Making sense of our Pakistani identity.
[By Maryam Arif, she hails from Lahore; picture by Zadignose]
As Pakistanis we constantly struggle with the contradictions of religion and culture. Culturally we share much in common with Indians, religiously we feel bound to Afghanistan. Too many ironies lurk in our daily lives. We read Arabic without understanding it; we speak Hindi without being able to read or write it.
In his latest film, Khuda Ke Liye, acclaimed director Shoaib Mansur does a good job of bringing these tensions to light. My favorite scene takes place in a court where the actor Naseeruddin Shah, preaching tolerance and rational thinking, says, "Din mein darhi hai, darhi mein din nahi." (Beard is part of the religion; the religion is not in a beard). Also, on the question of dress in Islam, he points out that what one wears depends on one's socio-economic status and one's location on the globe. For instance, it wouldn't be fair to expect a Muslim convert in the North Pole to wear an ankle-high shalwar. Sensible indeed!
I congratulate Shoaib Mansur on reviving Pakistani cinema. An original work of art, his film comes out at a time when many of us are struggling with what it means to be a Muslim in Pakistan. Is music haram or halaal? Every second house has a youngster who plays an instrument or sings. Underground bands are growing by the day. More and more Pakistani singers are making their way up to the top charts in India. In case if the music is indeed haram, then are all these people not good Muslims?
Are we becoming a nation of non-believers? Quite unbelievable - even the leftists in this country offer the Friday prayers!
I see the ideological contradictions in my own family. My mother is a communist, Gandhian, and an atheist – all in one. Yet, she has a religious corner in her room where she keeps a shrine - complete with an idol of Krishna playing the flute, puja thali and all. There is Jesus, Sikh gurus, Buddha, Khana Ka'aba, Kaali and even a miniature Taj Mahal. But she happens to be born in a Muslim family!
When I recently fell sick, my mother's instinctive reaction was to blame the evil eye. Before I could take any medication, she performed the "damm" on me, which made for an interesting spectacle indeed. With her head uncovered and hands that smelled of cigarette smoke, she mumbled something that I assumed to be Quranic verses.
Her furious invocation followed her belief that her daughter had become a victim of the evil eye. To get rid of it, an egg and some peppers were summoned from the kitchen. After rotating the edibles over my head, the egg was left on the roadside and the peppers burned on the kitchen stove. These are the doings of my sweet mother who claims to be an atheist.
My mother is not unique. Like most Pakistanis, she too is a person enjoying interesting complications borne out of influences ranging from our multi-faith history, moderate Islam, modern trends, ancient traditions, to our nation’s turbulent politics – all mish-mashed together in a fantastic combo meal. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that there are several Pakistans inside each Pakistani.