The changing Pakistani identity


Pakistanis have turned to a Muslim identity which in itself is quite OK for the country is an Islamic republic. But to put all onus on religious identity alone, deprives the country of its own national genesis. Without a cultural identity there remains hardly any difference between people of the same faith living in different parts of the world.

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PAKISTAN’S IDENTITY CRISIS

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Waris Hussain

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The recent outburst of homegrown terrorists from the Pakistani-American community is an alarming development, especially considering the tenuous relationship between Islamabad and Washington. The central issue seems to be why Pakistani-Americans are turning to such violent organizations.

The answer is not so simple, and while many point to the racism and xenophobia of American society that alienated these individuals, I believe the problem started in Pakistan. The national identity of Pakistan has been replaced by a religious one, and this identity crisis has siphoned down not only to Pakistanis, but also their children who were born abroad.

Zahid Ibrahim wrote this week in Express Tribune that the New York Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, turned to terrorism because the apparent hostility of American society towards Muslims. Mr. Ibrahim claims that if these young people like Shahzad could espouse their extremist Islamic rhetoric in the public sphere openly, they would not turn to violent terrorist groups. While I agree with Mr. Ibrahim that American culture must open itself up to its immigrant populations, the question still remains as to WHY these individuals, specifically Pakistani-Americans, espouse such religiously extreme ideals.

For many who move to America or were born here of Pakistani descent, they experience an identity crisis because they want to assimilate but are also viewed as representatives of Pakistan. But what happens when the country you are supposed to represent lacks any national or cultural characteristic? Indian-Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs, represent Indian culture with its music, literature, and films Yet, Pakistanis, have turned to the Muslim identity and the concept of Ummah rather than explore their own cultural identity.

This paradigm has affected me, as I would have arguments with my father about how Pakistan is in the same category as other Muslim nations across the world. My ideal of Pakistan being merely a part of the Ummah was emblematic of Pakistan losing its own cultural identity for that of the “Muslim World”. Individuals from my father’s generation are infuriated at the thought of Pakistan forgoing its own identity because it delineates from the vibratant social and political life they experienced growing up in Pakistan.

One should not confuse my distinction between Ummah and Pakistan’s national identity, as an attack on the concept of Ummah. I believe there are several examples of how this Ummah has helped Pakistan as well as other nations in times of poverty or war. However, we see the violent effects of this concept being the ONLY one learned by individuals, without an understanding of the tradition and culture they belong to as Pakistanis.

The misperception of national identity was no more apparent to me than when reports surfaced of a group of American-born Pakistanis being arrested in Pakistan for conspiring to commit terrorist acts. The most striking part of the report was that it stated the Pakistani-American men did not even speak Urdu and were joining the jihadi movement. This raised a red flag in my mind considering these young men did not have any idea of their cultural heritage, but followed the modern religious trend towards extremism and violence nicknamed international jihad.

The solution to me is not allowing these confused individuals space in our public sphere to discuss extremist rhetoric, but to look to each and every immigrant home. The conversations occurring within these homes are where this seed is sown for these young individuals to understand their roles not only as Americans, but as Pakistanis. If all they hear on the news and all they are told by their parents is that Pakistan is part of the Ummah and they only owe duties as a religious follower, they will fall in the trap of extremism far more easily.

However, if one discusses the ideals of secular governance by Jinnah, or talks about the poetry of Iqbal, or mentions the history of Sufism in Pakistan- they fully understand their own identity and Pakistan’s. These discussions would remind Pakistanis of their vibrant national history and could bring new creativity to the nation.

More significantly for immigrants and their children, understanding modern philosophical and artistic movements helps them adjust to American society, which has also experienced similar movements of freedom. Thus, the understanding of Pakistan’s identity as part of the Ummah denies a true understanding of the complexity of the culture and can lead to a rise in extremist thought.

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Source: Wichaar, Title image: The Pakistan Update
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.

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McChrystal calls Marjah a ‘bleeding ulcer’ in Afghan campaign


In this critical phase of the Afghanistan war, Gen. Stanley McCrystal says NATO and Afghan efforts to secure Marjah are moving too slowly. ‘By day there is government. By night it’s the Taliban,’ says one Afghan tribal leader.
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McCHRYSTAL GETTING IMPATIENT WITH MARJAH CAMPAIGN

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Dion Nissenbaum

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Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied military commander in Afghanistan, sat gazing at maps of Marjah as a Marine battalion commander asked him for more time to oust Taliban fighters from a longtime stronghold in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

“You’ve got to be patient,” Lt. Col. Brian Christmas told McChrystal. “We’ve only been here 90 days.”

“How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied.

A charged silence settled in the stuffy, crowded chapel tent at the Marine base in the Marjah district.

“I can’t tell you, sir,” the tall, towheaded, Fort Bragg, N.C., native finally answered.

“I’m telling you,” McChrystal said. “We don’t have as many days as we’d like.”

The operation in Marjah is supposed to be the first blow in a decisive campaign to oust the Taliban from their spiritual homeland in adjacent Kandahar province, one that McChrystal had hoped would bring security and stability to Marjah and begin to convey an “irreversible sense of momentum” in the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Instead, a tour last week of Marjah and the nearby Nad Ali district, during which McClatchy had rare access to meetings between McChrystal and top Western strategists, drove home the hard fact that President Barack Obama’s plan to begin pulling American troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011 is colliding with the realities of the war.

NOT ENOUGH TROOPS IN HELMAND

There aren’t enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that’s needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn’t dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

“This is a bleeding ulcer right now,” McChrystal told a group of Afghan officials, international commanders in southern Afghanistan and civilian strategists who are leading the effort to oust the Taliban fighters from Helmand.

“You don’t feel it here,” he said during a 10-hour front-line strategy review, “but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside.”

Throughout the day, McChrystal expressed impatience with the pace of operations, echoing the mounting pressure he’s under from his civilian bosses in Washington and Europe to start showing progress.

Progress in Marjah has been slow, however, in part because no one who planned the operation realized how hard it would be to convince residents that they could trust representatives of an Afghan government that had sent them corrupt police and inept leaders before they turned to the Taliban.

A hundred days after U.S.-led forces launched the offensive, Marjah markets are thriving, the local governor has begun to build a skeleton staff and contractors have begun work on rebuilding schools, canals and bridges.

Marines are running into more firefights on their patrols, however. Taliban insurgents threaten and kill residents who cooperate with the Americans, and it will be months before a permanent police force is ready to take control of the streets from the temporary force that’s brought some stability to Marjah.

The U.S.-backed Marjah governor, Marine officials said, has five top ministers. Eight of 81 certified teachers are on the job, and 350 of an estimated 10,000 students are going to school.

CREEPING TALIBAN OFFENSIVE

In an attempt to contain the creeping Taliban campaign, Lt. Col. Christmas’ 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, in northern Marjah recently ceded direct control of an outlying rural area, collapsed its battle space and moved a company back into the population center, which had been neglected.

“There was no security,” said Haji Mohammed Hassan, a tribal elder whose fear of the Taliban prompted him to leave Marjah two weeks ago for the relative safety of Helmand’s nearby provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

“By day there is government,” he said. “By night it’s the Taliban.”

Even in Nad Ali, where British commanders have had success holding elections, opening schools and building the beginnings of a functioning local government, there are significant pockets of Taliban resistance. The local police force, the British commander said, is about half the size that’s needed to patrol the area.

“What we have done, in my view, we have given the insurgency a chance to be a little bit credible,” McChrystal said in one meeting. “We said: ‘We’re taking it back.’ We came in to take it back. And we haven’t been completely convincing.”

Still, no one proposed sending more troops to Marjah.

GIVE TALIBAN MORE TERRITORY?

McChrystal’s top commanders in southern Afghanistan did weigh a suggestion from the top U.S. Marine general in the country, who said the time had come to gamble on turning over some areas to Afghan control more quickly than planned.

“I think if we want to shorten the timelines, then we are going to have to assume more risk in certain areas,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills.

In the final briefing of the tour last week, one American civilian strategist told McChrystal that it would be hard to force Marjah residents to shed their skepticism quickly.

“The vast majority of people are going to be on the fence, and they’re going to wait,” said the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was meant to offer candid advice to McChrystal.

“The hard question for us is: Can we push them off the fence or do we have to wait for them? It will take time, and even if you throw two more battalions in there, it is still going to take months and months.”

“It was a long way gone; therefore I think patience is necessary,” said Mark Sedwill, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. “But I can quite understand why the sheer amount of attention created a sense of expectation that is hard to fulfill.”

The military shares the blame for generating great expectations about how fast the Marjah campaign could turn the tide against the Taliban, expectations that defense officials in Washington, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration was eager to embrace.

In February, as the intense battles with Taliban fighters around Marjah were winding down, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the commander of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters: “Looking downstream, in three months’ time or thereabouts, we should have a pretty fair idea about whether we’ve been successful. But I would be very cautious about any triumphalism just yet.”

Nearly three months to the day after making that prediction, Carter was sparring with McChrystal over whether they’d sent too few troops to seize Marjah.

“I think that we’ve done well, but I think that the pace of security has been slower,” McChrystal said in one meeting. “I’m thinking that, had we put more force in there, we could have locked that place down better.”

“I don’t agree with you about putting more forces in there,” Carter argued, reflecting the inherent tension between defeating the Taliban and winning over civilians. “This is about convincing people.”

“You’re going to feel that way,” McChrystal cut in with a deadpan joke. “It’s your plan.”

“I am, sir,” Carter replied. “You would have to put about five brigades in to achieve the effect you’re talking about and, even then, I bet the Taliban would get through, because it’s in the minds of people.”

Like other commanders throughout the day, Carter pleaded for patience.

“I think what’s going to make the difference, whether we marketed it right or not at the beginning, is time,” he said. “And it’s about persuading people.”

McChrystal appeared unpersuaded.

“I think we have let too much move along without overwhelming-enough security,” McChrystal said, “and I think we are paying the price for it.”

On the flight back to Kabul, McChrystal said he’d intentionally asked provocative questions about troop levels to light a fire under the team and to convey a renewed sense of urgency.

McChrystal now has 13 months to produce some elusive, irreversible momentum before Obama plans to start bringing U.S. forces home — and the president expects to stay on schedule.

“I am confident that we’re going to be able to reduce our troop strength in Afghanistan starting in July 2011, and I am in constant discussions with General McChrystal, as well as Ambassador (Karl) Eikenberry, about the execution of that time frame,” Obama said earlier this month during a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The tension between political and military timetables was apparent again Sunday, when the foreign minister in Britain’s new, Conservative-led government criticized withdrawal deadlines as counterproductive.

“I don’t think setting a deadline helps anybody,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC during a visit to Afghanistan. “I think so much of what we’re doing in Afghanistan, setting targets for people then to jump through hoops towards, doesn’t help them in their work.”

If there’s concern in global capitals, said NATO’s Sedwill, a former British ambassador in Kabul, it’s as much a product of inflated expectations as of unmet promises.

“If there are politicians anywhere in the alliance who are making a judgment that we shouldn’t have gone for the surge unless we could have been confident by the end of 2010 it would all look completely different, then we shouldn’t have gone for the surge, because that was never practical,” he told McClatchy.

Related Post: Marjah, This not Falluja’.

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Jonathan S. Landay in Washington and McClatchy special correspondent Hashim Shukoor in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this article.
Source: McClatchy Newspapers
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.

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Hatemongers Attack Pakistan Again


Suspected militants have killed around 93 and injured hundreds in coordinated strikes against minority sect mosques. The attacks in Lahore Friday were the worst ever against Ahmadis, reviled

AHMEDI MOSQUES GUNNED, 93+ KILLED.

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by Adil Najam and Owais Mughal

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The forces of hate are attacking Pakistan again.

This time targeting Ahmadi worshipers in two separate locations in Lahore, killing over 70 people, [according to latest reports, the figure has reached to more than 93] injuring more than 100, taking others hostage, and spreading their terrorizing message of hate in society.

There can be nothing but rage and loathing for those who kill for the pleasure of killing. Who kill for the purpose of spreading terror and mayhem. Who kill to hide their own inadequacies of faith. Who breed in the fires of hate and kill as an expression of hate. These are the enemies of Pakistan. The enemies of the very religion they think they are safeguarding with venomous hate. They are, indeed, the enemies of humanity.

Ultimately, the person who is killed is not a Pakistani or Indian or American or even Muslim or Jew or Christian or even Barelvi or Ahmadi or Wahabi. Ultimately, the person killed is just another human. And the person who kills, is not. Because in the very act of killing for hate he has stripped himself of that distinction, of his own humanity.

Words escape us, once again. What can we say that we did not say about Karachi, about Quetta, about Swat, about Peshawar, aboutIslamabad, about Kohat – indeed about Lahore itself, again and again.

What can one add except to wipe the tears from ones eyes, to say a silent prayer – a silent prayer that society’s silence over these atrocities may break. Because when the good amongst us go silent, then only the hate of the bad resounds.

Here are the details as reported by Dawn:

Gunmen attacked worshippers from the Ahmadi community in two worship places of Lahore on Friday, taking hostages and killing at least 70 people, officials said. The gunmen opened fire shortly after Friday prayers and threw what could have been grenades at two Ahmadi worship places in residential neighbourhoods in Pakistan’s cultural capital.

Sajjad Bhutta, deputy commissioner of Lahore, said at least 70 people had been killed in the twin attacks on worship places in Garhi Shahu and Model Town. A total of 78 were injured. The death toll at Garhi Shahu was higher, Bhutta said, because three attackers blew themselves up with suicide vests packed with explosives when police tried to enter the building. Police are still searching the area as two attackers were still at large.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the attacks, expressing “deep sorrow and grief over the loss of precious lives”. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the incidents would generate greater resolve to combat extremism. “It’s a reminder to the nation that Pakistan will achieve its destiny only after we get rid of the worst type of extremism and fundamentalism,” he told a news conference. “The entire nation will fight this evil.” He said one attacker had been arrested. Police in Model Town confirmed one gunmen had been arrested and another killed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion quickly fell on the Pakistani Taliban. “It’s too early to say who is behind these attacks,” said a Lahore-based security official. “But my guess is that like most other attacks, there would be some link to the Taliban or their associated militants.” Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the arrested attacker was a teenage Pashtun. This, he said, indicated a link to the tribal area of Waziristan and strongly hinted at a Taliban link.

“The prayer leader was giving a sermon when we heard firing and blasts. Everybody stood up and then two gunmen barged into the place of worship and sprayed bullets,” Fateh Sharif, a 19-year-old student, told Reuters from Model Town. “They had long beards. They were carrying rucksacks.” Bhutta said a suicide vest laden with explosives was recovered from the Model Town worship place, where some attackers escaped. One fired at a television van before the area was made safe. “He was young, clean-shaven. He sprayed bullets at our van while fleeing the scene,” Rabia Mehmood, a reporter told Reuters.

ATTACKS LAUNCHED AFTER PRAYERS

Witnesses said the assaults were launched shortly after prayers. “I saw some gunmen run towards the Ahmadis’ place of worship and then I heard blasts and gunfire,” Mohammad Nawaz, a resident, told Reuters. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it had warned of threats against the Ahmadi community centre in Lahore for more than a year and demanded “foolproof security and protection” from the government. It expressed concern over “the increasing sectarian dimension” of militancy in Pakistan, which it called “a big security threat to the entire society”.

Friday’s shootings were the worst attacks in Pakistan since March 12 suicide attacks seconds apart killed 57 people in Lahore while targeting the Pakistani military. Nine attacks have now killed more than 220 people in Lahore over the past year, a historical city, playground for the elite and home to many top brass in Pakistan military and intelligence establishment.

Another sad day for Pakistan. Another day when hatred overwhelms tolerance. Another day when we will cry. But a day when we should really be thinking. And thinking hard – and not just about those who will commit such evil, but about ourselves and about our having tolerated a society which would tolerate such hatred.

This poem by Ahmad Faraz, which we have used a few times before, was written for a different context. But it was written for the same context. Do please listen. Do please think:

Aashna hath hi aksar mairi janab lapkay
Mairay seenay maiñ sada appna he khañjar utra

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Source: Pakistaniat Image: Nailsea Court
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.

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Wonders of Pakistan supports freedom of expression and this commitment extends to our readers. Constraints include comments judged to be in violation of WoP Comments Policy. We also moderate hate speech, libel and gratuitous insults.

Facebook Fiasco


Muslims protesting against the page on prophet Muhammad [PBUH] at the social networking site Facebook.
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Adil Najam

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WHAT WOULD THE HOLY PROPHET [PBUH] DO?

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This is a painful post to write.

Ideally I would have preferred not to have had to write this post. But I have over 300 messages in my in-box of people fussing over the so-called “Draw Muhammad Day” page on the social networking site Facebook and now the Lahore High Court’s decision calling for a ban on Facebook has forced the issue. And that is what pains me.

I hope that Facebook administration will remove the page. Not because of any “banning” movement and not because of the Lahore High Court, but just because the page and the idea behind the page is inflammatory and offensive.

Regardless of what your belief or religion might be, to throw out offensive and hateful vitriolic for the simple and primary purpose of hurting someone else’s feelings – when you know that (a) those feelings will be hurt and (b) when hurting those feelings is really the only purpose of doing what you are doing – is inhuman, cruel, and clearly offensive.

If Facebook does not recognize that, then it knows nothing either about “social” or about “networking” and certainly not about “community.”

But at one level, that matters little now. Whether Facebook removes the offensive page or not. The page and its creators have already fulfilled their purpose, met their goals. And it is we ourselves who have helped them do so. And that is what pains me.

I have not visited the offensive page in question and do not intend to. I had also not intended to help publicizing that offensive page, but by having to write this post that is exactly what I am doing. And that pains me.

I am offended by the idea that page purports and the goals it seeks to achieve. So, why should I dignify it by a visit? Why should I publicize it? Why should I give it the attention it was created to seek. Yet, all of us (now me included, which is why writing this is uncomfortable) are doing exactly that. And that is what pains me again and again.

Many of the emails I have received give me the link to that page and invite me to visit it so that ‘I can see for myself how offensive it is.’ I do not need to do that. Yet, that is exactly what we have been doing.

We have been acting exactly as the creators of that page intended us to. Acting as the promoters and publicists of that page.

And now having turned it into an international legal matter giving the attention seekers behind the page the exact thing they wanted: Attention.

But we have done more than that. With the Lahore High Court decision we have allowed the PTA and authorities another precedent and excuse to aggressively “manage” the internet; something that can and will be misused in the future.

I have not been receiving emails from the proponents of that page. The only ones who seem to be noticing us is us Muslims (and for some reason Pakistani Muslims more than any other). If we too had ignored the offensive page – as it deserves to be ignored – it would have gone the exact same way to oblivion as thousands of other sophomoric attempts at cheap attention seeking on the Internet. Instead we have now turned it into an international incident and given it far more limelight than it ever deserved.

Let’s think about it, what did the creators of the offensive page want to do when they set it up? First, they sought attention, and hits, and notoriety in a world where attention is too easily confused with fame. Second, they wanted to ridicule Muslims by the reaction they excepted from this. If you think of it, irrespective of whether Facebook removes the site or keeps it, the organizers of the page have achieved their goal. Well beyond what they expected.

Now every other Islamophobic nutcase will get new ideas about how to have his little 10 minutes of fame spewing bigotry and hatred against Muslims.

But more importantly, they simply could not have done this without us.

The only people who have turned this from nothingness into a huge issue is us. I am sure that those who set up the page are jumping up and down and thanking us for making their page such a huge success! And that is what pains me.

I am also pained by the sacrilege of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that this entire drama signifies. As pained as anyone else, and as pained as I would have been at the sacrilege of any other Prophet or religion. But unlike for many others, that pain is neither reduced nor resolved by protesting against Facebook. For me, the antidote to that pain is in the teaching of the Prophet (PBUH) themselves. What would the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have done in such a situation.

The one thing I am absolutely positive of, is that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would not have done what we are doing now: making an international public spectacle of ourselves. Most likely he would have just walked away and ignored (the ‘look the other way when someone throws garbage at you’ model), he might have negotiated with Facebook on the basis of their own stated rules (the Hudabia model), he might have reasoned with detractors (the discourse and discussion model).

Nearly certainly our holy prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would have handled it with grace, with composure, and maybe even with a touch of good humor.

Most importantly, the Prophet (PBUH) would have kept focusing on his own actions and proving his point with his own deeds rather than with slogans, banners and naara-baazi.

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Source: Pakistaniat
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.

YOUR COMMENT IS IMPORTANT

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Folk Tales of Pakistan: Mirza Sahibañ


True love is the experience of a passion that makes spirits reach the height of extreme delight, an ecstatic feel which only the lovers can perceive. Love transcends generations, geographies, and cultural diversities & it exists in all aspects of life. Only lovers can feel the power of love.
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Mast Qalandar

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MAAR KOI TEER O MIRZIYA, KHICH KE WAL ASMAAN!

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In an earlier post on Sohni Mahiwal, I had said folklore was a mixture of beliefs, facts and fiction and that it was always a poet who immortalized a love story. But, it is also true that a poet chose to sing a particular story, and not the other, because of its inherent beauty, drama and poignancy. Mirza-Sahibañ is one such poignant story of blind love.

The story came down to us through a 17th century Punjabi poet, Piloo (Peeloo), in oral or ballad form. Since then, many poets and writers have written the story. But, because of its unique rustic style, brevity and boldness, Piloo’s version of the story became popular, and is widely sung and celebrated in rural Punjab even today.

The story has also been translated into Urdu, both in poetry and prose, and a short version in English is included in a book ‘The Legends of the Punjab’ written, in 1884, by one Captain R. C. Temple.

The Education Department of Punjab, Lahore, published Mirza-Sahibañ in Urdu in 1951, interestingly, with the title: Mirza Sahibañ (for adults)!

Since most of the readers, I assume, are adults, I have no qualms in relating the story to them, as I know it.

The dates are controversial, but the events of the story are generally believed to have taken place around the time of the Mughal king Akbar. And the geographical area where all this happened was located somewhere between the rivers Ravi and Chenab.

In a village called Khewa, near present day Jhang, a woman named Noorañ gave birth to a boy. Noorañ died when the child was still in infancy. Therefore, the boy was wet-nursed by another woman who had a suckling daughter. Thus, according to the traditions of the time, the boy and the girl became siblings. The boy grew up to become the chief of his village and also of the Sayyal tribe, which inhabited the area. He came to be known as Khewa Khan. His “sister” grew up to become Fateh Bibi and was married to a man named Wañjal (or Bañjal), of the Kharral tribe, who lived in village Danababad, which, today, is in Tehsil Jarrañwala, district Faisalabad.

The towns, Khewa and Danabad, were short of a day’s ride apart on horseback.

Mirza, the hero of our story, was born to Fateh Bibi and Wañjal while Sahibañ, the heroine, was the daughter of Khewa Khan. As already explained, since Fateh Bibi and Khew Khan were suckled by the same woman, Mirza and Sahibañ ended up being “cousins” according to the prevailing traditions.

Mirza must have been 8 or 9 when his parents decided to send him to Khewa to live with his “maternal uncle”, Khewa Khan. It was not unusual those days for parents to send their children to live with their mother’s or father’s relatives for education or for other reasons.

Khewa Khan enrolled both Mirza and Sahibañ at the local mosque, the usual place for basic education those days. A student would start off with alphabet, or patti as it was called, and then graduate to reading the Quran, chapter by chapter, and then to other subjects, if any, depending on the interest of the student and his/her parents. The imam of the mosque, commonly called maulvi or qazi, would be the sole teacher.

Like most teachers of his time, the maulvi who taught Mirza and Sahibañ was a stickler for pedagogical rules, and his golden rule was: Spare the rod and spoil the child. As a tool of punishment, he used what in Punjabi is called a chhammak. It is a long, thin, green twig or branch of a tree, shorn of the leaves or any thorns. When struck on any part of the body it sends a flaming sensation through the body — and the soul, too, I guess.

Years passed, and both Mirza and Sahibañ advanced into adolescence and to adulthood. They discovered that they liked to be in each other’s company. Actually, Mirza and Sahibañ had fallen head over heals in love with each other — a love that was honest, blind and reckless. Often in the “class”, they would be more absorbed into each other than to paying attention to the maulvi. The maulvi had to resort to the use of chhammak to get their attention.

According to the story, Sahibañ, once, when struck by the maulvi for not memorizing her lesson correctly, addresses him thus:

Na maar Qazi Chhamkaañ, na de tatti nooñ taa
Parrhna sahda raeh gaya lae aaye Ishq likha

O Qazi, don’t beat me with the stick; don’t burn me. I am already burning [with love]. Books are of no use to us, for love is now writ in our destiny.

Sahibañ had grown into a beautiful young woman. Piloo, the poet, describes her beauty with the usual poetic exaggeration. He says, when Sahibañ went shopping, the grocer would be so distracted by her beauty that he would place wrong weights in the weighing scale (tarakrhi), and that instead of oil she wanted he would pour honey for her. At another place the poet says, when Sahibañ walked past the fields the farmers would stop plowing and would stand transfixed by her beauty.

Mirza also grew into a strapping, handsome young man. He had shoulder length hair, was a good horseman, was known for his physical courage, and was a deadly shot with his bow and arrow. His marksmanship was legendary.

Mirza and Sahibañ’s love affair soon became the talk of the town. When Sahibañ’s father heard of it, he was mad. He would have none of it, and soon packed Mirza off to his home in Danabad. Also, a suitable young man, named Tahir Khan, from the same tribe, was found to marry Sahibañ, and a date was set for the wedding.

Sahibañ, when she came to know of her imminent marriage, sent an emissary to Mirza asking him to come and get her before she was bundled off to a new home.

Mirza couldn’t and wouldn’t let this happen. He announced his decision to go to Khewa and get Sahibañ. His parents and sister tried to dissuade him saying that the Sayyal women could not be trusted, and that he was taking a big risk going to Khewa. His father’s words of advice and warning are quite revealing of the values of the time, some of which persist even today. He says: “To hell with these women. Their brains are in their heels. They fall in love laughing and, later, tell their story to everyone crying.” Strange as it may sound, the father goes on to say: “One should not step inside the house of a woman with whom he is in love.” However, when the father realized that Mirza would not be dissuaded, he relented, saying: “I see you are determined to go. Now, go, but don’t come back without Sahibañ. It’s a question of our honor. Bring her with you!”

Mirza readies his horse, collects his bow and quiver and sets off to Khewa on the day Sahibañ’s wedding is to take place. He reaches Khewa when the wedding party (barat) has just arrived and is being feasted. Sahibañ, decked in her bridal dress, her hands and feet died with henna, is tucked away in a room somewhere upstairs.

Mirza, knowing the layout of the house from the years he had spent in it, quietly slips inside and asks a woman confidante to alert Sahibañ of his arrival. He, then, climbs up to her room, brings her down, helps her into the saddle on his horse and, with Sahibañ clinging to him, gallops away into the night.

It takes a while for Khewa Khan’s household to find out what has happened. Sahibañ’s brother, Shamair, accompanied by his other brothers, the bridegroom and others set off on their horses after the runaway couple.

Confident that he had gained sufficient distance and that it would not be easy for his pursuers to catch up with him, Mirza wants to stop and rest for a while. He was too tired.

Sahibañ warns him that her brothers might catch up with them and urges him not to stop. But Mirza boastfully tells her that, first, they won’t be able to catch up with them and even if they did it would take only one arrow to take care of Shamair, and one more to get rid of her betrothed. And that he had sufficient arrows to take care of the whole bunch of the Sayyals. Confident but tired, he lies down under a clump of trees — and dozes off while Sahibañ keeps watch.

In the quiet of wilderness, Sahibañ is assailed with doubts. What if they catch up and kill Mirza? What if Mirza, quick and accurate marksman that he was, kills his brothers? Like a typical Eastern sister, her love seems to be divided between her lover and her brothers. She doesn’t want either of them to be killed. Somehow, she believes, or hopes, that this whole thing could end without bloodshed. So, she quietly takes Mirza’s quiver and hangs it on a branch, out of his reach.

Soon, there is the drumming sound of hoofs, and in no time the pursuers appear on the scene. Sahibañ shakes Mirza out of sleep. Mirza wakes up with a start and instinctively reaches for his quiver but doesn’t find it there. In that split second, an arrow from Shamair’s bow pierces Mirza’s throat and he falls to the ground. Another arrow pierces his chest. With two arrows stuck in his body, Mirza looks accusingly into the eyes of Sahibañ and utters those memorable words, somewhat reminiscent of Shakespeare’s “Et tu, Brute?”:

“Bura kitoyee Sahibañ, mera turkish tañgiya jañd!”

[Sahiban, you did a terrible thing by hanging the quiver away from my reach!]

Sobbing and shaking, Sahibañ throws herself over Mirza’s body to cover him from any further hits. A shower of arrows rains on Sahibañ. Her body twitches and then lies still, and Miraz and Sahibañ enter the world of lore and literature.

In Punjabi literature today, just as Rañjha is identified with his flute and Sohni with her un-fired water pitcher (kacha gharha), Mirza has become a metaphor of courage and marksmanship. This is evident in one of Munir Niazi’s poignant poems when, engulfed in a pall of gloom, the poet invokes Rañjha and Mirza in the following lines:

Jattan karo kujh dosto, torho maut da jaal
Pharh murli O Rañjhiya, kadh koi teekhi taan
Maar koi teer O Mirziya, khich ke wal Asmaan

Do something, friends, lift this pall of despair
O Rañjha, take out your flute and play an enchanting tune
O Mirza, shoot an arrow at the sky to pierce this web of gloom

_______

Notes:

  • The story is based mostly on Piloo’s ballad of Mirza-Sahibañ, as discussed by Professor Hamidullah Hashmi in his book.
  • To express true pronunciation of a nasal n in Punjabi, a wave over English alphabet ‘n’ has been used throughout in this narrative.
  • Again to express the true rendition of an rh as in Punjabi word Paharh [mountain], an ‘r’ combined with h has been used to express the true connotation of that sound.
  • Source: Pakistaniat

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