Darul Uloom Haqqania — When the past is present

Published July 17, 2016
Maulana Samiul Haq, center in grey turban, is surrounded by students as he leaves Darul Uloom Haqqania after delivering a lecture.  -Photo courtesy VOA
Maulana Samiul Haq, center in grey turban, is surrounded by students as he leaves Darul Uloom Haqqania after delivering a lecture. -Photo courtesy VOA

The rising star in 1996 was Imran Khan. As a newbie in politics, he was a fresh face with fresh ideas and fresh hopes for Pakistan.

President Farooq Leghari had a revolving door: exit Benazir Bhutto; enter Imran Khan.

On a cold December afternoon in Islamabad, I found myself sitting next to the glamorous Khan as his Pajero headed for the airport. Like a Cheshire cat, IK’s distinctive mischievous grin told one that he had indeed received a hero’s welcome from Leghari earlier that day.

He already had the Western media swooning over him after the press had dumped, “the pretty girl who went to Harvard and Oxford”, said IK, adding, “As for Nawaz Sharif, they don’t know him!”

Gingerly testing the waters, I ventured with my first question: Your image of a playboy sticks. You still have boys’ night out when Jemima is away?

Before IK can answer, Tehreek-i-Insaaf stalwarts sitting at the back look mortified while their chief bursts into hearty laughter dismissing the gossip as “nonsense!”

Also read: Is Imran Khan marrying a third time? Here's what we know so far

My next few questions are about his father-in-law, the billionaire Jimmy Goldsmith. Without taking his name, IK brushes past my questions only to comment that neither the father nor the daughter (Jemima) are Jewish as “Benazir would have all believe … Jemima has converted to Islam”.


A place to live becomes the place to love. The Akora Khattak of the ’70s and the ’80s where I roamed free from fear, prejudice and discrimination may never return. Imran Khan thinks otherwise, convinced that Darul Uloom Haqqania will produce enlightened and peace-loving future citizens


Would marrying a foreigner and having two sets of lifestyles make him a split personality? I continue.

“You must understand”, looking me in the eye, “Jemima is not an issue for the masses; it’s an issue for the elite classes suffering from inferiority complex”. IK has more faith in the people than in the intellectuals.

Confident of sweeping the 1997 polls, he says: “Look at the two, Benazir and Nawaz Sharif and judge their track record, while not once do I think I am the best man to lead the country, I still feel I can do a much better job than these two. Almost definitely we will make a huge change”.

Fast forward from 1996 to 2016

IK has wrought a “huge change” by handing over Rs300 million to Maulana Samiul Haq who controls Darul Uloom Haqqania at Akora Khattak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The generous gift has shocked most who say that the religious seminary was the alma mater of many prominent Afghan Taliban leaders, including the militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Thousands of innocent Pakistanis have perished at the hands of these terrorists who continue their rampage till today. But IK thinks, rightly or wrongly, that by giving money to the seminary, terrorism, militancy, radicalism will end.

Will it or will the beautiful landscape of Akora Khattak breed more jihadis?

A place to live becomes the place to love. The Akora Khattak of the ‘70s and the ‘80s where I roamed free from fear, prejudice and discrimination may never return.

Take the quiz: How well do you know Imran Khan?

In the quaint bazaar bordering the Darul Uloom Haqqania, I often drove down the busy sloping alley to shop for provisions, or park the car and walk to my tailor Noor Mohammad’s tiny shop.

Standing on the street, armed with sketches from Sears’s catalogues of the latest fashions that Noreen, my sister-in-law, regularly mailed from the US, I’d harass that gentle soul to reproduce the bell-bottom trousers and the sleeveless tops in vogue then.

Yes, we were ‘designing’ women always in step with the latest couture from the West, never mind if we lived in the hinterlands of Pakistan.

Modestly dressed that didn’t warrant a full covering of cloth from head to toe, my comfort level never flagged in the midst of locals who went about their business without throwing a single glare or stare my way.

Green fields on the banks of river Indus, pastoral and undulating landscape dotted with a bouquet of wild flowers with white, pink and cherry blossoms in spring, that’s the memory I live with of Akora Khattak and its environs.

See: Darul Uloom Haqqania agreed to reforms in return for Rs300m: Imran Khan

Maulana Samiul Haq had not appeared on the scene at Darul Uloom Haqqania then. The seminary was run by his revered father Abdul Haq.

He founded it in 1947. I never met him, but I am told that every year he came across to the residential compound of the tobacco factory, [where I lived] to collect a donation for the seminary.

The factory manager and his officers would receive him extending a courteous welcome reserved for VIPs. “You don’t need to come over, we can come to you with the donation,” the manager would politely tell his exalted visitor, a thrice elected member of the National Assembly from Peshawar division.

In 1978, Abdul Haq was awarded an honorary PhD in Divinity from the University of Peshawar for services rendered in the cause of Islam. After his death in 1988, his son Samiul Haq became the chancellor of Darul Uloom Haqqania. It was during his tenure that the seminary was dubbed as ‘The University of Jihad’ due to the militant mindset it has nurtured.

Today, 20 years later, the words of Nishat Chisti, a PTI leader sitting behind Imran Khan as we drove to Islamabad airport echo in my mind: “It is his [IK] unmistakable faith in God that amazes us.”

Perhaps it’s the same faith Imran has in Darul Uloom Haqqania that “amazes” us!


Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 17th, 2016

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