Khuda Khay Liye (In the name of God): Not a plea, not a defense but a statement.

By Dilshan Boange Film festivals hosted by diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka generally evoke a buzz every year amongst filmgoers who have a taste for cultural diversity. The first ever Pakistan film festival hosted by the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo opened in grand ceremonial style on Friday the 4th of November at the auditorium of the National Film Corporation marking another stride in creating cultural dialogue between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. One of the notables of this event which was graced by a cross-section of high profile figures was also that it was a platform for the government of Pakistan to send out a salutary message to the people of Sri Lanka.

The notion of fanaticism and fundamentalism being more or less inherent to Muslims or the followers of Islam has been growing amongst people throughout the world in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the USA on September 11th 2001. And made part and parcel of this viewpoint is the word ‘Jihad’ or ‘holy war’ which seems to be a word utilized by fundamentalists and proponents of extremism in the Islamic world and also doubly serves the cause of those who present a moral right to confront the Islamic world under the banner of protecting their national interests and justifying ‘preemptive attacks’. In this regard I wish to draw attention to the words of Her Excellency Seema Ilahi Baloch the High Commissioner of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, who in the opening address pointed out how the word Jihad is meant to speak of the ‘war within us’ the human soul, and speaks of the need for the triumph of good over evil. It is very much a facet of interiority that comes into focus if one therefore approaches the concept of Jihad.

The film itself was something very much off the beaten track and brought out aspects of life in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks which actually were fitted into the larger contexts of two very potent themes relating to contemporary South Asian people. Firstly the all too well known ‘migrant identity’ crisis was brought out through the character of the Pakistani father Hassan who is domiciled in UK having migrated as a young man and at a crossroads with a nubile daughter who is every bit a Brit in her outlooks and wants to marry her sweetheart Dave, a Briton. Secondly the dilemma brought onto Muslims around the world in being branded extremists and fundamentalists and therefore termed ‘terrorists’.

The communal impact (caused by fellow Pakistanis in UK) opposing marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man becomes the trigger that makes Hassan impose his paternal will on his daughter which interestingly takes on a very ‘by way of deception’ modus operandi. He takes her to his home country on the pretense of taking her to visit her cousins and

relatives whom she has never met and entraps her in a forced marriage in a remote locale between the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan where tribal law dominates and the government itself cannot impose its authority arbitrarily. The groom interestingly enough is Hassan’s younger nephew who is drawn towards hard line fundamentalism, owing to the pontifications of a certain mullah who lures him to believe he is doing the work of god. On another side of the world in the USA the older nephew of Hassan who is passionately devoted to his study of music follows his higher studies in musicology and becomes romantically involved with a US girl, a classmate who sees no barriers of race or religion between them. And with parental consent the two marry but their newly found life of marital happiness is short lived after the events of 9/11, which plunges the US into paranoia driven by the need for airtight national security measures to ensure no stone is left unturned. The musician is abducted at night from his house and taken into government custody and subjected to brutal treatment which flagrantly violates all notions of human rights. And all of this is done on a baseless assumption that by virtue of being a Muslim and a (Pakistani at that) there must be some link between him and Al-Qaeda. The severe beating he finally receives leaves him in a state of mental infirmity.

The daughter of Hassan, Mary or Miriam (as her Muslim name would be) who is held captive in the ‘border region’ is made to forcibly bear a child after her bid made in desperation to escape is thwarted, and her ‘husband’ is told by a friend to create more pressing conditions to anchor her. Yet her salvation comes when she manages to have a letter posted to Dave in UK explaining her plight. I won’t describe the final outcome which results in a remarkable unfolding of revelations about the ‘politics of interpretation’ when it comes to the word of god written in the Holy Koran. I do not want to summarize this last part of the film which really carries the thrust of the message about how religiosity can be hijacked and made to serve politics of extremism and people in search of god can be easily mislead.

I would urge Sri Lankans to watch Khuda Khay Liye (In the name of God) because of the record sets straight about many misconceptions borne commonly about Islam and its followers. I believe the Pakistani HC has made a very progressive step in developing better dialogue between our two countries by hitting on a crucial matter that needs to be addressed with wider discussion in this present political landscape. And if I were to say that this film seemed one which is meant for non –Muslim people alone I feel I would be wrong. Perhaps it is also a message to Muslims in general that can help better the cordiality between Muslim and non-Muslim communities to better grasp what can be prone to misrepresentation and what needs to be discussed with a more open mind. I strongly felt the film was not a plea to the world at large to urge the world to understand the true essence of Islam, nor was it in defense of the word of the Holy Koran which like any holy scripture can be interpreted for purposes other than the advancement of spirituality,

but rather it came as a statement about what has been misrepresent and what is needed to be better understood and appreciated to build a better tomorrow for humanity.