Islamic sledging

The Ahmed Shehzad incident, writes Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, is symptomatic of a much greater malaise

Islamic sledging
Had Tillakaratne Dilshan or the Sri Lankan Cricket Board decided to report Ahmed Shehzad’s religious ‘banter’ during the recently concluded Pakistan-Sri Lanka ODI series, the Pakistani batsman could have been facing a serious ban right now. The ICC’s code of conduct – much like most other codes of conduct in the modern world – strictly condemns any racist slurs or targeting anyone else’s religion.

“If you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven,” was Shehzad’s golden advice to Dilshan. After the Sri Lankan refused to take the youngster’s words too seriously, the warning came: “Then be ready for the fire.”

While Ahmed Shehzad doesn’t come across as a cricketing jihadist of the Inzamamul Haq or Muhammad Yousaf variety, he sure has mastered the one-two punch of evangelism: present an unfathomable yet alluring reward for conversion, if turned down threaten the ‘subject’ with an equally outrageous punishment. This combo of ecstasy and fear has been the bread and butter of the clergy, and religion’s sustenance for millennia. No one has mastered the art of the carrot and stick approach more than religion and its salesmen, with the religious carrot being hoor-plated and the stick made of fire.

In all probability Pakistan cricket team manager Moin Khan and Shehzad were right when they portrayed the whole incident as mere ‘banter’ between two cricketers. Even the most optimistic of preachers wouldn’t realistically believe that they’d be able to convert someone during the 90-yard walk from the batting crease to the dressing room. However, the failure to grasp the gravity of Shehzad’s action by the team management highlights a scathing reality of our country and the Muslim world.

While there was outrage in some quarters with regards to Shehzad’s irresponsible and unprofessional behaviour, leading to PCB’s action against the player, everyone seems to be getting worked up over the symptom while completely ignoring the cause. Regardless of his intentions, what Shehzad said is something that is spoon-fed to us through mosques, school curricula, television, family and many other media. His condescending jibe is the preface of our religious manuals.

That Muslims will go to heaven and non-Muslims to hell, is our existential ethos and the purpose of our lives. The religious superiority complex and its accompanying holier than thou halo doesn’t come as a revelation on the cricket ground. It takes an amalgamation of xenophobic literature, bigoted pedagogues and hate-preachers in the garb of scholars to drag a society to a point where religious jingoism is the norm.

While every single religion comes with the baggage of bigotry, it’s Muslims that are finding it the most difficult to offload the unwanted luggage.

What would be the response of almost every Pakistani Muslim when asked about the fate of Muslims and non-Muslims in the afterlife? What about religious opinion makers?

When Dr Zakir Naik can do an entire show on how Mother Teresa would go to hell for being a non-Muslim; when Dr Aamir Liaquat can incite murder against a sect over differences in Islamic interpretation on national TV and when Junaid Jamshed is on a mission to subdue the freedom of every single woman in the country under the pretense of religion, why is it that a cricketer’s momentary imprudence gets the scorn, while the bigots get respect and relentless airtime?

Why is it more embarrassing for us to witness a representative of our country manifest his wretched viewpoint on the international stage than the fact that said viewpoint is the stance of the lion’s share of his compatriots? Why is more energy being consumed on condemning a cricketer for saying something bigoted, instead of identifying and curbing the roots of this religious bigotry?

Probably because it would cause a convulsion in our collective belief system.

There are fewer manifestations more hate-laden than your average Friday sermon, where converting non-Muslims – forcibly if need be – to the righteous path and killing perpetual enemies like Jews and Hindus are encouraged on a weekly basis. There are fewer examples of religious xenophobia more pungent than listening to a five-minute talk by an Islamic scholar – the people responsible for formulating religious viewpoints.

Just like the athletes’ respective skill sets, their viewpoints are cultivated at the grass root level. When we talk about ideologies it’s the mosques, the hate literature and the brand ambassadors of Islam we need to turn to.

[quote]How would Muslims have reacted if Muhammad Yousaf was offered to re-convert to Christianity on the cricket ground[/quote]

How would Muslims have reacted if Muhammad Yousaf was offered to re-convert to Christianity on the cricket ground instead of Dilshan who had converted to Budhism from Islam at the age of 16? According to a PEW poll 64% of Pakistanis believe that Ex-Muslims should be killed for apostasy. All of a sudden Ahmed Shehzad’s banter with an Ex-Muslim doesn’t seem all that friendly.

Since Tariq Jamil’s entry into the Pakistani dressing room, players’ professional responsibilities took the backseat, leading to former captains Inzamamul Haq and Muhammad Yousaf regularly compromising training to fulfill their religious obligations. The latter even suggested that he wouldn’t play cricket in Ramzan since his religious duties superseded the job that he’s paid to do.

Until the current bigoted lot of Islamic scholars, all over the world, is replaced by a moderate one that stresses on religion being everyone’s private matter – which in turn is only possible in the aftermath of a true Islamic reformation – religion in the Muslim world will continue to supersede life itself. While Ahmed Shehzad’s Islamic sledging deserves to be frowned upon and condemned, it is the sledging going on in schools, mosques and religious talk shows that needs to be earmarked and curtailed.