Official histories assert that Pakistan came into being as a homeland for Indian Muslims who visualised a bleak future in a united India. But it’s half-truth. Pakistan comprised Muslim majority areas. Thus it was a new homeland for the Muslims who inhabited such areas.

A large number of Muslims from the East Punjab and Uttar Pradesh migrated to this new state in the wake of ghoulish communal bloodshed and massacre that followed the Partition. A big chunk of Muslims scattered across India remained where it were. Pakistan was a new Muslim homeland but it still looked alien to the elite inhabiting it as it found it hard to square with the reality of what was flaunted as the community’s great historical achievement. The drift was caused by ideology premised on a flimsy assumption that Pakistan was an extension of Arab world, Iran and Central Asia. They deliberately ignored the fact that Pakistan was a part of South Asia. It’s in reality a region with a long history that has been the cradle of what is called Indian civilisation.

Interaction between Harappa people and Aryans way back in time left indelible marks and scars that defined the subcontinent for all times to come. People here in their march have changed faith several times. But has that changed their history and obliterated the past? Sadly this is what the elite in Pakistan has been trying to do. It has set for itself a task fraught with problems which are insoluble. Can people be securely anchored by sacrificing their natural affinity at the altar of the imagined one? If they do, they will be adrift as they are in Pakistan today. The drift is best expressed by certain tribes or castes whose claim to ‘nobility’ rests on their real or imagined non-South Asian origins.

This phenomenon is driven by self-loathing and contempt for the local people considered ‘lesser Muslims’. This is a legacy bequeathed by foreign Muslim rulers who treated converts as if they were thinly disguised infidels lacking in social dignity and spiritual values. Such a view in different guises has been popularised by official histories, state’s narrative and school textbooks over the last seven decades.

Let’s very briefly look for example at the stance of some of the tribes that claim foreign origins. Prominent among them are Syed, Arain, Awan and Ansari. Syed have added to our religious and literary assets. They, it is claimed, being descendants of a noble Arab tribe must be at the top ladder of Muslim hierarchy regardless of their personal character or conduct. They are a sort of Muslim Brahmans. They are typically a South Asian phenomenon as no tribe such as Syed exists in the Middle East. The word Syed simply is honorific. Some people of Semitic roots no doubt came to India from Arabia, Iran and Central Asia. Local converts put them on a high pedestal thinking that these foreigners knew their faith better than they did. Thus they were accepted as religious leaders. It was easier for the locals to do so because of their historical experience of caste society where hierarchical division was a fundamental fact of life.

Locals lacking access to Arabic language and religious literature accepted people claiming religious knowledge at face value. The claimants being receptacle of religious mysteries came to be venerated as god-men. The converts showered the god-men with gifts which made them materially affluent. Besides, being patronised by the court they were among the recipients of royal largesse. They were awarded large estates through royal decrees. That’s why Syed are currently big landlords in Sindh and the Punjab. Since a claim of having ‘noble origins’ was a lucrative proposition many local foreign imposters started pretending to be Syed and were accepted as such. Currently such a large number of Syed makes their claim of Middle Eastern origins hard to swallow.

A rain have their contribution in the field of agriculture. The tribe, mostly settled in the Punjab and Sindh, claim their ancestors migrated to Sindh as a part of Muhammad Bin Qasim army. Their claim is belied by their number and traditional profession. They constitute one of the four major tribes of the Punjab, other three being Gujjar, Rajput and Jat. Arains are the finest farmers in the Punjab and Sindh. Why and how Qasim’s soldiers from Arabia turned ace farmers nobody offers believable explanation. Arians of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana claim their elder was RaiJaj, a grandson of Lava, who is said to have founded Lahore.

Awan tribe, sturdy and enterprising, proclaims it has Arab roots. An 11th century governor of Herat in present-day Afghanistan by the name of Qutab Shah is considered to be their putative patriarch who they make out as a descendant of the fourth Islamic Caliph Hazrat Ali. But some of notable historians such as Arthur Brandreth, Alexander Cunningham and Hari Kishan Kaul have different views and declare them as Bactrian Greeks, Rajput and Jat respectively. Tribe’s hazy history, unreliable family tree and its number doesn’t makes its claim incontestable.

Ansari, sons of the soils endowed with artistic skill, it’s asserted, are from the holy city of Medina in Arabia. The claim seems surprising but understandable. It’s surprising as it’s made by indigenous artisans who are professional weavers. It’s understandable because it’s a desperate attempt to break the stranglehold of caste hierarchy that places them at the lower rung of the social ladder.

The real problem is not history but ideology that makes tribes and castes see benefits in alienation from the soil that sustains them. It’s painfully ironic that the people who hold up this homeland as their great historical achievement, despise and disown it at the same time in a futile search of a murky past buried in foreign lands. DNA testing can put a dampener on our insatiable lust for foreign roots. No tribe or caste claiming foreign origins is ready for mass DNA testing as they have a lurking fear that their myth of roots would get shattered and genealogies wouldn’t be worth the rags they have been written on. Even if tests declare that some segments of population have an element of foreign ancestry, it proves little. The people who have lived here, intermarried and adopted local language and culture for centuries would have little to do with their imagined foreign land as they have no historical memory of their distant past.

Migration and ensuing transformation of identity are what historical process is all about. If resisting migration is anti-historical, so is retaining the memory of one’s original habitat one migrated from after a lapse of hundreds of years. So don’t fight history. Those who fight it lose it. —

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2020


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