To ensure that I could watch today’s India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal without interruption, I opted not to go into the office this morning. I must confess that my knowledge of all things cricket is exactly zero, including not knowing the basics of the game. Were it not for the regular YouTube forwards I was receiving from friends, I would have scarcely known the World Cup was in progress. Nevertheless, every fiber of my being wanted to see Pakistan prevail in this contest, and not merely because Pakistan’s perennial adversary was the opponent. Although extreme nationalism, to me, represents a collective sickness that invariably has a poisonous effect on a nation’s political and moral culture, supporting one’s country in athletic competition, seems to me a benign, even healthy, expression of nationalism, assuming it is not allowed to descend into a matter of life and death.
During the match, I found myself flipping back-and-forth between my web browser, trying to teach myself the rules of the game through Wikipedia while using the crowd’s audible reactions to gauge whether I was missing something crucial. The first couple of hours were painful to endure as India was scoring “4′s” with relative ease while Pakistan’s fieldsmen appeared to be underperforming, God bless them all. Without going into the minutia, the end result was emphatically depressing, as India prevailed and Pakistan found itself asking, yet again, what went wrong? Later in the day, I had dinner at a Pakistani restaurant in Tribeca–the consensus among knowledgeable cricketers was that today’s loss was owing more to Pakistan’s clumsiness than India’s superiority. I was very fond of that explanation.
While caring naught about the game of cricket, I wondered why I found myself praying to God Most-High, yes praying, that Pakistan triumph in this match. Understanding one’s intentions is never an easy task but, like many Pakistanis, perhaps more than anything I wanted to see the young children of Pakistan have a rare cause for celebration. To them, a World Cup victory would have meant the world. Like the black youth in inner-city America, sport is one of the few avenues that brings consolation to Pakistan’s young whose lives are often marred by destitution and despair. After enduring an unbroken chain of horrors–US depredations in Northwest Pakistan that have killed scores of civilians and given life to a religious extremism that has severed the nation into two, devastating floods that much of the world turned, and continues to turn, a blind eye to, and a country that remains mired in poverty, illiteracy, and social and economic injustice, perhaps a World Cup victory would have breathed life into the dying children of Pakistan. But it was not meant to be, this time around.
I had the good fortune of visiting a flood-ravaged village in Pakistan last November and was astonished to find that, having endured tragedy on a scale that a privileged American like me could not comprehend, the poor villagers, both young and old, remained hopeful, benevolent, and above all, patient and ever-reliant on their Maker. Several young boys invited me to play cricket, and despite being the worst batsman on the field, I was made to stay in position until I made contact between bat and ball. Fathers who had not a penny to their name refused to accept a token charity of 500 rupees, insisting that the only charity they wished to receive was for us to tell our countrymen back home that they were suffering and had been abandoned by everyone–their government, international relief agencies, and indeed the entire world.
Several months ago, Newsweek ran a cover story on Pakistan that featured a young child standing drenched in the flood waters, his face wearing a startled and sullen expression. The caption read, “The World’s Bravest Nation: Pakistan.” Despite today’s cricket loss, which is ultimately of no moral consequence to the people of Pakistan, the country will indeed emerge from its present malaise and ins sha Allah set an example of moral excellence that will inspire not merely the Muslim world, but all the nations of the world. I live nearly seven thousand miles from Pakistan, but from what I can observe from afar, there is developing within the country an indigenous movement, lead by the youth, that insists upon breaking away from the tradition of greed, corruption, and obstinacy that so many of Pakistan’s forefathers made the nation’s defining trait. I pray that establishing a permanent peace with India will be part of that break.
Muslims are taught that God tests those he loves most with trial and tribulation and that human suffering facilitates spiritual purification, one that serves to continually remind a believer of the nexus between the earthly and celestial worlds. Indeed, Prophet Jesus and Muhammad, God love them both, reminded their followers that the “meek and poor” would be the first to enter the gates of Heaven. Even Europe’s most merciless opponent of organized religion, Frederich Nietzsche, was quite right to say, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Pakistan would do well to reflect on Nietzsche’s adage and remember that every misery it endures will only make it more-and-more impervious to defeat. Dostoevsky remarked that “even if you do not believe God, live life as though you do,“ recognizing that a conscious awareness of the Divine was the most effective way to live a life of patience and moral reserve. Noam Chomsky, a child of the secular enlightenment, has stated that despite not having faith himself, he envies people of faith, considering them “lucky.”
The people of Pakistan are indeed lucky and perhaps they will find that their cause for grief is their greatest blessing of all:
“And [God] will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and crops, but give good tidings to those who patiently persevere.”(Qur’an 2:155).
“O you who believe, seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for God is with those who are patient.” (Qur’an 2:153).
“No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a [believer], even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that God forgives his sins.” – Prophet Muhammad (Sahih Bukhari).