“Will it also surprise you if I told you that I have read the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagvad Gita, Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto and Hitler’s Mein Kampf?”
It was 1991. I’d just quit the University of Karachi and joined a weekly magazine as a feature writer. My office was on the fourth floor in a building on I. I. Chundrigarh Road. I headed down to get myself a pack of cigarettes and a saada-khushbu paan. The moment I stepped out, my way was politely blocked by three young tableeghi jamaat recruits.
“Aslaamulalaikum,” said one of them in a swallowing Arabic accent. “Walaikum,” said I.
“Jinaab,” he said, ever so courteously, “it is time for Asar prayers. Why aren’t you at the mosque?”
“Well, why aren’t you?” I asked.
“We will be, but we are already doing a naik kaam (good deed),” he said.
“I see. What makes you think that I am not doing a naik kaam as well?” I asked, equally politely.
“I’m sure you are,” he said. “Par lagta hai aap namaz kum parh tey hein,” (it seems you do not pray much).
“How do you know that?” I replied, “Kya namaazioon key parr hotay hain?” (Why, do praying people have wings?).
“Janaab, if you don’t want to go to the mosque, why not give some charity to it,” he said, still smiling.
“Charity for a mosque?” said I. “Merey bhai, mosques are all that Zia-ul-Haq ever built in Pakistan. I think you people will please Allah more if you gathered charity for schools and hospitals instead!”
The guy smiled again, “woh tou bohat hain (there are more than enough).
“Acha. Yeh kab hooah? (Really? When did that happen?)” I laughed.
He shook his head, smiled, half-closed his eyes and said, “Allah aap ko hidayat dey aur ….”
I interrupted: “… Aur aap ko aqal!”
He didn’t look very pleased, and without shaking my hand, walked away. Not smiling anymore.
* * * * *
It was 1994. I was an assistant editor and columnist for an English daily in Karachi. On a visit to our Lahore office, I took a break to check out a book store at Liberty Market. There I was approached by a kid in his late teens.
“Hello. You are NFP, right?”
“I am Danish.”
“I read your stuff,”
“It’s very interesting. Keep it up”
“Thank you, Danish.”
“Okay. Nice meeting you Mr Paracha.”
“Nice meeting you too Danish.”
(Danish turned, paused, and then turned to face me again).
“Yes, Mr Danish.”
“Have you read the Quran?”
“Err… yes Danish I have.”
“Yes, Danish, in English.”
“How did it change you?”
“Why Danish, do you think I should change?”
“I was just wondering.”
“I see. Are you surprised that I have read the Quran?”
“Well, Danish. Will it also surprise you if I told you that I have also read the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagvad Gita, Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto and Hitler’s Mein Kampf?”
Danish was still. Almost expressionless. Then chuckled: “Mr NFP. Always trying to be different.”
“Yes, Danish. And so should you,” I said, handing him a Batman comic.
* * * * *
It was 2002. I was working as a creative group head at an advertising agency and sitting with the Creative Director who was a woman. A young female employee came into her office and complained that a male colleague of hers, a bearded man in his 30s, was constantly advising her to wear a duppata.
The Creative Director kept her cool, sent the lady back to her seat and called the man.
“Why are you going around saying this to women?” she asked him. He remained quiet.
She continued: “I’m sure a lot of people do not like your beard, but has anyone over here ever told you to shave it off?”
The man was shocked. He looked at me and then at the Creative Director. Then a weepy, squeaky “sorry” appeared from deep down his throat.
“End of jihad,” I thought.
* * * * *
It was 2006. I got a call from an agitated man on my cell. He was angry about a few articles of mine.
“How can you defend France’s laws banning hijabs in public schools?” he asked, agitatedly.
“They’ve banned Sikh turbans and the wearing of Christian crosses and the Jewish Star of David as well,” I told him.
“Yes, but the law is really against the Muslims!” he insisted.
“No,” said I. “The law is against exhibiting overt religious symbols in public. France is a secular country and it has every right to do so. What if a European woman appears in a mini-skirt on Zainab Market? You will say, since you are an Islamic republic, you have the right to ban such attire in public, wouldn’t you. I think they tolerate a lot more hijabs and turbans in their country than we can ever tolerate crosses, shorts and skirts in ours!”
“You are just against Islam!” Saying this, he simply dropped the line.
* * * * *
It was 2007. My apartment building had run out of water. I accompanied the building’s President to check the situation. The President called the chowkidar, saying “Yaar, ever since you have come, we have started to have this water problem.”
The President then turned towards me and in all seriousness announced: “Nadeem sahib, this chowkidar of ours does not pray regularly.”
“You know,” the President continued in all earnest, “the chowkidar we had before him used to pray right here over the water tank and ma’shallah we used to have tons of water!”
“Aab-i-zam-zam?” I asked, jokingly.
But the President remained serious. “This guy should start praying here!”
“Right!” said I, slightly irritated. Then turning towards the embarrassed chowkidar I told him, “You better start praying over the water tank. Who knows, this time we might strike oil!”