Aakar Patel: Let’s sing Iqbal’s Tarana-e-Hind-o-Pak to fight religous extremism in our society. Indo-Persian sufi heritage versus Taliban’s sharia.

Mr Zardari, tear down this wall
Sunday, March 08, 2009
Aakar Patel


Allama Iqbal imagined Pakistan as a utopia in northwest India where Punjabis would do ijtihad and read Nietzsche. The Quaid-e-Azam ordered a Pakistan where religion would cease to be a matter for the state. But both men saw something magnificently dormant in the character of India’s Muslims, which would flower in isolation.

Iqbal returned from Europe in 1908 ashamed by the fall of Islam. He thought its return to glory could come through expelling the polluting influence of Indian culture. Iqbal understood our culture. In 1904, he wrote the song that still defines our culture best (Tarana-e-Hindi), and he translated Gayatri Mantra, the talismanic chant of the Upanishad, from Sanskrit. But Europe taught him that our culture was unable to compete. Muslims needed to break out. In 1910, he wrote Tarana-e-Milli.

Jinnah didn’t understand our culture much, but he thought that Muslims were a separate nation from Hindus, and could become modern once they were separated from India’s archaic culture. Both the poet and the lawyer thought that the solution to progress was to stop being Indian.

Iqbal died in 1938, Jinnah died in 1948. It would be illuminating to see their reaction as they flipped through a current issue of Nawa-i-Waqt (would have to be translated for Jinnah), the guardian of the ideology of Pakistan.

The Pakistan of Iqbal won against the Pakistan of Jinnah. Jinnah’s imaginary Pakistan was sent into the night with a pat on the head by Liaquat and the peerless Shabbir Usmani chanting their Qarardad-e-Maqasid, 60 years ago this month.

Now full-dress Sharia is upon Swat and the Punjabi’s head is cocked towards the frontier in curiosity. The world holds its breath.

The danger of Talibanisation to Punjab does not come from the Pakhtun and his gun. Pakistan is 60 per cent Punjabi. Pakhtuns are only 15 per cent of its population and 20 per cent of its army. The danger to Pakistan comes from its inability to resist the pure ideas of the Pakhtun, of whom the Punjabi especially is enamoured. Talibanisation is happening in the mind. There is no resistance to it for two reasons: one is the lyrical call of Sharia which Muslims are drawn to in their quest for utopia. This will not change.

The second is the deliberate amputation of its own culture by the Pakistani state. This can change. Those who think Pakistan can resist the Taliban intellectually should look at the sequence on culture that unfolded after 1947.

Jinnah, one could say, stifled the voice of culture by giving Urdu a monopoly in 1948. Those who followed him beheaded it by banning freedom of religion (Liaquat in 1949), Indian cinema (Ayub in 1965), alcohol (Bhutto in 1977) and immorality (Zia in 1979). Under Nawaz Sharif in 1992, Pakistan banned the economy citing Riba, but the deranged state saved itself by lying, acting on the instinct of self-preservation, which by now was in short supply. The jihad in Kashmir under Benazir and then Musharraf completed the project of India as foreign and enemy and Indian culture as ‘kufr’, in the Pakistani mind.

But what is the culture of Pakistan? Do Pakistanis own a tradition of music and dance that is separate from India’s?

Mehdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali (who told me this on a flight to Bombay from Ahmedabad) enjoy performing in India because Pakistan’s middle-class is mostly illiterate about raag and taal. But this is our inheritance from the Sam Ved and from Amir Khusro. Why should it be disowned by Pakistanis?

High culture is rooted in tradition, and that is the first thing the religious state attacks. There is no culture of north Indian classical dance, Kathak, in Pakistan. Dance in general is absent (though apparently it is quite popular with Mehsud men, presumably grooving to the rhythm of pop-popping Kalashnikovs) because physical expression tends to be sensual and therefore deemed un-Islamic.

Culture is expression: the expending, the release of emotion that is drawn out through the desire for expression. Through words, through movement, through emotion, through music. Its expression is unique to cultures and in north India and Pakistan we have our unique culture: Indo-Persian (with stress on Indo).

Culture does not directly resist extremism; it only makes extremism difficult to penetrate by diverting the mind. The only way to fight extremism is through reason, but South Asians are not particularly good at reason because we don’t understand its vocabulary. Culture softens us, not in a bad way, and makes us less suicidal, which is a state where pristine religion leads us through its demand of purity.

We have no capacity to soften religion through reason because of our dependence on the great jurists of the 8th and 9th centuries. Iqbal spoke of the possibility of ijtihad, but how much ijtihad can happen in Pakistan, and for that matter in India, in defiance of Imam Azam?

The BBC carried a report last month titled ‘Can Pakistan’s Sufi tradition resist the Taliban?’ No, it can’t. Sufism can no more fight the Taliban than Mickey Mouse. Sufism is flight. It is escape. Those of us who have watched the ecstasy unfold at Nizamuddin Awliya and Baba Shah Jamal and a million heretical shrines in India, Hindu and Muslim, know that most of us can only be weekend Sufis. Sufism’s message of wahdat ul-wajood leads us away from doctrine, and that is an intellectual journey.

Sufism cannot fight because it makes no demands, and it has no daily ritual. It also respects Sharia, and can live besides it quite comfortably. The great Chishti Sufis of Delhi were namazis.

But the Talib cannot live beside Sufism. He will bomb the shrine of Rahman Baba. And now he has brought his war to Lahore’s Liberty Chowk. The message will come through to Punjab as it did in Swat: peace through Sharia.

How will Pakistanis resist the Talib’s hypnotic call? The problem in Pakistan is not that the Sri Lankan team got attacked; terrorism is truly global and affects us all. The problem is that Pakistanis are the only people in the world still unconvinced about who did it. Even intellectuals who are published in its newspapers convinced themselves through a convoluted or paranoid logic that ‘Muslims cannot do this’.

What should be said instead is: this is not us. And it really isn’t.

We have one of the world’s richest cultures of literature, music and dance. Pakistanis need to embrace it; it lies across the border. Bollywood is not just a film industry; it is the dispenser of Indo-Persian culture, and its voice; it is not in Bombay by accident. Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor would spend more time in Lahore’s courts defending themselves against fahashi, as did Manto, than on sets shooting. This difference in environment is not limited to cinema.

Pakistan can legitimately claim to have produced better classical poetry than India. But why? Independent Pakistan’s great poets, Faiz and Faraz, sang of protest, because they had much to protest about. Independent India’s great poets, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar, Shailendra and Anand Bakshi sing of love, because they operate in the natural cultural environment of South Asia. Pakistan’s poets do not. But its being across the border doesn’t mean that what’s produced in Bollywood is not Pakistani culture. It was before 1965.

Musharraf opened up Pakistan’s media, Zardari should open up India’s media to Pakistan. Not the news channels, the entertainment ones. He should leave in place the ban on India’s news channels (for that matter, being deprived of their news channels for a while would benefit Indians also). And he should open the borders more generally.

Pakistan should not wait for this to be reciprocal. After the savage attacks in Bombay, India will not immediately let Pakistanis freely onto its soil. But Pakistan should open itself up to India’s people, culture, tourists (they will come in droves) and trade. This does not mean surrender. Pakistan should remain a strong, sovereign Muslim nation.

But it must let loose its secret weapon on the Taliban. And that is our culture, our Indo-Persian heritage. We built it. We own it; we should own up to it.

Forget Tarana-e-Milli. Let’s sing Tarana-e-Hind-o-Pak. Allama Iqbal would approve, and so, I suspect, would Jinnah.

The writer is a former newspaper editor who lives in Bombay. Email: aakar. patel@ gmail.com


Also read:

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