Longer and more hassle than expected, I got shoved about the bus 5 times before I made a point of using explicitly direct English as a warning to give me a break, they'd better give me an allocated seat or else! The recompense was that the hostel in Lahore was remarkably quiet, it being "Sufi Thursday" I had feared it would be full. With my visa up, necessitating by rights the crossing into India the next day, fatigue and health concerns persuaded me to decide to push my luck and overstay in Pakistan by a day, it would be the first time I had done that anywhere. With a bit of luck it would pass unnoticed and after all, what were they going to do? A paltry "fine" was the most likely response, and a worthwhile investment for the chance to clear up loose ends and rest I decided. It was perverse that with multi-entry visas for both countries, a quick hop across and back again would have bagged me another whole month in Pakistan, but it was one protracted hop I guessed.
I also finally managed to catch up on some Islamic reading I had acquired in Mashad, which now helped to solidify my soon to be post impressions of a 4 month odyssey with the faith. I had certainly tried to be receptive to the culture, its pertinence to the current global situation had made the establishment of informed perceptions of it a priority. I had spoken to learned Quranis in mosques, men on buses and in shrines as well as in the street, but in conclusion there was no getting away from the fact that it was just one more cult which subscribed to a belief system which boiled down to superstition. Great pride was taken in the fact that allegedly Islam, that is the Quran (meaning The Recital), it being the literal word of god, had an answer for everything. It reputedly even told men how to make love to their wives for example (though more often not!). But it was clearly conjecture when as much emphasis was placed upon what lay hidden between the lines, that of course was open to interpretation. Crucially, if the literal word was to be followed to the letter then that clearly also denied the right to free thought. In an ever changing world where outside influences such as western liberalism encroached through globalisation, no wonder there was a tendancy towards confrontation. Its inherent stagnation deemed it inevitable that it would be left variously inappropriate and at odds with other belief systems, unable and unwilling to adapt. For a faith which a quarter of all humanity followed I found it disappointingly one dimensional, it was the antithesis of intelligence to subscribe to such fixed ideas.
From the part of the Quran I had managed to read I found a disappointingly ordinary chant which to me smacked of being obviously man derived. Quirks of local culture such as crops, foodstuffs and animals like camels showed it to be a product of Arabia and therefore not exactly relevant as a guidebook for the world as was claimed. The most notable impression of it however was disturbingly the incessant mantra of words to the effect of "You'd better believe in this or else!", it was laced with threat. The faithfull would be rewarded by Allah, to lie with virgins or drink wine in paradise for example, any associated questions of morality now suspiciously and conveniently absent, but woe betide those who did not adhere. Referred to as the unbelievers in the main but sometimes specifically targeting Christians and Jews, they were destined to burn in hell if they didnt submit. It made me want to read The Satanic Verses like never before to see if this had been the gist of Rushdie's interpretation. Overall, it was a terribly one-dimensional order, resistant to free thought, confrontational, hypocritical, with even idolatrism occasionally thrown into the mix to further discredit it.
The most important factor however, one so obvious and yet startling to me, was that it was a culture sensationally devoid of love. Brotherly love there was in plenty, but discourse between the sexes was frowned upon as the intrinsic work of the devil. Sex was only justified grudgingly for procreation and couples married for years still habitually lived and slept in separate rooms, contact between them seemingly only practiced when necessary. In conversations, love and sex were naively interpreted to be the same thing, by guys who obviously had had little experience of either. I had to make distinctions between the kind of love you can make in minutes and the kind which takes long term commitment to create. It was perhaps a Catch 22 but no wonder they went in for arranged marriages, there was no possible alternative romantic foundation upon which to otherwise base it. Mohammed had been a prude as well as a chauvanist it seemed! Or could he even have been gay? It also underpinned one of the reasons for the propensity of Jihadis, perversely for martyrs, going to paradise was as they believed one sure fire way of getting laid, Allah would be most rewarding! Either that or you could take another twist on it and wank yourself off in one of the rows of curtained booths at net cafes, pornography was here as everywhere. Perhaps the ultimate hypocrisy though was the undeniable and even open presence of prostitution, justified in Pakistan as being officially entertainment by "dancing girls", who technically if your conscience should bother you enough the Mullah could marry you to in the evening and then subsequently bless the "divorce" in the morning! In Iran a girl had to stay a virgin no matter what, she was a social outcast otherwise who might by a stunning change of heart be murdered in an honour killing by her own family. Anal sex didnt count though so that was OK! There was still romance of sorts though, various all pervasive notions of martyrdom and mourning filled the calendar, perhaps epitomised by the currently pertinent festival of 9-10 Muharram, also known as Ashura in Shia islam. Thats the ceremony of self flagellation whereupon the faithful whip themselves and beat their chests in a frenzy, in honour of the demise of Hussein, the 4th Imam. A local rag re-iterated for those not already thoroughly brainwashed: "The day commemorates the supreme sacrifice for the cause of Islam, justice, righteousness and truth laid down by Hazrat Imam Hussein (R.A.), his family members and companions at Karbala in a conflict with the oppressive forces". Thanks for reminding me. In a most ridiculous example, I even read of the "martyred foetus", whereby Mohammed's wife Fatima's miscarried child is suitably mourned, like it had made some sort of sacrifice for the cause. Get a grip! It smacked of childishness.