Top 10 myths that shape young minds in Pakistan
By: Ziyad Faisal
1.) Islam came to India through Muhammad bin Qasim, via Sindh
Not really! The first mosques and the first Muslim communities were established due to the trade connections between southern India (especially the Malabar coast) and the Arabian Peninsula – and this happened during and/or soon after the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Muslim traders soon settled in southern India, raised families and became involved in mutually beneficial exchange with the local communities. They enjoyed productive, peaceful and overall positive relationships with the local non-Muslim rulers. Muhammad bin Qasim came later.
2.) All the history of South Asian Muslims was just one big back-story for the Pakistan Movement
Nope. The stories of Muslim communities in South Asia are long, varied and complex. The Pakistan Movement of the 20th century was just one among many interpretations of the Muslim experience in the subcontinent. It became very powerful in the 1940s, but Muslims had not always been looking for ways to deal with a Hindu majority. At various periods of time, different Muslims in different regions of South Asia had different priorities. Some wanted to preserve various ruling families and dynasties. Some wanted rights for their particular ethnic groups. Some simply wanted freedom from the British, no matter how it came about or who led it. Also, not all Muslim leaders and intellectuals were on board with the Muslim League, even in the 1940s. It’s important to know about all the diversity of experience and opinion from back then, if we are to live with different opinions and perspectives today.
3.) When Muslims held power, it is because they were strictly religious and very pious – and they lost their rule when they became less religious
This is a common perspective, encouraged by some thinkers associated with modern political Islam – and often promoted in direct and indirect ways by the Pakistani educational system. Actually, the Muslims of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal periods held a wide variety of views on life. Some were indeed orthodox and strictly religious, but many more were not. Muslim rulers and elites were lovers of music, poetry, literature, arts and culture – and this was especially so during the height of Muslim political and military power in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. These people were very open to philosophical and spiritual ideas from other religions. They were admirers of beauty – both in Nature and among humans. The pleasures of earthly lovers were celebrated no less than the pursuit of Divine Love and Absolute Truth. The knowledge of preparing good food was valued and good drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike) were appreciated greatly. In fact, the increased emphasis on piety and religious revivalism was one of the many desperate responses from traumatized thinkers to the decline of Muslim power in India in the 18th and 19th centuries. The more you lose power, the more you are tempted to become closed and feel threatened.
4.) The main reason that the Muslim rulers of South Asia lost to the British was treachery
Betrayal by individuals – such as what Mir Jafar did to Nawab Siraj-ud-dawlah, can explain the outcome of a few battles, but it is only a small part of the story – and a poor explanation. The military and economic power of Muslim rulers in India was, eventually, no match for European commercial expertise, technological advancements and control of the seas. It would have taken a miracle (or a very serious change in worldview, attitude and social structure) for Muslim rulers to maintain power once the British sensed opportunity in the mid-18th century. Treachery at some critical moments from opportunistic individuals was to be expected – they could sense which way the wind was already blowing.
5.) Pakistan was created for the application of religious law
This is explicitly ruled out by the 11 August 1947 speech by Pakistan’s founder, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah – more commonly remembered as the Quaid-e-Azam. He was very clear on this point: read the speech and you’ll see.
6.) Pakistan won the 1965 war – or at least did very well
You would have to take a very new definition of victory to believe this. The administration of the then military dictator, President Ayub Khan, started the 1965 conflict believing that it could successfully start and support an uprising in the Indian-occupied part of Kashmir. They thought this rebellion would be helped by sending in Pakistani commandos. In fact, no such uprising happened – the people of occupied Kashmir did not really respond and the Pakistani troops sent behind enemy lines found themselves abandoned. The subsequent war with India was a mismanaged affair from the military leaderships of both sides. Each country threw away its premier armoured division in a poorly-conceived attack, one after the other: first Pakistan wasted its tanks of the 1st Armoured Divison at the Battle of Assal Uttar, then India wasted its own 1st Armoured Division in a similar fashion at Chawinda. Pakistan managed the air combat quite well, but at the end of the fighting at the time of the ceasefire, it stood in a worse position than India in every way.In any case, aside from the military realities, the fact is that Pakistan disrupted its Five Year Plan for economic growth, found itself internationally in a worse position than before and emerged in a strategically more difficult position than where it began the war.
7.) Bangladesh was created because India stepped in to divide Pakistan
While the massive military and political role of India cannot be denied, 1971’s tragedy was primarily a Pakistani tragedy. It had everything to do with our deplorable treatment of the Eastern wing of the country, which was a majority of the country’s population and provided a large portion of our export revenues (while taking a smaller proportion of import revenues) as compared to West Pakistan. The rulers of Pakistan basically told the Bangla people of their own country that Sheikh Mujeeb could not become Prime Minister even though he had a clear majority in parliament – anyone who had a problem with this situation was considered to be ‘anti-state’. The important point is that even if India had not intervened, Pakistan faced a horrific civil war in its Eastern wing, far from its centre of power in the Western wing. The Mukti Bahini rebels enjoyed very widespread public support in the Eastern wing. Compromise was ruled out explicitly by West Pakistani leaders. Horrific war-crimes were being committed by the state forces and by the rebels. How long could this situation have worked out, even if India had not intervened?
8.) “All religious scholars agree that…<insert idea>”
They don’t. You cannot find a single issue on which all the various diverse sects, schools of thought and shades of opinion in Pakistan agree. It is the same everywhere else in the Muslim world. You’ll just have to learn to live with others, their lifestyles and their beliefs – one way or another!
9.) We have more talent than any other nation. All we are lacking is the proper, strong, visionary leadership – and we would become an economic powerhouse.
It is true that there is an immense amount of talent wasted in Pakistan due to a lack of opportunities. But our people are just like other peoples of the world – we have some very smart people, some very dumb people and a lot of average people in the middle. We lag behind in technological development and innovation. Our educational system is far behind that of many other developing countries. As for the economic potential, it exists. But so do the massive challenges and limitations. Pakistan’s economy faces a number of structural and long-term problems, which cannot be resolved easily – no matter who is in power. They are made worse by our political instability and strategic challenges in the region. These problems cannot be simply wished away or steamrolled over, even if we get a more proactive leadership. These matters have to be resolved with patience, time and realism. We are unlikely to be the next Asian Tiger – although we can do a lot better than we are right now, of course.
10.) The world is envious of us and wants to stop our rise
Strategic competition exists between most countries and their neighbours, but there is nothing unique and unbelievable happening in Pakistan to make the world’s greatest powers combine forces against us. They spend a lot of time worrying about a lot of things – Pakistan is just one among the many items on their agenda. The world is worried about us, yes. But that is for reasons entirely different than how great we are…unfortunately!