Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known world-over for his writings about the peculiar character that was Sherlock Holmes and, in all honesty, nothing else. One thing he is not famous for is his devotion to spiritualism.

The death of his son, Kingsley, in the First World War impacted the man rather gravely. Doyle became a devout believer of spirits and a life after death. He was sure that spirits surrounded us and shared the world with us. Famous and rich due to his writings, the man poured in (what has been equated as by the Guardian newspaper) ‘millions of pounds in today’s money in trying to prove’ the existence of spirits. During these attempts he also wrote in favour of the idea and is notorious for having believed in the Cottingley Fairies (which were later revealed to be cardboard illustrations from Princess Mary’s Gift books). His obsession was futile of course. Besides incurring both monetary and emotional losses, the man also lost his friendship with the likes of Harry Houdini.

Today the world has done a favour on the old man for not remembering him for his obsessions over what was fictitious in every sense of the world. Rationality requires that beliefs must be separated from the reality of the lives. Doyle’s beliefs were his own and would have done the man’s name much good if they would have stayed personal. His insistence on blurring the line between fact and fiction was a painful mistake.

Facts are not subjective. Yes, you can paint their interpretations in philosophical innuendos but that does not change the reality of the situation. Here is one ridiculously simple example: Enola Gay planes carried the two nuclear bombs ‘Little boy’ and ‘Fat man’ and dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki August 6th and August 9th 1945 respectively. Now, why the two bombs were dropped is history’s story to tell. What was gained and what was lost is for the biases in our understandings of the events preceding and beyond the bombings to tell. Are we better human beings now? Well, no one can really answer that.

Of the above paragraph, you can challenge almost everything besides the fact that the bombs were dropped. This is because what happened was no illusion. There is visual recording of the event and its devastation. There are scientific recordings of the aftereffects of the bombs and the changes they made to the lives of those who survived the two fateful days. Even today, the two towns suffer the carnage of the bombs. Their ordeal cannot be denied because there are facts to back their existence. Facts hence, observable or at least calculable, are essential pre-requisites to terming something true. Everything else is make-believe or simply, beliefs.

Now back to the present day Pakistan. Jinns invaded some university campuses, or so we are told by Pervez Hoodbhoy. He is wrong for having said so, after all does he have observable and/or calculable statistics to prove the said invasion? He does not. I would stand with the anti-hoodbhoy-ferociously-right brethren on their ridicule of him in this instance, that is, unless Hoodbhoy was using the term metaphorically and the said brethren are actually insisting on the exact opposite. Of course he was. Of course they are.

Zia-ul-Haq is said to have believed in the potential of energy generation from Jinn power. Maybe Agha Waqar believed it too and used the said Jinn power to ignore the second law of thermodynamics in his water-car. Unfortunately, the two failed to prove the said power’s existence. For some optimists, this alone accounts for the debacle like conditions in Pakistan’s energy sector. For others, this paragraph was a waste of their precious time.

Moving back to the said brethren. The aptly named Raja Zia-ul-Haq (actual name, no pun intended), is a spiritual cardiologist (not a wordplay) living in Islamabad. Educated in the field of IT, a part in different capacities in the local theatre scene a few years ago and a party freak (or so he is presented as one in a video describing his journey to reformation on his official page), he now spends time hanging out with the likes of Hamza Tzortis (Ashley Maddison fame) and helps those who seek ‘guidance’. That is his choice to make and no one has a right to judge him for that.

That said, it gets murky once the said individual moves beyond his personal capacity and starts suggesting himself as a public figure. Naturally he opens his actions to scrutiny.

Raja Zia-ul-Haq, the public figure, held a workshop titled ‘Jinns and Black Magic’ in COMSATS Institute of Technology. It was this workshop that Pervez Hoodbhoy was referring to when he termed it as invasion. In retrospect, the title was a nice wordplay.

I will not deliberate on the absurdity of the content of his workshop, the article I have much quoted already does a brilliant job doing that and is much recommended. My problem with the workshop has more to do with both the idea and the place.

I will write a little on the latter this week and leave the former for the next column. Why educational institutions allow such events to take place in their premises is of major concern. Educational institutions need to be places of freedom and innovation. Bringing spirituality within its workings impedes both. There is no space to think beyond what is “established” or to debate on what is termed as a “fact” by such individuals. Mr. Raja himself best represents the suffocation I speak about. In his official response to Hoodbhoy’s article, he wonders if the questions were an attack against Islam. I fail to understand how simply inquiring and demanding answers can be interpreted as attacking Islam. It is these responses that discourage conversations and debates in educational institutions once they are “invaded”. In that sense, they become oxymoronic to the cause of the institution in the first place.

Parents and educators need to have sense of what they expect from the institutions their children attend. If the answer is to chain the thought process, the current models work. However, if you want your child to at least pursue the cause of the likes of Galileo, our educational institutions need their own renaissance.

The author is a freelance writer based in Islamabad.