“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.