Tashbih Sayyed - A Remembrance

Tashbih Sayyed was a very special human being, a friend of the Jewish people, and my friend. I first met him seven years ago when my organization, the American Jewish Committee, was launching an interfaith effort to initiate dialogue with Muslims. In our conversations, Tashbih exuded a quiet intensity, and a determination to make the world a better place. Little by little, I began to learn more about his personal experiences in Pakistan and how those experiences had shaped him into a defender of human rights in the Muslim world.

Tashbih was not only dedicated to discussing his vision of how the Muslim world could change. He was a passionate believer in the power of the press to educate the public in order to make those changes happen. He lived and breathed journalism, and more than once described his newspapers as “my life.” For him, immigrating to the United States was the opening of a new door of opportunity to express himself through his journalism, and freedom of speech was a precious gift that should not be squandered.

As I gradually grew to know him, Tashbih recalled the growth of Islamic extremist teachings in Pakistan and the effects that it had on society. He talked about his career at Pakistan Television Corporation, the state run television service, where he rose in the ranks to become the controller and general manager of the station, and subsequently founded the station’s current affairs programming. While serving in that capacity, Tashbih felt it was important to examine the role of women in Pakistani society. He was particularly concerned about the way women’s rights were being eroded by the “Islamization” policy of the late Pakistani leader General Zia Ul-Haq. As a result of his liberal views, he came under attack by the regime and ultimately left his position at the station.

One day he shared with me his experience at the BBC library in London, where he had gone to learn about television broadcasting in his early career. As an intellectually inquisitive man, Tashbih was always well-informed and always seeking to broaden his horizons. I could just imagine him going into the library and feasting his eyes on the books, each one a new world to discover. As he described it to me, it was on one of his visits to the library that he learned about the Holocaust, a subject that in his experience was not taught or discussed in Pakistan. It was a moment of shock and a personal epiphany for him. He felt that he had been denied the truth, and he embarked on a program of personal re-education for himself. His quest for knowledge and the truth was ever present.

Tashbih’s inquisitive nature and his vision of a world of peace and tolerance led him to visit Israel to see the country for himself. He explained his reasoning for visiting Israel in an article entitled, “A Muslim in a Jewish Land.” He wrote, “I wanted to use my first visit to Israel to feel the strength of the Jewish spirit that refuses to give in to evil forces despite thousands of years of anti-Semitism.” His experiences in Israel let him to conclude, “The existence of Israel will one day convince the Muslims of the necessity of reformation in their theology as well as sociology.” Last year, I had the privilege of taking him on a trip to Israel. Despite his medical condition, he was absolutely determined to see and experience everything, and to write about what he saw.

As determined as he was to make things change, Tashbih did not express himself in a strident way. He used his talents as a political analyst to reflect on the current situation and chose his words in a way that would make an impact. He was very proud of being both a Muslim and a sayyed, a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.

In one of his most powerful denunciations of terrorism, he wrote: “I am a Muslim and a Sayyed. That means that I am a direct descendent of Prophet Muhammad. I know that a true follower of Prophet Muhammad cannot support, train, sponsor and direct homicide bombings. Those who honestly love [the] Prophet of Islam cannot behead human beings. They cannot be homicide bombers and murderers. That’s why I sincerely believe that Osama’s, Zarqawi’s, Zawahiri’s and Wahhabism’s prophet is not the same as mine. A prophet of peace cannot be a prophet of terrorists. [The] terrorist’s prophet has got to be a terrorist.”

Tashbih’s life epitomized a teaching of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, who taught, “There are three things that sustain the world: truth, judgment, and peace.” Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel explains the meaning of his statement by quoting the prophet Zechariah: “Speak every man truth to his neighbor. Truth and judgments of peace shall you render in your gates.” Tashbih felt compelled to speak the truth and fight for justice because he truly believed in the promise of a peaceful and tolerant world.

Through his newspapers, the Muslim World Today and Pakistan Today, Tashbih did his best to bring awareness to the situation of Muslims who were and are being persecuted for their belief in tolerance, human rights and the rights of women, and gave them courage to continue. He was a pioneer and a tireless fighter against the forces of extremism and determined to see his vision of tolerance win the day.

It was my honor and pleasure to know him and it is our obligation to continue the work that he has left for us.

May his memory be a blessing for his family and for the world.

Yehudit Barsky is director of AJC’s Division on Middle East and International Terrorism. This article originally appeared in the June 22, 2007 issue of Muslim World Today.

5 Responses to “Tashbih Sayyed - A Remembrance”

  1. 1 Dr. Phillip M. Feldman Jun 29th, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    I was very moved by this piece. I wish that there were more Muslims like Tashbih Sayyed.

  2. 2 Flora Selwyn Jun 29th, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    How very sad - I had no idea Tashbih Sayyed had left us,when? how? I emailed him to say how much I admired him for his courage and truthfulness and he kindly replied, to my surprise. It was my response to his article after his visit to Israel. I said I was worried about his safety. Is it possible to gauge his influence? Was his writing suppressed at all? I’m thinking now of Shoaib Chaudry in Bangladesh. I hope and pray that Tashbih Sayyed was not unique, that there are others to carry on his shining example. May he rest in peace.

  3. 3 Zacharia Mathews Jun 30th, 2007 at 8:48 am

    A mvoing article, that will of course shine the eyes, lighten the heart, gives peace to mind. The article unequivocally delineated the problems (sorry, it is not a problem; it is an issue of wrong teachings by a religion - so called Islam). Islamists of the current world propogates “hatred”; which itself is a violation of the God’s first and foremost commandment - love each other.

    Whatever be the beliefs, whatever be the religion people belongs to, it is primarily because it is where they born into. It is a blessing. However, that blessings will manifest only if the person is willing to tolerate others. How can I being a Muslim, a Hindu, a Christian, or a Jew can claim to be a rigteous man (a good person)? IT is “by our actions, deeds and services”. I lived in Middle East for quite several years and surprised at other faiths being considered as “not acceptable” to them. Middle East is the breeding ground to “propogate that hatred”. I have seen people of Islam tradition and holding western passports, comes to Middle East and ignite the hatred against other faiths in order to get promotions in their jobs. THEY VERY WELL PULL DOWN BLESSINGS BY “CHEATING GOD - AT LEAST THEY BELIEVE SO”.

    It is a common practice in the offices of Gulf countries to pray at the designated hours. There is a widely publicised joke about this. Manager starts reading the business plan in the morning, and the prayer call comes, he rushes to pray; come back and started reading from the beginning again, and the prayer call comes, he rushes again, and it goes on and on back and forth every day. And he is impelled to start reading from the beginning of the business plan and it is never ending because of the blessings of the prayer. Two steps forward and three steps backward.

    Everyone in the world has the right to choose what he want to practice - it is his free will. However, that does not mean at all to hate others or kill others in the name of their beliefs. IT IS LIKE MY OPINION ALONE COUNTS, NOT YOURS.

    Second, religion is a door to spread peace; not at all to ignite fire in the minds of the people. IT IS MADMESS and that is what is exactly happening in IRAN and with HAMAS in Palestine, to cite few examples.

    Third, salvation belongs to who? To God and who benefit from it. Of course the people. But, the Islamists take the salvation into their hands and they decide in this world that “who goes to heaven and who goes to hell”. They believe a “suicide bomber who kills whom they decide to kill goes direct to heaven” - heaven opens to them immediately. IF THAT IS THE CASE, HEAVEN WILL FALL DOWN SHORTLY WITH ALL THE TALIBAN LEADERS AND OSAMAN BIN LADENS SHORTLY.

    Forth, a prayer is a call for introspection that benefits himself and all others. A proper understanding of this concept will not allow Isalmists to behead people in the banner of their Islamic religion. Who gives you right to behead a person just like killing a sheep. Even for killing an animal, God has given commandments. Aaaron’s son’s were killed by God for doing disservice to the Holiness.

    In this regard, Tashbih Sayyed’s findings should be given credence by the Muslims in general, and the hardcore Islamists in particular.

    Let them read his own words: “The existence of Israel will one day convince the Muslims of the necessity of reformation in their theology as well as sociology.”

    World is a good place to live, but that to happen it needs consistent efforts by everyone.

    Zacharia Mathews

  4. 4 Cantor Steven Puzarne Jun 30th, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, addressing journalists, recently made this observation.

    “I would hope that you in the media would be passionate about letting people judge for themselves, that you would be careful about some of the language that you do actually use,” he said.

    “‘Muslim terrorism’ - have you ever read anywhere ‘Christian terrorism’? - as if Islam propagates violence, but you have never spoken about what happened in Northern Ireland as Christian terrorism,” he said.

    “Fundamentally there is no faith that I know that propagates violence, that says it’s a good thing to oppress anybody.”

    Tutu said he recognized the media could be a force for good but that it had responsibilities.

    “You have a very powerful media. I know because you helped us very much in our struggle to tell our story. You did it for us and we benefited enormously.”

    Tutu added, however, that understanding different religions required peoples of all faiths to understand different perspectives.

    “We Christians ought to get off our high horse and learn to be a great deal more humble, when you look at our history, the bloody things that we did in the name of religion,” he said.

    I would say there is no religion that has a monopoly on tolerance or intolerance. Before we rush off to point fingers and condemn others, I think we would all do well to examine the intolerance within ourselves and our own communities, how willing we are to stereotype people we’ve never met based on biased news reporting, and how quick we are to condemn in others, that which we tolerate in ourselves.

    Cantor Steve Puzarne
    Pilgrimage of Peace

  5. 5 Shirley Landau Jun 30th, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    What a courageous man! I still don’t know what caused his death. Please inform me.

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