The Nation, Lahore

6 Safar, 1418 - Thursday, June 12, 1997, Lahore
Pakistan

Midweek


Proud to be a Pakistani

Dr Rana Jawad Asghar

When I arrived in Seattle to join my university, there were still a few holidays remaining. I was new in the city and was feeling very homesick. In the meanwhile, I got my e-mail account and also became aware of the big university computer centre which was just across the street. As I had plenty of time and had no acquaintances, I started to come to the computer centre and started surfing the Internet. I was always searching Pakistani web pages. Many Pakistanis do have quite impressive web pages, where they have a lot of stuff about Pakistan. On these web pages, they even have photographs of themselves, their families, their marriages, their birthdays, etc., etc. And they proved to be very helpful as it decreased my loneliness and it was then that I became aware of the fact that even though we fight all the time with each other, we still are one as a nation.

I started to find other Pakistanis in the University of Washington. Ranked as number one for many years in the Federal Medical research grants, it had only five Pakistani students. I got this figure but to track these Pakistanis in a university of more than thirty five thousand students was not an easy job. I e-mailed one Pakistani student whose web page I visited and who was studying in a state which was many thousands of miles away from mine to help me to find other Pakistanis in my own university. Surprisingly, he was successful in finding their e-mail addresses through Internet. As we are in single digits, we all (Qasim, Tariq, Umer and Ahmed) have become good friends now.

Then, there was the Orientation Day. I was visiting different stalls when I saw the Indian Students Association. I don't want to hide my feelings but I really felt bad about the absence of any Pakistan Students Association. Since then, we became active in the Muslim Students Association. A great organisation which has a good leadership who knows how to survive in USA and compete with the western ideas on the strong footing. It's president, Khalid Khan though born and educated in USA, feels a pride on his parents' link with Pakistan. His team of Razoma (an Afghan), Nadia (an Egyptian) and Faisal and Rizwan, had made the most active MSA in our University's history.

But they have their limitations, too. Last week, reluctantly they had to remove a big and beautiful poster of Badshahi Mosque from an exhibition on Islam only because some criticised that the name of Pakistan was mentioned on it. What was left of this exhibition was then, a few posters on Islam and some Quranic verses on carpets, etc., hardly the material to attract other students. We, the hand full of Pakistanis, were thinking about forming a Pakistan Students Association, for quite some time. We wanted that our country should be represented in the University of Washington (especially, when there is an active Indian Students Association). In their activities and programmes, half of the participants are children of Pakistani parents. When we floated the idea of forming a Pakistan Students Association, the president of Muslim Students Association agreed to join us as it's secretary.

As he knew that this would increase the influence of Muslim students as people who do not participate directly in MSA would be active in it's sister organization. But even though we did not announce his willingness, we received a lot of criticism. We were accused of dividing the MSA, dividing the whole Muslim Ummah. We were told that our country were created by imperialist powers, to which I quickly replied that we had given lots of sacrifices for independence and that our freedom struggle lasted for nearly hundred years. Funnily, the people who were criticising us themselves never contributed for MSA. And there were already many national students associations of different Muslim countries in the University of Washington.

Following is part of my letter which I wrote on the Internet to answer the criticism:- "I don't want to be dragged in the discussion which is going on for the last few centuries that what activity is Islamic and what is not. , there is no consensus yet.

"Funnily we are being forced to choose one of our parents. Like if you love your father, you cant love your mother??? Cant we as a children serve both? The idea of a motherland may be difficult to perceive for the Americans. But we came here with the help of our green passport and if we have achieved our goals of higher education, it was with the help of Allah and the resources provided to us by our poor country - Pakistan. I became a doctor only because Pakistan gave me the opportunity to get the best medical education nearly free. My father told me that if there was no Pakistan he could never been progressed to such a higher place. Muslims were really in a bad shape economically and education wise, in India before our independence. No doubt, we as a nation have made many mistakes, have also suffered a lot as a result and still have a long way to go. But Pakistan is my HOME and I owe a lot to it. And if God forbid, something happens to Pakistan, we will be homeless. And if (God forbid) that happens, I am sorry to say that no Islamic country will give us refuge. This may be a harsh statement to make, but it is a bitter truth.

"What I want to say is that one should not label everything un-Islamic if it does not fit according to one's idea of Islam. Islam allowed diversity of cultures and thoughts. We in Pakistan are facing this problem of stiffness in attitudes toward Islam which resulted in inter sect killing. I vividly remember when I was a kid and there were no tensions between the Shia and Sunni communities in our country. Though we were Sunnis, we as kids always liked to participate in the Muharram processions. But then due to many reasons, the Shias thought that they are the only one who are practicing true Islam and everyone else is doing un-Islamic things. Sunnis also thought like this that they are the only ones on the right path and this started tit for tat killings.

"Things did not stop there as stiffness in attitudes went further and we witnessed even killings between different sects of Sunnis and different sects of Shias. So, anyone who does not exactly think like a particular sect is not doing right things. In the name of Islam, we witnessed some of the most barbaric incidents. It is the saddest part of the story that now armed police protect different mosques or Imam barighas. Pakistan itself is a country of diverse languages, cultures and heritage. A big number of our population likes to go to shrines of Muslim saints. For many of us it may be un-Islamic but many consider it a sawab to hear a Qawaali. We have our folk dances like Bhangra, Dhamaal, Jhomer and Khattak which we like to perform when we are happy. You rightly can label them also un-Islamic. Then, we have issues to discuss. There is no harm in discussing our local political situation, our economic problems, our language, our literature, etc, etc. MSA does not provide nor it is a suitable forum to discuss these issues. I cant agree with the notion that we just forget about Pakistan and only think about Islam. I have to think for both of them. You have a right to agree with us or not, or join PSA or not but please do not label us un-Islamic or someone who is trying to divide MSA. This is very unfortunate way of thinking about others. About Pakistan Students Association - We are not discouraged as most of the MSA and community is encouraging our efforts. We are going to work as a resource centre of Pakistan and to provide a cultural link to Pakistan. Paper work is in Progress and within a few weeks, PSA at UW will join the many PSAs in different parts of USA. INSHALLAH!

ŠThe Nation Publications (pvt) Limited, 1997

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