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"…TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING ISLAM SEEMS TO BE THE MOST LOGICAL AND SIMPLEST OF ALL THE FAITHS"

INTERVIEW WITH AKHTAR LODHI

 

QUESTIONS…PART ONE…GOD AND RELIGION

1.  Do you believe in God? If you do Why?

a.  Yes, I believe in God because of two reasons. First, I just cannot imagine that such a wonderful universe could come into being by itself. My observation is that nothing, which is systematic and orderly, gets done without any intelligence. The idea that this whole universe came into being by an accident or a trial and error just does appeal to me. I believe in the proverbial monkey, not being able to create a piece of Shakespeare if given a pen and paper and millions of tries.

b.  Second, because I feel it is in our nature to believe in a super-being. It is no accident that humanity since time immemorial have believed in such a being and historically very few, if any, communities have exited which did not believe as such. The signs of His existence are too overwhelming to ignore.

2.   What is your concept / experience of God?

a. I believe that God created this universe, according to certain rules and by and large it runs by these rules, except where He chooses to intervene (which is rare). Having given humans the ability to choose between good and bad, He will take an account of how these intellectual and physical abilities were used in the life hereafter. This, I, believe, makes a lot of sense. For, otherwise, I do not see how justice can be served to either reward or punish people who have done immense good or bad; e.g. can death be a fair punishment for a person like Hitler who caused so much suffering to so many people?

3.  How is your belief system different than the belief system of your family and community of origin?

a. Only in detail, not in concept. I believe that God manifests itself in different ways to different people. In this respect, I see all religions having the same objective, as long as the adherents believe sincerely to the best of their knowledge, and that is why I believe that competition between religions to convert others zealously is pointless and counterproductive. God being Magnanimous cannot be petty and partisan. I, therefore, am not comfortable with everyone’s claim of self-righteousness, to the total negation and falsification of the others. 

4.  How did you become an Atheist / Agnostic / Free Thinker / Humanist?

a. I am not one. I am a Muslim and believe that it gives mankind the best shot at being liberated and be a humanist.

5.  Why do you believe in a Religion?

a. We humans have two sides to our existence – physical and spiritual. Science, gradually over time, has been successful in helping us improve our physical life (although some aspects of scientific achievements have been very devastating for humanity, in my opinion). However, science cannot address our spiritual needs, being completely based on physical aspects of life only. With their limited knowledge and short life span, it is difficult for humans to find out, by trial and error, a path which will lead to gratification of their spiritual needs. The Creator, being aware of these limitations, has, very Kindly, arranged to bring this knowledge to humans, thru His chosen persons – the prophets.

b. A subset of this divine guidance is also evident in sudden bursts of revelations to poets, scientists, etc. (remember, Ghalib saying “aatay hain ghaib say yeh mazameen khiyal mein”, or Newton’s sudden inspiration from a falling apple). To me, these are clear indications of God’s guidance or inspiration (wahee, in our terms) on a smaller scale.

6.  Why do you practice your preferred religion [Islam / Christianity / Judaism / Hinduism / Sikhism / Native Spirituality etc] as opposed to not any other religious or spiritual tradition?

a. Because, to the best of my knowledge and understanding, Islam seems to be the most logical and the simplest of all the faiths. It appeals the most to my intellect and genius.

7.   Do you believe in giving Religious Education to children at home and in schools?

a. Yes, I believe that we must impart this knowledge to our children.

8.  Why can’t we teach our children different religious and spiritual and secular traditions as part of history and let them decide when they become adults?

a.  We must teach our offsprings about different faiths in a positive way. We should also try to explain the rationale behind our beliefs and why have we chosen this faith in preference to any other. They must know that our faith is not by an accident but rather because of a conviction. Being a parent, I must show my children the True Path, as I know it to be. Just like it is my duty to teach my children about their civic duties, love of my culture and country, poetry or even say, cricket. By the same token I must educate them about the faith as well, that being the most important aspect of their life.

9.   What are your views about the relationship between Religion and State?

a.  I am not very clear on this issue myself, any more. Sometime ago, I would have said that State should be guided by Religion – thinking in terms of an Islamic state. However, realizing the pervasive nature of the state and its all-encompassing power over its citizen, given multitude of possible interpretations of islam, and above all the human greed for power which makes this open for abuse (particularly its abhorrent manifestation in Pakistan), I am uncomfortable with that idea. The truth is that the subject needs much more reflection on my part, before I can answer this question.

10.  Where you do get your guidance about your moral and ethical values?

a. From the Quran and the traditions of the holy prophet (peace be upon him). The writings of Islamic scholars are also helpful but one has to remember that their interpretations are not binding. I normally weigh their opinions/rulings and accept or reject in light of what satisfies my mind to be logical and reasonable in light of Quranic teachings..

PART TWO…LOVE, SEX AND MARRIAGE

11.  Are you single or married?

a. I am married.

12.  If you are single is it out of your own choice?

a. N/A.

13.  What are your views about celibacy?

a. I believe that celibacy is entirely against the human nature. In a way, it is fleeing from the real life. In the end, most who profess to believe in celibacy, end up cheating (tired of fighting their instinct, perhaps).

14.  Why did you get married? Was it an arranged or a love marriage?

a. I wanted love in my life and I wanted to have children, which is God’s biggest gift to humanity. It (having children) is also society’s due on an individual that he/she contributes towards the growth, existence and indeed the survival of the institution which gave birth and protection to him/her.

b. Choosing a life partner was my own decision, which I exercised through the approval of my mother and other members of the family (including my wife’s). This, I believe, is the best way in which personal choice of the concerned person (s) and elders input helps make a better decision.

15.  Do you believe in platonic relationships between men and women?

a.   It theoretically may exist, as a man and a woman can be just good friends. Certainly most platonic relations, in an innocent way, do start that way. But, in practical life I have seen far too many “platonic” relations gradually and eventually converting into, let us say, somewhat more intimate (read sexual) and less platonic in nature.

16.  Are you gay or lesbian?

a.  No.

17.  Have you shared your gay / lesbian lifestyle with your family and community?

a.  N/A.

18.  What was the reaction of your family and community?

a.  N/A.

19.  What do you think of legalizing gay and lesbian marriages in Canada?

a.  I think that is a contradiction of terms. Marriage essentially, by definition and by tradition has been a heterosexual phenomenon. I do not see why Gays and lesbians insist on using a term for themselves, which does not relate or apply to them at all. I am not talking of gay/lesbian rights – just the term ‘marriage’ as it may apply to a gay/lesbian relationship. The gays/lesbians have been given their civil and basic rights and they can call their union whatever they feel fit. But I don’t understand why do they want to use a term which denotes a heterosexual union?

20.  Do you have a gay or lesbian friend or relative?

a. No.

21.  What do you think different Religions and Scriptures say about gay and lesbian lifestyle?

a. Gay/lesbian behavior, at best, has always been seen as an aberration, malfunction or abnormality. While we should understand this condition sympathetically, as it may not be a matter of choice, any society cannot encourage and promote this lifestyle, unless it wants to commit an eventual collective suicide. To the best of my knowledge, Quran condemns gay/lesbian behavior if used as a form of licentiousness and a matter of choice as done by the people of Lot. 

PART THREE…BECOMING IMMIGRANTS

22.  Are you an immigrant? For how long have you been living outside your motherland?

a. Yes, I am an immigrant and have been outside of my country of birth for last 26 years.

23.  What do you consider the cultural differences between the two cultures?

a.  There are numerous differences between the cultures of, say  Pakistan and the west. Some of these stem from disparate religious backgrounds of the two cultures while others are caused by diverse environment and historic experience. Some of these differences :

                                                               i.      West tends to value individual freedom and choice much more than we practice at home. Hence, individuals in west tend to act in a more independent way when it comes to dealing with elders, society norms (taboos??), convention and authority, whether religious or political. They have much less tendency to be cowed in and would be their own masters in making a decision.
By contrast, people from Pakistan, are generally slaves to traditions (religious or cultural) and in face of  pressure from elders or in a position of authority they are very likely to forgo their own opinion to conform, rather than make their own mind. This leads to their being prone to manipulation and abuse, which is evident throughout Muslim countries.

                                                             ii.      Another aspect of this : I find that people in west generally are more honest and are more likely to speak the truth while Pakistanis tend to be hypocrites and would rather lie than be embarrassed to speak their mind or go against the authority.

                                                            iii.      Sadly, I find that a positive effect that should have accrued from being more society-oriented in Pakistan is missing. That is, we should have seen more things being done for the good of the society rather than for the good of an individual.

                                                           iv.      The other major difference lies with the attitude with regard to women. The current outlook of west is less patriarchic in nature than in Pakistan where women are considered more a personal property or a source of personal pride and honor. This manifests itself, on one hand, with the traditional utmost respect and love shown to mothers, daughters and sisters while on some other matters treating them with cruelty and denying their proper rights.

24.  How do you deal with your cultural conflicts?

a. I try to reason and balance my opinions between tradition and my own reflections. Giving-in to new way of thinking is always difficult, but one has to strike a balance, unless one lives in a stone age where hardly anything changes. One reason for most people to stick to tradition in Pakistan and their unwillingness to change is that cultural practices are confused with Islam. The reality is that Islam has given a lot of freedom of choice for all nations, races and ages to develop their cultures and traditions according to their own genius and historical backgrounds. One must develop criteria to identity what is mandatory and what is not when looking at a tradition.

PART FOUR…CREATIVE PERSONALITIES AND EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS

25.  Are you a Creative Person?

a.  If that means an artistic person, no. I am more an artisan.

26.  How do you express your creativity [ write, paint, act or make films or in other forms] ?

a. By doing things using a computer.

27.  Do you share your Creations with your family and community?

a.  Sometimes.

28.  What are the reactions of your family and community about your Creative Expressions?

a.  Sometimes appreciative, sometimes indifferent. 

29.  Did you experience emotional and social problems because of your Creative Personality and Lifestyle?

a.  None at all.

30.  How do you cope with those emotional and social problems?

a.  By sharing these problems with my immediate family. They are a great source of strength.

Thank you for sharing your philosophy and lifestyle.

 

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