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Pakistan: Return of the jinns

by Kamila Hyat, 30 September 2018

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The News, September 27, 2018

For a society that hopes to move towards progress and development – something the PTI government clearly aspires to achieve – we work in strange ways.

The Air University, a public research university established by the Pakistan Air Force, held a seminar at its Islamabad campus in April this year to discuss jinns and the role of the occult in society. This widely-advertised event was presided over by ‘spiritual cardiologist’ Raja Ziaul Haq, who describes himself on his social media page as a “FUNdamentalist”.

Quite obviously, our society is becoming a place of increased confusion and intellectual chaos. This, of course, is not the first seminar about jinns. Others have been held over the years. Some were held as far back as in the era of General Ziaul Haq, who bizarrely attempted to introduce ‘Islamic science’ and promote theories under which energy harnessed from jinns could be used to fulfil our fuel shortage and resolve other issues.

Over 30 years later, it doesn’t appear that these men of wisdom have succeeded in achieving what they had hoped for. If they had, many of our national problems would have been solved by now. Perhaps the third Mrs Imran Khan – who, according to reports, is able to summon jinns – could come to their assistance in this urgent matter.

Jokes also appear everywhere about using jinns to build the Diamer-Basha Dam or other projects at a far faster pace than what would be possible from the donations collected from people across the country. In fact, the concept of black magic, jinns and other forces has come back to campuses across Pakistan with something of a bang – like a genie released from a bottle.

There has always been a problem in attempting to combine religion with science. The issue is that it holds back both religion and science. What we urgently need to develop in our society is rationality, and the ability to think logically and with a definite purpose. Sadly, we have floundered in this.

Scientific research, even at our leading universities, is generally of an extremely poor quality, and one reason for this is that we tend to shy away from the hard facts of science. The wonderful world of magic is, after all, far more potent. The belief of so many influential persons in its powers can only enhance the importance that ordinary people attach to it.

Since the Zia era, scientists engaged in more serious research have attempted to encourage the ability to separate physics and related sciences from matters of personal belief. Despite the harsh and daring critiques put forward by some of them, they have floundered in their efforts.

Even at the school level, pupils hesitate to embrace basic science. In a growing number of cases, both teachers and students put forward the idea that religious and scientific beliefs can be intermingled to form a whole. There are many loopholes in these theories. Yet, we seem to find these theories to be the only acceptable way to embrace science and its theories. No doubt, there are more and more confused high-school and college students wandering through the classrooms of even our leading institutions.

We need to accept that a Pakistan of the future – the Naya Pakistan promised to us by the PTI – must be built on reality. As has happened in India, the refusal to create a break between beliefs and scientific facts creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty. It also prevents us from moving forward and leads respectable TV hosts to go along with absurd theories, such as the one presented some years ago by a group of young people who insisted that they had discovered a way to make a car run on water. Mainstream television channels reported this news with a great deal of enthusiasm.

There is no understanding that something which seems too good to be true is probably untrue. The science behind that mythical car was always flawed. Few among us even understood the basics of science and instead clamoured for the mystical or magical. Even in major cities like Lahore, many centres offer classes in the art of the occult for people who are willing to pay for them. These classes include tarot-reading, palm-reading, tea-leaf reading and all kinds of other theories that are essentially based on myth.

We have failed to develop mindsets that can promote independent research in the sciences or even the arts. Many of our top leaders, some educated at leading institutions around the world, turn to their spiritual leaders when it comes to making important decisions. Imran Khan has taken things one step forward by marrying his spiritual leader. This must make the transfer of information that much easier, avoiding the need for last-minute meetings or trips out of the home.

What is dangerous is that there appears to be no reduction in beliefs involving the occult. At seminars where these matters are discussed, hundreds of students and many academics gather to hear the views of speakers. There is little or no attempt to question what they say.

At street corners, even in our largest cities, we have signs from so-called doctors who say they can treat all living creatures – human, animal or jinns. It would, of course, be truly wonderful if we could simply wave a magic wand in the air or utter a few words to put into action an army from a world we cannot see to undertake various tasks for us. There are indeed many tasks that need to be completed.

Apart from the building of dams, we need roads, schools, trees, hospitals, cleaner air, potable water and a great deal more. It is quite true that it sometimes seems like this can only happen if magic is deployed. The task appears to fall beyond the capacity of man, unaided by other means.

It is, however, important to remember that we live in the real world, not one that belongs to a fantasy novel. To succeed in it, we need painstaking research and a careful review of facts.

We have failed to achieve this not only in the sciences, but also in history and the other humanities. The facts contained in textbooks are often inaccurate. Even a cursory study reveals the flaws.

Plagiarism is common, even at the highest levels of academic study. As a nation, we need to learn how to develop an ability to think scientifically. This capacity alone can help us address at least some of our difficulties.

Holding conferences where the less certain ‘arts’ of this world are discussed doesn’t seem to be a useful activity. Yet, it is one that we are, more often than not, turning towards. We have in past years produced great scientists like Dr Abdus Salam – even if we don’t accept his genius today.

There are also other Pakistanis who have excelled in the world of science globally, such as Dr Nergis Mavalvala, who is the associate head of Physics at MIT and was part of a team that discovered gravitational waves in an award-winning research effort.

It is people like her and others who excel in their fields across the world who we need to invite to our campuses to conduct seminars and inspire young people to pursue research and conduct discoveries of their own. Only then can we move from darkness to light.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.


The above article from The News is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use