Only in Pakistan can a model/actress infamous for posing semi-naked in a photo shoot secure the chance to host her own Ramazan television show.
Media critics have pounced on the slew of celebrity-driven Ramazan talk shows this year, arguing that these shows are being driven by a morally blind ‘race for ratings’ by TV channels. I’d like to make the case that this is a rather shallow critique of a deeply revealing social phenomenon. Veena Malik isn’t the problem. It’s us.
These Ramazan talk shows are visible symptoms of a larger malaise that lies at the heart of our collective psyche: a seemingly irreversible urge to allow religion to serve as a convenient substitute for our morality.
Blaming the Ramazan shows on the ‘race for ratings’ allows us to avoid the genuinely difficult questions that hold the key to rationally understanding our media landscape. These shows didn’t suddenly drop from the sky. Over time, Pakistani society created the opening needed to blur (read: demolish) the line between religion, entertainment and capitalism. It’s in this socio-religious context that these shows are beginning to thrive.
Perhaps, the most damning aspect of Ramazan television programming is how closely it mirrors Pakistani society. Female anchors suddenly don dupattas as if religiosity is a function of what day of the year it is. Meanwhile, back in real life, traffic policemen refuse to accept bribes only in the holy month.
These actions serve as a window into the psyche of a nation that is desperately clinging onto overt symbols of religiosity, in the hope that it will make up for our appalling decline in moral standards. Thousands of innocent children, women and men die in the name of religion, politics and ethnicity every year. Their deaths barely receive moral outrage from fellow citizens. Instead, there is a numb recognition that this is Pakistan and this is the way things will be here.
Our moral emptiness needs a cover. Something to help us sleep at night. Enter religion.
Religion can be an incredible force for good in society. It can promote tolerance, mutual respect and civic sense. In Pakistan, it seems to provoke the exact opposite. Ask any young man what comes to mind when he thinks of religion and his answer will be something along the lines of praying and fasting. Things like speaking the truth and taking care of your neighbours will follow as an afterthought.
The time has come for a collective recalibration of our moral compass. For a significant number of Pakistanis, religion can play a positive role here. Praying and fasting will always remain central pillars of religion but the Pakistani definition of religiosity (and piety) must be expanded to include our character as human beings.
Acts of worship, such as fasting, can serve as a powerful force for moral discipline. Remember the traffic policeman who refused to take bribes in Ramazan? If religion wasn’t overwhelmingly associated with specific acts of worship like fasting, he would realise that taking bribes isn’t wrong because he’s fasting. It’s wrong because it’s immoral and religion condemns immoral acts, regardless of whether or not you’re fasting.
Pakistan is plagued by a number of socio-economic and political problems. At their core, these macro problems stem from micro moral choices gone wrong. Think about the local politician who would rather use patronage to dole out favours selectively for votes rather than serve the needs of his constituency as a whole. Think about the local businessman who cheats his consumers because he knows the system would allow him to get away with it.
What’s interesting to note is that the forces pushing most vehemently for religion to serve as a panacea for Pakistan’s problems are comfortable with using violence as a means to achieve their ends. This isn’t simply a case of religion coexisting with immoral decisions in society; this is a case of religion existing without morality.
In summary, the slew of celebrity driven Ramazan TV shows this year are simply the latest in a series of visible reminders that religion in Pakistani society can — and at times, does — thrive without morality.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2012.
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strong textReligion simply equates to organized good life. Whatever goodness implies or is. That too is defined. So, the peaceful and peaceable way is the best way.
This is very interesting. I endorse the writer's views, but feel that he avoided more explicitly addressing a vital distinction which he kept hinting at: that religion and morality are not the same things, that the latter can exist without the former in modern thought. If people were philosophically convinced of the morality of not taking bribes- as opposed to knowing the idea as only one more rote-learned religious edict- there would be fewer bribes.
It is unfortunate but a fact that Pakistani muslims believe morality and praying are two different practices. They feel their immoral behavior will be washed by their namaz and rozas. Their focus is not on doing any good in this world but on reserving a highest place in jannah by scoring more points through namaz and roza. We cant blame our masses for this, our elite moulanas endorse the same view also.How many times in Juma's khutba you have heard about the importance of bring truthful and honest, very few times, while importance of namaz, roza and fear of the judgement day-every week. Great job at making our society aware that religion is more than sticking to the basic pillar of Islam.
Reminds me about the Pakistani bureaucrat who falling into a paroxysm of outrage after being presented with a briefcase full of cash at his office during Ramzan, sputtered out "couldn't you have had the decency of delivering it to me at home after Iftar!"
Excellent article Bilal...!! Seriously we need these kind of eye openers...
@raza rashid: 100 % correct brother
@Sajid I. B: Very well said...one hundred percent right.
For 5 thousand years Land of Vedas, multiple Century Land of Sufism turn into Land of Pure (Fanatic) in short span of 65 year. No where in the world transformation happen so fast. No body knows end of this dark tunnel.
Great article. You have defined the basic challenge of this so called Ummah...Religion without morality. Very thoughtful and truthful.
The point is people in general are sticking to religion no matter how tenuous the tie is. Or they would like to practice religion even though they do not practice all of it. "zara num ho to ye matti bari zarkhaiz hay saqi...."
Considering many believe themselves to be literally God's gift to the world, reflecting back on their inadequacies probably amounts to a sin for them.
Bilal - Good thoughts. However, just so that you are aware, whenever you expose discrepancies within people's behavior, the response can go either way. For example, in your examples above, either the police man will stop taking bribery altogether (highly unlikely because of structural reasons) or he will also start accepting bribery in Ramazan.
excellent peice of writing and message has cogently been delivered.unfortunitly masses dont want to see the sophisticated informative kind of shows,they just want crappy shows which are specifically designed for the people with perverted mindset.on the other hand media also promoting such shows just for the heck of ratings and adds.atleast there must be a little respect for this holy month. habib jhalib sahab used the line" ye jo dus crore hai,jahal ka nachor hai" clearly defines this nation..
excellent peice of writing and message very cogently delivered. unfortunately the masses want to see the crappy stuff on tv without caring about the ramadan. habib jhalib sahab used a line "ye jo dus crore hai,jahal ka nachor hai" clearly defines this nation.
You've said what a lot of people know but refuse to acknowledge. Very well written. I wish you had stressed on the connection between the failure of the state and the lack of morals, prompting people towards religiosity in order to feel good.