From the ruins of Awaran: The secular Baloch

Published: October 8, 2013

At least one mosque and madrassa do exist in every village, but only a few go to them. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

At least one mosque and madrassa do exist in every village, but only a few go to them. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS The people of Awaran stand divided, struggling with having to choose between religion and secularism.
AWARAN: 

“There is only one namazi in this whole village,” our friend pointed out when we reached a village of over 2,500 people near Awaran town.

One can see madrassas next to mosques in every village but it seems like people are less inclined towards religion.

Apart from the conflict between Baloch separatists and the government, there is also a cold war between the religious and liberal mindset – Ma Chuke Balochani versus Ma Chuke Musalmani (I am the descendant of a Baloch/Muslim).

Religious teachers are called ‘Pakistani mullahs’ by many, therefore, their teachings resonate little among Awaran’s people.

“People want to keep a distance from these mullahs,” a local, Abdul Wahid, commented. He did, however, acknowledge that the influence of the religious community in the district is increasing gradually.

According to locals, religious leaders of other areas tried to establish a bigger seminary in Awaran town in the 1990s, but as many people did not turn up and enrolment was low, the madrassa shut down. The reason people are not ardent madrassa-goers is because there is a big population of Zikris, they said.

There is only one big seminary across the district – Anwar-ul-Uloom – in Mashkey. About 50 per cent of Mashkey’s populace is Zikri. On a district level, they make up a quarter of the entire population.

Many in Awaran fear that religion might supersede their Baloch heritage in priority. Due to Awaran’s recent history of being the centre of separatist militants, a few also feel that too much focus on religion might come in the way of keeping the Baloch identity supreme, and keeping their grievances alive.

“Balochistan comes first. Everything else comes next,” Muhammad Aslam said. “We Baloch are liberal and secular. We prioritise our culture and heritage rather than other things,” he added.

It was also observed that locals, especially youngsters, were not happy when they were asked for prayer. “Won’t you go for Jummah prayer?” “No,” a Baloch boy replied when an FC man inquired of him near a check post.

But being secular does not mean that they are westernised. No one in Awaran town wears jeans or pants. One only sees shalwar kameez. “We are happy with our local attire,” Abdul Karim chuckled as he saw most of the journalists visiting Awaran were wearing jeans and T-shirts.

But there are dissenting voices. Seminary teacher Hafiz Sher Muhammad said that the people of his district are not actually liberal or secular, but rather ignorant. “We are living in our own world. We need to interact with the world and that change will come with education, even if it’s religious education.”

“This is the main reason we are trying to educate them,” he said. “Our people are not on the right path and we need to change that.”

He was of the view that Awaran was under the influence of Sardars, which resulted in this ‘quest for secularism’ and maintaining a distance from religion. “Sardars rule here and they impose their will over the masses,” he added.

“We are trying to save something of our Islamic heritage – whatever we can.” Muhammad said they were trying to change the local folk, ma chuke Balochani to ma chuke Musalmani.

The locals are at a fork in the road – not only in terms of choosing between the government and the separatists, but also between religion and secularism.

Amid the earthquake, zero development and negligible infrastructure, the people of Awaran still stand divided. The earthquake seems to be one of the many battles the people are fighting.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2013. 

Reader Comments (23)

  • Junaid
    Oct 8, 2013 - 9:38AM

    Our people are not on the right path and we need to change that.

    Said like a true Proselytizer. Stand strong in the face of cultural erosion.

    Recommend

  • Usman Masood
    Oct 8, 2013 - 10:01AM

    Who cares? It doesn’t matter whether you are religious or liberal. Are you honest? Do you help others? Are you narrow minded? Are you intolerant? These are the things that count.

    It does not matter whether Pakistan is ruled by conservatives or liberals. You have to be honest and Pakistan will prosper. So please stop this nonsense and focus on selecting better rulers.

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  • Sarmad
    Oct 8, 2013 - 10:08AM

    I am not sure what objective ET wants to achieve by posting such a report. Do they want to show that Balochistan’s far flung villages are more “civilized” than cities?

    Recommend

  • A J Khan
    Oct 8, 2013 - 10:28AM

    Seminary is not the sign of religion, but invasion of a certain brand of interest groups spreading sectarianism & ultimately creating fodder for the Middle Eastern wars.
    I am happy to learn that unlike Pashtuns, Baloch are aware of this regional dynamics.
    The sad part is that they are unable to identify their problems & suggest proper solutions. They are riding a band wagon of foreign paid leaders who themselves are living in opulence at the cost of their poverty & hyped deprivation. They repeatedly fall victims to the same people either in name of Baloch Nationalism or chauvinism.

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  • A J Khan
    Oct 8, 2013 - 10:33AM

    Seminary is not the sign of religion, but invasion of a certain brand of interest groups spreading sectarianism & ultimately creating fodder for the Middle Eastern wars.
    I am happy to learn that unlike Pashtuns, Baloch are aware of this regional dynamics.
    The sad part is that they are unable to identify their problems & suggest proper solutions. They are riding a band wagon of foreign paid leaders who themselves are living in opulence at the cost of their poverty & hyped deprivation. They repeatedly fall victims to the same people either in name of Baloch Nationalism or chauvinism

    Recommend

  • Ali
    Oct 8, 2013 - 10:41AM

    @Sarmad:
    Yes, Look at karachi,peshawar and quetta…….

    Recommend

  • Ma Chuke Homo Sapien
    Oct 8, 2013 - 10:50AM

    Religious, liberal or secular, what matters is they are free to choose what they want as long as they don’t challenge the state. The deserve everything a person gets in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta or Islamabad!

    Recommend

  • Oct 8, 2013 - 10:53AM

    Well Its sad to read that people of that village has become more racist then Muslims or humans, Justice & provincial autonomy is the key to success for “Pakistan”.
    http://bit.ly/fqc9YP

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  • Anjum Arshi
    Oct 8, 2013 - 10:55AM

    I am from Balochistan (Lasbela) and have lived for several years in Awaran. There is no difference between Awaranis and people from other parts of Balochistan/Pakistan in terms of acceptance of or perceptions toward religion. It’s true Zikris are a different sect, perhaps an altogether diifferent religion. But Sunni Muslims dominate Balochistan. I cannot see what purpose this article has served.

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  • zafar
    Oct 8, 2013 - 11:44AM

    “The Ignorant Baloch” should have been the title

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  • Aman
    Oct 8, 2013 - 11:46AM

    I think the reporter has somehow exagerated the facts. The Balochs love Islam, they regularly offer prayers, they go Juma prayers in across Balochistan. But they are not extrimist. They don’t use Islam as tool to impose their will on others.
    The second thing is that there is no Sardar in Awaran district which should be blamed for backwardness of the district. There are some sardars in Balochistan who are actually agents of establishment which are hurdle in the way of struggle of Baloch people. …….

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  • Iram
    Oct 8, 2013 - 11:52AM

    @Ma Chuke Homo Sapien:
    That’s exactly what secularism is. No state religion; everyone free to practice any religion they want, or none for that matter.

    Recommend

  • Sam
    Oct 8, 2013 - 12:59PM

    @Junaid:
    exactly, thats what they’ve been doing for a long time all over pakistan. But thankfully, people of south Balochistan are less aligned towards extremist religion as in Awaran and towards sardari culture as in Turbat.

    Recommend

  • shabbir khan
    Oct 8, 2013 - 1:12PM

    depends what do you want

    Recommend

  • Oct 8, 2013 - 1:19PM

    it was obvious

    Recommend

  • Muhammad Usama Aziz
    Oct 8, 2013 - 2:06PM

    So being secular means don’t say your prayers? Don’t fulfil your religious obligations?

    Recommend

  • Tanzeel
    Oct 8, 2013 - 5:43PM

    If all Pakistanis could adopt this line of thinking, Pakistan would be a much better people. Sindhis already have a similar mindset to a certain extent though they still take their religious identity seriously. Punjab is hopeless and there’s not much of an ethnic identity(most of it is shared with Indian Punjabis who our holier than thou brethren from the largest province want nothing to do with out of some delusional perception of cultural uniqueness through a non existent Arab/Turk/Persian connection). This leaves us, those from KPK and while the South(Karak, Tank, Bannu and especially DI Khan) is lost, it’s even worse than Punjab with the exception of nearby South Punjab(Taunsa, Bhakkar, Mianwali and DI Khan’s larger and even more extreme Punjabi counterpart, DG Khan), there is still hope for the north which is more educated and the people are far more in tune with their own culture than our brethren in the South.

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  • ahmed ali
    Oct 8, 2013 - 7:06PM

    it is the conspiracy of Punjab…to control pakistan through seminary…

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  • Afrooz
    Oct 8, 2013 - 8:54PM

    @Sarmad:
    A good newspaper is expected to report on all aspects of society. If you are unwilling or unable to appreciate other viewpoints of Pakistanis then you are free to stop reading. Not all the religious people are “good” muslims (whatever that means) and at the same time not all seculars are necessarily godless or lacking islamic culture (again I dont know what that means).

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  • Pakistani
    Oct 8, 2013 - 9:18PM

    Very well said:
    Seminary teacher Hafiz Sher Muhammad said that the people of his district are not actually liberal or secular, but rather ignorant. “We are living in our own world. We need to interact with the world and that change will come with education, even if it’s religious education.”
    “This is the main reason we are trying to educate them,” he said. “Our people are not on the right path and we need to change that.”

    Recommend

  • meerbaloch
    Oct 9, 2013 - 11:07AM

    baloch are secular modrate true muslim not ignorant, who is in right path?????

    Recommend

  • Amira
    Oct 9, 2013 - 5:55PM

    @Pakistani:
    What’s so very well said about that? Better be ignorant than a bigot.

    Recommend

  • Ali Baloch
    Oct 9, 2013 - 9:09PM

    LOL Hafiz Sher sahab needs to get his eyes checked and his head examined! where exactly did he see the “Sardars” in Awaran. There were only 2 Sardars The Gichki descendents of Mir Bey Khan and The Ahmedzai Shahi family that have since 54 moved back to Qalat.
    As far as the article is concerned Zikris do make a sizeable number but the indifference of the people to these “seminaries” is that they preach the “Kafir Theory” more than the true “Religion”. Also one of these idiots once tried to dissuade people from keeping a moustache and the locals shaved all the hair on his head and threw him out.

    Recommend

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