Senator Raza Rabbani’s recent assertion that teaching students about Ranjit or Bhagat Singh would not harm Pakistan should be warmly welcomed. Altering a country’s history to serve its interests is a common practice in the world. But in our case, we have taken it to a whole new level. Our history books, which are meant to shape the worldview and mindset of future generations, are currently only a tool to indoctrinate the impressionable minds of the younger generation.
The history of Pakistan, as told in these textbooks, is nothing more than a history of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. The books exalt Muslim rulers of the subcontinent, depicting them to be epitome of righteousness with the sole agenda to spread Islam, even though all of them were invaders with an expansionist agenda. They vilify all local non-Muslim rulers as having an inherent hatred towards Islam, even though they might have been simply fighting an oppressor or invader. The names of the non-Muslim rulers are never mentioned. That’s why the books are replete with the names of the Ghaznavis, Tughlaqs and Mughals, even though they were invaders, but the likes of Ranjit Singh fail to earn a mention even though they were sons of the soil.
May I ask our writers of history that if Mehmud Ghaznavi was such a great preacher of religion, as most textbooks portray him to be, why did he go on killing and destructive sprees against, for example, the Muslim rulers of Multan? And what should one make of the fact that he killed his own brother to capture the throne? Or that why did he have to attack the subcontinent 17 times? What was the motive for him invading places like Mathura, Kannauj and Kalinjar, known primarily for the treasures found in their Hindu temples? Was it not to ransack them and take away their riches?
The Ghaznavids were succeeded by Shahabuddin Ghauri. Ghauri is famous for challenging the Hindu king Prithvi Raj Chauhan, at the start of the Battle of Tarain in 1192, to either convert to Islam or be crushed. If spreading Islam was his agenda, one wonders what about the war he waged against the last Ghaznavid king, Malik Khusro? Why are our history books silent on this?
Such textbooks have contributed to a skewed and prejudiced understanding of history, and created a sense of fear in many of us of all that is non-Islamic. This fear then creates a mindset of the average Pakistan, steeped in paranoia and a sharply anti-West worldview. This also creates a superiority complex among many of us, in that we consider ourselves and our faith the best, and denigrate that of others.
We forget that our land has given birth to and helped nurture major world religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, so it’s about time we embrace our history in its entirety and learn from it. Maybe that will help induce much required tolerance in us.
In the end, I would narrate a story that I have grown up hearing as a member of Lahore’s historical Fakir family. The rulers of Afghanistan never reconciled with the fact that Peshawar had slipped out of their hands and went to Ranjit Singh. When Dost Mohammed Khan attacked Peshawar in 1834 to regain it, Ranjit Singh sent Fakir Azizuddin, his prime minister, for negotiations. When the Fakir reached his camp and talks started, the courtiers gave it a religious bend and he was taunted severely for his allegiance to a non-Muslim. Shrewd that the Fakir was, he asked all present that being a good Muslim, wasn’t it his moral duty to loyally serve his king? The aggressors who were in no mood to let go, cleverly started alluding to the massive bloodshed of Muslims on both sides if the war ensued. The Fakir took a pause and asked Dost Khan that if he convinced Ranjit Singh to give Peshawar back to him, would he return peacefully? The answer was a resounding ‘yes’. And then the Fakir retorted: “Don’t brand your campaign Islamic, it’s a fight for a piece of land.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2011.