Fatwa No More

An essay by Professor Emeritus C.M. Naim, University of Chicago.

A messenger brought me some news. It began:

Darul Uloom Deoband, the self-appointed guardian for Indian Muslims, in a Talibanesque fatwa that reeked of tribal patriarchy, has decreed that it is “haram” and illegal according to the Sharia for a family to accept a woman’s earnings. Clerics at the largest Sunni Muslim seminary after Cairo’s Al-Azhar said the decree flowed from the fact that the Sharia prohibited proximity of men and women in the workplace.

“It is unlawful (under the Sharia law) for Muslim women to work in the government or private sector where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without a veil,” said the fatwa issued by a bench of three clerics. The decree was issued over the weekend, but became public late on Monday, seminary sources said.1

One should not shoot the messenger if one does not like the message. True. But, allow me at least to discover what was being “messaged.” Strictly speaking, it was the following exchange on the website of the Darul Ifta (‘fatwa office’) of the Deoband seminary. No changes in language and punctuation have been made in all the quotations below.)
Continue reading “Fatwa No More”

  1. News report in the Times of India of May 12, written by Pervez Iqbal Siddiqui. []

Around the Khyber Pass

David Bordwell, John Ford, silent man

One headliner is the early Ford series: all his surviving silents, plus a selection of rarely-seen talkies. The first one screened, The Black Watch (1929), concentrates on the Khyber Pass incident of 1914. Captain King is assigned to India while the rest of his Scots regiment is sent to Europe. In India, King masterminds the defeat of the forces of Yasmani, a woman who has been taken as sort of a goddess by her followers. The central section, involving Yasmani’s passion for King and his betrayal of her, seems to me sketchy and rushed; Ford’s real interest, not surprisingly, is in the rites of comradeship among the Black Watch. Twenty-two of the film’s 91 minutes is taken up with the opening dinner celebrating the regiment, conducted while King gets his secret mission; for reasons he can’t disclose, he abandons his comrades and suffers their opprobrium. A bookended sequence at the close shows him returning to the Watch as, in the trenches of war, they hold another dinner, complete with ruffles and flourishes.

Some of the central portion was directed by Lumsden Hare, but it too has some striking moments, perhaps most memorably the display of Yasmani’s powers when she conjures up an eerie vision of the European battlefield in a glowing crystal ball. The war sequences have the dank Expressionist look that Murnau brought to Fox and that Ford exploited in Four Sons (1928). There are as well touching train-station farewells between brothers and between father and daughter that seem very Fordian. Overall, Ford finds ways to avoid the multiple-camera shooting common to early talkies, often using offscreen dialogue during reaction shots.

Needless to say, I have never seen/heard of this movie but now I cannot wait to find it.

Long before John Ford, Khyber Pass entered into American imagination courtesy not only of the Anglo-Afghan wars, but also Rudyard Kipling and Josiah Harlan – Harlan’s memoir1 was released in 1842 in Philadelphia and Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King came out in 1888. The Anglo-Afghan Wars were front page news in New York Times since the late 1860s (the Sepoy Rebellion had stuck a nerve).

As I noted in an earlier post, the “Indian Question” lay heavy on the brows in New York and Washington. “The Khyber Pass is no longer a hindrance to movement” was the declaration in Feb, 1894 [pdf]. Here, for example, is the NYT in 1897, giving the geo-political consequences of a war going heavily wrong for the British. Change is nothing to believe in. England Facing, a Grave Situation: [pdf]

All eyes here are on the Khyber Pass and beyond. Whether the torrent of Afridis be stemmed as quickly as the Swat Valley troubles were stilled is a question of minor importance compared to the larger issues, which, one after an other, these at present isolated religious revolts are suggesting. There is as yet no proved coalition or combination among the insurgent tribes, but the lesson in each case is the same. Sooner or later, England, that greatest of Mohammedan powers, must suffer for this her latest crusade, into which she was driven by a wave of sentiment of which no English speaking men are ashamed, though many question the prudence of the aggressively quixotic policy when backed by such feebleness in execution. England could not stand by while the helpless Armenians and the too hopeful Greeks were in more or less real danger of life and liberty. So she sided with these people against the threatening Turk – that one Mohammedan soldier power with whom an English Machiavelli would have found wise to make friends, tempering friendship, as in the old days, with just sufficient bullying to keep up the illusion that the feeble sick man, Turkey, was being bolstered up by the unassailable power of Christian England.

In 1898, Kipling got to San Francisco from India and quickly came to embody the spirit of joint British-US expansionist project (He had sent his poem The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands straight to Teddy Roosevelt in 1898 who promptly forwarded it to Henry Cabot Lodge. Further aside, if you have not read Christopher Hitchens’ “Burdens and Songs: The Anglo-American Rudyard Kipling”, Grand Street {1990}, I urge you to run, not walk to JSTOR. )

Where was I? Oh, back to Khyber Pass/John Ford in 1929. Another tid-bit: I am shamefully ignorant of the history of early cinema and its engagement with India/Orient but I did pick up a reference once to a ethno-documentary In the Heart of India; As Seen by Dr. Dorsey (1916) which I have never seen nor been able to trace elsewhere but was reported to me that contains footage of Khyber Pass/Peshawer. It seems that the genealogy of Ford’s Khyber Pass is just as much Kipling and Dorsey as the German Murnau.

Resume normal transmission.

  1. A Memoir of India and Avghanistaun; with observations on the Present Exciting and Critical State and Future Prospects of those Countries. Comprising Remarks on the massacre of the British Army in Cabul, British policy in India, A detailed descriptive character of Dost Mohamed and his court, etc. With an Appendix on the fulfilment of a text of Daniel, in reference to the Present Prophetic condition of Mahomedan nations throughout the World, and the speedy dissolution of the Ottoman Empire []

The Daughter of Islam

Faisal Shahzad Email

Pakistan’s originary myth is tied to a spectacular episode – I have written about this here and here but, let me quote from a Social Studies Textbook for the sixth grade, used nationally in Pakistan:

Before the dawn of Islam, the trade relations had been setup between India and the Arabs. The Muslims invaded the subcontinent in 712 A.D. Prior to this the Arabs used to visit this land for the sale & purchase of their goods. The Arab traders were staunch Muslims and therefore they taught Islam to the people of India. The Arab traders used to carry merchandise from the Indian ports to the other countries of the world. A number of Arab traders had also settled in Sri Lanka and due to trade they had good relations with the people.

With the passage of time some of the traders died. The Raja of Sri Lanka who was kind hearted, he sent the widows and their children and belongings on eight ships along with gifts for the Muslim caliph. When these ships reached near the port of Debal the pirates plundered these ships. The Arab women and children were made captives. Some of the Muslims managed to escape and they made aware of Hajjaj bin Yousaf of the entire incident. Conflict between the Arabs and ruler of Sind started due to this incident.((Social Studies for Class 6. (Lahore: Punjab Textbook Board, 2004), 93-4.))

Here is another account from a popular Heroes of Islam series intended for children and young adults:

The king of Yaqoot Island dispatched a vessel, laden with gifts and Muslim women, born in his country and their fathers died doing trade, to Hajjaj, in order to be closer by them to Muslim world, but the current of air dredged vessels to beaches, nearby to southern valley of Sind regions, and they arrived the port, known in history as Debaal, where the pirates gathered the spoils, killed men, captured women, and children of both sexes were retained in bondage.

There was a woman from “Yarboa” tribe among people, who were wronged and aggressed, and she called “Ya Hajjaj”. When this accident’s news arrived to Hajjaj, he reposed her call by saying “Labbaik”, then he sent a message to king of Sind Dahir requesting him to release Muslim women, captured by pirates, but the king replied on his appeal that those, who arrested them are thieves, and I don’t have any control on them. Therefore this campaign sent by Hajjaj to Sind.

You can see this narrative explicated in a popular TV serial from 2002, Labaik (watch from 5:00 [sorry, no subtitles]):

You can also see a more translated vision put forth by some enterprising youtuber:

The TV-serial is a fascinating reversal, where the scene shifts from Khaldunian time to Ayodha time to finally a frame where the Hindu woman saves a Muslim man’s life by reminding the Hindu mob that they dared sully a Muslim woman centuries before, thus igniting the passion of the Muslim armies to conquer this infidel land. Gripping.

Terror Mom by Lapata

This narrative is woven into the fabric of the Pakistani state and I don’t really have the time, nor the space, to tell you more (you can read my dissertation, I guess) but I do want to quote from it:

The political memory of Muhammad b. Qasim seemed to have retreated from public space – even the Sindhi challenge apparently routinized. However, during this summer of 2008, a new public manifestation of Muhammad b. Qasim emerged. Dr Aafia Siddiqi, a Pakistani woman, accused by the U.S. state of being an al-Qaeda operative was apprehended in Afghanistan, and shipped to New York to stand trial.

Her arrest and deportation has caused immense public scrutiny in Pakistani media and it remains an on-going saga. What caught my attention were the public pleas – by columnists and editorials – for a Muhammad b. Qasim to rescue her, “I wish that this nation had a Muhammad b. Qasim who could hear the screams of Aafia Siddiqui, and help her. We need him and his army.”

Another columnist raised the specter of “Muhammad b. Qasim of the pen”:

In that NY jail, a daughter of my nation, is also calling for a Muhammad b. Qasim or a Mahmud Ghaznavi. She must be re- membering the justice of Umar Farooq. But my dear sister, our leaders cannot break their internal and external agreements with New York and Washington. Because after giving you away, along with 600 others, those agreements are even stronger. And we also got millions of dollars. Now only the American clouds are rain- ing dollars on our thoughts and emotions. But my sister, do not despair, the Muhammad b. Qasims of ”Pen” are coming to your rescue.

Other commentators drew explicit comparisons to the Muslim women kid- napped by pirates in the eighth century

The torch-bearer for this “Aafiya Siddiqa is the Original Daughter of Islam” meme was a columnist from the Daily Jang Ishtiaq Baig whose original column, Prisoner Number 650 Aafiya Siddiqui became the rallying cry of the various religious parties and conspiracy theorists. Two years later, Siddiqui is the cause of the nation, debated in Senate, with the Lahore High Court ordering the government to foot her defense bills. Here is a report, published today, citing the sister of Aafiya Siddiqa, Fauzia, saying we are waiting for a Muhammad bin Qasim to come and rescue Aafiya.

This particular brand of national machismo projected onto a woman’s body is neither new nor unique, yet it is a potent mixture in the oppressive, patriarchal Pakistani middle class. The mullahs can safely rage about the nation’s daughter, and the street urchins can eagerly vow to invade Manhattan.

Yet, until we dismantle the whole edifice underpinning this construction, there is little one can do to fight the narrative. Aafiya Siddiqui may well have caught the nation’s attention without the literary linkage to Pakistan’s originary past – her story is fabulous enough. But it is that very link which sustains it now, gives it immediate historical resonance and, most importantly, predicts the future – an armed struggle to free Aafiya. Such is the power of historical memory, such is the reach of state-sanctioned hegemonic accounts. And this is exactly why we need new histories of Pakistan.