Uncomfortable questions

It goes without saying that when a guest comes to your house you don’t ask difficult questions. This is perhaps why Imam Kaaba Sheikh Al-Ghamdi was so overwhelmed by the love and support he got from Pakistanis during his visit here. This is actually supported by a Pew Research Centre survey that says 95 per cent of Pakistanis view Saudi Arabia favourably. Addressing an event held in his honour, he talked about the love and affection between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan he felt himself “drowning” under. He warned people trying to malign the ties between the two countries and said it was the need of the hour for Muslims to be united. Applause.

Suppose for a few minutes that we were to ask uncomfortable questions of our guests, what would those be? Four spring to mind a little too immediately. The first: what exactly does the word ‘Muslims’ entail? As great as unity against an evil foe sounds, there are many who consider themselves Muslims yet don’t quite fit the bill of the great protector of the Kaaba’s definition of Muslim. As a result, there is some rank pulling.

Also, the privilege of the Muslim male cannot be ignored entirely either. The only country to ban women from driving, Saudi Arabia, can be a bit of a dangerous influence for our developing economy which already struggles with acute problems with respect to gender inclusion in the workforce. The annual Gender Gap Index by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum released last year showed Pakistan ranked 141 out of 142, which made it second to last in global gender equality. While the mighty can afford it with the oil wells and empires of astute financial investments, we really cannot. Women are as important to Pakistan as perhaps oil is to the Saudis. Our founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, called women a greater power than even the pen. Sadly, none of the gregarious receptions held in the honour of the great Imam had any worthy women in attendance. Very telling of the times to come if the friendship grows.

Thirdly, can something be done to secure the status of about a million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia? Majority of low-scale workers in Saudi Arabia from Pakistan are treated no less than second class citizens, which rides on Arab superiority. The Human Rights Watch calls it “near-slavery” and says many migrant workers face “arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and harsh punishments” and may falsely be accused of committing crimes. According to The Independent, in 2010 alone at least 27 migrant workers were executed. Where such reports can be a bit unpalatable, fiction can allow more room for truth. In his short story called A Mason’s Hand, Ali Akbar Natiq illustrates how a migrant worker with stars in his eyes about escaping Pakistan and working in the Holy Lands is exploited and left disillusioned. Tragically, this story is far too common outside the pages of a fiction book.

Lastly, what has Saudi Arabia’s role been in the unregulated and unchecked fattening of radicalised madrassa graduates? Even the clamour post-9/11 could not dent the burgeoning of these seminaries across Pakistan starting from the Ziaul Haq era. These grew mostly with the support of Saudi petro-clerics. Some experts claim that blended with tribal culture, the ideology that was fostered was a Talibanisque blend of mores. Pakistan has suffered as a result and what is now a mafia goes limping back for more funds because these are now a formidable force of street power.

Imam Kaaba Sheikh Al-Ghamdi did answer the comfortable questions though. Addressing one congregation he first said that violence can have no justification and that Islam deplores it; Muslims should seek knowledge and educate themselves; parents should ensure they vaccinate their children against polio and most importantly that believers should respect one another’s religious differences.

After the sermon, there was no question and answer session that followed.

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1 Comment

  1. Shahid

    You have not added anything new but the same old bashing against Saudi-Arabia. On the contrary Saudis can also ask some uncomfortable questions to you as well. Pakistan is at the receiving end when it comes to aid from Saudi either in monetary benefits or resources provided free of cost on number of occasions. Saudi-Arabia forced no one from within Pakistan to come and work as cheap labor, while at the same time hundreds of thousands of qualified Pakistan work force has benefited from Saudi Arabia’s hosptality in so many ways and has improved the standard of living both in Saudi as well their dependents in Pakistan. There are many many Pakistanis who have immigrated to the west from the GCC countries, had they not been working in GCC, it would be far more difficult for them to acquire visas or get a good job but all of this possible after having qualified experience from working in international companies in Saudi Arabia.
    GCC countries produced the bulk of foreign remittance to Pakistan, just imagine all of it vanished with a single decision to evict all Pakistanis from the GCC. You talk of slave conditions in Saudi for the work force, have you even seen a slave willingly want to be slaved? So who is at fault here?
    You mean to say in your family or friends no one ever benefited from Saudi or GCC in any capacity? I doubt it.
    Many pakistanis immigrated to canada and USA after applying from Saudi and the list of indirect benefits goes on and on.
    However I do concur with some of your points but then which society does not show prejudice towards foreigners? Do you not show the same or worse hatred towards immigrants in Pakistan from countries like Bangladesh?
    I bet if the table were turned and Pakistan had that much oil. you would be so arrogant and worse than any nation in the world towards the guests that might have come into Pakistan for work…
    I have seen Japanese, Koreans, Turkish, Spanish people working in few numbers in saudi and they never got the same treatment which you talked about? do you know why? Because those countries never sent their dump waste to Saudi arabia. They do not send the failures to these countries. Rather they send the top of the people from education and engineering to compliment the saudi market workforce. I met with many saudis and all of em complaint that majority of the untrained workforce has been sent from South asian countries, hence the treatment is similar.


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