Monthly Archives: December 2011
By Riaz Missen
In the deep countryside of Punjab, on the upper fringes of the Rohi (part of Thar), a village recently looked for a prayer-leader. The vacancy had emerged after the laborer/ mullah demanded either his salary should be increased or he must be relived from his duties so that he could take care of his growing livestock back in the nearby village. After failing to persuade him to stay, the villages contacted a nearby religious seminary and could avail an 18 years old Talib (student), who had learnt Quran by heart, for the job.
Out of the hundreds and thousands of mosques in the countryside of Punjab, only the Jamia mosques have regular Imams (prayer leaders). These mosques enjoy the distinction that group prayers are offered five times a day. Otherwise each hamlet has its own mosque where the people, mostly of older age, say prayers at suitable times. On Friday, they head for a ‘greater’ mosque to perform religious rites.
About the village I am talking about, it is situated in the green belt of Bahawalpur that constitutes the floodplain of the Sutlej River. Inhabited by the immigrants from Shikarpur (Sind), who had accompanied the Abbasids centuries back, the village has never hired an Imam on salary till half-a-decade back. A family of mullahs had been nominating one of its members to serve the community and collecting in return the bread two-times a day from the village.
I met the first employed prayer-leader, Maulvi Altaf, about five years back in a ‘smoker’s corner’ of the village. He belonged to the traditional family of the mullahs which I have mentioned earlier. He had not agreed on traditional arrangement and had come to the mosque only when the villagers agreed to pay him for his services in cash. His salary was half of the present one.
Soon Maulvi Altaf invented new ways to get his income increased. He undertook constructing a seminary and collecting animal hides. Having good voice he started practicing on the mosque’s loudspeaker the art of speech. The fact of the matter was that he had never attended any madarssah in his life.
On Eid days the maulvi would start early in the morning. His favorite job seemed to persuading people to spend in the ways of Allah and warning the people of hording wealth. After sometime, he started warning the people of burning fire for they did not offer their prayers regularly.
“Look, you are not a scholar. So don’t venture into the field of oratory,” I said and cautioned him about the excessive use of microphone. But my ‘advice’ did not fall on receptive ears. He would make long speeches in morning and night.
Soon, as understandably as one can imagine, the signs of resentment appeared. A team comprising youth formed undertook investigation whether the maulvi fulfilled the criteria of piety he had been suggesting to the common and ordinary folks so loudly. The results were widely shared and openly discussed. One day they held meeting with Maulvi Altaf and apprised him with evidences they had collected. The next day he did not come to the mosque and remains ‘absent’ till today.
Frankly speaking I have not personally met the present prayer-leader though have said funeral prayers for number of times behind him. I have not yet bothered to undo my confusion whether the person I have seen is the same who delivers sermons on Friday as well (I have also spotted there a fully grown bearded youth in the mosque as well). Probably the seminary has provided sermon-services as a matter of courtesy.
Whatever the case, I plan to secure a fatwa against a potter family of my village. Against the traditional practice of firing their earthen pots once in a year they are doing this job every month, surely under the market compulsions. Interestingly the village is not a market proper for their goods as few people now use the earthly devices to cook food or preserve water. The customers of the potter family are unknown: the send a truckload to the nearby city in the interior of the nearby desert. What the villagers consume, as well as the prayer leader, is dangerous gases which ‘bhatti’ emits regularly.
Through my keen observation during last two months, I have noticed that during the times the bhatti remains on fire my family suffers from asthmatic problems. I have concluded that the same is not due to seasonal variation but the polluters around me. The solution of my problem is not the doctor. Inviting attention of the health department can not provide an easy answer as well. I have decided to seek the help of a religious scholar instead.
I anticipate little bit ‘confusion’, if not embarrassment, on the side of the religious lot for environment does not usually fall in their purview though there is no dearth of brick-kilns and a sugar mill is fully operative in the areawhich hosted last year the president during his first-ever visit to Bahawalpur in the recent past. Being a journalist par excellence I assure the readers to share the story about the course I pass through while persuading a religious scholar to issue a decree against polluter and also to the extent the same proves effective in solving the problem my family is confronting.
Courtesy Weekly Pulse