And so the nation weeps at the fading hope of a new future

I thought long and hard about whether or not I should write a blog in tribute to Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (former Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic Pakistan), but in the end I decided that if I truly believe in democracy, freedom of speech, and equality – then I have no choice but to write a blog dedicated to the dire events now unfolding in front of our very own eyes.There are some who may indeed contest the integrity of Benazir, but I am not here to debate that, but rather to reflect on the tragedy of a failing state.

Wedneday 27 December 2007 is not only the day that we mourn the loss of the first female leader, who at only 35 years of age, led a Muslim nation, but we also bid farewell to any attempt to restore democracy and fairness in Pakistan; an attempt to finally stand up to the probbing eyes of the west, by raising our hands and saying yes – on this day the state of Pakistan will allow it’s citizens to choose who they want to represent them, as their leader – through their own free will.

When I first heard this news, my initial thoughts were not for the loss of a political leader, but of the turmoil that was to follow on the streets of Pakistan – and with it, the scenes my family would have to face that same day. As we sit here in our comfortable homes and our air-conditioned offices, riots have begun to take over an already chaotic country. It is unlikely that elections will go ahead, with Nawaz Shariff “boycotting” the impending elections (which makes me wonder how much of this was a deliberate attempt to destroy this process). This is a country under seige by its own government; a government who although I cannot blame for this awful event, should by some means, be held to account.

Today, the death of Benazir marks another backward step in the progression of Pakistan, politically, economically, and socially. It marks a heart-felt tragedy for three young children who lost a mother. It is on this day that we reflect about what the nation of Pakistan has become instead of what it should have been.

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Allah Made Me Funny

Two weeks ago on a Wednesday evening my wife and I made our way through Fulham’s backstreets to the small but packed Riverside Studios. Aside from being predominantly Asian, the gathering was eclectic; with hijabis* conversing easily with ladies in less traditional garb (one guy even wore a turban.) We all came with a common purpose – to laugh at Muslims. More specifically, to laugh at Azhar Usman, “Halal” Bilal, Mo Amir and Preacher Moss who were in London as a part of the Allah Made Me Funny Tour. And laugh we did.

I was first introduced to Allah Made Me Funny through a DVD lent to me by a friend. Having delighted at a lighter shade of Muslim culture, we were keen to see them live. The evening was made more enjoyable by the fact that it was our first evening out since our son was born last year. We love him dearly, and even missed him that evening, but being out without him made us feel like teenagers again.

From the outset, Azhar Usman had us rocking in our seats. A lot of his jokes are ethnic and some entirely in Urdu, which limits his appeal to non-Asians, but there was a lot that everyone could relate to. “Halal” Bilal made a brief appearance, and Preacher Moss wrapped things up at the end with a set reminiscent of his days writing for Saturday Night Live. But the hitherto unknown “Mo Amir” really stole the show (he replaced Azeem from the original line-up for followers of the tour). Right from the moment he slow-motion-ran onto stage the Palestinian born comic had us in stitches – I remember having to massage my cheeks about halfway through his set because I’d been smiling so long my face had started to ache!

The tour itself has drawn criticism from more conservative camps, but I saw little to which one could object. While excessive laughter is against the etiquette of the Prophet Muhammed who mostly used to smile when pleased or amused, there is nothing wrong with a joke per se that doesn’t mock, deceive or fall into backbiting. Unfortunately that narrows down the field a lot, but on the whole the guys did an excellent job balancing humour and etiquette. It may comfort readers to know that Shaykh Faraz Rabbani of the Sunnipath Online Academy has not only issued a fatwa permitting such events, but went so far as to praise Azhar Usman for his close contact and cooperation with traditional scholars and the recognised benefits of his comedy.

Perhaps not one for conservatives, for everyone else I’d recommend catching the tour next time it’s in town. Maybe next time I go my son will be old enough to appreciate it.

*Hijabi’s = Muslim women who wear the headscarf