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In Defence of the Mullah


Visualise this. There is a guy with blood shot eyes, a kill-joy demeanor, a furrowing brow, wearing his shalwar nearly up to the knees and beard reaching down to the knees. You hear him say “haaza haraam” to everything while unnecessarily using a heavily-accented Arabic. He has more than one wife, probably, and multitudes of children; with no inkling about what’s happening in the world and living in a bubble (somewhat similar to how the Americans look at life, maybe?). He wears a suicide jacket or maybe only gives khutbas that endorse that ideology while carrying an invisible gun of hatred for the minorities. And to add to that, his hair has to be dripping with oil and he must burp loudly after every meal, praising Allah.

The above is a stereo-typical profile of what we call a “Mullah” in Pakistan. That is how we imagine a Mullah and expect a Mullah to be; more obnoxious maybe, but not less. ShoMan’s (Shoaib Mansoor) famous Lollywood flick “Bol” (which was more sermonic than any khutba and had scores of over-lapping social issues taken up in an over-dose) had the brilliant actor Manzar Sehbai in the role of the fundo-mullah “Hakeem Sahab”. With eyebrows that reminded one of curtains that flutter with a breeze, a despicable holier-than-thou attitude and the most bizarre interpretations of things, Hakeem Sahab was shown as the stereo-typical Mullah – he hated daughters and beat his wife and….the works!

Characters in movies and teleplays which give a stereo-typical image of the Mullah are abundant. One such play is on air as this blog goes into print – a play in which the religious man rushes to the mosque five times a day and also religiously ridicules and insults his wife at least five times a day.

Mullah bashing is our country’s intelligentsia’s favourite sport and now ours too after terrorism affected the future of cricket in Pakistan. It’s fun, it costs nothing (except that you have got be social media savvy-cum-troll to do this) doesn’t make you sweat or disrupt your couch potato routine. Plus it gives you a serious high! One umbrella term “Mullah” and you can get away with any kind of catharsis and venting, just like with the one term “Rumi” you can announce to the world that you are a spiritually evolved, deep being.

While not every symptom of the Mullah syndrome is exaggerated, many are. In a post-Zia reactionary Pakistan ‘Mullah’ is a bad word with a negative connotation.  In reality, it is not so simplistic. To begin with, we have to carefully look who we term as a Mullah. Liberals (I have to use this term, reeking of compartmentalization only because it is most easily understood) will usually see a person with a certain outward signs of being a strictly practicing Muslim and often, if not always, assume a lot of what is written above. There is anger and bitterness against this breed which makes people pass comments like “Mullahs have high jacked Islam” and “Who are Mullahs to tell us what Islam is?”

Let us attempt to understand the two broad divisions of people that we usually tag as Mullahs. The first is the scholars, the preachers, the Imams and the teachers; people who have taken upon themselves the tough job of trying to keep religious knowledge alive. With an increased awareness about religion, a re-kindled curiosity in Islam and more readily available literary sources have made studying religion easy on a personal level. That in itself is a very positive attitude. Half-baked knowledge, however, is often more perilous than no knowledge at all. For this, each one of us wants to stop relying on the above mentioned group of Mullahs. We all wish to do our own ijtihaad and we think that following them and the varied interpretations of certain rulings of Islam is an insult to our intelligence and spirituality. Hence, each one of us wishes to be an aalim in our own right. We are willing to learn about every subject in the world from experts but not Islam. In that, we want to indulge into “self-medication”.

The reader should not misunderstand me here. I am cent per cent in favour of studying, discovering and understanding religion on our own. I am also aware that in this world of egoistic human beings, even men of faith and scholars fall into the dangerous pitfall of churning out fatwaas that have hidden agendas. Assuming that all Ulama (Islamic scholars) have hidden agendas therefore writing them all off and believing that we can figure out everything on our own seems to be an unnaturally simplistic and naïve attitude. In defense of this type of Mullahs, I would say that there are gems among these – wise and learned; both in religious sciences as well as in spirituality, genuine people who see religion as a tool that benefits humanity.

The second type of Mullah is of course the archetypical one. The village simpleton whose parents put him in amadrassa at age 7 where he grows up memorizing the Quran not out of love but compulsion, a regular victim of caning for every mistake. This Mullah, it is true, knows very little about the world outside his bubble. He has had very little exposure and is easily high-jacked by extremists if he is not one himself already. This is the one that we usually avoid but are dependent upon for nikaah or shrouding and burial rituals, simply because we, the intelligent Muslims, do not know enough duas and rites ourselves.

Among these, there are also the soft-hearted true worshippers of Allah whose soul is pure, and who impact lives in a positive way. We often quote the Mukhtar Mai incident when we talk about the patriarchal Mullah-driven women’s rights’ violations. However, we forget that it was the village Imam who supported Mukhtar. Many of Pakistan’s most credible charities are steered by men of God who may not be the most educated in a worldly way, but know enough to know that the quickest way to attain the pleasure of Allah is to serve humanity.

There is also a third type of Mullahs emerging these days. They are modern, tech-savvy and have probably studied in universities abroad. You will find them tweeting both fun things and religious things on their iPhones while combing through their beards with their fingers. They are pleasant, amiable and believe in peace and harmony. They have a tough job as they are somewhere in the middle, struggling with moderation.

Stereo-typing is a dangerous sport, as is Mullah-bashing when done in a non-discerning manner. To be gullible and absorb any and every narrative from the microphone of a mosque and everything coming from a podium is a crime. But so is to write off every good soul attempting to re-connect humanity’s weakened connection with the Creator. These are dangerous times. We have to make cautious and informed decisions. However, apathy towards religion and religious people is something we do not have the liberty of doing.

Originally published here:

About FarahnazZahidi

Journalist, writer, Communications practitioner, teacher, media trainer | Literature | Gender Parity | Peace | Islam | Very Desi | Chaai, not coffee.

5 responses »

  1. Totally agree with you Farah, Mullah Bashing has become a sort of Fashion these days and people seem to bask in their own bubble of trying to act Cool or being called Liberal! The Mullahs (as they so sarcastically call them) being churned out by Madarsahs run by religious fanatics can be eliminated only by providing quality education at the grass roots.. something which we glaringly lack in Pakistan!
    Sometimes I feel pained to see brilliant writers ignoring all the problems our country is facing as they relate everything negative to religious extremism!

  2. Could this have been said in a more appropriate and articulate manner? i believe not.

    Excellent article Farah! Simply superb! Masha Allah

  3. first of all thank you so much for writing this. once again you have written about something that one seldom get to see in Pakistani blogsphare. there have been a time when i used to think that what is wrong in being a “right Winger” and why everyone lashes Mullah.
    i had my own view about the latter, and biggest argument i sued to come up with was we have cornered a certain section of the society and that section backfires in different forms and Mullah is one of them. it is not only Mullah who supposed to be blamed for all the problems as how many times “enlightened” one approached “him” to create a consensus. the enlightenment and liberalism is about being adaptive and open to debate i dictionary is consulted to know the meaning. but in our country liberal is the other side of the extreme of a Mullah and both are on a mission to prove rest of the world wrong.
    the Mullahs – the lethal kind of mullahs will keep on coming and spreading the kind of knowledge they have until and unless the suppression of a certain class is there, the unavailability of equal opportunity and many other unjust things in our society are big reasons for this. we need a scenario where Quran is actually read out of love.
    and one more thing thanks for clearing one more confusion; i fall in the “third” kind of Mullahs (somehow) and that has been the reason (as per my perception now) that i have been ladled as conservative by many “Rumis” around 🙂

  4. Very awesome blog !! I couldnt have wrote this any better than you if I tried super hard hehe!! I like your style too!! it’s very unique & refreshing…

  5. True enough. I am the daughter of crazed mullah who made me wonder, so later i scrutinised mullahs and adopted a scholary mawlvi for my mentor. and now i am the university going, fun loving, peace seeking, i phone totting, playing with my niqab girl. All the stereotyping aside. And i admit ,i donot live in pakistan, so i donot get bashed quite as readily. I do struggle. But life is just that . A struggle, if i wasnt striving in deen i would have been striving to adjust or to be the “it “girl. This struggle is much more meaningful.

    And no my dad and his self taught deen didnt set me against deen, nor did it teach me to paint all mawlvis with same strokes, althought for couple of years in teenage i was a little overwhelmed. But as i grew i saw my dad’s flaws for his flaws, saw that for all his religion spouting he was never formally taught the religion thus he wasnt the perfect representation. Growing up in west it was a sufficient excuse to turn a rebel. But there was a mawlvi in past that i had fallen in love with when i was a tender child. This Mawlvi revolutionised Hijjaz i could not let someone tarnish his silhouette that i had in my mind. So i set out to search . And he who looks , finds. So i found. May Allah Tallah preserve the true wurasa of Nabi Kareem sallalahu alaihi wasalam, and these are in the words of Quran e Kareem, the “siddiqeen,the saliheen and the shuhada”. And Pakistan is very fortunate to have these diamonds in its tattered shawl .


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