- The persistent persist, such is the power of irrational belief
In Germany it seems persons who are superstitious burn hair instead of throwing them in the trash, a practice shared by their counterparts in Pakistan. While in Pakistan the belief behind this is that hair can be used in black magic rituals, in Germany they’re worried a bird may carry the hair off to line its nest, which apparently causes the donor to suffer headaches. And heaven forbid that the bird should be a starling because then the person is likely to go blind of cataract. That one has of course been defeated by surgical removal of cataracts, and there is always the ubiquitous Paracetamol to combat headaches, but no doubt the persistent persist, such is the power of irrational belief.
Hair it seems is interesting. Once again in Germany, if a girl wants to know what her husband’s hair is like before he appears on the scene, she must lean backwards out of the door on Christmas eve and grab. She will find some hair in her hand and that is what her husband’s hair will be like. Presumably, if her hand comes back empty he is likely to be bald? Dunno. Superstitions are as vague as they are irrational.
It isn’t just ignorant, uneducated societies that foster superstitions. Germany which is neither appears to host hundreds of superstitions some of which nasty, such as the one that asks you to slap a child as soon as you see its first tooth. Apparently, it makes babies teethe more easily. And likely as not it also produces an adult with an irrational fear of teeth.
But superstitions have another side which is less easily dismissed. In Pakistan for example there is a widespread belief in the power of prayer to purify water. Several years ago a representative of the WHO reported via IRIN, the news agency focusing on humanitarian issues, that during floods that year 13pc of 4.4 million people treated by the WHO in just one month were suffering from acute diarrhea. A doctor in the area reports that although chlorine tablets were distributed people disliked its taste in the water and preferred to get a ‘pir’ to pray over the water. That, they believed, purified the water, but instead it caused illness, and death.
Mufti Muneebur Rehman who heads the Ruyat e Hilal Committee helpfully offered his opinion that this belief was incorrect, and said that Imams should tell their congregations so in each mosque. His opinion is appreciated, but coming from a gentleman who believes that life stops unless he physically sights the moon this advice holds only as much water as that satellite, which is hunted down by Mufti sahib and his colleagues from the top of a tower twice a year.
The sad fact is that pirs are taken seriously in this country. Although there must be some well-meaning ones, a growing number of pirs are out to make money by using religion to manipulate a gullible, poverty ridden population, or else – as in the US which is not as poverty ridden except in pockets –persons searching for an anchor and strength in their lives, in the absence of religion. Many of these so called spiritual leaders whose edicts actually lead to death continue their work without being apprehended, which is where Pakistan needs to get its act together. Charles Manson for example, in the US died at the age of eighty-three in a Californian prison. He had been found guilty of nine first degree murders and seven counts of conspiracy to murder; these had been carried out by members of his cult, his murid, at his instruction. He was initially handed a death sentence which was changed to life when California invalidated the death penalty in the 70s.
Although there must be some well-meaning ones, a growing number of pirs are out to make money by using religion
You wonder if the ‘spiritual leader’ who directed two brothers to bury their mentally disturbed sister alive in a well in Taxila will be apprehended and punished – the second does not always follow the first even if the person apprehended is found guilty. It seems the pir told the brothers that their sister was under an evil influence which would affect the rest of the family, and advised them to kill her. And they were so under his influence that they complied.
There was also the case last year of a similar leader in a village near Sargodha who clubbed and knifed twenty persons to death in what he called an attempt to cleanse them of their sins and send them straight to heaven. He, thankfully was arrested, but one does not know what followed the arrest. Let us hope this man, Waheed is his name, and others like him, are more regularly apprehended and placed where they can no longer influence the convoluted thought processes of gullible persons, a tortured population, which should be taught to differentiate between religion and fraud on this and other platforms.