Like most of the readers of this post I was shocked, disgusted and angry at the Peshawer Church Blast incident; a terrorist attack during Sunday Mass. It is a time when a person is reaching out to God sharing his fears, his worries, his emotions and his secrets. It appears such a natural, private and fundamental right and to imagine that one cannot even have that personal time with God Almighty anymore. Nothing appears a more gruesome manner of threatening the right of life.
I thought I at least ought to hold a vigil to pay my respects to the departed. A mere 40 people joined outside the press club. We lit candles, prayed and said words of protest. Half hour later I realized I was preaching to the converted and though it was necessary to pay respect to those departed, the vigil was a so futile otherwise.
It hit me again that the solution of every problem lies in education. In a Muslim majority country where the minorities are being subjected to endless atrocities how can I get a word about what Islam teaches us to do in terms of minority rights? The answer was simple. The Mosque. The one institution where by a safe measure 90% population of this country is ‘informed’ if not ‘education’ on Islam is the mosque.
I launched a facebook campaign asking friends to visit their local mosques and request their Imams to condemn the Peshawer Blast and talk 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.
I got a few positive response but most expressed concern and fear of backlash from the Imam. I could not blame them for feeling discourage. One would never know how the Imam may respond and you may very well be toying with the idea of being possible victim of blasphemy law. Wednesday evening I decided to do the test run myself. I do not offer my prayers regularly so I stayed up the whole night to ensure I make it to Fajr prayers on Thursday. I went to the neighborhood mosque and none of the familiar faces there were willing to come and talk to the Imam with me once they got to know I would ask him to condemn the Peshawar Blast Attack and seek his views on TTP. I sat with the Imam post fajr and tried hard to put the proposition to him in the most mildest manner to judge his reaction. The 30 minute conversation which followed made me try hard to control my frustration and amusement. A request for condemning an attack on a church turned into a debate on America, Taliban, Malala and the Arab Spring. Finally my patience paid be fruit. I found support from an elderly stranger who saw the wisdom in my views and who helped persuade the Imam. In the end he finally agreed to discuss minority rights in Islam in his Jumma Bayan with the condition that he will discuss the rights of the majority too.
Today, I left office my office to offer Jumma in the neighbourhood mosque. I was a little late and joined the Bayan midway. Tried 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 do justice without discrimination and even if a Non-Muslim is right he should get justice. There was no condemnation of the Peshawer Blast and there was no insight into the actual rights of minorities. I was to a certain extent heart broken 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. It would definitely have had shock value but it would have also rubbed him the wrong way and I would have lost a medium of communication in him. So 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 hearing?" I clearly did not look convinced to him. I told him "Imam sb what about discussing their rights? I came all the way here to listen to you talk about their rights." He said "I'll go for it next Jumma" and I replied "I will come here to offer prayers next Jumma too then." I learnt and realised that as someone preaching tolerance I need to be tolerant and patient as well. It does not matter how many Jumma it takes, our society.
Quite a few of my friends went to their local mosques to talk to their Imams for a long time. Imams of four different mosques in Defence Karachi happily agreed to discuss the issue.
Below is the relevant clip from today's sermon given by my Imam.