My Fellow Citizens

A letter to Pakistan

Click above to listen to the Urdu audio.

Once again, Pakistan stands at the cross-roads of history. This time, however, the entire world seems to be at a cross-roads.

Being the sixth largest population in the world, Pakistan has a special place. Unfortunately, we’re seen as extremists and worse, this view is understandable to some extent because we haven’t formulated an alternate narrative based on intellect, knowledge and logic.

Fortunately, our heritage contains wisdom that can be used not only to solve our problems but also to facilitate meaningful diplomacy between the Chinese, Anglo-Saxon and Muslim spheres.

Every year in the month of Muharram, Muslim families remember the tragedy of Karbala. They remember how Hussain chose to sacrifice himself and his own family over pledging allegiance to Yazid. Yazid was a dictator who wanted to create a family empire. He worshipped the ego, so to speak. But what does that mean? Why exactly was that considered a serious enough threat to the spiritual roots of Islam that the grandson of Muhammad sacrificed all the men of his family at Karbala?

Hussain’s father, Imam Ali, who is revered as the spiritual fountainhead of Islam across all sects, writes: God sent Prophets to mankind to uncover the buried treasures of the intellect. Ali repeatedly refers to mysteries of the intellect and hidden realities that he was able to experience through his higher consciousness. According to Ali, the intellect has many forms, of which the mental faculty is just one. In the Latin and Greek traditions, the word intellectus or nous refers to that which is capable of direct contemplative vision of transcendent realities. Reason is different; it has to do with conventional logic and mental faculty. Ali too argues that true knowledge is that which is experienced not just with reason but with intellectus. This is only made possible by the temporary quietening of the ego, the seat of power of reason. This is the “greater Jihad” that you might have heard of.

Ali goes on to describe three types of people in society. Those who seek this higher knowledge and unravel mysteries of the intellect through struggle against the ego. Those who seek knowledge from the eye of reason. And those who do not seek knowledge at all, happily swaying with the trends of the day. According to Ali, seekers of higher knowledge are the ones through whom this spiritual meaning of religion survives through the ages.

Such wisdom cannot be bought or sold. It cannot be a trust fund asset. Yazid and perhaps every empire builder ignorant of higher wisdom has considered such philosophical ideas a threat to power because geniuses can be born in a poor household and the average person can be born to a king. There is only so much you can polish a turd.

In “The Republic”, Plato talks about these three types of people too. According to him, one important element of justice is that people’s role in society be according to the degree to which they uncover the hidden facets of their intellectus. He emphasizes on the importance of philosopher kings because only they can serve such justice and understand the mind.

Islam stripped this idea of its paradoxical kingliness to the point that the word used for it, faqr, is popularly associated with destitution and poverty, demonstrating the degree to which this knowledge remains lost to those who need it most. In truth, it refers to the same spiritual or philosophical practice that is being discussed here.

Perhaps this is why Iqbal wrote:

There is a faqr that teaches the hunter how to prey

There is a faqr that unravels secrets of mastery over the world

There is a faqr that is the root of needfulness and misery among nations

There is a faqr that turns dust into elixir

There is the faqr of Hussain, the faqr which contains

The Muslim heritage in which Hussain invested his death

This is the heritage of knowledge and wisdom based on which Pakistan can construct cultural highways between the Chinese, Anglo-Saxon and Muslim spheres. Perhaps this is why Ghalib wrote:

Though not there but (they) were at least thrown out of there

These “idols” have a distant connection to Kaaba too

Who says everyone will find the same answer

Let’s take a trip down to Mount Sinai ourselves

There is good reason to be suspicious about such ideas because of the power inherent in them, but we may be at the precipice of bridging this wisdom with psychology and neuroscience.

You can already put a helmet on and monitor neuronal activity in different parts of the brain. Based on this, it is already possible to see whether you are ruminating in thoughts about yourself, or whether your struggle against the ego is succeeding. How this relates to the creative process is also being understood. It’s a remarkable discovery that is consistent with philosophical ideas that are not only thousands of years old but common across cultures!

By now, it should be obvious that we, particularly Muslims, have made some grave mistakes in our interpretation of Islam, mistakes that have, at least for now, rendered us ignorant of our intellectual heritage. We talk about unity between sects and religions but unity eludes us because our attempts have been largely superficial and symbolical, disconnected from greater philosophy and wisdom. Therefore, political, spiritual, social, creative, technological, military and business leaders must pay attention to these ideas and step up their game if they are to remain relevant in the twenty first century.

If we succeed in unraveling these mysteries of the mind, we can deal with all the challenges that face us, be they internal or external, economic or social, political or spiritual.

So let us dream.

We are 220 million people, most younger than 30. Among us, there are probably thousands of geniuses who can find novel solutions to our problems. We should have a clear policy for identifying, mentoring and nurturing such minds.

Let us dream that we will find our philosopher kings, our faqeers, our wise men and women and trust them to lead us in all areas, including religion.

Let us dream.

Let us dream that in the light of our rich philosophical heritage, we will employ struggle against the ego to catch a glimpse of the truth, to be aware of our own emotions, biases and limitations.

Let us dream.

We have suffered from terrorism, warfare, violence, poverty and injustice for decades in which various traumas have ripped through our nation. How many great minds have we lost to these psychological wounds?

Let us dream that we will take care of our minds, because the path to wisdom starts there.

Let us dream that in the year 2050, people from all over the world will visit shrines and mosques in Pakistan to learn more about our wisdom, our philosophy, our spirituality. And they will come.

This soil can produce great yield, if it only receives the right mineral enrichment. So let us dream that we will use our agricultural base to become the world’s leading producer of nutritional whole foods. People around the world are increasingly transitioning to a diet based on plants and vegetables with nutritional value because there is ample scientific evidence that this is good for physical and mental health. At the same time, new ways to enrich soils and maximize yields are being researched that may increase crop yield to the point where might even be able to plant more forests to counter climate change.

Let us dream that in our soil we shall sow the seeds for those gifts of life that nourish our bodies and souls, something the whole world needs and values.

Let’s not give up. Come on, let’s dream.

Long live Pakistan!



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Shan Rizvi

Technology entrepreneur based in New York. Interested in art, music, philosophy, psychology, machine learning, neuroscience, physics, and nature.