At Espresso: Religion on a caffeine high

Published: July 23, 2012
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I asked the local Imam how I could find a deliciously hot cup of Joe in the premises, when he politely told me that I was out of luck since I was in a house of prayer, and not a coffee shop. DESIGN: ERUM SHAIKH

So the other day I went to pray at a local mosque, when I realised that it was time for my coffee, which I religiously consume at regular intervals throughout the day. Naturally, I asked the local Imam how I could find a deliciously hot cup of Joe in the premises, when he politely told me that I was out of luck since I was in a house of prayer, and not a coffee shop.

My love for the beverage clouded my judgement, and I initially thought he was jesting. When I tried to make things easier on him by asking for some basic Nescafe brew rather than a specially roasted gourmet brand, he simply denied me again.

My reasonable demands being put down so many times hurt my sensibilities, and I stormed out of the mosque kicking up a storm. Later, I even pushed the issue on the mosque’s twitter page, inspiring a lot of like-minded coffee loving zealots into bombarding the mosque’s social network pages with threatening messages. While deep down I knew all these threats were hollow, the fact that they were coming from coffee fans – and everyone knows how self-righteous we are about our coffee – was enough for most of Pakistan to take the incident more seriously than necessary.

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If you think the incident narrated above is a little ridiculous, then don’t worry, it is entirely fictional. I didn’t go demanding coffee at a mosque (only tea), and as far as I know, my local mosque doesn’t have a page on Facebook. And even if it did, I wouldn’t go protesting on it as I am actually rather fond of living. That being said, a similar incident did take place recently, though the roles were reversed a little.

According to several news sources, including The Express Tribune, a female patron was unhappy when a waiter denied her space to pray inside the branch of some Espresso café. When the lady could not get her way, she took the incident to the social media, where she was quickly joined by a legion of angry self-righteous folk, who demanded the waiter be fired.

Honestly, I am not sure how upset the woman in question is about the incident. I am not even sure if she welcomes all this extra attention. However, I do know that asking the waiter to be fired for doing his job is quite asinine. And as many commentators on Twitter and Facebook have pointed out, she could have located one of the many mosques found in Karachi, or simply prayed on the chair she was seated on. It is heartening to see the support both this waiter and the Espresso franchise have found on the social networking sites from Pakistanis who are speaking up.

But what is disturbing is how increasingly hostile Pakistanis are becoming in the name of religion. On the Facebook page where the news broke out from The Express Tribune, many commenting in support of Espresso were issued threats from other follow commentators. I myself received three separate threats in private messages from Facebook users who had read my remarks made in defence of Espresso. One person even told me to be very careful about what I say, ‘or else’.

Further disturbing are the threats issued to Espresso on their own Facebook page. One user threatened that unless the branch manager was fired, he would lead a 200 person protest against the franchise.  Again, these are empty attention seeking threats, but there is a shadow of truth to every lie, and the truth is that Pakistanis have become increasingly ready to threaten violence to reinforce their personal religious views.

This angry, unreasonable, and overly sensitive behaviour isn’t the Islam I know and identify with. Islam is a religion of love, and it seems that many of us, who are sensible, fail to speak against extreme behaviour, that is clearly in false name of the religion, simply out of fear.

Unchecked, I fear these extreme views will take Pakistan to a realm of intolerance from which the nation will find it overly difficult to return.  My appeal to those reading this is to continue to make your voices heard wherever you can, lest they be drowned out by the increasingly radical until it is too late.

Read more by Noman here or follow him on Twitter @pugnate  

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

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