The Daughter of Islam

in homistan

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.

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