Translator’s Introduction: September 30 earlier this week was International Translation Day while this week is also being celebrated as Banned Books Week (September 26 – October 2). As a humble translator myself and past curator of multiple editions of the first-ever Banned Books Week in Pakistan here in Lahore, the incendiary role of translation in the dissemination of insurgent ideas matters the most to me.
This was certainly ace-journalist Ahmad Bashir’s (1923 – 2004) intention when the collection of his pen-sketches Jo Milay Thay Rastay Mein (My Fellow Travelers) was published 25 years ago this year by Gora Publishers in Lahore. It did not have any writing by Bashir by way of a foreword; but in the second edition, published by Al-Faisal, also from Lahore, in March 2003, a foreword (‘Phir Raha Hai Shehr Mein Mullah Khula’) is included. When this collection came in the public view upon publication, the writers of the city received it with due respect, and it was liked. Its importance and literary status was acknowledged, but then something extraordinary happened. The affair of the brothel which he had narrated in the sketch of Chiragh Hasan Hasrat led to the ulema of the country declaring him deserving of death over the details of this sketch. They put out a fatwa of blasphemy upon him. After this, he began to receive threats from unknown people, from everywhere. He contacted the court for his security, which refused to take any action against the muftis mentioned on the newspaper details, but directed the government for the protection of Ahmad Bashir. 37 writers of Lahore gave their censorious reaction upon the fatwa of apostasy upon Ahmad Bashir and wrote columns and passed resolutions. They include Hamid Mir, Qateel Shifai, I.A. Rehman, Ejaz Haider, Safdar Mir, Munnu Bhai, Muzaffar Ali Syed, Khalid Ahmad, Sarfaraz Syed, Intizar Hussain, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Zafar Iqbal, Asghar Ali Ghural, Zafar Samdani and others. Meanwhile the attitude of the press and newspaper owners was very painful for him because nobody was willing to publish Ahmad Bashir’s essay in response. Bless these rogues, for their ‘impudence’ became a reason for writing a piece like ‘Phir Raha Hai Shehr Mein Mullah Khula’ (In the City the Mullah Roams Fearlessly) from his pen. Ahmad Bashir passed away in 2004, a year after penning this classic.
This piece, obviously, is not included in the first edition of the book. It can be deemed as a sketch of the ‘bigoted age,’ reading which one spontaneously remembers the following verse by Iqbal:
Yahi sheikh-e-haram hai jo chura kar bech khaata hai
Galeem-e-Buzar o dalq-e-Awais o chador-e-Zehra
(He is the pulpit owner who steals and sells away without a scruple
Zehra’s chador, Awais’s garment and Buzar’s mantle)
In this piece too, written by way of a foreword, his tone is full of direct harshness and playfulness. And giving references of Islamic history, he proved the continuity of the lethalities of mullahism in the period of kings, and well-rebuked the mullahs. After reading this piece, the reader of Ahmad Bashir spontaneously speaks out that all this can only be written by the pen of that man. Perhaps the pens of many others, too, have this power; there may be many others who will be brave. But such a lack of concern with the attachments of the world and personal interests as that showed by Ahmad Bashir will hardly be found in most other thinkers and writers.
On the occasions of International Translation Day, Banned Books Week and the silver jubilee of Bashir’s classic work, I am presenting his entire foreword in my original English translation, from which readers can estimate the nature and temperament of the man who wrote it, as well as the times it was written in.
I was lying in a corner reading the newspaper that the first page of the Daily Pakistan came to my attention. The big ulema of Lahore had deemed a sinner like me deserving of death by declaring me an apostate and infidel. This was the result of their Islamic foresight. It had been said that even if Ahmad Bashir repents, he should definitely be flogged.
This fatwa had been issued upon my book Jo Milay Thay Rastay Mein.
I had not compiled this book. Its material had been collected by my friends Yunus Javed by searching minutely the journals and newspapers of the last 50 years. He had found those essays whose date of publication even I did not remember. Then he met Gora Publishers and persuaded them for its publication. I did not even read its proofs, did not see its layout as well and did not take any sort of interest in its publication. I did not write the foreword too, in that why would I waste time on something so insignificant? I did not also have a big author write its flap, lest somebody praise me out of kindness. A great reason for this is firstly my natural modesty and humility. Secondly the ideas I have about high literature, I think my book did not live up to those.
But why did the maulvis deem me as deserving of death? Maulana Abdul Qadir Azad, Dr Israr Ahmad, Maulana Abdul Maalik, Maulana Abdul Rahman Ashrafi, Dr Maulana Murtaza Malik, Maulana Abdul Qadir Ropri, Qazi Abdul Qadeer Khamosh and Hafiz Abdul Qudoos, who called me deserving of death and provoked the people to flog and punish me; none of them heard my story, did not read my book and did not view any evidence. Was this not an un-Islamic and illegal procedure?
There was no discussion of heresy, apostasy or rebellion against Allah […] in this book. By the grace of God, I am a Muslim, if a sinner. I have not stolen anyone’s money, have not oppressed anyone, have not committed the crime of being a slave to any government, my fame as a journalist and human is good. In a long career of 48 years, if I was accused at all, it was of rebellion against the system. I do not have any property too. I cannot pay the rent of the house from my lawful earning, so I live in a room of my son-in-law’s home. I don’t even have any longing, nor any regret and I am not the victim of some fear as well. Then what happened? Why was it that the great maulvis of Lahore who do not tire of beating the drum of their political honesty and foresight, became enemies of my life?
They are the same who outside the Assembly and behind the peoples’ back compiled the Objectives Resolution sitting in Murree and granted Allah – Who is Omnipotent over time and space – the sovereignty of Pakistan so that the people of Pakistan do not have the right to rule and they become the pack animals of maulvis, officers and big landlords
The thing was just that I wrote in my memoirs that 48 years ago from today I went for an interview with Maulana Chiragh Hasan Hasrat in order to be an employee at the daily Imroze as a journalist. This interview lasted approximately 6 hours and he studied my personality and every colour in it. It was not easy becoming a journalist at that time. The disposition, education, cultural background, study, general knowledge and mental inclinations of students were considered in their selection.
I had exactly narrated the mention of this incident in the account of my interview. There was neither a matter of arrogance or pride in it, nor I had persuaded anyone to drink liquor; or had I said to someone that they must go to the top room of Billo Bai and hear raag Des.
There is very much nothing there now – some 45 years ago I had stopped going there because then there was no woman left there who could sing classical music. Then if anyone had seen me in Heera Mandi, he should speak. The maulanas cannot give evidence because they generally do not drink and go to offer prayer in the Shahi Mosque when they pass Heera Mandi. A sinner like me has not even offered prayer in the Shahi Mosque.
But I have seen that very early in the morning some maulvis go towards Heera Mandi from Bhati Gate. Early in the morning, prayer or song and dance very much does not happen, those maulvis go to teach the Quran and prayer to the children of the songstresses and in lieu of this service, also receive some payment from the unlawful earning of courtesans. These maulvis are not carefree and prosperous like Maulana Abdul Qadir Azad, Dr Israr Ahmad and Maulana Murtaza Malik; they are poor labourers and have to earn their living.
I have seen some great maulanas also go from Bhati Gate towards Heera Mandi after sunset, but they go to eat the paayas (trotters) of Phajja. And an illegal limit cannot be issued upon eating the paayas of Phajja. Maulana Abdul Qadir Azad, Dr Israr Ahmad, Maulana Murtaza Malik and other ulema too like trotters; their stomachs are swollen with the yeast of their unearned income, but they do not visit Heera Mandi. They have full cooking pots sent for at homes through their students. I do not mention their other services within mujras.
The time I have mentioned, meaning that of 1948, the maulvis were silent at that time. The maulvis of the Ahrar, the Khaksar, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and the Jamaat-e-Islami had firmly opposed the movement for a national home for the Muslims in the name of Islam. In the name of Islam indeed had they supported a Hindu-majority united India, but despite the issue of their illegal limit, Pakistan had very much come into existence.
In 1948 the Quaid-e-Azam was alive. The Objectives Resolution too had not been enforced yet and the maulvis were restless in that how to wash the stain of opposing Pakistan and how to capture this country. No movement to turn the country into a religious state had risen up yet, the maulvis had not considered Pakistan to be their personal property yet. They had not become the claimants of being the deputies of Allah yet. The people of Pakistan still had civic freedoms. Lips were free yet. A few people still used to drink quietly too, like before and there used to be raag-creation too in Heera Mandi. These ordinary recreations were not considered to be apostasy, unbelief and rebellion against Allah […], and nobody was deemed deserving of death because of these deficiencies. Jogendranath Mandal was the Law Minister. Chattopadhyaya of Bengal was the leader of the Opposition and the Qadiani Sir Zafarullah was the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. This was a national state with a Muslim majority in which the non-Muslims had equal rights; it was not a religious state and this very same was the Pakistan of the Quaid-e-Azam.
At that time drinking was not forbidden. There was a general custom of listening to the mujra as well, for those who had the ability to do so. The paternal grandson of our greatest poet and thinker, with whom the dream of Pakistan is attributed, pointed in a newspaper statement in the month of April 1996 that my paternal grandfather drank as well, and that the mujra too was a part of our culture.
In Pakistan, only we poor people cannot drink, otherwise most of our political leaders, most generals, most civil officers, most landlords, most industrialists, most intellectuals and some ulema and a few girls of good families which also include middle-class girls of good families, drink ‘roz-e abr-o-shab-e mahtab mein’ (on cloudy days and moonlit nights)
The maulvis must have been ashamed at this, but nobody spoke. Iqbal had been deemed an infidel long ago but not for drinking or watching a mujra but for complaining to Allah that why are we damned and oppressed though we take Your name, but the fatwa of unbelief was very much given to the Quaid-e-Azam; moreover he was called Kafir-e-Azam by these same maulvis. Not because he was accused of drinking or watching a mujra but because he used to demand a non-religious, national home for Muslims and wanted to separate from India.
Nationality or nationalism is intolerable for the maulvis. They consider it synonymous with rebellion against Allah […]. Actually they are stuck on monarchy. When it was lawful to obliterate borders of countries and nations and to loot and plunder; when the victors were called the Shadow of God; when the heads of the vanquished were raised on towers proudly.
800 years after the destruction of Baghdad when these same maulvis rebelled against Allah […] by shutting the door of ijtihad and shut the Muslims within the blind well of ignorance and nostalgia, the creative flow of Islam assumed the shape of a dirty pond, upon which the maulvis are sitting frozen like foul-smelling moss. Till today no maulvi has visited the mausoleum of the Quaid-e-Azam because no devotee very much visits the mausoleum of the Kafir-e-Azam, be he the creator of a Muslim state. Anyone who gives fatwas and deems poor Muslims deserving of death has not offered fateha on his benefactor because he established a national state. After his death they allied with civil and military officers and landlords to make a plan to take over Pakistan. But who are these maulvis? They are the same who gave a fatwa to Yazid that the murder of Hussain (RA) is lawful. Who had given the fatwa on Mamunul Rashid’s interrogation that the Quran is created not ancient meaning it can also be changed and it is finite as well like other creations. They are the same who had had Imam Abu Hanifa flogged. They are the same who had the founders of all the basic sciences and the claimants of the intellectual revolution of Islam, the Mutazalites killed selectively and had their books burnt. They are the same who had given Hulagu Khan the title of ‘Just King’ when he had coloured the doors and walls of Baghdad with Muslim blood. They are the same who hanged Mansur Hallaj upon the scaffold, severed the neck of Sarmad Shaheed, called Shah Hussain an unbeliever and stoned Bulleh Shah. They are the same who had given king Akbar the authority to invent his own religion by deeming him an authority; its author too was very much a religious scholar named Mullah Mubarak. They are the same who had kissed the hands of the British upon the destruction of Delhi and had ordered the Muslims of India in the light of a fatwa that they should obey the British since they are People of the Book.
They are the same who outside the Assembly and behind the peoples’ back compiled the Objectives Resolution sitting in Murree and granted Allah – Who is Omnipotent over time and space – the sovereignty of Pakistan so that the people of Pakistan do not have the right to rule and they become the pack animals of maulvis, officers and big landlords. They are the same who deemed the race lawful and Islamic on the solvent condition in which gambling is openly practiced.
They publicize the Islamic system in the country but cannot tell us as to what this system is beyond the penalties, limits and fatwas or how will this system solve our problems for example unemployment, inflation, class struggle, violence, crime, bribery and injustice. One solution is very much that whoever speaks, he should be deemed deserving of death but this is not the Islamic solution to the problem. They do not even have as many swords as the Muslims who were deserving of death.
But these warriors of Islam pressed the beards in the teeth and pulling out their swords sent the horses galloping – that whoever come in front, they will have him murdered.
37 writers of Lahore though issued a statement in which it was said that this fatwa of the ulema is un-Islamic and we condemn it, but this statement was not published by anyone except one daily Pakistan
These maulvis do not watch every side. Now taste has been replaced by bad taste. Heera Mandi is very much alive but now raag-creation does not happen here, here the traders of the small towns of Punjab earn profit to listen to the cheap songs of Punjabi films at night and watch the vulgar mujras of corpulent courtesans. Now filth has replaced finesse and sexual violence has replaced art.
The prostitution business does not happen in Heera Mandi, the posh areas of Lahore are reserved for it for example Gulberg, Defence and descending from it, Iqbal Town, Krishan Nagar etc.
Now a hundred percent more wine is drunk compared to 1948 when it was not prohibited. See the piles of empty bottles lying behind the MNA Hostel of Islamabad. In the Chamba House, in the deep shadows and deep drains, with face and head covered, walking with stealing glances, entering rooms, beloveds on rent tell stories some of which are sometimes published too. Since the maulvis have become fond of politics, they study the newspapers regularly. Have they ever issued a fatwa of murder against these rich and powerful people?
In Pakistan, only we poor people cannot drink, otherwise most of our political leaders, most generals, most civil officers, most landlords, most industrialists, most intellectuals and some ulema and a few girls of good families which also include middle-class girls of good families, drink roz-e abr-o-shab-e mahtab mein (on cloudy days and moonlit nights). And in addition, if we look at the import list, pig meat too comes to Pakistan since a few years in packed boxes. Can any maulvi tell that who are its consumers?
But when was drinking unknown in Islamic history, after the Four Righteous Caliphs (May God be pleased with them), however many Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, Ottomans, Fatimids, Moors and Mughals became king, most of them remained intoxicated and the modesties of virgins were turned upside down in their harems. The king who had summoned Muhammad bin Qasim to Baghdad sewn in the raw leather of a bull, was in a state of hard intoxication while writing the order. It is recorded in the Chachnama that when he summoned both daughters of Raja Dahir who had been sent to him as gifts, for copulation at the same time, they said: ‘Sire, we are unable to be of service to you, your general has sent us stained.’ Whatever happened afterwards, is fearful but our discussion has no relation to it, and I do not want to mess it up with the maulvis.
A few sultans also drank and the Mughals entirely except Aurangzeb very much used to drink moreover also consumed opium which they called an electuary. Many ulema also consume opium but not for intoxication, rather for taste. Now if along with that they also get intoxicated, so what is their fault?
But in our country, the maulvis have become wolves due to their continuous propaganda and the encouragement of dishonest rulers who themselves drink daily. Ayub Khan’s drinking is not covered and hidden from anyone and Yahya Khan very much remained immersed in wine and women all the time. The maulvis never objected to meeting him. They never gave a fatwa of murder against him moreover one fat maulvi had called him the Great Mujahid who often met the maulvis with a glass in hand; but he was a powerful man and there were worldly losses and advantages to be had from him.
The state of the maulvis’ menace is such that since I am a financially weak man, I do not have a lobby too, reading the fatwa I thought that I should request Mr Khalilur Rahman, Chief Justice High Court that he take notice of this matter voluntarily meaning suo motu and have my F.I.R. registered. His saintly beard upon which a handkerchief of purity is tied and the arch gleaming on his forehead keeps up the spirit, but he remained silent in that “If the police does not file an F.I.R. then why should I put my hand in the beehive?”
I put up a petition to Iqbal Ahmad Khan, Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology that what type of Islam is it which deems a person deserving of death without listening to his statement? He too remained silent.
Dr Khalid Ranjha, President Bar Association ignored my petition. Raja Zulqarnain, President Peoples Law Forum too did not speak. C.R. Aslam said that he will file a writ after talking to Mr Manto but he did not budge and nor did he make any move. Syed Afzal Hyder too remained silent. Dr Mubashar Hasan too did not turn a side. A distressed woman Asma Jahangir said “Come to me, let’s do something.”
The Punjab Union of Journalists, of which I am a founder member and have at the front of its every fight, did not take any notice despite my petitions. I also wrote to Mr I.H. Raashed that you are among the lasting righteous deeds; use your influence and have the Punjab Union of Journalists issue a statement, he too remained quiet.
I requested of Mr Irshad Haqqani: “You are the most powerful intellectual of the country. You told the secrets of democracy to Ziaul Haq, Benazir, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Nawaz Sharif and Farooq Leghari, and gave a few pieces of advice daily to us ignorant ones too. The maulvis too are afraid of you and both the leftists and rightists are terrified of you, it is true. I also have personal terms of obedience with you. You are well-aware of my moral and political character. Do not be partial!” But he is an agent of the system, he too remained quiet.
37 writers of Lahore though issued a statement in which it was said that this fatwa of the ulema is un-Islamic and we condemn it, but this statement was not published by anyone except one daily Pakistan, other things apart, APP which is a government news agency and whose overseer Azhar Suhail is kind to me, did not consider this news worthy of publication.
All translations are by the author. Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2021. He can be reached at email@example.com