Crispy, warm samosas. Sweet chutney dripping over the corners. Zahid’s resounding enouragements and his smiling, wrinkled old eyes.
Ahmed looked down and stared at the sentence in front of him. He had forgotten the last word again. He sighed and closed his eyes, trying to visualize the page. He could see the line he was on – he could always see it, but that last word? His forehead crumpled in concentration. That last word was always blurred – but suddenly, now, it swam into view. Finally! This time when his teacher called on him, he’d have every word just right. And Zahid, the school cleaner, his buddy, his secret confidant who knew all about his woes and exactly how long he’d been struggling on this page – Zahid would tip him that promised bag of samosas at last!
Ahmed relaxed for a moment and sank comfortably back into the familiar hum of his classmates’ voices. His mind wandered to the whispered conversations he’d had with them last night. The people of the country didn’t like us, Saif had said. But why – Ahmed had wondered. What have we done to them? How can they be upset when we do the same things all other kids are supposed to do? We sit here and read books and listen to our teachers. There had been a lot of suggestions passed around, but nothing had made any sense.
A sudden blast ripped through the school. Ahmed’s eyes snapped open. Outside of the classroom window, Zahid dropped his broom in front of the school gate. There was another shot. The walls reverberated with it, and Ahmed felt it shake in his own body. He saw Zahid fall.
Pandemonium erupted. A confused uproar of cries, thudding feet, chairs and desks knocked over, books spilling on the floor. The teacher was shouting instructions that Ahmed couldn’t understand. He saw Saif running towards him. An uncle was suddenly crushing both of their small wrists together in one large, coarse hand, dragging them out of the room.
A deep grumble shuddered through the walls. In between pounding heartbeats and crowded staircases, Ahmed smelt a whiff of acrid smoke.
Out of the hall and into the courtyard. Blue sky over head – but a tower of gray smoke! Screams and shattering glass. And now a metallic smell, and blood. Oh Ammi! Oh Allah! Saif was nowhere to be seen. Or was that him, on the floor? Saifu!
Teachers were herding the children towards the basement. Another blast. It swallowed all the world’s noise into its deep belly of swirling smoke. A burning pain exploded in Ahmed’s right side. His ears were ringing. His feet gave way under him, and he groped in blind desperation for the uncle who had been holding onto him.
By the end of the operation, all the children were silent. Small hands and feet and ruffled hair, once the living joy of doting parents, lay piled over one another in no particular order, covered in soot and dried blood.
This is the story of the children of Jamia Hafsa, the victims of the Red Mosque massacre, in the summer of 2007. That year, almost 200 civilians were killed, mostly boys and girls. In the summer of 2007, hundreds of young dreams were silenced, murdered in cold blood.
Seven and a half years later, another 132 children lost their precious young lives in Peshawar. The country grieves for them. The country should grieve. They were all of our children. They were my children. It is painful, difficult, almost unfathomable, to swallow the fact that we are now speaking of them in the past tense.
But today, a large part of Pakistan has proven its hollowness and selective humanity by grieving over the Peshawar attack. This statement has absolutely nothing to do with the Taliban or the army. Anyone who throws out the done-to-death “Taliban-sympathizer” or “apologist” accusation should give up. This statement has to do with the life of an innocent child. All children are equal in their innocence and worth. Unique miracles from the Creator of life, each one of them priceless, to be huddled close to our hearts.
But with every tragedy, this particular chunk of Pakistani society shows consistently why our communities are facing problems left, right and center. Because its very humanity is in tatters. It is not independent and wholesome. It is conditional, almost entirely dependent. It only shows up when the media tells it to come out. Where is it otherwise? Dead? Buried under cricket matches and careers? Where were the black display pictures and outpourings of grief when hundreds of young lives were murdered in the Red Mosque? Where was our humanity then? Or have we collectively stipulated that the blood of children who study the Quran is cheaper than the blood of others? Or that when media tells us not to cry, then we really must not?
Ahmed is unknown, his body is unknown, his story is unknown. Unlike the eye-witness accounts being publicized about the Peshawar attack and calls for a prevention of militancy being touted from the Dawn to the New York Times to Jewishjournal.com, unlike the much-shared images of bloodied books and little shoes, we have to guess at stories in order to remember the children of the Red Mosque, or elsewhere. Ahmed is fictional, but he may very well be real. We will never know. We were never allowed to know. And because our humanity only wakes up when the media tells it to – it didn’t occur to us that murdering children is an evil thing to do – no matter who does it, and so we never tried to find out. We never questioned. Were these really a few lost children that got trapped in an otherwise well-executed battle – or were serious evacuations never even attempted?
The operation against the Red Mosque took place in front of us on television, and Pakistan didn’t even flinch.
This is not the first time Pakistani society has shown its indifference to matters that should have shaken hearts and inspired people to change their lives. From the children of the Thar desert to those that we hear are being victimized in a Zarb e Azb that we are never allowed to see coverage of, to the thousands of children murdered by U.S. attacks on Pakistan and Yemen and Nigeria and elsewhere, where studies have shown that of all places – schools are among the targets that are blown up most ferociously by the drones – we are consistently unconcerned about these precious lives. We may be excused on the grounds that we were kept in the dark about the above issues, because the media doesn’t shed enough light on them. But the attack on the Red Mosque was shown on the media.
So our reaction to the Peshawar attack is a new milestone in our selective humanity. A new exposure of our double standards. A new sign of our mental slavery to the media’s commandments. Because it brings out in sharp contrast our exact opposite response to a virtually identical situation. A perfectly tuned social experiment with results that scream of something terribly wrong in our very psyche. Something so deeply terrible that THIS perhaps, more than any terrorists, is the cause of our troubles.
We only spare feelings when it is convenient, or popular, or when the victims are like ourselves. Anyone else is the “OTHER”. The Other should die without trial. The children of the Other are collateral damage. And what the Other says is necessarily wrong, or implying something wrong. Maulana Abdul Aziz, being the Other, must therefore apologize for everything that he has said in relation the Peshawar attack.
The media – capitalizing on our fresh wounds – provokes us with impunity, fools us in front of our own eyes. Edges us on into a never-ending cycle of violence. The beginnings of civil war.
“Maulana Abdul Aziz refuses to condemn the Peshawar attack”, lies the media through its teeth. He’d even issued a warning of Taliban revenge earlier on, it goes on to imply.
But let’s listen to his words again, with our own minds. Listen to his words as if we had never been given a pre-judgment call to begin with. How much more openly can one condemn a shooting than to say it was terrible and must not have happened? Where exactly did he say say the country deserved that its children be murdered? He merely linked cause and effects. He rightly tried to assert that something that is wrong is wrong on both sides of the conflict, not one. The children of North Waziristan or the Red Mosque are not worth less than those of Peshawar. Their deaths are not less of a big deal, less of a tragedy, or less worthy of the entire nation’s mourning.
Abdul Aziz’s crime was to link cause and effects, so we demand he must apologize. It doesn’t matter that we ourselves link causes and effects in college anyway. Or that we do it in politics. Or science. Or that we do it most when we want real solutions to our problems, rather than clutching at symptoms and ignoring diagnosis.
Let me repeat – these words are not to sympathize with the perpetrators of the Peshawar attack – but to sympathize with our children, and to signify the importance of life. And to warn us that unless we want to become the monsters we claim to be fighting, we need to check ourselves before blindly following the media’s tunes.
Linking causes and effects do not amount to providing excuses or justifications. There is no excuse for the Peshawar attack, and Maulana Abdul Aziz never made one.
Musharraf however, is openly justifying his attack on the Red Mosque.
This attack in Peshawar, he says – with the media’s support – is the reason for the attack on the Red Mosque over seven years ago. This is what the students of the Red Mosque were capable of.
How different is this from the Israeli justification of murdering Palestinian children under the pretext of fighting militants because they are predicted to be terrorists in the future?
Is everyone listening?
So let us dig into ourselves and use independent thinking and independent humanity before we reach conclusions that could potentially shape our nation. Wars are marketed, sold and launched like products. Wars need a nation’s approval to be justified before they can be launched. The only ones who deny this are those who live in carefully sealed comfort zones disconnected from reality. Don’t be one of them.
It’s easy to say the Taliban aren’t Muslim. But then who’s behaving like a Muslim anyway? We – who only remember to be human when the media tells us that it’s time to shed tears and be human? We? When all it takes is a cricket match to distract us from the murders of far, far more than 130 little angels on other occasions? Silence is complicity.
Is this Muslim behavior?
And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who… do not bear witness to falsehood, and who – if they pass by idle talk, pass by with dignity. (Quran: 25: 64-75)
The best charity is that given to a relative who does not like you. (Tirmidhi)
And do not taunt one another, nor revile one another by (demeaning) nicknames. It is an evil thing to gain notoriety for ungodliness after belief. Those who do not repent are indeed the wrong-doers. (Quran: 49: 10)
Believers, when an open sinner person brings to you a piece of news, carefully ascertain its truth, lest you should hurt a people unwittingly and thereafter repent at what you did. (Quran: 49: 6)
He who sleeps on a full stomach while his neighbor is hungry is not one of us. (Muslim)
The believers, in their love, mutual kindness, and close ties, are like one body; when any part complains, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever. (Muslim)
The truthful and trustworthy businessman will be in the company of Prophets, saints and martyrs on the Day of Judgment. (Tirmidhi)
The Apostle of Allah ﷺ cursed the one who pays bribes and the one who takes bribes. (Abu Dawud)
Do not harbour envy against one another; do not outbid one another [with a view to raising the price]; do not bear aversion against one another; do not bear enmity against one another; one of you should not enter into a transaction when the other has already entered into it; and be fellow brothers and true servants of Allah. (Muslim)
Believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts tremble, and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their faith strengthened… (Quran: 8: 2)
Do not be a people without a will of your own saying: “If others treat well you will also treat well and if they do wrong we will do wrong”, but accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and do not do wrong if they do evil.” (Tirmidhi).
Believers! Intoxicants, games of chance, idolatrous sacrifices at altars, and divining arrows are all abominations, the handiwork of Satan. So turn wholly away from it that you may attain to true success. (Quran: 5: 90)
Allah has cursed Khamr (intoxicants – alcohol, wine etc.), the one who drinks it, the one who pours it for others, the one who sells it, the one who buys it, the one who makes it, the one who it is made for, the one who carries it, the one who it is carried to and the one who consumes the money from its sale. (Abu Dawud)
It does not behove a believer, male or female, that when Allah and His Messenger have decided an affair they should exercise their choice. (Quran: 33: 36)
Which of these elementary basics of Muslim character do we abide by? Alcohol is gaining acceptance in the country to the extent that people are openly publishing articles on its economic feasibility. Where are the Muslims’ protests against this? If we, the supposedly non-barabic, educated and civilized Pakistanis don’t stop this downward spiral to the dismantling of our families, maybe other, more violent people will decide to do something about it.
So we cry out that our religion is being hijacked. But what exactly are we doing about it– are we claiming it back, or merely dissing “The Mullahs”?
The best way to fight the forces that are tearing us apart as a nation, is to “be the change that you want to see in the world”, as Gandhi reportedly said. Why don’t we just be the Muslims that the terrorists are not, and learn the Islam that the terrorists do not know? And not the Islam we would subjectively want to know, either, just because our own preferred versions would more conveniently allow us to remain in our own comfort zones – doing exactly what we do every day. Instead, why not learn what Islam really is – the one that the Lord of humanity revealed to His Last Messenger ﷺ, whom He sent as a role model, a revolutionary.
The Sunnah is the Quran applied to life, it is not a cultural Arab thing. The Messenger ﷺ turned Arab culture upside down. We need to study his life and learn from it, from qualified scholarship, learn about how he brought civilization and peace into an area that was far more battle-ridden than Pakistan is today.
We don’t need a change of government as much as we need a change of heart.
May the lives of the children whom we have lost be a source of change for ourselves and our nation. The children of Peshawar, the children of the Red Mosque, of Balochistan, of Thar, the almost 70 children killed in a Madrasa in Bajaur, and every child whose life was a priceless gift from Allah, whether the media told us that they were humans worth mourning, or not. And may Allah give strength, sweet patience and rewards to the families who face their loss.
“Evil has become rife on the land and at sea because of people’s deeds; this is in order that He may cause them to have a taste of some of their deeds; so that perhaps they will turn back (from sin).” (Quran: 30: 41)
“Do they not see that they are being tested, year-in, year-out? Yet they neither repent nor take heed.” (Quran: 9: 126)
“Verily Allah does not change a people’s condition unless they change their inner selves.” (Quran: 13:11)