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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

dr mubarak ali - ameera javeria

by Ameera Javeria

Dr Mubarik Ali greeted me warmly in the modest drawing room of his second floor apartment in Lahore's Cantonment. He is one of the very few historians born in this land to have attained international recognition, as well as domestic notoriety, for his original and unflattering views about Muslim rule in the Subcontinent. The doctor has the eminence and grace of a man that comes from plumbing the depth of knowledge. There was much to be said and so without further ado he fired away.

"Krushchev said that historians are dangerous people, so you have got to be wary of them", said Dr Ali with a wicked gleam in his eye. An apt remark for Dr Mubarik Ali has indeed stirred a hornets' nest in Pakistan, especially among the ideologues, because of his secular views about history, especially the Partition. His thesis is that the two-nation theory is the basis of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. He believes that by deviating from secular thought, the Muslims of this country have alienated the minorities. "On an international level, we are branded chauvinists and fanatics because of our education". Dr Mubarik Ali's thesis is appreciated among the cognoscenti; but since we have many a religious zealot in the society, particularly in what passes for academia, there are occasional howls of protests.

Dr Ali's is a spartan lifestyle, with a distinct anti-elitist attitude. He takes pride in the fact that he has been working from the age of fifteen after completing his matriculation. Born in 1941 in Tonk, in Rajasthan (India), he traces his ancestry to the Pathans who left their rugged homeland in the north to settle in the more fertile plains of India. "My mother was from a religious family in Kasur while my father was from Sambhal, in Utter Pardesh". In 1952 the family had moved to Hyderabad, Sindh, where Dr Mubarik Ali received his early schooling. The move, however, proved to be unpropitious for his father who lost all his earnings in a risky business venture. Being the eldest sibling, Dr Ali had no choice but to work. Despite the hardships, he continued with his education earning his bachelor's degree from a night college after which he joined a secondary school as a teacher.

After securing first position in his Master's in History, Sindh University offered him a job as lecturer, a post that he held from 1963 to 1989. When he chose to leave the institution it was as the head of the history department. In 1970, he went to England in search of a scholarship in order to finance his doctoral studies. "At that time, £260 per annum was a huge sum for me and I had to work at all sorts of jobs to come up with that kind of money. I even sold diaries at Selfridges to support myself". This was when he found out that if he enrolled at a German university his tuition fee would be virtually non-existent and so it was to the Ruhe University, Bochum, that he proceeded from where he earned a Ph.D for his thesis titled "Mughal court life".

On returning home in 1972, Dr Ali found that he had been unceremoniously suspended from Sindh University. The university's chancellor when reaching this decision did not stop to consider that the reason for Dr Ali's one-year long leave of absence was caused by his pursuit of his doctoral studies abroad. Disheartened and disgusted, he resigned from Sindh University in 1989 and was thereafter employed at the Punjab University's South Asian Institute.

Dr Mubarik Ali is not, naturally, an antagonistic person nor does he nurse un-Islamic views as his detractors claim. He believes that Pakistan could prosper more as a nation if it shows a balanced patriotism, which means de-ideologising of the mind. He dismisses the notion that Pakistan's existence is underpinned by the two-nation theory and that it will collapse if this is undermined. This year, at a seminar in New Delhi, he read a paper that dealt with Pakistan's search for identity. The paper evaluates the construction and process of a national ideology that, after five decades of independence, has brought more harm than good.

When I asked him to comment on why we never had an objective study on the Partition when India has produced so much on this subject, he responded with a smile, "the Indians have researched this issue since they nurse a great sense of loss. We, on the other hand, are not expected to reveal any feeling of shame or loss as this might be perceived as dimming the glory of achieving independence. If we allow ourselves to do so we will negate the very two-nation theory this country is based on". Dr Ali went on to explain how successive governments have made desperate efforts to preserve the Pakistan ideology by distorting history in school textbooks and enforcing a penal code that awards 10-years rigorous imprisonment to anyone speaking against it.

The doctor also expressed his reservations about the educational system prevalent in Pakistan today. "Education is a positive thing but an ideological education can have disastrous effects. This is why I believe that an uneducated person is more broadminded, for he is tolerant". He expressed his disgust at the efforts aimed at twisting and distorting history which he said "is the victim of ideological states. Independent research and publication of textbooks have been compromised because of the state's intervention".

He lamented the fact that this opportunistic change in school curricula has not only altered the way we think as a nation but has ultimately cheated us of our true heritage. It is for this reason that he was critical of Ayub Khan's education policy. "At one time, ancient history i.e. the Ramayana, Mahabharat and the study of Buddhist culture and relics was part of curricula but it was done away with in 1962", explained Dr Mubarik Ali. After 1965 additional chapters on patriotism were added to school textbooks in an attempt to glorify military heroes.

Dr Ali wrote a research paper entitled "Akbar in Pakistan's textbooks" in 1992 in which he commented on emperor Akbar's conspicuous absence from Pakistani textbooks when dealing with the Mughal dynasty. "In l933, Muslim scholars in India started blaming Akbar for the downfall of the Mughal dynasty and declared him a taboo subject". For his part, Dr Mubarik Ali is of the opinion that it was due to Akbar's radical policies in India vis a vis the treatment of minorities, also known as "Sulh-e-qul", that truly "Indianised" Hindu-Muslim society.

Dr Mubarik Ali is a firm believer in history's binding force; according to him, distancing ourselves from our past can cause irreparable loss. "We suffer from serious misconceptions about Muslim rule in India: the Mughals did rule India for centuries but it would be wrong to call this Islamic rule; it was the rule of Muslim dynasties."

It is with a sense of deep distress that Dr Mubarik Ali looks on as history and research is increasingly confined to a handful of universities and government institutes that allow no freedom of thought and where researchers are forced to stick to parameters ordained by governments. "There is little room for a researcher to expand. Pursuing independent research could endanger your or your boss's career", he says. And certainly, a life of teaching is not as gratifying as it used to be. Dr Ali finds the attitude of today's students appalling which in turn has made him lose faith in teaching. He resents the fact that teachers in this country are being made to work for peanuts and links the intellectual decline in the country to the impoverishment of teachers.

Despite the grim scenario, Dr Ali has tremendous intellectual commitment to his work. His forty or so publications are a measure of his resolution. Even though it is rarely that he writes in English, his books have received critical acclaim abroad. "Back home, most of my readers are from Sindh, Balochistan and even from the Siraiki speaking belt". Dr Ali believes that if the government cannot perform its duties, then it is up to intellectuals to unite at a private platform for the promotion of research and independent inquiry. "Our society does not deserve to have a culture of its own if it fails to build its cultural institutions", he says.

The future for secular individuals in Pakistan perturbs him a great deal. "I fear a time when intellectuals will be completely isolated from mainstream society. There is no protection for free thinking individuals in Pakistan. And how can there be when these so-called lashkars go around branding us as enemies of Islam or foreign agents", he protests.

Waging a war against the government has never been an option for Dr Mubarik Ali even though he is constantly pitted against the establishment. He is a man, a rare breed in these violent times, who believes in bringing about change through debate and dissent. Unfortunately, our society is increasingly intolerant of all forms of dissent. "In Hitler's reign it was the society that turned fascist. It is easy to fight against the government but very difficult to fight against society", Dr Mubarik Ali concludes on a chilling note.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved the interview. Have read his "Historian's Dispute", "A Page from History" and "Tareekh kia kehti hai". He is one of the greatest men Pakistan has produced.

October 01, 2009 3:46 AM  
Anonymous Freakenstein said...

I really admire Doctor saab and truly believe on his ideology on Two Nation Theory and his "second" thoughts about Allama Iqbal being the Poet of East.

November 10, 2009 7:04 AM  

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