VIEW: Don’t know much about history —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain - Monday, March 28, 2011

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VIEW: Don’t know much about history —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain
Most Pakistanis who were educated in Pakistan over the last few decades do not necessarily identify with the country they live in. A quick survey of our young people today will establish that most think of themselves as Muslims first and Pakistanis second

On the 23rd of March, Pakistan won their quarterfinal match against the West Indies to reach the Cricket World Cup semi-finals. All the commentators kept talking about how it was a great present for Pakistan on Pakistan Day. There were even some passing references to the resolution passed in Lahore 71 years ago, but the history of each World Cup and almost every major Pakistani cricket campaign from the earliest days of the country were repeated again and again. Also it seemed that most of the young people around really knew their cricket history.

Being of a certain age, I felt a little uncomfortable about all these references to the Pakistan Resolution and Pakistan Day. First, those of us who have actually read the Lahore Resolution of 1940 know that it did not mention Pakistan at all though it might have initiated the move towards Pakistan. Second, what we celebrate as Pakistan Day was initially the Republic Day after the 1956 Constitution came into force and Pakistan ceased to be a dominion of the British Empire and became a republic. It was only after the abrogation of the 1956 Constitution by our first military dictator that the Republic Day was renamed Pakistan Day.

The thing that bothers me is not that our young people know so much about cricket but rather that they know so little about Pakistani history. As we moan and groan about how little attachment Pakistanis in general have for the country they live in, we entirely ignore the fact that in our schools and colleges Pakistani history is not taught properly. Recently during discussions with students preparing for their advanced examinations in allied health sciences at King Edward Medical University (KEMU), I was surprised to find that Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat were compulsory subjects.

Essentially the entire gamut of Pakistan Studies being taught starts with the Arab invasion of Sindh 1,400 years ago, moves on to Afghan marauders who looted parts of India repeatedly, and then comes to the Muslim invaders from the north who finally conquered India. It skirts around the Mughal Empire, moves on to the last of the great Afghan destroyers of Muslim-ruled Delhi and his victory over the Mahrattas. From then on it is about the end of Muslim rule, the Aligarh Movement headed by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the Khilafat Movement headed by the Johar brothers, the Muslim League, Iqbal, Jinnah, Two-Nation Theory, Pakistan Resolution and the founding of Pakistan. I might have missed out on a few digressions but I do think that I have hit all the high points.

What is troublesome about this sort of ‘history’ is that it emphasises the role of Muslim invaders and to a great degree ignores the local spread of Islam and the pluralistic culture that was established by the Mughals during their rule in India. Also by emphasising the impact of Muslim invaders it strengthens the idea that Pakistan as it exists today is an ‘outpost’ of Arab-Central Asian Muslims rather than of people who are indigenous to this area. The natural result of this is that most Pakistanis who were educated in Pakistan over the last few decades do not necessarily identify with the country they live in. A quick survey of our young people today will establish that most think of themselves as Muslims first and Pakistanis second.

This tendency towards identification with the Arabs and foreign Islamic cultures is a product of the dark days of Islamisation under Ziaul Haq fortified by infusion of petro-dollar Islam. Our school syllabi are still heavily weighted in favour of this attitude and our Islamist political groups as well as our national governments heavily reliant on petro-dollars prevent rationalisation of what is being taught in the name of Pakistan and Islam. As far as the history of Pakistan is concerned, little if anything is taught in our schools after Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan.

Often before I started my series of lectures to final year medical students in KE, I asked the entire class three questions. First, name the second governor-general and the second prime minister of Pakistan. Second, tell me the origin of the word ‘Algorithm’, and third I would ask for the explanation of a verse by Mirza Ghalib. Sadly, few if any of these, the brightest of our young men and women, are able to answer these questions. The point is that even our ‘best’ students know virtually nothing about Pakistani history, Muslim history or our cultural traditions.

I claim no expertise when it comes to religion but I do believe that specific religious instruction should be a part of home schooling or at best imparted at the local mosque or at madrassas. Formal schools should provide information about religion in general rather than about any particular theological point of view. However, education about the history of Muslims should be a part of any historically oriented curriculum. As far as the history of Pakistan is concerned it should concentrate on the real history of Pakistan.

Let us for instance tell our young people about the reason for the first martial law in Punjab in 1954, the Tamizuddin case, the attempts at creating electoral ‘parity’ between East and West Pakistan and the 1956 Constitution, the Ayub Khan martial law, the election between Ayub Khan and Fatima Jinnah, the rise of Bengali nationalism, the Agartala Conspiracy Case, the student movement that ousted Ayub Khan, the 1971 war and separation of East Pakistan, the rise of the PPP, the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the hypocritical Islamisation of Ziaul Haq, the democratic interregnum, the Musharraf years and of course about what goes on today.

The second prime minister as well as the second governor-general of Pakistan was Khawaja Nazimuddin. And Algorithm is the Latinised version of the name of Al Khawarizmi, a Muslim mathematician who also gave us Algebra. About Ghalib, the less said the better.

The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

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