Future Horizon, a Pakistani institute promoting astrology, palmistry, color therapy and other occult and New Age practices, has just graduated its first class of 50 students. Not unexpectedly, the organization is receiving condemnation from conservatives who believe it is contrary to Islam (much as religious conservatives in the West see it as contrary to Christianity).
However, one Pakistani article appears to be more concerned with the price tag of training than the ethical or religious aspects of it. “School for occult sciences: Supernatural only for the rich?” focuses on the fact that Future Horizon’s students come almost exclusively from wealthy families because only they can afford the steep tuition. The author voices no religious objection to the center’s training at all.
This illustrates the complexities of the relationship between culture and religion. Too often Westerners try to over-generalize foreign countries. Places such as Pakistan are stereotyped as religion-obsessed backwaters. In fact, economic and social status pressures are as much a reality in Pakistan as they are in America. In addition, there are plenty of people who see religion and culture as changing over time. Mian Abdul Munem, chairman of Future Horizon, expresses a need for occult training so that people are not fooled by charlatans and so they can better address their own problems rather than running to fortune tellers. ("Pakistanis Fancying for Occult Sciences")
Of course, what Westerners frequently call New Age is in fact not new at all. Many of these beliefs, such as palmistry and astrology, emerged in the West during the Renaissance after certain texts became available to Europeans. By that time, however, these texts had already been available in the Middle East for many centuries, kept safe by Muslim scholars.