Friday, 5 February 2010

The Birth of Shia-Sunni Unity

The crowd that had gathered in Shah Bagh, Dacca (British India) that winter morning was the largest gathering of Indian Muslims in the memory of anyone living in 1906. It was the twentieth annual session of Mohammedan Educational Conference.

A miracle happened. The Indian Muslim community included the largest number of Sunnis anywhere in the world. On that winter morning of December 30, 1906, it formed a political party in which Shias and Sunni came together without the slightest friction. It was called the All-India Muslim League. Aga Khan III, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Shia sect was elected the president a year later. Welcome to the Valley of Love.

The birth of Muslim League in 1906 was the first time in the entire history of Islam that the largest Sunni community elected an Ismaili to be its president (the last time Muslims came anywhere close to this was in the days of the Umayyid Caliph Omar bin Abdul Aziz in 717 AD, and it was short-lived).

This newborn unity was taken to unprecedented heights in the next few decades. It reached the highest point in the 1940s when the same community of Indian Muslims, which included the largest numbers of Sunni anywhere in the world, declared a born Shia to be its “Quaid-i-Azam”, or great leader. Beyond the Western borders of the sub-continent, the largest Shia state of the world, Iran, was going to declare a Sunni poet, Iqbal, as its spiritual inspiration (“The present times are the Age of Iqbal,” the Iranian Poet-Laureatte Bihar declared not long afterwards).

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A Student's Reflections on the Valley of Wonderment

The following is part of an email I received from a young student on my post 'The Valley of Wonderment, 1987-2006'. I am sharing it here, and shall soon try to answer the two questions asked at the end of this excerpt:

As you say that the bookstores, libraries and cinema houses were fast vanishing when our collective life started to live in the Valley of Wonderment (1987-2006), which left the young minds of Pakistan in bewilderment. Their questions were left unanswered. Though if there had been some efficient means of bringing them closer to the literature Pakistan have produced, the films we have made and the messages our heroes have tried to convey through them, they certainly could have found the answers they were looking for. Also being in this ‘Valley’ the youngsters probably had little choice as to whom shall they make their role-models. Patriotism and positive thinking was there, but it had no direction to follow (as you quoted "they are in love but do not know with whom").

Yes, there was a time when all I knew about myself or the world was what others told me. My life was hollow and I had no solid reason to live, and consequently had no idea how shall a life be spent. Be it politics, philosophy, human behavior, arts or religion, my thoughts about life were quite superficial, dealing only with the surface, never looking for anything deeper inside. This was the time I stayed in the ‘Valley’ and although my efforts had no specific direction at that time, still it turned out to be fruitful as I was able to observe people and histories at that time which acted as a base for my future ideas and thoughts.

And now you have made me believe that every person has to pass through this stage. Perhaps it is some sort of a ‘grounding stage’ and sort of compulsory as well.

If yes, then that means that it had to be a part of our history, so that we can ask as much questions as we can, collect material which can help us fight our doubts and also in our future journey. I have always heard praises of the 20 years you have termed as the Valley of Wonderment, that there was peace all across the country, we had fewer problems and things were calm, and nowadays there is unrest everywhere, also in the heart of every Pakistani. From youngsters to their parents, from established businessmen to working class, everyone is in a strange quest. And now I feel that the ‘calmness’ of that time can be termed as ‘a collective slumber’ which ended to bring this ‘activity’ and ‘hustle and bustle’ of life. Today nearly all of us feel a need to change and revolve, although every single human being evolves in a different way, and we need to merge all the different frequencies of change in one wave of revolution.

Although I myself have not seen the James Bond film you are talking about, still I can notice the close link it has with the Pakistani public. And also ‘Living on the edge is the only way Pakistan lives’ is so true a statement! Living on the edge gives us strength and it prepares us for future, just like mechanism of immunity prepares antibodies for future use.

Now my questions to you are:

  • Am I right in saying that Valley of Wonderment provided a grounding stage for us as a nation, and no matter what, every great nation has to experience it?
  • Also, I have seen many people full of patriotism and good feelings for Pakistan but they hardly perceive depths regarding many issues faced by our country. So it can be said that they are on the right track but they still have to pass the ‘grounding stage’ and have to focus their energies more precisely?