I asked my Imam to condemn the Peshawar Church Blast, will you?
Ask your Imam to discuss minority rights during sermons. Its the best way to convey the spirit of tolerance.
Like most people around me, I was shocked, disgusted and angry at the Peshawar Church Blast incident; a terrorist attack during Sunday Mass. The tragedy came at a time when people were reaching out to God, sharing fears, worries, emotions and secrets. Just to imagine that one cannot even have this personal time with God Almighty anymore is disturbing.
The first thought that came to my mind was that a vigil should be held to pay respect to the departed. Hence I decided to initiate it. On Tuesday, a mere 40 people joined me outside the press club. We lit candles, prayed and uttered words of protest. Half an hour later, I realised I was preaching to the already converted, and though it was necessary to empathise with the aggrieved, the vigil was largely futile.
Then it struck me that the solution of every problem lies in education.
In a Muslim majority country where minorities are being subjected to endless atrocities, I wondered how I could get the word around about what Islam teaches us in terms of minority rights.
The answer was simple – through the mosque. This is the one institution where around 60 to 70% population of this country is ‘informed’ about Islam.
I launched a Facebook campaign asking friends to visit their local mosques and request their imams to condemn the Peshawar Blast, all the while talking about minority rights in Islam in their Friday Sermons.
Friday prayers are the biggest weekly congregation of Muslims and the best way to interact with every possible class/sector/segment of society, so this seemed like a good idea to me.
I got a few positive responses but many expressed concerns and fears of backlash from the imams. I could not blame them for feeling discouraged. One can never really know how the imam will respond.
Wednesday evening, however, I decided to do the test run on my own.
I went to the neighbourhood mosque and none of the familiar faces there were willing to come and talk to the Imam with me. Once they got to know that I would ask him to condemn the suicide attack in the All Saints Church and seek his views on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), they all began to hesitate.
I sat with the Imam after Fajr prayers and tried hard to put forth the proposition to him in the mildest manner simply to judge his reaction. The 30-minute conversation which followed was frustrating. A request of condemning an attack on the church turned into a debate on the US, Taliban, Malala and the Arab Spring.
Yet, I was persistent as I believe that this is the only way to create change.
Finally my patience proved to be fruitful. I found support from an elderly man who saw the wisdom in my views and helped me to persuade the Imam. In the end, he agreed to discuss minority rights in Islam in his Jumma bayan (Friday sermon) with the condition that he will discuss the rights of the majority too.
I happily accepted, because this step, small as it may be, was a step nonetheless.
The coming Friday, I left my office to offer prayers in the neighbourhood mosque. I was a little late and joined the bayan midway, trying to make my way through the crowd to find a spot in front of the Imam.
The Imam noticed me and smiled.
A few minutes later he started talking about the concept of justice in Islam and said that as Muslims, we should be just without discrimination, even if this concerns a non-Muslim. However, there was no condemnation of the Peshawar church attack and there was no insight into the actual rights of minorities.
Hoping for much more, I was heartbroken and dismayed. I thought perhaps the Imam may bring it up in the Dua at the end. He didn't.
The moment the Dua ended, I felt the need to address the Imam across the hall and request him to pray for the minorities and the protection of their worship places. Then I reconsidered, as such a challenge would have rubbed him the wrong way and I would have lost a medium of communication in him.
Hence I waited for the crowd to clear up and spoke to him in private. He smiled and said,
"I did try to bring up the issue. Were you listening?"
I clearly did not look convinced to him. I told him,
"Imam sahib, what about discussing their rights? I came all the way here to listen to you talk about their rights."
"I'll do so next Jumma."
"I will come here to offer prayers next Jumma too then," was my reply.
I learnt and realised that, as someone preaching tolerance, I need to be tolerant and patient as well. It does not matter how many Jummas it takes to inform and educate our society, after all, Rome wasn't built in a day either.
I take solace in the fact that at the very least, the Imam brought up the subject - something that might have not even happened had I not approached him. As I said, small steps ...
After my experience, quite a few of my friends went to their local mosques to talk to their Imams. As a result, Imams of four different mosques in Defence Karachi happily agreed to discuss the issue.
It is a tough fight but it is the good fight and it has to be fought the long and hard way.