Ahmad Hasan Sheikh To lead a people even in normal times is a forbidding undertaking. But to pull a dispirited and dishevelled people out of the trough of despair is truly a Herculean task. As we survey our national scene, do we see any sign of a leadership up to that challenge. Far from it. Only pygmies and moons straddle our polity trying to show themselves as pace-setters. Muck, however, is all that is daily splashed across the pages of the print media, as well as in TV talk shows, because there is nothing but loot and grab that is there to report. One thing of course is for sure. The awam beguiled into believing as kingmakers during elections have been reduced as vermin - pulverised as routine but pulped out of existence, if they dare squeak. Vultures of every hue are swooping on them, now that they are gasping for last breaths. To relieve the sombreness of the scenario, one is tempted to see these 'vultures playing the role of jatti (the peasant girl) of a Punjabi folklore, who pines for everybody to perish but her lover, Mirza. To quote: A peasant girl (in love) goes to Shah Muqeems retreat and implores, I will sacrifice a goat in the name of the pir were my husband to pass away / some of my women neighbours to meet death and the rest laid up with fever / the faqirs bitch to perish as she continuously whines fire to consume the banias shop / which is always open (and) the neighbourhood to become deserted / with my lover, Mirza (alone) roaming about. Even armchair critics are talking of revolution or rebellion as the only way out to escape from the present throttling impasse. Whichever demolishes and wipes out the existing iniquitous social, economic, political, and even moral order is now awaited with bated breath by a groaning mass of humanity. Does that yearning shock the inveterate optimists whose patriotic fervour refuses to see the writing on the wall? Does that send shivers down the spine of looters whose ravenous greed knows no limits? Does that disturb the sweat dreams of feudals who chain at will hapless humans as cattle to keep their lands green? Does it signal an ominous warning to the entire breed of 'holinesses - the pirs, the sajjada nashins, the maulanas, the muftis, the mujtahids - who are on a fleecing spree of a populace, terrorised into mute servitude by visitations of hellfire? Does that strip the mask off the faces of the defenders of our geographical and ideological frontiers? In fact, we have no identity left, least of all as Muslims. If across the border live idol-worshippers from whom we separated, we are equally ardent grave-worshippers. A young man, who studies only the Quran remarked that the only difference we have with the Hindus is that of names otherwise our conduct does not reflect a modicum of Islamic values. Basically, by our behaviour we have repudiated the greatest blessing Allah bestowed on us and therefore stand on the brink of a pit of fire. Says the Quran: And hold fast, all together, by the rope of Allah and be not divided; and remember the favour of Allah which He bestowed upon you when you were enemies and He united your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became as brothers; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire and He saved you from it (3:102). The pull of faith among the common run of Muslims, however deviant, leads them both to positive and negative action, depending on who motivates them and for what purpose. This is both the strongest and weakest streak in their psyche. It is not a conundrum but an easily explainable phenomenon only if we were to keep in mind the history of the rise and fall of Muslims. The role of the clergy and others who manipulate them in the name of religion has been pivotal in their decline, both in terms of power and knowledge. The question arises: Why the Muslims have not learnt from history and allow themselves to be duped so easily for serving different agendas. The simple answer is that their attachment to their faith is based on emotion and not reason, on rituals and not the spirit, and on personality cults and not the message. In other words, they have distanced themselves from the pristine source of Divine guidance and the life-pattern of the ideal exemplar (May Peace Be Upon Him). When the Quran urges the believers to remember Allah while standing, sitting and lying on their side, it does not mean mere verbal repetition of His name but that the believers should abide by His commandments in whatever posture of lifes activities they find themselves - in other words, the entire gamut of life. There is no question of pick and choose on the basis of human preferences and inclinations: Enter totally into the fold of Islam, says the Quran. We have been persuaded to believe, and I daresay, erroneously that the knowledge of our faith is circumscribed by five fundamentals alone. The Quran brings us face to face with its message by inviting us in about 700 verses to observe and study nature exposing before our quest for knowledge a never-ending vista of reality. It is in this context that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said that every step that is taken outside ones house to seek knowledge is a step taken towards paradise. This indeed is a revolutionary concept of ibadat, which the Muslims have come to associate exclusively with the prayer carpet and the rosari. A scientist may well rank higher than the recluse, who repairs himself to the mosque for Ehtekaf for the remembrance of Allah, if his endeavours contribute to human welfare. One is a seeker of bliss for himself - essentially a selfish motivation, while the other tries to serve humanity by his findings, thus becoming a better client for Divine grace. Our adherence to our faith, in the language of Tasuwwaf, is measured by how profusely we weep for fear of Allah and the Hereafter. But is weeping alone the fate of Muslims in this world? Should they continue grovelling in ignorance and ignominy, both at the hands of their own exploiters and enemies, without their present pastime being flying at each others throat on sectarian and ethnic divides? They have made themselves sitting ducks. Even rabbits are not killed with that abandon. The writer is a freelance columnist.