Posted by Zia Shah
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Book by Qasim Rashid, USA
Reviewed by Dr. Naseer Tahir, Rochester, USA
On a Saturday morning, after Fajr salat, I started reading this book. I could not put it down till I finished it that evening.
The intriguing subject matter, nicely flowing writing style, interesting and spiritually invigorating stories, and listing of problems the humanity is facing and logical solutions for those problems, this is what this book is about.
He was born in Pakistan but grew up in Chicago. After several years of hiatus, he traveled back to Pakistan and the book is about his story of observations he encountered.
“Freedom of conscience” for all is the central message and the author highlights it repeatedly. Usurping this right is the root cause of many ills in any society, particularly in Pakistan.
Following is from the Foreword section of the book:
If you want to understand the battle between religious extremism and freedom of conscious at ‘ground zero’, read this book.
In the introduction part of the book, author explains:
Remarkably, every time I’ve ever been discriminated against because of my faith, the ‘bullies’ knew little of my faith, and quite often little of their own. Turns out, ignorance transcends age, gender, religion, and culture.
The author honors his father for teaching him not “what to think,” but “how to think.” He recounts an incidence from his early life when his Christian coworker (Tom) challenged him with criticism of the character of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, using a certain verse of the Holy Quran. Not being able to answer, he approached his father for the guidance. His father’s response was a totally unexpected event in author’s life.
This is how the dialogue went: (Page: 15)
“Figure out if he’s right or not. This is not my problem, it’s yours.”
“Wait wait, what are you saying? Are you refusing to help me here?”
“Oh, I am helping you, Son. I’m telling you to stop being a child and go find out if he is right or not.”
“Abbu, this is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard. I am finding out. I’m coming to you. You know we’re right so just tell me how I can prove him wrong.”
My dad shook his head. “No, son, I know what I believe and why I believe it. You don’t know what you believe, and that is why this is bothering you.”
“Yes! Thank you for stating the obvious, Abbu! So just tell me what to believe and make Tom stop bothering me!”
My dad paused and shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way Qasim. No one can tell you what to believe. And I certainly won’t. You’re a smart kid. Go figure it out.”
(A few lines later, the author has a brilliant idea!)
“Well, what if I convert to Christianity? Then what?”
He (dad) hardly looked up. “If that is where you find peace, go knock yourself out.”
This very highly unusual approach by his father was—most probably—the underlying reason, why the author developed clarity about and importance of freedom of conscience, over the years.
The book has details of the “Mong incidence.” Where in 2005, 8 Ahmadi Muslims were brutally murdered.
Having first hand experience about Ahmadies and other minorities in Pakistan: usurping of their rights, no safety of life, no freedom of conscience; the author is perplexed and keeps asking himself and others this question:
Why do they, the Ahmadies, have to be vocal about their faith? They can have a normal life. Normal family. Why can’t they hide their faith?
The answer to the burning question comes later in the book.
He asked his uncle Bashir the same question. His uncle answered the question in his own way, while telling the inspirational life story of Mian Jee, who, the author finds out later, was his own grandfather. Mian Jee converts to Ahmadiyyat and faces hardship from all and including even his own family.
Being a solo Ahmadi, he becomes easy target for persecution of all kinds and finally the mob marching to his house to kill him. The neighbors who were not Ahmadies save Mian Jee from the mob attack. After hearing this from his uncle Bashir, author is much encouraged and hopes for Pakistan and writes:
Buried somewhere deep in Pakistan is a movement of people who care about human welfare above religious dogma. And they are willing to risk their lives for the greater good.
Author wishes that they wake up rise up and speak up.
Author discusses the causes of The Birth of “Islamic” Terrorism in Pakistan and gives all the credit to Mullah Maudodi. With his wide spread influence and violent teaching about bloody jihad, Mullah Maudodi spread these teachings throughout Pakistan. With USSR attacking Afghanistan, and USA trying to reach fighters inside Afghanistan, General Zia found himself in perfect position to exploit the situation in his favor. The general furthered the Mullah Maudodi agenda, and resulted the pathetic situation Pakistan is in now.
The author shares his exhilarating experience while visiting the ‘Heavenly graveyard” of Rabwah, and felt the shocking jolt when he saw the word “Muslim” wiped off from the tomb of Dr. Abdul Salam, the only Nobel Laureate from Pakistan.
The book has details about the Bhutto’s role in the history of Pakistan. The actions of father, declaring Ahmadies Non-Muslims, resulted in creation of terrorism, which was responsible for killing the daughter.
Bhutto granted the power to Mullah first and then General Zia authenticated it with the passing of Blasphemy law. The mosque and state were one and peace of country was gone.
“Peace cannot exist without religious freedom.” (Page 119)
“It was during this time that I finally began to understand just how drastically oppression of conscience can transform, or rather, deform a nation.” (Page 98)
There is the mention of minorities suffering at the hands of majority Sunni Muslims. Shia Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadi Muslims, all are at the receiving end of atrocities perpetrated in the garb of Blasphemy law.
The painful incidence of barbaric torture of his brother for 6 nights at the hands of protectors of the law and for a completely wrongful accusations, resulted in a moral victory for Danyal. (His brother) It was there that the author understood the answer for the “burning question” on his mind all this time. (On page 157)
Why live a life in open, but subject to intense persecution, when you could instead live a relaxed life and enjoy your family?
The answer was simple. The alternative wasn’t a quiet life “to watch your children grow.”
The alternative was to contribute to your own persecution, to tie your own noose.
Few aspects of life are strictly black and white. But when it comes to freedom of conscience—either you champion it, or you oppress it.
No middle ground exists.
It is a difficult challenge because if you are a minority, resistance often seems futile and dangerous…that attitude does more harm to the next generation than any oppressive regime ever could.
For the sake of our community and next generation, not only the claim but also the practice of that freedom must be upheld, and at any cost.
That is why we must live in open!
The usurping of the freedom in Pakistan does not only play havoc with the minorities. According to the author: (Page 159)
The biggest victims are Pakistan’s silent and ignorant majority that remains oblivious to these realities. The biggest victims are those outside Pakistan who suffer from terrorism as a result of unmitigated extremism flourishing in Pakistan.
The biggest victims are Pakistan’s future generations, raised in a world where might is right, and the righteousness is wrong. Those who have been tortured no longer have the power to stop their torture, so they bear it with patience and dignity. Those of the silent majority, the international community, the future generations naively believe they are exempt from the prison torture. Should they remain silent, however, and it won’t be long before they find themselves tied to a chair, shivering from ice bath and sleep deprivation. They see themselves secure but instead they sit in the mouth of vipers. After all, Pandora’s box doesn’t close so easily.
On page 180 he writes:
As a Muslim and as a human being, I champion this effort to ensure that freedom of conscience remains free. Every sane person must. Any ideology that compels itself on others is a dying ideology. It is a dangerous ideology. It is an ideology worth abandoning and condemning.
The book ends on page 216:
This book is a call for a new future. One that champions education, service to humanity, and human equality and dignity. One that champions freedom of conscience for all people of all faiths, and all people of no faith.
The author makes an appeal to all:
Whatever nation you’re in, whatever city—because of the efforts of a man in a small village in rural India, your life has changed… If I’ve won your heart and your mind today, then share this story, my story, with those you care about.
The book is available in Amazon and has a Kindle edition also.