Friday, 15 August 2008

Pakistan Independence Day: What does it mean to us?

It’s Pakistan and India’s Independence Day celebrations, 61 years of independence. I went to the Pakistan Independence Day Concert, organised by Goshi Entertainments, at the SECC last night to celebrate this occasion but came away thinking about what exactly I was celebrating.

The show started with the son of outgoing Glasgow Central MP Muhammad Sarwar (also present) presenting an awards ceremony for leading Pakistani figures in Glasgow. Anas Sarwar, the Labour MSP candidate for Glasgow Central, introduced Labour leaning individuals to the platform but in amongst all of these was Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), our Deputy First Minister. Nicola made a passionate speech using all the right buzz words, Pakistan, Independence, illegal war, Palestine, Scotland. Then again, independence and the SNP are synonymous, are they not? Interestingly the term Scottish Muslim, which the SNP seem to have quite happily funded nearly half a million pounds towards promoting, was ditched and the term Scottish Pakistanis was used by our Deputy First Minister. Why was this the case? And where were the representatives of the Scottish Islamic Foundation? Could it be the case that SIF believe that what was going on at this concert of dance and music, which is most certainly a part of Pakistani culture, was not ‘Islamic’?

It seems that our political parties in Scotland have gone daft over courting the Muslim vote, or is it the Pakistani vote? I’m not sure they actually care, as long as they get the vote. What troubles me is that there seems to be no concern about change, progress and development. But like I’ve said before, change in the Muslim communities must come from within, it is not the duty or interest of others to call for progress. It seems that politicians may try and deceive us into thinking that they are seeking, or funding, change and progress but in fact their motive and action is purely political. The whole fracas between the SNP and Labour party over the government funding to the Scottish Islamic Foundation is an example of this. The Scottish press seem to be having a field day publishing cheap, or not so cheap in the case of SIF, snipes between the SNP and Labour parties. The ultimate question we should be asking is, does anyone care about what SIF stands for or is this purely a party political issue?

This is why I believe that our political parties or Muslim politicians cannot deliver strength and progress in the Muslim communities. The status quo of Muslim societies in Scotland, or in any other part of the UK, has moved to a moderate stream but what we need is the alternative progressive voice. I have no intention of denying anyone a voice but just aim to promote a truly progressive one too. The regressive agenda of many moderates is being unveiled but I fear that this unveiling is not to support the progressive cause but to further political agendas. I am shocked to hear some Scots use the unfortunate position of the Scottish Islamic Foundation to have a dig at Muslims as a ‘whole’, as if to understand us as a monolith. Progressives cannot continue to sleep through such sentiments but they must be challenged with progressive Islamic values.

Change is happening but I believe that it lacks spiritual strength and understanding. Take the vast majority of attendants at the concert last night. I’d say they were between 18-24 and all were thoroughly enjoying the acts on stage by predominantly Brits with clear south Asian roots. The singers sang a mixture of r&b, traditional Punjabi bhangra, Hindi songs which some might say is a nice mixture of everything but in reality it is neither here nor there. It is a bit like the word multiculturalism – we get so involved in trying to figure out all these different cultures and accommodating them that we lose sight of what we actually are ourselves. Only when a culture, be it religious or otherwise, is confident in itself and has grappled with its own state of affairs will it be able to live and thrive in one that is diverse. Only when the new generation of Scots, who are Muslim, are confident and strong in their religion, roots and culture/s will they be able to venture out.

At the moment we seem to be failing this new generation by not highlighting their roots and how proud they should be of them. Instead we are trying to create this Scottish Muslim which shies away from its real roots. Why are we so reluctant to highlight the beautiful culture of the subcontinent? The answer is simple - because it is progressive. Let us not forget that Muhammad Ali Jinnah created Pakistan as a secular, yet very Islamic, state. A state that proudly presented a Hindu as it’s first Foreign Minister. A state that was created through the vision of a great mystical Urdu poet, Muhammad Iqbal. A state which has failed to uphold these progressive values because the Mullahs of the land have been trying in vain to create an ideal Islamic State! I’m also not altogether convinced that independence for India or Pakistan was a good idea for their ultimate strength in culture and creativity lay in their unification, but that’s for another day. I felt that these critical questions were lost in a sea of identity crisis at the concert last night.

Here is a speech given by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Founder of Pakistan. Note how the speech makes no comment on how to make the state 'Islamic' but talks about shared values and deep Islamic vales and ethos which require no need to detail political Islam.

Maybe I am deconstructing music too much but for me at a Pakistani Independence Day concert we needed to hear songs which Pakistani greats sang such as Noor Jehan, Farida Khanum, Malaika Pukhraj, Iqbal Bano, Mehdi Hassan, Naseebo Lal and others. These singers have sung some of the most outstanding songs with powerful Urdu poetry that is deeply spiritual and progressive. The problem is that the moderates have hammered in this idea that music, singing and dance is totally ‘un-Islamic’ which has led the younger generation to see such creativity far from the realms of Islam. Islam has inspired some of the most wonderful poetry, ghazals, music and singing in South Asia and the very core of a lot of these songs sung by the new generation of Brits has its roots in that land. The problem is that the vital link between music, singing and poetry has not been developed with the younger generation. So the vital question is who is doing this? Are we expecting our political parties or politicians to do this? If we are truly to be proud of Pakistan and India’s Independence then we need to ask ourselves why that is and what questions does that raise about our identity and roots.

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