The writer is a hafiz-e-Quran and is about to start studying at the International Islamic University Islamabad firstname.lastname@example.org
Khaled Ahmed’s recent article “Daughters of Al Huda” (August 22) met a negative and spirited response by readers. In my opinion, as a former student, the reasoning in the article wasn’t absolutely correct and seemed slightly prejudiced. But it did have some valid points. I don’t believe Al Huda to be as ideal as it is portrayed but not because of the reasons given by the writer in his article but because of my own experience with the Al Huda community.
Al Huda is administered by the four Hashmi sisters, all four of whom speak English and are seen by many urban-upper middle and upper-class women as modern Islamic revolutionaries. Al Huda students will say that the sisters are generous, pious, humble and down-to-earth but the truth is that they are proud and get easily offended if they are not treated like VIP celebrities. They are arrogant and cruel to servants and lower-grade employees.
Having said that, contrary to what that Khaled Ahmed’s article hints at, they are not breeding terrorists. But neither are they planting reasoning or thinking seeds in their student’s minds. Al Huda believes in conspiracy theories and students are led to believe that Muslims are perfect and this in turn means that they are not taught on how self-assessment as a Muslim is important. Students are told that the world is bad and Muslims are the best and that the former needs to reform itself. In my view, this makes for an individual who is not very humble and misses out on the humility inherent in Islam.
As mentioned in the article, it is true that Al Huda caters only to the privileged class and the audience of their ‘dars’ consists of rich elderly aunties who upon entering Al Huda circle act as if they just embraced Islam for the first time. But the writer’s view that they isolate themselves from society is far from reality since these ladies are active in social events and gatherings.
Unlike Khaled Ahmed’s assertion, Al Huda students are quite tolerant, polite and not violent at all in their approach so calling them future terrorists and suicide bombers is a rigid and bigoted perception in itself. The ladies gathered are pretty content discussing issues like the Day of Judgement, pleasures of paradise, horrors of hell and the menace of Star Plus. And I assure him that none of them is as insane as wanting to blow herself up.
It is quite understandable to consider Al Huda’s concepts as outdated, rigid and conservative or orthodox but since the women gathered in their lectures have no intentions of enforcing their beliefs on everyone using ‘dandas’ like the Lal Masjid extremists, it is unfair to tag them as a potential threat to society. They are not monstrous and harmful as many claim but at the same time neither are the Hashmi sisters some sort of superwomen. Nor is Al Huda an inspiration to install enlightenment or rationality in society.
So, if you are planning to tip some cash in Al Huda’s Ramazan zakat fund, think twice before doing so. Others are more deserving, and do a better job. We need to be suspicious of anyone who wishes to “own” Islam and whose practice of it tolerates no other views.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2010.