Pakistani Mullahs in Washington D.C.

POSTCARD USA: Madrassa time in Washington — Khalid Hasan
Daily Times, July 1, 2007

The chink in the argument advanced by the two maulanas was that they were confusing soldiers dying in battle with suicide bombings as the world has come to know them in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the maulanas’ way of thinking, suicide bombings are not suicide bombings if they are carried out against non-civilian targets

If the purpose of the sponsored visit to the United States — not without Washington’s blessings — of a group of madrassa overlords and administrators was intended to impress the Americans about the benign nature of the institutions that have been in Washington’s crosshairs since 9/11, then that heroic bid, it is safe to say, has not exactly been a thumping success. One is of course aware that back home, on return, the visit will be played as having once and for all laid to rest the fear and loathing that the mere mention of the word madrassa triggers in this country.

The travelling maulanas, accompanied and shepherded by the Secretary of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, included Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhry, Maulana Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, Allama Riaz Hussain Najfi and MMA MNA Dr Ata-ur-Rehman, who also runs a madrassa. It is not clear if another of the advertised divines, Maulana Naeem-ur-Rehman, head of the Salafi group of madrassas — the PMA of jihad — actually made the trip.

Those who were taking these bearded gentlemen around — the Secretary being no exception to the beard — included the Centre for Religion and Diplomacy and the Pakistani-American Leadership Centre, a lobbying group on which the Embassy of Pakistan smiles more than somewhat. As for the former, it is an essentially religious outfit that claims to be trying to bring peace to such troubled parts of the world as Darfur and Kashmir. In Kashmir, it says it is encouraging the “next generation” of leaders. It is another matter that the “next generation” on both sides of the ceasefire line is the offspring of the earlier discredited generation.

I missed breaking bread with the visitors when I learnt that the gentleman handing out the invitations, although from Sialkot, was none other than a fellow traveller of the Moonies, having once set up a Pakistan office to spread the word of the Rev. Moon. It is that sort of thing which does it for me. I am told he also presented each of the maulanas with shields that declared them to be ‘Ambassadors of Peace’. While nothing would make the world happier than to see peace come to take root here and now, there is an enormous question mark over the contribution of the Pakistani madrassas to what has been every Pakistani’s unfulfilled — and perhaps unfulfillable — dream of peace.

The four gentlemen represented the united front that the madrassas have formed to protect their interests and their view of the world. A leaflet distributed at an event organised for the visitors on Capitol Hill — young staffers from a number of congressional offices being the intended audience — credited madrassas with playing an “important role in a country where millions live in poverty and state educational infrastructure is in decay”. To which all one can say is: Welcome to Pakistan. This welcome introduction was followed by a number of questions: What is going on inside these madrassas? Does the Pakistani government have any control over them? Do these madrassas threaten US national security interests?

Mufti Munib-ur-Rehman declined the offer of his Urdu being rendered into English by stating modestly that he was capable of speaking in English, which turned out to be the case. He said, “We’ve no hatred against America as a nation: our only differences being with the policies of the US government.” The Taliban movement, he said, is an Afghan, not a Pakistani movement. He called suicide missions “un-Islamic, immoral, illegal and unethical” when carried out against civilian targets.

That bit became problematic during the question hour. Alan Kronstadt of the Congressional Research Service asked if the Mufti would kindly clarify if what he meant was that while suicide attacks against civilian targets were un-Islamic, they were permissible if they involved non-civilian targets. The Mufti replied that what was needed was a definition of terrorism. He also cited in support of his argument the suicide attacks mounted by the Japanese during World War II. Allama Riaz Hussain Najfi chipped in at this point to say that in 1965 when India attacked through Chowinda, Pakistani soldiers were able to halt the Indian advance, which would have cut Pakistan into two, through heroic suicide attacks. He said that if the nation’s existence is at stake, suicide attacks are justified.

The chink in the argument advanced by the two maulanas was that they were confusing soldiers dying in battle with suicide bombings as the world has come to know them in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the maulanas’ way of thinking, suicide bombings are not suicide bombings if they are carried out against non-civilian targets. As for the Chowinda story, it falls in the same category as green-robed saints with flowing white beards standing on the Ravi Bridge in 1965 and catching bombs released by Indian warplanes in mid air and lobbing them into the river.

I asked Mufti Munib-ur-Rehman to kindly cite chapter and verse from the Quran or in the teachings of Islam where suicide bombings or taking one’s own life is sanctioned. He replied that since I lived in the West, I had permitted myself to be carried away and, consequently, misled, by such phrases as “suicide bombings”.

Asked about Lal Masjid and its Islamic Amazon warriors in black, who abduct peaceful citizens and send out vice squads that kidnap “sinners” in the name of Islam, the Mufti said that the Tanzeemul Madaris Pakistan had “deregistered” the Lal Masjid seminary. Would it be off the mark to point out that the “deregisteration” has had no effect on the good health and well-being of the Holy Fortress in Red.

When asked if there were any women on the governing board of the madrassas, it turned out that there were none. A young African-American woman was not satisfied with the answer that women administrators of women’s madrassas were consulted and their views and suggestions given due consideration. She said African slaves in colonial America were also assured that their interests were well protected and represented by their white masters. But that was not so. She spoke with much eloquence and swayed the audience with her words. It became quite clear that our religious and educational divines are not prepared to treat women as their equals and are not willing to accord them a place on their councils.

Nobody who heard the maulanas from Pakistan will forget where they drew the line when it came to suicide bombings and women.

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