Saturday, July 30, 2005

Sermons on the idiot box - Zakir Naik on Borkha

The learned Dr Zakir Naik (Quran TV) was holding forth on the importance of sporting beards and moustaches. He quoted the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) to the effect that men should grow beards as long as they wanted, but clip their moustaches. Dr Naik wears a short goatee, clips his moustache above his upper lip and sports a white, perforated skull-cap. He believes everyone should carry their community identification on their person. Though he declares English to be his mother tongue (he is Konkanese), he pronounces the word label in Lucknawi andaaz as "lay bill".

He tells us of the many advantages of wearing community labels. For instance, you are looking for a mosque in a crowded bazaar. You can't ask any aira gaira the way to it; but as soon as you spot a man with a skull-cap and a beard, you know he is a fellow Muslim and ask him, "Bhai sahib, which is the way to the nearest masjid?". He?ll tell you. You may be hungry and looking for eateries where they serve only halaal (kosher) food. Whom do you ask? Obviously a man with a skull-cap and a beard. There are good chances that the man may invite you: "Bhai sahib, why spend money in a restaurant? You are a fellow Muslim, come and eat with me in my home."

He also recommends that Muslim homes should be identifiable. If your name does not clearly indicate your community, eg Patel, Shah, Naik, Malik etc, etc can be Hindu, Christian as well as Muslim, have something like Bismillah or Rehman, Rahim on your door. You can even get a bell which rings Salam Valaikum.

Muslim women are advised to be in hijab (veil) when stepping out of their homes, to save them from being ogled at by lecherous males. Both men and women must abstain from wearing emblems of other communities like crosses, teekas or bindis on their foreheads or sindoor in the parting of their hair. He quotes "scholars" who hold different opinions on such subjects. Have they nothing better to think of?

My grievance against Muslims like Zakir Naik and those who listen to him with rapt attention is that they are trivializing Islam. Muslims have many hurdles to cross before they catch up with other communities: beards, moustaches or how to greet others are not of the slightest importance. Most advanced Muslims will agree with me that the abolition of the hijab (burqa) should be their top priority. Muslim women of most advanced countries, including Pakistan, do not veil themselves and work in offices, shops, police and defence services. Besides Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, the hijab is on the way out in the Muslim world. In not one family of my innumerable Muslim friends do women observe purdah. Dr Zakir Naik and his ilk do their best to put the clock back. They should not be allowed to do so.

Being and nothingness

Some readers have written to me saying that of late I have been writing too much about dying and death. It should not surprise them since I am in my 91st year and well aware that my day of reckoning is not far away. I have also recently published a book on the subject, Death at my Doorstep. Being a rationalist I do not accept the views of different religions on the subject. I have also no reason to believe in the Day of Judgment, heaven and hell as spelt out by Christianity and Islam, or in the unending cycle of births, deaths and re-births as enunciated by Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Sikhism.

There are many people who agree with me; amongst them is J.M. Rishi, an industrialist from Jalandhar. He writes:

"Regarding your question ,Why does God make the person's exit from life so painful?" I wouldn't relate such a question to God, which is a matter of faith and speculation. To me, painful or painless death is all a matter of chance. The philosophy of Punar Janmaor present life as the result of good or bad past "karma" should have been initiated by some wise men ages back to motivate an average person, not so enlightened, to good actions to be rewarded of a good life here or hereafter. Practically, a number of saintly persons have died a painful death and evil-doers have had a quiet departure. So, God or Luck has nothing to do with it. It is all a matter of just chance, whether the exit is peaceful or painful.?

With his letter Rishi attached an excerpt from a letter by the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC to 65 AD), who was adviser to Emperor Nero, fell out of favour with him and was forced to commit suicide. Seneca suffered from asthma and often had to gasp for breath, not knowing which would be his last; he described it as "rehearsing death". He also described death as "just not being".

He wrote to his friend Lucilius:

"Even as I fought for breath, though, I never ceased to find comfort in cheerful and courageous reflections. What's this? I said. So death is having all these tries at me, is he? Let him, then! I had a try at him a long while ago myself."

"When was this?" You?ll say.

Before I was born. Death is just not being what...I know already. It will be the same after me as it was before me. If there is any torment in the later state, there must also have been torment in the period before we saw the light of day: yet we never felt conscious of any distress then. I ask you, wouldn't you say that anyone who took the view that a lamp was worse off when it was put out than it was before it was lit was an utter idiot? We, too, are lit and put out. We suffer somewhat in the intervening period, but at either end of it there is a deep tranquillity. For, unless I'm mistaken, we are wrong, my dear Lucilius, in holding that death follows after, when in fact it precedes as well as succeeds. Death is all that was before us. What does it matter, after all, whether you cease to be or never begin, when the result of either is that you do not exist?"

I admit I was taken in by Seneca's line of argument about death meaning the same thing as not being. But on second thoughts, I regarded it as a spurious play on words. Agreed that before you are born you are not in being; but the problem is how to face the prospect of death (not being) when you are actually in being?


Chronological order