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Ed Webb

Sonic controversy: "Hinduistic music" in Pakistan - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • hostility toward Sufi music is increasingly visible across denominational lines in Pakistan’s religious discourse
  • Spiritual music has long been a vital element of Islam in the region comprising areas of Pakistan and North India. What explains the growing antagonism toward mystical sound art in a country that has inherited a rich legacy of devotional music?
  • shifting assumptions about “authentic Islam” have catalyzed the scandalization of mystical music in Pakistan. The emergence of Arabization, with its emphasis on rediscovering true Islam in Arab culture, has vilified local sonic genres in the Islamic republic.
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  • liturgical music has been a site of audacious spiritual experimentation in prominent Persian and South Asian Sufi traditions since the medieval era
  • For al-Ghazali, music was a divine blessing because it could elicit preconscious and automatic emotional reactions. Sound was felt before it was thought. Thus, melody was a secret potion for mystics because it facilitated intense intimacy with God in a manner that minimized ritualistic mediation. Al-Ghazali was one among many crucial figures whose groundbreaking mystical theorization of sound reverberated and precipitated liturgical creativity in transcultural Sufi orders
  • a growing faction of scholars who insist on banning qawwali
  • Casual observers might assume that the polemic against qawwali is a symptom of rising “Talibanization,” when in fact, even pro-Sufi scholars participate in this discourse.
  • Zia believed that divesting Pakistan’s Islam from Persian, Indian and all non-Arab layers would usher a new golden era in Muslim history
  • determining a musical instrument’s moral status requires deciphering its cultural identity
  • Although these instruments have a complicated cross-cultural history, most ulema associate them with different musical streams: they consider the daff a part of an “Arabian musical system,” while the tabla, they explain, comes from the Hindustani (North Indian classical music) tradition
  • the Hindustani system is a product of Hindu-Muslim musical syncretism. It is a blend of Persian, Arab, and Indian musical elements, and has been prevalent in the northern parts of the subcontinent since the thirteenth century CE. So why does this legacy of religious and musical synthesis pose a pressing problem for ulema today?
  • During the 1980s, the state framed an ideological narrative by partly disassociating Pakistan from some of its inherited traditions, including Hindustani music
  • President Zia ul-Haq emphasized that Pakistan must emulate “authentic (Arab) Islamic culture” and cast “Hindu influences” aside
  • I listened to some of these mystically inclined scholars dwell on qawwali’s feminizing effects. Muscular manhood, they pointed out, consists of physical robustness, extraordinary bravery, and superior tactical acumen. Far from nurturing these traits, however, qawwali promotes soft emotions. The sound of the tabla, a pair of hand drums used in qawwali, was said to “breed soft men” who are “gentle, submissive, and vulnerable.” The pervasive use of the tabla, they concluded, poses a grave threat to Muslim masculinity
  • To paraphrase one Pakistani Television (PTV) executive, President Zia-ul-Haq did not wish to merely police Pakistan’s music; he wished to recreate it. To that end, his regime patronized Arab vocal and instrumental arts in the country
  • the authorities regulated the music market and selectively censored sonic material on state-owned radio and television
  • Zia’s regime incited widespread religious hatred against such “Hinduistic” sonic art.
  • popular preachers laud the “great deeds of the pious men of the 1980s” who raised their voice (and sometimes their hands) against “paganistic musical ceremonies” in the “land of the pure.”
  • This story of “Hinduistic” melodies reveals unexpected connections that challenge us to broaden our analysis of religion’s sonic dimensions. It exposes how complex debates about bodies, emotions, masculinity, and national religious identity have shaped notions of cultural purity in Pakistan.
  • the state has not banned music but done something more consequential: it has sought to transform Pakistan’s soundscape
Ed Webb

Stopping COVID-19 in Its Tracks: Science Gets the Upper Hand - 0 views

  • Men like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman have finally joined much of the world in imposing science-driven degrees of lockdowns, social distancing, and the search for medical cures and protections after initially opting for political expediency or advocacy of traditional healing methods and/or religious precepts.
  • The consequences of science-based approaches for civilizationalists who advocate policies inspired by religion or the supremacy of one religious group over another could go far beyond what should shape public health policies.They could threaten the foundations of their religious support base as well as their discriminatory policies towards religious or ethnic minorities. Israel is a case in point in terms of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious support base as well as his policies towards Israeli nationals of Palestinian descent.With ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and cities emerging as the communities most affected by the coronavirus, some Israeli commentators argue that the pandemic could undermine rabbinical authority on a scale not seen since the Holocaust when large numbers left ultra-orthodoxy after rabbinical advice to remain in Europe proved devastating.
  • “Torah no longer saves from death. The coronavirus has dealt an unimaginable blow to the rabbinical authority – and worldview – that ultra-Orthodox Jews previously regarded as infallible and eternal,”
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  • the return home of some 45,000 Palestinian workers to the West Bank for this week’s Passover holiday is likely to create bottlenecks in both Israel and the Palestinian territory after the Israeli government decided that they would not be allowed to return because of health concerns.The decision threatens to create a labor shortage in Israel, increase economic pressure on an already weakened Palestine Authority, and facilitate the spread of the virus on the West Bank given the administration’s inability to test all returnees
  • “Because the two populations are so intertwined, curbing the virus only in one society is impossible,” said Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group.It’s a lesson that applies universally, not just to Israelis and Palestinians. That is no truer than in Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps that dot the eastern Mediterranean
  • whether anti-globalists and civilizationalists like it or not, the coronavirus is global and universal. So is the science that will ultimately help get control of the pandemic and eventually stop it in its tracks
Ed Webb

Saudi crown prince defends China's right to put Uighur Muslims in concentration camps - 0 views

  • "China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremisation work for its national security,” Prince Mohammed, who has been in China signing multi-million trade deals much to the annoyance of his Western allies, was quoted as saying on Chinese state television
  • China has detained an estimated one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps, where they are undergoing re-education programmes allegedly intended to combat extremism. The Uighur are an ethnic Turkic group that practices Islam and lives in Western China and parts of Central Asia.
  • Uighur groups had appealed to Saudi’s powerful young prince to take up their cause, as the ultraconservative kingdom has traditionally been a defender of the rights of Muslims worldwide.
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  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, became the first to condemn Beijing, however, describing China's treatment of its Uighur population as "a great cause of shame for humanity" last month and asking it to close the "concentration camps".
  • Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, where Prince Salman has just visited, said he “did not know” much about the conditions of the Uighurs.
Ed Webb

How the Muslim World Lost the Freedom to Choose - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Beyond skirts and beaches, the 1960s and 1970s were also a time of vigorous intellectual debate about the role of religion in society. Debates between leftists, secularists, capitalists, Marxists, and Islamists raged across the region, from Egypt to Pakistan. Militant Islamists will dismiss those decades of more progressive, diverse thought and culture as decadent Western imports — the lingering after-effects of colonial influence. But if some of it was certainly emulation, much of it was also indigenous.
  • “Purifying the Land of the Pure.” The book, published last year, charts the slow death of minority rights and pluralism in Pakistan, and what it means for the future of democracy. The result is a sweeping but concise chronicle of how things unraveled. A minority herself, as a Shiite, Ispahani was careful to avoid polemic and opinion by delivering a thorough, methodically researched work. She and her husband, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, have both faced death threats for their work and live in self-imposed exile in Washington. In her book, Ispahani tracks the unraveling to within a few years of the independence of Pakistan. The country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah — a secular Shiite — envisioned a country where “you are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship.” But Ispahani writes that “his hopeful declaration of religious pluralism” remains unfulfilled.
  • The trend toward making Islam a central tenet of life in Pakistan started soon after independence in 1947, a result of Muslim feelings of being victimized by both Hindus and British colonialism in India. By 1973, Islam was declared as the state religion of Pakistan. In 1974, under the ostensibly progressive Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto, parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. A Muslim movement that started in the late 19th century, Ahmadis follow the teachings of the Quran and consider their founder to be a prophet, upsetting orthodox Muslims who believe Muhammad is the final prophet.
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  • Shiites and their mosques are still regular targets of deadly attacks: Since 2003, an estimated 2,558 Shiites have been killed in sectarian violence.
  • While there was no sudden, overnight transformation, Ispahani nevertheless identifies Zia’s rule as the point of no return. The military ruler Islamized the laws of the country, introducing sharia courts and new Islamic laws known as hudood ordinances, which apply strict Sharia punishments for specific offenses. It was during his time that the blasphemy laws were strengthened, adding life sentences and the death penalty as punishment.
  • Zia’s legacy remains, entrenched in the system and people’s daily lives. Pakistanis under the age of 40 have never experienced any other lifestyle, while the older generations reminisce about a more diverse past — even as they also gloss over some of that past’s shortcomings. But however it came about, Pakistan’s growing intolerance has taken its toll on diversity: Between 1947 and today, minorities went from 25 percent of the population to 3 percent.
  • Ispahani’s book serves as a reminder that something far more profound than miniskirts has been lost in these countries. Washington’s counterterrorism policies, which help curb groups like the Taliban, are a good start, but they often fail to go any further toward restoring basic norms like respect for diversity. That will ultimately depend on the efforts of the local population themselves. Those efforts may be able to draw on the power of nostalgia. When people in Pakistan, Egypt, or Afghanistan rifle through the photo albums of their parents and grandparents and wonder what happened to their country, they see skirts or cleavage — but they desire diversity and freedom of choice
Ed Webb

Blasphemy and the Law - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • while the pain caused to believers by the defilement of cherished religious symbols and teachings is real and traumatic, laws that criminalize “defamation” of religion or inciting religious hatred are doctrinally unsound and legally dangerous.
  • Increasingly, Muslim leaders are arguing that blasphemy laws as currently applied are un-Islamic as well. In a foreword to a recently released book, “Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide,” Abdurrahman Wahid, the late president of Indonesia and a strong advocate for interfaith dialogue, wrote, “Nothing could possibly threaten God who is Omnipotent and existing as absolute and eternal truth. ... Those who claim to defend God, Islam, or the Prophet are thus either deluding themselves or manipulating religion for their own mundane and political purposes.”
  • A 2012 report by Human Rights First — “Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing ‘Defamation of Religions”’ [pdf] — outlines several types of problems with the application of blasphemy laws worldwide. In addition to stifling dissent and discussion in the public sphere, such laws can actually spark assaults, murders and mob outbreaks.
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  • Far from protecting religious sensibilities, blasphemy laws are a major source of prejudice and violence against religious minorities, as well as of violations of their religious freedoms.
  • The antidote to blasphemy is not blunt and counterproductive law but efforts by civil society — specifically political and religious leaders cooperating across religious and ideological lines — to condemn any curtailing of religious rights or speech that incites violence. We saw this working in New York City when Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other religious leaders stood with the mayor in August 2010 in support of Muslim leaders who wanted to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site. We are seeing it now as the All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars, joins with the Pakistan Interfaith League, which includes Christians, Sikhs and members of other religions, to support Rimsha Masih and to call for an end to the “climate of fear” created by “spurious allegations.”
Ed Webb

Donor-driven Islam ? | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • Three examples of the policy direction of Anglo-American international development agencies, particularly DFID and USAID, highlight the new directions of ‘donor-driven Islam’ -  development assistance that introduces a creeping theocratization of formerly rights-based approaches to gender.
  • Ulama is a vague umbrella term for an imagined clergy which has no constitutional nor democratic legitimacy.
  • If anything, the widespread practice of contracting the assistance of local religious leaders for distributing contraception and for other gender-related projects has resulted in the empowerment of a traditionally discredited local clergy. In Baluchistan, in an interview with the author, development activists agreed that these amounted to “Rent-A-Maulvi” projects.
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  • There is no internal consensus within Muslim majority countries regarding a singular or even dominant religious or political identity. Muslim women, including feminists, face very different identity issues in the West  when compared to Pakistan. Therefore, the strategies that may work for them within a pluralist, secular state such as the UK have very different implications when transposed to Islamic republics such as Pakistan. Thus when Pakistani feminist researchers become implicated in projects that foreground religion in their home contexts, the secular indigenous possibilities and spaces become more vulnerable, and the results become self-defeating. 
  • The complex realities of the ways in which religious identities play out in Muslim majority countries often bear little resemblance to the findings of the academic exercises mentioned above. Such research needs more rigorous scrutiny not just in terms of its methodology but also of its politics, before it starts informing policy and, more worryingly, starts to shape development interventions.
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