The Question No One Really Asks Out Loud

May 24, 2010

Kids & Religion - Their Perception of Islam

At dinner this weekend a family friends daughter whose in high school asked me, “If Islam is such a good religion, why do only our people commit all the crimes?” I looked at her and gathered the gazillion thoughts racing through my mind on where to begin navigating this one.

I prefaced my reply by assuring I understood her concern and also to clarify what exactly she was thinking. I asked her if she was referring to the War on Terror and she said yes and started to complain about why people from Pakistan do “stupid” things like ban Facebook and “commit suicide bombings”. Her question was so blatant, so raw. I’m used to reading and writing about macro Foreign Policy Issues related to Pakistan. Ask me a who, what where and why in regards to Pakistan’s nuclear program and the exact repercussions as they relate to China, India and the United States From the 1970’s to present day and I’ll gladly give you a 30 minute rundown, verbal or written your choice. But her question was so much heavier. I thought to myself; I’m not a religious scholar, am i even a political science scholar yet? But this kid trusts me and wants an honest answer because she’s always looked up to me and come to me with what’s on her mind.

I exhaled and smiled at her soft but demanding eyes collecting my thoughts and reminding myself that I just mastered Bird of Paradise pose in Yoga, I can definitely do this. Since I think in essay format, I already had my thesis; “Religion is distinct from followers and Pakistan in particular is an example of where the institutionalization of religion might have led some followers astray”.

She’s in Catholic school just as I had been when I was her age so I figured she would understand the commonality in Abrahamic faiths. I explained that like the other major monotheistic faiths, Judaism, and Christianity, Islam was founded as a guiding route to developing a better society for everyone. Community service, human rights, charity, cooperation and compassion were the basic precepts of these faiths and with Islam in particular, those values are being overshadowed by competing interests that have nothing to do with Islam. She listened intently, unfazed. Knowing I’d have to expand on what “institutionalization of Religion” meant i continued.

I explained while we might have separation of Church and State here in our country, places like Pakistan are founded as Islamic Republics where governments have parallel interests that range from economic, social and religious. Pakistan not only has a responsibility to expand their countries economy, enhance the welfare of their citizens and provide security, as an Islamic state they also guide in terms of religion, and that’s where it can get tricky. I gave the example of Pakistan aiding in the Soviet Afghan war by training Islamic militants in tandem with the CIA to expand political interests which directly impeded religious interests by creating much of the un-Islamic extremism we see now.

She immediately interjected, “so are you saying Islam can’t be upheld with those other interests?” I responded with an unambiguous “No”. I gave her an example from history on how the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) led his nation as a military and political ruler, with parallel leadership as a father, husband, companion and Prophet, successfully covering leadership in all aspects of society to ultimately bring peace and prosperity. She didn’t require further elaboration since most Muslims I’ve come across like her know about his effective leadership. I mentioned George Bernard Shaw’s notion: “If a leader like Muhammad is to assume leadership of the world, he would solve all sorts of problems over the afternoon cup of tea” explaining that interpretation of religion is key. While a religion might be an effective guide, how it’s interpreted and applied varies and can stray from the original prescriptions or intent of the scripture. She understood, adding her contextual reading of the Bible in religion classes at school.

I also put in a disclaimer on how it’s hard to say whether a religious based state or secular state is right for a specific time and for a certain people. And more than a disclaimer, I honestly had not studied or pondered at length which would be more effective and or viable in Pakistan and did not want give an uninformed assertion.

I further engaged her in a brief discussion on how the media operates to help alleviate her initial fear that “only our people” (Muslims) supposedly commit “all the crimes” these days. I explained the evident: there are 1+ billion Muslims in the world most of whom are moderate ascribing to the values spelled out by all religions, generosity, forgiveness, compassion and social justice. I posed the question; how often however do we hear or see news about those values? Not just when it comes to Islam but for any religion or people, be they celebrities, politicians, or Catholic priests? The news tends to report what’s sensational since it sells more. I said it wasn’t necessarily right or wrong, or any hidden agenda against a particular people, instead media as a profit making enterprise reports what generates maximum revenue. I remembered why i sighed at the onset of her inquiry. I couldn’t stray from her initial question to delve into periphery complexities of media and capitalism. Plus she’s a smart kid who mostly already realized how sensationalized information is dispensed today. In fact she ended up citing her own examples and I felt a surge of relief and contentment.

Her eyes became demanding again and she peppered me with her next pressing concern; i braced myself for it: “So how did you get that smoky eye shadow look?” I smiled, totally relieved and began  “well, it’s super easy when you have dark, gorgeous Pakistani eyes” and answered that one with a breeze 😉


I made sure to tell her parents about her concerns after dinner and about our conversation. I hope they have a more in depth discussion with her soon



  1. Very Strongly Disagree with you Ms Jeewanjee. Accusing “others” and denial is the reason why Muslims have become no. 1 enemy of the rest of the world and Pakistanis are experts in this field. The fact of the matter is that your country and it’s foundations are wrong. In Today’s day and age no democratic country should be siding with religion. Problem with Pakistanis is that they claim to be democratic and modern when they are a million miles away from it. Islamic and Republic are 2 opposite notions and Pakistanis want rest of the world to accept that an Islamic Republic of Pakistan exists?

    Guess what? Nobody buys that garbage!


    • Firstly, my country is the United States of America, it’s foundations are not wrong.

      Secondly, making such a bold statement as “no democratic country should be siding with religion” is such a grand assertion that would require much sound research for it to be accepted. If you have that, please share.

      Finally, you should also be more specific in what you mean by “accusing Others and denial”. I had no intention of doing that, and did not do that in my piece. If anything, i implicate the Pakistani government as an “other” for it’s missteps politically, and especially in religious leadership.


      Did you read the thesis? “Religion is distinct from followers and Pakistan in particular is an example of where the institutionalization of religion might have led some followers astray”. It’s not actually contrary to a notion of secularism.


      • LOL You Crack me up Jeewanjee. Firstly, I’ve made it very clear that your country is in respect with Pakistan. Ok now if you want to act like a child and say you have nothing to do with Pakistan then yes you can do that but certainly that won’t help this debate.

        Second of all it is a joke to say that Islam can be secular or any Islamic society can be secular. May be you should research what secular means. Muslim societies can never be secular and even if one or two do become secular still it will never be Pakistan. Pakistan is a country who’s foundation are hate and violence towards non muslims (read hindus). If Pakistan was to become secular then many would argue why Pakistan is needed in the first place? Read the history of Pakistan

        And yes Pakistanis/muslims are always in denial. The only muslim I ever come across who said “yes it is our fault as muslims and we must change our way of life rather than blaming non muslims” was an old Saudi man I met in Middle East few years ago in a car park lot.

        Every time Pakistani terrorism comes into spotlight this what Pakistanis say:-

        1.) Media is evil. They hate Muslims.
        2.) Conspiracy of CIA, Jews and Hindus to defame us
        3.) We are just fighting a freedom struggle.
        4.) It can not be our fault. We are Muslims how can we be terrorist.
        5.) Point to some random journalist, writer, movie maker who makes a living by speaking in favor of Muslims even if its not true.

        Not even once I’ve seen a Muslim/Pakistani stand up and say “Look guys its time we accept our mistakes. Accept that what we have been teaching our kids is wrong. That Islam is as good as Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism , Buddhism etc. That Allah is only god for muslims but there are other gods to which non muslims pray and they are in no way or form any less than our god. That Killing innocents in the name of “freedom struggle” is NOT acceptable and in fact is a crime. That aspects of the above said might run contrary to what is written in Koran or Hadith but thats ok we don’t have to take it to heart and kill non muslims to make every word written in those books true.

        Please tell me which mosque in the world is preaching the above mentioned things? If you can find one then Video Tape it and share with rest of the world because it would be impossible to find one!


    • Mark just because your experience is so limited as to “never once” having seen an admission of wrongs that are committed in the name of Islam doesn’t mean that it’s a reality. Nor does it mean those wrongs are committed in line with Islam.

      Your tirade is a reflection of tunnel vision, grave misjudgment, and sweeping generalizations i mentioned in my previous response to you. It’s got tinges of loathe for a beautiful faith that you clearly don’t understand.

      DOn’t believe me? Perhaps you’ll take the Dalai Lama’s Word for it in the New York Times:

      Many Faiths, One Truth – http://nyti.ms/auRclq

      All faiths preach compassion, Islam included.

      I Pity your experience being so small in world affairs


  2. wow. what a post 🙂 believe me i amazed after reading this, wonderfully written n summarized…

    Anyway regarding Pakistan media, recently i was wondering are the number of issues our media revolves around higher or the amount of journalism, i believe i got my answer 😉


  3. Ms. Zainab, to begin with I wish to appreciate the way you have handled the child’s sweet question. They are the future and need to be guided in best possible manner. But that does not imply they need to be hidden from the true fact. The fact remains, that the Muslim religion is being targeted. But one does not target a specific religion, person etc. for no reason. No religion in this world teaches violence, hatred, hard diktats, etc. Why is it so that the other religions of the world remain under the veil and Islam has got exposed?

    Is it coz that the people who have been entrusted to pass on the good religion have been unable to do so? Were they fit to be given this responsibility? The most unheard of diktats are being passed by the Muslim Clerics: (I am quoting them for you to read)

    A religion is not good or bad just by what’s written in the religious books. It’s understood to the common people by speeches of the religious leaders, the media, the preachers, etc. They are the front face of the teaching from the past. It all lies on the shoulders of these few important men to teach the right path to the common and the followers. It’s the responsibility of the govt. to insure that these people do not glide people in their selfish boat. It’s also important to punish the culprit then to hide the facts.

    More than everyone else it’s the responsibility of the current youth of Pakistan and other Islamic countries to retrain from violence. Violence is not the solution for any problem. I belong to the land of Mahatma Gandhi, I never considered my neighbors as a Muslim country. They are equal humans to me. But I strongly believe power in wrong hands is extremely dangerous. Some people have utilized the word ‘Jihad’ in the worst of its form. How can you call something HOLY if the resultant death is of the fellow Human Being.

    I just don’t remember where I began and where I have ended. But all I know is that, the way a specific Religion has been projected is not right. But someone has to take the task of cleansing it.


  4. Wow , a very difficult question, and I admire your courage that you have shown to take this on, and then answer this publicly.

    Well worth the read.



  5. it may not be possible to answer the raised question in one go, never the less i’ll try to just give my personal views on how do i look at the problem.
    I was a young boy in early 60s, living in a small peaceful city then called Montgomery. I’d no idea how many of my classmates were shias n how many were from any other sect. Our friendship was much above our sects n beleifs. Our parents never imposed any restrictions on us with regards to our choice of freinds. On of my closest playmate was a shia and i used to attend majalis at his home, obviously without any hue n cry being raised by my parents. Another of my close freinds was Ivan Rajkumar Bannerjee, a christian by faith. Quite a few of my chums were sunni by faith and mind you, i was an ahmadi.
    We were peacefully co-existing in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Ivan used to visit my home n have meals with us, I frequently went to my freinds’ homes n was treated affectionately by their parents. Students from a seminary located in our mohallah(colony) would regularly visit our home to collect evening meals.
    The decade passed n we embarked into 70s. the beginning of decade saw an uprising against Ahmedis in just a few districts of Punjab including Montgomery, which had by now been renamed Sahiwal.A few of my freinds decided to stay at our home for the safety of my family, mind you, they all were non ahmedis. Such was the level of forbearance n tolerance that none of these youth faced any opposition or resistance from their parents/families. Amanullah was a diehard pashtun among them from a very coservative family.
    It was not untill 1979 that things began to change. USSR army was in Afghanistan by that time, posing direct threat to parts of Pakistan. The US Government was in a fix, not able to decide how to respond to the situation. Pakistan Government was ready to jump into the fray out of fear of being the next target as the general assumption was that USSR was keen to reach the warm waters through Balochistan. The launching of Afghan Jehad was the beginning of the troubles for the world at large and for Pakistan in particular. The US and the West promoted jehadi elements and blew their heroism out of proportion. Unfortunately the entire west failed to forsee the repercussions of their myopic policies. The concept of jehad was viciously promoted by establishing a large network of seminaries funded by the west and by Saudi Arabia, both having different goals to achieve. Money, weapons, ammunition and mercenaries were pouring into Pakistan, enroute to Afghanistan with just one aim, to force USSR out of Afghanistan.
    I strongly believe that even the US had not even the remotest idea that USSR would disintegrate in the process. Consequently, it had no plans in place for this contigency. When the USSR disintegrated,the Americans left the region promptly just too happy to be the sole super power of the earth. The West also quietly accepted the backseat with the US in driving seat and just innocently concluding that it was the ultimate success of the CAPITALISM.
    Pakistan and the muslim world were also not prepared for this abrupt change in the global map. What we had failed to realize was that vacuum created by the break up of USSR had to be filled immediately, whereas the Muslim world was not in a position to move into the shoes of USSR, thereby leaving the field open for the USA and its Western allies.
    Even more dangerous was leaving the jehadi elements at their own or at most at the mercy of Pakistani intelligence agencies. The US and allies very well knew that potentially how dangerous these elements could be, with all the resources left at their disposal, with the kind of training they were made to go through, with the confidence they were enjoying by defeating a mighty super power and last of all with all those madressahs intact that were churning out jehadi elements even after fall of USSR.
    The madressahs that mushroomed during and after Afghan jehad were, unfortunately, not imparting balanced religious training, they were just producing narrow minded fanatics to serve a limited purpose. The US precisely knew it, rather had been a party to this program, yet leaving that infrastructure intact merely because of its limited vision. When successive Pakistani governments were using these elements for jehad in Kashmir,even after the demise of General Zia ul Haq, why didn’t the US realize that leaving the region in such turmoil could be a threat to the world peace !
    What a pity that the US didn’t learn any lessons even after 9/11 ! It still kept supporting a dictator in Pakistan, who kept bluffing them for as long as 6 years. In the meantime the number of religious seminaries has swelled to four times from what it was before 9/11. So, who is to be blamed for all the mess the world finds itself ? Who is to be blamed for bringing a bad name to ISLAM which in its essence is the RELIGION OF PIECE.
    Pakistanis have lost more lives than any other nation during Afghan war against USSR and in war on terror in recent years. Americans were happy after USSR crumbled, they had become sole super power without losing a single life !!! Why on God’s earth didn’t they realize that nature has its own ways. What followed could be fore seen by anyone with a little vision, how did the wizards from the sole super power failed to anticipate the inevitable ??
    We, the people of Pakistan, are still suffering more than any other nation, for no fault of ours. The double standards followed by the West have always landed us in trouble. We’ve never supported the brand of Islam which Zia ul Haq, with whole hearted support of the West, tried to impose on us. We, the people of Pakistan, don’t have any expansionist designs against any country or nation, but how could we raise our voice when the West has ALWAYS supported autocratic governments in Pakistan, who never cared for what the people desired. The resources that West poured into this region were again plundered by autocratic rulers and were shifted back to the West.
    My humble submission is that don’t blame Islam or the people of Pakistan for defacing n defaming the RELIGION OF PEACE, just force the governments in the West to give up double standards and stop deploying their political n economic strenght behind illegitimate governments in Pakistan. Although the damage already done appears to be irreparable, yet there is always the hope that point of no return has not been crossed.


    • well said sir, your views are highly appreciated and agreed upon.


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