THE OTHER COLUMN: Khuda Hafiz ka Allah hee Hafiz —Ejaz Haider
In EM Foster’s A Passage to India, every time Dr Aziz is insulted by an Englishman, he begins to think of Aurangzeb and the period of Muslim glory. Thal has been inhabited but we want to go back to the pre-canal, pre-railways world
Prominent poet Kishwar Naheed recently wrote a column captioned Allah Hafiz keh Khuda Hafiz. She said that when she was growing up, everyone said Khuda Hafiz. Why was there now a debate over which expression to use as a parting wish? Why, indeed. But there it is and by the looks of it, Khuda Hafiz ka Allah hee Hafiz hau chuka hai.
As far as I can remember, at least in print, the first such lament was penned in April 2004 by Khaled Ahmed, captioned The rise of the Allah Hafizites. Khaled and I have for a long time been wondering about this transformation from the plain, simple, Persianised, unaffected Khuda Hafiz to the currently in vogue grandiloquent, Arabised, affected and brimming-with-piety Allah Hafiz.
Like Kishwar Aapa, I, too, while growing up never heard anyone say Allah Hafiz. I am half tempted to caption this column Khuda Hafiz to Allah Hafiz. But the reality is that Khuda Hafiz now has very few takers. Even in the burgeoning services sector customers are now politely but prominently Allah-Hafiz-ed by whoever they speak with.
It is amazing how we have Arabised ourselves despite our much-stronger and direct Persian connection. Activists of jihadi groups even began resorting to the Arabic tradition of kunniyat, calling themselves Abu-this and Abu-that. Just the thought of a robust Punjabi trying to turn himself into an Arab is a bloody joke. In any case, if Abu it has to be, then let me call myself Abu-screw-you. That would really strike terror into the hearts of the infidel.
Persian names are of course démodé, so everyone and his uncle is now Abdullah. We even have a PIE (Project Islamise Environment) under whose charter local trees have to give way to date palm trees. Some years ago when I reached Rawalpindi and saw date palm trees being planted on an expanded Murree Road, I knew our nation had been salvaged. I hope to see more of them when the chief minister of this province, the redoubtable Pericles Elahi, scion of the Alcmaeonids of Gujrat, constructs our Acropolis near old Murree.
I was cherishing these thoughts when I picked up Ahmed Nadeen Qasmi’s short story, Thal. Qasmi depicts, among other things, the socio-economic changes wrought by modernity. The railway line stands as the symbol of the movement forward. But technology (modernity) does not suddenly come into being. It is part of a historical process. Between Misri, the father who won’t travel in the train because Pir Sahib had cursed it, and Meetha, the son who has studied in the city and has left the Pir Sahib behind, there is a huge distance. Qasmi ends the story beautifully when he says (rough translation): “At that moment Misri’s visage expressed his truth; it would take centuries for Thal to be inhabited.”
For Misri, Thal would never be inhabited in the way that Meetha’s generation understands the process. Misri stands bewildered in surroundings that he cannot make sense of. He has not travelled and yet the world around him has transformed. His Thal will never be inhabited because it has been buried under the silt of history’s flow.
That world is contrasted through Meetha’s urban, modern universe. But what happens if Meetha wants to go back in time, to some utopia that he has heard of, or conjured up, but never seen and may never even realise. In a way, Misri, even having lost his world, is less tragic because he never found the new one, even as he laments the loss of the old. Meetha, if he wanted to hark back, would have to unhinge himself from a world he knows but does not appreciate. He may even try to use the destructive potential of modern technology to tear down the world in order to create his utopia.
Would he feel like the millenarian, ahistorical extremists for whom the only use of technology is that it can help them destroy the new in order to gain the old, never mind the absence of an a priori link between the two?
The Allah Hafiz, Khuda Hafiz debate, the severing off of the Persian connection, keeping Arab names, growing date palm trees, wearing the horrible abayas, attempting to bring in khilafat, harking back to the city-state of Madina are all attempts by us to lose the new to beget the old because the old — we have convinced ourselves — was somehow the period of near-perfection, if not perfection itself. Allama Iqbal’s Sixth Lecture, and the sense of movement therein, is lost to us.
There is defeatism in this attitude. We are angry. We like to abuse and it gives us great pleasure to insult the West. It makes me wonder why we talk about the alienation of the youth in England, for instance, when I know firsthand how Muslim families in that country have, despite living there for decades, tried to prevent integration and reject every value that society has to offer.
In E M Foster’s A Passage to India, every time Dr Aziz is insulted by an Englishman, he begins to think of Aurangzeb and the period of Mughal glory. Thal has been inhabited but we want to go back to the pre-canal, pre-railways world.
Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Contributing Editor of Daily Times