Pakistan’s “father of the bomb”, Abdul Qadeer Khan, writes a weekly column where you might expect him to teach Pakistanis the real lessons of science. He does nothing of the sort. He actually pontificates about religion. An April column of his was titled “Ablutions and prayers”, which was to be serialised, as he had more to say about these pre-namaz rituals of cleanliness than one thought.
First, he carefully scans the various ways of cleaning the body recommended by the various exegeses of Islam, Hanafi, Shafei, etc. These imams ordained washing after you’ve made yourself unclean, with special regard to male genitals. There is even the pain of “ghusl (bath)”, because mere washing may not suffice. A.Q. Khan is unrelenting in his pursuit of detail: “The followers of Imam Abu Hanifa consider the touching of a non-related woman and the touching of one’s own genitals as elements for ablution/ shower. They also consider uncontrolled laughter during prayers requiring renewed ablution. All Muslim scholars advise that, should there be the slightest doubt, ablution should be renewed.” (The News, April 27). There are concessions, of course. If you can’t find water, he writes, get a handful of sand.
And why not avoid touching women? Especially this evil habit of shaking hands with women you don’t know? Why I recommend this becomes obvious from the following ritual he sets down as compulsory: “One should start with Bismillah, sit facing the Kaaba, wash all organs three times, always right side first, then left, wet head and beard thoroughly and end with recitation of the Confessional Kalima.” This excellent tip makes it clear to me why, at my workplace, most bathrooms are such a mess. If the washbasin and the Kaaba fall on opposite sides, you have to do nearly impossible acrobatics to achieve the piety of cleanliness.
Like many of us living in the Islamic timewarp, he assumes that “nowadays, our young generation is hardly being taught to recite the Quran, learn namaz and the rituals of ablution and shower”. The fact is that in the 21st century, Muslims live under Islamisation as never before in history. In my office, all the young people say their namaz and, of course, do their ablutions. The bathrooms bear testimony to that. But keen on learning to wash myself properly before saying my prayers, I must listen to Khan and obey him. I would be following Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution even though I know I would flunk recitation of longer verses of the Quran required by these articles.
Khan concludes: “I intend to perform all the ‘ghusls (bath)’ which are compulsory for me to cleanse myself and to protect myself from ‘shaitan (Satan)’.”
All great men who contribute to the welfare of the Islamic state must be pious like Khan. Next to nuclear scientists, most of whom have flowing beards, one expects the judges to be pious as they dispense justice. It is praiseworthy that our judges give ample evidence of deep personal piety in times when the world is unfairly accusing us of letting bearded killers walk. If some judges are not bearded, it doesn’t matter too much because they make up with their wonderful obiter dicta of endless piety.
Nuclear weapons are for the defence of the Muslim nation in Pakistan. Therefore, the making of nuclear bombs must qualify as an act of piety for which the reward is paradise. At times we call this achievement of Khan an “Islamic bomb”, because there is no such thing as a Pakistani nation. All Muslims are one nation called “ummah”; therefore, the bomb Khan has fathered is Islamic rather than Pakistani. We are sure we are ordained to make the bomb because of the Quranic verse that says “keep your horses ready”.
But why have we made the bomb? Our nuclear doctrine says it is India-specific. India made the bomb first, leaping all roadblocks erected against proliferation. Pakistan had to follow to secure itself against an Indian invasion like the one in East Pakistan in 1971. A complication, however, has risen now that Balochistan is convulsed with an insurgency brewing since Pakistan’s early years. The bomb has not prevented the insurgency.
There is yet another complication that must bother our pious Khan. Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says the Quran actually forbids the manufacture of nuclear weapons, which is why Iran has no intention of making a bomb. It is the impiety of America and the West that gets in the way of believing Tehran’s sincere assertion. The Iranian nation believes the great leader, and Iranian nationalism is deeply attached to the creation of electricity through nuclear power stations, unlike Pakistan and India, where the nations are deeply attached to their phallic nukes. Their nuclear scientists are made presidents instead of being condemned. (Khan narrowly missed being made one.)
There is another complication Khan’s ablutions will not help resolve. Saudi Arabia too wants its bomb in obedience to the edict, “keep your horses ready”. But this bomb will not be Israel-specific, although any Islamic bomb should be. Just as Pakistan’s bomb failed to become Israel-specific and declined into being merely India-specific, the Saudi bomb will become Iran-specific. And that hurtles us into yet another polemic. The Saudi bomb will be a Sunni bomb, aimed against a Shia bomb of Iran that Khamenei denies. But who listens? Pakistan also swore for decades it was not making a bomb, and nobody listened. Looking at what Pakistan is doing to its Shias, one has a strong suspicion that its bomb will soon convert into a Sunni bomb.
Khan must focus on the sectarian nature of his achievement. He has given us a purely Sunni way of washing the body before praying. Had he been non-sectarian, he would have explained why the Shia kalima is different from the one recited by Sunnis. He was always in favour of letting Iran know nuclear secrets so that it could produce electricity. How could he forget Iran while cleaning himself for namaz?
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’