On Clans and Communities

Posted by sepoy on April 21, 2004 · 5 mins read

What would be an acclaimed blood line in the US? A source of pride and embellishment? Bushes? Kennedys? Rockafellers? There is, at least in the north-east, an interest in tracing one's lineage back to, say, the Mayflower. The true blue blood bestows a degree of respectability over the individual. Our President's clan came on the upper deck of Mayflower, the story goes. The fact that most people on the Mayflower were weavers, fishermen and farmers translates into direct lineage of the Earls and Dukes nowadays. There are other sources of geneological pride. Regional history is often a source.
In the Islamic world, there is one supreme blood line: the blood line of the Prophet's tribe, the Quraish. The descendants of this tribe affix the honorarium "Sayyid" in front of their names. The designation affords them instant respect and, in olden days, even government stipends. As evident, the "true" descendants have to battle the false claimants by drawing out and keeping handy their complete geneological chart. Pretenders are scorned in private and gossiped about in public.

In Pakistan, the crisis (yes, it is a crisis) of exalting your pedigree started right after the Partition. For a large segment of the population, the migration from India meant a new start in a new world. Old identities, families, occupations and heredities were pushed aside for newer ones. Becoming a Sayyid, a Malik, a Chaudhry, or a Mirza etc. was easily done and it was done.

This "pollution" then had to be combated by the "real" Maliks, Chaudhries who started writing and promoting Histories of ... clans in the 60s. The attempt here was three fold:
1. To expose the pretenders. Not by naming them individually, but by explicitly charting out the geographic regions where the clan lived, their occupations etc.
2. To set up members-only organizations that helped with seeking jobs, arranging weddings etc.
3. To establish the true pedigree going back to the Prophet or at least, Arabia (this was consistent with the wave of Arabization that happened in Pakistan in the 60s and 70s)

Allow me to give an example from our own clan. On my father's side, we belong to the Ara'ain Biradari (Biradari=Community). The Ara'ain community put out a History (Tari'kh-i Ara'ain) in 1963:

History: The Ara'ains are descendants of a tribe from Jericho (in present day Palestine). They came to India in the army of Muhammad b. Qasim in early 8th century. In fact, it was their bravery that won the day for MbQ as the rest of the Arab army could never have handled the ferocity of the Sindhi defense. After the conquest, the tribe settled in southern Punjab and Sindh region.
Sub casts: Sheikh (arabic word meaning elder), Shah, Mula, Malik, Mahr, Mian, Chaudhri.
Qualities: Ara'ains are hardworking, honest, non-competitive, do not give their daughters to other clans or accept dowry, genial. They never ask for handouts, never participate in fraud or illegal activity [the history lists from Henry Burton's 1854 report Thughee in Punjab to show that Ara'ains are not present]. They are Arabs!

The history goes on to enumerate the great members and families of the clan and their participation in the Independence movement and so on.

Just as same, there are other communities that set out their histories, often in contention with each other. In present day Lahore, neighbors know each others clan affiliations, marriages are settled often times in accordance with, or at the very least the knowledge of, the respective communities. "Oh, he is a Malik" is enough to introduce a thumbnail sketch of a person's character, likely occupation.

The overwhelming desire for pride and prejudice arising out of one's community tends to cloud any conversation on this subject among Pakistanis. After all, one of the things that sets the Pakistanis (read Muslims) from the Indians (read Hindus) is that the former do NOT have a caste system. So, while the exultation of one's blood lineage is good, one does not want appear as if our society is stratified and calcified by birth stations. And the point is largely accurate, there are no strict rules over intermarriages, co-mingling, or co-habitations among the different communities in Pakistan. Just preferences.


MayHa | April 26, 2004

So SAD but true...and since i come fresh from that oven i can tell you that these "prefrences" leech onto us even if we don't subscribe to this highly sratified view. i recently met someone and in spite of myself ended up asking them "what" they were...when met with confusion from their side i was forced to elaborate-" you know what i mean, are you kashmiri, punjabi, pathan, etc, etc." Said individual turned out to be a Hashimite also apparently from amongst the ppl who accompanied Muhammed Bin Qasim on his boat...must have been one hell of a boat. heh- so i was saying that even though I dont want to be that person, as in the person who wants to know where you're from- me and many others like me have been socialized to NEED to know. and so we ask...we're such slaves to socialization. it is SAD ~;(

H.I | July 14, 2006

true. i was never a believer in casts and i still not am.. and i can safely (and proudly) say that that is due to my parents who never let us indulge in such differences between humans...they taught us children in an atmosphere to respect each and everybody's induviduality...who ever they are.. i have been many times posed with the question of which cast i belonged to ..i always said i didnt know and didnt care that much.. and I in turn asked them "does it matter so much?" but ofcourse, curiosity killed the cat and inspite of myself i did wonder which cast i belonged to.. i was afraid to ask my parents that question for fear of reprimand.. but my oppurtunity opened when somebody else asked my father on a train journey and we were all there... "we're maliks" my father said.. and i heard! i dont know what rushed through me.. confusion i suppose.. i wondered what position maliks occupied in the social strata.. i didnt know that much about maliks anyway.. just chaudries who have been very popularised by the media :P ...and the only thing i knew abt them were that they were rich, property owning people in the punjab.. - im a laywoman to the cast subject! and so i came here to find out more.. i sooo agree with two statements in this article, it was as if the author took the wrods right out of my mouth -- "After all, one of the things that sets the Pakistanis (read Muslims) from the Indians (read Hindus) is that the former do NOT have a caste system. So, while the exultation of one's blood lineage is good, one does not want appear as if our society is stratified and calcified by birth stations." AND: “Oh, he is a Malik” is enough to introduce a thumbnail sketch of a person's character, likely occupation." --to just generalize everybody in a single body limits your possibilities soo much, and i hated that idea. Ofcourse, i still hold by my belief of not believing in casts...my family is definetly very flexible and proud of they are.. :) ..maliks, chaudries who cares? :) if you can make a place in society for yourslef, you're just as good as anybody!

saeed | January 08, 2008

A good piece of writing, clans are not as important nowadays as they used to be, personally my family is a siddiqi and i know three paternal aunts of my father all of whom were married to mirzas, and now a days even interracial marriages can be seen like pathans giving away their daughter to a punjabi, something that could not be imagined in previous eras, but again all these cases are from educated people. By the way in your intro you have said you have kashmiri origin which is not that of arain's