Education, Pakistan, Religion / 02.10.2020

By Anjum Altaf The Single National Curriculum has some very laudable objectives including raising good human beings and promoting inclusiveness and tolerance. It has decided on a methodology to achieve these aims. For the sake of discussion, I am suggesting an alternative to the proposed methodology. The chosen methodology leans heavily on religion as the vehicle for raising good human beings. Muslim children will be introduced to Ahadees, Ayaat and Quaranic injunctions in support of habits that include speaking the truth, respecting one’s elders, being kind to fellow humans and animals; and of beliefs that all citizens have an equal standing in society regardless of religion, ethnicity, language, gender and colour. Muslim children will be learning these good things by memorizing the relevant Ahadees, Ayaat, and Quranic injunctions and will be tested on them. While Muslim children are attending the class on their religion, all non-Muslim students would...

Analysis / 09.08.2019

By Anjum Altaf Almost everyone with more than a passing acquaintance of Naipaul has written about their interaction with him, deservedly so, since Naipaul was, without doubt, a great writer. The accounts range from the banal to the truly insightful. Among those of particular interest to Pakistanis, the one by Hanif Kureishi, himself a writer of repute, stands out for two reasons. First, it is one of the few that doesn’t display a knee-jerk reaction to Naipaul’s non-fiction, in particular his observations about Islamic countries. And second, because of Hanif Kureishi’s oblique relationship with Pakistan, the reflection has dispassionate things to say about the country as refracted through Naipaul’s lens. Hanif’s connection to Pakistan, for those who know, is through his father’s brother, the iconic Omar Kureishi -- legendary cricket commentator, popular manager of the test team, the person with whom PIA became the airline to fly with,...

Reflections / 07.08.2017

By Kabir Altaf In March 2017, a public prosecutor in Lahore, Pakistan, offered to acquit 42 Christian prisoners accused of murder if they converted to Islam. This prodded a re-reading of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which also features a forced conversion—that of the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, to Christianity.  Written between 1596 and 1599, The Merchant of Venice centers around Antonio (the titular character) and his financial dealings with Shylock. Antonio’s friend Bassanio needs money in order to woo Portia, a wealthy noblewoman. In order to raise this amount, Antonio asks Shylock for a loan of 3000 ducats. The moneylender agrees on the condition that if Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock will be entitled to a pound of his flesh. Antonio accepts these terms, since he has several ships coming in to port soon. However, Antonio’s ships are wrecked and he is forced to default. Shylock...

Religion / 28.04.2017

By Anjum Altaf Religion is always ticking away in the background of almost every issue in Pakistan but there has been a decided uptick in the intensity of instructional fervour in recent days. The thrust is a desperate effort to make Pakistanis more pious in order to achieve the fast disappearing better society of our dreams. To start off, a committee of the National Assembly passed a bill to make teaching the Quran compulsory in grades 1 through 12 in all federal educational institutions. According the committee chair “the bill is one of the good steps and will benefit students.” The education minister added that “this bill was moved because it was the people’s demand and because it was the need of the hour.” The text of the bill states that “it will make the divine message understood; ensure the repose of society; peace and tranquillity; Promote...

Politics / 11.01.2016

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan today is very different to what it was fifty years ago. An aspect that has changed significantly – literally turned on its head – is the nature of political and social activism, i.e., the very dynamic that leads to change in society. I describe this transformation based on my interactions with the young – as a student at the beginning of the period and as an instructor of students at its end. Needless to say, the majority in any society is content to swim with the tide. Members of this majority may hold opinions about desirable changes but they are not involved in the process of bringing them about. On the other hand, there is always a small minority of individuals who become actively engaged in efforts to change society. Such activists mobilize varying numbers of the majority for or against in different...

Religion / 10.01.2016

I found myself residing once again in a locality exposed to holy noise – the simultaneous narration of the azaan from about a dozen mosques that renders the resulting sound completely unintelligible. This time there was one difference – one of the mosques had amplified itself beyond the reach of the competition and its imam had specialized in a quasi-sermon at six every other morning. Whether it was for a live audience or just for self-improvement I don’t know but almost every word of the narrative was now intelligible. After a few iterations, almost entirely repetitive, I figured out the pattern. The narration, about fifteen minutes in duration, was divided into two equal halves – the first communicated a list of things God doesn’t want people to do and the second a matching list of things God does want people to do. Needless to say,...

Reflections / 06.08.2014

By Anjum Altaf It was fall last year that I was teaching the introductory course in economics and had drawn four concentric circles on the board to illustrate how the market was embedded in the economy which was embedded in society which, in turn, was embedded in the extra-terrestrial outerworld.  The objective was to spark a conversation about how the outer spheres limited what could or could not take place in the inner ones as also to point out the fact that while the economy and society had always existed, the market as an institution was a relatively recent phenomenon. From there we moved on to discuss how the reach of the market was expanding and its ambit growing to include aspects that were previously never within its domain to the extent that reading the standard textbooks one could well believe that the market economy was all...

Reflections / 01.08.2014

By Ibn-e Eusuf Father was like that. Eager to have us learn everything, oblivious to details. Busy, busy. Shunting trains by day, learning French by night. Mother never said much, went along mostly. Handed over to a music teacher or somesuch. Eight or thereabouts. No Sa Re Ga. Right away on to aye maalik tere bandey ham tuu ne zarrey se keeRaa banaya or somesuch. Closet evolutionist. Wept. Mother gently requested change of tune. Merey maalik bulaa le madeenay mujhe. About death and dying. Final requests, etc. Nothing doing. End of music hall career. Still, thanks and all. Never forgot bulaa le madeenay bit. Coming in handy now. Understand all about politics. Aatey umrah jaatey umrah. Mountain of rye. Mice. Roared. Wind ke jhonkoN se. Pudeenay ke bagh. No offence. miaN khush raho ham dua kar chalay. Farsighted bastard. Somepeople know it all. Should have stayed with him....

Reflections / 12.07.2014

By Anjum Altaf in the Economic and Political Weekly Individuals picked off, gone – strangers, friends of friends, friends, relatives – some for who they were, others for straying in the way. Names etched in memories – Ali Haider, Faisal Manzoor, Mehdi Ali, Rashed Rehman, Irfan Ali, Farzana Parveen, Perveen Rehman… The public, incapacitated – benumbed, indifferent, does it matter? Instead, shrill voices of love and hate troll predictably, pressing stale arguments into uncomplaining service. The telephone rings. A voice from afar: -- Time to give up now? We have gone to bed often with this question only to wake up irresolute, buying time, cursing broken promises, comforting fading hopes. Is love denial? Is hate the absence of understanding? Is there truth beyond love and hate? Can we look at ourselves, own what stares back at us, and find reasons to hope? On one side, history – witches burnt, heretics persecuted, blacks lynched, Jews gassed – the journey...

Reflections / 17.10.2012

By Kabir Altaf … ‘Please excuse me,’ Riaz was saying to Brownlow. ‘But you are a little arrogant.’…. ‘Your liberal beliefs belong to a minority who live in northern Europe. Yet you think moral superiority over the rest of mankind is a fact. You want to dominate others with your particular morality, which has—as you also well know—gone hand-in-hand with fascist imperialism.’ Here Riaz leaned towards Brownlow. ‘This is why we have to guard against the hypocritical and smug intellectual atmosphere of Western civilization.’  … ‘That atmosphere you deprecate. With reason. But this civilization has also brought us this –' ‘Dr. Brownlow, tell us what it has brought us,’ Shahid said.  …On his fingers he counted them off. ‘Literature, painting, architecture, psychoanalysis, science, journalism, music, a stable political culture, organized sport—at a pretty high level. And all this has gone hand-in-hand with something significant. That is: critical enquiry into...