The story is as true as terrorism is among us is but I intentionally avoid the name of the protagonist because of the visible fundamental fear we have been living in for decades. The tale is of a person from Swat who found himself born and raised during the Saudiasation of Pakistan during and soon after Mard-e-Momin Mard-e-Haq, Ziaul Haq’s period.

He was born a couple of years after the 1971 war, which disintegrated the then Pakistan into two countries. As a child, he used to be reluctant to attend primary school, always in search of a chance to leave his schooling for good but it was all thanks to a donkey that kept him enduring the teacher’s rod. On one such day when he skipped school, he came across a donkey on the way. Fearing the wrath of his parents, he decided to play with the donkey till noon to pass the time so that his parents might think he was at school. But the moment he accosted the donkey it spurred and plunged the boy. As a result, the schoolboy thought the teacher’s regular rod less painful than falling from the back of a wild donkey.

He used to learn the English alphabet in grade six and had once got 13 lashes of the rod because of his failure to rote all 26 alphabets in a day. He was, however, an enthusiast. Disillusioned with his school, books and the mosque’s imam where he used to go to learn to recite the Holy Quran, our hero found solace with the mild teachings of a relative who was a devout member of the Tableeghi Jamaat (TJ).

In his teens he became an equal Tableeghi (preacher) and never gave up saying the five daily prayers. Even on his errand to the jungle for firewood and cattle fodder in the snow he used to ready himself for offering his prayers in the snow.

Each morning the elderly preacher visited him and lured him with stories of paradise and lots other things. He began to ‘spend time as per the course’ in the Way of Allah by going for Serozas (three days), Ashra (10 days), Chilla (40 days) and the national and regional Tableeghi Ijtima (congregations of the Tableeghi Jamaat).

On his return from ‘spending time in the path of Allah’ everything else seemed irrelevant, even repugnant to the true religion. Quibbling with the neighbouring elderly men became a daily routine as they insisted upon what they had been taught in their childhood, while our young hero was hell bent to purify the religion from heresies of the ‘false’ faith.

Inspired by teachings of the Hadith, the teenager made it obligatory upon himself to cleanse the world from sins and prepare the people ‘on the path to paradise’.

The piously stimulated youth had even bothered his parents to quite a degree by imposing certain etiquette as how to eat and drink. He had memorised hundreds of dua’a (prayers) as he had been told that there was a specified prayer for every act, whether it was going to the toilet or going to a bazaar. He uttered these prayers in every allegedly relevant context. For sharpening his wits, and success in school and college examinations the young boy began to rely on prayers rather than on studies.

When he was still in college, an opportunity to raise his cadre of Imaan from the lowest to the highest presented itself. In the early 90s, the ‘celebrated’ Maulana Sufi Muhammad of Dir began agitation for the imposition of Sharia in the Malakand Division gradually turning the idyllic Swat valley as his base camp and battleground. As expected, the protagonist of this tale joined the campaign and attended his processions. He even took up arms during the high days of the movement for Sharia by Sufi Muhammad’s Tanzeem-e-Nifaaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadia (TNSM). Along with a few other youths, who were convicted during the last military operation in Swat in 2009 known as Operation Rah-e-Raast, the young boy agitated much but went dormant when the agitation was met with force during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto’s government.

By that time, the young man has completed his graduation and cracks in his mindset had already begun to appear. During his ‘free study at the masters level’ — free in the sense that he was doing his masters as an external student and happened to read course books which are not usually taught at our universities as the main focus is to pass the examinations and get a degree — the young man began to develop some curiosity and critical thinking. The rebel as he was, our ‘hero’ announced his defiance of a certain public order wherein it was rumoured that a person who didn’t say prayer would be jailed for three months in the wake of the Sharia Bill by Nawaz Sharif’s second government. It is said that after that order the man was seldom seen at mosques.

Our hero was fortunate to have found the opportunity of free study without the help of a ‘teacher’. He happened to study a little of Russell, a bit of philosophy and anthropology. And for the last 13 years, our hero is among the most despised and controversial in his small society. Pleasantly enough, he has now a visible following as well. Upon inquiring how he feels when people speak ill of him, our hero replies,

“I have been in their ranks and used to be as orthodox as they are. It is really a painful angst to think differently but one must. One’s thoughts do make difference when one is upright in his public life so as to deny any ground for people to point fingers at your character. The progressives must take extra care of their dealings, personal or public”.


Zubair Torwali is an activist and human rights advocate based in Swat.



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.

Updated Mar 15, 2013 11:57am

Comments (16) (Closed)

Dr Khan
Mar 15, 2013 12:22pm
Brilliant. Don't stop, continue writing, want more from you.
Mar 15, 2013 12:24pm
Sahib you are living in a fantasy world.If such things were true, you will not have this "religious revolt" in your country.I have never heard of an innocent mind trained with religious rhetoric changing to a new leaf both in and out of Pakistan.Especially one with no family backing in his life His teaching become his life.Infuse an idea into an innocent mind and it remains there.Especially when it concerns religion.That is why religion is called the opiate of the masses.
live n let live
Mar 15, 2013 12:35pm
awesome.!! you narated the reality ... how a man prefers resiting things like that rather doing good work.. and less talk.
Mar 15, 2013 12:57pm
A well written piece. I am not surprised or shocked at what I read. It is common knowledge how religiosity has changed life and people’s minds in Pakistan for almost four decades now. While you mention our hero has become a progressive, it is a good sign. But I would think being progressive even in its diluted form, is still very scary. I see a lot of such ‘progressive’ people in our daily lives studying in universities, in mosques, in the media and working in cities – brainwashed and too far carried carried away in their quests “to cleanse the world from sins and prepare the people on the path to paradise”. Until this mindset is changed for good, I see Pakistan doomed.
Zafar Malik
Mar 15, 2013 02:16pm
If true, it is really an amazing story of transformation and awakening. It is not easy to find one's way out of a blind alley, but no doubt it is possible. Thanks Zubair for sharing this beautiful and remarkable story with us.
Mar 15, 2013 02:59pm
It is still unclear which side Mr, writer is......hardliner or softliner?
Dr syed
Mar 15, 2013 05:09pm
I don,t get it whts so wrong in reciting in dua as per sharia. I live in non Muslim state , newspaper even here won,t dare to write such an obnoxious piece . If ur so called great social reformer has seen both the sides , rest assured I have seen multiple dimensions . your paper is voilating even for educated moderate MUSLIMS.
Mar 15, 2013 08:35pm
Who, who is this great man.. I am intrigued to know more now!
Salman Cheema
Mar 15, 2013 08:51pm
Zubir Sahib, great article. Allah blesses those who study hard, work hard etc. Prayers alone wont help. If Dua's alone can grant our wishes who needs to go to school, get a job etc. For Pakistan to progress we need to compete with the world in every field.
Mar 15, 2013 10:02pm
pakistanis are not religous ---- minority do pray w/o knowing what they pray elites are copycats of other culures denouncing their own they are selfish/what is in it for me.they are not patriotic do not pay taxes and are beggers for forign aid
Mar 16, 2013 06:28am
I am still confused what makes the person your 'hero'. There are so many youths who get disillusioned either way and are unable to find a correct balance. Has he firmed up his views now? Has he become a better person or has formed a correct opinion about Islam? Just his getting confused about what was taught to him in school, college or by the Imam and Tablighi elder is not enough to show the correct balance in his personality or even make a good story.
Mar 16, 2013 07:48am
not amused. Why do we think being progressive is giving up religion? Why not understanding it in its true light.
Mar 16, 2013 09:24am
Thank God, we have at least one person here who knows what he is praying. As if the others are copycats then why are you using this blog. It belongs to the other culture. What a poser? It also seems you are patriotic and therefore must be living in Pakistan. In that case, open up your wallet and see those rupees inside. Most of it is begged money or valueless printed notes made in Pakistan to fool people as if economy is booming.
Mar 16, 2013 11:02am
The religious extremist we see want neither religion nor progress.............and that is the true light we are seeing. I wonder what you're seeing ?
Mar 17, 2013 02:54am
sir, he wasn't a 'fundamentalist'. i'd bet that a lot of the rural folk are so - may be not identical in action, but in spirit and thought yes.
Mar 17, 2013 09:27am
Why we always make religion responsible for our failures in life? Following religion makes our life more fruitful. Atleast makes us better humanbeings. Fault lies with us, by making an illiterate head of a mosque where our children learn the essence of our religion. How many of us know the meaning of Quran, atleast how many have tried to learn it? How many have taught it to their own children? Instead of pointing at faults, we need to start from ourselves and progress in society, by giving ourselves and our next generation quality education(religious / other) and a thinking mind.