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Of textbooks, extremism and Mohammed bin Qasim

Nationalism is a dangerous thing. It requires antagonists to thrive upon it. Consequently, it needs heroes as well. It constructs for those heroes intricate mythologies that are then nurtured, protected and propagated through all channels available

Of late, there has been enough buzz about the ‘comparative religion’ episode in a local school and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s introduction of jihad in textbooks. Though deplorable, these events do solicit a much-needed discourse, which may lead to a positive change. Such radicalisation is inevitable in a society where dangerous notions like ‘Pakistan the fortress of Islam’ are adopted as state narrative. The state is a territorial entity in which the boundaries of the state play a key role in defining nationhood. In contrast, religion is a reality that cuts across all local, national, ethnic and linguistic boundaries, and brings into existence a wider community based on faith. By making religion the ideology of the state, you render loyalty to territory secondary and leave its citizens confused in terms of their allegiance. What is a Pakistani Muslim soldier, for example, supposed to do if he encounters a Muslim soldier from the Indian army in a state of war? Who would you support when Danesh Kaneria, a Pakistani Hindu cricketer, is bowling to Irfan Pathan, an Indian Muslim cricketer during a cricket match between India and Pakistan? Would you not subscribe to the Pakistani factor over the Muslim factor in both cases? After all, the spirit of nationhood is defined by the geographic confines one represents and not the religion one follows but if one were to ask that, going by the same logic, should our loyalty not lie with Raja Dahir instead of Mohammed bin Qasim, the answer would be different. The indoctrination a Pakistani has endured through the distortion of Pakistan’s history to justify its existence on the basis of Islam has left our judgment severely impaired.
The first lesson we are given in Pakistan’s history is that Mohammad bin Qasim (MbQ) was the flag-bearer of Islam in the subcontinent. There are deep un,derlying problems with this narrative on several levels. First, what nobody realises is that MbQ was a general of the Ummayad Dynasty, the same dynasty which was a sworn enemy and killers of the offspring of the Prophet (PBUH). It is the dynasty that Yazid, the murderer of Imam Hussain (RA), also belongs to.
We are told that Hajjaj bin Yusuf al Thaqifi, a tyrannical governor of Iraq for the Ummayads, sent his nephew Mohammed bin Qasim on a mission to Sindh to rescue some Muslim damsels in distress from the evil clutches of Raja Dahir. It would be worthwhile to mention that Hajjaj is the same man to whose credit is the murder of numerous companions of the Prophet (PBUH), like Abdullah bin Al-Zubayr (RA) and Jabir bin Abdullah (RA), because they fought for the right of the Prophet’s (PBUH) descendants to the caliphate. Hazrat Asma, daughter of Hazrat Abu Bakr, reported, “I heard Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) say: ‘Allah will fill a corner of the corners of the fire with the hypocrite of Thaqif (Hajjaj) for he will throw stones at the Kaaba. May Allah curse him’” (Al-Imama wa al-Siyasa, volume two, page 45). The hadith points towards the war against Abdullah bin Zubayr (RA) in which Hajjaj bombarded the Kaaba, damaging it severely. The question that begs attention here is: can a tyrant like Hajjaj start a war against Raja Dahir just to rescue some fair maidens? The earliest source mentioning MbQ’s adventure in Sindh is Baladhuri’s ‘Futuh al-Buldan’. No maidens are mentioned therein and they found their way into historical accounts centuries later.
The actual reasons for the Umayyad interest in Sindh had nothing to do with spreading Islam but were the same as have been for any ruler/dynasty in any part of the world at any given time: power. The actual motive was to gain a foothold in the Balochistan and Sindh regions, not only to protect their maritime interests but also to punish the armies of Sindh for their participation, alongside the Persians, in battles at Nahawand, Salasal and Qâdisiyyah against the Ummayads. More importantly, the attack was carried out to capture the fleeing rebel chieftains, many of whom were Imam Hussain’s (RA) loyalists. These rebels had also fought alongside Raja Dahir against earlier Arab attempts to gain entry into Sindh. So those who think of Dahir as an Islam-hating psychopath should know that his army actually included Arab Muslims who opposed the Ummayad’s right to the Caliphate. The comedy of the contradiction here is that, on the one hand, we consider Imam Hussain (RA) a symbol of resistance against oppression while in the same breath we idolise his killers.
Secondly, even if one were to believe that MbQ attacked Sindh out of a genuine wish to spread Islam, who authorised him to do so by use of the sword? Islamic history is witness that the Prophet (PBUH) never imposed Islam through force on anyone. All the battles he fought were either in direct or in wider context of self-defence, or when Allah ordered through divine revelations. Most Islamic scholars agree that the directives in the Quran pertaining to war were specific only to Mohammad (PBUH) against the specified people of his time as a form of divine punishment. Therefore, after the Prophet’s (PBUH) time, there is no concept in Islam obliging Muslims to wage war for propagation or implementation of Islam. Hence now, the only valid grounds for war is religious persecution and that too when all other measures have failed. One may ask: how did MbQ arrive at the conclusion on his own if Raja Dahir deserved to be punished or not?
Nationalism is a dangerous thing. It requires antagonists to thrive upon it. Consequently, it needs heroes as well. And, in the process, it constructs for those heroes intricate mythologies that are then nurtured, protected and propagated through all channels available. Charlemagne in France and Changez Khan in Mongolia are examples of heroes that represent some unique aspect of their nation’s foundational myth. These mythologies are not only produced for mass consumption but also then jealously guarded. Mohammed bin Qasim’s heroism is our jealously guarded and artificially constructed mythology. This distortion was done at the behest of the vested interest groups that hijacked Pakistan immediately after partition, discarded Jinnah’s vision and devoted all efforts to make Pakistan something that ensured their political significance. To divorce from our Hindu past, the entire history of the subcontinent had to be distorted. Patriotism thus gave way to a misguided sense of Islamic nationalism, making us a confused, paranoid and intolerant people. 
The trouble is that when we ascribe the spread of Islam to invaders like MbQ, we are ourselves creating the impression that Islam justifies use of force. Why find it strange then, when terrorists resort to violence to impose their agenda? Why cry foul then when the entire world considers Islam a violent religion? We have raised generation upon generation revering such mass murderers as our heroes, then why express dismay over Pakistan’s radicalisation? The chickens are just coming home to roost.

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