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

The Pakistani Saga

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Recent developments in Pakistani society has led me to the conclusion that the ongoing orgasm of schadenfreude is not only restricted to local media industry — which has resorted to cannibalism through mudslinging and nitpicking — In fact it has engulfed all spheres of our society.

Farzana Parveen and Doctor Ali Mahdi are the latest casualties — One a helpless pregnant lady and other a hapless Ahmadi doctor; both victims of defeatist mind set.

These recurrent tragedies call for a postmortem of our societal norms in general.

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Robert Bolt’s epic play “A man for all seasons” seems to epitomise the prevailing societal norms in Pakistan to the core. I reckon our society runs rife with the characters of Lord Thomas More, Richard Rich, Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII. Analysing each is pivotal.

Take the case of Lord Thomas More, the protagonist in the play. He comes across as a conscientious and devout to his faith Pakistani. Periodically he wrestles between his moral uprightness and moral turpitude. Just like any regular Pakistani, he is forced to bend rules under rampant corruption, a gift of inept system.

On one instance just to safeguard his guiding beliefs, Thomas More is seen as finding legal loopholes in the constitution after being wrongly accused as a traitor by state machinery (King Henry VIII and his aides) — Liberal and outspoken Pakistanis from civil society including a number of journalists, social activists and some politicians can correlate with the tag of a “traitor” for staying steadfast to their set of values.

Then there are the likes of Richard Rich, who are always on the look out to cut corners and get worldly means even if they had to stoop to slander and smear campaigning, merely to settle old scores. Juxtaposing the scenario, we observe that not a single day passes by when an Ahmadi or a christian doesn’t get wrongly accused on account of blasphemy by an opportunist like Richard Rich.

Next in line is Thomas Cromwell, who has vested agenda. He covertly works to lure the strayed Richard Rich into his bait. Thomas Cromwell is a mentality that incites the arson attack on girl’s school van in Panjgor, Baluchistan, triggers the shooting of Malala Yousaf Zai and provokes family members to stone pregnant Farzana Parvin to death in bright daylight. Thomas Cromwell is not part of the mob, in fact he incites Mob mentality across the country.

Another highly eccentric character is that of King Henry VIII. He is portrayed as a flirting romanticist and at the same time a despotic dictator who toys with the constitution, religious norms and people’s fates — merely to grind his own axe.(To put things in the play in perspective, King Henry VIII resorts to religious reforms solely to marry Anne Boleyn. This leads to a reformation movement that turns the religious landscape in the country topsy turvy).

Throughout history, the shenanigans of a myriad of political leaders in Pakistan have stacked them with the likes of King Henry vIII.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a hitherto secular, drafts a constitution that ostracises minorities from the social fabric, summons the second islamic conference in Lahore and forms an Islamic Bloc to entertain his cheeky ambitions of becoming the leader of Muslim world. That changes the socio politico landscape of Pakistan for good.

Bhutto’s nemesis Zia Ul Haq is no different to King henry VIII either. In quest of the holy grail, he abets Americans to outsmart the communists in Afghanistan by engendering militancy. He virtually takes Bhutto’s Islamisation campaign to the next level by leveraging cold war to his own advantage. he drafts the Haddood ordinance and tightens noose over the minorities by reinforcing the blasphemy law through the infamous ordinance XX.

All of these character are still playing their part virtually according to the script in Today’s Pakistan, that has been officially turned into a confused milieu. The only difference is that the likes of Lord Thomas More are getting scant with every passing day. Where as unscrupulous Richard Rich are being empowered by the Thomas Cromwell mafia of the society.

On the other hand King Henry VIII every now and then, finds a way out to bend rules with utter impunity in order to safeguard his personal interests.

As far as Rule of law and Justice are concerned, well they are attributed with slang like RIP in the land of the pure.

Honouring Zafarullah !

20130902-020754.jpg Try asking the apolitical youth of pakistan about Iftakhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and even they will connect with the man, through the lawyer’s movement. where as not many could relate to Sir Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah khan, the former President of the International court of justice, who rendered a great service to Pakistan in particular and the Muslim world in general.

Zafarullah khan’s name is buried in the lowest abyss of pakistan’s historical archives just like many unsung heroes of the past. It is a pity that subcontinent’s smartest legal mind is hardly acknowledged for his efforts, leave alone being remembered on his death anniversary, which happens to be on the 1st of September.

To a large extent, this bizarre indifference has got to do with his religious affiliation as an Ahmadi. Zafarullah, the Jurist with a Midas touch, had an illustrious career worth sharing. Considered destiny’s child he was born in a small town of Daska. His mother dreamt of him becoming the chief justice one day. Zafarullah commemorated the unrelenting faith of his mother posthumously in his book titled ‘ Meri Walda’ (my mother).

Recounting his prodigious academic achievements would be difficult. Rather it would suffice that he studied at Government College Lahore under the tutelage of Allama Iqbal, only to be called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn after completing his Law degree with distinction from the King’s college London.

Lincoln’s inn was not zafarullah’s only affiliation with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as it is clearly evident from history that he was a close aide of Quaid e Azam and had his approval on most instances. He first rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jinnah and Gandhi during the round table conferences on Indian reforms in London.

On the behest of Quaid-e-Azam, he represented the Muslim League before Radcliffe Boundary Commission. His immaculate role during that tricky phase of partition was highly commendable. Many notables had gone on record to pay tribute to the great man’s devotion towards the cause of a separate homeland for the muslims.

In pre partition era, his services as a true Muslim leagean can’t be ignored as well. He was the legal brain behind drafting the Lahore resolution of 1940, apart from representing the muslims of India as the member of viceroy’s council.

Post independence, he was cherry-picked by none other than Qauid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as Pakistan’s first foreign affairs Minister. He fought for the rights of the suppressed nations especially the muslim countries during his tenure. As the head of the delegation, he represented Pakistan in United Nations’ General Assembly and advocated the stand of the Muslim world on the Palestinian issue.

His 1947 speech at the UN Security Council for the palestinian cause sets yardstick for being the most eloquent case put forth in favour of Palestinians thus far. In recognition of his efforts he was awarded the highest civilian honour by Syria, Egypt and Jordan alike. (Transcript of Zafaraullah Khan’s speech in UN SecurityCouncil 

At the UN Security Council, he strongly proposed the liberation of the occupied Kashmir, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, North Ireland, Eritrea and Indonesia. Even as president of the UN General Assembly, he left no stone unturned to propound a strong case of Kashmir. In the process, he met a number of dignitaries including President Kennedy to bring Kashmir issue to the fore.

Not many Muslim world diplomats could emulate his indomitable spirit for rallying the cause of the Third World nations. His rise from a judge to the president (chief justice) of the International court of Justice in the Hague, later in his career, was phenomenal. He is the only Pakistani to achieve this feat.

Another feather in his cap was his knighthood as ‘Sir’ by the British empire, which is a rarity for a subcontinental great. Interestingly, he had also Performed Umrah and Hajj in his lifetime and had written numerous books on Islam and Pakistan as a historian.

A politician and jurist of highest pedigree, he was Quaid’s most trusted luteinant and an ambassador of Muslim world on various international forums. I believe his success was not digested by many in Pakistan. For that matter his achievements, that are so vital for Pakistan, were ignored rather than being adorned as part of our educational syllabus to showcase an honest and luminous past of our nation.

Keeping faith aside, for a change if we could just honour his services towards Pakistan, then as a nation, we would have certainly moved a step ahead in the right direction.

Note: one of Pakistan’s popular social blog team failed to appreciate this piece may be because they are not brave enough yet to confront the honest past of Pakistan.

Mr. khan! beware of the political Fatwa.

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I am not referring to Rimsha Masih, Salman Taseer or the Ahmadi community. This time around there is a warning for Imran khan to weigh his words as there is a likelihood that the legendary sportsman cum politician might get entangled in a banal blasphemy controversy, concocted this time round by the JUI leadership.

Imran khan in one of his by-election rallies, criticised JUI’s previous tenure’s performance in KPK by stating that he will clean their mess. As a repartee, JUI ‘s head Molana Fazl ur Rehman refering to Imran khan uttered words like ” beating GoldSmith’s agenda and his jewish conspiracy in the by elections “. He also cleverly portrayed Imran khan’s severe rebuke aimed at his party, as a blasphemous statement.

During his political campaign Maulana Fazlur Rehman played around Imran khan’s words quite skilfully. He equated his party’s last term performance as a tenure when Islamic values and the shariat were upheld that the PTI leader had allegedly profaned by terming it as a mess.

You have to give it to Maulana sahib’s skilful rhetorics. With his comments the discord between him and Imran khan has gone off on a new tangent.

It shows how in Islamic Republic of Pakistan you can get into big trouble if you don’t mind your tongue while confronting any dogmatic person with religious clout and fan following.

Tv show hosted by Waseem Badami on Ary tv on the 20th August 2013 also highlighted the gravity of the issue, which was escalated by Maulana sahib’s response to Imran khan’s criticism at JUI’s previous performance in KPK. In the show PTI’s otherwise outspoken candidate Shahreyar Afridi looked coy and rather submissive for the most part of the show in the presence of JUI representative who portrayed his party as the sanctimonious one and in the meanwhile ridiculed Imran Khan’s statement as desecration to shariat and Islam.

In my view there seems to be a an unending romance of the politicised clerics with the blasphemy law in the country ever since General Zia came to power. It has affected many a lives, curbed freedom of speech and put the clerics in charge of the way we should approach life.

As ironic as it may sound but in our country the only species that has the right to exercise freedom of speech with full pelt are the politically motivated Islamic scholars. Considering the current situation they can even get away with murder where as a layman’s words gets propagandised negatively by the clerics.

A recent example was that of Amir Liaqat Hussain, considered a part of the cleric’s cult, who rebutted a random Journalist Ziauddin khan’s incisive article that criticized his antics and his extremely popular show during Ramadan. He skillfully cloaked himself in the garb of religion and accused Ziauddin in return for disrespecting the Holy month of Ramadan.

It is a pity that the tainted politics in our country gets sustenance by playing the religion card. Not that i am a PTI supporter or Imran khan fan but just as a compassionate human being i want to advice a foolhardy Imran Khan to mellow down and mince his words while talking in processions and during political campaigning.

Not many politicians get to support various minorities openly in Pakistan just to avoid falling prey to the politically motivated muslim scholars’ animosity, who can launch a negative campaign against that particular politician. In hindsight we have myriads of examples in our country whereby a politician had gotten into deep waters just because of showing an iota of solidarity with the estranged minorities.

The political process is deemed as a driving force and pivot behind forming a country’s national narrative . It should not be given a religious shade, if a country is to build consensus across the broad spectrum and develop a healthy public discourse.

I hope Imran khan realises that it is high time for him to matures as a seasoned politician and may God help Molana sahib as well.