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.
But friends helped me too. Mr Asghar Ali Ghural, Mr Qateel Shifai, Mr Hamid Mir, Mr Zafar Iqbal, Mr Sarfaraz Syed, Mr I.A. Rehman, Mr Zafar Samdani, Mt Ejaz Haider, Mr Intizar Hussain, Mr Safdar Mir, Mr Munnu Bhai and Mr Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi said words of well-being in my favour, other people also raised hands in prayer for example, Muzaffar Ali Syed and Khalid Ahmad.
The matter is not about my safety. The matter is about principle. The practice of giving fatwas of murder has begun and that too one-sided, in the last many weeks. People against whom fatwas have been given, among them Raana Shaikh, Asma Jahangir, federal ministers who made the bill for pardoning women’s hanging and Ahmad Faraz have become deserving of death or their marriages dissolved, and, according to the maulvis, they are begetting bastard children.
The maulvis have got nothing to offer upon the name of Islam. They do not know that Islam is the root of leveling the highs and lows and its objective is Man but the maulvis are adamant that this is a murderous and flogging, bloodthirsty religion. The West says the very same thing.
Stories are very much published about maulvis. A high-order brothel-house of one Madam Tahira operated in Islamabad. Her clients included a few maulvis apart from big officers, politicians and landlords as well. According to news information, Madam had installed secret cameras in her bedrooms through which she used to capture the films of the spontaneities, agitations and intoxications of her educated girls and their respectable clients in that the thing which is kept safe very much comes in handy at some time or the other. She was arrested so she handed all the films to the police; and one of her young prostitutes gave a statement in the newspaper that if anyone touches Madam, she would reveal such secrets that the earth would explode. Hearing this threat, the government suppressed the matter because officers, maulvis and MNAs too were revealed in it. The aforementioned maulvi said that all this has been done by Nawaz Sharif and the CIA, since he had insisted upon the imposition of Shariah.
The trade union of the ulema fights among themselves but against the poor they have a united front
Now let us mention Maulana Abdul Qadir Azad too, who has said that the head of this sinner be cut off, because the same very much happens in Saudi Arabia. And in this connection the ulema and the people must not look towards the government, but very much themselves bring forth the sword from the sheath.
The Maulana is probably the sole person of Lahore who has 4 wives simultaneously – meaning in this matter at least he obtains full concession from Shariah. His real younger brother had filed a petition against the Maulana a few years ago in the High Court, which has been published in the biggest Urdu paper of Pakistan; and with the same reference I should say that according to the younger brother, the Maulana has kept his fifth wife in his harem despite divorcing her. He utters dirty expletives at home, does not pray. In the Iraq-Kuwait war he spent lavishly courtesy Saddam Hussein, promising that he will make Nawaz Sharif support Iraq; took a bribe from Saudi Arabia; obtained properties in Murree through deception, etc, etc.
Light is shone over the moral character of the Maulana through this but another news was also published in the newspapers in succession and that was that the Maulana complained in his department that his age which he had revealed at the time of beginning employment, should be reduced by 9 years, “because I have come to know now that I am 9 years younger than my revealed age.” His goal was to have an extension of 9 years in his employment and be saved from getting retired. The department considered this application; asked the Maulana for proofs of younger age and eventually rejected the application by deeming his claim a lie. This news, too, was published in the papers.
What right does such a man have to deem a humble person like me deserving of death? I very much have the fame of an honest man in the entire country. This official bull provokes the ulema and the people that rise up and sever the head of Ahmad Bashir. This liar is outside the country’s law.
Bhutto awakened the fallen maulvi in the country by injecting him, otherwise he was lying in a corner very much like a half-dead snake. Eventually this snake ate him alive as well. Zia-ul-Haq made that maulvi into the snake of Zahhak
I do not say anything about Dr Israr Ahmad. He is not dishonest, merely a narcissist and the arrogance of knowledge crawls in his blood like a snake. He has become matured in his faults. He thinks that only he understands Islam. He has the passion of a newly-converted Muslim Bedouin and he has tamed about 200 persons as a result of the struggle for his 50-year old system of the Caliphate; who offer the Friday prayer behind him and listen to the sermon. He too without summoning me, without reading my book and without inspecting any evidence, burnt me alive like the Spanish priests of the Middle Ages. But fame is his weakness too, and he wants that his name keep appearing in the papers in one form or the other. His thirst is not quenched in any manner and he is in distress for this same desire.
The wish for fame too cut the ground from under the feet of Dr. Maulana Murtaza Malik, Fazil-e-Madinah. I considered him a religious scholar, though his sermons which he gave on TV always remained unsatisfactory. Why they remained unsatisfactory, because like other halva maulvis, he too does not link Islam with the present problems of life. Actually he knows that this cannot solve any problem. But what is the harm in raising a slogan? One gets programs on TV, one gets famous and obtains a lot by the grace of God with which a retired clerk of the A.G. Office can reside in a bungalow of an expensive area like Zaman Park; but this Fazil-e-Madinah turned out to be very much a donkey for Jesus. Should Jesus go for Hajj, he will return as a Haji but the donkey he will ride upon will very much remain a donkey. And he will issue a lawful limit upon the confession of lawful sins without any research; but the donkeys upon which a few books are laden, who has given them this authority. I regret that I had once prayed behind Maulana Murtaza Malik at the home of Syed Sarfaraz Ahmad Shah. Allah forgive my sins.
Bhutto awakened the fallen maulvi in the country by injecting him, otherwise he was lying in a corner very much like a half-dead snake. Eventually this snake ate him alive as well.
Zia-ul-Haq made that maulvi into the snake of Zahhak. This Zahhak was a king in the Iranian mythology who really liked delicious foods. He was a cruel person and mankind was very aggrieved by him. When his cook sought his leave due to old age, Zahhak said, “Say what is your demand?: The cook said, “Just two kisses on Sire’s bare shoulders.”
He went after kissing the bare shoulders of the king two times but the next day two snakes grew upon the place of the kisses, which used to demand that the king serve them the brain of his children daily, otherwise they would keep biting him.
Zia-ul-Haq habituated these bearded snakes to eat the brain of the poor Muslims of Pakistan and set the newspapers to washing their dishes.
In Pakistan, there is an alliance of the police, politicians, goondas and maulvis. The politicians and goondas very much get caught sometimes but nobody has ever put a hand on the maulvi. I too was forbidden by many people: “Stay silent, do not go out, do not listen to the telephone because the maulvis have armies of assassins. The police will not help you and the newspapers will not publish your appeal!” And indeed, it happened very much like this.
But it will not be wrong to say this too. Majeed Nizami, since he is among the elders, that is why I always greet him with respect though I cannot say with certainty that he recognizes me or not. He is a terrific supporter of Islam and the guardian, too, of Islamic values. His paper Nawa-i-Waqt did not publish the news of my obligatory murder but in his column Sar-e-Rahe (In Passing) made fun of my respectable sister Parveen Atif in the manner of the musicians. Parveen Atif remained the elected Vice-President of the International Hockey Federation for years and she ran a campaign for the right of women to sports in Pakistan. Recently she resigned from the post of Director-General Women’s Sports, taking the view that “the bureaucracy does not let me work.” She is also the author of 2 books and is viewed with respect throughout the country. She is not responsible for any of my sins. A reporter gentleman had asked her “What do you think about your brother?” So she said “My brother is a true believer and well-charactered person. He neither bowed nor sold out to anybody all his life.” Upon this, the paper of Mr Majeed Nizami made a dirty taunt on my honourable sister. Is this same a model of his Islamic morals?
Following Data sahib, I say about these people who try to give me grief, may God save them.
Springs of wine issue in Pakistan, those who sell and buy them are both Muslims. Some among them are those who pray regularly. Prostitution is not done by hereditary courtesans now rather girls of good family do it, who have to support their children, their younger siblings and their aged parents. Here despite the claims of Islam there is no demand for wealth distribution and our Islamic government which gives and procures various types of funds to the halva maulvis, does not take responsibility for the bread, clothing, shelter, education, health and house rent for the poor people. Has any fatwa-toting maulvi ever protested upon this?
The trade union of the ulema fights among themselves but against the poor they have a united front.
In Pakistan, there is an alliance of the police, politicians, goondas and maulvis. The politicians and goondas very much get caught sometimes but nobody has ever put a hand on the maulvi. I too was forbidden by many people: “Stay silent, do not go out, do not listen to the telephone because the maulvis have armies of assassins. The police will not help you and the newspapers will not publish your appeal!” And indeed, it happened very much like this
These ulema say that these afflicted women who are forced upon prostitution to remain alive, ought to be killed. But they never say that the landlords, politicians, officers, industrialists and those aged rich who squeeze and mangle their bodies in the cool courtyards of Murree, Bhurban and Islamabad deserve to be killed. I or my honoured teacher Maulana Chiragh Hasan Hasrat have not spoiled the society of this country; suffocation and economic unevenness has ruined it. The maulvis do not give civic freedoms to anyone. Hunger has changed values. The loot and plunder and luxuriousness of the upper class raised the bodily desires and in this connection there is no difference between the ulema and sinners like us. They are the dog of the [material] world, we are the dog of the world as well. Lies, hypocrisy, grandeur-worship, vainglory, acquisition of money and lust seized everyone. Now who is deserving of death and who has the right to remain alive? No ignorant maulvi ought to decide this, leave it to Allah. The maulvi is one reason for our spiritual decline. He does not have knowledge and lacks humility too within him.
In the society where the American dollar will arrive, in it burgers, Coca Cola, break-dance, alienation, sexual waywardness, drinking, violence and crime too will gain force. In the society where economic unevenness and oppression will occur, unbelief too will occur. This flow cannot be stopped with the murder of Ahmad Bashir but the maulvis have never even demanded economic justice. They merely flog and murder. I had written this essay on the bidding of Daily Pakistan because the maulvis had targeted me from this very front. But the editors were struck dumb upon reading the essay. Our newspapers do not tolerate disagreement with the traditional and outdated image of religion, be it done very much with the reference of the Quran. All are afraid of the maulvis, because they have a tongue and tone – and every Friday they are in the habit of roaring and pouring at the pulpit too; and one was very much not expecting from anybody to publish it because they were not prepared to publish the mere news. Then I thought that I had not written the preface to Jo Milay Thay Rastay Mein, now I very much have something to say, so I should include it as preface in the second edition, that my viewpoint can reach the conscious reader. A weekly in Karachi has also agreed to publish it. I will also test it. Its editor is a woman and if a woman becomes a rebel, then she can challenge the maulvi. But that chaste woman, too, remained quiet.
Now listen to the events afterwards as well. After the telephone call of Asma Jahangir, I met an A.S.P. [Assistant Superintendent of Police] of Lahore. He said after viewing the news that this is very much a very dangerous matter. “You go home at ease. The concerned S.H.O. will himself come to your home.” Then he marked my petition to D.S.P. Legal in front of me and wrote that the report must be submitted today.
But the policeman duped me.
I kept waiting for the concerned S.H.O. sitting at home for two months, then I understood and met my kind friend Ehsan Wyne Advocate. He said, “Our judiciary is conservative and scared to an extreme degree. They will do nothing but since you have never accepted any good advice all your life, so I will file a writ in the High Court on my own expense.”
Indignation was spread over the face of the judge. He had rejected the first 8 writ petitions. The lawyers kept screaming “With respect, pay attention, be alert” but he did not listen to anybody; when he did say, it was “Do listen that this is not a panchayat.”
Then my turn came. Immediately after viewing the file, he said that this is merely a newspaper cutting and we do not consider newspaper cutting to be evidence.
Ehsan Wyne said: “Honourable Sir the National Awami Party was prohibited on the base of a newspaper cutting. President Nixon had to leave the Presidency of the United States on the basis of a newspaper cutting. In 1907 Maulana Hasrat Mohani was sentenced to four years’ rigorous imprisonment because of a newspaper cutting. In our time, Justice Khalil Ahmad take suo motu notice on the base of newspaper cuttings, then the case of Sheikh Muhammad Rashid in the name of Daily Nawa-i-Waqt went on for 5 years, the case went upto the Supreme Court but nobody said that a newspaper cutting does not carry the status of legal evidence. Defamation and libel cases too are heard upon newspaper reports.”
After the telephone call of Asma Jahangir, I met an A.S.P. [Assistant Superintendent of Police] of Lahore. He said after viewing the news that this is very much a very dangerous matter. “You go home at ease. The concerned S.H.O. will himself come to your home.” Then he marked my petition to D.S.P. Legal in front of me and wrote that the report must be submitted today.
But the policeman duped me
The judge said, “But I have said right that I do not accept a newspaper cutting as legal evidence.” He said this thing orally, did not write it in the decision.
An appeal had been made in the case that the ulema who had provoked the people and ulema against Ahmad Bashir that they not wait for any action of the government but should rise with the sword in full force and sever his head because the same very much happens in Saudi Arabia; an order should be issued to file a case of incitement to murder against them. No police inspector has the authority to refuse to file a report, yes, if after suitable investigation he thinks that the report is inaccurate, then he can end the case. The law says the same.
The decision which the judge wrote, according to it the ulema had talked in general terms and had expressed merely their juridical opinion, but because Ahmad Bashir gets threats on the telephone, so the concerned S.H.O.is ordered to put the former’s phone under observation and if anybody threatens him, a report should be filed against him.
Besides the S.S.P. Lahore is directed that should Ahmad Bashir wish, then the former should provide a guard for the latter’s security.
The judge acknowledged the danger to Ahmad Bashir’s life but did not issue the order for registering a report against the ulema.
This same was very much our appeal. I had not demanded an armed guard. In a way our writ petition was dismissed. The decision written by the judge can be analyzed and blown to smithereens but what is its use?
The contempt of court law had been compiled by the British to spread their terror. The judge has the authority of contempt of justice but if the petitioner talks even with circumstantial argument or protests, then he will be forced into the crime of contempt of court. In this law the judge is very much himself the plaintiff, himself the arbitrator and himself the executioner. Even after 1947 this furious law which carries no aspect of justice, is standing with naked sword in hand.
And now conditions are assuming a very dangerous turn. In this very week the commissioner of Sargodha was killed. The second day Maulana Abdul Karim Mushtaq lost his life, the third day there was a massacre in Imamia Colony. These were all the exploits of religious madmen. I had wanted to register a report against the fatwa-toting maulvis so that the religious madmen be stopped. I did not myself want everlasting life a bit. Kill, if you want to. One has to very much die one day. I do not say that our judiciary is a supporter of religious madness but since the time of Zia-ul-Haq, half-educated maulvis who call themselves the ulema have become a strong pressure group. The pulpits of mosques and offices of newspapers are their hideouts. They get 3 percent votes in the elections but their strength and reputation is limitless. The policemen too are afraid of them. The judges are also afraid. They can free their juridical elephants upon anyone they want after declaring him as a communist, apostate and unbeliever; raise by the snout to throw down; trample under the feet.
No newspaper wrote anything on the fatwa for my obligation to murder, nobody spoke. The offices of all have been attacked. All are conquered. All are quiet:
In the City the Mullah Roams Fearlessly
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
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic 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 2022. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org