THE WAY IT WAS: Infidels and brother Muslims —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Most Pakistanis living in some Muslim countries on worke visas have a sharp contradiction with the locals, but the Mullah praises them for being our Muslim Brothers. People that give you equal rights of citizenship are branded as infidels, those that deny you the status are embraced as brothers. What impeccable logic!

We are unfortunately divided about our identity. There are some who desist from linking themselves to South Asian history. They insist that their history does not go beyond Mohammad bin Qasim. They go as far as to assert that Pakistan was created the day the young Arab general stepped on the shores of Sindh. Surely this is rather far fetched. Neither the Sultans of Delhi nor the Mughals had any such thing on their agenda. This view of history is certainly outlandish, but generations have been fed on it. It was part of the school syllabus, and probably still is. The fundo lobby threatens the nation with violence if a word is changed in the syllabus and the mighty rulers cannot take a stand against it. They disappear, coarsely put, like ‘froth of piss in sand’. Even the history taught at the college level and some universities excludes the pre-Muslim period. No wonder many of us are so ignorant. Zia and the rabid clergy have so outrageously distorted our South Asian Muslim identity that I sometime wonder if it can ever be put right.

Also remarkable is the insistence of many members of the privileged class to deny their local origins and to trace them to the Middle East. It becomes quite tiresome to listen to their claims that their forefathers rode in from Basra, Balkh or Bukhara or some other place abroad. So what if they did? It is crass of those fattened on the Indus fat to deny belonging to the land where they were born and bred; to make it a point to have it known that they are not South Asians. Even if their ancestors abandoned their own homelands for a future in India hundreds of year’s ago, is it not about time they called themselves South Asians?

The Hindu fundos seek to justify their assertion that Muslims are outsiders by citing these Muslims who are constantly denying their links to the soil. Most of the South Asian Muslims, as is abundantly clear, are as indigenous as the Hindus. If Muslims are outsiders then logically so are the Aryan Hindus who poured in from the shores of the Caspian into Iran and then into India. Some of them even came directly. If we proceed with the same perspective into the distant past we would be running into the Dravidians, the pre-Dravidians and back to the homo erectus and his homo sapien ancestors who walked from Africa to Asia.

Who can then claim to be the original South Asian? In reality the whole argument is foolish and stupid. If new saplings cease to take root in a forest — howsoever proud and magnificent — the forest would soon perish. South Asia is culturally rich precisely on account of its ethnic and spiritual diversity. Since the very original resident is not around should we not postpone the debate till the time we can have him amongst us. In the meantime let us keep our peace and try individually to improve and in the process define a more humane and inclusive identity.

The debate about the old and the new reminds me of a close-door political party meeting. Some old workers felt their positions threatened by new, more zealous workers. One of their spokesmen, who enjoyed submissive loyalty of a group of old workers, persisted in defending them without reason so that they could cling on to party offices. He rounded up the rhetoric with the familiar adage,”Old is gold!” By now I had, had enough of it, so I rather irritably intervened. Yes, I confessed that there were some things that in course of time become old and valuable and are consequently either deposited in the vaults of a bank or put on display in museums. But there were many things that did not age well with time. They rusted and rotted, or started to malfunction. Perforce these had to be melted down or broken and delivered to Bilal Ganj, the local old spares market. What was to be done with an old party worker? Logically, if he was old and valuable he was to be respected. But if he had become a thorn in the side then he had to be removed. Being old by itself does not become a virtue. It is about time the fundos on both sides of the border realised that they have become redundant; a pain to their respective societies; a thorn in the side; a nail in the shoe.

Some of us Pakistanis have a problem integrating with people who are different from us culturally. When Bosnians took refuge in Pakistan, some mullahs said that they were not proper Muslims because their women wore skirts. We are never tired of speaking against the West that allows us citizenship, but extol virtues of some Muslim countries that treat our citizens as if they were garbage. Most Pakistanis who live in these countries on worker visas have a sharp contradiction with the locals, but the Mullah praises them for being our Muslim Brothers. People that give you equal rights of citizenship are branded as infidels and countries that deny you the status are embraced as brothers. What impeccable logic!

A young man I know worked for a company in Kuwait, when it was invaded by Iraq. Like everyone else he took off with his family towards the nearest border post. At the crossing the border police impounded his car for not having the requisite documents. How he managed to arrive in Lahore with his wife and kids is a story for another occasion. When he called on me in Lahore he said he had lost everything he possessed and then to my great surprise added, “The Kuwaitis deserved what they got.” I quote him not because I agreed with him but to illustrate the affection in which he held his fellow Muslim brothers of the country where he worked.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist