Thursday, 28 February 2008

Pakistani Drama Serials and Progressive Islam


So, there I was sitting at my sister Asfa's house with my Mum and Dad watching a Pakistani drama serial called 'Kajal' on Geo Pakistani TV channel on satellite when I began to wonder about the way in which Islam has progressed in Pakistan. Yes, you read correctly, Islam progressing.

Let us make some distinctions here. Most Pakistanis who came to the UK in the 1960s came here for the sole purpose to earn their bag of gold and then return 'back home'. The vast majority of those who came to the UK were not rich but came from poor background, the rich stayed in Pakistan and they have gotten richer. The myth of return was quickly realised and the first generation ended up staying here. Initially the men arrived on their own but then decided to bring their wives and families over too. My father recalled many stories about the 'fun' times that these new Scots had with their 'mates' and the 'local girls' - enough said. He told me that even the most prominent Pakistani figures in Scottish society have a colorful past which they now veil with their 'Islamic credentials'. Don't worry guys I believe in private lives being exactly that. It was only after the first generation realised the myth of return that they decided to create an 'Islamic culture' in the UK, in Scotland. The Islam that they wanted to establish in Scotland was firstly best suited to Pakistan and secondly one which was made up of all sorts of traditions, some authentic and some not. The education level of these new Scots was not great so they could only establish that which they were taught. They then proceeded to import Pakistani imams (preachers in Mosques) who had learnt an Islam best suited for Pakistan.

Today the first generation of Pakistanis still have a firm grasp in the Mosques and they still continue to uphold the same beliefs and practices that they came with in the 1960s. What they fail to realise is that Pakistani Islam has developed. What they fail to realise is that Muslims in Scotland are living in 21st Century Scotland! Do we actually understand and appreciate what Scotland means to us? The new generation of 'Scottish Muslims', who believe they have more a grasp on Islam than their forefathers aim for the Islamic utopia of the historical Islamic empire. They have learnt the Qur'an, the sayings of the prophet, the commentaries that medieval Muslim men have written, parts of Islamic law which is stuck in its historical context, I could go on and on and on. So between a Pakistani Islam of the 1960s and medieval Islam we are none the wiser. Pushing and pulling between centuries and traditions we are holding everyone back from progress.

The drama serial, Kajal, is set in a major city in Pakistan, not quite sure which one. It shows the modern shopping malls (which me and sister sat for about 15 minutes arguing were better than Buchanan Galleries), the coffee shops, the cinemas, the friendships between men and women, the difficulties that take place in arranged marriages, the dilemmas faced by a female doctor in a hospital. Did I mention the difficulties that these characters are having with their Islamic identity? No, I didn't because they don't have this problem. Their lives are enriched with the presence of God but they do not need to aim for some great ideal which cannot be achieved. But also remember that the poor came from villages in Pakistan which have often not developed in the way the major cities have. My own parents came from a village in Pakistan and so they are in the same position. I do believe that deep down my parents are progressives, creating me is evidence enough! Or maybe I get my progressive itch from my grandfather who lived in died in Singapore. And here is where I think that Muslims in Scotland with Pakistani roots need to take a wee trip to the main cities in Pakistan and see the way in which Islam is lived out there. But then again am I wasting my breath because there are major political parties in Pakistan which stand for all things 'Islamic', curbing music, arts, films, basically most things fun. These Islamic political parties this time round have failed miserably in the general election and the widespread voice of progressive Pakistani Muslims is calling for peace and progress.

I am pleased that a new wave of change has started. Turkish Islamic scholars have started the process of revisions to the sayings of the prophet Muhammad (hadith). A bold step towards bringing out the beauty of Islam and making it ultra clear that traditions which call for discrimination, abuse and intolerance are far from the Islamic traditions. I know what some of you are thinking, will the next step be a revision of the Qur'an? I'm not in favour of this for the sole fact that anything associated with the prophet, sayings or actions, are not divine and hence up for grabs and debates but the Qur'an is divine and its true wisdom is sought through a reflection and serious grappling with its 'shades of gray', that is what makes me excited about the Qur'an. It is a text which I call 'perfectly ambiguous', God has given me a great challenge to understand it. Let's hope that we all find our way to the Qur'an and our identity.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Aman for the insight here on Pakistanis who arrived here in the 60's. It's helped me understand much!

    I was a bus conductor in the early 70's, and Glasgow Corporation Transport could not have run without these "incomers". I remember having wonderful discussions about God in Partick Garage.

    Today I understand where they were "coming from"! Wish I'd understood more then!

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