8 November 2019
Pano Aqil, Pakistan
Major General Qasim Rizvi entered Usmania mosque dressed in white salwar kameez and white skull cap. The salwar (pants) was stitched to end two inches above his ankles to meet with the guidelines laid down by Maulana Ilias Yasir, preacher and chief cleric of the mosque. For the last two years, Maj Gen Rizvi had made it a habit to dress up in the same clothing when not wearing his uniform. Most of the congregation of the mosque was dressed like him too. He liked the uniformity of thought that this mosque and it’s preacher offered. For him, it was a lot like the army, where he had spent the last 35 years of his life. Only less corrupt, more helpful and closer to teachings of quran.
When he had been transferred to Pano Aqil Aqil, he used to go to a large army funded mosque in the cantonment where most of the army men went to offer prayers. But he never liked the servile behaviour of the staff and the debauched behaviour of the congregation in a place which was supposed to be free of all pretensions of rank, power and wealth. He hated seeing the clerics trying to curry favour with uniformed generals and could barely control himself when he saw his co-workers making plans involving alcohol and prostitutes even as they washed up for namaz.
He had stopped going there after his wife had suffered a stroke and had been bed ridden. The sterlised and groveling sermons made by the greedy maulvi always left a bad taste in his mouth. Few days after her death, he had been aimlessly wandering around the city on a holiday when he noticed the blaring sermons from Usmania mosque over a loudspeaker. The preacher was speaking with conviction, had extensive knowledge of quran and had a strong yet melodic voice that was pleasing to the ears even over loudspeakers. He had entered the mosque which was almost full as if in a trance and sat in a corner listening to the not so old preacher quoting islamic verses and imparting life lessons for a pure islamic life.
He visited the mosque again after two days to see the same preacher leading the prayers. Then again and again till it became a daily habit for him. Most of the time, he was in his uniform and had a mandatory armed escort. He couldn’t tell if anyone noticed or cared. He appreciated the fact that the people there didn’t try to get close to him for asking favours or avoided him, just treated him as a fellow muslim. After around two months of regular visits, he went ahead to introduce himself to Maulana Ilias Yasir and request blessings for his only son who was going to leave for higher studies in Canada. Maulana Yasir was courteous and even kind enough to offer a few kind words to sooth the pain of parting.
Over next few months, Gen Rizvi opened himself to Yasir as suffering person would do to a therapist. His crisis of faith after sickness and death of his wife, lack of faith in Pakistani armed forces and general public, their defeats against kafirs and all around decay and debauchery were all shared with the calm and understanding islamic cleric. It was during one of such long talks that Yasir opened up about himself. He had resigned from his job as Major in Pakistan army over their support for American invasion of Afghanistan and had joined Taliban militants. He had fought against the American marines and Northern Alliance guerillas for four years before being injured and captured in Herat. He spent five years in the hellish Afghan prison without trial before being released. He had utilised his time in the prison to get closer to allah. The shrapnel wounds he had made combat impossible for him. So he served allah in only other way he knew, by spreading his knowledge about quran and way of islamic life.
Under his influence, Rizvi adopted stricter islamic practices, started praying five times a day compulsorily and even grew his beard minus the mustache. In increasingly radicalised Pakistani society, this was nothing extraordinary. He was already close to retirement and had no interest in lobbying for promotion in an organisation full of power hungry backstabbers. He sometimes thought that his lack of further professional ambition and monetary greed made him less of threat to his competitors and he was fine with that.
He had a loyal following in the lower ranks though due to his fairness in professional matters. With his increasing display of islamic piety, his popularity grew steadily. At first, it was his security detail which followed him inside the Usmania mosque. About a year later, he could see a lot more uniformed men, most of them from his unit praying alongside him. At first, he was concerned that this mosque would turn in to yet another site of sin like the one in cantonment. But to his relief, neither the sermons nor behaviour of Maulana changed.
On that day, he offered namaaz as usual and sought an audience with Yasir . After the mutually respectful greetings, Rizvi informed the cleric about his upcoming retirement and his plans to go on a pilgrimage. Yasir smiled and congratulated Rizvi but felt that he had something else on his mind. “It seems like that there is something else keeping you awake at nights.”
Rizvi sighed and rubbed his hands trying to think of suitable words to say. Noticing him struggling with words, Yasir invited him to his office and offered him a cup of hot tea. After a few encouraging words from the cleric, Rizvi spoke, “I think I’ve done my job to the best of my abilities, but I can’t honestly convince myself that it’s been enough.”
“Enough for what Rizvi sahib?” Yasir enquired gently.
“Enough for… , “ Rizvi stopped to search for words and then took a hurried gulp of the tea as Yasir waited patiently. “I’ve given all of my life to Pakistan Army. I started as a mere lieutenant, son of a almost illiterate farmer and reached the rank of Major General, not due to my family, corruption or boot licking. But by my hard work, competence and honesty. Well, if I were not honest, perhaps I could have reached higher or maybe even to the top spot myself. But I could never bring myself to be a slave to either my seniors in the army or their dogs in politics.
I can guarantee you that if a war breaks out today, then most of these generals with kilos of medals on their chest and stars on their shoulders will do everything but fight honourably. These Indians, Americans and even Afghans and Iranians are slapping us wherever and whenever they want. But all these politicians, soldiers and even the Pakistani awam are interested in is squeezing anything they can out of this poor country. I don’t know if I should feel happy or sad retiring like this.”
“Can I ask you a few personal questions General?” Yasir asked gently to which Rizvi nodded yes.
“You blame your comrades in army, politicians, normal citizens of the country as well as foreigners for things that are wrong with our country as well as unislamic degradation. But what gives you the right to be so critical? Outside of your job, have you done anything to change things for better yourself?” Rizvi stared at Yasir pondering over this question.
Seeing him quiet Yasir spoke further, “There have been lakhs perhaps even crores of us who’ve made huge sacrifices for Pakistan and islam. Many left their families and comfortable lives to fight, many suffered terribly, many died but stayed pious and faithful. Let me ask you general sahib, do you count yourself in the same league as the shahids, the mujahideen and the pious jihadis?”
Yasir stopped and waited for an answer as Rizvi stared off in the distance and answered slowly, “No, I don’t think that I have done enough to be counted in the same league. “
“It’s understandable if you didn’t know your failings and live your life in ignorance. But you do know your shortcomings and still don’t do anything to fix them?” Yasir’s usually calm voice suddenly took an edge. “All around us, you see your incompetent coallegues and politicians doing everything except serving islam and Pakistan. They make deals with our mortal enemies, sell off our lands, snatch everything from the poor to fill their own mansions and drink and fornicate and still decorate themselves with medals. Look at your Army chief. He is perhaps the richest man in the country with more houses and shops in Canada than here. Then look at his Vice Chief, owner of 5000 hectares of land in Pakistan and his underaged sons driving imported Italian cars. While you can barely afford to buy a house for yourself after working all your life. ”
All you can be proud of is that you were not a thief and a fake muslim unlike other generals, air chief marshals and admirals. But search deep inside you and tell me; tell Allah and yourself, have you done enough to serve islam and Pakistan?”
Rizvi sat quietly with the same distant stare in his eyes and then spoke slowly, “Is being a good muslim not enough?”
Yasir sighed and shook his head gently, “Don’t you know the answer yourself? If what you have done till now was enough, then why is islam facing so much humiliation, why is Pakistan almost a failed state and why are we having this conversation?”
Rizvi’s hand shook as he put the cup of tea on table. He spoke weakly, “I am just a single man, weak and alone”
Yasir immediately switched to his soothing calm voice, “Don’t say that General sahib. You are not weak and certainly not alone. There are so many men in my congregation who will follow you to sure death if need be and I am sure there are a lot more. You yourself control the biggest weapon that ummah has. How can you call yourself weak and alone when you have such a powerful weapon and such dedicated followers?”
Rizvi was on verge of tears and spoke with a breaking voice, “Isn’t it too late for this?”
Yasir walked up to Rizvi and patted his shoulder, “It’s never too late. Have faith in allah. He’ll guide you.”