Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Transformation

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In 1980, I worked in Karachi for a German multi-national engineering firm. This was just when the Soviet Russians had foolishly walked into Afghanistan to destroy not just one country (Afghanistan) and unhinge USSR, but set the entire world on the path of perdition. I know minds much better than mine could see into the future and know where Pakistan would be headed in the changing scenario, but I confess I thought the Soviets’ Afghan adventure would soon be over leaving the rest of us none the worse for wear.

In those days in Karachi, we would from time to time have a couple of young German interns. Since I also managed the company’s guest house, I made friends with these chaps and we used to hang out. One of those interns one day said, ‘Why does the singing man begin so early in the morning?’

The Singing Man!

That was what young Günther believed was happening: a short song. He thought it was lilting and if, he said, it was not at that ungodly hour, he would quite enjoy it. I told him that this was the call for the first prayer of the day and that such calls went out four more times during the course of the day.

It dawned on me that the average Western person had no idea about Islam. They knew nothing of its rituals and practices. Islam was a benign belief system and Muslims just ordinary people.

Those were days when mosque loud speakers had not yet become a pestilence. That was when the mullah – historically listed among menials and treated the same way too – had not been granted the power that he enjoys today. That power was given him not by God, but by Satan as personified by Zia ul Haq.

Incidentally, the average ignorant Pakistani Muslim probably believes that Islam spread by the mosque loud speaker and that this demon of a machine has always been around. The truth as told me by the eminent journalist Khaled Ahmed is that the loud speaker was first installed in Pakistani mosques in the beginning of 1948. The prime mover for this demonism was CIA!

That is, no sooner had this country been established that it became a pawn in the hands of that evil empire. The mullahs revolted. This was a shaitani charkha (The Devil’s Machine), and they would have nothing to do with it. In those far off days when we did not wear Islam on our sleeves and were much better Muslims and even better human beings, compliant mullahs were two a penny. And soon a few mosques sprouted the unholy loud speaker.

No longer did the skiver mullah have to plod up minaret stairs of the, say, Badshahi Mosque to do his duty from the top. Now he simply threw a switch and half the city could hear his call. That was not all. As the incompliant mullahs, their mosques still unadorned with the ugliness of the public address system, spoke with the four walls, the city could also hear the ranting sermon of the mullah with the machine.

When the ranting of one mullah was carried abroad, it was only a matter of days that all his illegitimate brothers followed suit. The country was awash with mosque public address systems.

From 1980 when Günther called the muezzin the Singing Man, fast forward to the early 1990s. Within the space of a decade and a half Islam stood transformed. It was no longer a religion that the West only vaguely knew of. The malefic power of the mullah had turned it into a belief system that was malignant and destructive. In the mind of most peaceful people, Islam was a religion hell bent upon taking the world back to the Stone Age.

Consider: when the mullah had no power, when he functioned as he historically always had in the subcontinent, Islam was a compassionate system of belief. Islam meant no harm to anyone. The mullah got power and Islam turned into a destructive force.

It is past time now to trim the power of the mullah and let Islam be what it always was.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 20 July 2016 at 14:56, Anonymous Nadeem Akram said...

Succinct and to the point

At 20 July 2016 at 23:56, Blogger jahan zeb said...

10 pushups for this narrative :) , but keep in mind I am not Misbah nor a boat polisher . :)

At 22 July 2016 at 06:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.
Some reflections from a first time visitor to lahore on the topic of "religious" norms (whatever that means):
I was firmly instructed to wear a dupatta when going to a tailor..One who is supposed to be a ladies' tailor. More so, my husband waited in the car because only women were allowed in that particular shop. "This is a muslim country" I was constantly reminded by the women of the family who only go shopping with fellow women.
At the tailor shop...contrary to my assumption that we might find a lady tailor. .there stood a full grown man..
Women of all ages and sizes (obviously non- mahram to the tailor) casually flipping off their chaadars and dupattas ...letting the male tailor measure them.
A keen observer that I am..I noticed every carrasing movement of the tailor on the breasts hips and bottoms of these pious women who stood comfortably unmoved.
Well..I announced buying a ready made suit..but wondered what to do of the tent size dupatta forcefully "gifted" to me!!!

At 1 August 2016 at 15:10, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

That's a great one, Nargis. With the head wobble I'll say: "What do do, we [Muslims] are like that only!"


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days