Friday, November 26, 2010

The Myth of Glorious Past

All of us have grown reading and hearing about the glorious past of the Muslims. Religious leaders and parties often talk about the glorious past of the Muslims to inspire and instigate the youth to desired actions. Politicians use the cliché to make promises for the return of that period if we vote for them and writers use the term to condemn the present. But have we ever wondered what the reality of this glorious past is?

As a student of history, I often wonder which past do we talk about; the one, which is there in the history books and narratives, or the one, which is present only in our imagination and rhetoric. The reality is that the past which is described in the history books is not all that glorious as it is usually painted to be. And mind you, I am not talking about books written by European or American writers. I am talking about the books written by Muslims scholars and historians. So I have decided to have a look at the Muslim history and see how glorious the past really was. Since a small article is not enough to look at the entire Muslim history, I decided to chose just one era and see how it has been described.

For my present article, I have chosen the 2nd Hijra century, i.e. the period between 100 Hijra to 200 Hijra. I don’t dare venture in very early period of Islamic history for the fear of becoming a target of Fatwas. But I would like to mention that even during the 1st century Hijra, three out of first four Caliphs were martyred, great tragedy of martyrdom of Hazart Imam Husain took place and there were great many movements and mutinies to overthrow the governments.

When the second Hijra century started the Muslim world was being ruled by Hazrat Umar Bin Abdul Aziz who was indeed a very pious and virtuous ruler. He led and ruled by example and did not allow any exploitation and abuse of the subjects living in his domains. Unfortunately this golden period was short lived and Umar Bin Abdul Aziz died in 101 Hijra after ruling for only two years. All the historian are unanimous that he was poisoned by Umayyads because they were not pleased with his reforms and way of governance. The same historians report that with his death all the practices of corruption, abuse of power, nepotism, exploitation and vengeance returned which he had discontinued during his two year regime.

After his, with the exception of the era of Hasham Bin Abdul Malik, the remaining period of Umayyad dynasty is marked by anarchy, disorder, rampant corruption, mutiny and chaos throughout the Muslim world. All the events are well documented in the histories written by prominent early historians including Ibne Khaldoon, Ibne Sa’ad and other. Lets us look at comments by historian about some of these rulers. As said earlier, if I quote all, it will need more than an article, it will need a book. ‘Yazid Bin Abdul Malik discontinued the reforms introduced by Umer Bin Abdul Aziz just after forty days and exploitative and abusive practices retuned[i]’. ‘He even started drinking and indulged into forbidden luxurious[ii]’ ‘Waleed was not suitable for Khilfat in any way. He was ignorant of the affairs of state and wasted his time in enjoying luxurious[iii]’. The short period of Yazid bin Walid was all spent in controlling mutinies and disorder, so there is nothing worth mentioning.[iv]

The last years of Umayyad dynasty were spent in fierce infighting among Muslims as Abbasids fought the wrestle the power from Umayyad. There was anarchy and chaos everywhere in the Muslim world and thousands of Muslims were killed in many battles between the two dynasties. If the Christians and Jews did not take advantage of this situation, it was not because of any fear, it was because of the fact the Roman Empire was already on the wane and did not have any resources to carry out any adventure like that and the Jews were too scattered to form any force.

Abul Abbas took over the power as the first Abbasid Caliph in 132 Hijra. He earned the title of ‘Saffah (Killer)’ because of his cruelty and brutality. Insurgencies and rebellions started at once and the entire period was spent in controlling those insurgencies. Brutal power was used to subdue these insurgencies and in one instance hundreds of women were raped in Musal by the Abbasids soldiers who were being led by Ismael Bin Ali.

Though the Abbasid Empire continued to grow in the coming years but the pattern of insurgencies and rebellions continued. The Muslim world was being ruled by Abdullah Abu Jaffar Al Mamoon in 200 Hijra who had ascended the throne after overthrowing and killing his brother Amin after fierce battles for many years. There were no less the 25 major insurgences by different Muslims tribes and leaders in the Muslim world in the era of other rulers between the rule of Abul Abbas Al safah and Mamoon. In 200 Hijra a rebellious warlord Hussain Bin Aftas invaded Makkah and captured it. His soldiers broke the into Khana Ka’aba and looted every thing. Even the gold leafs adorning the pillars in Masjid-ul-Haram was looted. What to talk of beautiful women, even young boys in Makkah found it difficult to safeguard their honour. Hussain was at last defeated and slain by Ishaq bin Musa who restored law and order in Makah after many years.

The list of such incidents is long but I have described only a few to make my point. The purpose is not to discredit or to demean the achievement and successes of Muslims during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. In fact the progress made in different disciplines was remarkable and exemplary. The discoveries and inventions in different disciplines of science, made during Muslim rule, paved the way for modern advancements in science and technology. The Muslim scholars and scientists introduced the culture of experiments and experimental verification of theories.

The purpose of the article is to show that lives of common Muslims during these eras were no better than the lives of common Muslims today. They were exploited and oppressed. The bureaucracy was as usually crooked and dishonest. The rulers were, with the exception of few, tyrants and morally corrupt. Common men were often victim of brutalities and cruelties of the warring forces and rape of the women by the soldiers (not non Muslim but Muslim soldiers ) was also not very uncommon.

The glory of the era was limited to a few select elite and only the achievements of those elite have been documented in the history books which we are taught. Few histories talk about the plight of the common people and Muslims. I feel that myth of the glorious past has been created by those who want to mislead and misguide the common Muslims in general and youth in particular. The purpose of this intellectual fraud is to exploit the feelings and emotions of young people and and use them for their nefarious designs. We have seen this happening so many times in the past and we can still see this practice going on in shape of Taliban. The young boys and youth are deceived into thinking that their acts of sacrifice would once again usher the golden era for Muslims. What they don’t realize that even if the that golden era returned, the state of common men would remain the same because it was so in the original so called golden era.

[i] Shah Moeen Ud din, Tareekh-e-Islam, Ilm-o-Irfan Publishers 2003, Vol II, Page: 522

[ii] Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, Tareekh-e-Islam, Alfaisal Publishers 1991, Vol II, Page 208

[iii] Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, Tareekh-e-Islam, Alfaisal Publishers 1991, Vol II, Page 226

[iv] Shah Moeen Ud Din, Tareekh-e-Islam, Ilm-o-Irfan Publishers 2003, Vol II Page 566

Sunday, November 21, 2010

White Collar Beggary

Yes! You read it right. I am not talking about white collar crime; I am talking about white collar beggary, which is so rampant on the streets of twin cities nowadays. Never had the markets, bazaars and streets of Islamabad and Rawalpindi been so crowded by the beggars as they are today. Well! not just markets and bazaars, the residential streets are also thronged by professional white collars beggars employing all kinds of techniques and methods to arouse your feelings of pity and sympathy and to force you to put your hands in your pockets for supporting them.

Beggars are not at all a new phenomenon for any of us. We have been seeing them all out lives; asking for alms and charity in the name of God. We have been trying to help them as much as can and afford. But as the time has passed the methods have evolved and have been refined to the hilt. Nobody will ask you for charity and alms. Every effort will be made to make to you feel guilty about having enough food in your home for your family while many others went without food for many days. In fact beggary today is not about making you feel sympathetic; it is about making you fell guilty and blameworthy.

Consider this scene which I have myself witnessed and experienced many times now. You are just getting out of you ride or some shop when you are stopped by a quite reasonably dressed young man trying to sell you packets of elastic bands or Naraas. You tell him that you don’t usually wear Shalwar Qameez and as such don’t need elastic or Nara. He does not say anything to you. He simply turns around and starts cursing his fate. He questions God that why he has made some people so poor that they can not even buy food for their family and have to suffer humiliation everyday and other who have wealth or money are so cruel that they are not ready to help the needy. All this is said within your earshot so that you hear every word clearly. A tear or two also help to melt you heart. You call him back and give him whatever you can without even buying anything. In the evening the boy goes home without selling a single Nara or elastic band packet but with several hundreds in his pocket.

You may even be stopped by very well dressed men. He tells you in very reasonable English that he is not at all a beggar and in fact has a B.Sc. Honors’ degree. But the week long hunger in the house has forced him to seek help from a gentleman like you. He requests you to buy him five kilo Ata from the nearby shop so that he can feed his children. Since you don’t have time to go the shop, you prefer to pay him some thing in cash and leave thanking God that He has saved you and your children from this misfortune. And of course all of you must have seen old men or even young girls selling evening newspapers on traffic signals and stop.

Theses acts and some others similar ones are being performed with minor variations in every market of the city everyday to defraud the citizens into helping these non deserving and unworthy individuals and groups. We were so used to of seeing the traditional beggars dressed in rags and torn clothes that we when we see well dressed and well spoken people asking for help directly or in directly that our minds refuse to accept them as ordinary beggars. We think that they are in fact middle class or lower middle class people forced to beg because of the present economic crunch and escalating prices and inflation. That is why I call it white collar beggary.

One can argue that in fact it is the extremely poor economic condition of the country which has forced even white collar people to beg for food and that poor people are indeed hard pressed in this era of skyrocketing prices. It would be difficult to refute this argument keeping in view the current situation in the country, but the similarity of techniques employed by these white collars beggars implies that there is a design behind this activity. All the people seem to have received their training from the same institute and practiced under same instructors. Such mafias are not unknown and have been operating begging racquets for very long time but, as said earlier they have evolved and refined their methods. They know very well that outdated methods of beggary are not affective anymore as the people in the cities have become immune to the appeals of pity and mercy from shabbily dressed and horrible looking individuals.

Unfortunate thing is that city administrations in all the cities seem to have given up on even trying to control this menace. Like so many other systems which have not just deteriorated but vanished with the passage of time, it seems that there is no one now interested in doing any thing about it. Previously there used to be drives for controlling beggary and some times beggars were rounded up and cities remained peaceful for a few days, but now for years nothing of the sort has been witnessed. Instead of development and progress, we are rapidly being deprived of the services and facilities which we used to take for granted in the early days of our lives. In such conditions we could only request to the authorities that we don’t want anything new and extraordinary, please give us back the systems which we had in 1970s and 80s. That would be a huge improvement in standard of lives which we have today.

Friday, September 17, 2010

To be or not to be

I have always been perplexed by the intentions of the media in Pakistan. One day it is shouting one thing and on the next it demands something totally different. It urges the government and politicians to take some steps and when those steps are taken; our media starts vehemently and whole heartedly criticizing them for taking those steps or for taking them too late.

The case of a poor MNA from Rawalpindi is a case in example. We often hear from our scholarly anchorpersons hosting numerous talk shows, that our politicians are uneducated and not qualified enough to run the affairs of state. The conscientious leader from Rawalpindi took this criticism to heart and decided that come what may, he will improve his qualification. He wanted to show to the world that there is no age limit for getting education and for improving qualification. When he started taking practical steps for improving his qualification, the media people created unnecessary fuss and starting blaming him of cheating and using unfair means. Ultimately the unfortunate MNA had to announce his resignation from the national assembly seat.

All this hue and cry of the media was over a very trivial matter. Unfortunately on the day of examination, the said MNA was a little busy and requested his nephew to go to the examination hall in his place to appear in the paper. This great gesture of dutifulness and integrity from the local leader should have been appreciated by the media. It showed that how much importance he gave to education and how much respect he bestowed on the examination system. Despite all his political and business commitments, he did not want to waste a single day of his educational career and he did not want to disturb the examination date sheet. Being a sitting MNA, he could have easily pressurized the board of education to modify the date according to his convenience. But instead of doing all this, he showed how a model politician should behave. He requested his nephew to appear in the exam so that other students did not face disturbance.

Here we should remember one thing. The paper was of Pakistan Studies. He being an active politician and sitting member of national assembly knew everything about Pakistan Studies. It was a chance for young people to learn about the history of the great home land which had been won by the struggle of the students from great educational institutions of sub-continent. Here I must not forget to mention the greatness of the young lad as well. He too had many promises to keep and dates to meet, but he let go of all those commitments and went to the examination hall so that he could give this ungrateful nation the gift of an educated politician.

What did the two get in return of their dutifulness and zest of education? A self proclaimed torch bearer of morality raided the examination hall and got the young man arrested and accused our leader of cheating and dishonesty. Didn’t he have something better to do like staying at home and marking papers and earning an honest living instead of raiding the examination halls and harassing young people . Or he could have contacted the MNA beforehand and asked him for clarifications. I am sure he would have received a satisfactory explanation and along with the explanation he would have got some token of the generosity of our leader which would have enabled him to live a peaceful live for a very long time. But it was not to be. He started this trouble and now he is crying himself hoarse that he is being threatened and his life is in danger. If the followers of the MNA are enraged at the disrespect shown to their leader and want to give that raiding inspector a massage and some bone re-settling exercises, what the MNA has got to do with it. It only shows the love and respect which he enjoys in his constituency.

The inspector should have thought of consequences before committing such foolish acts. He knew that our policemen are too busy nowadays in protecting themselves from the Taliban, who are bent on sending as many policemen to paradise as possible in shortest possible time. Now nobody minds going to paradise but is the early departure to the destination which bothers all. In such circumstances it is not possible for the police to arrange for the protection of all and sundry. In fact I think Taliban are also victims of negative media coverage like our respected MNA. Instead of appreciating their sincere funded efforts, we keep on criticizing them unnecessarily. They are only trying to rid us of the worries of the troubled life in this material world and provide us lasting peace in the world hereafter on voluntary basis. Half a million rupees which our relatives get afterwards is an added advantage. How many of us are able to get half a million rupees for our families even if we keep on striving for a very long time. So it is two benefits in one blast, oh sorry, in one ticket. But ungrateful people of Pakistan insist on living in this world and toiling day and night for earning bread for the families. The media also terms Taliban terrorists and killers. So unfortunate, isn’t it?

Well coming back to our discussion, I am sure if our MNA had not been discouraged by the negative attitude of the media and educational authorities, he would have gone on to conquer many other educational fronts. Subsequently, he would have got an MBA degree or even a PhD in the similar manner. How proud we all would have felt on having such qualified people representing us in the national assembly. We would have told the world that we and our leaders know the importance of education and we have a highly qualified legislature. Our media did not let this happen. This sad and unfortunate incident must have discouraged many other respected members of our national assembly who were planning similar educational ventures. Now if they want to improve their qualification, they will have to sit in the exams themselves, which might not be possible due to their numerous commitments. How will they get education now?

I suggest that all aspiring members of national assembly who want to get further education and improve their qualifications should be provided facilities by the government. Government and educational institutions should hire individuals who appear in the exams on the behalf of the politicians and separate examination centers should also be allocated for their exams. The entry of all nosy and interfering inspectors like the one mentioned above should be banned in the examination halls. Only then, will our leaders be able to get quality education in peace.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is it Religion or Just Tradition

Dera Ismael Khan: Almost the last settled area bordering Waziristan Agency where Pakistani Armed forces are engaged in fierce battle with Pakistani Faction of Taliban. A Taliban assassin shoots a Shiah Cleric and manages to run away from the scene of crime. The followers of the cleric run after him in hot pursuit. Suddenly on the way, the assassin sees the congregation in a small mosque getting ready for the evening prayer. He forgets his escape and joins the congregation. The followers of the assassin reach there and easily grab him. What happens afterwards is not difficult to imagine.

Islamabad: The brand new car of bank manager is stolen. The police fail to find the car but get some information that the car has been taken to the tribal area. With the help of some Pathan friends, the bank manager traces the whereabouts of the car in Tribal area and reaches there to negotiate its return. He is informed that racket leader Haji Sahib (One who has performed pilgrimage) has gone to the mosque to offer prayers and he will have to wait. After some time Haji Sahib returns rolling the beads of rosary. The bank manager is struck by his pious appearance. However, Haji Sahib negotiates the return of the car in very businesslike way and demands one hundred and fifty thousand for its return. The money is paid and the car is retuned to him in spick and span condition.

These two apparently unrelated incidents involving Pathans throw some light on particular aspect of the character and psychology of these warrior tribes which I think has hitherto been overlooked by most in not all of those trying to analyze the mindset behind the never ending war in Afghanistan and tribal areas and terrorism in Pakistan.

Any casual observer would mistake the Taliban assassin and the leader of car lifting racket as extremely religious and zealous Muslims. The Taliban assassin forgets to save his life when he sees the congregation getting ready for prayers. But is it his love of religious injunctions or is he a prisoner of habits just like a heroin addict who knows that addiction has destroyed his life but can not force himself to abstain from it?

Haji Sahib offers all his payers regularly in mosque and spends lot of his time in repeating holy words on rosary. Does the Haji Sahib, who prays so regularly in mosque and always has a rosary in his hand, not know that theft is considered a serious crime by religion punishable by amputation of hand? Or is he offering prayers just as a matter of habit and tradition?

The answer in both the question is the same. The offering of prayers with congregation, the long beards and the rolling of the beads of rosary are part of Pakhtoon tradition and culture and are performed as a matter of habit but unfortunately are taken as sign of religious fervor and zeal by those unaware of the Pakhtoon traditions.

This is the mistake also made by those who think that war in Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan is a war between fanatic Muslims trying to free their territory against the forces of evil represented by American and Pakistani armed forces. They are deceived into thinking this by the rituals followed by the fighters as part of their traditions and culture. It is in fact just war of territory and war of revenge fought by the warlords against forces who are also just fighting for control over these territories. It would be more appropriate to call it a turf war being fought on large scale.

That is why the war on terrorism is never going to end by preaching to people that terrorism is against Islam and Islam does not allow such heinous acts and suicide bombing is Haram in Islam, because it had nothing to do with Islam in the first place. We can not end terrorism which is fueled by this war by trying to find common ground in religions or by trying to please or even eliminate the religious factions of the Pakhtoon society. They have no significance in this war.

The terrorism in Pakistan has its roots in another Pakhtoon tradition and that is the tradition of revenge. We can only understand the dynamics of this war by focusing on this aspect. I find people baffled at the suicide attacks killing innocent people. People find it hard to find a rationale for such attacks and ask religious leaders to issue decrees condemning such suicide attacks. Let me tell you the truth! Even if all religious leaders join hands (which is next to impossible in the holy land of Pakistan) and issue religious decrees calling suicide bombing Haram, these are not going to stop, because these not religiously motivated. These are only disguised as religiously motivated only to gain some extra benefits. These are part of revenge tradition which justifies killing non relevant people of the enemy tribe just because they belong to the enemy tribe. You have killed my brother and now I am justified in killing your brother, or your father or any one else remotely related to you, even if they had tried to stop you from killing my brother. Their relationship with you is their crime and they will have to pay for it.

When war is going on such a large scale and there are causalities everyday, it is not difficult to find recruits for suicide bombings among the relatives of those killed in the war. In the eyes of those suicide bombers, the crime of Pakistani people is their relationship with Pakistan army which has killed their relatives and now they are duty bound by their traditions to take revenge. No doubt the warlords also utilize this as opportunity to portray their war as a religious war as well by choosing particular groups in society for suicide bombings. (To be continued)


Friday, February 19, 2010

Lets start again

Thinking of starting to blog again. But have been getting little time to write and think things over. At least I can say that there is no dearth of ideas to write on. Thanks to our leaders and our politicians, there is so much to write. Writing satire and particularly political satire was never so easy. If Swift had been alive in Pakistan, he would have forgotten his lilliputians and yahoos completely. We offer a greater variety of foolishness, wickedness and absurdness.

Today I would like to say just one thing. out politicians are so dumb that they cant even think of making newer and fresher mistakes. They are content on repeating the same old ones.