Sending Innocent Children to Death in Heaven's Name

Jahed Ahmed and Mehul Kamdar

The terrible tragedy over the standoff outside the Lal Masjid in Islamabad continues with one Maolana, Rashid Ghazi, and his followers holding perhaps as many as 850 children as a human shield to prevent what they claim is an imminent attack by the Pakistani paramilitary forces. Though the Pakistan Tribune is reporting that as many as 27 girls may have been killed inside the masjid as this piece is written, the exemplary restraint shown by the Pakistani forces needs to be lauded. They did not succumb to the temptation of going in with guns blazing and actually offered amnesty to all of the Maolana's followers who did not have criminal cases against them. The government also offered Rs 5000 to every surrendering student inside so that they could leave to join their families. And, how did the two leaders responsible for this crisis respond? They got their students to swear to accept martyrdom at first and then the elder Maolana, Abdul Aziz, tried to sneak out by hiding in a batch of girl students wearing a burqa. He even gave an interview to several TV channels while wearing the same burqa without any shame for his act. And his brother holds hundreds of children hostage.

Until this crisis reached boiling point, these men were busy igniting the minds of Muslim youths (boys and girls) with hatred, espousing violence through the temptation of heaven in the afterlife, and yet, it is now clear, they didn’t believe a trace of it themselves. Or, if they did, why did the elder Maolana try to escape? Going by his own logic, one could argue, with his attempted escape, (he was caught at the end) Maolana Aziz lost a golden opportunity to reach heaven and enjoy an endless number of privileges including the company of virgin women as a reward for martyrdom. Sadly, while he peddled this fraudulent vision through violence, murder and mayhem, some believed the Maolana and killed and perished when the Pakistani paramilitary forces returned fire when they were first attacked.

“They only want martyrdom, they don’t want to go home,” said a girl student named Maryam Qayeeum while leaving mosque before the fighting began. This tells how the temptation of heaven was dangled as a bait to instigate impressionable young minds toward violence and killing. And the stupidity extended to some adults as well. A father of two girl students described his daughters attending a madrassa attached to the mosque saying, “They are 14 and 10 years old. I have talked to them and they are willing to die for Islam." A sane and normal father would have wanted to see his daughters grow up to be model people – doctors, engineers, teachers, bank officers or one of many thousands of other professions where they could contribute to society and make everyone proud. What kind of father would want to see his own 10 and 14 year old girls dead? And this is what the Maolanas tried to achieve with their preaching. They were happy to see ignorant people fall for lies of heaven and even offer their own children for martyrdom.

Through all of this, a pattern is clear. Whether it is a Maolana Abdul Aziz or an Osama Bin Laden, no preacher of hatred wants to see his own family suffer or to find martyrdom himself. The Maolana extracted a promise of martyrdom from hundreds of young people and then conveniently tried escaping with a woman's and by hiding among young girls. Bin Laden sent dozens of young men to their doom on 9/11 and promptly went into hiding when the US sent a powerful army into Afghanistan to get him. Who knows? Maybe he too wore a burqa and a wig on his head as he ran leaving hundreds of brainwashed people to die.

Humanists, both religious and secular, have agonized and tried to understand this vulnerability in some people who happily cede common sense in return for promises of a fictitious salvation. While there may be no single reason that is common to every case of religious brainwashing by people like the Maolana, the fortunate fact is that those who would be swayed by this kind of thought are a minority. About a month ago, almost a million people marched in the streets of Pakistan to protest against the Maolana's edicts and demanded that the government take action against these lunatics. These were ordinary, religious people, who could not stomach the nonsense that the Maloanas were bandying about. In the end, Maolana Abdul Aziz, as the senior cleric, did a far better job of discrediting himself than any protestors against him or government forces could have done. By turning himself into a national joke, hopefully, he has opened the eyes of those who wanted to die listening to his lies. Hopefully, the mind of the man who wanted to see his two little girls martyred is also open to the reality of what this hate monger represented.

July 05, 2007

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About the authors: Jahed Ahmed and Mehul Kamdar are the co-moderators of www.mukto-mona.com, a network of humanists and freethinkers from South Asian countries. Both Ahmed and Kamdar write from USA.