Culture Bypass: A New Paradigm – 5

From A’daabKhuda HafizAllah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?

By Ahmed Kamran

We have seen in Part 4 how by the time Pakistan was formed the die was already cast. Let’s see how we continued to sink further into intolerance and religious bigotry declaring more of us as Kafirs and non-Muslims. How the long journey that we collectively embarked upon on this Bypass is clearly leading us through barren and desolate cultural landscapes to eventual self-destruction. The question is: Is there an exit available on this Cultural Bypass?

After a long colonial occupation, India was declared independent and a new country, Pakistan, specially carved out of the majority Muslim areas of India emerged on the world’s map in August 1947 amidst human blood flowing in the streets and fires burning from the houses. Even highly conservative estimates put the number at hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who were maimed, raped, and killed in the villages and towns on both sides of the border, particularly in the Punjab, Bengal and Bihar. Millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, uprooted from their homes, crossed the border in opposite directions, filled with a mix of acute feelings of anger, despair, and hope. The die that was cast during the Pakistan Movement, especially after 1940, started producing results in the two newly formed countries.

To control and manipulate a large population in a country one needs an ideology for the State to galvanise people and keep the horde moving together in a certain direction. Taking advantage of a newly formed country in the throes of birth pangs, concerted efforts were immediately made by the influential Deobandi ulems and scholars like Maulana Zafar Ahmed Ansari, Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and Maulana Abul A’ala Maududi to reconcile with the creation of Pakistan and make a puritan, intolerant version of Islam modeled on the Arabian template the official creed of the Pakistani State. An ‘Objectives Resolution’ stating the creed of a theocratic state enjoying a predominant role and control over all matters relating to religious life and personal beliefs was prepared and was passed through the legislative assemblies in 1949 as the set of guiding principles for the future constitution of the country. Initially, it was included as a non-operative part of the preamble of the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956. Pakistan was the first country in the Muslim world to use the religious appellation ‘Islamic Republic’ as part of its constitutional name.

This clearly set the tone for future trends in the religious thought process of this new country. An intolerant strand of Islam gradually prospered and made its way deeper into its lifelines and gnawed at its guts. Driven by its inherent compulsion to strive for more and more puritan forms and becoming more and more ‘exclusive’ at each successful purge, it couldn’t stop at excising the majority non-Muslims. Soon, new victims were identified within the broader pale of Islam: minority sects of Ahmedis, Asna Ashari Shias, Ismaili Bohris, Ismaili Khojas, Zikris, and the list was getting ever longer to include even various schools of thought like Barelvis within the sphere of Sunni Islam.

The first demonstration of this narrow and intolerant religious thought that was set in motion by the ‘Objectives Resolution’ was the aggressive campaign and violent riots whipped up by a large compact of mainly Sunni ulema in Punjab in 1953 demanding the believers of Ahmedi (Qadiani) sect to be officially declared as non-Muslims. All hell was let loose in Punjab against the sect; fiery speeches made from the loudspeakers of the mosques and pulpits, violent demonstrations, and religious processions followed by a trail of arson and plunder and sporadic killings became the order of the day. Even a serving army Major, a Qadiani by faith, was lynched by the emotionally charged mob in Quetta when, unfortunately, his vehicle broke down near a religious congregation where a sermon was being delivered by a fiery Maulvi (cleric of the local Mosque) that Qadianis were actually Kafir (non-Muslim) and liable to be killed. On being recognized by the charged mob, the helpless Major Mahmood tried to escape but was dragged and reduced to pulp on the street.

As the civil administration structure almost collapsed, the army had to be called in Lahore and Martial Law was imposed, giving the first taste of power to the ambitious and disproportionately strong Pakistan army. After controlling the civil riots and restoring law and order, a Court of Inquiry was set up under the then Chief Justice Muhammad Munir and Justice M.R. Kiyani as member ‘to investigate the causes of disturbances, the circumstances leading to the imposition of Martial Law, and the adequacy or otherwise of the measures taken to suppress the disturbances’. The 387-page report of the inquiry came to be known as the ‘Munir Report’ when it was presented to the Government in April 1954. The record of inquiry was colossal, and consisted of 2600 pages of evidence, 1600 pages of written statements, and 339 other documents. The Munir Report boldly exposed the machinations of ulema in using religious sentiments to incite riots. It documented how seven leading Muslim scholars, called to the court as witnesses and united in their clamour for declaring the believers of Ahmadi sect as non-Muslim, couldn’t even agree among themselves on one definition of a Muslim.  When invited by Justice Munir to offer jointly a daily prayer under the lead of any one scholar amongst themselves, none agreed to offer prayer behind the other due to their petty differences on the interpretations of Islam. This report was a timely warning for the ruling elite of Pakistan, raising the red flag of the extremely dangerous pitfalls for the governance of the new state if this menace of extremely narrow religiosity was not effectively contained and put to rest.

The report was published and was widely commented upon both in the country as well as abroad, in India, the UK, Canada and Australia, including a comment from Professor Philip Hitti. However, not before long, according to Justice Munir himself, neither the original copy of the report nor the record of its proceedings was available in the official records of the Government of Pakistan (Munir, 1979). Ironically, barring a few fragments quoted in some books or memoirs, no copy of the report or any detailed commentary is available on the bookshelves anywhere in public libraries or the markets in Pakistan.

Another powerful stream, essentially a Deobandi Islamic consciousness, a unique apolitical Islamic movement known as Tabligh Tehreek has made a profound but little understood impact in changing the life styles and, at least, the physical appearance of a number of South Asian Muslim families living here and in Europe and America. Usually called Tablighi, these people are, by rule, non-aggressive, mostly equipped with modern education, and successful in their professions like medicine, engineering, accountancy, and independent consultancy. The men proudly sport flowing beards and the women wear full-face hijab (veil) covering from head to heels. This movement was originally started by Maulana Ilyas Kandhalvi of Deobandi denomination in mid 1920’s but it acquired greater strength and widespread prominence later. Organised on the model of a proselytizing mission, it mainly focused on making true practicing Muslims (as per their own religious mould) of those who in their view were only nominal Muslims. The movement started with a slogan ‘Muslim Hai tau Muslaman Bun’ (If you are a Muslim, be a true Muslim) as an ideological defense against Hindu Shuddhi and Sanghtan movements of 1920’s, which sought to re-convert the nominally converted Muslims back into  the Hindu fold.

This very quiet but highly potent Islamic movement gained immense acceptance in South Asian countries of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan and, subsequently, among Muslims living in Europe and the Americas, especially after the partition of India, under Maulana Yousuf Kandhalvi, the son and successor of Maulana Ilyas. For years this highly effective movement has been attracting the largest Muslim annual congregation in the world after Hajj near Dhaka in Bangladesh. Similarly, the largest Muslim congregations in India, Pakistan (at Raiwind) and elsewhere are organized every year by the Tabligh movement. It has been successful in attracting many prominent professional practitioners, celebrities, and high profile persons to its fold in Pakistan like one-time Pakistani pop singer Junaid Jamshed, former ISI Chief General Javed Nasir, cricketers Inzamamul Haq and Mohammad Yousuf, formerly Yousuf Youhanna, who converted from his Christian faith under Tabligh’s influence. Instead of espousing aggressive political ideals and actions, this movement particularly lays focus on strict observance of prescribed rituals and following of the Islamic Sunna (practices of Prophet Muhammad) in the daily conduct of life: facial appearance, dress, meeting people, eating, sleeping, and, usually in a group, peacefully preaching the tenets of Islam to non-practicing Muslims. Nevertheless, typical of Deoband school of thought, the teachings of the Tabligh movement are also very strict and inflexible in their approach to the issues of Islamic jurisprudence and application of Islam to the modern conditions. With its fairly large Islamic centre in the UK, this movement has greatly expanded in Europe and the Americas and apparently has gained more effective ground abroad than in its home in South Asia.

The intolerant strand of Islam received another shot in the arm in the 1970’s when a large number of South Asian workers, (largely Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and partly from India) temporarily emigrated to Saudi Arabia and other Arab lands to provide cheap labour for the massive infrastructure construction exercise undertaken during those days. These workers mostly hailed from rural villages, small towns, and poor urban settlements. This resulted in not only the large inflow of foreign exchange in these countries enhancing their importance but also the import and spread of the religious ideas based on the Saudi version of Islam. Pakistani state’s dependence on now critical oil supplies and foreign exchange flowing in from Arab lands also increased considerably during this period.

The decade of the 1970’s was a watershed for Pakistan when it woke up to the harsh realities of post-oil embargo world. During Pakistan’s first popularly elected Prime Minister Bhutto’s grand fanfare of Islamic Conference in 1974 in Lahore, Pakistan permanently embedded itself with Saudi Arabian largess to fund its yearly oil and budgetary deficits and undertaking the ambitious ‘Islamic Bomb’ project in return of a deal for providing Saudi Arabia the critical military strike capability and the ‘bomb’ cover when needed against their perceived enemies both in the ‘north’ (Israel) and in the ‘east’ (Iran). For years, the Pakistan army provided a large number of onshore troops for physically manning the critical Saudi military bases. Taking advantage of the God-gifted favourable situation, the orthodox Muslim ulema, gladly fusing their Indian-origin Deobandi strand of Islam with Arabia’s even more stringent Wahabi and Salafi versions, started flexing their muscles and soon stirred again a renewed frenzy against minority community of Ahmedis demanding them to be declared as Kafirs (non-Muslim), after an incident of a students clash at the Rabwah (the religious centre of Ahmadi community in Pakistan) railway station in May 1974.

Ironically, after the last religious frenzy of 1953, it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, an otherwise liberal fully immersed in western culture in his personal conduct and admirably exposed to modern education, who unwittingly triggered the second powerful wave of the bigoted and intolerant Islam, assailing the foundations of the structurally weak secular character of the Pakistani State. At this stage, being overly confident, Bhutto tried to act smart and attempted to placate the religious right and its Saudi and Arab sponsors by introducing a highly retrogressive second constitutional amendment in September 1974 to declare all strands of Ahmedis or Qadianis as non-Muslim. It was an act clearly reminiscent of extremely narrow sectarianism of Muslim and Christian societies of the medieval age when every sect used to label others as heretic or Kafir and used to burn them on the stake. This was a great symbolic triumph for the orthodox Islamic clerics and ulema of Pakistan and soon they started exerting more pressures for taking it to the next level. In 1976, Ziaul Haq, the army chief appointed by Bhutto, introduced the new credo of Pakistan army as ‘Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi sabil Allah’ (faith, piety, and jihad for the sake of God) besides issuing written instructions to the troops to offer daily prayers regularly, preferably led by the local army commanders. During Bhutto’s period, religious instructions were introduced in all military training programs and the Government issued instructions to place copies of the Holy Quran in each room of all first class hotels of the country.

By the time Bhutto apparently realized that the noose around him was tightening, it was too late for him. Greatly unnerved, Bhutto made repeated concessions to the orthodox religious right. Soon, shortly before his fall in 1977, Bhutto announced additional symbolic Islamic-Sharia enforcement measures like prohibition of alcoholic drinks, gambling, horse races, dance, and nightclubs. When Mubashir Hasan, a liberal secretary general of the then PPP and former Finance Minister, proposed Bhutto ‘return to his secular roots and rebuild his power base among the people instead of depending on the state security services’, Bhutto reportedly told him, “What you want me to do, I do not have the power to do” (Mubashir Hasan, 2000). Thus, it was none other than a liberal Bhutto who actually triggered the process and prepared an excellent ground for General Ziaul Haq’s massive Islamization measures after his imposition of the third Martial Law (excluding limited Martial Law of 1953) in the country in July 1977. The violent political agitation against the alleged rigging of elections by Bhutto in the spring of 1977 was wholly organized on the slogans and demands for a true Nizam-e-Mustafa (a governance model on the lines of first Muslim state in Medina). The whole orientation and the idiom of the country’s political life changed the gear towards religion. The same model template was shortly to be used in Iran to overthrow the Shah in 1979.

Historically, the influence of Afghanistan on the course of history of the areas that comprise of Pakistan has been very significant. With the overthrow of King Zahir Shah’s monarchy in Afghanistan in 1973, Soviet influence in Afghanistan increased considerably under the new Afghan President Sardar Daud. In order to devise a strategy to contain this growing sphere of influence in the cold war era, an ‘Afghan Cell’ was created in the foreign office in Islamabad where policies to support two Afghan Islamist militia leaders, Burhanuddin Rabbani (Jamiat-e-Islam) and Gulbadin Hikmatyar (Hizbe-e-Islami), were formulated and implemented as early as 1974. To preempt Afghan interference in Baluchistan and NWFP, the pro-Afghan ANP controlled provincial governments were sacked by Bhutto. Afghanistan immediately supported an armed guerilla resistance in Baluchistan. With subversive jihad activities of Afghan militias supported by Pakistan’s ISI gaining ground, the Soviets engineered a coup in Kabul in April 1978, overthrowing and killing Sardar Daud and installing a Marxist regime of Noor Mohammad Taraki. The Islamist jihad campaign was renewed with more vigour. The Soviet army eventually entered the ‘buffer state’ of Afghanistan in December 1979 to bolster the tottering pro-Soviet regime. Pakistan army became darling of the West and billions of US dollars were pumped in by the Western world and Saudi Arabia through Pakistan army to whip up a grand Islamic Jihad against godless communists – a US backed proxy war was fought against Soviet Union. Islamic Jihad volunteers, including Osama bin Laden, recruited by CIA from all over the Muslim world and allowed to be intoxicated with dreams of establishing a pure Islamic Caliphate, were trained and equipped to fight a guerrilla war in Afghanistan.

With a large scale Afghan Jihad operation organized by the Western world and Saudi Arabia through Pakistan, the polity of Pakistan and its social structures were badly mutilated. In its wake, the juggernaut of the Saudi version of Islam came, trumpeted by a gleeful brigade of the Deobandi Moulvis jubilant with a newly found political importance and social prestige that is easily assured with bagfuls of money and increasing state patronage. Massive Arab funds started flowing into Deobandi-Wahabi networks of Masjids and Madarsas and a politically motivated Saudi-centric ‘Islamisation’ of Pakistani state and society for gaining access to levers of political control and social influence. It is not a sheer coincidence that we see a simultaneous significant rise in bigotry and intolerance in our society, manifested in a surge of intolerant public actions. There was an open religious gang attack on a traditional qawwali mehfil in Chakwal town in north Punjab resulting in several deaths including that of a Deputy Superintendent of police. ‘That such religious extremism is alien to subcontinent’s popular culture is borne out by qawwali’s historical role as a vehicle in the spread of Islam in a predominantly Hindu South Asian subcontinent – where a vast majority knew neither Arabic nor Persian, the languages used in the subcontinent’s formal Islamic discourse. Indeed, public qawwali concerts at Sufi shrines and itinerant qawwali groups were instrumental in spreading the ethos of tolerance and love through the devotional poems of Sufis in Punjabi and Sindhi.’ (Suroosh Irfani, 2009).

This was the long journey on the cultural and social highway that the Muslims of India have travelled during the last about 1000 years. We have indeed come a long way, entering into a completely new stage of our cultural life, which we find forcibly changed and transplanted by something different. How much we have moved in the process from one cultural stream to another can easily be demonstrated by going through a randomly drawn list of few common names of our parents’ generation and comparing it with any junior school’s roll call list today. The dissimilarity in the names and the great shift is striking. The common names of my generation and those of my parent’s like Nasim, Kamran, Tahira, Anjum, Khurshid, Nafees, Parveen, Sohail, Shireen, Jawed, Afroz, Farhad, Ghazala, Farhana, Surraya, and Rehana (mostly Persian) are hardly to be seen in today’s classrooms. These names have vanished from our younger generation’s cell phone directory. Instead, purely Arabic, and sometimes unfamiliar, names like Rid’aa, Ri’yyah, Azwa, Yusra, Jawairiya, Aleezay, Simra, Osama, Ra’afay, Aafia, Armash, Royaan, Shaheer and Aza’an (these are actual names taken from a 6th grade student’s class) are seen playing in the school ground. No disrespect to or disparaging of these otherwise beautiful names of our children is intended. I only wish to highlight a distinct pattern emerging and a great shift in the cultural landscape that has taken place in a short time and to underline its cultural causes and political motives. Not that Arabic or Quranic names were not common before; there was always a fair measure of traditional Quranic names in our midst but Persian origin names were undoubtedly more common in earlier generations. It is the clearly manipulated shift in a certain direction that is to be noted here.

The Arabist shift is also clear in other verbal expressions of our daily lives. In our parent’s generation A’adab was common in the Ganga-Jamni Tehzib as a neutral expression both for greeting and seeing off people, especially elders. It was abandoned in favour of Sala’am Alayukum and Khuda Hafiz post partition. Subsequently, in the 1980’s, by an administrative order, Khuda Hafiz was officially changed to Allah Hafiz in public media during Ziaul Haq’s rule. Sometimes, it is really funny to see the trend being carried a bit far; it is not uncommon to see some people insisting on pronouncing common Arabic words now fully assimilated in Urdu like Niyat (intention) and Zakaat (a mandatory Muslim welfare tax) in pure Arabic sounds of Ni’yaa and Zak’aa coming from the depth of the throat in their every day conversation.

State sponsored indoctrination through control of school textbooks of now two generations in a row has played havoc with the thinking abilities in Pakistan and have made even the ‘educated people’ (not to speak of the illiterate masses) intellectually barren and dysfunctional in any change process. Denuding of creative intellectual content and doctoring of our textbooks with falsifications started from Ayub Khan’s regime in the 1960’s, when Government Text Book Boards were formed to control and manipulate the education of new generations. These Boards wrote and prescribed a set of textbooks for all our schools where history was particularly targeted for manipulations. The subject of history was altogether eliminated from the prescribed syllabus. Extremely limited and distorted knowledge of history was progressively imparted under the label of newly introduced subjects like ‘Social Studies’ and ‘Pak Studies’. These textbooks containing a retrogressive amalgam of history, geography and Islamiat, have taught us that our journey commenced with the arrival of Muhammad bin Qasim as the saviour of helpless people. Moving on to a brief introduction (always positive) of subsequent Muslim rulers, the history jumped to the coming of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Iqbal as the great visionaries leading us to the Ideology of Pakistan that was ultimately achieved by the Muslim League under Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah after a protracted struggle against our diehard permanent enemies – the crafty British and the sly Hindus.

Of late, only during General Musharaf’s regime, the school textbooks were slightly amended and a relatively broader overview of history has been included but these still remain quite lifeless and unable to generate the much needed creative thinking among our young students. An intolerant lopsided education in our schools for the last about half a century has already played havoc with our collective consciousness. It completely bypassed the extremely rich Indo-Persian literary and cultural roots and the powerful traditions of independent and creative thinking. Most of the teachers found today tutoring our children, both in public and private schools, are the ones who were themselves educated on one-sided textbooks and possess limited knowledge of the subjects and, more importantly, extremely narrow perspectives. Except for a few fortunate children in the elite Cambridge system schools who get a relatively better opportunity to be intellectually exposed to a wider historical perspective and to books on real social issues, our younger generation in their 20’s and 30’s is, unfortunately, ignorant of its rich Indo-Persian cultural heritage and does not hold much in its embedded memory to draw upon in its creative thinking processes that relates to our shared cultural and social experience of over 1000 years.

It is alarming to see how our new generation, though full of youthful energy, has lost its ideals, is seriously disappointed with unbelievably corrupt and inept politicians, is disenchanted from the now faded enthusiasm of Pakistan movement of their parent’s or grandparent’s generation. They have mostly become totally disinterested with the future of this country itself, except for those who are led to find solace and a sense of belonging with a larger community in the only available alternative of trying to go back to the religious ideals – a Kingdom of God.

Moving with high speed on an Expressway, in order to make an exit, we need to change gears and get into the appropriate lane well before we reach the desired interchange. Otherwise, we are likely to miss the exit opportunity. Similarly, hurtling on the present Culture Bypass leading us only through barren and desolate cultural landscapes, unless we plan our exit, reduce our speed and change for the exit lane, we will continue moving on this fast road leading only to increasing internal strife, status of a failed state among the comity of nations, and eventual mutually assured self-destruction.

Is there an exit available ahead for an interchange of highways on this long Cultural Bypass?

This is the concluding part of this five-part series.



  • Clarence Maloney
    Posted at 13:53h, 25 September Reply

    Thank you. Best summary of what has happened in Pakistan since its Independence, and well-written too. Unfortunately such regressive thinking is taking hold especially in the midwestern states of USA, and now also is beginnning in Europe.
    Here in Afghanistan I find that no discussion of evolution is tolerated even in agronomy classes. It is hardly taught in Pakistan also. In India there is no intellection class between evolution and religion, but still it gets very short mention in schools. Unless we realize our evolved place in nature, in history, and in the universe, and the impact of population growth which– and population of Pak and Afghan at this rate will double in our children’s lifetime, we are destined to destroy not only our religions, but the larger part of the population.
    Thanks for helping us to THINK BIG. Next time you write, put it also in the context of sustainability in relation to the environment, water, population growth, and climate change. Then all this religio-political excess will look far less important.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 16:24h, 25 September

      Clarence: Given that you have raised the issue of sustainability and how it might make the religio-political obsessions irrelevant, I want to link a video for the benefit of the readers. I am always surprised how people ignore the significance of growth and what it signifies, both for the better and for the worse.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 11:41h, 26 September Reply

    You have not considered the reason for the looking at Middle-East for inspiration? Surely something was needed to de-link from what you call rich Indo-Persian heritage. Pakistan needed that else it would have been a mirror image of India.

    All it needs to provide direction to a drift is a good leader. The first sign of benefit turns the tide; public whole heartedly swings to change. The results are always dramatic.

    It is a ‘wolf wolf’ scenario. Surely people are going to be disillusioned with the current drift sometime.

  • Irfan Husain
    Posted at 17:36h, 28 September Reply

    One reason for Pakistan’s Middle East orientation in Bhutto’s era was that after East Pakistan became independent, the Bengali counterweight to Punjab’s pre-eminence was lost. The center of gravity moved west. This coincided with the spike in oil prices after the 1973 war in the Middle East and the oil boycott. Bhutto therefore had every financial motive to cozy up to Iran and Saudi Arabia to finance the expansion in the armed forces he pushed for.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 14:28h, 29 September

      Irfan: I tend to agree with Ralph Russell and with Kamran that the pendulum had begun to swing away from Indo-Persian Islam to Saudi Islam well before Bhutto’s period. Once the Muslims of India made Islam the locus of their struggle and separateness, the journey could only lead to the House of Islam. The separation of Bangladesh and the oil crisis delivered, perhaps, a visible push to the realignment. Note that Bangladesh did not leave any scar on the Pakistani psyche because Bengali culture was deemed akin to Hindu culture. And further, that Saudi Islam has made inroads in Bangladesh as well.

      I do not find Bhutto’s cozying up to the Saudis a surprise. What I find more intriguing is that the entire nation realigned itself so easily. There was an article recently that demonstrated with evidence how poor migrants in India stuck to their native cuisines even when it was more expensive in their new abodes. Was the “Indianness” of Indian Muslims just a mirage or is this something peculiar to human nature to switch identities in this fashion?

      I found this linked perspective interesting. When the religious dimension becomes the main determinant of identity, such switches become understandable. All the other dimensions or subcultures (food, dress, language, customs) can become secondary.

  • Kamran
    Posted at 13:50h, 29 September Reply

    Irfan: I agree. I did not cover this aspect in detail as it was not part of the main theme of the article. But it was briefly mentioned where I commented on Pakistan’s waking up to the harsh realities of post-oil embargo economic realities in 1970’s and its compulsion to embed itself with Saudi regional interests to cover its yearly oil import and budgetary deficits.

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