I asked my Imam to condemn the Peshawar Church Blast, will you?

Published: September 28, 2013

Members of civil society light lamps during a peace vigil. PHOTO: REUTERS

Like most people around me, I was shocked, disgusted and angry at the Peshawar Church Blast incident; a terrorist attack during Sunday Mass. The tragedy came at a time when people were reaching out to God, sharing  fears, worries, emotions and secrets. Just to imagine that one cannot even have this personal time with God Almighty anymore is disturbing. 

The first thought that came to my mind was that a vigil should be held to pay respect to the departed. Hence I decided to initiate it. On Tuesday, a mere 40 people joined me outside the press club. We lit candles, prayed and uttered words of protest. Half an hour later, I realised I was preaching to the already converted, and though it was necessary to empathise with the aggrieved, the vigil was largely futile.

Then it struck me that the solution of every problem lies in education.

In a Muslim majority country where minorities are being subjected to endless atrocities, I wondered how I could get the word around about what Islam teaches us in terms of minority rights.

The answer was simple – through the mosque. This is the one institution where around 60 to 70% population of this country is ‘informed’ about Islam.

I launched a Facebook campaign asking friends to visit their local mosques and request their imams to condemn the Peshawar Blast, all the while talking about minority rights in Islam in their Friday Sermons.

Friday prayers are the biggest weekly congregation of Muslims and the best way to interact with every possible class/sector/segment of society, so this seemed like a good idea to me.

I got a few positive responses but many expressed concerns and fears of backlash from the imams. I could not blame them for feeling discouraged. One can never really know how the imam will respond.

Wednesday evening, however, I decided to do the test run on my own.

I went to the neighbourhood mosque and none of the familiar faces there were willing to come and talk to the Imam with me. Once they got to know that I would ask him to condemn the suicide attack in the All Saints Church and seek his views on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), they all began to hesitate.

I sat with the Imam after Fajr prayers and tried hard to put forth the proposition to him in the mildest manner simply to judge his reaction. The 30-minute conversation which followed was frustrating. A request of condemning an attack on the church turned into a debate on the US, Taliban, Malala and the Arab Spring.

Yet, I was persistent as I believe that this is the only way to create change.

Finally my patience proved to be fruitful. I found support from an elderly man who saw the wisdom in my views and helped me to persuade the Imam. In the end, he agreed to discuss minority rights in Islam in his Jumma bayan (Friday sermon) with the condition that he will discuss the rights of the majority too.

I happily accepted, because this step, small as it may be, was a step nonetheless.

The coming Friday, I left my office to offer prayers in the neighbourhood mosque. I was a little late and joined the bayan midway, trying to make my way through the crowd to find a spot in front of the Imam.

The Imam noticed me and smiled.

A few minutes later he started talking about the concept of justice in Islam and said that as Muslims, we should be just without discrimination, even if this concerns a non-Muslim. However, there was no condemnation of the Peshawar church attack and there was no insight into the actual rights of minorities.

Hoping for much more, I was heartbroken and dismayed. I thought perhaps the Imam may bring it up in the Dua at the end. He didn’t.

The moment the Dua ended, I felt the need to address the Imam across the hall and request him to pray for the minorities and the protection of their worship places. Then I reconsidered, as such a challenge would have rubbed him the wrong way and I would have lost a medium of communication in him.

Hence I waited for the crowd to clear up and spoke to him in private. He smiled and said,

“I did try to bring up the issue. Were you listening?”

I clearly did not look convinced to him. I told him,

“Imam sahib, what about discussing their rights? I came all the way here to listen to you talk about their rights.”

He said,

“I’ll do so next Jumma.”

“I will come here to offer prayers next Jumma too then,” was my reply.

I learnt and realised that, as someone preaching tolerance, I need to be tolerant and patient as well. It does not matter how many Jummas it takes to inform and educate our society, after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

I take solace in the fact that at the very least, the Imam brought up the subject – something that might have not even happened had I not approached him. As I said, small steps …

After my experience, quite a few of my friends went to their local mosques to talk to their Imams. As a result, Imams of four different mosques in Defence Karachi happily agreed to discuss the issue.

It is a tough fight but it is the good fight and it has to be fought the long and hard way.

Mohammad.Jibran.Nasir

Jibran Nasir

A lawyer, activist and an independent politician. In 2013, he was listed by the Foreign Policy Magazine amongst three Pakistanis doing inspirational work against sectarian violence. He blogs at theindusripple.blogspot.com and tweets @MJibranNasir (twitter.com/MJibranNasir)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Baba Ji

    very soon you shall be declared a Kafir … wait and see !!!Recommend

  • Mujeeb

    Imagine if we all start taking ownership of our mosques. Recommend

  • Amir

    well you tried to get the imam to condemn the attack on the Christian minorities. At least he talked to you on this. Next time ask him to condemn injustice being done with Ahmadis, and he should condemn them. I bet you will not walk out alive of his mosque.Recommend

  • TahirF1

    Good effort Jibran. If I were in Pakistan, I would have supported you by doing the same what you did. However, I believe moderate people like me are still the majority of Pakistan and we should voice our opinions more. I am anxiously waiting on your follow-up on the next jumma prayers. Be tolerant but be persuasive. May Allah be with you in your efforts.Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    You brave soul, watch out for those in whose eyes you are already a kafirRecommend

  • Parvez

    You certainly are an inspiration.
    I have maintained that the largest male public forum we have are the hundreds of thousands of mosques dotted all over the country many with affiliated madrassas.
    What comes to light from this commendable effort of yours is that the imam of the mosque does not function independently but most likely according to other factors like, who funds the mosque or which Islamic sect he follows and what their political leanings are etc.
    The failure of the government to use this forum for good, is both tragic and highly suspect.Recommend

  • Hira Sayem

    So glad I voted for you :)Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    “Muslim privilege” is similar to “white privilege”, most of us Muslims don’t realize the privileges we have in Muslim majority Islamic countries that non-Muslims do not have, and when somebody among us tries to talk about giving equal rights and protection to minorities, we label that person a sell out or a “liberal”.

    The Imam at my neighborhood mosque has a greencard, he always talks about how evil America and the Judeo-Christian west is, and Muslims are treated like second class citizens, yet he ignores the way we treat non-Muslims here in Pakistan.

    He doesn’t mind keeping his greencard, or visiting America for medical treatment.

    I know not all Imams are like that but, at least 99% of the ones I met are like that, the only rational imams i’ve ever met was at the Qur’an academy or any mosque in North America.Recommend

  • Safi Ahmed Memon

    You couldn’t win the election, but still you’re set out to make a difference anyway. Well done my brother.Recommend

  • deep

    very very inspiring. You are so right – tolerance is not a passive non-proactive concept.Recommend

  • unbelievable

    Says something when a religious leader is reluctant to condemn the slaughter of innocents – ingrained xenophobia. In a Christian environment most preachers who refused to condemn such slaughter would be asked to leave.Recommend

  • aaaaa

    Wonderful effort. More power to you.Recommend

  • Bukhtaver

    Ye cheeez! You’ve done the best thing one can come up with. However, unfortunately it is our maulanas themselves who spread this hatred promoting killings of minorities. I am afraid even if the maulanas change their opinions, the minds that they have molded so far can’t turn back to what they were.Recommend

  • Ali Tahir

    NO.. Why Not… Because he already didRecommend

  • Ajay

    you worked hard. Good work.Recommend

  • unbelievable

    Nice blog – but when you boil it down you asked your Imam to condemn the bombing and he refused – that about sum it up? How about taking your argument to the congregation and get the Imam fired – bottom line if a “holy man” doesn’t have the moral compass to condemn the slaughter of Christians he doesn’t deserve to be the Imam.Recommend

  • Intisar

    Good effort. keep it up.Recommend

  • A

    That could also be your imam’s way of making you attend jummah every week.Recommend

  • Abdul Sami

    Mr. Jibran. There is one easiest way to spread education and that too at Friday Prayers. You must have seen hate literature already being spread using pamphlets distributed outside mosques. Why not use the very same medium. You can collect references and write some text in the form of booklet and distribute it outside mosques using your network of volunteers, It will surely spread education and inculcate religious tolerance in young and adults.Recommend

  • Chouhan

    It is a good effortRecommend

  • knowTheEnemy

    From the article:

    A few minutes later he started talking about the concept of justice in Islam and said that as Muslims, we should be just without discrimination, even if this concerns a non-Muslim.

    Mr. Nasir, I don’t know if you realize this but even by making the above statement, the imam did not say anything to help reduce mistreatment of minorities. When he said “justice”, he was talking about Islam’s definition of the word. I’ll give you an example to make my point:

    As you well know, in Islam women are required to wear the hijab and leave the home only with a male protector. If you are a good Muslim you keep an eye on your neighbourhood and if you see any women outside who are alone and/or not wearing the hijab, you report to Sharia police.

    When the imam said “we should be just without discrimination, even if this concerns a non-Muslim”, he meant that hijab and mahram do not only apply to Muslimahs, they apply to non-Muslim women too! So if you see a non-Muslim woman outside all by herself and/or not wearing hijab, you should report her to Sharia police too, instead of leaving her alone thinking Sharia does not apply to her. That is what the imam meant by being “just without discrimination”!Recommend

  • Sumsum

    Good work and thanks for taking the leadership on this. Talking and agonising among like minded people isn’t going to do anything. Action is required. Well done.Recommend

  • Be prudent

    Brother Jibran,you’re clearly walking the walk,while others are just offering heartbreaking condolences,clucking their tongues & shifting blames to the favorite trio us-israel-india/afghanistan,instead of looking internally at madrassas,ambiguous attitude of the army to militants & a general attitude of average pakistanis to being okay with killing non-believers & collateral damage from waging jihad- this is the root of all the evil in pakistan today..not zionist forces.
    Aren’t you afraid.. don’t join the ranks of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti…heroes who did thankless tasks.Though patriots may be in defiant,stiff-necked denial of what a rotten and dangerous reputation pakistan has,internationally-you don’t ever forget how this reputation has been earned.Tread carefully.
    God be with you.Recommend

  • Lal Masjid

    Have you ever asked your Imam to condemn the innocent victims of drone strikes? What about their rights? Hypocrisy.Recommend

  • Sane

    @Writer

    A good step indeed. But, terrorist do not come in Defense Masajids (Masjids), as majority of them are not Muslims. No doubt they garb like Muslims. Even adopt Muslim names.Recommend

  • AB

    Good effort, it must be appreciated and apluaded.Recommend

  • someone

    Wow it took you more than 30 minutes to convince the cleric of , as many claim, to be the peaceful religion to condemn an attack on innocent Christians who probably have not done anything to harm the Muslim Majority people. Well now my concern is, either the Imam does not know the Islam so has no right to remain an Imam OR Islam is not a religion of peace. Take a pick.Recommend

  • Sane

    Mostly Imams in Masajids are illiterate. They do not have knowledge about Islam.Recommend

  • Proletarian

    Abolish religion. Distribute resources fairly. Problem solvedRecommend

  • Anooop

    Why ask someone else to do something good?

    Why not start by doing something yourself?

    Every Pakistani who wants a passport has to sign this:

    http://changinguppakistan.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/picture-2.png

    Why not NOT sign this? Why discriminate against Ahmadis? This will send out a strong message. Asking someone else to do a good deed is easy, isn’t it. But, doing it oneself is much harder..

    That brings me to the question to the Author(please respond.. For some reason, no Pakistani has answered this question): Do you have a passport and have you signed this application?Recommend

  • Syed Owais Mukhtar

    My Imam e Masjid already mentioned this in last sermon also he mentioned about the killing of innocents which are dying by drones.Recommend