Dissertation Week: Textbooks and Novels

Posted by sepoy on September 30, 2004 · 7 mins read

My final post is about my final chapter. I deal with textbooks and novels before and after Partition. It is not easy for a historian to deal with novels, especially one trying to figure out "social memory". Do the novels represent anything more than the solo novelist or market forces? I only hedge my bets here. I have some theory but who wants theory on a blog, eh? Don't answer that, really.

From the mid 1970s, a dominant theme of unification and Islam arose in all the discourse of the state. Even the secularist Bhutto, sought to rally the people around the twin green flags (Pakistan and Islam). Two events shaped this: The dissolution of One Unit, in 1970 by General Yahya Khan and the bitter secession of Bangladesh, in 1971. A nation tied together by strings of faith - Islam - and language ñ Urdu ñ was challenged on all accounts by regional calls to sovereignty and national calls to own up to its Islamic raison d'etrÈ. Not to mention the horrific reality of being the aggressors where they once claimed victimhood. The idea of Pakistan, nebulous to begin with, started to disintegrate: Sindhu Desh, Wazirstan, Baltistan, Siraikistan.

It was against this back-drop that the state of Pakistan embarked on a comprehensive project to produce a streamlined history of the nation and to have that history taught at all levels and in every province. In a collective such as Pakistan, which seeks its legitimacy in a universal ideal of Muslim identity and politics, the state had to provide an unsullied history of the nation that performed both a spatial and a temporal jump to reach its goal: to consistently and constantly negotiate a shared past amongst the Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Muhajir and other ethnicities. It appeared to the State that only history could provide the rationale for nationalism.

A particular history of the nation was disseminated in official discourse, school textbooks, nationalist novels, and public commemorations to explain the ancestral and ideological formation of the citizenry. I stress again that it was a conscious policy of both the state and Islamicist organizations, primarily the Jama'at-i Islami, to dove-tail the history of the nation-state of Pakistan with the history of Islam - divorcing it from the history of the sub-continent among others.

That this was a practice started after 1971 is clear when one examines school textbooks from the 50s and 60s. In the higher grades, those textbooks mention Hindus in a neutral tone. In fact, they were critical of Muhammad b. Qasim. Under Zia, the process of "Islamization" eliminated all doubts from the curriculum. As a result, MbQ became the first model citizen of the state of Pakistan. The compulsory textbook for 9th & 10th grade proclaimed:

Pakistan came to be established for the first time when the Arabs under Muhammad bin Qasim occupied Sindh and Multan in the early years of the eighth century, and established Muslim rule in this part of the South Asian sub-continent. Pakistan under the Arabs comprised the Lower Indus valley.
For the first time the people of Sindh were introduced to Islam, its political system and way of government. The people here had seen only the atrocities of the Hindu rajas... the people of Sindh were so much impressed by the benevolence of Muslims that they regarded Muhammad bin Qasim as their savior

In contradiction stood other regional accounts which cast doubts on MbQ and his contribution to Sindh. J. M. Saeed's mid-70s pamphlet Sindh Jo Soomro [Heroes of Sindh] had as the first hero, Raja Dahar:

...On the one hand was such a generous Raja Dahar and on the other hand was the Muslim conqueror and general Muhammad b. Qasim. He was the one who attacked Sindh and enslaved 3000 men and women and sold them in foreign markets. He looted upto 400 million from the Sindhi treasury and send it to his country. He dishonored the guardian of Sindh, Raja Dahar, and his two daughters. Such a cruel and inhuman person cannot be celebrated as a Ghazi and a Mujahid. No one in this country should name libraries, colleges, roads, parks and institutions after him. All natives of Sindh should recognize that Raja Dahar is our national hero and Muhammad b. Qasim is our national enemy.

It did not escape the attention of the state and Jamaíat that Sindhi nationalists had targeted MbQ as a villain. Their response was to hatchet up the indoctrination. A national day celebrating MbQ's victory over Raja Dahir was initiated. Novels were commissioned that centered on the heroic and brave struggles. Naseem Hijazi's 1948 Muhammad bin Qasim was reprinted into constant circulation. It was translated into Sindhi as well. Novelists attached to the Jama'at incorporated both a strong Sindhi pride AND admiration of MbQ into their work. Editorials, series about "Heroes of Islam", used bits of MbQ history and large doses of national jingoism to brand MbQ the true warrior of Islam and "solely" responsible for the spread of Islam.

Last thing I want to point out is that I do not want to give you the impression that the memory of MbQ is contested only between two groups, the Sindhi nationalists and the State. There are other parties involved who have no horse in that race. Literature. MbQ does offer a uniquely tragic hero against whom all manners of romantic stories can be played out. My favorite is a re-working of the Sikh legend of Sundri who defied the Mughal king within a Sindhi context - in a novel by Khaleeq Murai, Sundree. Maybe sometime I can go more into that.

But really, this is it. Dissertation Week is OVER. My four readers of the blog are down to two. It happens at parties all the time, too. No sweat. CM will now resume the scheduled broadcast.
Note: Please do check Caleb's excellent posts on his dissertation here and here. Thanks to all who read / participated.


Chan'ad | September 30, 2004

It's sad to see disseration week end... it's been fascinating, great stuff. I was wondering if you might happen to know what type of role MbQ played in the social memories of other Muslim ethnic groups in South Asia... Pathans, Kashmiris, Bengalis, UP muslims? And in particular how is MbQ conceived in the literature of post-Partition Indian Muslims? I dunno if these questions are covered inthe scope of your research, but I thought I'd ask anyways.

sultan asif | September 30, 2004

I am greatly impressed by ur work and research on MbQ, I remeber having read MbQ in our history books as Hero, who had rendered great services for Islam and we had great inspiration for his leadership in his younger age.The arabs,and sub- continent historians narrate about him differet stories ( some out of grudge )about his invasion and goverance of Sind,we just say that he was a muslim and his stay in Sind,though very short had some impression of Islam on the local community. The GM Syed likes Raja Dahir as his great ancestors like Egyptians feel proud to call themselves " Sons of Pheron" These anologies may be right but people are reluctant to admit and admire the services of most of the great leaders of this world. I appreciate your efforts, research and study in depth on this subject of past history. that is our history. May Allah provide you the best opportunities, assist and guide you to achieve further excellences in your future plans. Amen

sepoy | September 30, 2004

chan'ad: Well, there isn't that much interest in MbQ outside of urdu and sindhi speaking/reading publics. And I do go into MbQ in India...of course, that is a crucial debate as well.

Deevaan | October 01, 2004

hi, our national psyche has been permanently impacted by the islamization of our text books.In the context of 9/11 and hordes of amjad farooquis - their minds clouded with our glorious (sic) past, it is no wonder that there has been a huge backlash against minorities. nationalists carried a secular agenda. GM Syed's comment was in reaction to the assertion that MQB was a liberator. The real question is the basic psyche of the people - some have a long tradition distinct liberal voices - some endorsing the rulers and the rightwing values they espouse and this division between the left and the right is not unique to south asia

DuctapeFatwa | October 02, 2004

Thanks for this, I have really enjoyed reading it, I hope you will consider getting it its own website, it deserves it!

Von Aurum | October 04, 2004

Just finished the series of entries on MbQ. This is fascinating stuff. It confirms the conviction that history has an agenda. It makes me wonder, should history be judged by the effects that it might have on people!

Umair Ahmed Muhajir | October 08, 2004

I really enjoyed "Dissertation Week" (I'm quite new to the site, so perhaps my comment is out-of-date); keep up the great work! Umair

Shahnawaz | April 21, 2005

Raja dahir was the leader of Sindh. i really call him the leader as they were amongst our forefathers. They fought for the survival of our beloved land Sindh. he fought against the cruel dictator M. bin Qasim, and his name will be taken as the leader of Sindh. Wrong history is taught to us in the text books that M. Bin Qasim was the hero, he was not a hero but a muslim who demolished our land Sindh. LONG LIVE SINDH LONG LIVE SINDHI PEOPLE

Jehangir Rahujo, Advocate | March 03, 2006

It is the un fate of history that every invader intered in sindh with force of sward behind the curtain of sweet slogan. M.B.Qasim was one of those. He captured many girls belong to the family of Raja Dahar and sent to Iraq as a gift. We are not think that they were daughters of only Raja Dahar but they were daughters of soil and no on has right to play with the honour of others

Salman | January 22, 2010

Sepoy, Thanks for Theodore Wright's “Center-Periphery Relations and Ethnic Conflict in Pakistan: Sindhis, Muhajirs, and Punjabis”. Any further reading recommendations on Sindhi Nationalism will be much appreciated.

The Daughter of Islam | June 24, 2010

[...] 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: Before the dawn of Islam, [...]

Jehangir Rahujo, Advocate | October 15, 2010

Dear Sir/Madam, I would like to take advise from your honourship that most of people are forcing me for re-print of my books Sindh Jo Karbala, Thori Phatak Ja Shaheed and other two books which were printed in 1985-1987, my thinking is that issues became old and only part of history so least people will read those books but friends are insisting that those books are not available in the markete and same should be availbale for readers, I am facing from devil and deep sea that what I have to do ? So, your advise and remarks will be wellcomed. Jehangir Rahujo, Advocate 505,Lawyers Chambers , M.A.Jinnah Road Karachi, Cell: 0333-3884486, 0315-2272225

Hashir | July 03, 2012

Recycling tired old hackneyed clichés was your dissertation? Why bother getting a Phd then, you would've been better served by attending a Mazdur Kisan Prty meeting or two :P

sepoy | July 04, 2012