WASHINGTON DIARY: History misrepresented —Dr Manzur Ejaz

The path we chose sixty years ago has brought us to where we are today. The violent and dark forces of history idealised and imposed through our textbooks could well be responsible for cultivating the minds of suicide bombers

It may seem rather abstract and presumptive to claim that the state has promoted a culture of hatred and violence by including warriors and invaders as heroes, and excluding real indigenous thinkers and anti-fundamentalism intellectuals in the educational curriculum. Therefore, the rise of religious fundamentalism, as embodied by the Jama’at-e Islami and the Taliban among others, should be examined objectively.

For this purpose, I have picked up three points in history where we can rely on authentic facts without depending on mere folk mythology. Most of the information is taken from Fawaid al-Fuad, memoirs of Nizamuddin Aulia, Babar Bani of Kalam Nank; and Maqabees-ul Majalis, memoirs of Khawaja Farid.

To start with, the Muslim rule by the Salateen or the Slave Dynasty in the 12th century resulted in booming slave markets, with the largest centres in Delhi and Lahore. The Salateen conquered new areas and most of the conquered population was supplied to the slave markets. Slaves were so plentiful that a common soldier or lower class immigrant from Central Asia could easily afford a few.

According to Irfan Habib, the maximum price of the best slave was equal to the value of a buffalo. Nizamuddin Aulia, who was nominated by Farid to lead the Chishtias after him, acknowledges that his family was so poor that they could not afford two meals a day and yet his mother had a slave woman. He has given vivid details of how his disciples used to own slaves and how they freed them on his prodding. Even renowned qazis (Islamic jurists) were involved in the slave trade.

In addition, the Muslim converts were from lower castes of India. They were called julahas (weavers) irrespective of their occupation. They were banned from state jobs and were treated, at best, like converts to Christianity were treated by the British.

On the contrary, Baba Farid, head of the anti-establishment Chishtia Sufi formation and a well known scholar and linguist of his time, opposed the institution of slavery and its ideological allies: the qazis, the mullahs and the rulers.

Khawaja Nizamuddin Aulia narrates that due to ideological conflicts, the qazi and the city rulers joined hands and killed Baba Farid’s youngest son. They then made the lives of his other sons miserable as well. The qazi of Pakpattan (then called Ajodhan) sent a petition to Multan’s leading religious figures, alleging that Baba Farid was violating Islam by listening to music and dancing in the mosque.

Baba Farid and his followers contested the role of mosque in the community. For them, the mosque was not merely for religious rituals but for other social needs of the community as well.

Followers of all religions, including Hindu jogis, used to visit Baba Farid and discuss various matters with him. He never put restrictions on anyone except the king and his men to see him. Once Sultan Giasuddin Balban’s army was passing through Pakpattan and many soldiers wanted to pay homage to Baba Farid, but he declined to meet them. Baba Farid’s shirtsleeve was hanged from the wall instead. By the time the army had passed, the entire sleeve vanished because of the kissing and snatching.

A cleaner from the army forced himself in and told Baba Farid that the people should not be deprived of him as God has given him special honour. Baba Farid hugged the cleaner and said that he does not stop people like him, but the king and his men are not permitted in his house.

We choose the kings as our heroes and push individuals like Baba Farid aside.

Let us take the second point in history, Babar’s invasion of India. We adore him and proudly quote his Tuzk-e Babari as a piece of literature and history, despite it being full of hatred for people of the subcontinent. He is presented as a hero even though a detailed account of his indiscriminate killing of Muslims and Hindus has been written by Baba Guru Nanak. He dishonoured women of Turks (every foreigner was called Turk then) and artisans. He even destroyed mosques and temples with the same zeal, writes Baba Nanak.

Baba Nanak propounds that historical processes cannot be altered by performing certain rituals. Lamenting Babar’s heavy levies imposed on the peasantry, he describes them as alms squeezed by coercion. Probably, these are the reasons that Urdu poets like Nazir Akbarabadi portrayed Baba Nanak as a liberator.

We forget that when Babar invaded India, it was ruled by Muslims (Ibrahim Lodhi was the Sultan at the time), and many of his targets were Muslims as well. Yet we present him as a hero.

Similarly, we praise Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali, who were seasonal invaders and annihilators of Muslims and other innocent people. Once Nadir Shah ordered a three-day massacre of the people of Delhi and slaughtered thousands of Muslims and Hindus before he was persuaded to halt.

Waris Shah and Bulleh Shah have dwelt a lot on the destruction that these invaders brought to Punjab. Waris Shah also revisits the mosque issue, initially taken up by Baba Farid, for which his family had to pay dearly. By interjecting a flutist in the mosque — Ranjha — thus questioning fundamentalist religion and debating the mullah, Waris Shah tries to continue the struggle that his predecessor Sufis had undertaken.

We preferred to preserve Nadir Shah, Ahmad Shah Abdali and the mullahs, but banished Waris Shah and Bulleh Shah from our educational curriculum.

The third point in history is during the British era, when Khawaja Farid was trying to spread enlightenment. Following Baba Farid and Waris Shah’s tradition, Khawaja Farid was defying the imposition of mullah in the mosque. On several occasions he has been told to be listening to music in the mosque. His followers have altered the story, claiming that when Khawaja Sahib was inside, the musicians were outside the mosque.

Khawaja Farid used to quote from different chronicles that Plato and Aristotle were placed at the highest level of heaven. He used to acknowledge openly that Hindu deities like Krishna and Ram were genuine prophets. He had followers who believed that both the Gita and the Quran are revealed books. This enlightened man was banned from our textbooks, and instead we chose to honour the bigots of history.

The path we chose sixty years ago has brought us to where we are today. The violent and dark forces of history idealised and imposed through our textbooks could well be responsible for cultivating the minds of suicide bombers. In the long run, things will not change unless we provide factual representation of the villains of history and promote those who were fighting for moderation, tolerance and humanist values.

The writer can be reached at manzurejaz@yahoo.com

Source: Daily Times, 22/10/2008


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