How Ahmadis are braving the educational apartheid

It was a relatively cool evening in Rabwah, a few days ago. I was there on an invitation to attend an enthralling seminar on “The shroud of Turin”, held in a state of the art Auditorium of Nusrat Jehan College for girls.


My host was the exuberant Faateh Bajwa, deputy director of Ahmadiya community’s central education Department, referred to as Nazarat Taleem.

After the seminar I was shown around, and I must confess I was dumbstruck by the sprawling campus, fully furbished canteens, quality of facilities and the dedication of somewhat fledgling but highly motivated staff at the college.

   
Nusrat Jehan means “universal victory”. Probably, it is the name of the college that has been talismanic in helping it achieve success against all odds.
As Ahmadiya community’s flagship institute, Nusrat Jehan college in Rabwah, not only caters to girls but a separate boys campus goes by the same name as well.

For a boys college to borrow its name from a woman is unprecedented in a country where male chauvinism and patriarchy have been a norm. 

 

  

Associated with  education sector myself, I took keen interest in visiting various institutes operating under the auspices of Nazarat Taleem

Out of their 13 non-profit schools in the town, boasting a strength of over 9,000 students, the one that moved me was the Institute for special education, a school for kids with special needs.

The facility was small,  but the teaching staff had big hearts and broad smiles on their faces. 

Currently 95 Students with Celebral palsey, Epilsepsy, Physcial handicap, Intellectual and hearing impairment and  Down’s syndrome are given quality treatment regardless of caste, creed or religious. 

  

As I entered, I noticed that most of the students were going outside for their routine sporting activities. The dedicated principal, Amtul jameel sahiba, was optimistic that one day her kids would partake in Special Olympics even though no official from Pakistan’s Special Olympics committee had bothered to visit the institute, despite her regular insistence.

  

  
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to chilling indifference towards Ahmadis, as indicated by the  tumultuous history.

The biggest jolt Ahmadiyya community faced in terms of education was the policy of nationalization of private institutions enforced under Zulfiqar ali bhutto’s regime in 1970’s.

Post Bhutto’s era, all educational institutions that were nationalized were acquired back by the real owners barring the Ahmadiyya community. Till date, the community is striving unsuccessfully to reclaim the three educational institutes that were nationalized. The famous of the lot was Taleem ul Islam (TI) college, Rabwah.


The close affinity of most Ahmadis with TI college, Rabwah can be gauged by the fact that either them or their acquinatances have been associated with the once coveted insititute  in one way or the other.

A few residents also highlighted the enviable debating culture at TI colllege that even gave Government college Lahore a run for its money during its heydays.

That robust culture died a long time back, when the institution was nationalized by the state.

 Fearing persecution under the draconian regime of Zia, who succeeded Bhutto, the community members kept their lips mum.

Putting it plainly, an educational apartheid was carried out, where the state chose populism over principles by usurping educational institutes run by the peaceful minority to assuage the Mullahs.

With their backs against the wall, top leadership of the community sat down to devise a cogent program to safeguard the future of Ahmadi students in adverse circumstances. In 1991, the intial  fruit of their serious deliberation was reaped in the form of Nusrat Jehan academy, a school that caters to both boys and girls on separate campuses. 

Ever since the scheme’s inception there has been multiplicity of facilities, institutions and ideas despite limited resources. 

The pivotal aspect of this model is that it breathes the essence of volunteerism and community work. It embraces with open arms dedicated educationists from all over Pakistan who are willing to chip in with their valuable contributions.

Most Ahmadis working in Nazarat taleem are volunteers. Some have even left lucrative jobs at blue chip companies like ICI and Telenor to work in the remote town of Punjab. Mirza Fazal Ahmad, the director of the department and a Charter Accountant by academic qualification, is no exception. He is investing all his energies and resources in building the system into a sustainable one.

It was inspirational to see that low wages and limited resources have not let their shoulders droop; in fact the positive vibes have been permeative and contagious.

Nazarat Taleem’s  financial aid office operates on no-discrimination policy as well. On the list of those drawing stipends is a non-Ahmadi Baloch boy, who belongs to Ahl-e-Hadis sect. Once he contacted the relevent office for help, the department obliged by funding his undergraduate degree on humanitarian grounds.

It  is even more remarkable that all funds are self generated within the community and not a single penny is provided by the government.

Such a sustainable educational model evolved by the community, is quite a rarity in a country which is grappling with educational woes with over 25 million children out of school according to a latest survey by Alif Ailan.

Perhaps Agha khan community is the only other minority in the country that has lead by example on this account. But unlike the Agha Khanis, Ahmadis had to deal with acrimonious circumstances on a consistent basis. 


The 2010 terrorist attacks on two Ahmadi Mosques ampilified the already prevelant  anti Ahmadi sentiments on campuses, a few notches. 

Then In year 2011, a new stipulation required all Ahmadi students appearing for Punjab board exam to identify them as “non Muslims”. It was an unwanton clause that added insult to injury.

At that crucial juncture, Nazarat Taleem took a leap of faith and switched their student body to the Agha khan Board instead.

With Time, the decision proved to be a blessing in disguise. As the cutting edge Agha khan board curriculum had more to offer compared to Punjab board syllabus. 

Under proper guidance and mentorship, numerous Ahmadi students around the country secure Top positions in board and university exams on a continous basis and Nazarat Taleem magnanimously recognize all high achievers.

  
With Success as its hallmark, Nazarat taleem has been instrumental in facilitating bright Ahmadi students into prestigious institutes like LUMS and IBA on full scholarship under the merit based national outreach program evey year.

But the stories of glaring injustices in our educational landscape seem to be present in every Ahmadi household. 

Faateh shared that his own sister, along with other Ahmadi students, was rusticated from the Punjab medical college Faisalabad in 2012 merely on the account of being an Ahmadi . It all happened in broad day light and sadly no action was taken.


Nazarat Taleem’s placement centre came to their rescue and helped them secure berths in various universities across the globe and around Pakistan, where on campus atmosphere was not hostile.  

 As I reached the fag end of my two days sojourn, I was given another gracious invitation of an international medical conference to be held later this year.

Despite my non medical background, I gleefully  accepted it when the benevolent purpose of the conference was ennunciated upon me.

Two years ago when doctor Mahdi Ali, a US based Ahmadi cardiologist and an important member of Tahir Heart Hospital, was cold bloodedly murdered in Rabwah, Nazarat Taleem bounced back and filled his void by initiating an international medical conference, where doctors especially cardiologists from all over the world participated with great oomph.

    
With the second installment of the international medical conference around the corner and Doctor Abdus Salam research forum operating in full pelt, the future looks bright but the consequences of educational apartheid carried out by the state in the past and at present is what perturbs the beleagured minority.

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Sabir Zafar: The lesser known son of the soil

  

The Spanish philosopher, José Ortega Y Gasset once wrote:

“Poet begins where the man ends; The man’s lot is to live his human life, the poet’s is to invent what is non existent.”

Somehow, poets in our country go unnoticed for unknown reasons. Even those who have graced many hit songs with their lyrical poetry have failed to hog the limelight.
 

One such bard is Sabir Zafar. His unsung genius preoccupied my mind when I saw his name in lyrical credits of Jhaliya, the latest addition to coke studios and probably one of the best sufi kalaam of this season.
Sabir, a self effacing person and a low profile yet prolific lyricist, wants to be known primarily as a poet. 

Despite all the efforts of Sabir to shake off his image as a lyricist he finds himself in the company of legends like Bhulleh Shah and Waris Shah as their Troika has contributed the lyrics for the Jhaleya song from Coke studios episode 5 Season 9.

   
Segueing forward, we see Sabir’s kitty full of laurels, which his compatriots are not aware or have not taken note of. 
 His Magnus opus in my view was the patriotic ode ” hai jazba junoon tau hummat na haar” , sung by the avant-garde Junoon band.
It’s popularity skyrocketed immediately and it became a sports anthem in the country when released on the occasion of 1996 cricket world cup. The national cricket team failed to live up to the amazing lyrics is another story altogether.
The Sporting debacle did not hold back Sabir from rhythmic creation of magical words and his poetry was later rendered by Ali Azmat and Slaman Ahmad even after Junoon disbanded.
The lyrics of Ali Azmat’s song “Garaj Baras” and Salman Ahmad’s “Ghoom Ta nana” both are creation of the bohemian poet.
The way he deftly manipulates words is sublime. It feels as if every ode, ghazal, poem and lyric of his is an emotion which has found its thought. 
Another startling fact is that apparently the lesser known Sabir Zafar is omnipresent, contributing immensely everyday. This defence day was no different, when the touching biopic “Aik the maryam”, based on the life of Maryam Mukhtiar, the female fighter pilot of Pakistan, was aired.
Lyrics of the telefilm’s original sound track were the creation of Sabir Zafar, to which Zeb Bangash lent her mellifluous voice.
Jotting down names of musical giants of Pakistan ranging from Nazia Hassan, Sajjad Ali, Ali azmat, Slaman Ahmad and Zoheb hassan to Zeb bangash, All of them had the privilege of serenading on Sabir’s silky poetry.
Similarly, Sabir’s powerful lyrics were behind many hit serials’ Orginal sound tracks ala Dayar e Dil, Mano Salwa and Maat to name a few.
A prolific peot, he has 22 collections of poetry under his belt. Another feather in his cap was receiving Tamgha -e- imtiaz from the government of Pakistan in recognition for his services in the field of poetry that spans many decades. 

  
Securing the coveted accolade is no mean feat to achieve for an Ahmadi, as members from the vulnerable minority had to fight against the tide to prove their mettle in Pakistan, owing to past precedents and the prevalent narrative in the country.
Probably this aura of obscurity comes natural to Sabir Zafar, as many Ahmadis like him wake up every day to play constructive role for pakistan in their limited domain, without being noticed. 
In 1974, when Ahmadis were declared non Muslims and their houses were burnt down including some of Sabir’s close ones; despondent, he wrote the following verses :

Hamesha halqa e Na meherban mein rehtay hein 

Jo huq pay hotay hein, imtihaan mein rehtay hein 

Husud ke Aag say kis kis ka ghar jalao gay

Kay ahl e ishq tau saaray jahan mein rehtay hein
As José Ortega Gasset has aptly described, seems like Sabir Zafar is also trying to invent what is non existent in our society and that is the culture of tolerance, unity and above all syncretism, as indicated in one of his famous couplet:

Na tera khuda koi aur hai , Na mera khuda koi aur hai 

Yeh jo kismatein hein juda juda, yeh mamala koi aur hai

Bol kay lub azaad hein teray!

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Pak tea house epitomizes this urdu phrase “Bol kay lub azad hein teray” to the brim. On the bustling Mall road near the famous Anarkali bazaar of Lahore, Pak tea house has been restored yesterday — It is a big stride towards bringing back the glory days of street journalism and community involvement.

From its inception in pre partition days ( under the name of India tea house) till the vibrant 60’s — its was the incubator for churning out progressive thinking and literary luminaries across the country. It was home to anti status quo and progressive Poets like Habib Jalib and Faiz Ahmad Faiz to name a few — as part of the famous cult named ‘Halqa-i-Arbab-e-Zouq’. People would touch upon any issue of social significance from a trivial one to a taboo on a tea table. Poets and writers would light up the ambience through their pieces of art — in turn imbuing the audiences with a sense of purpose to uplift the society.

Unlike the brick and mortar coffee shops sprouting on every nook of Lahore — Pak tea house is one with a heart, where emotions can be felt. I am dying to pay homage to the place — whose contribution in shaping progressive mindsets in our country has not been celebrated in our historical archives. I hope this revival of a revolutionary hot spot lives up to its expectation of nurturing literary minds, progressive writers and intellectual gurus alike.