PEOPLE OF PAKISTAN
People from and citizens of Pakistan are called Pakistanis. Pakistani can be both a noun and adjective. Within Pakistan people are often identified by their ethnic group of which the main ones are the Pashtuns, Sindhis, Baloch and Muhajirs (Mohajirs). Pakistani also serves as an adjective for anything related to Pakistan.
Pakistan has a population of about 233 million people, making it the fifth most populated country in the world. Punjab is home to 53 percent of the population. It used to be home to more. Many people also live along the Indus river or around Karachi. Pakistanis often identify themselves by their ethnic group — such as Pashtun, Sindhi, Punjabi, Muhajir and Baloch — first and Pakistani second.
About 37.2 percent of all Pakistanis lives in urban areas (compared to 80.7 percent in the U.S.) and the population is only growing at the rate of 3.6 percent a year (compared to -.2 percent in Britain and 4.8 percent in Kenya). The average life expectancy is 69 years; about 40 percent of all Pakistanis are under 15 and 5.8 percent are over 60 (compared to 21 and 13 percent, respectively for the U.S.).
Pakistanis are sort of a mix of Indians and Iranians (Persians). They are taller and fairer than Indians. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the tallest living man in the 1980s was s Haji Mohammed Alam Channa of Bachal Channa, Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan. He was 7 feet, 7¼ inches tall. At the time
Pakistan has one of the world's most rapidly growing populations. The majority of Pakistan's population lives in the Indus River valley and in an arc formed by the cities of Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi/Islamabad, and Peshawar. Pakistan’s national unity based on common the religious identity of its citizens as Muslims has been undermined somewhat by the nations ethic and linguist diversity, particularly between East and West Pakistan. Most of the people you see on the streets are men.
For a while Pakistan had a large number refugees from Afghanistan. There were around two million of them during the Afghanistan War in the 1980s. Pakistan's Afghani refugee population increased significantly, to around 1.5 million, after the American invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban in 2001 caused thousands to flee to Pakistan.
Pakistan: Diversity United by Islam?
Although Pakistan is geographically, ethnically, linguistically, and socially diversity, religion plays an important role in unifying the country. Sunnis make up largest number of the Muslims in Pakistan. Many of them are Sufis. Most of the remainder are Shia (Shiite) Muslims. Several hundred thousand Ismaelis live in Karachi and the northern areas. Religious minorities include Christians (80 percent of whom live in Punjab), Hindus (80 percent of whom live in Sindh), and Parsis (mostly in Karachi).. [Source: “Cities of the World”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]
According to the Pakistani government: “Race as such plays little part in defining regional or group identity in Pakistan, and no ideal racial type is accepted by all Pakistanis. However, ethno-lingual processes over the centuries have helped developed nationalities and ethno-lingual groups who have a deep sense of identity, psychological make-up, commonality of language and area and belonging to certain regions of Pakistan. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]
“The population is a complex mixture of indigenous peoples, many racial types having been introduced by successive waves of migrations from the northwest, as well as by internal migrations across the subcontinent of India. Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Pashtuns (Pathans), and Mughals came from the northwest and spread across the Indo-Gangetic Plain, while the Arabs conquered Sindh. All left their mark on the population and culture of the land. During the long period of Muslim rule, immigrants from the Middle East were brought in and installed as members of the ruling oligarchy. It became prestigious to claim descent from them, and many members of the landed gentry and of upper-class families are either actually or putatively descended from such immigrants.”
Ethnic Groups of Pakistan
Pakistan is a rich tapestry of ethnic groups, tribes and social groups who are mainly bound together by religion, although the way each groups goes about practicing Islam is as different as the groups themselves. The six major ethnic groups in Pakistan are the Punjabis (44.7 percent), Pashtuns, or Pathans (15.4 percent); Sindhi (14.1 percent); Saraiki (8.4 percent); Muhajirs or Muhajirs (7.6 percent); and Balochi, or Baloch (3.6 percent). Other groups (6.3 percent) include the Brahui (0.9 percent), Gujarati (0.6 percent. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]
The Punjabis live primarily in the northeastern, central, eastern part of the country. The Sindhis live primarily in the Sindh in the southeast part of Pakistan. The Sindhis however are outnumbered in Karachi, a city they established, by Muhajirs (from the Arabic term for “immigrants” or "refugees"). The Muhajirs are Urdu-speaking immigrants from India and their descendants. They live mostly in the cities and came to Pakistan during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and took over many of the administrative jobs previously held by Hindus.
In 1998, 55.6 percent of the population lived in Punjab, 23.0 percent in Sindh, 13.4 percent in the NWFP, 5 percent in Baluchistan, 2.4 percent in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and 0.6 percent in the northern areas and the federal capital of Islamabad. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: The provinces are, by and large, based on the 5 major ethnic groups prevalent in Pakistan. Punjabis live mainly in the fertile and most populous region, Punjab, in the center and east of the country. Sindhis live in the south; the Pashtuns share a common ethnic heritage with most Afghanis and live in the west. Baluchis live in the mountainous areas in the southwestern part of the country. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]
The Pashtuns are tribal groups that also lives in Afghanistan. Pashtuns are known for their size, code of honor and strength. They have traditionally lived in the mountains in the northwest but now are are scattered in other parts of the country. The Pashtuns have long resisted advances by invaders and that has at times sought to establish an autonomous state within Pakistan.The Baloch have traditionally lived in the deserts of Balochistan of southwest Pakistan, which extend into Iran, and, like the Pashtuns, they are known for their fiercely independent ways. Baloch have also pressed for the creation of a state that would incorporate parts of Afghanistan and Iran.
Among the more interesting groups in the north are the Burusho (Hunzakuts, believed to be one of longest-living people in the world), the Kalash (who many believe are descendants of warriors of Alexander the Great) and the Baltis (a Muslim group that descended from Tibetans). There are also Kashmiris, Hazaras, Gojars, Kohistanis, Chitralis, and a dozen or so Dardic languages-speaking ethnic groups.
History of Ethnic Groups and Their Migration in Pakistan
Pakistan’s mixture of ethnic groups is a result of the occupation of the region by groups passing through on their way to India. Ethno-lingual processes over the centuries have helped developed nationalities and ethno-lingual groups who have a deep sense of identity, psychological make-up, commonality of language and area and belonging to certain regions of Pakistan. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. tourism.gov.pk ]
The population is a complex mixture of indigenous peoples, many racial types having been introduced by successive waves of migrations from the northwest, as well as by internal migrations across the subcontinent of India. Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Pashtuns (Pathans), and Mughals came from the northwest and spread across the Indo-Gangetic Plain, while the Arabs conquered Sindh. All left their mark on the population and culture of the land. During the long period of Muslim rule, immigrants from the Middle East were brought in and installed as members of the ruling oligarchy. It became prestigious to claim descent from them, and many members of the landed gentry and of upper-class families are either actually or putatively descended from such immigrants.
According to “Cities of the World”: Internal migration, particularly from rural to urban areas, has begun to alter the ethnic and linguistic character of each of the Provinces, but it is still generally true that Sindh is the home of the Sindhis who speak Sindhi; Balochistan is the traditional home of the Balochi-speaking Baloch; Punjabi is the language of the Punjab, home of Pakistan's largest and most influential ethnic group; and the Northwest Frontier is the tribal homeland of the Pushtu-speaking Pashtun. The most notable exception to this pattern is seen in the urban areas of Sindh. Immediately after independence, a significant number of Muslim "muhajirs" or refugees of various ethnic backgrounds poured into these areas from India. More recently, internal migration has brought many job-seeking Pashtuns to Karachi. In addition, the movement of large numbers of Pashtuns and some Punjabi farmers into Balochistan over the past decades has made the Baloch a minority in their own Province. The remote valleys of the Far North are inhabited by a few smaller ethnic groups, such as the Gilgitis, Kashmiris, and the people of Hunza. [Source: “Cities of the World”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]
Character and Personality of Pakistanis
Despite the bad rap their country gets sometimes, Pakistanis are very hospitable, friendly and considerate. If ask for directions chances are the person will personally accompany you to make sure you get where you are going. One traveler wrote in the International Travel News, "If I went to the rear of the line, each person in front of me would beckon me in front of him. It was almost too embarrassing."
A veterinary student from London told the New York Times: “People were very welcoming in Lahore — more friendly , actually than in India. The first thing that hits you in Pakistan is having to be a lot more respectful to the culture — more compared to India. Almost every traveler you meet wear local dress. It wasn’t a pretentious thing to do, it just meant you were more likely to be spoken to and respected a little more because you’re respecting them.”
Pakistanis generally are not very pushy. Displays of anger are frowned upon. Pakistanis have a reputation for exaggerating a lot. Being too compliant is characterized by the Urdu expression “weak ears.” Many educated Pakistanis have adopted Western customs
World Happiness Report Score: 5.693 (compared to 7.5 in Denmark and 3.3 in Tanzania). Pakistan ranked 66th out of 153 countries. The ranking is based on a Cantril ladder survey in which respondents in each economic are asked to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale. [Source: United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Wikipedia wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report
Islam and Character
Islam shapes behavior and character. Even so Pakistan has a long tradition of tolerance. Islamic partes have not done very well until recently. Unlike Judeo-Christian archetypes that stress individual strengths and Japanese archetypes that emphasize groups working together towards a common goal, Muslim theology stresss individual virtues that are collectively expressed and are ultimately seen as expressions of the divine. Value is placed on obedience and cohesion.
Converts to Islam are often attracted by the ethnic diversity of its followers and the strong emphasis on justice. Many American Muslim who travel to the Muslim world find the people they meet to be much less devout than expected often to a level of hypocrisy, with many more interested in shopping, night clubs and dating than in going to the mosque and studying the Qur’an.
Islam is regarded as a way of life (“din"), sometimes translated as religion) that predates Muhammad and goes back to the creation of man. Muslims are expected to submit to Allah and the divinely-revealed laws of in the Qur’an, Islam's holy book. These laws cover a wide range of activities. Muslim beliefs are based on what is found in the Qur’an, which is regarded a revelation of God's Will. Mankind is expected to show their respect and gratitude for this. The Qur’an does not contain a system of doctrines per say. Mostly what it offers are general principals.
Muslims believe in direct communion with God and submission to his will. Muslims believe that Muhammad transmitted the will of God to mankind, and that each individual stands alone in direct relationship with God, surrendering himself ( aslama ) to His mercy. The relationship is often compared with a master (God) and slave (believer) with the master making demands and the slave having no rights. Those who follow the demands are given privileges. Non-Muslims are regarded as people who have not fulfilled the demands and thus are not entitled to the privileges.
Islam has been described as “a prescription for harmony in everyday life." The Qur’an promises “peace” to this who follow the “straight path." It and the Hadith offers rules and advise on everything from what to eat, how to raise children and wash oneself. The day is divided by prayers and scriptures memorized from the Qur’an are central to education, weddings, funerals and holidays.
The Pashtuns (Pathans) are an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. The Pashtuns are more Caucasian-looking than some of the other ethnic groups in South and Central Asia. They have hawk-like profiles. Many have light brown hair and blue or green eyes under their turbans. Describing the Pashtuns, Rob Schultheis wrote in Smithsonian magazine: "They are a spectacular lot: tall men (one fellow is at least six feet four and several easily top six feet), ramrod-straight, with penetrating, though not unfriendly, eyes. There are grand beards, some jet black, some pure white, a few dyed orange with henna. The one thing they all share is an air of immense dignity, of unshakable self confidence."
Pashtuns have been described as loyal, honest, brave, proud and pitiless. They love of guns, freedom and abusing their enemies and are regarded as one the world’s most hospitable peoples. They largely thumb their noses at Pakistani authorities are follow their own customs and codes of honor. Pashtun are also known for protecting the weak and standing by their word. They also have lighting quick tempers and are unwilling to compromise or show flexibility.
Cherry Lindholm wrote in “Frontier Perspectives” that only two types of people are recognized: the strong and the weak. “The strong survive, take power, and gain prestige.” from a young age Pashtun learn the value of “aggression, egotism, pride and fearlessness” and must be “adept at the art of manipulation and intrigue, and above all trust no one.”
According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Both tribal society and Islam prescribe the conduct of man to his human environment in so much detail that there is little room for individual variation. Pashtun society is largely communal and attaches tremendous importance to the unwritten tribal code, which defines the way tribesmen should behave lest they endanger the cohesion and therefore the very life of the tribe. So completely is this code transmitted to each child born into the tribe that it becomes an ineradicable structural part of his personality, and to depart from it is almost unthinkable. Pashtunwali (the customs and ethics of the Pashtun), Tureh (courageousness), Nanawati (method of terminating hostility, hatred, and enmity), Badal (the spirit of taking revenge), Milmastiya (hospitality), Jirgeh (council of elderly men to decide disputes), liberty, and freedom are some of the characteristics of their interpersonal relationships.” [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
Pashtun Egalitarian Individualism
An intensely egalitarian ethos exists among Pashtun men in a clan; the tribal leader is considered the first among equals. No man willingly admits himself less than any other's equal. Nor will he, unless driven by the most dire circumstances, put himself in a position of subservience or admit dependency on another. This sense of equality is evident in the structure of the men's council, composed of lineage elders who deal with matters ranging from disputes between local lineage sections to relations with other tribes or with the national government. Although the council can make and enforce binding decisions, within the body itself all are considered equals. To attempt or to appear to coerce another is to give grave insult and to risk initiating a feud. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]
Charles Lindholm of Boston University wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Pashtuns live in a social universe of egalitarian individualism where no overarching authority is recognized. There is no police force; no central government intervenes to enforce contracts or laws. Instead it is all personal responsibility of all individuals to stand up for themselves and their patrilineal relatives.”
“Anarchy is avoided by the operation of the lineage system and the tribal code that demands generosity, hospitality and absolute obligation to avenge any slight. One who can not live up to the tribal standards is held in contempt — a fate worse than death in a culture where one’s very existence depends on the presence of one peers, relatives and allies. Order in this world is precarious, life is dangerous and one only relies on the tribal structure and the principals of honor for stability.”
Hospitality in the Muslim World
Muslims have a "powerful hospitality instinct." They consider hospitality to be their sacred duty and guests are honored and held in the highest regard. Any traveler or stranger, even a non-Muslim or an enemy, is considered to be "the guest of Allah," and should treated accordingly. A man who has eaten his host's bread and eaten his salt may claim sanctuary for three days.
Hospitality is expressed with warm welcomes and giving guests the place of honor at the table. Hosts are expected to be totally selfless and offer everything they have. Sometimes foreigners are welcomed into homes of even the poorest families and treated to a feast with the head of the household while other members of the family just look and watch. Sometimes a family will stretch their resources and slaughter a sheep. The British traveler and diplomat Freya Stark wrote that “Years of Arab courtesy spoil us for the rough and tumble of the Western World."
The tradition of hospitality originated with Bedouins in the desert. Visitors were rare and they are always welcomed and offered food and drink. Travelers in the desert depended on others for food and protection. The reasoning went that if someone helped them they should help someone else. In villages there are special guest houses for visitors. In the cities, displays of hospitality are often a sign of status.
The Qur’an says: "Whoever believeth in God and the Hereafter (i.e Muslim) must respect his guest: and whoever believeth in God and the Hereafter not incommode his neighbors; and a Muslim must speak only good words otherwise remain silent." To get hospitality you can say Ana dheef Allah ("I am a guest of God"). To refuse an offer is regarded as an insult. If you do it try to seek hospitality somehow do it as diplomatically as possible and provide your potential hosts with away to save face.
Hospitality obligations often have priority over time concerns. This means that a Muslim man may spend hours drinking tea and coffee and eating food with a stranger and show up late or miss and appointment with friends.
Predetermination, Fate and Free Will
Muslims regard all the events of their lives as God's will. After many statements Muslim's say Inshallah, “It is God's will”. Inshallah has become a response to almost everything. It is often used in place of “I don't know." Because God controls our destiny, Muslims regard it as bad luck to talk about the future or announce anything before it has been absolutely finalized. People that talk a lot about plans and dreams are sometimes regarded as loony.
Becoming a Muslim entails giving up a sense of being in control and letting things be decided by fate and God's will. Predetermination and submission to fate have been cornerstones of the Muslim faith, with the Qur’an stating that God “guides who he will and turns astray who he wills” and it is he creates and men and creates all they do. According to Muslim scholars, "Every person's life span is determined by Allah, when he is still a fetus in his mother's belly. Allah also knows how every person is to meet his or her death. He does not however cause an accident fire or disturbance. It is people who do that." [Source: Arab News, Jeddah]
The concept of predetermination is summed up by the expression "inshallah," meaning “it is god's will." This is often represented as a kind a blithe, fatalistic attitude in which people do what do without worrying about consequences — because the consequences have already been predetermined. Repeated injections of “God willing” into statements is an expression of Muslim submission to fate.
People put their hands in God because they believe he helps rather punishes. Sometimes, it has been suggested, that if something awful happens to a Muslim he asks Allah what he has done to be punished rather than seeking justice or making changes to prevent the awful thing from happening again. Muslim believed that you can not save yourself from death. When your time comes there is nothing you can do about it. It has been suggested that people living in dangerous places are comforted by this belief.
Sunni Predetermination Versus Shia Free Will
Predetermination is primarily a Sunni belief. Shia affirm man's free will. Some Muslims believe “God determines all things, but humans are responsible for acquiring the possibilities God creates for them." There are a number of Qur’anic verses that proclaim human responsibility and declare that men will be rewarded or punished on the Judgment Day depending on the deeds they perform in their life.
The Shia belief is essentially as follows: “Human reason is competent to determine good and evil, except in such matters as religious obligation. Men do not themselves possess the power to create actions which belongs to God alone, but they are invested by God with volition whereby they can chose to do good or evil actions, and thus everyone is liable to reward or punishment in future life." [Source: Encyclopedia of the World's Religion, H.A.R. Gibb]
The beliefs that free will and reasoning have a place in Islam were advocated by scholars influenced by Greek philosophy. Some of their ideas — such as reasoning contradicts revelation — undermined the very foundation of Islam. Conservative Muslims argue against free will, stating that to do so is second guessing Allah and reckoning that someone other than God is involved in the act of Creation. Some go even farther and say that anything that comes into existence as a “consequence” of human action is an allusion and the consequence exists only because God allows it. In doing this God creates beliefs and non-beliefs, piety and impiety as well as concrete things like people and animals. These beliefs remain at the heart of Sunni beliefs today. Tied in to these argument is a suspicion of applying reasoning to the Qur’an and matters of faith.
Honor and Trust in Pakistan
Honor is not just an important concept in the tribal areas, and to some degree everywhere in Pakistan, it is a way of life. During one survey in the Punjab, people were asked what mattered them most to them, the majority said “honor.” A good example of this is hawala.
“Hawala” is an informal money transfer system used in to transfer money from the United States and Europe to relatives in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In many cases a person in the United States or Europe give money to a representative of the transfer service there and they contact people in the home country who give the money to the relatives. It is an alternative to Western Union and bank remittances.
Hawala is an Arabic word reference as in the referring of money between one trader and another. Also known as “chit,” “chop,” or “hundi” banking, it relies on honor, trust and one’s word to function. Defaults, cheating and double crossing were rare and when they did occur the penalties were harsh, often death. Technically o is illegal in Pakistan, in part because ut violates Muslim restrictions on usury, but is still widely used nevertheless. Effort by the government to shut it down has only driven it underground.
In the old days a customer would give his money to a moneychanger and pay a fee for the service. The moneychanger would send a message to a moneychanger in the place where the customer wanted the money sent and deliver the money — using money that the local moneychanger had on hand — to the party designated by the customer, with the moneychangers sorting out among themselves how they would be paid. These days the messages are often sent over the Internet or with satellite phones, using code words or password to verify that the transfer is legitimate, and sometimes a transactions can be done in minutes.
Pashtun Code of Honor
The Pashtun code of honor, known as “Pashtunwali”, or the way of the Pashtuns, has a strong influence on Pakistan as a whole. It is an ancient and absolute set of rules that defines: 1) how a host must care and protect guests and their property, 2) the chastity of married women and the way men must defend women’s honor; 3) rules of restraint accorded those regarded as weak (namely Hindus, women and boys); 4) defense provided for those who seek refuge; and 5) how killings should be avenged. “Pashtanwali” has precedence over the law of the land and even Islamic law. It is regarded as an ideal, which Pashtun may not be able to meet but they should try to live up to and is so strong and prevalent in some areas it negates the need for a government.
Central to adherence to the male-centered pakhtunwali code of conduct is the notion of honor, nang, which is articulated in a starkly black-and-white, all-or-nothing manner. Without honor, life for a Pashtun is not worth living. Honor demands the maintenance of sexual propriety. Complete chastity among female relatives is of the essence; only with the purity and good repute of his mother, daughters, sisters, and wife (or wives) does a man ensure his honor. Thus women are restricted to private, family compounds in much of the province. Census takers, invariably male, are constrained not to ask about the women in another man's home, and the number of men in a household is often overstated because sons and brothers are a source of strength. Accurate enumeration of the population hence is not possible. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]
Among the three most important obligations of “Pashtanwali” are 1) “nanawatai”, or giving asylum to a refugee, even a mortal enemy; 2) “melmastia”, extending hospitality to strangers, even enemies; and 3) “badal”, or obtaining revenge for a slight, which are usually over “zamin” (gold, land and women).
The punishments for breaking the code are very harsh and often involve death. Death is often regarded as preferable to dishonor. This code allows for, even encourages, revenge killings. One Pashtun saying goes: “He is not Pashtun who gives a pinch for a blow.
Sindi Character and Traditions
Sindhis are the natives of the Sindh province, which includes Karachi, the lower part of the Indus River, the southeast coast of Pakistan and a lot of desert. Sindhis are elegant, with a lovely, soft and slow gait; they are fond of the art of songs, music and dancing and full affection towards their country. The majority of Sindhis converted to Islam by the Sufi mystics from Middle East and Central Asia. Sufi Saints explained the intricacies of human philosophy. Hence, genuine love for fellow beings, large heartedness and hospitality constitute the very spirit of Sindhi culture and it is the association of the cultural elements that elevate it among the contemporary cultures. Sindhi culture has been strongly influenced by Sufism. Jhulay Lal, the Sufi pioneer of Sindh, is revered by both Hindus and Muslims. A common greeting among Sindhis is "Jhulelal Bera-Hee-Paar". Spirituality is a common trait in every Sindhi, following any religion.
The center of social life for Sindhi men is the “otak,” (autak) a special room or building building where they gather to discuss politics, play cards, watching television, watch cockfights, listen to musicians, watch dancers, drink alcohol; and chew on betel nut mixtures. The otak is often outside the walls of the house compound a discrete distance beyond the thorn hedge of the family quarters.. Each hamlet will have at least one otak. If for some reason it doesn’t a large shady tree is designated as meeting place. The otak is where landlords traditionally asserted their power and meet their followers. [Source: Sarwat S. Elahi, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]
Melaas (fairs) and malakharas (wrestling festivals) are popular. People of Sindh are more inclined towards an agricultural based lifestyle. The fertile Indus Plains provide a valuable source of income for the local people who practice farming on these lands. Nomadic way of lifestyle is commonly seen in the deserted regions of Thar where people move from place to place in search for drinking water sources along with their animals.
Sindhis are elegant, with a lovely, soft and slow gait; they are fond of the art of songs, music and dancing and full affection towards their country. The majority of Sindhis converted to Islam by the Sufi mystics from Middle East and Central Asia. Sufi Saints explained the intricacies of human philosophy. Hence, genuine love for fellow beings, large heartedness and hospitality constitute the very spirit of Sindhi culture and it is the association of the cultural elements that elevate it among the contemporary cultures. Sindhi culture has been strongly influenced by Sufism. Jhulay Lal, the Sufi pioneer of Sindh, is revered by both Hindus and Muslims. A common greeting among Sindhis is "Jhulelal Bera-Hee-Paar". Spirituality is a common trait in every Sindhi, following any religion.
Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam that incorporates ecstatic experiences and the veneration of Muslims pirs or saints, is very strong in Pakistan and Islam in India and Pakistan is influenced by Sufism. Experts say about 60 percent of Pakistani Muslims regard themselves as Sufi followers. Much of the literature, poetry and music associated with Pakistan is inspired by Sufism Even so Sufis are considered heretical by some in Pakistan. Sufis in Pakistan embrace a personal approach to their faith and often have different beliefs on how their government should be run.
Most Sufis are Sunni Muslims while Sufism has had a strong impact on Shia Islam. According to the Los Angeles Times: “Sufism was brought to South Asia by its mystics from the Middle East more than eight centuries ago. Its highly mystical, personal approach to Islam, marked by trance-like chants, dancing to pounding drumbeats, and its belief that Sufi saints and descendants known as pirs are conduits to God make it anathema to Muslim fundamentalists, who consider it idolatry. Sufism found widespread popularity, particularly among large segments of the underclass that embrace its emphasis on equality."
Sufism is Islam's mystical tradition, the Sufis being Muslim holy men who develop their spirituality through prayer and meditation. Sufi comes from the Arabic 'safa' meaning purity, so Sufis are those whose hearts and souls are pure. The first Sufis wandered through Persia and Afghanistan and into the South Asia, preaching love, peace and brotherhood. Some of Pakistan's finest music and literature were written by Sufi saints; verses set to music that tell of the love of God, and stories in which virtue receives its reward. Sufi saints portrayed life at its most perfect. The shrines of the great saints draw many who come to pray and make offerings.
The Deobandi sect is regarded as conservative group and is strongly associated with the Muslim extremist movement in Pakistan. It follows a fierce brand of Sunni Islam developed in the 19th century at an Islamic academy in Deoband, an India town outside of Delhi, thus its name. Most of the country’s radical madrassas are associated with it. Many Muslim extremist and terrorist groups are associated with it too. Deobandi teachings inspired the Taliban and dominate Pakistani religious politics.
Sunnis follow the Deobandi school make up about 15 percent of the Sunnis in Pakistan. Deobandi Islam has may similarities with Wahabbism practiced in Saudi Arabia. It was created partly out of reaction to British rule and was given a further boost when Pakistan became an independent nation. One of its main ideologues, Abdul A’la Maududi, advocated a totalitarian form of Islam and said that the Quran had to accepted in its purest and most literal form and that many Muslims were corrupted by the liberal West.. He argued that Islam was perfect and believers must follow it without judgements or question and its laws had precedence over those of any state and Western influences must be fought wherever they reared their ugly heads,
According to GlobalSecurity.org: The Wahhabi (Arabia), Deobandi (Pakistan and India) and Jamaat-I-Islami all are anti-sufi, and against the over devotion to Muhammad, The Deobandis in Pakistan owed their allegiance to Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, who organized the Deobandi ulema who were in favour of Pakistan into the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. The so-called "nationalist Muslims" who opposed Partition, such as Maulana Azad and Maulana Maudoodi, were Sunnis. [Source:GlobalSecurity.org]
Barelvi: Mellow, Sufi-Influenced Muslims
Barelvis are regarded as tolerant, mellow Muslims described the Washington Post as “a violence-eschewing, anti-Taliban school of Islam steeped in Sufism.” Mostly found in the Punjab, they are sometimes called Sufis According to GlobalSecurity.org: “ For the Barelvis, the holy Prophet is a superhuman figure whose presence is all around us at all times; he is hazir, present; he is not bashar, material or flesh, but nur, light. The Deobandis, who also revere the Prophet, argue he was the insan-i-kamil, the perfect person, but still only a man, a mortal. Barelvis emphasise a love of Muhammad, a semi-divine figure with unique foreknowledge. The Deobandis reject this idea of Muhammad, emphasising Islam as a personal rather than a social religion. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]
“The Barelvis follow many Sufi practices, including use of music (Qawwali) and intercession by their teacher. A key difference between Barelvi and Deobandi that Barelvi's believe in intercession between humans and Divine Grace. This consists of the intervention of an ascending, linked and unbroken chain of holy personages, pirs, reaching ultimately to Prophet Mohammad, who intercede on their behalf with Allah. It is a more superstitious — but also a more tolerant — tradition of Indian Islam. Their critics claim that Barelvis are guilty of committing innovation (Bid'at) and therefore, they are deviated from the true path — the path of Sunnah.
The Pakistan Movement got support from the Barelvis (Low Church). It had faced opposition from the National Indian Congress which was supported by the Deobandi seminaries (High Church). However, after the establishment of Pakistan as an Islamic state in 1949, Barelvi Low Church was too mixed up with mysticism to be a source of Islamic law. Ironically, Pakistan moved away from the 'spiritual pluralism' of the Barelvis, who had supported Pakistan, and relied on the more puritanical Deobandis who had opposed it.
Unlike the Deobandis, the Barelvis see the Prophet Mohammad as more than a man, a part of the divine light of Allah. This doctrine gives rise to a form of Islam that provides a space for holy men and esoteric practices and graves appear to be often more ornate than those found within Deobandi communities.The Wahhabi (Arabia), Deobandi (Pakistan and India) and Jamaat-I-Islami all are anti-sufi, and against the over devotion to Muhammad, whereas the Barelvis emphasize Muhammad's uniqueness.Indeed, nearly 85 percent of South Asia's Sunni Muslims are said to follow the Barelvi school, closer to Sufism.
The Barelvis believe the Prophet is a human being made from flesh and blood [bashar] and a noor [light] at the same time. This is like the example of when Gabriel, who is also noor [light], used to appear to the Prophet in the form of a man, flesh and blood. He is infallible and perfect and free from all imperfections and sinless (as are all Prophets). He is human but not like other humans. Allah has given him the ability to see the whole of Creation in detail while he is in his blessed grave as if he was looking at it in the palm of his hand. This is called being "nazir" ("witnessing"). Allah has given him the ability to go physically and spiritually to anywhere in the Created Universes he pleases whenever he pleases (peace be upon him) and to be in more than one place at the same time. This is what is meant by "hazir" (present). This is not the same as believing that he (peace be upon him) is present everywhere all the time!
Pakistanis and Conspiracy Theories
Pakistanis have a reputation for swallowing conspiracy theories. Part of this may be due to widespread illiteracy in Pakistan. People who can’t read rely on hearsay. Many conspiracy theories have anti-American, anti-Jew or anti-India slants. Pakistanis newspapers have run stories of how the American military was going to take over Karachi and turn the city into a "free port" to make up for their loss of Hong Kong. There have also been frequent stories about "cells" underneath the United States Consul General's house, where Pakistani political prisoners have been kept and tortured. There have also been rumors that thousands of United States Marines are positioned on offshore ships waiting for the signal to invade.
Huma Yusuf wrote in the New York Times: “The Pakistani penchant for conspiracy theories results from decades of military rule, during which the army controlled the media and the shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence agency controlled much of everything else. The lack of transparency and scarcity of information during subsequent democratic rule has further fueled rumors. [Source: Huma Yusuf, New York Times,, February 28, 2013]
John Daniszewski wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Rumors that would be dismissed out of hand in a better-informed society have been wholeheartedly embraced by Pakistan's tabloid press and even by some semi-respectable newspapers. The stories then have been amplified by word of mouth until they have become in some cases accepted "truths." "Most of the people believe these stories because our major problem is illiteracy," said Mohammed Omar, 27, a finance manager for a Dutch consulting business here. "If anyone told them that fact, they believe it." [Source: John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, September 29,2001]
“Of course, the fact that such ideas have been sown and have taken root so quickly is due to some extent to political and religious prejudice and hatred. But it is also a reflection of the relative susceptibility of many people to information that is handed to them from a trusted source. "The media is much involved — they are giving their own opinions without any research. Most of the stories are not based on facts most of the time,"
Ahshed Mahmood, a columnist from the Mussafat, a daily Urdu-language newspaper said, adding that his own paper is an exception. "In a country where there is a void of information, newspapers resort to rumors partly in order to fill space," said Syed Talat Hussan, a prominent Pakistani journalist. "In addition, there is an abiding tradition in the Pakistani print media deliberately to prove that whatever goes wrong is the work of Jews and Hindus." Yet the stories could easily have been debunked, he said. "Why don't they counter-check? Because they don't want to, because it goes against the grain of their beliefs...If they embrace rumors like these," he said, "they are not going to believe facts."
Ayesha Haroon, an editor at the Islamabad edition of the Nation, said another aspect of the problem is that Pakistanis believe that Western publications are against them. "Generally, the people here are very, very upset with the international media, and they have the feeling that the international media will never take their side," she said. "They think it is either pro-U.S.A., pro-Israel or pro-India."
Pakistanis and 9-11 Conspiracy Theories
Many Pakistanis believe that September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York was a Jewish plot carried out by the Mossad to justify attacks on Arabs and Muslims. As evidence they offered the “fact” that 4000 Jews were tipped off and didn’t show up at the trade centers they day of the attack and that Jewish cameraman were informed in advance so they could film the crashes. Some even think that September 11th was a Hindu-Jewish conspiracy to get the Muslims and Christians to fight each other so that the Jews and Hindus could control the world. These and other stories were widely circulated not only in the Tabloid press but also in in respected newspapers as accepted “truths.”
Reporting from Rawalpindi, John Daniszewski wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In this city's Saddr Bazaar, sweet, milky tea” is “served with talk about the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks. But the recounting of the events is altogether different from the facts that Americans know. To most people here, there's no reason to implicate Saudi militant Osama bin Laden or other Muslims in the crime. To the best of their knowledge, the circumstantial evidence points elsewhere: toward Israel first of all, or the Americans themselves, or even the Hindus.
Asshad Malik, 21, of the Malik Sports shop, does not hesitate when asked about his understanding of the attacks September 11. "The Jews did it," he explains, his face all open credulity as he stands in front of rows of cricket bats and board games. Mohammed Aamir, a 26-year-old student, chimes in: "We have heard it from the international media. Especially the BBC. . . . They say it not directly but indirectly." Aamir and Malik are not alone. Many, if not most, people one encounters on the streets here seem to genuinely believe that the assault on the U.S. was some sort of Jewish, American or Indian conspiracy.
“It would suggest that millions subscribe to the most widely heard canard that also has spread across the Arab world and beyond: that 4,000 Jews, forewarned, stayed away from the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks and were spared. In Pakistan, the account has been published in one or another form in most Urdu-language papers, with no serious disclaimers. "When a news item is published in the paper about the disappearance of 4,000 Jews from their jobs that day, America should not ignore that," argued shopkeeper Mohammed Iqbal, 53, when told that the stories he had heard were not true. "I trust the newspaper. The newspeople are very intelligent, and if they are giving the story, it must be true."
Other widely circulated rumors abound. A quick list would have to include: 1) No passengers were in the four jetliners that crashed September 11, and the aircraft were operated by remote control; therefore the passenger lists and the allegation of hijackings are a fiction. 2) Australian Prime Minister John Howard canceled a trip to New York just before September 11 because he had been informed of the plot. 3) Only Americans could have turned off the aircraft's radar and accomplished the other technical feats to avoid detection. Therefore, the conspiracy was an internal affair, perhaps triggered by Al Gore's presidential defeat last year.
Some of the stories seem to be deliberate plants with a political agenda. For instance, one of the first sightings of a news story directly blaming Israel for the World Trade Center bombing was in the Nation, a leading daily published in the major cities of Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. On the Sunday after the tragedy, a front-page story was slipped into the Karachi edition: "Mossad Behind Attacks — From Our Correspondent."
Haroon of the Nation said she was not sure where the item about the Israeli intelligence service came from, but her first impression was that it was a credible news service. "It's quite possible" that there was deliberate malice in printing it, she said. "But I also think it has to do with the Internet. Somebody in Canada, the U.S. or U.K. is sitting there and makes up something and sends it to us. And when you see something on the computer, you tend to believe it's true."
Anti-American Conspiracy Theories That Turn Out to Be True
Huma Yusuf wrote in the New York Times: “As the security situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate, trading conspiracy theories has become the new national pastime. Nothing is more popular on the airwaves, at dinner parties or around tea stalls than to speculate, especially about American activities on Pakistani soil. According to many Pakistanis, the C.I.A. used a mysterious technology to cause the devastating floods that affected 20 million people in 2010. Washington had the teenage champion for girls’ education, Malala Yousafzai, shot as part of a campaign to demonize the Pakistani Taliban and win public support for American drone strikes against them. The terrorists who strike Pakistani targets are non-Muslim “foreign agents.” Osama bin Laden was an American operative. [Source: Huma Yusuf, New York Times,, February 28, 2013]
“Conspiracy theories persist because many turn out to be true. A few years ago, Pakistan’s independent media denounced the presence in Pakistan of C.I.A. agents and private security firms like Blackwater. While U.S. and Pakistani government officials denied any such infiltration, private television channels broadcast footage of the homes of Westerners, allegedly Blackwater agents. One right-wing newspaper, The Nation, even named one Wall Street Journal correspondent as a C.I.A. spy, forcing him to leave the country. (The allegation was false, and the reporter now works for The New York Times.)
“For a time liberal Pakistanis condemned this as a witch hunt and decried poor journalistic ethics. But soon the international media disclosed that Blackwater was in fact operating in Pakistan at an airbase in Balochistan used by the C.I.A. Then it was revealed that the American citizen who shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore in January 2011 — an American diplomat, the U.S. government claimed initially — turned out to be a C.I.A. agent, just as many conspiracy theorists had surmised.
“And what about those U.S. drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt? It turns out those suspicious Pakistanis were right to imagine that their own government was complicit. That became clear when, in November 2011, to protest a NATO airstrike that killed Pakistani soldiers near the border with Afghanistan, the Pakistani government ordered the C.I.A. to leave the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan, from where the drone attacks were being launched.
“Other rumors concern India, Pakistan’s long-time rival. Zaid Hamid, a jihadist-turned-policy analyst, alleges that the Indian spy agency R.A.W. funds and arms the Pakistani Taliban. Some Pakistani officials accuse New Delhi of facilitating the separatist insurgency in Balochistan. This paranoia was confirmed this week by Chuck Hagel, the new U.S. secretary of defense. A video clip from 2011 that circulated during his confirmation hearings shows Hagel claiming that India uses Afghanistan as a “second front” against Pakistan and “has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border.”
“The allegation outraged the Indian government and undermined liberal Pakistanis who believe India wants a stable Pakistan and support improved bilateral ties. Meanwhile, of course, it validated those conspiracy mongers who have long warned that India wants to culturally subsume, colonize or destroy Pakistan.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022