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.