As most Pakistanis over the ages of six and seven would remember, before the now ubiquitous `Allah Hafiz` came `Khuda Hafiz`.
The immediate history of the demise of Khuda Hafiz can be traced back to a mere six to seven years in the past. It was in Karachi some time in 2002 when a series of banners started appearing across Sharea Faisal. Each banner had two messages. The first one advised Pakistani Muslims to stop addressing God by the informal `Tu` and instead address him as `Aap` (the respectful way of saying `you` in Urdu). The second message advised Pakistanis to replace the term Khuda Hafiz with Allah Hafiz.
The banners were produced and installed by Islamic organisations associated with a famous mosque in Karachi. Ever since the 1980s, this institution had been a bastion of leading puritanical doctrines of Islam. Many of the institution`s scholars were, in one way or the other, also related to the Islamic intelligentsia sympathetic to the Taliban version of political Islam and of other similar fundamentalist outfits.
However, one just cannot study the Allah Hafiz phenomenon through what happened in 2002. This phenomenon has a direct link with the disastrous history of cultural casualties Pakistan has steadily been suffering for over thirty years now. Beyond the 2002 banner incident, whose two messages were then duly taken up by a series of Tableeghi Jamaat personnel and as well as trendsetting living room Islamic evangelists, a lot of groundwork had already taken place to culturally convert the largely pluralistic and religiously tolerant milieu of Pakistan into a singular concentration of Muslims following the “correct” version of Islam.
The overriding reasons for this were foremost political, as General Ziaul Haq and his politico-religious cohorts went about setting up madressahs in an attempt to harden the otherwise softer strain of faith that a majority of Pakistanis followed so they could be prepared for the grand `Afghan jihad` against the atheistic Soviet Union with a somewhat literalist and highly politicised version of Islam. The above process not only politically radicalised sections of Pakistani society, its impact was apparent on culture at large as well.
For example, as bars and cinemas started closing down, young men and women, who had found space in these places to simply meet up, were forced to move to shady cafes, restaurants and parks which, by the mid-1980s, too started to be visited by cops and fanatical moral squads called the `Allah Tigers`, who ran around harassing couples in these spaces, scolding them for going against Islam, or, on most occasions, simply extorting money from the shaken couples through blackmail.
Then, getting a blanket ideological and judicial cover by the Zia dictatorship, the cops started to harass almost any couple riding a motorbike, a car or simply sitting at the beach. Without even asking whether the woman was the guy`s sister or mother (on many occasions they were!), the cops asked for the couples` marriage certificate! Failing to produce one (which in most cases they couldn`t), hefty sums of money were extorted as the couples were threatened to be sent to jail under the dreadful Hudood Ordinances. The same one the Musharraf government eventually scrapped.
Some of these horrendous practices were duly stopped during the Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments in the 1990s, but the cat had long been set among the pigeons. Encouraged by their initial successes in the 1980s, Islamist culture-evangelists became a lot more aggressive in the 1990s. Drawing room and TV evangelists went about attempting to construct a “true” Islamic society, and at least one of their prescriptions was to replace the commonly used Khuda Hafiz with Allah Hafiz.
This was done because these crusading men and women believed that once they had convinced numerous Pakistanis to follow the faith by adorning a long beard and hijab, the words Khuda Hafiz would not seem appropriate coming out from the mouths of such Islamic-looking folks. They believed that Khuda can mean any God, whereas the Muslims` God was Allah. Some observers suggest that since many non-Muslims residing in Pakistan too had started to use Khuda Hafiz, this incensed the crusaders who thought that non-Muslim Pakistanis were trying to adopt Islamic gestures only to pollute them. The first time Allah Hafiz was used in public was in 1985 when a famous TV host, a frequent sight on PTV during the Zia era, signed off her otherwise secular show with a firm `Allah Hafiz.` However, even though some Islamic preachers continued the trend in the 1990s, it did not trickle down to the mainstream until the early 2000s. As society continued to collapse inwards — especially the urban middle class — the term Allah Hafiz started being used as if Pakistanis had always said Allah Hafiz.
So much so that today, if you are to bid farewell by saying Khuda Hafiz, you will either generate curious facial responses, or worse, get a short lecture on why you should always say Allah Hafiz instead — a clear case of glorified cultural isolationism to `protect` one`s comfort zone of myopia from the influential and uncontrollable trends of universal pluralism?
I`m afraid this is the case.