Written By: Dr. Amineh Hoti
There is a famous Urdu saying “Har Firon ke liye aik Moosa hota hai” meaning by ‘for every problem, there is a solution’. This is also mentioned by Allah in the Qur’aan. It is for us, “the people of thought” or the “Ahl-e-Aql”, as God repeatedly calls us, to use our intellect (aql) to work out those solutions (and I use the word “work” intentionally because it comes with, and not without, effort and labour).
The attack on the students of Army Public School in Peshawar was particularly heartbreaking for me (as it has been for all Pakistanis) because I grew up not very far from this very school. I recall my happy childhood in Peshawar when my parents would take me for long walks in a stroller in the beautiful cantonment with its flower-filled gardens. It saddens me to know that same Peshawar now has become a battleground for the future of Pakistan. Who could be so cruel as to kill the children and take the lives of others, and then their own. I wept once again for my nation. I asked myself, what could we do to prevent such extreme violence and hatred in the future?
When nations are seen to be weak and divided, everyone suffers especially the vulnerable children. The Prophet (PBUH), who loved children, forbade men to do any harm to children and women in war. Yet children are killed through violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Gambia, and in so many other parts of today’s turbulent world. This practice is a heavy burden on the conscience of humanity and the guilt will always haunt the perpetrators.
A unanimous voice would decree; let children live – both literally and metaphorically by allowing them to grow in their minds, ideas, and creativity. To explore the heights of knowledge without hunger, pain or loss of family and life! The challenges for Pakistan are no exception. They can be tackled through effective planning, insight, and must be solved with foresight in the light of current world events. Thus in this article, I would suggest few ideas as a solution to the problem. Ilm, Adab aur Insaaniat Courses: Fighting this War with the Tools of Knowledge
The Center for Dialogue and Action (CD&A), which I have the privilege of heading at The Forman Christian College University (FCCU) in Lahore, aims to benefit institutions in the armed forces and civil services by creating opportunities for learning and growth. There is a general lack of understanding and ambiguity in Pakistan in relation to the subject of Pakistan’s diversity, its religions, culture, ethnic history, and gender. If we can open the minds of the young generation to ideas of acceptance and compassion, we can successfully challenge the hatred that engendered this violence in Peshawar.
The foundation of any debate on defining our national identity and ways forward must look to a class on the vision of its founding fathers: Quaid-i-Azam who strove for human rights and justice, Sir Syed who encouraged open mindedness and knowledge, and Allama Muhammad Iqbal who inspired passion for learning and hard work through knowledge of our own rich history. In this context, we must examine the challenges of today’s Pakistan and the opportunities ahead.
Another class focuses on what Islam is about and the early inclusive and tolerant Islamic attitudes towards the others. In yet another session, a study of Andalusia in Spain and Sicily in Italy are essential to see how people can co-exist. I have been to both places over the last few months with the research project “Journey into Europe — Islam, Immigration and Empire” accompanying my father, Professor Akbar S. Ahmed, and his team. The knowledge we gained and the people we met have been an eye-opener and a healer. We need to be aware about a past where we were creative, productive, and tolerant. From these cultures, everyone all over the world benefitted and continues to benefit, until today. The first man who flew was the Andalusian Ibn al Firnas, the astrolabe who gave direction that led to compass invention, and which is a gift to the world from Sicily and so on and so forth. Diversity is one of Pakistan’s key strength. The study of diversity can inspire our youth to become better citizens who respect cultural and religious differences. The study of diversity explores differences and commonalities, and provides tools to equip us to play a positive role in transforming negative attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours. Despite being unique individuals i.e. belonging to different communities, at the end of the day we are all connected through our shared values.
Learning Lessons from the Glory of Andalusia and the Gore of Srebrenica I spent this summer doing fieldwork with ‘Journey into Europe’ (JIE) team in the South of Spain at Andalusia – the jewel in the crown of civilization. It made me realize how important it is to strive for peace, creativity, and open mindedness to overcome a closed and static mindset. At its height, Andalusia was a period when Muslims, Christians and Jews under Islamic rule, lived together producing the knowledge from which the world benefits today (clocks, watches, carpets, shampoo, coffee, algebra, medicine, flight, cleanliness, and so forth). However, when Muslims and Jews were forced to leave Spain in 1492, by the decree of Isabella and Ferdinand, the dark age of the inquisition began when terror and violence reigned for Muslims and other minorities – people’s property and lives were no longer sacred. Muslims were given two harsh choices – convert or leave Spain – those who left had to make a choice harder than death. They had to leave behind all their property and their children!
In European Bosnia, Srebrenica, which I visited with JIE team in summer 2014, Muslim men, women and children were brutally killed 20 years ago. The Bosnian war saw over 200,000 people massacred and more than 70,000 women raped. The stories of the survivors were truly heartbreaking. Khadijah whom I interviewed in the mass graveyard of Srebrenica, lost 50 male family members.
Recently, when I visited National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad to teach a class to PhD students on peace building, I was also asked to give a talk to a hall full of army men and women in uniform – the majority of whom were from the Pakistan Army and a small number from nine other countries. My message to these brave soldiers was that they have tremendous strength and resources but the value of strength is when we use it to maintain peace. The war worth fighting was the one to keep the peace and harmony so that our children could grow up in a safe and calm country. Andalusia teaches us that when we live in harmony together through the exploration of knowledge, there is space for growth of that civilization itself as well as for the generations to come like ripples in water, and the effects are far and wide. European enlightenment comes out of Andalusia through the spread of knowledge. Today’s Europe and the West, it has been argued by many scholars, has progressed on the basis of Andalusian civilization – you’ll be surprised at how many things you use today or encounter thinking these are Western marvels, actually originated in Andalusia from Muslim-Christian-Jewish coexistence!
Srebrenica teaches us to be strong, never to be weak, undivided, or unaware – to play the game of survival, but always keep out of troubled waters. Negotiation and wit are far better than rushing into problematic areas like quicksand. Revenge never gets us anywhere. Srebrenica teaches us to walk the rope of life in a balanced way with our neighbours – again negotiating, building relations, building trust, and above all building strength of one’s country, which must always be above one’s personal interests.
Let’s Work to Build Our Nation, Not Just Our Own House The experiences from this journey, my interviews with hundreds of Pakistanis abroad, the backdrop of the current media constantly chipping away at the image of Pakistan, had made me realize how valuable Pakistan is to us Pakistanis – both at home and abroad. At home, Pakistan gives us a place to live how we choose, and abroad it gives us a place of belonging, to which we hope to one day return. Pakistan is home; it is the source of our identity. It is worth the effort to save, to keep, and to work for with all our might and intellect to make Pakistan a good home for us all.
We often think that our house is our home – we keep it tidy, buy beautiful things for it, decorate it, and sometimes dump our rubbish on the streets outside it. However, our focus needs to change. Our country is our home and we must endeavour to beautify its landscape, preserve its natural beauties and not misuse them (the waters that flow from the mountains in Islamabad are polluted with sewage and rubbish as they come down from sector to sector – this can be improved by stopping this, starting with the sectors occupied by the forces); we must not misuse our national funds (what belongs to the state is not our personal fund – every penny misused is taking a bite out of the mouth of a starving person – so many parents with their children have committed suicide because of hunger in Pakistan); and we must work hard (every day, every hour of our lives counts).
Most importantly, we must be positive. Saying Pakistan will survive and making it happen is possible – it is a self fulfilling prophecy – if we want something to happen, it will. If we want it to exist and be prosperous, it will: but we must put in the effort, we must be united (Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis, and many others in Pakistan are part of the rich landscape – they are our strength not weakness but only wish to be heard and wish to be given due acknowledgement, voice and leadership roles) and we must be loyal to Pakistan (above our loyalty to our tribes, political affiliations and ourselves). Our little personal gains are not worth the cost of chipping at our mother nation. Without the nation, there is no house, no dignity, no ownership, no home, and no identity.
The difficulties and harshness of being a musafir (traveller) on my field trip to Europe, interviewing hundreds of people, and listening to the mosaic of voices that talked to me of pain and loss, made me constantly think of the value of my home, Pakistan. I hear so and so leader has so many houses abroad and so much money in this and that Swiss bank. The reality is that no amount of houses abroad or money in banks can replace your dignity of belonging to a country that is your own. God blessed Pakistanis with a miracle against all odds – He gave us one of the biggest nations on earth (Pakistan is the second largest Muslim nation on planet earth – in size we are bigger than UK, Denmark, etc). So let us cherish this land, value it, love it, and work hard to build it up again. I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” which my father read to me again and again in my childhood and its strong message of the will to survive against all odds, some lines of which I want to share with you:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
“Positive Attitude” is Essential: Counting Our Blessings The first main step to improve our country is challenging the negative propaganda against Pakistan. Our own media must work with us, not against us, to put out ideas that Pakistan is indeed a great country worth fighting for. We must work together to improve it in education, in ideas, and in progress. If we spit out negativity all the time we will do nothing to improve because we will feel it is a lost case. Instead, if we say we are fed up of all the negative headlines on Pakistan and say let me change this, it will change – the positive attitude will uplift people and make them work hard to build the nation.
Adopting a positive attitude, therefore, is absolutely essential. Let us create a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, as it is called in Sociology. If I tell a particular child or the children of my nation that they can do it, they will have hope and they will do everything to get to that point of success. If I tell them constantly that you are worthless and you cannot make it, they will subsequently give up hope and will not make it. There is nothing that can prevent the success of our nation, but ourselves. I am confident that we can make this nation great as envisioned by its founding fathers. Let us look, for a moment, at all the stunning things we have to give us hope and reasons to survive and thrive. A Very Rich History. Our country is the cradle of civilization. Though many people outside Pakistan and inside may not fully appreciate or realize this – the oldest civilization in the world is not Ancient Egypt (3000 BC) and Ancient Greece as is taught in many schools around the world. It is our own Mehrgarh (7000 BC) located in present day Balochistan. This is a stunning fact, which gives us, as a collective people, deep roots – we are not a new civilization. Taxila is another example of having one of the most important education centres in the world (people from other parts of the world came to study here just as today they strive to go to Oxford and Cambridge in the UK). A branch of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and other religions were born here in present day Pakistan. This land has seen many strong, tolerant, and creative leaders, for example, the great Mughals, the Sufi saints, and so forth. This is the rich historical and cultural inheritance of the people of Pakistan.
The People of Pakistan. With their hospitality and resilience in the face of all troubles, the people of Pakistan are survivors. “Some of the most brilliant people I have met,” a senior European academic I interacted recently told me, “are from Pakistan.” Geographic Bliss. A stunningly beautiful vast land from the north to the south with access to water and the most breathtaking and highest mountains in the world “Mashah-Allah”! In size, we are bigger than most European countries.
Fabulous Weather. Sunny most of the time – the word ‘sad’ is from Seasonally Affected Disorder – indeed while I was in the UK, people moaned about the weather all the time. They would die to have this weather which can make us happy medically. Faith. Lastly, faith is very important and the key anchor – faith in the idea of hope and survival, faith in our nation, and faith in God. I have seen reflections of these in members of the army, civil services, educational experts and in ordinary people for whom the services strive, through the course of their lives, to make a better nation for all.
“You” are a Role Model Peace Builder: Embodying the Messages of Great Leaders The message for us in today’s Pakistan from the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) is to build our own great internal strength – faith is an important component in driving us forward and the message of God is the key to survival – to fight for peace, not war, but to defend ourselves and our national interests with great wit, and the tools of knowledge and wisdom. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Prophet (PBUH) came to Arab society in a very difficult time to challenge Jahilya (violent ignorance) when people killed children and disrespected humanity. He came as a Messenger from God, the Cherisher of Humanity, to remind people of the ideals of justice, humanity and compassion. That is why the title of the leader of the Muslim Army, the Prophet (PBUH), was “Rehmat al Alamin.” The beauty of his character that made his role a success was precisely his great strength of standing firmly for what is right and protecting his ummah firmly within the balance of justice and compassion, while being a leader, a father, a husband, and a general. It is for this reason that we are told repeatedly by the God in the Qur’aan that the best role model for us is the Prophet of Islam. However, we can only really “know” the Prophet (PBUH) if we study his life by reading about him.
The Quaid-i-Azam – our special Baba-e-Quom, is another outstanding role model for us. In the December 2014 issue of the Hilal Magazine, the message of the Quaid was loud and clear – of progress and humanity, of justice and compassion written by Professor Akbar S. Ahmed. In his character, in his manners, in his struggle for Pakistan and its survival, the Quaid is a brilliant star. Being himself an outstanding professional lawyer from a minority community, he fought for the rights of all people, especially the most vulnerable – women and those who were from the minority communities. He fought throughout his life till last breath to give us this nation with the help of God. It is now up to us to make it, to build it, to value it and to protect it.
This land has had many other outstanding leaders – some of whose lives have been forgotten and remain unexplored today but are a treasure for the students and teachers of courses such as ‘ilm, adab aur insaaniat’ to slowly uncover one by one and explore as we are beginning to do so. These examples give us, and our children, hope. They show us how to survive as these great leaders did in the face of all odds and adversity and to make the world we live in a better and more peaceful place. Conclusion
After travelling for months on the research project, across Europe and earlier the Muslim world (on “Journey into Islam” – a book by Prof Akbar S. Ahmed, which was the first part of the four part project, “Journey into Europe”) and hearing the stories of immigrants losing their homes, their countries in wars, the plane I arrive in touches the soil of Pakistan and I am grateful to be back “home”. I say a prayer, a ‘sajdah to Rabbee’ for blessing us with this home – a place better than thousand palaces. I come back enthusiastic and wanting to contribute to building this nation into a beautiful, strong and united country. I pray for all those who have worked towards peace in Pakistan and in the wider region, for the sacrifices they have made, to make a stronger, peaceful world community.
Our progress will start with the building blocks and tools of knowledge and strategy. We will celebrate and be proud of Pakistan just as our neighbour, India, celebrates themselves (you may remember the widespread ads, “Made in India”, “Fabulous India,” etc). We will build on our own knowledge through courses like ‘Ilm, Adab aur Insaaniat,’ by exploring our shared rich heritage (South Asia, Islamic, Andalusian and world debates on Dialogue of Civilizations), which will give us the confidence to propel us forward. We will begin to read up on our own history and polish up our knowledge on the Qur’aan, on the Prophet of Islam, on the Caliphs, on the Quaid-i-Azam and so forth. This will help us understand the balance of justice, rights and respect for others and ourselves and will help us understand the balance of cause and effect. Our minorities must feel a part of, not apart from Pakistan – they must not feel as being on the periphery but included in the centre. Finally, we must acknowledge, value and protect what we have as our strengths.
Drawing inspiration from my father’s great relative, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; my maternal grandfather the Wali of Swat, Miangul Jahanzeb, who built universities and education centres in Aligarh and Swat where the creators of Pakistan on the one hand, and on the other girls like Malala Yusufzai comes out of a system of education which is local (not Oxford or Cambridge); and my husband, Arsallah Khan’s grandfather, Sir Akbar Khan of Hoti, who is said to have built and collected the largest library in South Asia, I am personally convinced that knowledge, and especially “Peace Building Education”, is the key to strengthening and creating a progressive and successful Pakistan. That is why both my husband and I left Cambridge where I had a permanent job as Director of the first centre on peace studies and chose to come to Pakistan, like so many other Pakistanis who came “home”, to help build our valuable homeland and contribute whatever little we have here with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm.
Finally, all of us should remember the message of the Prophet (PBUH) that scholarship is more important than anything else – it is the bright light of hope and of progress. Indeed, there is a famous saying of the Prophet (PBUH): “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” I urge you to think hard about this – if God in the Qur’aan gave the highest darja – or status to the martyr why is then the ink of the scholar more sacred than the blood of the martyr? It is because with scholarship comes understanding and with deeper understanding comes respect and with that, steps to peace are possible. Again, I go back to the example of the best general in any army of all time, the Prophet of Islam, who valued the tools of knowledge to fight all forms of jahilya (violent ignorance).
I want to leave you with the thought that “nothing is impossible” for us: we “can” soar to the highest of heights. We only need the will and mental strength to fly high. When I look at the young generations, I think that with their enthusiasm, great heights are certainly possible. For all those who serve Pakistan in their varied ways, remember Allama Iqbal’s words, “Tu Shaheen hai, bassera kar pahaaron kee chattaanon par”!
The author is a PhD Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Presently she is Director at Centre for Dialogue and Action.