For a Sufi mystic, the teachings of Shams Tabriz were quite clear, “There is no wisdom without love. Unless we learn to love God’s creation, we can neither truly love nor truly know God.”
The story of Shams is the story of love — there was also Rumi’s own adoration of his guide Shams, before the latter vanished in thin air (according to who you believe). Yet we are told on February 14 that love for God’s creation, and love for God Himself, stand in opposition.
It’s indeed a funny thing: Valentine’s Day in hot countries. Everyone has an opinion, from the gent by the flower khokha, to the mystery man in the Aiwan-i-Sadr. “Valentine’s Day has no connection with our culture,” said the President, “and should be avoided.”
The world ran with it: The Times of India, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, the Independent, Al-Arabiya, Deutsche Welle, the Gulf Times, the Toronto Sun, even Radio New Zealand — more coverage than the president’s ever gotten. Years from now, just as Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s premiership is remembered only for the YouTube ban, Mamnoon Hussain will go down in history for spurning chocolates and scented candles.
But that’s neither here nor there. Pakistan Studies tells us the President is father of the nation — we all obey his words, if with a caveat: by telling us what our culture is not, the president is obligated to tell us what our culture is.
Because, like so much sand slipping through our fingers, we may lose it. Respected sir, what is this culture you speak of?
At the centre of every culture lies the hero: a Malala is born every hundred years. Yet we worship the dead, or those trained in the science of death: our saints are warlords; Ghaznavis whose armies spread fever and melt temples for gold.
So forget the hero then, we’ll revise it down: a culture comprises its events, its buildings, its history, its humanity. Yet when a state tries to kill its own culture — banning Basant, hunting the houbara, razing ageless heritage sites for orange line trains — the people, too, will turn their eyes away. Because it makes their eyes burn.
The people, too, will buy heart-shaped helium balloons, because that culture is as alien as this one, with its al-Bakistan licence plates.
Hard business, this: stopping people turning to other ideas, when we refuse to let them cherish their own. Yet it is their own that includes the love-struck Ghalib, the lore of Anarkali, the tragic romance of Waris Shah’s Heer Ranjha. Their land is the land of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, whom preached a love so strong, the Sindh Assembly thought it would protect us from Cyclone Nilofar.
How, then, can spreading love in South Asia be un-Islamic, when Islam was spread via love in South Asia? The mystic you find at Data Darbaar won’t be much moved by teddies and red ribbons — no doubt, those are Western bits and baubles — but his eyes will film over when speaking of Data Ganj Bakhsh, the great Sufi that brought his love for God from Khorasan to the subcontinent. Today, the press talks only of the ISIS, Khorasan Province.
For Data sahib, understanding of God was silent understanding — those that prayed louder got no closer to the Almighty. How he would have wept, then, to learn of these men in black, perhaps over their arrogance as much as their violence.
In truth, all this fuss wouldn’t be so important, had matters of love not turned to matters of death: Karachi gave us Mamnoon Hussain, but it also gave us Sabeen Mahmud. And Sabeen was holding up a sign not long ago: “Karachi says yes to love.”
But Karachi also gave us her killer, an IBA grad whose many and varying reasons for taking her life included affirming such love.
Why? We know not. The Jamaat-e-Islami tells us Valentine’s Day is a secular animal — yet the world remembers Valentine as a saint, tortured by Claudius for bucking a secular edict.
Regardless, the JI should wonder why it’s never reached the heights its brother parties have: the Brotherhood in Egypt and the AKP in Turkey. It should wonder why, in the words of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — another Don Juan — it only has enough men in parliament to shoulder its own funeral.
Whatever the foreign correspondents say, it’s not because Pakistanis are disinclined to vote religiously (see the MMA, ’02). It’s because the JI never gave them reason — it never dug the drains AKP dug, never set up the Brotherhood’s vast welfare networks, never indulged in the rhetoric of hope and light. Put simply, the JI doesn’t do acts of love. But it’s great at launching Haya Days and slamming satellite dishes.
So here we are; love in the time of haya — yet haya here does not mean modesty, sirs; modesty complements love, it does not fight it. Haya, their haya, means joylessness. Obsessed as they are with death, our clerics have a winning formula: there’s no point in living if you can’t feel alive.
But we’re not the only hot place stewing in love and resentment. Says Indian journo Ravish Kumar, “The hours you struggle simply to spend a few moments with your beloved transform you [into] activists. If I were a neta, I would have ensured a love park in every city and would have happily lost the next election. Clearly, society would not have approved of my plans.”
Society like the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha. The party’s Chandra Prakash Kaushik said his boys would fan out across Delhi convincing couples celebrating Valentine’s Day to marry according to Hindu tradition (Jamaat-Mahasabha bhai bhai at last).
Yet he is aping Valentine himself, murdered for encouraging young couples to marry via the church; Emperor Claudius thought unmarried men made for bolder soldiers.
In the end, Mr Kaushik instructed volunteers not to resort to violence, but instead offer a white rose — a symbol of purity (if as much a symbol of death).
Perhaps Mr Kaushik never drank from the well of Sufism, perhaps President Mamnoon never read Shams. Yet let them reflect on his words, “How we see God is a direct reflection of ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.”
And as they say, the truth shall set you free.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2016.
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