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For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April in 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.

Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have a few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-Fi communications, I hope you will like them.

This blog is Part 2 of a two-part series. Read part 1 here.

Meanwhile two developments changed Jhang, forever. Firstly, the influence of Shia landlords started to recede. The inherited land was divided and distributed generation by generation. This curtailed the feudal clout and eventually, forced most of small scale farmers to migrate to neighbouring cities.

Secondly, the Gulf countries opened their gates to Pakistani labour. The deteriorating economic conditions at home and the promise of prosperity abroad did not pose a difficult question, hence many residents headed to greener pastures. After few years, the expats returned with the ideological baggage. With the expensive Rado watches, they wore the puritan faith. And along with the longing for their country, they brought home, the hatred for non-Arabs.

This was the time when democracy was discarded from Pakistan and revolution enthralled Iran. While Zia upheld the Hanafi School in all spheres of life here, Khumaini implemented the Shia School in Iran. The revolution, besides scaring Arab monarchs, stirred the political awakening in the Pakistani Shias. An organisation named Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqah-e-Jafriya was founded in 1979 and slowly started picking up tone. When the state introduced the Ushr and Zakat Ordinance on the basis of the Hanafi School, the Shias coerced the government, in a three day siege of the parliament, to decide Shia religious affairs in accordance with the Shia School. Soon, scholars from Qum and Najaf flooded seminaries and baptised the belief, so “corrupted” by the secular sub-continent tradition. Pakistani Muslims were first reformed by Arabs and subsequently, Iranians. This also showed up in every day greetings when the country shifted from Khuda hafiz to Allah hafiz.

With the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, every expression was let loose. The prejudices and hatred, mostly imported, declared all traditions of peaceful co-existence that had illuminated Jhang for centuries, as a form of heresy.

In the year of 1985, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi founded Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba in a local mosque at Jhang. Famous as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan today, the organisation had, five out of eight, founding principles aimed at declaring Shias as “non-muslims”. Formed to defend the honour of Sahaba, the group promoted a typical non-tolerant mindset and anyone who locked horns with them was first exterminated from religion and then from life. The mono-directional political thinking in the country, expanding network of madressahs, interlock of religion and business and the ethnic make-up of Jhang catalysed the growth of Sipah-e-Sahaba. Their financers came from the Promised Land and the sympathisers rose from Deoband. The mushrooming madressahs polluted young minds with sectarian prejudices. These students then graduated to Taliban-run seminaries in Afghanistan, where they fell in love with their own truth and lost the ability to see through the other side. No religious and political leader had the moral courage to keep the children away from it. For many years, within the country, the state treated them as their strategic assets and outside the country, the Islamic monarchs supported them.

Part scarred by the revolution and part bound by the Jihad next door, the network called the establishment watched Sipah-e-Sahaba grow. The sectarian undertone of the slogan for the enforcement of Sharia was loud and clear but none had the audacity to listen to these voices.

When one after another, Ehsan Elahi Zaheer, Arif Hussaini and Haq Nawaz Jhangvi were killed, Jhang saw the worst of the violence. In 1993, Sipah-e-Muhammad was formed and soon after Lashkar-e-Jhangvi saw the light of day. The Jhang of Sultan and Chander Bhan was now a battle scene. The streets which once buzzed with Heer now resounded with war cry. All the while, Quranic verses proclaimed that a single murder amounted to the murder of the entire humanity. Around Makkah, the home of the Saudi princes who visited Pakistan for game and donated hefty amounts to madressahs, the last sermon of the prophet reverberated.

"Just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust". However, the passion for religion was too captivating for the sermon or the verses.

While sectarianism instigated this bloodshed, it also influenced the politics. Be it the Peoples Party with socialist and leftist leaning or the Q league with enlightened moderation, no party in the country could make it to the Parliament House without shaking hands with religious politicians.

In 2002, Azam Tariq, a Taliban idealist and Sipah-e-Sahaba candidate from Jhang, contested elections from inside a prison. He would have been disqualified and stayed in prison, had he not been the crucial one vote that won majority for Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. Soon after he moved to Parliament, he made his “phenomenal” speech where he pledged to transform the 28 selected cities in line with the Taliban’s Afghanistan, banning TV, radio and music.

Like every election, this year too, flags of proscribed organisations dotted the city’s skyline. Though the candidate could not make it to Parliament, the vote count indicated that 70,000 residents of the city believed in this cause.

In this battle of belief, mostly the ordinary faithful fell from the both side. Besides being Shias and Sunnis, the deceased were doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers. Other than target killing, firing and bomb blasts also claimed lives and did not discriminate between the mosque and the Imam Bargah. The TV at home and the billboards on the roads indicated the increased influence of religion in our lives while the blast-ripped tickers and blood-soaked newspaper pointed out that man is yet to find everlasting peace.

When Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claims the responsibility of a blast on Alamdar Road and the killing in Chilas, the sane beings in Jhang shy away from each other. But as soon as the conspiracy theories come to life and all fingers point towards neighbouring countries, they nudge their conscience back to indifference. About Heer, Sultan, Chandar Bhan and Salam, even if they existed in today’s Jhang, Lashkar would have taken care of them.

Read this blog in Urdu here.

Listen to this blog in Urdu:

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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

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

Comments (26) Closed

Solitar Jul 15, 2013 05:19pm

And the

BRR Jul 15, 2013 09:01pm

Where one could plant a mango tree, one has planted a date palm, and like those date palm growers in arid lands who have no clue of what a mango is, they have chosen to become ignorant or blind to the beauty and possibilities around them. They have selected blood over juice, they have decided to die for Sharia rather than try to live a personal life conformant to Sharia.

Hammad Jul 15, 2013 09:15pm

Beautiful. With every adventure by our armed forces, the state of Pakistan loses it's grip on itself. Who knows how we would have turned out if only these groups were not tolerated for a 'wasee tar qoumi mafaad'. This is how the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

B S BRAR Jul 15, 2013 09:40pm

Dear Miraj Sahib,

Wonderful account of happening in the name of religion. May people understand the true meaning of the faith they are following.

Kind regards


Ikram Jul 16, 2013 01:50am

This is one of the most brilliant and crystal clear piece of writing that I have read in a long time. Well done. You have explained to me the root of where the evil that we see today might have begun.

I am just wondering, how come the inhabitants of nearby Chenab Nagar have not been wiped out of extinction in such savage and hate filled surroundings where human life is so faith-sensitive?

Gulbaz Mushtaq Jul 16, 2013 02:00am

The minds of these fanatics are so closed that you can not argue with them. They start from accusing you of committing Shirk and so on.. I think our governments with closed eyes have helped these fanatics to grow and pollute our society. Alas, Islam such a beutiful religion is being destroyed by these misguided men.

Adnan Jalal Jul 16, 2013 03:30pm

Good to see your blogs sir Hassan take care!

Qaisrani Jul 16, 2013 04:01pm

Well-written piece. The learned writer, however, did not fully evaluate the impact of immigrants from India as result of partition of the sub-continent in 1947. These migrants, who mostly settled in towns of District Jhang including Jhang city itself, had no constituency among the natives -the people of Waseb- and in a bid to create one used Deobandi school of Hanafi thought to find a niche in secular feudal-dominated polity of Jhang; like elsewhere in South Punjab. When Haq Nawaz Jhangvi created slogan "Kafir, Kafir, Shia Kafir" it highly disturbed the natives, both Shia and Sunni, as they had never thought on such lines. Both sects equally participated in Moharram ceremonies, as the writer elaborates. Most of Taziah licences in Jhang & elsewhere in South Punjab including Multan, were/are with Sunnis. It may be of interest for the readers to know that Hindu-Muslim riots of 1920s throughoutt the then British India started from Multan on the alleged desecration of a Taziah passing through narrow lanes of Hindu-populated Kaley Mundi. Sunnis participiated in Majaalis and all rites related to Ashura Moharram. But, alas, then the peaceful tolerant situation gradually became uglier. No doubt, the hated dictator Gen Zia is much responsible for it!

AZ Jul 16, 2013 07:47pm

Incomplete and inconclusive article.

M. Ajmal Jul 16, 2013 08:04pm

I belong to jhang. I have witnessed the evolution of this turmoil. We have suffered the collateral damage of this politically motivated conflict. I second the true observations of writer. I love my childhood place jhang city. Dr Ajmal

saleem Jul 16, 2013 09:47pm

@Solitar: Aameen

azmat khan Jul 16, 2013 10:02pm

I am a moderate Hanfi muslim.My ancestors were also Hanfi.But they had murshids whom they regarded very much. Our women also did not observe any parda from those murshids and also sought guidance and taweez from them, Even today there are several shia families among our large fraternity. Still there are intermarriages between Hanfi and Shia familes of our fraternity.There are no disputes among the families due to faith or religious practices. For centuries Hanfi and Shia muslims lived together amicably and peacefully.From where have now opened these gates of hell. God protect us.

SBB Jul 17, 2013 03:04am

This is an amazing series on Jhang.. and it took an equally amazing author to tell it to us. Thank you. My condolences to the people of the area. This could not have been their dream.

FS Jul 17, 2013 09:46am

@Qaisrani: Read the first part. It does mention the impact that the immigrants from India had on socio-political landscape of Jhang.

Khan Jul 17, 2013 10:52am

Thanks again for the facts and being truthful. My blunt observation is to save Pakistan from the path of self destruction we need to act collectively, but the major responsibility lies on the shoulder of people of Punjab who controls bureucracy, defence establishment and majority's of the institutions of Pakistan, as well as all the banned religious outfits are based in Punjab and operating freely, they need to realize this responsibility before its too late.

Koi-kon Jul 17, 2013 12:54pm

@Qaisrani: please read part one

Malik Rajesh Jul 17, 2013 01:11pm

Miraj Sahib , Impressive writing, always!!

Raza Jul 17, 2013 01:13pm

Very well and truthfully written!

Shafiq Khan Jul 17, 2013 01:43pm

Now ! Does he speak for the government??? We know Mazdak did not.

Well to tell the truth is not only the preserve of the chosen few. All of us, even those, who do not belong to either of the categories enlisted in the article, have a duty as decent human beings to tell the truth.Well in all honesty , the whole truth ,not tainted by self or group interest. All those on the public scene have a greater duty to check their facts and keep peace in God's domain. Shafiq

Shafiq Khan Jul 17, 2013 01:47pm

@Khan: Largely true but the President , the Chief Justice, nearly half of the higher civil service and the same is true for the Armed Services are not Punjabis. All the Dictators were not Punjabis. Shafiq

Shafiq Khan Jul 17, 2013 02:06pm

@azmat khan: It is certain that Arab oil was not discovered then. Most of the preachers were not benefiting from the politicians hunger for publicity. In the battle of the "Camel" so nick named because Aisha was ridding a camel in the battle. Aisha and Ali were not fighting for a section of the faithful. After the battle , Mohammad son of the first Calif and because Ali married Abu-Baker's widow, Ali's adopted son , Aisha's half brother, who fought by the side of Ali was deputed to escort all the ladies to Madina, under Ali's orders. How many of the politicians know of our Islamic History. The Palaces of the rich in Islam created the sects. Race for power created differences which we see today. Word of the Book and the name of the Prophet is maligned by the so-called followers. Shafiq

Raman Jul 17, 2013 03:42pm

Miraj Saheb:

Pehle hum aapko shukriya aada karte hein!

You are brave soul indeed. Reflection is good for the society as is also for individual. What you did was phenomenal. In a blood thirsty society, surviving in the "air" of religion, I am truly worried for your life. Please take care as the society is short on tolerant one.

Gulbaz Mushtaq Jul 17, 2013 10:50pm

@Raman: Yes .. Miraj Saheb, Please be carefull. May Allah protect you always. Ameen.

syed imtiaz Jul 18, 2013 09:17am


syed imtiaz Jul 18, 2013 09:18am

bravo dear brother good article

syed imtiaz Jul 18, 2013 09:26am

@Qaisrani: good