Why are we so intolerant? Emotional and heartfelt column on Rimsha. – By Mehr Tarar

VIEW : To do or not to — Mehr Tarar

How will we learn to differentiate between an outright insult to our religion and an inadvertent slip where the doer does not even know what the action implies?

I write because I feel. This is the only medium through which I can express with some coherence what I want to say. Words have a tremendous power, bigger than many of us realise, but words only affect when they carry an expression of what you truly believe, what you feel a level deeper than the superfluous, and when your belief and feeling strengthen into the knowledge that it all must be conveyed; if not to all, to some. If not to some, maybe to even one person, whom you may touch, one way or the other, subliminally, or if you are lucky, startle like an alarm going off at 4:00 am when you are finally asleep, after hours of insomnia. Words, for me, would never be a mere structuring of alphabets, painstakingly coerced together, to compile an essay that you force yourself to write, to meet a deadline, to score an A, to fill your weekly slot in a newspaper. I write because I love to write. I write because I am a firm believer of the potency of the right text hitting the right chord at the right time. I write because when there is too much chaos around me, the orderliness of keys placed side by side on my keyboard allows me the calm to figure out how I can give voice to my outrage. I write when there are moments to celebrate, goodness to value, and achievements to celebrate. As I write today, I wish there were noble things to write about instead of the stark randomness of madness that seems to permeate our collective consciousness as a nation. I wish.

It is no longer possible to compartmentalise issues into weekly or fortnightly headings. After a suitable amount of rage and protest in newspapers, talk shows, Facebook and Twitter, it is not okay to be quiet about things that need to be talked about until there is an action to turn them around. After throwing together a few scantily attended rallies outside a press club, with passing mention on page two of a newspaper, the responsibility does not end. It is time to ensure things are done differently and things are done to ensure results. It is time to see how we allow irrationally executed actions to snowball into methodical acts of viciousness. How we let the insanity of a few become larger than the rationale of many, catapulting into actions that are not just morally wrong but are also indicative of how wrong has become right so effortlessly, cheered by the muteness of spectators who in some cases are worse than the perpetrators. It is time to see how in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan it is okay to torment, arrest and jail a little girl. It is time to look closely how a minor, a national of Pakistan, can be arrested and locked up in a jail that is synonymous with some of Pakistan’s worst judicial verdicts. It is not about the law, but the laws made part of the law without taking into consideration the ethno-religious realities of an unwieldy mass of people living together for centuries. It is about who we are and what we have become.

I grew up in a small town during General Zia’s turning-Pakistan-into-what-Bhutto-did-not-want time. My 12 years of education at a Convent school gave me a chance to interact with many Christian females: nuns, teachers, school/classmates, close friends. No, there was no hymn singing in the mornings, and no, we were not forced to study catechisms. My memories of that school are the habit-wearing nuns, who were living in a tiny, provincial town away from their homelands, teaching a bunch of girls how to be good human beings, and how to learn through knowledge. The most noteworthy thing for me today is that I am someone who, coming from a backward, feudal background, raised by a very strict grandmother, who was one of the most religious people I have ever known, had never had to see people in terms of their religion. For me, my teachers were my teachers, not my Christian teachers. For me, my friends were girls I played basketball with and struggled or sailed through classes with, not measured according to how they kneeled to pray before going to sleep. Despite being taught to say my prayers at the age of seven along with my younger sister, I was never taught to look at people for what their faith was. As the elders in my family taught me the Surahs and the duas, I was never indoctrinated to hate what the others held sacred. From the time I was a little girl to now, the world was divided into two sections for me: people I knew and people I did not know. Those I knew were all names, relationships, ties and bonds to me. They were not defined by the religion they belonged to, the faith they espoused. And they do not today.

For me, little Rimsha Masih is one of the many little girls I played with, once upon a time. Just as we could not see beyond our ugly plastic dolls, and trees to climb, the same goes for the little girl who was arrested one unbelievable day. Just as we were not aware of other people’s faith being different to ours, the same goes for the little girl to whom it all meant nothing. Just as no one taught us to ridicule other people’s way of displaying faith, the same goes for the little girl whose knowledge of our religion probably extended merely to be cognizant of the sound of the aazan (call to prayer). Just as we did not know, despite our interaction with many Christian children, the protocol of their religious practices, the same goes for the little girl whose knowledge of Muslim faith may have been limited to having seen people say their Namaz (pray).

How in the world has it been assumed that the little girl just picked up pages of our Holy Text and knowingly burnt them? How does this even make sense? Who would tell her to do that? Some enemies of Islam who decided that okay, let’s pick a random child, and give her some pages to burn and then rejoice while Muslims blind with rage unleash their ignorance on an innocent person? Again: the loose pages from a copy of the Holy Quran are to be taken care of by the person who has them. Proper care has to be maintained to ensure the sanctity of the Text that is the crux of our religion. However, God forbid, if some pages are found where they should not be, whose fault is it? The Muslim who had those pages or a random person who found them? Here, as has been reported since day one, the pages the little girl is alleged to have burnt were not even from the Holy Text. An Arabic language lesson book that is a familiar sight in any Muslim household finds its way to a garbage pile. The little girl during her very enjoyable outing by a dumpster burns them, an activity many children love despite parental censure. Let’s find the person who threw the pages there, and put him or her in the cell presently being occupied by little Rimsha.

Blasphemy laws are not the issue here. People who have become guardians of Islam are. Our religion, our Prophet (PBUH) and the Quran are sacred to us, and always will be. The problem is, when will we stop thinking the Christians who live amongst us are out there to hurt our religious sensibilities? How will we learn to differentiate between an outright insult to our religion and an inadvertent slip where the doer does not even know what the action implies? How many of us have actually heard a Christian say anything indelicate about anything Islamic? How many of those who wanted to beat little Rimsha to death even knew the Third Kalma? Who has taught people to go for blood when they think someone is mocking the religion? How do people who see fellow Muslims being stripped, lashed, lynched and immolated, explode into insanity on imagined instances of their faith being targeted? Since the majority practice tolerance, it is time to ask who is indoctrinating the tiny minority to be a maniacal machinery to unleash barbarity in the name of the religion whose basic premise is peace and tolerance? It is time to think and act. Right away. The madness must stop before it is too late. For everyone.

The writer is an Assistant Editor at Daily Times. She tweets at @MehrTarar and can be reached at mehrt2000@gmail.com

Courtesy: Daily Times


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