. You have doubts. You have a swarm of thoughts in your head — each more draining than the other. For me, it began with questioning my mortality and ultimately snowballed into questioning divinity. It wasn’t instantaneous of course. I’ve always had questions but questions such as these aren’t exactly welcome. Faith, after all, is supposed to be blind. Mine wasn’t. I don’t think I had enough faith to fill a thimble. Over the course of my adolescence, I heard friends tell me over and over to have faith or else. Of course they didn’t use those exact words but the implication was the same. Have faith or else you’ll go to hell or suffer in life or never truly be happy or whatever people say to justify their statements. It was amusing to me at first — an all-knowing, all-seeing entity would be enraged because an insignificant bacteria in this petri dish of a universe did not put forth whatever amount of their soul they could muster on to it.

I’ll be honest, though. Up until the age of 17, I was angry. I had a grudge against god. I couldn’t believe the sheer ignorance people put up with. There is so much pain and I don’t know how to not notice it; so much pain, I can’t keep myself from drowning in it most days and God did nothing. God continues to do nothing. What happened to divine intervention? What happened to the reign of the just? What was once innocent curiosity became fiery rage and in it’s own time fizzled into quiet desperation. I found myself begging. Not for me. I was fortunate and privileged enough to not suffer — of course everyone suffers in some way but not to the extent of deterioration (be it physical, psychological or financial). The same entity that created the light also birthed the concept of darkness (and of all that exists within that darkness).During those times of darkness, people around me prayed. I sight of their muffled sobs and whitened knuckles is engraved in my mind. All that yelling and pleading and sobbing… for what? The divine phone cord is disconnected at the roots. The amount of faith you pour into the receiver doesn’t matter, my friend.

I went through bouts of atheism to agnosticism to absolute resignation to my religion. Because what else? Anger is for those who have the energy to entertain it. I did for two years and it left me as a, quite frankly, hollowed version of myself. I wanted to believe. So badly. I came to admire those that had faith. It seemed so easy for them. They had a safety net (even if that safety net might not exist) and what did I have? Bitterness and resentment. It takes its toll on you when you’re raised in an society that heavily ingrains faith and religion in its youth. My curiosity was not welcome and whatever role other factors played, the blatant disregard set me off on this rollercoaster of a journey faster than anything else. In terms of a solution, I don’t think I ever came across one (or even the vague idea of one). The problem had never been concrete. Am I faithless? Am I angry? Am I dissatisfied with the idea of organized religion? Do I believe faith and religion are not mutually exclusive? Maybe all of these. Some are answered easier than others. I don’t know a lot of things but I do know this: I found a silver of faith in myself and I’m holding onto it as hard as I can. Humans wage wars in the name of religion. They argue, they fight, they kill. All in the name of Heaven. But no one entertains the thought that maybe God doesn’t believe in us anymore. Maybe we should.

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About the writer: Shahzaib Awan currently heads the Bisouv Publications and House of Entremuse Media Group. He writes for Times, The Guardian, The Nation, and other prominent newspapers. He’s currently studying Computer Science at Jacobs University, Germany. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Opinion/Writings

Freemasons – their illustrious history and presence in Pakistan

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Freemasons

From designing pyramids to plotting French Revolution, a plethora of strange conspiracy theories had been pinned on to Freemasons since its inception. However, it’s important to discern fact from fiction.

The origins of the Freemasons are obscure and subject to intense speculation, not to mention their bizarre secret rituals. The available documents and scholarships traced back the group roots to the 14th century.

The stonemasons are believed to original founders of the movement, who built the great cathedrals and castles of the middle ages. It’s said they used secret signs to identify fellow craftsmen, like the builder’s square and compass, which is now the totem of Masons. Moreover, the modern Freemasonry came into existence when four London Lodges (organizational unit of Masonry) merged to form Grand Lodge – the first in the world in 1717. The group then spread swiftly to Europe and the American colonies.

Read more: Once a city of gardens, Lahore has now turned into a concrete jungle

The Masonry boasted 6 million members worldwide, including numerous towering figures like Napoleon Bonaparte, Issac Newton, George Washington, Mozart, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, Oscar Wilde, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, just to name a few.

Despite the group’s secretive outlook and activities, however, Piers Vaughan, a Lodge Master, insisted the “religion and politics” are discouraged to mooted in the meetings. “There are certain subjects which are prevented from discussing within the Lodge. And religion is one. Politics is another,” he further explained.

Although, recently the Masons lamented being “undeservedly stigmatised” and decried discrimination.

Freemasons in Pakistan

Beside relishing cricket, Pakistanis have also a penchant for secret societies, particularly Freemasonry. However, many of them unaware of the fact – the country once housed quite a few Masonic lodges.

The British brought the Freemasonry in India in the 18th century. In 1859, the first Masonic lodge was set up in Lahore called ‘Lodge of Hope and Perseverance.’ The locals called it a ‘jaado ghar.’ Moreover, the celebrated author of “Jungle Book” Rudyard Kipling was made a mason in this Lodge.

While in 1842, Dr James Burnes, provincial grandmaster of the Scottish Freemasons, ordered to build a Freemason Hall in Karachi. It was named “Hope Lodge,” and inaugurated in 1914.

However, in 1972, nudged by right-wingers populist leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto put a blanket ban on the Freemasonry and their activities. As the group was grappling with being outlawed, the death blow was delivered by none other than Ziaul Haq himself in 1983. The General under the Martial Law Regulation 56 interdicted the Masonic illegal activities, however the activities were still continuing in secrecy. Vexed by it, the ban was extended to any and all activities of Masons in 1985.

Currently, the Karachi’s Freemason Hall is in the possession of the Sind Wildlife department. Moreover, the former caretaker of the building Jeewan Sunoira, accused the current occupiers of ruining the building. “I don’t have anything to do with the place now, but we remember what it used to be like. It is sad,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Lahore’s Lodge 90 is presently serving as the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, the Masons claimed it was sequestrated by the Punjab government in 1974. The legal battle on the ownership of the property is going on for 44 years, which has seen four out of six mason masters to the grave. Yet the matter is in limbo, with no signs of property being vacated.

Commentators in Muslim countries, especially in Pakistan, believed Freemasonry to engage in anti-Islamic manoeuvres, their links to Zionism, even to ‘Masih-e-Dajjal’. But, they failed to explain why is before and after partition, the Freemasons always had more than one Muslim member. And how come Urdu’s greatest poet Asadullah Khan Ghalib became the prominent member of the fraternity?

Written by: Hassan Sohail

*This is an opinionated piece of writing and does not represent Entremuse’s views, endorsements, likings, or endorsements.

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Opinion/Writings

Pakistan’s toxic relationship with mullahism

Many argue that mullahism is a school of thought. It maybe, but only in a world where schools encourage violence against those who beg to differ, those who follow another religion, and those who wear jeans.

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Pakistan’s toxic relationship with mullahism

There is no concept of priesthood in Islam. There is no criteria of attire or appearance in Islam. And there is no pass to use the name of God for political, social, or financial gains in Islam. How come, one wonders then, the mullah has crept into the very framework of the constitution of Pakistan, so much so, he has the country by her throat?

“Wear a mask if you have to, but mosques will stay open”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the country’s top clerics, holier-than-thou, have refused to close down mosques amid the spread of COVID-19, which has brought the world to her knees – infecting 620,000 and killing 28,000, but why hasn’t the government, one asks himself, rebuffed their imbecile idea?

Mullah school of thought

Many argue that mullahism is a school of thought. It maybe, but only in a world where schools encourage violence against those who beg to differ, those who follow another religion, and those who wear jeans. And a mullah, by definition, is a man who closes his eyes to every atrocity, oppression, and sin in the world except when it causes him discomfort. He is usually identified by his absolute lack of remorse, complete denial of logic, and blind following – not of God, but of those he thinks are closer to God because they wear a beard and abuse the government on live television.

The novel coronavirus

The novel coronavirus is highly contagious and spreads from person to person in close proximity. It has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, which has also asked people to self-isolate in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus. In Pakistan, the coronavirus-related cases have jumped from 7 to 1,408 in mere 19 days and health experts have warned that the cases can top at least 20 million if strict measures aren’t put into place. Although the provincial governments have accelerated their efforts to tackle to the spread of the coronavirus, the center refuses to halt its populist stance.

Bogus party, selection of the most naive

It’s an open secret that Imran Khan could only win the premiership with the help of the invisible force, one of whose election tactics were to establish a bogus far-right political party with so many votes that it wouldn’t win any seats, but would be able to break a decisive section of votes, which would ultimately tilt of the polls in Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s favor. The tactic worked and we have a puppet for a prime minister. The bogus party, of course, was Khadim Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labaik – a circus of mullahs and men alike, chanting the God’s name to open revolt when asked to.

The ‘intelligent’ Muslim world

The Muslim world, the one where there is intelligent life, has closed their mosques for congregational prayers in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus. In Qatar, the mosques have changed the wordings of the call to prayer, in accordance with Islamic values and history, asking the faithful to pray at home. In Palestine, imams have invited doctors and health experts to give the Friday sermons so that they can help the masses by spreading awareness about the invisible enemy. And in Saudi Arabia, home to two of the holiest sites of Islam, the performance of Omra has been temporarily halted, the holy Ka’abah has been temporarily closed for Tawa’afs, the holy Prophet’s mosque has closed its door for the first time in a while, and it has been reported that the yearly Hajj may not happen.

Too many Khans is too many Khans

When a playboy-turned-politician comes into power through religious votes, there is nothing natural about his selection. Khan simply has too many faces to please and too many favors to repay for him to lead the country of this once-in-a-century pandemic. He cannot disappoint the opportunists from Karachi, he cannot disappoint the right or the left, and he cannot disappoint those in Rawalpindi. Khan, undoubtedly one of the most educated, striking, and honest statesman in the country’s history, has projected one too many fronts to belong to any.

On the other end, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah is making all the headlines Khan should’ve making. Shah, one of Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior-most politicians, has made all the right decisions so far, so much so, he has pretty much saved the country from what could’ve one of its most horrible ends. Shah locked down the country overlooking Khan’s populist sentiments and then he empowered his security forces to enforce them, he made decisive, tough, and striking decisions and was immediately followed in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa – Khan’s strongholds, and most importantly, Shah refused to give one drop of consideration to the mullahs and closed down all mosques and madrasas indefinitely until the end of the pandemic.

Conclusion

All-in-all, if Khan is serious about preventing a blunder, a bloodbath, and a chaos of the highest level, he needs to abandon his alliance with the mullahs and needs to realize that this is not a time to bag votes. The mullahs need to let the reality cascade upon their holier-than-thou-selves and realize that no they are not immune to the novel coronavirus. And the people need to realize that God doesn’t help those who do not help themselves.

To conclude, I would like to narrate Al-Thirmidhi:

“Anas ibn Malik reported: A man sad, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.””

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Opinion/Writings

Khan’s incompetence is going to cost us a country

Khan needs to realize that the time to act is now and no amount of Nathiagali walks is going to contain the novel coronavirus that has brought the country to a standstill.

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During his first national address concerning the novel coronavirus, unfortunately-Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan stated that the COVID-19 virus, which has until now, infected 200,000 and killed over 8,000 people worldwide isn’t “serious enough” to lockdown the country.

In his national address, coming weeks late in the first place, Khan absolutely failed to convince the country of the government’s plans and strategies to tackle the novel coronavirus. His unruly, disruptive, and unlike-statesman smirks and expressions, once again, left only his sponsees in awe of him, so much so, the social media erupted in praising the one handsome prime minister this country has ever had. Khan deserves the praise, though, for only his visionary self could apprehend spending Rs42 million of taxpayers’ money for the constitution of a digital media wing at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the only responsibility of which is to defend the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government over the internet and on social media platforms.

As of Wednesday, Pakistan has recorded at least 245 cases of the highly contagious coronavirus – the highest number of confirmed cases in South Asia, compared with 147 in India, 44 in Sri Lanka, and 22 in Afghanistan. Furthermore, NayaDaur, a Pakistani media outlet, has reported that if the government continues doing the bare minimum, which it is, the cases may rise to over 80,000 by mid April.

In mainland China, the coronavirus has infected over 8,500 people and killed 3,248, in Italy, the coronavirus has infected over 35,00 people and killed 2,978, and in Spain, the coronavirus has infected over 17,000 and killed 767. What Khan needs to understand is that Italy, China, and Spain boast some of the world’s best healthcare systems, furthermore, they are top-tier world economies while Pakistan doesn’t even have enough protective kits to equip their doctors with. Khan also needs to understand that the novel coronavirus is highly contagious and that the new cases will rise exponentially, which means, if simply put, that there will be a need for a lot of ICU beds and ventilators that the country doesn’t have. In figures, Pakistan has 0.6 ICU beds available for 1,000 people while China, Italy, and Spain have 4.2, 3.4, and 3.0 beds per 1,000 people respectively. What Khan needs to understand is that if the government doesn’t take decisive measures now, it will be too late.

Khan refuses to halt his populist stance, so much so, he refuses to visit anywhere without having at least a dozen photographers following him. In a video that Khan posted on his social media profiles, he can be seen observing the state of a quarantine center in DG Khan inquiring about the patients’ health, to which, of course, the patients, or so, answer in all-praises for the management – in this case the PTI’s Punjab government. The patients sing Khan’s name and throw their support behind him to conclude what seemed like a textbook scripted PR stunt. But God works in mysterious ways for the points that the video had scored the Punjab government were quickly balanced out by Sardar Usman Buzdar who, shockingly, is also the ‘Chief Minister’ of the province. According to a Pakistani media outlet Dawn, which also happens to be the country’s oldest and most reliable English newspaper, Buzdar asked such an innocent question that it rocked, rather sunk, the very idea of him leading the fight against the coronavirus. Dawn reported the incident as follows:

“A few days ago Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar received a detailed briefing on coronavirus from relevant experts and officials. The purpose was to provide him all the information he required as the chief executive of the largest province, so he could make the right decisions. At the end of the briefing, the chief minister asked a question innocently: ”Yeh corona kaat-ta kaisay hai?” (how does this corona bite?)”

On the other side of the country, Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah is leading the country’s fight against the vicious virus. Shah, 57, holds two masters degrees from Stanford University and is concluded in the list of Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) most senior politicians and figures. Shah’s plan is simple: halt the spread of the coronavirus as soon as possible, quarantine all those showing severe symptoms, provide for the families of those quarantined, and isolate and test all those returning home from countries with the most coronavirus cases. To implement his plan, Shah ordered the closure of all educational institutions when the very first coronavirus case was confirmed in Sindh. Later, he ordered to shut down all public monuments, parks, offices, restaurants, beaches, and shopping malls. He set up a 10,000-bed hospital in Karachi, a 2000-bed hospital in Sukker, and isolation centers in all districts of Sindh. Furthermore, he has been thorough in reporting cases, spreading awareness, and containing panic by holding press conferences almost every other day. Shah’s plan has worked out so well that even the World Health Organization (WHO) has applauded his efforts calling his work “the best after (that of) China’s.”

Khan’s team lacks greatly what Shah’s team is doing so wonderfully well, but he still refuses to acknowledge it, so much so, not once has he passed any positive comments Shah’s way nor is he committed to consider Shah’s many suggestions any seriously than he would take anyone’s not wearing boots to go with their suits. Khan is stubborn, weak, and controlled by one too many fronts and so, it is our duty, as citizens of this great country, to question his policies, grudges, politics, and decisions for we have voted him into the office he’s not working hard enough to keep. It is our duty as brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters to make sure our loved ones are taken care of in this testing time. And it is our duty as daily workers, housewives, doctors, and students to fight for our right of survival.

Khan needs to realize that he is the prime minister of not only Punjab and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, but also of Sindh, Balochistan, Kashmir, and Gilgil-Baltistan. Khan needs to realize that the country can only survive this pandemic if it projects a common front, defended equally by all parties of all provinces. And Khan needs to realize that the time to act is now and no amount of Nathiagali walks is going to contain the novel coronavirus that has brought the country to a standstill.

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