Shams ad-Dîn Tabrizi: An Esoteric Parable of the Divine

by Nasir Shamsi

Shams al-Din Tabrizi was a Persian mystic, who is credited as the spiritual instructor of Maulana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, also known as Rumi.  Songs of Shams are part of Pakistani folklore and sung in Farsi, Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu.  My life-long study has traced his life and teachings to his final sojourn, which connects Sabzevar with Tabriz, Konya and Multan.  I have spent more than 50 years researching the life of Shams ad-Din Tabrizi.  There remains a deep fondness for this Persian mystic in Pakistan and, from my extensive research and study, I believe it is possible to conclude that his final resting place may in fact be in Multan.

Shams was born on 15 Shaban, 560 AD in Sabzevar, now in Iran, as Shams ad-Din Muhammad.  His father, Salahuddin, was a descendant of Jafar al-Sadiq, the 6th Imam.  The elders of this family had moved from Madinah to Ray, now in Iran, and then on to Selmiah.  Due to the wicked persecution of Alids, that is the descendants of Ali and Fatima AS, under  Umayyad and Abbasid rule, they moved to Allepo, which is now in Syria, and after some time to Sabzevar.  Simple and God-fearing, Syed (descendant of the Prophet) Salahuddin, now generally known as Salahuddin Nurbakhsh, was greatly respected for his knowledge of religious sciences while he made his living from trading in cloth.

Shams’ early education took place at home.  He learnt Quran from his father and Fiqh (jurisprudence) and theology from his uncle Abdul Hadi.  At 12 years of age, his uncle Abdul Hadi took him to Tabriz to learn other fields of knowledge.  When he returned home at the tender age of 19 he embarked on a long expedition with his father.  According to Gulzar-i Shams, “Garden of Shams”, both father and son travelled as far as Badakhshan, now known as Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and on to Kuhistan, now Baltistan and Skardu in Pakistan, and to Tibet and Kashmir.  As had been customary, the purpose of long travel by the ahle Suluk (wayfarer) is to wander like Moses in search of the mysterious Khezr, to find the hidden meaning of the Divine.

The path of the wayfarer is the search for knowledge of the inner essence, for epiphany and manifestation of Oneness through interaction with humanity.  This is an expression as well as evidence of the Oneness of God.  We have come across interesting accounts of Shams’ discourses with Buddhist monks in Sufi books.  Thousands of Muslims living in these areas admit to being descendants of the people visited by this father and son.  These people had willingly accepted Islam at the hands of Shams and his father, such was their purety of character.

Several years later when they returned home from their long travels, Shams who was now now 26, married Hafiz Jamal, a daughter of his uncle Jalal Uddin.   The couple had two sons born two years apart, named Naseer uddin Muhammad and Ala Uddin Muhammad, later known as Ahmad Shakar and Zinda Pir respectively.  After a few years Shams took leave of his family and set out for Tabriz in search of Shaykhs with whom he could interact to sharpen his understanding and unravel the mysteries of the concealed, the esoteric.  Tabriz was a centre of knowledge at that time and was known to be the home of saints.  The city of Tabriz attracted great mystics from all over the Muslim world.   Shams was, of course, already familiar with the city and became a student of Shaykh Abu Bakr Sallabaf Tabrizi, a basket weaver.  Abu bakr Tabrizi, according to Aflaki, “brought Shams Uddin Tabrizi to stations and levels which did not suffice him, for he sought yet higher station, such that association with its charisma would keep him charged, whereby he could be promoted to ever more perfected degrees”.  He was always driven by a desire to aim for what was higher, committed to the revealed message and to obedience of the Messenger, what he calls matabat-i Paighamber in “Maqalat”, and so he waited for the unveiling, Kashaf, of the hidden reality, the fulfilment of God’s promise in the Quran: “I will show them my signs on the horizons and in themselves until they know that it is the Truth.  Is this not enough for you, since I am over all things the Witness?”

Shams went on to study with Shaykh Rukn addin Muhammad Sajasi , who died in1209 and who was also the master of Auhad ad-din Kirmani, a great poet and a Sufi.  Shams had an innate gift for the metaphysical and by now had mastered the esoteric sciences, which unveiled the sparks of the Divine knowledge, Tajalliyat-i Irfan-i Ilahiyya.  Later the esteemed Sufi, Baba Kamal Jundi, confirmed him as a master in his own right.  The great teacher however cautioned him to stay away from the ordinary and the mundane and promised that one day he would meet someone who would act as his mouthpiece and speak to the world on his behalf.  He was, though, told he would have to wait until his future student was ready to receive from him the promised gift.  He was also advised by his master to stay away from Sufis as well as Faqihs (Jurists), which accordingly he did.

Although he was trained in mystic states by prominent masters, the truth is that Shams already owned his own mysterious personality, as is apparent from his statements in “Maqalat”.  It was customary to receive a mantle from the Shaykh on completion of a desired position.  But Shams says that he was given the mantle by the Prophet himself “Maqalat”.  He also says that he does not give a mantle to any-old-body, and that his words are like a “mantle of investiture” for all who listen.

Constantly travelling from place to place, he came to be known as Shams Parinda or “the flying Shams”.  He would show up at times at seminaries but without revealing his credentials.  He stayed away from mystics because they had given up the Shari’ah (practice).  He kept away from faqirs (scholars) because they indulged in useless polemics and diatribes and he avoided staying at seminaries.  Instead he stayed at the caravan, showing himself as a trader, though all he had with him was an old cup, a worn out rug and a plain brick for a pillow.  He fasted often and was seen to open his fast after 10 days with bread soaked in soup.  He virtually starved his body, always denying himself.  In return, he received the uncanny gift of constantly knowing each other person’s mind and being able to tell in advance what was about to happen.  He was capable of doing things that seemed out of the ordinary, uncanny or supernatural to an undiscerning eye.  According to Aflaki, Shams travelled extensively, even by telekinesis (Tayy-e zamini ke dashte).  He kept his talent however from the ordinary people.  This happens through the miraculous effect of the Divine presence (Huzoori) that is implanted in the heart through initiation by the spiritual master, or through personal transformation.  This is a manifestation of the word of God, “We say, be and it is”. (Quran).  According to the Hadith of Qudsi (a message revealed to the Prophet, although it is not Quran), God says, “When my faithful servant draws near to me through his or her voluntary devotions, then I love him and I become the ear with which he hears, the eye with which he sees, the tongue with which he speaks, the hand with which he grasps, the foot with which he walks”.

After parting with Baba Kamal Jundi, Shams resumed his travelling.  He spent many years wandering, meeting both mystics and saints.  He travelled to Baghdad, Damascus and the Holy Houses in Makkah and Madinah.  After returning to Tabriz he had a dream in which he was told to go to Konya where someone was waiting for his company, so he embarked on the long journey to that place. Travelling through Damascus and Aleppo, he arrived in Konya in 1244 AD. Shams had travelled throughout the Middle East searching and praying for someone who could “endure my company”.  A voice said to him, “What will you give in return?” and Shams replied, “My head!”  The voice then said, “The one you seek is Jalal ud-Din of Konya”.

There are several versions of his meeting with Rumi.  The most popular one recorded by Sepah Salar who spent 40 years with the mystic.  Rumi was absorbed in teaching students by the water.  Shams walked in with his dishevelled hair.  After greeting Rumi, he pointed to a pile of books next to him and asked, “What is this?”  Rumi replied “This is what you don’t know?”  Shams picked up the books and to Rumi’s astonishment, threw them in the water.  “What did you do, stranger, those were my precious manuscripts?”  Shams then removed the books from the water and to Rumi’s surprise they were all completely dry, with no sign of water on them.  Bewildered and perplexed, he asked, “What is this?” Shams answered him back in his own words, “This is what you don’t know” and hurried away.  Throwing away his religious clothing and his hat, Rumi went out looking for him.  He found Shams at the house of one Salah al-din Zarkub.  Both Rumi and Shams went into total seclusion in a room together for the next six months.  When Rumi came out, he was a changed person, he had been totally transformed.

“Rumi was like pure clean lamp, where the oil was poured in the holder and a wick placed therein, ready to be lit; and Shams indeed was the spark to set it afire.” (Golpinarali, introduction to “Aflaki” 1959-60, p. 648)

Shams stayed with Rumi for about 15 months.  The seminary had been closed; Rumi would not even see his students and disciples, which they blamed on Shams, calling him a wizard and a mad man.  Then Shams left for Damascus.  Rumi was greatly upset by this separation and as he danced around he began to recite poetry that was written down by his students.  It must be understood that Rumi had never before written poetry.  This precious wealth of mystic poetry – almost 50,000 verses in all – has been preserved in the form of what is known as Divan-e Shams Ad Din Tabrizi.

On learning that Shams had been seen in Damascus (Syria), Rumi sent out his son, Sultan Valad, with a letter begging him to return.  So Shams returned to Konya where he was received with great respect.  The mystic meetings resumed, Shams often sharing his profound thoughts and vision with Rumi and his disciples.  The jealousy and anger, however, resurfaced among Rumi’s disciples, the jurists of the town also joining in this time and so Shams disappeared, leaving no trace behind, according to Sultan Vald.  Shams had even warned everyone that if he disappeared again, this time nobody would find a trace of him “Maqalat”.  On the night of 5th December 1248, as Rumi and Shams were talking, Shams was called to the back door.  He went out – never to be seen again.

The sudden disappearance of Shams put Rumi in a mystic frenzy.  He danced around in the streets, the seminaries and the gardens, while circling around a pillar in his precincts, uttering spontaneous songs of love and Firaq (separation from the beloved).  In the beginning, Rumi always addresses Shams in his poems but eventually, in his spiritual quest for the lost companion, he finds Shams in himself and therefore in his later poetry it is Shams who is talking.  Rumi now had become an extension of Shams, his alter- ego.  Rumi compared Shams-I Tabrizi with the immortal Khizer, who had been given Divine knowledge (Ilm-e Ladunni) and he put a sign “Maqam –I Khizer”(station of Khizer) on the wall of the room where he used to confer with Shams.

After leaving Konya for good, Shams travelled back to Tabriz and then to Sabzevar, though he did not stay there for long.  He travelled far and wide between different countries, Baltistan, Skardu, Kargil,  Kashmir and Gujrat, with people accepting Islam from his hands in large numbers, impressed by his charismatic personality, performing acts of Divine Grace (Karamaat) and miracles.  From Gujarat he arrived in Baghdad where he is reported to have brought the ruler’s young boy back to life after he had died, which brought him into trouble with the jurists.  When they ordered that the skin be removed from his body, Shams covered his torso with a blanket and gave away his skin.  When the ruler let him go, his 13 year-old son insisted that he owed his life to the saint and so he should be allowed to go with him as his disciple.  Shams then left with the boy for Multan, where another great saint, Shaykh Baha uddin Zakariya, ruled.  The account of their arrival in Multan in 1265 has been recorded in many books, including “Gulzar-I Shams” (Garden of Shams).  Here is the fascinating account by Sir Lepel Griffin and Colonel Charles Massy in their “Memoirs”,published in 1909, of Shams’ arrival in Multan where he had come to spend his remaining years:

“While Baha uddin was in the zenith of fame and power, the saint Shams, with one disciple, a boy of some thirteen years, arrived at Multan from the west, miraculously crossing the Indus upon the small praying carpet (Musalla) used by all Muhammadans.  When Baha Uddin heard of his arrival, he sent to him a cup full of milk to signify that Multan was already as full of fakirs as it could hold, and that there was no room for one more.  Shams Tabriz returned the milk, having placed a flower on its surface, signifying that not only was there room for him, but that his fame would be above all the holy men who had honoured Multan with their presence.  On this Baha Uddin was much enraged, and ordered that no one should feed or assist in anyway the contumacious saint.  He was independent himself of food; but his young disciple soon became hungry and cried for something to eat.; and at the call of Shams Tabriz, deers from the wilderness came and allowed themselves be milked.  In return for their confidence the saint killed one, according to the orthodox Muhammadan procedure, and sent the boy into the city to beg fire with which to cook it.  But Baha Uddin was not to be disobeyed and all refused; while one sweetmeat seller threw a vessel of milk on the face of the boy who returned to his master in tears.  Then Shams Tabriz cried aloud, ‘O sun, from whom I take my name (Persian Shams, the sun), come near and grant me the heat to cook my food which these unbelievers deny me.’  The sun descended and cooked the venison.”

(Sir Lepel H. Griffin and Colonel Charles Francis Massy, Chiefs and Families of Note in The Punjab, Volume 1, The Civil and Military Gazette Press, Lahore, 1900, p 304)

It is rumoured that Shams was murdered with the connivance of Rumi’s son, ‘Ala’ ud-Din.  “Maqalat-e Shams-e Tabrizi” seems to have been written during the later years of Shams, as he speaks of himself as an old man.  Overall, it bears a mystical interpretation of Islam and contains spiritual advice.  The legend of Shams-e-Tabrizi will live forever for truly he and Rumi became one and the same.

The author is an academic and writer who has spent a lifetime researching the life of Shams ad-Din Tabrizi.  He is due to publish book on Shams ad-Din Tabrizi.

A FORGOTTEN HERO – SIR MUHAMMAD ZAFARULLAH KHAN

by Jahangir Ahmed

Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan Chaudhry was born in Sialkot in the early spring of 1893 to a well-known landowning Jat family.  His father was a lawyer in his native city of Duska, district of Sialkot.

The young Zafarullah studied at Goverment College Lahore, obtained his degree in law from Kings College, London in 1924 and was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn.

He later returned home and practised law in Sialkot and Lahore and in 1926 was elected to the Punjab Legislative Council. He continued to practise law until in 1931 he presided over a meeting of the All-India Muslim League in Delhi and spoke about the cause of Indian Muslims in his address. He also participated in the Round Table Conferences of 1930-1932.

Zafarullah Khan was at that time a member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India.  In 1947 he represented the Muslim League before the Radcliffe Boundary Commission where he was fearless in putting forward the Muslim case.

He also represented Pakistan at the United Nations General Assembly and his presentation of the Pakistani side of the Kashmir dispute in 1948 was responsible for the declaration of self-determination.  He also represented the Islamic world’s view during debates on the Palestinian issue.  His eloquent speeches in the UN Security Council in support of the independence of Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Tunis, Morocco and Indonesia ensure his reputation as a great world statesman.

He served as Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister from 1948-1954 and represented the nation in the UN Security Council’s deliberations on the position of occupied Kashmir as well as in similar discussions on Northern Ireland, Eritrea, Sudan, Morocco and Indonesia.

In 1954 he was appointed a judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague and remained at the same post until 1961.  He then became Pakistan’s permanent representative at the United Nations, a position which he held from 1961-1964, while continuing to preside over the United Nations General Assembly.

In a personal tribute to him, King Hussain of Jordon said “He was indeed a champion of the Arab cause and his ceaseless efforts whether among the Muslim and non-aligned countries or at the International Court of Justice will remain forever a shining example of a great man truly dedicated to our faith and civilisation.” (Review of Religions Sep/Oct 1986)

Others, including the Nawab of Mamdot and the fourth Prime Minister of Pakistan, Chaudhry Mohammed Ali, wrote of their admiration for his tireless work in presenting the Muslim case on the Kashmir dispute before the UN Security Council and in persuading representatives from around the world, and particularly from India, that the only solution to the Kashmir dispute would be to decide in accordance with the will of the people.

After living in England from 1973-1983, Zafarullah Khan returned to Pakistan where he died in Lahore on 1st September 1985.  He was a great speaker, a true intellectual  who served Pakistan very well and who will be remembered with affection by the people of Pakistan as well as by the international community.

Those of us who are Pakistani and love our homeland, should follow his example.  We should not build up false differences between our nation and our communities overseas who are also Pakistani.  We should not judge any of the people of Pakistan on the basis of colour, race or religion.  There are those, who perhaps have their own agenda, who are at present causing great damage to our nation and to the worldwide reputation of Pakistan. We are all fellow citizens of this great country and every one of us should be given equal rights, opportunities and access to the path that leads to personal success because out of personal success we achieve national success, something that should be the birthright of every one of us.

Image: Muhammad Zafarullah Khan at the United Nations,  Pakistan’s admission to membership in the United Nations. 30 September 1947, Flushing Meadows, New York.

Jinnah’s vision for the nascent Pakistan

Muhammad Ali Jinnah set out his vision for the nascent Pakistan, a nation he hoped would be democratic, prosperous and tolerant.

Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, is an icon of history and an excellent example of how an individual can change the course of history.  Such a history- making person always posesses an extraordinary personality and exceptional calibre.  One can argue that every leader is a product of socio-political circumstances and conditions.  However, a leader of Jinnah’s stature is not at the mercy of the prevailing conditions.  Rather, he moulds the prevailing conditions in a manner that the course of history is changed.  He functions more as an independent variable in the historical process, offering a new vision of the future and turning it into a reality.  Most people acknowledged Jinnah’s admirable qualities of leadership in the pre- and post-independence period.  Beverly Nicholls describes Jinnah as “The most important man in Asia” in his book “Verdict in India”, published in the US in 1944.  He justifies his comment about  Jinnah by arguing that “India is likely to be the world’s greatest problem for some years to come, and Mr. Jinnah is in a position of unique strategic importance, he can sway the battle this way or that as he chooses.  His 100 million Muslims will march to the left, to the right, to the front, to the rear, at his bidding and at nobody else’s…”.  American news magazine “Time” published a cover story on him on the 22nd of April 1946.

In the post-independence period, Jinnah is viewed as the most powerful national symbol in Pakistan, whose views and political career inspire most Pakistanis.  His speeches and statements are seen to offer a vision of the nature and direction of the political and economic system in Pakistan in broad terms.  He presented basic concepts and a broad framework for the constitutional order and socio-political arrangements for Pakistan.  He did not give a precise and codified constitutional and legal framework because he believed that such a task was to be undertaken by Pakistan’s constituent assembly.  His illness and death within 13 months of the establishment of Pakistan did not give him enough time to further articulate his perceptions of the future of Pakistan or to personally guide the constituent assembly to translate his ideas into political institutions and processes.

His death on the 11th September, 1948, created an organisational and leadership crisis for the Pakistan Muslim league.  The party was heavily dependent on his personality and there was no leader of his stature to fill the gap and ensure political continuity.  Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, attempted to fill the gap but he soon faced challenges from regional  leaders inside and outside Pakistan.

As the constituent assembly began the task of constitution-making, a debate started in the political circles about Jinnah’s view of politics, constitutionalism and Pakistan’s relation with Islam.   The dominant political elite in the early years of independence, represented mainly by the Pakistan Muslim League leadership and its allies, upheld the modern democratic vision of statecraft with constitutionalism and the rule of law, elections and equal citizenship.  They viewed Islamic principles and teaching as a source of inspiration and guidance for legislation and policy making.  They were convinced that the principles and teachings of Islam could be reconciled with modern statecraft and representative democracy.

Islamic religious leaders, especially the Jamat-e-Islami, articulated a counter- narrative of Pakistan’s political system and its relationship with Islam.  They were less interested in the modern notions of statecraft and democracy and keener on  creating a religious-Islamic state with an emphasis on fundamentalist and orthodox notions of an Islamic order.  The focus was on creating a puritanical Islamic order with a literalist approach to Islamic scripture.

The first group dominated the statecraft.  They created a modern democratic and constitutional system while maintaining inspirational links of the state with Islam.  While recognising Islam as a part of the Pakistani identity, these leaders did not think that the state should take upon itself the task of strict enforcement of Sharia in society, as demanded by the Islamic clergy.

Jinnah’s Pakistan

The debate on Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan became more contentious during and after the military rule under general Ziaul Haq.  His military government evoked the notion of an Islamic State as advocated by conservative and orthodox Islamic leaders in order to win their support for military rule and deflect the political pressure built up by the Pakistan Peoples’ Party whose government was overthrown by Gen. Zia ul Haq in July 1977 and some other political parties that contested his rule.  The dominant Pakistani elite and the state had rejected the vision of an Islamic state as advocated by the Islamic clergy during the first 30 years of independence.  Now, with the advent of Gen. Ziaul Haq the table was turned on the moderate and modernist Muslim, and the Pakistani state took upon itself the task of implementing Islam in the state system and society on orthodox and fundamentalist lines.

Gen. Zia’s policy of using the state apparatus to implement Islamic orthodoxy was strengthened by the support his government got from the US and from conservative Arab states after the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979.   These states co-opted Pakistan’s military government in the hope of building Afghan-Islamic resistance for countering Soviet presence in Afghanistan.  This made financial and diplomatic support available to Pakistan’s military government, which began to promote religious orthodoxy and militancy with greater confidence.

Pakistan in those years experienced a sustained effort by the military government, Islamic clergy and political far Right to re-write Pakistan’s history to justify Islamisation under Gen. Zia’s military government.  Jinnah’s views were given a totally new interpretation to argue that he wanted to create a Sharia- based Islamic state rather than one that was both modern and democratic.

Most of these interpretations were out of context and did not take into account the mindset and disposition of Jinnah.  Given his educational and social background, especially his British legal training and liberal political orientation, Jinnah viewed Islamic idiom and history as integral to national identity- formation and as an instrument for political mobilisation for the Muslims.  Islamic principles, sharia and its cultural parameters were  sources of guidance and provided an ethical basis to both society and state.  There was, however, no notion of creating an Islamic state as envisaged by the leaders of Pakistani Islamic parties.

There were repeated efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to project Jinnah as a practising Muslim who offered his prayers regularly and strictly followed Islamic injunctions in his personal life.  Articles and several books were published during those years to build up Jinnah’s image as a religious person, which conflicts with the description of his personality and disposition in his established and recognised biographies.

There are those who project Jinnah as a secular leader who wanted Pakistan to be a secular state.  His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on the 11th of August, 1947, four days before Independence, is the core basis of the secularist view of him.  Those people ignore Islam in his statements before and after the 11th of August, 1947 speech.

Jinnah’s politics cannot be described as “secular” in the Marxist sense where religion is strictly separated from politics and state.  It was only after his return from England in 1934 and the reorganisation of the Muslim League in order to make it a popular movement. That Islamic idiom figured prominently in his discourse.  He viewed Islam as a nation-building and integrative force.  He was impressed by Islam’s emphasis on equality and social justice.  However, he never suggested a religious Islamic country as advocated by many today.  He also suggested a non-discriminatory treatment of all religions by the state and upheld the notion of equal citizenship, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, caste or region.   Jinnah’s interview with Beverley Nichols in December 1943 includes an interesting question-and -answer exchange:

Beverly Nicholls: “When you say the Muslims are a nation, are you thinking in terms of religion?”

Jinnah: “Partly, but by no means exclusively.  You must remember that Islam is not merely a religious doctrine but a realistic and practical code of conduct.  I am thinking in terms of life, our history, our heroes, our art, our architecture, our music, our laws, our jurisprudence… in all these things our outlook is not only fundamentally different but often radically antagonistic to the Hindus”.

The focus was on protecting the socio-political identity, rights and interests of the Muslims of South Asia.  Both Jinnah and the Muslim League pursued this strategy.  Initially they demanded constitutional safeguards and guarantees for securing the identity, rights and interests of the Muslims.  Later they talked of a federal system and when the required securities were not available for the Muslims under a federal system, Jinnah began to advocate a separate homeland.  If the objective was to create a religious and sharia-based state, Jinnah and the Muslim league should not have accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan (1946).  Further, the Muslim League favoured the inclusion of the whole of the Punjab and Bengal in Pakistan because these were Muslim majority provinces.  Had this proposal been accepted by the British then Pakistan would have had a large non-Muslim population.  How could then a puritanical Islamic state be created in Pakistan?

There was a strong territorial basis to the demand for a separate Pakistani state.  The four Muslim majority provinces in the North-West were territorially adjoining which made it possible for the Muslim league to demand a separate homeland.  Had there been no concentration of Muslim population in these provinces, the demand for a separate homeland would not have materialised.

Pakistan is a territorial state based on the homeland concept for the Muslims of South Asia.  However, it was never conceived as a homeland for all the Muslims of British India.  Given the fact that a section of the Muslim political elite opposed the establishment of Pakistan, it was recognised that the Muslims who would continue to live in India would be advised by Jinnah to be loyal to the Indian state.

The founding leaders of Pakistan knew that non-Muslims would be among its citizens.  In fact Jinnah assured Non- Muslims in 1947-48 that their rights, religion and property would be protected in Pakistan.  He wanted them not to leave Pakistan.  It was in this context that he delivered his 11th August, 1947 speech and referred back to the speech in October, 1947 to win the confidence of non-Muslims.  He also talked of equal citizenship for all, irrespective of religion, ethnicity and region.  Pakistan’s first law minister was a non-Muslim.

Pakistan was conceived as a modern democratic state and a mid-way house between a purely religious state dominated by Islamic clergy and a completely secular state that did not allow the use of religion in political and state affairs.  Being a modern democratic and constitution-based state, Pakistan did not reject the guiding role of Islamic principles and teachings for its policy- makers.  Socio-cultural and religious pluralism were to be its characteristic features.

Image: Portrait of Quaid-e-Azam, image, Nehru, Mountbatten and Jinnah, Jinnah and Muslim League.

The author is a professor of Political Science at Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan.

Imran Khan, as New Leader, Could Help Pakistan Reshape Its Image

by Jeffery Gettleman

For a nation often in the news for all the wrong reasons — suicide bombings, horrific school massacres — Pakistan has reached a turning point that could possibly alter its dysfunctional trajectory.

Imran Khan, the cricket star and A-list celebrity whose political party won this past week’s elections, could use his fame and charisma to reset Pakistan’s troubled relations with the West.

Mr. Khan also may move Pakistan much closer to the expanding sphere of China, a neighbor he has praised conspicuously as a role model.

Or Mr. Khan could simply follow the same path as many Pakistani leaders before him, supporting harsh Islamic laws and showing sympathy for militant groups, policies that have kept Pakistan isolated for years.

Still, Mr. Khan brings something new: more star power and mystique than any recent Pakistani leader and perhaps a better chance to change the country’s narrative, even though the election was widely considered tainted.

“Relatively few Pakistani leaders have won over the West,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director for the South Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. But Khan is familiar with operating in the international world. He already has strong name recognition. He doesn’t need to be introduced.”

Oxford-educated and once married to a wealthy British woman, Mr. Khan is clearly comfortable in the highest circles of Western power brokers. He was close friends with Princess Diana. (Shortly before she died, Mr. Khan has said, he was trying to help her find a new husband.)

Still, the old Mr. Khan is not necessarily the new Mr. Khan. In recent years, he has undergone a complex metamorphosis, distancing himself from his days as a star athlete and ladies’ man. He now expresses sympathy for the Taliban and for Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which include the death penalty, positions that play well domestically.

“He’s dangerously accommodating of extremists, and anyone who knows him knows this,” said C. Christine Fair, a political scientist at Georgetown University.

The dust has hardly settled from the election, which was marred by allegations of rigging and copious evidence that Pakistan’s military interfered to help Mr. Khan win. Mr. Khan’s party trounced the others, but as of Sunday remained short of a majority in Parliament.

To become prime minister, he needs to win over independent candidates and smaller parties to build a coalition. Most analysts believe he will succeed, although it is not a sure thing.

In many ways, Pakistan is a pivotal nation. It is the world’s sixth-most populous country, with 200 million people. It is also nuclear-armed and strategically located next to India, China, Iran and Afghanistan.

For decades it has been cast in turmoil by suicide bombers, extremist groups and a nefarious spy agency that helped create the Taliban and actively supported Al Qaeda while ostensibly serving as an ally to the United States.

But many parts of the country are safer today than they were a few years ago. New malls, new schools and new Dunkin’ Donuts outlets are going up. And now Pakistan is poised to get a new global salesman.

It is widely expected that if Mr. Khan, 65, becomes prime minister, there will be an initial fascination with him as he tours the world. Most likely, he’ll visit foreign capitals and business titans, seeking help to solve Pakistan’s dire debt crisis and bring in investors. He also seems to have China in mind.

In an address to the nation last week, Mr. Khan mentioned China no fewer than seven times, praising it for lifting millions out of poverty and for fighting corruption. “God willing,” he said, “we’ll learn that from China.”

Pakistan is hurtling toward possible default and insolvency, and China has already lent it billions of dollars for new roads and railways, at discounted rates. Two days after Mr. Khan’s speech, Pakistani newspapers reported that China would lend the incoming government $2 billion more for “breathing space.”

But assuming Mr. Khan finally gets the prime minister job, he will be entering the inner sanctum with the whiff of scandal.

By all accounts his election victory was far from fair. Human rights groups, academics, Western diplomats and political analysts have said that Pakistan’s army and security services, often referred to here obliquely as “the Establishment,” systematically targeted Mr. Khan’s political rivals in the months before the election, helping him win. But the Establishment chiefs may now be kicking themselves for doing a job too well.

This article previously appeared on the New York Times 

SOUNDS OF THE ALHAMBRA by Al Firdaus Ensemble

How did Al Firdaus come about and how did you all meet?

I moved to Granada in 2006 and gradually got to know musicians who were also interested in Sufi music. Granada has attracted a lot of very talented artists from Morocco due to the great interest in traditional Andalusi music and its relationship with Flamenco. What started as a jam with some friends in a local tea shop lead to our first group Al Kauthar and subsequently Al Firdaus Ensemble which I formed in 2012 with Spanish and Moroccan musicians residing in Granada.

Your music is essentially Sufi in nature. What have been your biggest inspiration and your major influences?

Regarding inspirations and influences it is a lengthy topic but I will try to be brief. Of course each member of the group has their own story so I can only speak for myself.
From the age of 7 my training was in Western Classical music and I was inspired by the great Classical composers especially Bach whose music has a deep spirituality. At the same time from an early age I was inspired by music from the Islamic world and would listen to a diverse collection of records of my father who had a great interest in Islamic art and civilization. I remember being particularly inspired by the Egyptian Quran reciters such as Sheikh Mahmud Al Husary and Sheikh Minshawi. My father became close friends with a master sitarist called Ustad Mahmud Mirza from Delhi and I had the privilege of listening to his music and entering and experiencing the amazingly profound and subtle world of the Raga.
Later I would travel to Syria to further my studies in the Arabic language and Islamic Sciences. In Syria I had an immersion in the tradition of Sufi music in various zawiyas in Damascus and Aleppo where I listened to some renowned munshids (singers of devotional music) and started to learn to sing within the maqam tradition. I have also had the opportunity to travel to other important centres of Islamic culture in Turkey and Morocco and listen to some of the finest Sufi music.

What role do you feel music can play in bringing people together and promoting understanding?

Music is a universal language and has the power to bring together people from very different backgrounds, something that the politicians cannot achieve. It is also a way of presenting the spirit of a tradition through beautiful sounds which touch the heart and transcend the barriers of political or intellectual differences. The human spirit is one, and music which expresses this essence can be appreciated by all who listen with an open heart. In this regard music has an important role in promoting understanding and respect between people of different religions and cultural backgrounds.

Tell us a little more about collaborations that Al Firdaus have done or have in the pipeline?

In the past we have collaborated with artists, sometimes from very different genres including blues, hip-hop and reggae, which is always a challenging and enriching experience.
We have also collaborated with the American poet Ahmad James known as Baraka Blue and he features on a track on our new album. I have also been discussing with Sami Yusuf a possible collaboration. I greatly admire his work and it would be great to do something with him in the future.

We understand Al Firdaus are set to release a new album this year. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?

We are just in the last stage of the recording process in the final mix. The recording studio is just like a mysterious cave. When you enter, and disconnect from the outside world searching for that sound, amazing things happen. We entered the studio with the basic structure of the songs and what has developed has surprised us and we hope it will be equally surprising for our listeners. It has taken a lot longer than expected and we ask our listeners out there to be patient. The new CD is full of variety and different musical traditions are bridged together in an interesting way. We hope to reach a wider audience with this new album.

What themes are important to you as an artist?

One of the themes which is central to my work with Al Firdaus and follows in the tradition of Sufi music is the different forms of praise of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), producing new arrangements of traditional qasidas praising the Prophet in different languages and musical styles. The Prophet Muhammad was sent to all mankind and it is important to express this universality through music. We use poetry which focuses on the beauty of his character and his qualities such as mercy, generosity and justice. We hope that these songs may be a means of reviving our love for the Prophet and strengthening our bond with the one who is the greatest example for us in all aspects of life.
Another theme which is important to me is the way that the experience of Divine love and union is described by some of the great Sufi poets. Often they use the metaphor of wine. They call it the pre-eternal wine, something that we have a memory of deep within our souls and that we long to taste again. Divine love cannot be intellectualised but can only be experienced through taste. That brings us to another theme which is how to reach that blissful state described by the great Sufis.
In brief, this requires us to embark on the spiritual journey of the purification of the self and intention from all besides the One.
In terms of music, I´m interested in the way that different musical traditions are related and this is what we explore in our music. In the current formation of the group the members are Moroccan, Spanish, English and Venezuelan and each musician contributes to the sound of Al Firdaus with their unique musical and cultural experience.

Where have Al Firdaus recently performed? Do you have any upcoming shows?

Our most recent performances were in Canada and Paris.
Our next concerts will be in London in April and in Fez in Morocco in May during the Festival of Sacred Music.

How important an influence have your individual backgrounds played in the music you have produced?

Al Firdaus is a garden which has a variety of flowers and plants of different kinds which enhances its overall beauty. Each member of the group has contributed in a unique way. Salma with her experience in Western classical cello and Flamenco, Omar and Yusuf who have a long experience in Andalusi, and Flamenco traditions, Muhammad the Venezuelan with his latino touch and myself with my background in Western classical music and experience in the Syrian tradition. This cultural mix has been a key to the distinctive sound of Al Firdaus.

How can fans gain access to your music?

Our album “Safa” is on i-tunes, Amazon, and spotify and the physical CD can bought via our website: alfirdaus-ensemble.com
You can also watch our videos on our youtube channel Al Firdaus Ensemble.

You performed in 2016 at London’s St John’s Smith Square in a concert entitled “Sufi Chants”. Our readers are looking forward to you performing in London again. Do you have any words for them?

We are also looking forward to returning to London. Whatever happens in London has far-reaching ripples elsewhere. I was born in London and spent my first seven years there so I feel a responsibility to give something back to my home city and establish a strong presence for the group there.
If you are not familiar with the band check out some of our videos on Youtube. I particularly recommend our official videos Celtic Salawat and Al Madha, and if you like our music please share it on social media.

Ali Keeler was speaking exclusively to LAFZ Magazine.

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WATERSHED ELECTIONS: PAKISTAN 2018

by Wasio Khan Abbasi

Pakistan will hold a general election on 25th of July in what could be only the second democratic transfer of power in the nuclear-armed country’s history.

The election is expected to pit the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party against former cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

It’s been 70 years since Pakistan attained independence and in its 71st year the country will experience another round of elections.  These elections, however, are unlike any of the past.  Previously, elections always had an air of competition around them with various ideologies clashing with each other for votes. Political parties had (comparatively) clear agendas and could be identified as a left or right wing party, at least.

In recent years, that distinction has eroded. The parties no longer present any clear agenda. The promises made today are the same that were made two decades ago. The sheer amount of money spent in elections has made it a selection of the rich, rather than election by the people. Today, each party has prominent members who are referred to as ‘ATMs,’ the main financial pillar of the party. These members are often new, even getting party nominations for Senate seats as compensation. Every news segment highlights a new financial scandal, often worth billions, with various government organisations utterly helpless to counter it.

Some would say this is nothing new, Pakistan has had corruption problems in the past and institutional failure too. So what is different this time? The difference is a judiciary-led coup that looks set to overhaul the system. Unlike a military coup, which topples the government at the point of a gun, the judicial coup has taken the whole machinery to task. Some say the seeds were sown by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who clashed with the former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, while others believe it is the Supreme Court of Pakistan that has decided to tilt the balance of power.

Historically, the judiciary received the short end of the stick in matters of power. Every successive military government forced dozens of judges to retire, severely affecting the quality and       experience of judicial members. Various governments needlessly influenced the judiciary one way or the other, be it the Zia dictated trial of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or the attack on the Supreme Court by Nawaz Sharif, there always have been cases that tarnished judiciary’s name and disrupted its functions. Raymond Davis’ case is another highlight, he accepted in his memoir that both Pakistan and US Governments influenced the judiciary, the court suddenly transforming into a Shariah court mid-trial and forcing families involved to forgive him with blood money. He was then immediately whisked away from Pakistan on a chartered flight, before any further complications could surface.

What does the judiciary have to do with the 2018 elections? First and foremost, the judiciary has taken various scandals to task. The most prominent of these was the Panama Scandal that saw the premier Nawaz Sharif losing not only his position as Prime Minister and member of National Assembly, but also being barred for life from holding public office. As a result of this, he can no longer even hold party leadership. The results came in so late that his party nominations for Senate Elections became null and void, forcing the Election Commission to find a loophole and declare the participants as independent candidates. Throughout the whole process, from forcing the government to solve the matter itself, to a completely transparent trial of the ruling family, the Supreme Court of Pakistan placed itself in a position of unquestionable dominance in the hierarchy of power that continues to resonate.

State institutions, be it the National Accountabilty Bureau (NAB) or Pakistan Television (PTV) or the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), that have been affected due to incompetent leadership installed by the present government, have found  support in the face of the Supreme Court. At many times during the Panama Trial, these political employees interfered in the trial process and in no time they were dealt with, their shenanigans plastered all over the newspapers for everyone to see. Not only did the judiciary use its legal and constitutional position, but it also took a leaf out of the political parties’ book of public relations when conducting the most transparent trial of a ruling family in the history of this nation. While a lot remains to be desired as far as performance of state institutions is concerned, little doubt remains as to capabilities of the officers and bureaucrats that serve the nation.

Although another term of democratically elected government is coming to an end, we once again face the harsh truth that no Prime Minister has been able to complete their tenure in office.

Unsurprisingly, it was the judiciary that had punished Yousuf Raza Gillani for repeatedly refusing the Supreme Court’s order and disqualified him for 5 years. This time, it was the very public trial of Sharif family that disqualified Nawaz Sharif for life. One could say it was karma, as Nawaz Sharif was at the forefront of getting Gillani disqualified and this time he faced the same fate, with Imran Khan leading the charge against him. As it is often remarked, it’s not that democracy is unfit for Pakistan. It has more to do with politicians who are their own enemies, accusing others of derailing democracy while setting fire to the whole train themselves.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have continued with more or less same politics as in the past, the real change has been an active Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that counterbalanced the madness brought about under democratic rule. Imran Khan’s sudden popularity threatened mainstream parties in 2013 election … a strange election where even the winning party accepted that widespread rigging had plagued the process, yet rigging complaints were more or less left unaddressed. Some complaints are still pending, nearly at the end of the present government. It raises a large red flag on the performance of the Election Commission that has failed to tackle the ballot rigging menace in any meaningful way. The charge led by PTI repeatedly highlighted the acts of gross misconduct carried out during the 2013 elections, and the party appears to be preparing well for the 2018 elections. Some ground realities are worth noting.

It’s not just PML-N that lost its leadership. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the king of Karachi for three decades, appears to be by far the most affected. Starting with a raid at 90 headquarters by the Rangers in 2014, the party went into a downward spiral that kept intensifying. As the party began to lose its iron grip over the city, the Scotland Yard investigation and allegations of links with the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) seriously damaged the party. While domestically the party had been accused many times in the past, it was the first time a foreign investigation found evidence implicating them. If that was not enough, the speeches by party premier Altaf Hussain reached such levels that party members began to distance themselves from him. Eventually, a line was crossed and Altaf Hussain came under the judicial scope. A media blackout of his speeches on judicial order rendered him a memory of the past … something Altaf Hussain has been desperately trying to counter and is now left with no other option than to stream his speeches over social media. However, in the    absence of the street power that gave him dominance over Karachi, and with the refusal of his loyal MQM members to heed him any longer, he is no longer the power broker he once was. MQM of today is a severely fragmented party, caught between factions that go by their area names, such as the MQM Bahadurabad group. This MQM barely managed to secure one Senate seat, despite having the opportunity to bag more. Karachi, once the fort of MQM, was ripe for PTI to make inroads and dominate in the absence of MQM. It chose to focus on the Punjab instead and an opportunity was missed.

With new delimitations yet to be announced, final census results made public and a caretaker government agreed upon, the next few months have crucial implications for the upcoming elections. PML-N, although now under Shahbaz Sharif, is still a ship forcefully controlled by the elder brother. For many a sinking ship, PML-N is unlikely to dominate elections as it did last time. PTI, while a flag bearer for many, has had a bumpy ride these past five years. In this time Imran Khan has led a month long demonstration against the government, missed most of the National Assembly sessions, fought in courts (controversial constituencies and the Panama scandal) for justice and married three times. His marriages have at times generated more interest than his political manoeuvres, much to his party’s dismay. Jamat-e-Islami has remained restricted to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and there are talks of reviving the MMA alliance under Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman, bringing religious parties on a single platform. With MQM already in shambles, the only party left is PPP and that’s an interesting story in itself.

While the PPP has continued to dominate Sindh, despite an abysmal stint from 2008-2013, it has experienced ups and downs that merit consideration. Despite the party enjoying the popular vote in Sindh, one of the first shocks experienced was a tough contest at local bodies, where it barely managed to secure enough seats to get its mayor elected for Larkana, PPP’s homeground. The second shock came in the form of the utter defeat at the Larkana Bar Elections, where all its candidates lost. More setbacks came its way when Asif Zardari left the country due to tussles with the military and Awais Muzaffar Tappi escaped due to corruption charges. In addition, Memon was arrested for  corruption worth billions and there was the eventual escape (and later capture) of Rao Anwar, the policeman said to be handling the dirty work for the PPP top brass. As if that wasn’t enough, the PPP has been repeatedly    trying to install its handpicked Inspector General, removing the current Inspector General A.D. Khawaja … a move repeatedly denied by the judiciary on the basis of malafied intentions. With just a few weeks remaining before the caretaker government steps in, the PPP appears desperate to broker a deal with powers in the country.

If the by-elections and Senate elections are any indication, it appears that money again will play a pivotal role in getting candidates elected and systematic sabotage will be used to cover up any election irregularities. That is, if the judicial coup fails to bring the changes necessary for democracy to prosper.

And while the sceptics still believe the status quo is intact and nothing will really change, Pakistanis are remain to be ranked as the most hopeful people in South Asia. Even if the 2018 elections are rigged, there is hope yet for a better future.

The author is a regular contributor to LAFZ Magazine

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Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – The greatest Muslim reformer and statesman of the 19th Century

by Dr. Amineh Hoti

For too long the media and some orientalist narratives in academia have portrayed Muslims as having the potential to be a threat to modern Western civilisation.  But the real picture is that modern civilisation was born from the cradle of Muslim civilisations.  It cannot be disputed that Muslims refined Greek and South Asian knowledge and took it to higher levels, as they were active contributors to Western knowledge and to reasoning.  Take Al Andalus, for example, which is remembered as a golden age when scholars were all-rounders – holding both faith and knowledge as key guiding wisdoms and taking knowledge to a height that has benefitted us all in modern civilisation, to name but a few examples: the watch, mathematics, particularly algebra, and modern-day methods of writing numbers.  (Compare the ease of calculating using modern-day methods with trying to calculate using the Roman method of writing numbers.)

 So what is the story of this circulation of knowledge that has undoubtedly benefitted us all? Both young Muslims and the West in general need to know this story.

Educational institutions, families and communities should encourage young people to appreciate, celebrate and value diversity and to lead meaningful lives.  In a global world of many billions of people, all with different perspectives, it is imperative to value difference and see dignity in it while focusing on commonalities that bring us together in our shared humanity.  We can only attain deeper understanding through the study of history and knowledge that leads to mutual respect.  Our journey, then, must take us back in history from Aligarh to Cambridge, then to Oxford, and eventually to Toledo where this quest for knowledge started from its origin in a culture that deeply valued both knowledge and coexistence.

 Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Aligarh: Background

In order to encourage young people to take an example from ordinary human beings who worked extraordinarily hard, let us look at one specific example: Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817 – 1898) was based in the subcontinent in the nineteenth century and worked hard to become a distinguished scholar of that time and a jurist for the British East India Company.  His sense of higher moral character, which ensured that he worked for causes beyond his own community and self-interest, is reflected in the following story related to me by one of his direct descendants, an uncle of mine,  who was also named after him, Syed Ahmed Masood.  During the Muslim uprising of 1857 Sir Syed defended European women and children trapped in a church from angry mobs, by standing in front of the building to protect them, and managed to save about 60 of them.  This was a time when riots had broken out and mobs were thoroughly blood-thirsty. When the mutiny had abated and things had calmed down  the British monarchy wanted to reward Sir Syed for his courage by awarding him the annual payment of Rs.100,000.  He refused to accept this, saying, “anyone with a moral sense would have done what I did. But, of course…” 

Syed Ahmed Masood added to the story he was telling me, “At the time there was no-one else who stood by him.” Sir Syed had been completely alone when he  bravely stood before the church in the face of great danger.  He always felt that Muslims needed to educate themselves and communicate with the British if they were to survive.

Sir Syed was not just a follower of the British as some stringent Imams would have us believe – Sir Syed, being a person of his time and its cultural and religious context, did challenge the British colonial system and even stood up to it. He wrote the “Causes of the Indian Mutiny” in which he criticised British policies of the time that, he argued, had caused the uprising.  At the same time he was concerned for his fellow-Muslims  who were becoming more and more stringent in their outlook. Sir Syed then began encouraging them to learn English and to move with the times by adopting a more modern and progressive scientific approach in educating themselves and their children.  He was, thus, moved to found a journal and, most importantly, an institution, whose students would help to bring about change in the course of time in the subcontinent.  From this institution came leaders, prime ministers, policy makers, historians, scientists and many more outstanding figures.

He founded a journal called, Tahzib-al-Akhlaq, ( “Social Reform” or “Moral Reform”). In this, he published articles calling for the people of the subcontinent to leave behind blind imitations of culture and to use reason and logic to lead more meaningful and thoughtful lives.  He argued that if the people of the subcontinent (both Muslims and Hindus) continued to progress asymmetrically, with some following old traditions and superstitions, while others were progressing, they would resemble a half-blind person with only one eye.  But if both religious communities advanced side by side and developed together with the vision and thought to move forward through knowledge and education then they would be, in his own words, “like a beautiful bride.”  Religion, he argued, should not prompt us to hate the Other, but to look at perceived others as our fellow human beings (after all we are all the children of Adam and Eve/Bibi Hawa and, therefore, kin to each other). (See “Selected Essays” by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Translated from Urdu by John W. Wilder, 2006).  In Sir Syed’s words from  the first edition of “Tahzib al Akhlaq:”   

“We need to be unfaltering in our faith, but refrain from prejudice. All mankind are our brothers, thus it is obligatory for us to love them, care for them and develop friendship with them as it is our primary duty.” He also adds something relevant to our present time: “Of humanity’s meanest traits, prejudice is the worst. Prejudice spoils good deeds. In Those who have religious prejudice, the characteristics of human excellence, are utterly lacking in justice and fairness.” Page 2, of Tahzib, Vol 1, 1870.  By mentoring a generation of politicians and entrepreneurs, Sir Syed promoted knowledge, understanding and tolerance in young people during his time and still continues to inspire people even today.

The University of Cambridge inspired Sir Syed to build Aligarh: On a visit to his son’s college in Cambridge, UK, Sir Syed was inspired by the beautiful colleges, their gardens, and intellectual rigour, which had given birth to numerous scholars who have made their mark on this world.  Here are some world-changing discoveries that were made at Cambridge: the splitting of the atom, the discovery of hydrogen and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Cambridge, along with Oxford, is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world.  Sir Syed quickly understood that institutions like this can build the solid foundations of societies and may play a key role in opening minds and in educating generations of people.   (Both Muslims and Hindus, post colonialism, were set in conservative and, according to Sir Syed, “superstitious” static contexts.) Young students therefore needed to be pulled up in standard or they would fall far behind in a world where English was spoken and scientific research was valued.  After all, that was the “Age of Reason”. Sir Syed aspired to create an institution in his homeland, based on the idea of intellectually vibrant Cambridge. 

Sir Syed realised that it was imperative for him to invest all of his energy and resources into the creation of a university.  So he went around collecting money from anyone he could persuade to pay, even a paisa or rupee.  The hard struggle of his effort is reflected in this story narrated to me by his direct male descendant, “Sir Syed even donated his own property in India to the University”- bear in mind that he came from a well-off family, which had worked in the service of the emperors of wealthy Mughal India.  But the project of building a major university needed, not just small contributions, but major investments – it would require literally all of his resources to make this building of his dreams and the future of some of the students of the subcontinent – he had to approach everyone to see this building on its feet, reaching out, metaphorically, to the skies.  At one point it is related that Sir Syed went from door to door to collect funds for the university.  He even received money from courtesans (who in those days were trained and sophisticated ladies of culture.)  The very fact that they donated money to a major university for the subcontinent reflects their own sense of awareness of the need and importance of education and the maintenance of their own identity as South Asians.) Naturally, the local mullahs objected to this.  In a witty reply, Sir Syed said, “if the source of money was not moral enough for them then he would build the university’s toilets with this money!  The struggle to build educational institutions is, of course, not a light matter – it takes passion and the focus of a life-time, as it did for Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. 

As mentioned above, history records that Sir Syed was inspired by his son’s university, on a visit to Cambridge. At this point I would like to step back and ask where Cambridge came from? Cambridge followed the principle of Oxford University which predates Cambridge – in fact, according to its own history, Cambridge was founded by Oxford scholars who were taking refuge from the hostile townsmen of Oxford in 1209 (early Records of the University of Cambridge)

At first they [the students] lived in lodgings in the town [of Cambridge], but in time houses were hired as hostels with a Master in charge of the students.  By 1226 the scholars were numerous enough to have set up an organisation, represented by an official called a Chancellor, and seem to have arranged regular courses of study, taught by their own members.  From the start there was friction between the town and the students. Students, usually aged about fourteen or fifteen, often caused disturbances.  Citizens of the town, on the other hand, were known to overcharge for rooms and food.  King Henry III took the scholars under his protection as early as 1231 and arranged for them to be sheltered from exploitation by their landlords.  At the same time he tried to ensure that they had a monopoly of teaching, by an order that only those enrolled under the tuition of a recognised master were to be allowed to remain in the town.”

Reflecting the tensions between the “gownies” (those from the university) and the “townies” (those from the town of Cambridge), the above quotation shows that it was not easy to be students and that the university emerged from tensions that marked the nature of society at that time.  Of course, amidst the layers of this tension was also great friction and asymmetry between the genders.  Women were not allowed entrance into the university at this period, they were admitted into Cambridge colleges seven hundred years later, ie only a few decades ago.  1869 was the date of the intake of the first female students at Cambridge but their university certificates were mailed to them – they were not allowed to receive their certificates as students do today in the Senate House. The first female Cambridge students lived and studied in a college in Hitchin, which is 30 miles away from Cambridge,  the distance was meant to provide a form of segregation so that the five female students studying there would not distract the male students. 28 years behind Oxford, Cambridge finally admitted women into full membership of the university system in 1947, in the face of many years of forceful anti-women sentiment and opposition.  Girton College and Newnham were the first to admit women and only later gave them degrees in 1948. Yet there were at this time and even some time after, after five men to every woman.  Women were, at first, only allowed to be admitted to female colleges, of which there were a limited number,  though this changed in 1972 when the male colleges began to allow females to join them. It was only much later that male to female ratios would cease to be such an issue.  My own college, Lucy Cavendish College, was always popular as an all- women’s university with South Asian Muslim girls.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was very much in favour of education and progress but Aligarh did not at first admit women either.  In fact, Sir Syed was taught the Q’uran by a female tutor and his mother played a key role in the early foundations of his life, nurturing him with discipline and emphasising modern education in a passionate and strong way.  It was not that Sir Syed was against women’s education but he was aware that admitting women in a patriarchal society would take both time and struggle, just as it did at Cambridge and at Oxford.

Full Circle: Aligarh is inspired by the University of Cambridge, built by Oxford Students; and Oxford in turn is inspired by Toledo (Andalusian Muslim Spain)

I was privileged to be part of an ethnographic research project and was in a small team that travelled with Professor Akbar S. Ahmed on a project called “Journey into Europe”. In the light of all the tensions of migration and growing violent extremism, our team was studying European society to find answers to questions that would lead to peaceful coexistence and social harmony. Why European society? Because in some way this was the “Mother Continent” of the Americas and as former colonies it was also the home of many people from the subcontinent. Recently, the media have not played a positive role in portraying Muslims, and many questions have arisen, such as: are Islam/Muslim and European/Western identities compatible? Is Islam a religion of peace? 

Our journey took us around Europe – talking and interviewing hundreds of scholars, faith and policy leaders and ordinary men and women. We were conducting research and travelling across Europe (not as tourists but) as anthropologists and thus going under the skin of society to find out the deeper tensions and solutions. In our journey to nine European countries, we were led to Andalusian Spain. Here was gold for research, in which I was to find a connection to peace studies from Al Andalus to Aligarh that would give me goose bumps.

Muslims entered Spain in the year 711 – not as conquerors – but on the insistent invitation of a Spanish Jewish community who were being persecuted and their daughters held captive by the Spanish monarchy of the time. A Syrian prince called Abdur Rehman escaped persecution in Damascus and arrived on horseback in Spain to become the king of the region. But, more significantly, he brought with him a positive injection into the local culture, of a passion for learning and knowledge (the House of Wisdom was thriving in Baghdad and this flowering of knowledge sprang from that enthusiasm for knowledge which was rooted in the Quranic idea of searching for knowledge. After all, the very word “Qur’an” is derived from Iqra, which means to “read” and amongst the very first words of the Angel Gibrail to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) brought from God were: “Read! Read! Read in the name of your Lord who created humankind and taught them by the pen that which s/he knew not”

Thus, in a culture that valued knowledge, knowledge-based books from far and wide including Greek knowledge were translated and even re-interpreted into Arabic (the lingua franca of the time). Indeed the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – a role model for millions of people, is said to have emphasised the seeking of knowledge: “Go as far as China to seek knowledge”, “the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr” and “education is a duty that is compulsory for every male and female”. The Prophet (PBUH) sent to tribes, teachers of the Quran, who were called “Ahl al ilm” (People of Knowledge). Indeed, the Quran addresses people who use their logic and think as “Ahl al Aql” (People of Thought). 

With an emphasis on knowledge, in the years to come, for another 700 years, Muslims would rule Spain in relative harmony living with their fellow Christian and Jewish communities in relative peace. This synthesis of living together and focusing on the quest for discovery in the field of knowledge (not on who is from where and from what faith or ethnicity) allowed a culture of learning and coexistence to develop. Women too were included. The value for knowledge inextricably linked with respect for humanity leads to successful societies, as was Al Andalus. 

In her book, The Ornament of the World (2002), Maria Rosa Menocal, Professor at Yale University, suggests that this Al Andalusian civilisation reached a pinnacle of success and brilliance in human history that never before or after has human society witnessed, “In principle, all Islamic polities were (and are) required by Quranic injunction not to harm the dhimmi, and to tolerate the Christians and Jews living in their midst. But beyond that fundamental prescribed posture, al-Andalus was, from these beginnings, the site of memorable and distinctive interfaith relations. Here the Jewish community rose from the ashes of an abysmal existence under the Visigoths to the point that the emir who proclaimed himself caliph in the tenth century had a Jew as his foreign minister” (ibid: 30). 

This sense of tolerance was derived from a knowledge-based society. Rosa Maria Menocal describes Al Andalus to us, the capital of which was Cordoba: “Cordoba, by the beginning of the tenth century, was an astonishing place…first the astonishing wealth of the caliph himself and his capital, then the nine hundred baths…thousands of mosques,  the running water from aqueducts, and the paved and well-lit streets” (ibid: 32) She goes on to note: “running water and libraries were part of the familiar landscape”. Al Andalus was “the highest of the high, the farthest of the far, the place of the standard…In the end, it would be al-Andalus’s vast intellectual wealth, inseparable from its prosperity in the material realm, that made it “the [brilliant] ornament of the world.” (ibid: 33) that shone in the west”(ibid: 32).

Menocal describes a culture based on the principle of seeking and respecting knowledge: “The rich web of attitudes about culture, and the intellectual opulence that it symbolised, is perhaps only suggested by the caliphal library of (by one count) some four hundred thousand volumes, and this at a time when the largest library in Christian Europe held no more than four hundred manuscripts. Cordoba’s caliphal library was itself one of seventy libraries in a city that apparently so adored books that a report of the time indicated that there were seventy copyists in the book market who worked exclusively on copying Qur’ans.” Indeed, there is an old Arabic proverb: ‘there can be no education without books.’ 

The following lines of the Yale Professor are revealing of the difference in attitudes to education and how this has reversed today – it is something to reflect upon, keeping in mind the Islamic context, the Qur’an being a book of reverence: “the historian Edward Gibbon describes the book worship of the Islamic polity he so admired (and found incomparably superior to what he saw as the anti-book culture of medieval Christianity)…the catalogues alone of the Cordoba library ran to forty-four volumes, and these contained the libraries’ information on some six hundred thousand volumes…these libraries were the monuments of a culture that treasured the Word…there were books that would have astonished any Christian visitor, with his necessarily vague knowledge of the classical world” (ibid: 34).

One only has to glance into history to discover that some of the key ideas in our world today are based on Al Andalus’s knowledge and discovery: from the camera (from the Arabic root word qamra or room) to Maths, (Al Jazari’s numbers and Al Jabra) knowledge which was widely available has influenced us today. The mosque, school and university were integrated (in Arabic the word for University is Jami’ah, which is the feminine form of the Arabic word for mosque or Jami. There was no distinction between religion and advanced learning – both being completely tied together, By the 9th century in Cordoba nearly every mosque also had a school for the education of boys and girls (1001 Inventions: 51). 

Unlike other parts of the world, religion and science were seen as necessary and complementary parts of human understanding of the self and the universe. “It was this great liberality which they (Muslims) displayed in educating their people in the schools which was one of the most potent factors in the brilliant and rapid growth of their civilisation.  Education was so universally diffused that it was said to be difficult to find a Muslim who could not read or write” (1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World. 2006: page 53). 

In the following lines, R S Meckensen (a contemporary European historian) writes: “Books were presented and many a scholar bequeathed his library to the mosque of his city to ensure its preservation and to render the books accessible to the learned who frequented it. And so grew up the great universities of Cordoba and Toledo to which flocked Christians as well as Moslems from all over the world”. (1001 Inventions: 57). The book goes on to say: “Muslims institutionalised higher level education. There were entrance exams, study circles, international students and grants. In fact, there is a remarkable correspondence between the teaching procedures in medieval ‘universities’ and the method of the present day.” (ibid).

When Isabella and Ferdinand took over Cordoba and Al-Andalus in 1492 some historians argue that there was still a degree of respect for the conquered, and the conquerors were conquered by the beauty of the architecture. During the inquisition, however, in later days, all who were not Catholic were “sinners” and, therefore, hunted down – their children and property were confiscated. We were told again and again on our research project in Cordoba, that thousands of manuscripts and the contents of libraries were burnt, and black smoke filled the air for months over the main river that runs through Cordoba called Guadalquivir, ironically also an Arabic name from al-Wadi al Kabir (الوادي الكبيرThe Big River). Many precious books and hand-written Qur’ans were destroyed at the time. Within 20 years of Isabella’s taking over, all the Muslims and Jews of Al Andalus had been forced to convert and eat pork in public or leave the country without their children and property. More than 300,000 Muslims and Jews were expelled.  Books were burnt and all evidence of Islam and its culture was erased and even demonised. Even in schools today our Spanish informants told us that there is very little history on the Muslims or Moors and, that too, just one line – reducing a history of 700 years to one brief sentence. Local Spanish people believe that they are very different from the Moors and that they have nothing in common. Some said they had no feelings for the Arab/Islamic culture. Yet ironically, these Muslims and Jews were as Iberian ethnically as had been their cousins in the north who happened to be Christian. Despite the fact of how terrible this genocide and destruction of culture and books had been, the legendary legacy of Al Andalus was to affect not just architecture in Europe, but also knowledge world-wide.

In Europe, it is widely taught that the origins of the renaissance lie in European Italy. It is not widely known that Sicily, in Italy, was also ruled by Muslims for 300 years and many Arabic words, foods, clothing, and ways of Muslim and Arabculture remain in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, until today which are known as part of the culture and identity of Palermo, not necessarily or always acknowledged as Arab/Muslim. For our research, Journey into Europe, we interviewed hundreds of local people in Palermo, including the Mayor, many scholars, ordinary men and women who reflected these ideas.

But, it was Cordoba, the capital, and its sister-cities such as Toledo that reflected the essence of Al Andalus –Al Andalus was now in the hands of Isabella, but Muslims and Christians still lived side by side at this early stage. It is documented that an English scholar-philosopher, Daniel of Morley (c. 1140-1210), was disappointed at the neglect of science in the Middle Ages of England and set off enthusiastically in search of knowledge. He stopped in Parisian universities where he said he saw people with little knowledge and described them as “asses”. It is said, he rushed on in his journey towards Toledo. Here he noted meeting “the wisest philosophers in the world” discussing Aristotle in Arabic (which was later translated into Latin and entered Europe in the 12th and 13th Centuries). It is said that Europeans flocked here in hundreds. This was literally intellectual dynamite.  Chemistry, (alchemy (from the Arabic Al Chemi) and Algebra, Sipher (zero) and Algorithm from Arabic were completely new to Europe. Previously Roman numerals were used but were highly complicated and its Arabised version – the modern numbers we know and use today in English –0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 – were devised and derived from the work of Muslim scholars from the 10thcentury (1001 Inventions: page 67).

Thus, this wealth of knowledge impressed Daniel of Morley who filled his suitcases with notes and books from Toledo’s universities and went back a satisfied scholar to England.[i] There, inspired by Toledo, he wrote his material in which he emphasised the superiority of Arab scholars. His work was dedicated to John of Oxford, Bishop of Norwich, who took on these new ideas and would go on to become one of the patrons who founded a centre of great learning. This centre would be called the University of Oxford.  

This new university called Oxford now based its curriculum on radical ideas and concepts that had poured out of Toledo. Basic questions grounded in logic were beginning to be asked by Professors and their students such as: why is the sea salty? How does the globe hang in the air? Do animals have souls? This training encouraged a new way of thinking based on logic rather than blind belief or superstition. The Englishman Adelard of Barth (d. post 1142) who posed the question,  how does the globe hang in the air? authored (Natural Questions)full citation to move at back) and taught in France and in other Mediterranean centres of learning. He introduced Euclid and astronomy to the West and noted: “On my return the other day to England, in the reign of Henry” [Henry I, r. 1100-35, son of William], it was he who had long maintained me abroad for the purpose of study…my particular desire was to learn all I could about the manners and customs of my own country…I learnt that its chief men were violent, its magistrates wine-lovers, its judges mercenary, that patrons were fickle, private men sycophants, those who made promises deceitful, friends full of jealousy, and almost all men self-seekers, this realised, the only resource, I said to myself, is to withdraw my thoughts from all misery…”.Thus, to his nephew, he says: “I should devote myself to the best of my ability to the study of Arabic”. Adelard noted that from his Arab teachers he learnt one thing – to learn by reason. A method taught by the likes of Ibn Sina (Avecenna). To which his nephew replied: “To me it seems that you go too far in your praise of the Arabs, and show prejudice in your disparagement of the learning of our philosophers.” From “Adelard of Bath”, Dodi Ve-Nechdi, ed. and trans. H. Gollancz, (London: Oxford University Press, 1920).

 Aligarh: A “Muslim” College in a Hindu Dominated Nation?

Why Sir Syed Ahmed Khan is a role model is because he had all the ingredients within his character of a person of vision and a man of action–he was able to pick up the idea of institutionalised knowledge (inspired by Toledo and Oxbridge) and unify people, he encouraged progress, and above all he cared about his community and that of others. Additionally, he worked hard to encourage literacy and knowledge. Many people care, many scholars write, but fewer set up institutions that will last to influence others for generations to come. Sir Syed’s Aligarh is a model of success – a structure of education for young people, for Hindus but also particularly for Muslims, in a largely Hindu-dominated India.

Recently, there have been several reports about the controversy created over the identity of Aligarh as a “Muslim University”. In the Pakistani “Dawn” newspaper, A. G. Noorani writes in his article: “Aligarh’s Status”, published on the 30th of January 2016, that the historic institution called Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) “is now under attack”. Noorani writes: “It is the stand of the Union of India that AMU is not a minority university.  As the executive government at the centre we cannot be seen as setting up a minority institution in a secular state.” AG Noorani adds, “this formal statement to the Supreme Court of India, on Jan 11, by the Attorney-General of India, Mukul Rohatgi, was made with full deliberation by the Government of India. The statement is preposterous on the face of it. India is a secular state by the explicit terms of its Constitution. It is this secular Constitution which confers on the minorities a fundamental right in Article 30(1): “All minorities whether based on religion or language shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” Yet, the Mumbai lawyer argues that there is a move to challenge AMU’s Muslim character. He adds, “On Oct 20, 1967, the Supreme Court held, shockingly, that the AMU was not a minority institution established by the Muslims; but by the Indian government, through a central law; namely, the Aligarh Muslim University Act, 1920. The court accepted that a university is an educational institution.”

According to Noorani, it said also: “‘it may be that the 1920 Act was passed as a result of the efforts of the Muslim minority. But that does not mean that the Aligarh University, when it came into being under the 1920 Act, was established by the Muslim minority’. Why? Because, “It would not be possible for the Muslim minority to establish a university of the kind whose degrees were bound to be recognised by government”. A minority cannot establish a university, even though Article 30(1) gives it the right to do so. A university has a legal personality which only a statute can confer. H.M. Seervai showed the court’s interpretation to be erroneous by its omission of a more important feature. “The essential feature of a university seems to be that it was incorporated as such by the sovereign power”. Thus, “the whole basis of the Supreme Court’s judgment disappears”. The author adds, “The Muslims brought the university into existence “in the only manner in which a university could be brought into existence; namely, by invoking the exercise by the sovereign authority of its legislative power.” The Muslim community provided lands, buildings, colleges and endowments for the university, and without these the university as a corporate body would be an unreal abstraction”. Besides, “the Supreme Court overlooked the fact that the very object of establishing a university for a community would be defeated if its degrees were not recognised by government”. The Aligarh Muslim University Act was passed in 1920. Its object was “to establish and incorporate a teaching and residential Muslim university at Aligarh and to dissolve the societies registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, which are respectively known as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh, and the Muslim University Association, and to transfer and vest in the said university all properties and rights of the said societies and other Muslim university foundation committees.”

He goes on to write, “The speech in August 1920 by Sir Mohammed Shafi, who, as education minister of the government, piloted the bill through the Central Legislative Council, is revealing. Sir Shafi traced the entire history of the Aligarh movement and stated: “The honourable members will also be glad to hear that the government of India hopes to give substantial financial assistance to the proposed university in order to mark their own goodwill towards an institution which they earnestly hope will be a source of immense benefit to the Indian Muslims.” The movement for a Muslim university had begun well before the act of 1920. On Dec 30th, 1912, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was appointed member of the AMU Foundation Committee. The Aga Khan and Raja Sahib Mehmudabad were in the forefront.  The act was negotiated by Muslim leaders with the government. In 1965, M.C. Chagla, the then education minister, amended the act to reduce the AMU to a government department. The Supreme Court upheld this amendment. His successor, Nurul Hasan, toed the line.”

Noorani adds: “The damage done by them was undone in 1981 when the Act was amended to define the AMU as “the educational institution of their choice, established by the Muslims of India, which originated as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh, and which was subsequently incorporated as the Aligarh Muslim University”. But, over a decade later, the Allahabad High Court held this formulation illegal. In the Supreme Court the Modi government is set to pursue the old BJP policy — the AMU is not a Muslim university in the appeals filed by Muslims.”

The challenge for young Muslims and Hindus of present-day India and Pakistan will be to overcome prejudices against other communities and to learn to accept difference. The growing trend of extremism among Hindus and Muslims, encouraged by political and religious leaders, (and even among Christians in the US – *Donald Trump being one bad example) must be checked. Even though the Pope suggested that this new order was World War III, attitudes that lead towards hatred and institutionalised targeting of other religious communities and their institutions is not the right way forward. 

We need to cultivate more leaders who will be bridge-builders in the metaphoric sense of the word.  And, therefore, I was very pleased to find out recently about the “Bridge Course” at Aligarh University, which takes in both madrassa boys and girls and cultivates and re-trains them to reach out with ideas of inclusiveness, acceptance and tolerance.  The majority of these students – from conservative backgrounds and training – go on to adopt a change in the mindset. After which, they are admitted into the mainstream education system of the university. This transformation of students is commendable. 

Both Muslim and Hindu leaders must reach out and talk of friendship, not war. After all, both societies have shared the same region for centuries and must learn to get along at last and put to rest their anger and contention over differences. Similarly, Pakistan and India can potentially be great allies– neighbours should never see each other as “enemies” as this leads to great perpetual tensions and unease within both countries.  All the great religious traditions encourage good neighbourly relations, and as mature and sensible people with great world traditions, both nations need to turn the other cheek and let go of their troubled past and see each other in a new light – working on trade exchanges, education, enhancing cultural events together and so forth. 

Last year I was teaching a class to several schools in the UK, Pakistan and India at the same time via the internet – the programme was called “Face to Faith”. I was the only guest teacher invited to teach on this day – one particular young student,  a boy of about 14 years,  asked me a question associating terrorism with all of Pakistan. He was just repeating the dominant narrative.  But, knowing the diversity of people in Pakistan, I knew this was not a fair accusation, as there are so many millions of innocent good people just simply trying to make a living. If you are innocent and you are constantly told that you are bad that would lead, not to solving the problem, but to exacerbating it.  This is what has been happening with India-Pakistan relations, each accusing the other of all its evils. It was important to be positive and friendly and make an attempt to build bridges, not destroy them as it would reflect back on us. After I explained, the young Hindu boy had the courtesy to apologise for his statement.  It is the right time to train our young people to love and not to hate, to befriend and not to make enemies, to see others as essentially good and not as essentially bad. Young people of all faiths need to join hands in this joint aim and learn to become peace-builders and peace-keepers focused on promoting knowledge of each other, as Sir Syed and others like him did.

Researching and residing in the same building where Sir Syed stayed in London

Walking, literally, in the footprints of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, one of the greatest educationist reformers in South Asia, was a huge intellectual gift for me. I was on the Journey into Europe project and, therefore, I stayed in London’s Goodenough Club. I was in the same building in which Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had once lived (my stay was doubly meaningful to me as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was a bridge-builder and my paternal ancestor). Visitors to Mecklenburgh Square can see the plaque on the building honouring his stay, and those who have access to the building can see his portrait in the corridor on entry.

Single-handedly, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan led the people of the subcontinent towards a progressive knowledge-based identity. In the colonial time, when there was deep suspicion of “the Other” especially after the bloodbath of 1857, when Muslims were being persecuted and some Muslims were distancing themselves from all that was foreign, especially British education, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan encouraged Muslims to move forward and not to hold back but to educate themselves, learn English, and develop better relations with the Other in order to create deeper understanding and better communication. The majority of the people in the Muslim League party that moved the motion for the creation of Pakistan were from Aligarh.  Of course, the intention was not to divide but to include and create spaces for mutual co-existence. However, partition turned out to be an affair of much bloodshed and destruction with as many Muslims left behind in India as there are in Pakistan. While India struggles with its minorities claiming full citizenship and respect, Pakistan is caught up with its own struggles to liberate its youth from single-minded ideologies while its leaders must overcome corruption.  Both countries have great potential,  with  populations that are armies for positive change, valuing knowledge and promoting peace. 

Teaching about Sir Syed in innovative Peace Education Courses in Pakistan.

The Centre for Dialogue and Action (CD&A), of which I am Executive Director, designed an innovative course on Ilm, Adab aur Insaaniyat (Knowledge, Mutual Respect and Humanity) in 2013 and taught this at the Centre for International Peace and Stability at NUST University and at Forman Christian College University (FCCU) in Pakistan. Students who joined the course (even those in their final year of university) with radical ideas, left the university with, in their own words, “changed” perspectives and were, by then, more inclusive and accepting of others (including of women, and people of other ethnicities and faiths).  CD&A successfully taught its “Building Bridges Course”,  one of the classes focused on the inclusive vision of leaders such as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. These leaders had a vision of a modern society with rights for every citizen regardless of race or religion and above all a respect for law and order. In a world of growing violence, leaders and teachers need to remind students and the public of the alternative model – of tolerance, of strength and progress through peace-education, which every citizen deserves in order to progress as good citizens of the global world. 

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was a man of vision and above all he was a great bridge-builder between different peoples and nations. The Journey into Europe project allowed us at CD&A to teach South Asian students about Al Andalus in Spain and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in the subcontinent.  The interdisciplinary nature of this peace-building course allowed us to draw upon various subjects and different geographical examples of how, through research and teaching, we can explore and encourage people in the modern world to live side by side more peacefully. This is a valuable alternative for a world in which the cacophonous voices of hate and anger are unacceptably far too loud. We need to struggle harder to encourage our next generations to work towards peace-building. To further the line of knowledge, CD&A has also started constructing its own Centre for Knowledge (Markaz-e-Ilm). This is in an effort to continue the work of building the characters of our young generations, as our Bridge-Building courses and those at Aligarh show students across the world are a rich resource for peace-building and peace-keeping.

The author has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is the founding director of The Centre for Dialogue and Action “Markaz-e-Ilm”. 

ALEXANDER AND THE BATTLE OF HYDASPES

by Saima Durrani

Alexander the Great and his army had swept across Western Asia and into Egypt, defeating King Darius III and the Persians at the battles of rivers Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela. Next he turned his attention to India.

In 327 BC Alexander invaded continental India through the hills of Bajaur and Suwat (Swat), the northwestern region, in an expedition that lasted a full two years. This was a period during which the Greeks overran the Punjab and defeated several Indian rulers including Poros at the battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum). Poros, who ruled the Punjab, the land of five rivers, was the overlord of many other princes in the region. Some of these princes were ready to rebel against him and they gladly welcomed the Greek invader but Poros gathered a great army and came marching against the foreign forces.

After allowing his army a pleasant rest in Taxila, Alexander marched eastwards to attack Poros between Jhelum and Chenab.

The battle at Hydaspes (Jhelum)

The army of Poros consisted of 30,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, 300 chariots and 200 mighty war elephants, yet still it was defeated. All the elephants were captured or killed, all the chariots were destroyed, 12,000 men were slain and 9,000 were taken prisoner. However the entire Macedonian casualties did not exceed 1,000. The primary reason for the Greek victory was the consummate leadership of Alexander, the greatest general in the history of the world.

The elephants which Poros had relied on proved unmanageable in battle and did more harm to his army than to the army of Alexander. The archers in his chariots were no match for Alexander’s mounted bowmen and the slippery ground hindered the Indian infantry from making full use of their formidable bows, which they were accustomed to draw after resting one end upon the earth and pressing hard with the left foot. The Indian infantrymen also carried a heavy two-handed sword slung from the left shoulder, a buckler of undressed ox-hide and sometimes javelins in place of bows. One wonders how they could walk, never mind fight.

Poros, a giant at six and a half feet, fought to the last and received nine wounds before he was taken prisoner. The victor, who willingly responded to his captive’s haughty request that he might be treated as a king, secured the alliance of the Indian monarch by prudent generosity. Alexander eventually appointed Poros to act as his viceroy over the seven nations which shared the territory.
“When Porus was taken prisoner, and Alexander asked him how he expected to be used, he answered, “As a king.” For that expression, he said, when the same question was put to him a second time, comprehended everything. And Alexander, accordingly, not only suffered him to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself, but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he subdued…” – Plutarch, The Age of Alexander (Penguin Classics, 1973)

Alexander was forced to leave when his troops refused to proceed beyond the Beas. The Greeks did not return as they had come, they sailed down the rivers Jhelum and Indus. But because so little was known of India at the time, Alexander and his army believed they were upon the Nile and that they would return home by way of Egypt!

A fleet, numbering 2,000 vessels of all sizes, had been built by the Greek officers on the upper waters of the Jhelum. In early October 325 BC, having spent about ten months on the voyage down the rivers to the sea, Alexander quitted the neighbourhood of modern-day Karachi with his remaining troops.

The young Greek undoubtedly aimed to annexe permanently the Indian provinces in the basin of the Indus and include them in his vast empire which extended all the way across Asia to his homeland in northern Greece. The arrangements which he made to carry out his intentions were both suitable and adequate but his premature death in 323 BC rendered his plans fruitless.

Although the direct effects of Alexander’s expedition to India may appear to be small, his proceedings did have an appreciable influence on the history of the country. They broke down the wall that separated West and East and opened up four distinct lines of communication, three by land and one by sea. The land routes which he proved to be practical were those through Kabul, the Mulla Pass in Baluchistan and Gedrosia. The shock tactics of his cavalry were repeated by Babur in the sixteenth century with equal success.

The author is a staff member at LAFZ Magazine 

Editorial – Where is Jinnah’s Pakistan?

Editorial

To all our readers and well-wishers I would like to apologise on behalf of the magazine for the delay in publishing issue 10. We are a small team and work long hours to produce what we hope is a perfect issue. Over the last couple of months we have faced a number of the challenges and uncertainties that are part- and-parcel of producing a totally independent publication.

As part of putting together our current issue dedicated to independence I spent time researching some of the history behind the birth of Pakistan. The seeds of discord between Hindus and Muslims can in fact be traced back to the British partition of Bengal and the subsequent making of the 1909 reforms, an act that brought that province to the brink of open rebellion. The partition of Bengal was the British response to the primarily Bengal-based nationalist movement that was seen as a major challenge to colonial rule. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 was no doubt in the minds of the British, a major, but ultimately unsuccessful, uprising in India where Hindus and Muslims fought side by side.

In 1905 Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, the 4th Earl of Minto, became Viceroy of India. His tenure was marked by unprecedented anti-colonial protests against the partition of Bengal that divided the community along religious lines and led to the development of Muslim political separatism in the following years. The partition of Bengal had been initiated by his predecessor, Lord Curzon of Kedleston and marked a period of dramatic and momentous change in the history of colonial India. In 1906, as a consequence of the partition plan, the All-India Muslim League was founded in Bengal and formed by men of influence from north India with the support of the British.

The Morley-Minto reforms were passed in 1909 and established, among other things, the constitutional principle of separate electorates for India’s Muslim communities. The partition of Bengal greatly divided Hindus from Muslims and started nationalist campaigns with increasing intensity in other parts of India. The unrest eventually led to the reunification of Bengal in 1911 but remains an important period when examining the case for independence.

After passing the Government of India Act 1935, the British conceded a significant measure of self-governance to the provinces of India while retaining full control of the centre. Provincial elections were held in the winter of 1936-37 as mandated by the Government of India Act 1935. The Indian Congress party secured a comfortable victory and formed ministries in six out of eleven provinces. The All-India Muslim League fared badly, securing less than 5 per cent of the total Muslim votes cast, and was unable to hold power in any of the Muslim-majority provinces. In his book, “The Making of Pakistan, a study in Nationalism”, the historian K.K. Aziz argues, “Had more drastic safeguards against communal tension been devised and incorporated in the 1935 constitution, Muslims might have shown less fear of democracy and greater willingness to enter a federal union”.

It was later at its Lahore session in 1940 that the Muslim League put forward the view that Muslims and Hindus made up two distinct nations of India (the “two-nation theory”) giving Muslims an entitlement to political parity. By now Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, had realised the importance of a separate home for Muslims and called on Muslims to accept his leadership to compel both the British and the Congress to concede the idea of Pakistan. K.K. Aziz further argues in his above book that Congress “… was convinced that if it stood firm the pressure of events and the logic of history would force the Muslims to come into a united, unitary India. Another reason was that it never appreciated the strength of Muslim nationalism and dismissed it with such irrelevancies as that the Muslims were converts from Hinduism, or that religious nationalism was a relic of primitive barbarism, or that the Muslims themselves did not realise what they were asking for and so on. These arguments might have been enough to salve the Congress conscience, but they gave no clue to the political conundrum”.

The Indian elections of 1945, coupled with the provincial one in 1946, saw the Muslim League achieve a spectacular result by reversing its poor showing of a decade earlier to win the bulk of Muslim seats at both central and provincial levels. It had become clear that a united independent India would now be highly improbable.

Taking all factors into consideration, there is no surprise that both India and Pakistan were born with profound mutual distrust and enmity for one another.

Jinnah, in achieving his dream, was opposed by many including the Congress, the British and Muslim leaders. Jinnah, for his part, on achieving the homeland of Pakistan said, “We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination. No distinction between one community and another. No discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle; that we are all citizens, equal citizens of one state”. In a radio broadcast in February 1948, Jinnah declared that Pakistan was not going to be “a theocratic state — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission”.

So what was Jinnah’s Pakistan? Of course Jinnah envisaged a democratic country that would foster human rights, women’s rights, minority rights and the rule of law. During the short period he was Governor-General of Pakistan he established the importance of showing extra consideration to minorities. As Pakistanis we must reconnect to this vision that has sadly been forgotten by his successors.

I end with another quotation from our beloved grand-father, Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, “Now if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed.”

MASTER AND FRIEND – US-Pakistan relations

by Wajid Shamsul Hasan

A Dodgem Relationship

To understand Pakistan’s relations with the United States, especially when they are at their lowest ebb, as they are today, one would like to refer to two extremely relevant books, most prominent in any library on Pakistan. Each one represents a period when Pakistan was the best of allies with Washington.

President Mohammad Ayub Khan’s book, “Friends Not Masters” is a sort of Shikwa (Complaint) against the super-power for its treatment of its most trusted ally.  On the opening page of his autobiography the author gives his quotation that says it all about relations that rose to sublime heights and then fell to the state of being ridiculous. In his own words, “People in developing countries seek assistance, but on the basis of mutual respect; they want to have friends not masters”.  The Field-Marshal entitled “the Asian De Gaulle” by the American and Western media, learnt much too late in the day the meaning of the American expression,“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.

There are two different views and explanations rooted in history regarding the how and the why of the initiation of the Pakistan-American relationship. Some academics claim that Pakistan was Anglo-American-centric from its inception and that for it to become an ally of the United States was only to be expected.  It had a pre-Partition knighted-foreign minister who was more than keen to have the new country affiliated with Washington.  So were our bureaucrats in the Pakistan Foreign Office.  They were British-trained and their mindset was Western-orientated. As such, and influenced by this mind-set, some academic rubbish was circulated saying that Pakistan’s first Prime Minisiter, Liaquat Ali Khan, was invited by the Soviet Union to visit Moscow first but he declined and preferred to go to Washington.

No doubt this orientation business was there when it came to seeking diplomatic ties with two super-powers. Historically, it has been proved that the Moscow invitation was not a fiction, as claimed by some writers.  He received the invitation from Moscow on his way back from London after attending the Commonwealth Summit in1949.  And there is truth that it was subverted. Since the pro-Anglo-American bureaucrats manning the Foreign Office did not know how deep the ties were between Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s, All-India Muslim League and the Communist Party of India, for them to take seriously the invitation from Moscow was sort of a joke.

Soon after MAJ and AIML made up their minds for an independent homeland for the Muslims of India, the Communist Party of India was directed by Moscow to get its young Muslim members to join AIML to help it become better organised, its organ “Dawn” to be galvanised into a strong voice and to help AIML’s propaganda machinery to be more effective. For the first time AIML had a cadred team inside with progressive re-orientation.

Moscow’s decision was far-sighted and so to invite Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, to visit Moscow first was multi-faceted. Ideologically the Russian Communist Party saw ingrained in Pakistan’s ideological moorings, common elements that encouraged the idea of greater understanding with each other. And, strategically speaking, the world’s largest Islamic state, committed to a liberal, progressive and secular Pakistan with equality for all its citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender, and with religion having nothing to do with the business of the state, had more pliable characteristics in it with Communism minus God. Geo-politically too, sound and solid relations with Pakistan would offer the Soviet Union an all-weather-proof bridge to spread its tentacles into the oil-rich Muslim Middle East.

Obviously, with this background, Pakistan Foreign Office bureaucrats considered it a patriotic act to subvert Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s possible visit to Moscow.  This view is upheld by many senior progressive Foreign Ministry officials who saw greater wisdom in developing ties with countries next door to us rather than seek friends many thousand miles away.  One of the most prominent Pakistan Foreign Service officials, Sultan Mohammad Khan, revealed that the excuse given for not accepting the Moscow invitation was that Pakistan had no embassy in Moscow, there was a lack of trained personnel to be posted there.  This was further reflected in the fact that for quite some time Pakistan’s Ambassador to Iran, Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan, had Moscow’s additional accreditation and his mission based in Teheran looked after Pakistan’s interests in the Soviet Union.

The Indian Prime Minister, Jawar Lal Nehru, gave top priority to developing ties with the Soviet Union. India’s first ambassador to Moscow was his real sister Mrs. Vijay Laxmi Pandit. In its ideological interpretation, Moscow considered India to be a bastion of the worst form of capitalism – the Banyas.  It was also strait-jacketed by the deeply entrenched caste system, exploiting its poor as a vehicle for economic progress.  It was indeed a matter of concern for Delhi that for nearly some days the Soviet Foreign Office did not condole them for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.  Only after it was conveyed that such an act was not diplomatic, someone from the Soviet protocol signed the Condolence Book.  Despite the avowed socialistic credentials of Prime Minister Nehru, the father of the country was considered by Moscow to be an imperialist agent.

Moscow’s invitation to Liaquat was used by the Foreign Office to extract an invitation for Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan from Washington. This was readily accepted and the American leadership went out of the way to give an unprecedented welcome to the “Leader of Asia”.  This subversion was the beginning of a relationship with a master and not a friend. It manifested in his assassination when Liaquat, being a no-nonsense man, said firmly “no” to providing operational space to Washington to get rid of Iran’s popularly-elected Prime Minister, Dr Mossadegh, when he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, ending an overly-exploited relationship.  Liaquat’s assassination in 1951 changed the whole complexion of Pakistan’s politics. Domestically, a social-welfare-state, based on the principle of equality, was hijacked by the emerging establishment power-troika (comprising of military generals, bureaucrats and judges-all British-trained) in cahoots with the feudal class, plus those religious elements who had opposed Quaid and his movement for Pakistan. After the unconstitutional dismissal of Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin in 1953, the successor to Liaquat and a founding father, by a former civil-servant, then Governor-General, Ghulam Muhammad, the installation of an imported Prime Minister,Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Mohammad Ali Bogra, our foreign policy, from being independent and neutral, got tied to the apron strings of the United States. The Mutual Defence Treaty of 1954 laid the foundation of Pakistan’s total reliance on American arms and our economy was underwritten by US financial assistance.

In his treatise on foreign policy, “Myth of Independence”, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto further sizes up from where Ayub left in his book, Pakistan’s bitter exploitation by the United States through its ingress in various institutions, including defence.  Based on his experience of being a key member of the Ayub government, as well as its foreign minister, he states that the situation Pakistan found itself in was such that every decision of any importance, even as regards matters that ought to have been of purely internal concern, was affected by some aspect, real or imaginary, of international relations, especially of commitments to the United States of America.  Even, on occasion, America interfered in the posting of Section Officers. He became a thorn in the eyes of the Americans when, in 1960, as Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources, he negotiated with the Soviet Union for an oil agreement. It was significant since it was the first break-through towards improving relations with Moscow. “I was convinced that the time had arrived for the Government of Pakistan to review and revise its foreign policy.”

Ayub Khan was so totally sold-out to the Americans that he allowed them an air base near Peshawar to fly their spy planes for surveillance over the Soviet Union until the day when Russian fighters caught the American spy plane U-2, piloted by Gerry Powers, and brought it down to the ground.  Soviet Premier Khrushchev was so furious that he red-pencilled Peshawar and threatened to destroy it in case of any repetition.

Bhutto, as Pakistan’s foreign minister, changed the direction of foreign policy and diversified defence procurement. He took Pakistan closest to China despite the fact Ayub offered India “joint defence against the common enemy from the north” during the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict to please American President John F. Kennedy.  Pakistan owes it to Bhutto’s wisdom that not only has it become self-sufficient in defence when previously it suffered repeatedly from US arms embargo.

While all his efforts to diversify and have an independent foreign policy met American resistance, it was his fast track pursuit of a nuclear programme after the break up of Pakistan in 1971 and the Indian explosion of a nuclear device that got Americans so angry that he was informed he would be made a horrible example and the person who later in 1979 executed this threat was Army Chief General Ziaul Haq.

Pakistan’s foreign policy fell from the sublime to the ridiculous when it became a pathetic extension for the pursuit of American strategic interests vigorously followed by General Pervez Musharraf. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had warned the elder Bush in 1989 not to sustain and build Taliban as they would grow into a Frankenstein monster, impossible to control. As you sow so shall you reap. Both Americans and Pakistan are paying through their noses for helping a religiously fanatic force to bring down communist Soviet Union.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of American leaders like President Woodrow Wilson, fighting a war to make the world safe for democracy and the like, in the foreign policy of a nation it is its national interests that matter most. the Cornerstone of American foreign policy has been the Monroe Doctrine. It first spelled out briefly in 1823 American policy as isolationist and that it would not allow the European colonial powers to enter or interfere with states in South America. President James Monroe asserted in his annual message to Congress: “The American continents … are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonisation by any European powers.”

Being cornerstone as it is, it has remained a key factor in American foreign policy whether it is Cold War, a stand-off with the Soviet Union over the Bay of Pigs or its current pursuit of geo-strategic interests by creating uncertainties around the world.  Its War on Terror on sexed-up dossiers to attack and destroy Iraq on its mythical possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the invasion of Afghanistan since Taliban allegedly posed a threat to its security after 9-11, President Trump’s recent diatribe against Pakistan—are all a manifestation of free-market imperialism aimed at seizing the resources of other countries wherever possible. Afghanistan is believed to be tremendously rich in natural resources.

It is good to know that both “master” and “friend” have agreed to keep themselves engaged to resolve issues and not to let things further deteriorate.  Obviously it has been an imperative for Washington to withdraw from the edge of the precipice since Pakistan is the road to peace and stability in Afghanistan as it was the bridge for President Nixon to visit China in 1972.

The author is the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a veteran journalist

Image: President Ayub Khan and First Lady (United States) Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy