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Past present: Myths and lies

August 30, 2015


Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

Just after partition, the Pakistani government made an attempt to use history to justify its creation. Help was sought from professional historians to construct an ideology which could determine Pakistan’s raison d’etre.

I.H. Qureshi, Moinul-Haq and S.M. Ikram were the historians who traced the origin of the two-nation theory from medieval history. Since they projected Ahmad Sirhindi (d.1624) as a defender of Islam who opposed Akbar’s religious innovations, this interpretation made Ahmad Sirhindi the founder of the two-nation theory.

Another group of writers elevated Muhammad Bin Qasim as the conqueror of Sindh and the founder of Pakistan. Although he remained in oblivion during the medieval period, he was transformed as a hero in response to communalism which emerged in 1924. In his life, Muhammad Bin Qasim suffered heavily. He was dismissed from his post and imprisoned in Wasit where he either committed suicide or died a natural death. This was, of course, glossed over.

The distortion and misinterpretation is not yet over. Recently Dr Safdar Mahmud wrote an article in an Urdu newspaper and presented a novel idea claiming that Shahabuddin Ghauri (1202-1206), who adopted the title of Moizuddin after assuming kingship, was in fact the founder of Pakistan.

Distorted history always supports the current power structure and lets generations upon generations of people be inculcated with what is at times factually incorrect

The problem of non-professional historians is that they neither know the languages of the original sources such as Persian, Arabic and Turkish, nor do they know how to read text and interpret it, nor are they well equipped with modern research methodology or new historical theories. The result is inaccuracy of events, misinterpretation of text and distortion of facts.

While writing about the invasion of Muhammad Ghauri, Dr Mahmud ignored the fact that before Ghauri, Mahmud of Ghazna (971-1030) had conquered Punjab and occupied it as a part of his empire. During this period Lahore emerged as an important city where literary people, ulema and Sufi saints came to settle down.

When the Ghaznavid dynasty declined, its last ruler took refuge at Lahore. Muhammad Ghauri captured Lahore in 1186 and executed Khusru Malik the Ghaznavid Ruler. Therefore Mahmud of Ghazna was the first ruler who ruled over Punjab in the present day Pakistan.

Muhammad Ghauri was defeated in the first battle of Tarain in 1191 and he narrowly escaped death. In 1192 he defeated Prithvi Raj, paving the way to the conquest of Delhi. When Muhammad Ghauri was assassinated was 1206, his successors became involved in civil wars, disintegrating his empire into pieces.

One of his slaves, Bakhtyar Khilji invaded Bengal and on his way slaughtered the teachers and students of Nalanda University, burning it down to ashes.

Safdar Mahmood’s claim that Qutbuddin Aibak (1206-1210) founded an Islamic state in India is entirely incorrect. The Turkish Sultan never implemented Sharia, but formulated his own policy instead that was related to the time. Safdar Mahmood referred to Muhammad Ghori as an invader who demanded a part of his kingdom from Prithivi Raj. The question arising here is that what gives an invader the right to demand land that legally belongs to someone.

We must correct our understanding of the nature and role of an invader. Invasions always took place for greed and lust or for wealth or occupation of someone else’s land and resources without any ‘moral’ justification. It is customary to be proud of our invaders such as Muhammad Bin Qasim, Mehmood of Ghazna and Muhammad Ghori and to denounce other invaders who looted our country from time to time. In fact, all these invaders were mass murderers and should be treated as criminals in history. We recognised Muhammad Bin Qasim as a conqueror and hero because Sindh was converted to Islam. Charles Napier invaded Sindh in 1843 modernised it but because Sindh did not convert to Christianity therefore, Charles Napier’s status remained to being an invader and did not replace Muhammad Bin Qasim’s as a hero.

Pakistan has suffered a lot due to the distortion of history. Our history text books mislead our students by not telling the truth and by hiding the real facts. There is a need for professional historians to change the language of history writing and instead to highlight the conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims. The conflict should be described as a contest between two political powers. Religion must not be involved in political conflicts. History should be based on facts and consequently used to create a consciousness to understand political, social and economic issues. There is no shame in the admittance of mistakes because mistakes can only be corrected after recognising them as mistakes.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 30th, 2015

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