by Prof. Shahida Kazi
History is a discipline that has never been taken seriously by anyone in Pakistan. As a result, the subject has been distorted in such a way that many a fabricated tale has become part of our collective consciousness
Admittedly, the line between the two is a very fine one. From time immemorial, man has always been in search of his roots. He has also been trying to find a real and tangible basis for the legends of ancient days — legends that have become a part of our collective consciousness. As a result, we witness the quest for proving the existence of King Arthur, the search for whereabouts of the city of Troy, and many expeditions organized to locate the exact site of the landing of Noah’s Ark.
During the ‘60s and the ‘70s, there was a worldwide movement to prove that the ‘gods’ of ancient mythologies did actually exist; they came from distant galaxies; and that mankind owed all its progress to such alien superheroes. Several books were written on the subject.
We, in Pakistan, are a breed apart. Lacking a proper mythology like most other races, we have created our own, populated by a whole pantheon of superheroes who have a wide range of heroic exploits to their credit.
But the difference is that these superheroes, instead of being a part of a remote and prehistoric period, belong very much to our own times. A seemingly veritable mythology has been created around these heroes, their persona and their achievements, which is drummed into the heads of our children from the time they start going to school. So deep is this indoctrination that any attempt to uncover the facts or reveal the truth is considered nothing less than blasphemous.
Here are some of the most common myths:
Our history begins from 712AD, when Mohammad bin Qasim arrived in the subcontinent and conquered the port of Debal.
Take any social studies or Pakistan studies book, it starts with Mohammad bin Qasim. What was there before his arrival? Yes, cruel and despotic Hindu kings like Raja Dahir and the oppressed and uncivilized populace anxiously waiting for a ‘liberator’ to free them from the clutches of such cruel kings. And when the liberator came, he was welcomed with open arms and the grateful people converted to Islam en mass.
Did it really happen? This version of our history conveniently forgets that the area where our country is situated has had a long and glorious history of 6,000 years. Forget Moenjo Daro. We do not know enough about it. But recorded history tells us that before Mohammad Bin Qasim, this area, roughly encompassing Sindh, Punjab and some parts of the NWFP, was ruled by no less than 12 different dynasties from different parts of the world, including the Persians (during the Achamaenian period), the Greeks comprising the Bactrians, Scthians and Parthians, the Kushanas from China, and the Huns (of Attila fame) who also came from China, besides a number of Hindu dynasties including great rulers like Chandragupta Maurya and Asoka.
During the Gandhara period, this region had the distinction of being home to one of the biggest and most important universities of the world at our very own Taxila. We used to be highly civilized, well-educated, prosperous, creative and economically productive people, and many countries benefited a lot from us, intellectually as well as economically. This is something we better not forget. But do we tell this to our children? No. And so the myth continues from generation to generation.
Mohammad Bin Qasim came to India to help oppressed widows and orphan girls.
Because of our blissful ignorance of history, we don’t know, or don’t bother to know, that this period was the age of expansion of the Islamic empire. The Arabs had conquered a large portion of the world, comprising the entire Middle East, Persia, North Africa and Spain. Therefore, it defies logic that they would not seek to conquer India, the land of legendary treasures.
In fact, the Arabs had sent their first expedition to India during Hazrat Umar Farooq’s tenure. A subsequent expedition had come to Makran during Hazrat Usman’s rule. But they had been unsuccessful in making any in-roads into the region. Later on, following the refusal of the king to give compensation for the ships captured by pirates (which incidentally included eight ships full of treasures from Sri Lanka, and not just women and girls), two expeditions had already been sent to India, but they proved unsuccessful. It was the third expedition brought by Mohammad Bin Qasim which succeeded in capturing Sindh, from Mansura to Multan. However, because of the Arabs’ internal dissension and political infighting, Sindh remained a neglected outpost of the Arab empire, and soon reverted to local kings.
The myth of the idol-breaker.
Mahmood Ghaznavi, the great son of Islam and idol-breaker par excellence, took upon himself to destroy idols all over India and spread Islam in the subcontinent.
Mahmud, who came from neighbouring Ghazni, Central Asia, invaded India no less than 17 times. But except Punjab, he made no attempt to conquer any other part of the country or to try and consolidate his rule over the rest of India. In fact, the only thing that attracted him was the treasures of India, gold and precious stones, of which he took care and carried back home a considerable amount every time he raided the country. Temples in India were a repository of large amounts of treasure at the time, as were the churches in Europe, hence his special interest in temples and idols.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not the kings, the Central Asian sultans who ruled for over 300 years and the Mughals who ruled for another 300 years, who brought Islam to the subcontinent. That work was accomplished by the Sufi Sheikhs who came to India mainly to escape persecution from the fundamentalists back home, and who, through their high-mindedness, love for humanity, compassion, tolerance and simple living won the hearts of the people of all religions.
The myth of the cap-stitcher.
Of all the kings who have ruled the subcontinent, the one singled out for greatest praise in our text books is Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals. Baber built the empire; Humayun lost it and got it back; Akbar expanded and consolidated it; Jahangir was known for his sense of justice; Shahjehan for his magnificent buildings. But it is Aurangzeb, known as a pious man, who grabs the most attention. The prevalent myth is that he did not spend money from the treasury for his personal needs, but fulfilled them by stitching caps and copying out the Holy Quran. Is there any real need for discussing this assertion? Anyone who’s least bit familiar with the Mughal lifestyle would know how expensive it was to maintain their dozens of palaces. The Mughals used to have many wives, children, courtiers, concubines and slaves who would be present in each palace, whose needs had to be met. Could such expenses be met by stitching caps? And even if the king was stitching caps, would people buy them and use them as ordinary caps? Would they not pay exorbitant prices for them and keep them as heirlooms? Would a king, whose focus had to be on military threats surrounding him from all sides and on the need to save and consolidate a huge empire, have the time and leisure to sit and stitch caps? Let’s not forget that the person we are referring to as a pious Muslim was the same who became king after he imprisoned his won father in a cell in his palace and killed all his brothers to prevent them from taking over the throne.
It was the Muslims who were responsible for the war of 1857; and it was the Muslims who bore the brunt of persecution in the aftermath of the war, while the Hindus were natural collaborators of the British.
It is true that more Muslim regiments than Hindu rose up against the British in 1857. But the Hindus also played a major role in the battle (the courageous Rani of Jhansi is a prime example); and if Muslim soldiers were inflamed by the rumour that the cartridges were laced with pig fat, in the case of Hindus, the rumour was that it was cow fat. And a large number of Muslims remained loyal to the British to the very end. (The most illustrious of them being Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.)
Furthermore, the Muslims did not lose their empire after 1857. The British had already become masters of most of India before that time, having grasped vast territories from both Hindu and Muslim rulers through guile and subterfuge.
The Mughal emperor at the time was a ruler in name only; his jurisdiction did not extend beyond Delhi. After 1857, the Hindus prospered, because they were clever enough to acquire modern education, learn the English language, and take to trade and commerce. The Muslims were only land owners, wedded to the dreams of the past pomp and glory, and when their lands were taken away, they were left with nothing; their madressah education and proficiency in Persian proved to be of no help. As a matter of fact, it was a hindrance in such changing times.
The Muslims were in the forefront of the struggle against the British and were singled out for unfair treatment by the latter.
Not at all. In fact, the first ‘gift’ given to the Muslims by the British was in 1905 in the form of partition of Bengal (later revoked in 1911). The Shimla delegation of 1906 has rightly been called a ‘command performance’; the Muslims were assured by the viceroy of separate electorates and weightage as soon as their leaders asked for them. After that, he Muslim League came into being, established by pro-British stalwarts like the Aga Khan, Justice Amir Ali, some other nawabs and feudal lords. And the first objective of the Muslim League manifesto read: “To promote feelings of loyalty to the British government.”
The Muslim League never carried out any agitation against the British. The only time the Muslims agitated was during the Khilafat Movement in the early ‘20s, led by the Ali brothers and other radical leaders. Not a single Muslim League leader, including the Quaid-i-Azam, ever went to jail. It was the Congress which continued the anti-British non-violent and non-cooperation movement in the ‘30s and ‘40s, including the famous ‘Quit India’ movement, while Muslim League leaders continued to denounce such movements and exhorted their followers not to take part in them.
The Muslim League was the only representative body of the Muslims.
It is an incontrovertible fact that it was only after 1940 that the Muslim League established itself as a popular party among the Muslims. Prior to that, as evident in the 1937 elections, the Muslim League did not succeed in forming the government in any of the Muslim majority provinces. In those elections, out of the total of 482 Muslim seats, the Muslim League won only 103 (less than one-fourth of the total). Other seats went either to Congress Muslims or to nationalist parties such as the Punjab Unionist Party, the Sind Unionist Party and the Krishak Proja Party of Bengal.
Allama Iqbal was the first person to come up with the idea of a separate Muslim state.
This is one of the most deeply embedded myths in our country and the one which has been propagated by all governments. In fact, the idea that Muslim majority provinces of the north-west formed a natural group and should be considered a single bloc had been mooted by the British as far back as 1858 and freely discussed in various newspaper articles and on political platforms. Several variations of the idea had come from important public personalities, including British, Muslims and some Hindus. By the time Allama Iqbal gave his famous speech in 1930, the idea had been put forward at least 64 times. So, Iqbal voiced something which was already there, and was not an original ‘dream’. After his speech at Allahbad was reported, Allama Iqbal published a ‘retraction’ in a British newspaper that he had not been talking of a separate Muslim sate, but only of a Muslim bloc within the Indian federation.
The Pakistan Resolution envisaged a single Muslim state.
The fact is that none of the proposals regarding the Muslim bloc mooted by different individuals or parties had included East Bengal in it. The emphasis had always been on north-western provinces, which shared common frontiers, while other Muslim majority states, such as Bengal and Hyderabad, were envisaged as separate blocs. So, it was in the Pakistan Resolution. The resolution reads: “The areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the north-western and eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states, in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”
Leaving aside the poor and ambiguous drafting of the entire resolution, the part about states (in plural) is very clear. It was only in 1946, at a convention of the Muslim League legislators in Delhi, that the original resolution was amended, which was adopted at a general Muslim League session and the objective became a single state.
March 23, 1940 is celebrated because the Pakistan Resolution was adopted on that day. The fact of the matter is that the Pakistan Resolution was only introduced on March 23 and was finally adopted on March 24 (the second and final day of the session).
As to why we celebrate March 23 is another story altogether. The day was never celebrated before 1956. It was first celebrated that year as the Republic Day to mark the passage of the first constitution and Pakistan’s emergence as a truly independent republic. It had the same importance for us as January 26 for India. But when Gen Ayub abrogated the constitution and established martial law in 1958, he was faced with a dilemma. He could not let the country celebrate a day commemorating the constitution that he had himself torn apart, nor could he cancel the celebration altogether. A way-out was found by keeping the celebration, but giving it another name: the Pakistan Resolution Day.
It was Ghulam Muhammad who created imbalance of power between the prime minister and head of state, and it was he who sought to establish the supremacy of the governor-general over the prime minister and parliament.
When Pakistan came into being, the British government’s India Act of 1935 was adopted as the working constitution. And it was the Quaid-i-Azam himself who introduced certain amendments to the act to make the governor-general the supreme authority. It was under these powers that the Quaid-i-Azam dismissed the government of Dr Khan Sahib in the NWFP in August 1947 and that of Mr Ayub Khuhro in Sindh in 1948.
Besides being governor-general, the Quaid-i-Azam also continued as president of the Muslim League and president of the Constituent Assembly.
It was these same powers under which Mr Daultana’s government was dismissed in Punjab in 1949 by Khawaja Nazimuddin, who himself was dismissed as prime minister in 1953 by Ghulam Mohammad.
However, in 1954, a move was started by members of the then Constituent Assembly to table an amendment to the act, taking away excessive powers of the governor-general. It was this move which provoked the governor-general, Ghulam Mohammad, to dismiss the Constituent Assembly in 1954, and thereby change the course of Pakistan’s history.
These are some of the myths that have been drummed into our heads from childhood and have become part of our consciousness. There are scores more, pervading our everyday life. And there are many unanswered questions such as:
• What is Pakistan’s ideology and when was the term first coined? (It was never heard of before 1947.)
• Why was Gandhi murdered? (He was supposedly guarding Pakistan’s interest.)
• What is the truth about the so-called traitors, Shaikh Mujeeb, Wali Khan, and G.M. Syed?
• What caused the break-away of East Pakistan?
• Why was Bhutto put to death?
• Are all our politicians corrupt and self-serving?
• Why does our history repeat itself after every 10 years?
The answers to all these questions require a thorough study of history, not mythology. But history unfortunately is a discipline that has never been taken seriously by anyone in our country. It’s time things changed.