When I met Professor Ahmed Rafique Akhtar a few years ago, he, just after hearing my name, unveiled the fundamental traits of my personality. My uncertainties and my perseverance, my fears and my courage, my strengths and weaknesses, all of them were like an open book to him, which he started reading out loud in front of my friends and colleagues. After that, he repeated the same exercise, one by one, with all of us as if he were looking into our souls and getting the truth out from our inner selves. Within a few minutes, and without any exception, we had figured out that we were a little depressed or anxious, wanted to settle down in our careers, get rich immediately, fulfil our family responsibilities and choose a life partner for ourselves (immediately). None of us was particularly interested in the knowledge about the Creator and his religion, while all of us ran after mundane luxuries.
He claims that after reading the Quran and pondering over its verses for decades, he has deciphered the hidden code in the Arabic alphabet, the same code that Ibn-e-Arabi alluded to many centuries ago. Every letter in the language of the book of God, according to him, carries a certain level of influence on one’s personality. The ‘specialist of the soul’ as he likes to call himself, can assess the impact of these phonemes and detect their significance. He can also identify their conflicts with each other and recognise their synergism. As our names are composed of these letters and syllables, by putting the effects of all of them together, an expert like him can uncover the basic framework of an individual’s psyche irrespective of the meaning of the name.
In one of his lectures, when asked about his ability to predict the exact time of someone’s death, he said: “I cannot tell you the accurate time, as it is a secret that God has promised that He will not share with anyone but, knowing your name, I can comment on the cause of your death.” Accordingly, hundreds of people call Professor Ahmed Rafique Akhtar, who asks them their names and the name of their mothers and father. He then recommends the caller to recite specific names of the Creator every day. These names of the Almighty, which he chooses for his students, he says are based on this clandestine knowledge that no one else currently possesses in the world.
Here, it is to be noted that thousands of people follow his advice; they listen to his lectures closely and some of them even try to learn the tricks of his trade too. Syed Bilal Qutb, the host of the religious talk show Qutb Online, who has been an old associate of Professor Akhtar, is certainly one of them. Unmoved and obdurate, Bilal imitates his teacher’s style and methods on television recklessly even when the old sage of Gujjar Khan has expressed his discontent and displeasure on multiple occasions.
I am not sure if there is any way to validate the claims of the well-respected Sufi scholar of northern Punjab. I am also not sure how much his personal insight and general understanding of human psychology has played a role in obtaining these extraordinary capabilities but we know that in every aspect of our lives our names play an important role. Our names guide others to identify our heritage, our ethnicity and our religion. We also know that in Pakistan, the significance of one’s name is even more pronounced than in the rest of the world since it can also identify the cause of one’s death and the location of death with a certain level of accuracy. To calculate that risk, you do not have to dwell upon mysticism like Professor Ahmed Rafique has done. All you need is to look at the names of the people who have been targeted and killed in the last few years from Quetta to Chilas.
So, if your last name is ‘Zaidi’ or ‘Kazmi’, we can comfortably conclude two things: first, the likelihood of your association with a certain religious minority is very high and, second, you are an easy target to be killed in a mosque or a religious gathering. If your last is ‘Ahmed’ then again you are one of those ‘cursed’ Pakistanis who can be abducted for ransom without any repercussions, robbed to raise charity for a madrassa (seminary) or shot down outside your doorstep in the name of blasphemy. And if your last name is ‘Masih’ then again we can quite easily understand your situation: you are either cleaning the filth of your Muslim ‘brothers’ or you are being converted to Islam to purify your body and soul.
The fate of Dr Masood Ahmed, who recently has moved to Pakistan from the UK, is no different. He has been arrested for ‘behaving’ like a Muslim and “reading the Quran” by the local police. His motive, according to news reports, to move back to Pakistan was his audacity to teach his children Pakistani values and to practice homeopathic medicine. I am not sure if the values that he wanted his children to learn included making a video tape without permission — as was done by the plaintiff in his case — and then to produce that video as evidence against him. Being a dual citizen, I am also not sure if he would like to be called a Pakistani anymore as Pakistan has become a country suitable only for orthodox Deobandi Muslims and where everyone else is either blasphemous, an innovator or an apostate.
I wish Dr Ahmed had met me in the UK before he came to the land of the pure. I could have warned him about his fate just by knowing his name, without being a religious scholar myself.
The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.