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Maulana who?


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A young preacher.

Recently a reader sent me a link to a YouTube video titled ‘Disco Molvi.’ The video showed some members of the ritualistic Sunni Barelvi sub-sect indulging in some kind of a highly animated dance.   It was a fascinating sight. Nevertheless, the dance is not what really whetted my curiosity. It was the title of the video, ‘Disco Molvi’ that the reader used to define the spiritual boogie that caught my attention.   This term is not a new one at all. It’s been around for quite a while now.     According to Shaukat Nasir, a former student of the University of Karachi (between 1975 and 1979), ‘Disco Molvi’ was a tongue-in-cheek expression that was first coined by progressive student activists at the University of Karachi (KU) sometime in the late 1970s.   It was mockingly used to describe the more modernly attired and beardless members of the right-wing Islami Jamiat-i-Taleba (IJT).   ‘In those days,’ says Shaukat, ‘even some Jamati members also had girlfriends. They would dress in western clothes and listen to modern pop and Indian music, but were still committed to propagate Jamat-i-Islami’s philosophy. We began calling such IJT activists Disco Molvies!’ Shaukat added, smiling widely.   The term is also believed to have been a spin-off of a sarcastic phrase ‘Maulana Whiskey’ that was coined by IJT members in the Punjab to describe the allegedly whiskey loving former Jamat-i-Islami (JI) leader, Maulana Kausar Niazi.   According to Bilal Kidwai, a former member of the IJT (in the late 1970s) at Lahore’s Government College, it was members of IJT at the Punjab University who coined the term ‘Maulana Whiskey’ for Niazi when (in 1969) he decided to quit JI and join Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s socialist/secular Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).’   However, in an interview that he gave to India Today in 1989, prolific author and former left-wing student activist, Tariq Ali, claimed that this term was actually coined by Z A. Bhutto himself.   “Kausar Niazi was called Maulana Whiskey by Bhutto in the 70s,” Ali told India Today, while talking about how Niazi abandoned Bhutto in 1977 and began taking part in the anti-Bhutto movement headed by right-wing religious parties.   “He (Niazi) was either drunk or surrounded by dancing girls and then began masquerading as the guardian of Islam,” Ali chuckled.   Shaukat Nasir is not sure who came up with the term, Maulana Whiskey: “I personally think it were the Jamaties who after being incensed by Maulana Kausar Niazi’s decision to quit JI and join PPP, taunted him with this title. But it is also true that Bhutto sahib started calling Niazi Maulana Whiskey when he decided to quit the PPP and join the JI’s protests against Bhutto sahib’s government in 1977.”   Interestingly, the term, even if coined by the IJT members alone, eventually became part of the still on-going tradition in Pakistan where clerics are ridiculed through satire and jokes.   Between the emergence of the term ‘Maulana Whiskey’ (in the early 1970s) and ‘Disco Molvi’ (possibly in 1977), another term in this context became popular. It was ‘Maulana Hippie.’   Hippies – a freewheeling cultural phenomenon that emerged in the West in the 1960s – spread out in the rest of the world when hippies began travelling to non-western countries to look for the kind of ‘spiritualism’ that they believed their post-industrial societies had eschewed.   Hippie trends and fashions – long hair, colourful, ‘non-bourgeois’ clothing, ‘mind expansion’ (mainly through hallucinogenic drugs), free-form music, peace, communal living, anti-war activism, etc. – made their way into Pakistan as well.

Raheel Nawaz, 57, today a successful businessman, claims he was a ‘Pakistani hippie’ as a young man in Karachi: “There used to be so many hippies visiting Pakistan and India from the west in the 1970s. Many young men like me also began dressing like them, keeping long hair, thick sideburns, big metallic ‘peace’ signs around our necks … and hashish smoking too became very popular among middle-class young people.”   “During the 1970s,” Raheel added, “even middle-class young men like me began visiting shrines of Muslim saints. We began mixing Marxism with Sufism and intrigued by the way we looked and talked, regular working-class shrine visitors began calling young people like me Hippie Molvis!’ Raheel laughed.   The term caught on and eventually entered the mainstream media.   According to a recent article on Pakistan’s eccentric best-selling Urdu mystery novelist, Ibn-i-Safi, ‘Maulana Hippie’ was actually the pseudonym of film producer, Muhammad Hissain Talpur.   Talpur first used this term (in 1972) when he made an Urdu film, ‘Dhamaka’ that was scripted by Safi.

A poster of director Moulana Hippie's 1972 ‘Dhamaka’.

Raheel agrees: ‘Yes, it was Talpur who used this term on the screen, but it was inspired by what I just told you. He too must have picked it up from the shrines.’   Maulana Hippie connoted a hip Pakistani (man or a woman) who was liberated from middle-class morality constrains but at the same time he or she was in tune with their spiritual sides.   However, soon Maulana Hippie and Maulana Whiskey gave way to Disco Molvi.          The phrase ‘Disco Molvi’ was inspired by the arrival and popularity of disco music (in the late 1970s).   The American disco music genre had begun making inroads into the Pakistani music market, especially with the arrival of albums (LPs and cassettes) of famous disco outfits like Boney-M, Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer and Eruption. Their music also became a favorite of students residing in hostels.   “Some IJT members also became fans of disco, especially Donna Summer and Boney-M,” Shaukat Nasir explained. “I knew a few Jamatis at KU (in 1979) who used to fight with progressive student groups, but wear baggy disco shirts, tight pants and those pointy disco shoes! That’s when we began calling them Disco Molvies.”   By the early 1980s the term began being associated with those westernised industrialists and white-collar professionals who were supporting the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship (1977-88).   Mujahid Qureshi, a former activist with the left-wing Sindhi nationalist student outfit, Sindh Shagird Tehreek (in the early 1980s) says: “During the 1983 MRD (Movement for the Restoration of Democracy) agitation against Zia in Sindh, we used to visit Karachi (from Sukker) to collect funds from rich men who had sympathies with the PPP and other anti-Zia outfits. But sometimes we came across these very modern-looking and English-speaking factory-owners and businessmen, who scorned at us for trying to not only break Pakistan but hurt Islam as well. That made us laugh and we started calling them Disco Molvis!”

Controversial televangelist, Aamir Liaquat. 'Disco Molvi'?

It now seems the term Disco Molvi has survived, though it is now mostly used to mock ‘modern looking’ Islamic televangelists and/or colourful rightist television/political personalities (such as Aamir Liaquat, Zaid Hamid and sometimes even Imran Khan). 

Of beards and then some

Sometimes even when the title of ‘Maulana’ has been used for some people in a more respectable manner, they have scoffed.

In his biography, ‘Mirror to the Blind,’ Abdul Sattar Edhi complains how he detests being called a ‘Maulana’. “Mine was never a religious beard,” he writes. “It was always a revolutionary beard.”

In the book he also says that hardly any man in Pakistan used to have a beard in the 1950s.

A senior journalist, Ghulam Farooq, agrees: “In the 1950s and 1960s, no self-respecting Pakistani from any class would have liked to be seen with a long beard, apart from the mullahs. All this stuff about the beard having any religious significance played absolutely no role in the lives of Pakistanis. In fact, the beard was seen as a symbol of exploitation.”

Showing me photos of political rallies of the late 1960s, a former student leader, Naushad Hussain, challenged me to point out ten men with beards among the hundreds that stood listening to Asghar Khan in the photos. I couldn’t.

“Look closely,” he smiled. “There are only three.” “What about the ‘revolutionary beards’?” I asked.

“Revolutionary beards became famous in the West after Castro and Che Guevara’s revolution in Cuba,’ Naushad explained. ‘But long hair and revolutionary beards (in Pakistan) really became popular from 1970 onwards.”

Abul Kabir, another former student leader (at KU in 1973-74), suggests that very few male students had beards even in the 1970s: “Ironically, only the most radical Marxists on campus went around with beards, looking like Che. Even the staunchest members of the right-wing Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) were clean-shaven. Being young and having a beard (and long hair) in those days meant that one was a radical leftist.”

Famous TV actor, Talat Hussain, 1976.

Beards, especially heavy stubbles, also became popular as an expression of creativity and artistic disposition.

Mahboobullah, a former graduate of the famous NCA, Lahore, remembers that (in the 1970s), coffee houses were full of long-haired and bearded young men sipping tea and beer and chain smoking: “A young man with a neglected stubble or a beard, talking reflectively with a cigarette in his hand became a trendy pose in those days,” Mahboobullah chuckled. “Women loved it!”

Karamat Hamid a former student at the Dow Medical College in Karachi (in an email to me) explained that by 1976 almost all leading Pakistani TV actors had ‘artistic’ beards: “Talat Hussain, Rahat Kazmi, Shafi Muhammad, all had beards. It became a global fashion. Cricketers like Dennis Lillie, Wasim Raja, Ian Chappel, rock musicians, Hollywood actors and film directors, painters, college boys and even university professors all over the world had beards,” Karamat wrote. “It was a fashion expressing creativity, intellect and manhood.”

The Afridi of 1970s: Wasim Raja.

So when exactly did beards stop being a liberal/leftist aesthetic and start becoming a ‘religious symbol’?

“I believe the trend started in the 1980s,” says Sharib, a former member of IJT (who later joined the MQM).

“I remember a lot of us were very impressed by the looks of the Afghan Mujahideen. Then we started keeping beards like them,” he explained.

“Beards (in the 1980s) started emerging on the most unlikely of men,” laughs Talha Naqvi, head of an NGO. “It became a symbol of piety. Everyone from mujahids to smugglers to traders grew a so-called religious beard,” he said.

But according to Talha, the real beard explosion happened in the 1990s: “This was the time when we first started hearing about people going around and asking young men to grow beards because it was an Islamic tradition. I used to say, if this was a tradition then so was riding a camel, so why not follow such traditions as well?”

The rising number of Pakistani men having beards for religious reasons became even more ubiquitous after the tragic 9/11 episode. A practice that is set to grow (pun not intended) even further and last longer.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (67) Closed

VictoriaQuickly Oct 13, 2011 12:27pm
What Happened to US ... We had culture, Movies, a right to an opinion... I often Get to look at old Pictures... My grandfather and my father both were inspired by the hippie movement and both were religious as well ... Where we went wrong and why It became ok to just ridicule everyone is just beyond me...
Hindu Kush Oct 13, 2011 12:35pm
Only reading the heading I assumed the writer would be you! (NFP)
Rohail Yunus Oct 13, 2011 12:35pm
F.A.T.A.S.T.I.C!! You are certainly one of the finest and most interesting cultural historians in the region, Mr. Paracha. Kudos for yet another amazing piece.
vk Oct 13, 2011 12:37pm
Hello NFP, well researched article... I guess you forgot to mention maulana diesel in all that..... That is very important part of Pakistan history... how can you forget it???
iqbal Oct 13, 2011 01:20pm
Good article and research.
zia bugvi Oct 13, 2011 01:23pm
quite informative....kind of research thesis on BEARD-IOLOGY :p
afeefa Oct 13, 2011 01:39pm
interesting. Hard to believe how patient n tolerant v were in 50's n 60's.
azeem Oct 13, 2011 01:59pm
Hi. NFP. we have an other term'' Haji saahib"" slightly more popular and broader but used in the same context
Hamid Oct 13, 2011 02:01pm
The problem is there is a big gap from between the people of these 2 ideologies and no one is willing to show any kind of tolerence. Maulvies are rediculed no doubt they have a lot of issues which i am not going to indulge into now but the revolutionists and the Musharaff's enlightened moderation was focused completely opposite to the believes that maulvies preach. We should all understand that if we are a muslim or for that matter most faiths we should be men of tolrence not of voilence. Only by tolerating each other and by dialogue we can solve our problems and where dialogue fails there should be a status quo maintained no bloodshed should be excersised at all
SAM Oct 13, 2011 02:05pm
First thing of note that NFP has written since his 'music critic' days....
Imran Ali Sherwani Oct 13, 2011 02:07pm
Good article and research. BABA BULLAY SHAH!!! Parh Parh Kitaaban Ilam diyan Tu Naam rakh liya "Qazi" !!!Hath Vich Phar K Talvaar tu Naam Rakh Liya Gazi"!!!!Makkay Madinay ghoom Aaya te Naam Rakh Liya "Haji"!!!! O' Bulliya Hassil Ki Kita Je Tu Rub Na Rakhya "Raazi"
Imran Sherwani Oct 13, 2011 02:15pm
An eye opener article! Nadeem F. Paracha did great job. I am proud of you . I will pray for you will go to successfully. Take cre.
Needy of Duas Oct 13, 2011 02:21pm
AOA, I appreciate your efforts ‘but my dear everyone who has beard not Maulana .... Now you are mistaken here and consider all in a single row. Nao Muslims also has beard.... I live in Karachi at all dating points 80% of girls hijab and cover their faces ,, what’s the mean by it ? All mullanis are date girls ???
Dani Oct 13, 2011 02:22pm
Nice article! Now everyone who has a long beard is called a Molana.
Prashant Oct 13, 2011 02:36pm
The poster of the film "Dhamaka" mentions Photography : Madan. Hindus were still in the mainstream in the 70s it appears.
ccube Oct 13, 2011 02:45pm
NFP, you have great articles...rock on!
Baber Oct 13, 2011 04:01pm
Finally an article worth reading. I was getting bored reading your recycled articles.
Ameer Oct 13, 2011 04:34pm
Don't be naive. He never said every bearded man is a maulvi. He just highlighted a trend and YES I do believe a hefty number of bearded men in Pakistan keep it with a superficial and hence mala-fide intent. "I live in Karachi at all dating points 80% of girls hijab and cover their faces ,, what’s the mean by it ? All mullanis are date girls" - NO. This means that even date girls are turning into maulanis because of the benefits of the get-up and all the social acceptance they can get while remaining date girls; precisely NFP's point.
Ursilla Anjum Oct 13, 2011 04:50pm
Well said Ameer. It's amazing how some of the loudest critics of NFP eventually end up making the same points as he. :)
Yasser Oct 13, 2011 04:51pm
One can read an NFP artcile over and over againg without ever getting bored.
VictoriaQuickly Oct 13, 2011 05:01pm
I think you have completely missed the point of the post here! Hijab, beard doesn't matter why does our world only revolve around judging people by how they appear and what they wear!
Forbidden Fruit Oct 13, 2011 05:04pm
NFP, the "moonch" is feeling so left out!
Irfan Oct 13, 2011 05:47pm
There would be a new brand of “Moulvi Who” when Imran Khan will come up with a stylish beard.. What will you call him NFP?
Yaqoob Oct 13, 2011 06:48pm
Stylish molvi.
Qalim Oct 13, 2011 07:06pm
Is Maulana Dengue about to enter the vocabulary as the rightwing/suicidal who got everyone covered up?!
The Right Left Oct 13, 2011 07:11pm
Symbolism is big in modern day Muslims. Keeping a beard tells the world that you may be pious, which in many cases is not true. Many religios people are conflicted. To the owrld they have to present the pious and spiritual side while they grapple with their innder needs and modern day allures.
nsaqib Oct 13, 2011 07:16pm
I had a beard and a mustache in the 80's which was basically a gungho symbol, however, I shaved it off once a mini bus conductor called me "Sufi".
Saba Oct 13, 2011 07:32pm
worth reading ...
nsaqib Oct 13, 2011 07:36pm
The problem with the Pakistani society is that we swing like a pendulum. We do not need to get westernized, what we need to do is get modernized. We are from the east which preaches modesty, so modesty should be our focal point however we should not sacrificed our liberties to modesty. We need to be open to all views but that does not mean that one has to follow all the views. Progress within our modest frame work will lead us to success otherwise down the road there will be a backlash.
No Oct 13, 2011 07:58pm
Nadeem Uncle !! After lost soul, another brilliant piece .... In spite of globalization , Pakistan is getting radical more and more.... i wish i was born and lived in 60-70-80s....
Ali Khan Oct 13, 2011 09:46pm
The beard has become so symbolic with religion that every bearded man is being called MOULANA no matter how liberal he is. This happens to be embarrassment for me quite often although my beard has nothing to do with the religion. I am a normal human being and take part in every normal activities of life apart practicing my religion.
Qalim Oct 13, 2011 09:54pm
Where does Maulana Dengue fit in?! Its got everyone covered up...
Leader Oct 13, 2011 10:17pm
Paracha has become so much predictable in his articles...
nsaqib Oct 13, 2011 10:51pm
If one can understand Bulley than one can have peace.
Sophist Oct 14, 2011 12:59am
NFP u r doing fab! Nice understanding of Pak society...i wish if some day u write on social system of Pak. Regards
Arslan Oct 14, 2011 01:29am
You forgot to mention most popular term "Maulana Diesel"
Moeed Hanif Oct 14, 2011 01:39am
All the Messengers of ALLAH (1 lac 24k approx) were beared.... All the companions of prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) were beared... All the 99.9% Wali Allah's were beared... This is the Culture of Human Race... not arabs, pakis, indian etc... Plz read below sayings. Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said "I have no connection iwth one who shaves, shouts and tears his clothing eg. in grief or affication." - Reported by Abu Darda (R.A.) in Muslim, Hadith no. 501 Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) says: "Trim closely the moustache, and let the beard flow (Grow)." - Narrated Ibn Umar (R.A.) in Muslim, Hadith no. 498 Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: "Anyone who shaves has no claim to the mercy of Allah" - Reported by Ibn Abbas (R.A.) in Tibrabi "If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Quran 3:31) May ALLAH give us the insight to act according to his cammandments not according to our reasons...
rehmat Oct 14, 2011 02:26am
Actually NFP has written many such historical blogs. I am guessing you disagree with his satire on some of the social issues.
G.A. Oct 14, 2011 05:10am
What about the Saudi dress for both men and women that is increasingly becoming common amongst Pakistanis even when they live in the West and especially when they visit a mosque or attend Quran classes?
good2rely Oct 14, 2011 07:17am
In old days Christians & Jews also used to grow beard...
Prudent Injeeli Oct 14, 2011 07:27am
Who was this Maulana diesel? Pray,could you tell.
Saf Oct 14, 2011 07:28am
A lot of beards without the mustaches too. Like Amish folks. As they say...the beard is in the religion, the religion is not in the beard. I'm pretty sure there a couple of guys who just grew unkempt beards because they were simply too lazy, but told everyone else they were being religious/revolutionary...
Ahmed Saeed Oct 14, 2011 09:04am
One important beard trend you have forgotten and that is Maulana Diesel.
Babar Oct 14, 2011 10:39am
Knock! Knock! Whos there? Maulana Maulana who? Exactly!
zeeshan Oct 14, 2011 02:09pm
is beard really an issue? NFP has no objection on the beard of hippies, no objection on the people with stylish beard, but if a Muslim man keep beard as a Sunnah. he objects and make fun. clear signs of an hypocrite.
Ramesh Mehta Oct 14, 2011 06:22pm
Kudos to you Mr. NFP for writing such a wonderfully informative and interesting piece. It shows us as to how the cultural moorings have been shaped in Pakistan and radicalism has been given a go by. From my personal experience I may say I was more scared of bearded moulanas than any other person because of their duplicity and selfish agendas.
mohsin Oct 14, 2011 08:13pm
You missed, Moulana Diesel ?
Nahid Oct 14, 2011 09:59pm
I don't think he is making fun if some one wants to keep beard as sunnah, he is just pointing out a few trends. And even if he is making fun of some one, I don't believe those people even know what sunnah means. They are just blindfoldedly following what certain groups may tell them.
Mrs.Adnan Oct 14, 2011 10:37pm
Very nice.
Amber Oct 15, 2011 05:44am
Whoever wrote this should stop living in the past and start living in the present > times change, honey!!!
saleem Oct 15, 2011 07:04am
please read it again; dont just do NFP bashing!
salim Oct 15, 2011 07:06am
May Allah give some sense to you too!
Mustafa Oct 15, 2011 08:36am
Zeeshan, I agree with you. NFP will always do extensive research on non-issues which suits to his ideas of defaming Islam & Pakistan Ideology. He has no time to research any positive points in our society to bring muslims in a united plateform to fefeat the forces working against Pakistan & Islam. Three cheers for him.
Tahir PhD Oct 15, 2011 08:58am
I can understand thousands of years ago, there were no safety razors and hence grinding one's face with a blunt stone edged tool must have been a painful and bloody business. In which case it would have been just as simple to maintain hair on you face. Let's come back to today and let's not be too pedantic who does what cosmetically. There are more compelling things to get on with since times have moved on and priorities have changed. For example, don't force me to travel on a camel when I know there are cars available.
Nauman Oct 15, 2011 05:39pm
Exactly my situation in the early 90's. I shaved mine off when a shopkeeper called me Maulvi sab :)
zeeshan Oct 15, 2011 06:06pm
okay if you think i got the wrong impression, than you should explain what NFP exactly want to say.
usman Oct 15, 2011 06:28pm
i wish i could have written this piece. Maza Aa Gya. Inimitable NFP never packs his punches.
Jabalultariq Oct 15, 2011 09:25pm
NFP has cited only controversial beards , I still cant make sense of the purpose of his topic , can he not find any beard which makes him happy in the entire country
Mustafa Oct 16, 2011 08:54am
Hanif Sahib. Nowhere in his article NFP wrote against what you mentioned. He only discussed the use of beard by different people at different ocassions for certain purpose, fashion, cheating common people etc. You will see one day NFP will have beard like our singers & cricketers who changed their lives after understanding the objective of life and eeman.
Rahat Khan Oct 16, 2011 09:01pm
Zeeshan, are you sure you have read the same article as everyone else has?
Rahat Khan Oct 16, 2011 09:03pm
Dear Mustafa, if you think NFP has written on a non-issue, then why are you getting so hyper about it?
Faz Oct 17, 2011 05:10pm
A well-narrated historic account of beard trends in Pakistan, but the conclusion drawn at the end is too narrow to be acceptable. Yes 1980's saw the beard outburst in Pakistan as a religious tradition, but the reasons are far more profound. Those who grow beards during recent times don't see it as a tradition rather a must as per some hadiths. Equating camel riding with beard and calling it just a tradition is being naive and prejudiced.
Mazher Oct 18, 2011 02:41am
This is a waste of time. Don’t you think we have bigger problems in the Islamic world today? We have better things to do than digging into the history of beard and looking into different types of Maulanas. Whether you like it or not, beard is recommended sunnah and camel is not. One of the signs of the Day of Judgment is that women will dress like men and men will dress like women. What is the first thing a man must do to dress like a woman? Shave his beard right? So Mr. Paracha to avoid being mistaken for a woman please grow your beard. Thank you.
saleem Oct 19, 2011 01:26am
this is a self discovery process my friend :) read and learn with open mind and one day you will see! best of luck
saleem Oct 19, 2011 01:27am
zeeshan Oct 19, 2011 07:44pm
if you cant explain the article, than keep shut.
Saif Oct 19, 2011 11:32pm
I usually like the columns of NFP but this one is too offensive to be shrugged off. NFP should appreciate the fact that beards have been an essential part of men's face in many families and its misuse by the fanatics should not be taken as an excuse to ridicule all bearded men. In fact a similar article can be written on smoking or on so-called Western dresses.