Displaced By Cruelty, United In Longing: Muslim Exiles Through The Ages

"What would Saadat Hasan Manto have made of the orders to exile people from Pakistan?"

Displaced By Cruelty, United In Longing: Muslim Exiles Through The Ages

Exile is a horrible experience. My father remembered his home city, from where he was expunged at the age of 24. At this age he trod a new path, a painful railway ride to exile. Soon, like many migrants, he would head to the sea via Karachi to Bombay onto Aden, down through the Suez stopping at Gibraltar and then on to a cold foggy island enshrouded in smog, landing at Southampton in 1954. Alas he did not hear the lament of his younger sister aged seven, “When our brother leaves us”, she remarked lovingly to her younger brother, “we will be very lonely.” Many years later, my father would remark with a tear in his eye that if he had heard this conversation then, he would never have left his dear little siblings.

Gibraltar was no doubt a marvel to my father, whose heart was filled with a love of history. Here was a place where once Tariq Bin Ziyad had opened a wonderful chapter of a new society in the Iberian peninsula, that became as Muslim as any other Muslim nation. Al-Andalus was swept away as the ethnic cleansing and Christian conquests destroyed multicultural Islamic Al-Andalus, driving the Muslims from their homes. This disaster gave birth to literature no less wonderful than Tariq’s conquest, of a poetry that refers to love and longing. One such poem is that of ‘Al-Mu’tamid and his family Go into Exile’ – born from the devastation of the Muslim ethnic cleansing from Cordoba, 

“I will forget everything except that morning beside the Guadalquivir when they were taken onto the ships like the dead to their graves.

Jostling Crowds line both banks to see them, precious pearls adrift on the foam of the river.

Young girls dropped their veils, clawed their faces and ripped their clothes. 

The moment they left, an endless commotion let loose a clamourous outcry of farewells and laments.”

Gone were the Muslims from Spain, but they lived on in their ancient village homes in the memories and passions that had sparkled within four walls – little Spanish villages whose rooms were filled with warmth and joy and their passions. The village of Aqūṭa, as today’s Cútar was once known, located in Málaga province, was home to Muhammad Al-Ŷayyār a Muslim jurist and Imam who arrived in Aqūṭa on 9 August 1490. He recounted his daily life on papyrus: inheritance and divorce trials, personal reflections, the conquest of Granada. Forced to convert to Christianity or leave his homeland, Al-Ŷayyār decided upon hijrat, but his love for his homeland and belief in his return lived on. With that hope, he concealed three manuscripts in a wall within his house: the two books written by him and a Quran dating from the 12th or 13th century. 

Protected by straw, the books were sandwiched in the hollow of a cupboard concealed within the historic wide walls of Al-Ŷayyār’s Andalusian house. The three lovingly hand written volumes remained hidden waiting for a new era to arrive, like the seven sleepers of the cave. The manuscripts were finally revealed to the light of day when builders uncovered them while doing renovation work at Al-Ŷayyār’s house in June 2003. 

Muhammad Al-Ŷayyār was a writer and wrote of the difficult times he witnessed: 

“In all the world it never happened / what happened in Al-Andalus.” 

Today his Quran is a witness to Islamic civilisation in Spain, on display at the Archivo Histórico Provincial de Málaga.

Settling in London, my father was left to ponder on the perversity of fate, the British domination of India, my father’s ethnic cleansing from a city named after the Afghan dynasty of the Lodhis – Ludhiana. The British barrister Radcliffe with a flourish of his pen had damned many to exile. My father would leave behind his beloved paternal grandfather’s grave, and his father would leave behind the Sufi shrine that he liked to visit – that of Mujadidi in Sirhind. The Mujadidi family had fled the Sikhs a century earlier to Afghan exile. My own Afghan ancestor followed a journey in a direction that was the reverse of that of Mujadidi. My ancestor fled Peshawar in 1809 along with his Shah, Shuja Ul Mulk Durrani, to Lahore before finally arriving in British controlled Ludhiana. 

As a young child, watching the snowbound city of Kabul on the television, freshly occupied by Soviet troops, my father, who sat beside me, remarked that our family came from that land. Wave upon wave of peoples were forced to leave Afghanistan during the Soviet war. They sought refuge in neighbouring countries and followed the path of many through the ages, such as Muhammad Al-Ŷayyār. 

Today, when my hair is white, I see the grandchildren of those Afghans being forced to leave a land in which they were given refuge. Lines drawn on maps by long dead Britons, demarcated Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

What would Saadat Hasan Manto have made of the antics of the PM Anwarul Haq Kakar and his orders to exile people from Pakistan? No doubt Manto would have marvelled at this odd scenario of people who were born and lived all their lives in Pakistan being ejected to a foreign land. In Manto’s short story of Bashan Singh from Toba Tek Singh, an inmate incarcerated in a lunatic asylum has his country of residence decided during the 1947 Partition, based on his religion. The idiocy of the frigid bureaucrat pushing peoples hither and thither is vividly brought to life:

“Most of the lunatics were opposed to the exchange. They didn’t understand why they should be uprooted and sent to some unknown place. Some, only half-mad, started shouting ‘Long live Pakistan!’ Two or three brawls erupted between Sikh and Muslim lunatics who became enraged when they heard the slogans.

When Bashan Singh’s turn came to be entered in the register, he spoke to the official in charge. ‘Where is Toba Tek Singh?’ he asked. ‘Is it in Pakistan or India?’

The official laughed. ‘It’s in Pakistan,’ he replied.

Hearing this, Bashan Singh leapt back and ran to where his remaining companions stood waiting. The Pakistani guards caught him and tried to bring him back to the crossing point, but he refused to go.”

Eventually, Bashan Singh would find his own homeland: 

“He was lying face down on the ground. India was on one side, behind a barbed wire fence. Pakistan was on the other side, behind another fence.”

In a cupboard somewhere at home in London lurks a light green Pakistani ID card with my name on it. This is a nationality card from a land that I was never born in, my parents were never born in, nor my children. Yet those entitled to that nationality by birth do not receive it, since they are ‘Afghan.’ Apparently the bureaucrats in Pakistan or the jurists of its Supreme Court did not think that depriving Afghans of nationality and expelling them after forty years residence was an issue of fundamental human rights. Perhaps the bureaucrats needed to read about poor Bishan Singh. No one should care whether someone’s grandfather was born in Jalalabad, Lahore, Peshawar or for that matter in Toba Tek Singh. At one time none of our grandfathers were born ‘Pakistani.’ Nations are artificial creations and we should learn to love our neighbour.

Today we watch as the Palestinians are forced from their land once again, another treat delivered to us courtesy of the quirky British legacy of imperialism. Men carrying their elderly mothers on their backs, stumbling along dusty roads, beaten by merciless troops. The same scenes are enacted in Pakistan, as Afghans groan under the oppressive Pakistani bureaucracy. The heartlessness of the ruler in exiling people who loyally carry the burdens of their frail elderly mothers upon their backs as they are driven to walk upon a road to an uncertain future. A road that beckons to a chilly welcome to the cold of an Afghan winter. 

Our Afghan friends, like our Andalusian friend of yesteryear Muhammad Al-Ŷayyār, have no doubt concealed their treasures, literary or otherwise, in the hope of one day returning and rescuing them. 

There are few Muslim ‘states’ that have ejected refugees whom they welcomed: one such state is Kuwait. After the Iraqi army withdrew from Kuwait, the Kuwaitis rounded upon Palestinians and forced them to leave for Jordan. The PLO leader Yasser Arafat had supported Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. The Palestinians had paid the price of Arafat’s folly, that continued with the signing of the Oslo Accords – which had no timetable for Israeli withdrawal from territory that would become an independent Palestine. 

PM Kakar not only behaves in a manner reminiscent of the Israelis, but he does not have any shame in comparing Pakistan to Israel. On his trip to pay homage to the USA, Kakar was asked to describe the Pak-China relationship. Kakar’s words of wisdom were : “Pakistan enjoys a strategic relationship with China. We are very clear that there are people who would qualify Pakistan as China’s Israel. It is probably a more good analogy for the American audience because you do understand and appreciate the value of Israel for the United States.”

Exile, homeland, love and insanity is the nightmare of human reality. Whilst writers like Manto were subject to electrocution for being mentally challenged, perhaps if Pakistan could spare some electricity, we could see how many volts would jolt the rulers of today back into joining humanity. 

The writer is the author of Afghanistan in the Age of Empires