Friday, December 6, 2013

Born On The Cusp - The children of the 60's

In astrology a cusp is a transitional point or time between 2 astrological signs – it is a time when one sign ends and the other begins. For the 20th century, 60’s were the cusp decade. It was a decade when the world didn’t simply slide into change, but jolted itself on a new cultural level.  The staid modest world was left behind forever as the mini skirted world set its sight on space. Although each generation has its own challenges, triumphs and disappointments. As a 60’s child, I feel that possibly the biggest chunk of disillusionment fell in our laps and the Pakistani 60’s child was probably hit the hardest.

We were born in a decade when the first human landed on the moon. What an elation that was. We were perhaps too young to remember the details but many of us do remember the excitement and the total awe of that event. As we grew up our expectations of the future were in part formed by the ‘Jetsons’. We expected that the world we would grow up in would definitely be a wondrous, super convenient, space exploring paradise. Little did we know that by the time we hit middle age our country would actually be in the Middle Ages. Forget about fantastic gadgets which would make life easy, we would not even have electricity to run the most basic appliances. We certainly never thought that gas would ever run out and many would be forced to use oil and wood burning stoves to cook their meals in the winters.

When my generation started going to school, we were taught about our country’s fabulous 5 year plans. Its mind boggling to think that by the time we grew up our country would become incapable of forming the simplest of policies on the most trivial of matters. What happened to us?

We are a generation whose grandparents had witnessed the Partition first hand and their memories were as vivid as when it was happening. They had lived through the British Raj and for us it was almost as if they were talking about the Moghul Era, after all anything we read in the history books had to be ancient. Talking to them made us realize how much he world had changed, our present was so much better and of course our future had to be brilliant. If only we had known that the days of the Raj never really went away. Somewhere during that time was a group of children who were listening to the same stories and were dreaming of bringing back those days and they did!

Many of our parents remember living in old houses without electricity and even those with electricity didn’t really use much of it because our grandparents were mostly afraid of switching on the lights lest they got electrocuted. But surprisingly these were people who even if they were illiterate, were highly educated because throughout the ages wisdom has been passed orally through stories, songs and fables. However there is a requirement for this tradition to continue – 2 people willing to talk and listen. We have now stepped into the communication age, anything we want to learn about, all knowledge is now a click away. We are now connected with everyone we know, and many we have never met, through social networking sites, but you will have to really search long and hard to find really educated people. Literate, yes but educated? Not really.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”…these words aptly describe the political scenario we witnessed in our growing up years. We went from total admiration and respect for our Armed Forces during the 1965 war with India to almost a pathological hatred of the same during the Zia regime. We went from utter dejection and national depression after the fall of Dhaka to feverish motivation during the 1974 Islamic Summit. Little did we know that our national emotions would flat-line to constant stae of frustration by the time we reached the 21st century.

We thought rather naively that wars were only fought with enemies and it meant air raids and soldiers fighting to keep the borders safe. We could never have imagined that every time we would step out of our homes we would be walking out on the battle field. We were stupid enough to think that the value of every innocent human life was the same – how were we to know that every single human from the Western world would be important while thousands of us would end up being collateral damage.

Some might say we are lucky that our lives have been so rich and I agree we have been blessed to have witnessed a changing world first hand. But I wish that this richness of experience was because our expectations were met rather than the disappointments which seem to define us. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Islam and Hinduism - Different religions with common elements

There are 2 problems when writing about ancient religions – first they are ancient and second they are religions. Over millennia the mythology of ancient religions becomes more important than the core of the religion itself. Its followers adhere to these myths as if they were real and the followers of other religions target these very myths as the basis of their claim that their religion is nothing more than a bunch of lies. This problem takes on another dimension when the ancient religion is Hinduism and a Muslim tries to understand the truth behind the myths and find common truths between Hinduism and Islam. This is what I am attempting to do and hence opening the door to criticism from both Hindus and Muslims.

 I have always maintained that every major religion practiced on this planet had one Divine Source. If that was not the case Allah would not have said that He sent 124,000 prophets. They were sent to every civilization, every community starting from Adam and ending with Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). If this is the case then the source of every religion has to be Divine inspiration, and if this is so then not only the message but the components of all religions also have to be the same. Let’s just examine one aspect of Hinduism – the concept of multiple gods which are known as Devtaas. For practitioners of monotheistic religions especially Islam this is the very basis on which it is rejected as a false religion since our belief states that God is one and one only. But we need to go beyond the current belief system of Hinduism and examine what a Devtaa really is.

Devtaa simply means ‘the shining ones’ i.e. ‘of light’ and they basically control every aspect of our natural world such as fire, wind, rain, crops etc. According to Hinduism there are about 330 million of these devs. The ancient Aryans starting worshiping these devs because to appease them meant that the natural order of their world was maintained. Whether they should worship them or not is another debate, but what I’m interested to know is if devtaas really exist and does Islam recognize them? I came to the conclusion that Islam also recognizes devtaas. Devs are known in Islam as Malaaik or angels as we commonly refer to them in English.

Islam tells us that angels are made of ‘light’ which is precisely what dev means. In Islam too we are told that the angels have been assigned specific tasks by Allah in order to keep the universe in order. Muslims believe that angels are too numerable to be able to count them. The 330 million figure does not really mean that someone sat and made a list and counted all devtaas physically, its simply a number which emphasizes that they are too many to be counted by us.

The concept of Jins is also present in Hinduism, there they are called Asur. These Asur are the beings which are forever at war with the devtaas and spread malice, doubt, greed and general evil in this world. In Islam too the ‘shaitaan’ or evil jins are responsible for causing human beings to plunge into doubt and darkness, the chief shaitaan being ‘Iblis’ or the Devil as the west call him. If we know of angels and jins through Quran and our Prophet (PBUH), then how come the Hindus have been saying the same things for thousands of years before us? This would mean that the source of their knowledge would have to be the same i.e. Allah. Which means that some of His prophets must have been responsible for the establishment Sanatana Dharma (or Hinduism as we now call it).

Muslims and other followers of monotheistic religions can argue that the practice of worshipping these multiple devtaas is wrong and which is why they need to convert to their religions. Actually their religious texts also point to one God or Ishwar, but somehow the worship of devtaas became the established practice. But when a religion comes into being before writing itself, then chances are that the message will get contorted over the millennia. Which is why God kept sending his messengers to ensure constant updation.Next  time someone dismisses Hinduism as complete fiction they should remember that it isn’t. Religion itself has nothing to do with what its followers do to it.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Waiting To Grow Up

They say you are as old (or young ) as you feel. Some people feel that one should never allow the child in them to grow old because as long as your spirit is childlike you will be young at heart. There are others who say that one should act their age – so if you are 50 and behaving like a child there is something wrong with you. In other words, one should be a hypocrite who feels one way but acts to the contrary.

Like most people I too have struggled with this hypocrisy. I feel like a kid but must act like a mature grown-up. I have been trying to figure out what about me has changed ( apart from the physical aspect ) which is different from when I was a child and really nothing comes to mind. I seem to be lumbering  through the years but the spirit seems to be the same as it was when I had just started to discover this world many decades ago. I still love amusement parks, I still love to day dream just as I did when I was in school and most of all I am still full of anticipation. More than anything else childhood is about anticipation - waiting for life to unfold when we grow up. A child observes the grown-up world and wonders when they will be able to participate in it. Childhood is all about waiting for the future. Strangely enough I seem to be doing the same.
At my age people are usually done with the ‘living’ aspect of life. This is when retirement is a reality looming on the horizon and people start mentally preparing themselves for illnesses, sedentary life styles and winding down for the inevitable. I should be doing the same. That’s the sensible approach to life, but I can’t seem to shake this feeling that there are many more turn on this journey.

Probably this extended childhood is due to the fact that for my mother I am still her little girl, and for me she is still the grown up of the house. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t remember anything I tell her, I still seek her permission for even the smallest matters just as I did in my childhood. I don’t need her permission, nor does she really fully grasp the situation, but it makes me feel better.

Having a parent alive is perhaps the most important factor for a prolonged childhood. It doesn’t matter how old you are, as long as there is even one parent alive you are officially a child. By the same argument, it doesn’t matter how young they are, children who do not have any parents tend to grow-up at tender ages. They may be physically small but they carry inside them the maturity of years.

I know my childhood will not last much longer. Unlike a child who can’t wait to grow-up, childlike grown-ups can’t bear the thought of it because it means the loss of parents. We are Peter Pans who never want to grow-up. And herein lies the dilemma. On one hand I am still waiting to grow-up, while on the other I want it to continue as is.