Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jihad against joy

"The Prophet said that Allah commanded him to destroy all the musical instruments, idols, crosses and all the trappings of ignorance." - Hadith Qudsi 19:5

"There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious." - Ayatollah Khomeini

Farhan Khan, a drummer in a band, is taking a break from performing. This move was prompted by his mother, who worries that her son might become a target for the Islamic extremists gradually asserting their power in this city.

In recent months, as theaters have been bombed, art festivals interrupted, and musicians targeted, Mr. Khan has learned firsthand about the rising level of hostility toward his profession.

"Once, I was walking down a street: I wear my hair long and was wearing tattered jeans," he says. "As I neared a corner, I came across a bearded man who gave me a dirty look and then scowled at me."

The stranger approached Khan and told him, "You should cut off your hair and grow your beard if you know what's good for you."

Those who've been living in Lahore – a city of 10 million – for many years find the idea of extremism arriving on these streets baffling. But its presence is growing, and musicians, artists, and performers are among those most affected.

Event manager Aamir Mazhar laments the rising threat to Punjab Province's cultural capital, a hub of the latest styles, films, and comedy performances.

"This was the best city in the world," says Mr. Mazhar, rushing around a venue to arrange a launch party. "There was an energy, an enthusiasm, and a life here, which no other city could rival."

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