Playing Bluff with ‘religious’ men

Published: January 20, 2013

His body ached with the pain of pulling customers as he grew older. He had to devise a better plan to make money. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Mir Jan lives in my village, Pratistan, between the affluent town of Bundookh and impoverished Mafloos. Like his fellow villagers, he is a poor, illiterate man. In fact there are just five literate men in our village, respected men, and until recently, I was respected as one of them. Our advice is sought in village problems, and we offer it after consulting thick books and pulling at our lips with solemn frowns.

We are paid in cash, but mostly with gifts of meager farm produce, and milk from skeletal cows. Mir Jan is paid by handling our transport, because he ran the only rickshaw in the village, pulling it behind him like a mule on two legs from one end of the village to the other, and sometimes over the sand dunes to other villages beyond.

Mir Jan is no longer a young man. His beard, once black and slick with oil, is now grey – the hair too sparse to absorb the oil. His legs ache from running, and his shoulders, harnessed to the rickshaw, are sore. Soon, he ached all over as he ran, and all night as he tried to sleep. Where once Mir Jan had worried about how to earn a bit extra money to keep himself and his family more comfortably, he began to wonder how much longer he could keep them at all.  He wondered, with every morsel of food he ate, if it was destined to be his last; when he cleaned and washed his rickshaw, he thought,

‘How long will I be alive, like these men?’

Because, painted behind the rickshaw were large pictures of the five of us who could read and write. Almost venerated in Pratistan, our pictures were painted with a faint light encircling each head, and a superior expression on each face.

Finally the day came when Mir Jan could no longer handle his rickshaw.

It was a question, now, of discovering an alternative way of making an income or starving.

Mir Jan spent an entire day in thought. That night he visited one of my fellow literates whom he knew, and in whom he recognised a kindred spirit, and unfolded his plan to him. According to this plan people in the affluent town of Bundookh would deposit their zakat into a designated account. This money would be used to fund projects, especially within Pratistan, which was to be a showcase – to show how well these funds were being used.

In reality, a large chunk of this money was to be siphoned off by Mir Jan and his confederate, the man he had confided his plan to. This man’s participation was crucial because he was well known, even in nearby affluent Bundookh.

The lettered man agreed to lend his support, and they debated a name for the zakat fund, or rather Mir Jan waited in respectful silence while the man consulted his books, and made impressive Arabic sounds in his throat.

After ten minutes, the zakat fund had a name, ‘Tadmeerul ibad’, chosen at random from a religious book, as is commonly done.

“‘ul Ibad’ means ‘of mankind,’ the lettered man said pedantically, ‘so because this plan concerns mankind in this area, this name is most appropriate.’

And so the Tadmeerul Ibad zakat fund was set up.

By its means, Pratistan has been given a facelift. Two schools have been constructed, staffed by poorly educated and underpaid teachers; roads that washed away at the first whiff of a monsoon were built, but even the bitumen that remains impresses people used to rutted tracks. A factory now exists in Pratistan.  It produces worthless toys but the villagers like to say ‘I work in a factory,’ when before they could only say, ‘I am a peasant.’

No one questions the scheme with its impressive Arabic title and religious overtones.

Mir Jan’s scheme is so much part of Pratistan’s life, that even to think of questioning it is tantamount to questioning zakat itself, in short, it is blasphemy.

And I have been accused of just this, because I discovered the fraud and spoke up against the scheme. Therefore tomorrow, at dawn, I die.

I questioned ‘Tadmeer ul ibad,’ because I was surprised that a zakat fund could have a name that meant ‘Destruction of Mankind.’

I wonder what else is out there camouflaged by ignorance, protected by illiteracy, and who else will die for questioning it?

Read more about Rabia here 


Rabia Ahmed

The author is a freelance writer and translator.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jumma Khan

    Not sure what sort of Pakistan do you live in? Today’s Pakistan is a prosperous and modern nation on the rise to become one of the most vibrant economies in the world. Literacy levels in villages are starting to touch 100% and poverty levels are among the lowest in the region. Please show the real face of Pakistan in your blogs instead of resorting to negative propaganda.Recommend

  • Super Star


  • kanwal

    Brilliant read and excellent take! This blog just made my day!Recommend

  • abcd

    Was a beautiful read.
    The fraudsters take recourse to religion to fool people
    and create a shoddy infrastructure, where there was none.
    Then comes some good souls like you who make people realise
    that what they are being offered is substandard.
    You face danger to life.
    But people become aware that they deserve better.
    A village which had only five literate men, suddenly starts boasting of more literate
    folks who could understand you.
    This all is a normal process of evolution from a rural feudal system
    to a literate urban civilization.

    PS: that tadmeer thing is not important. Because even after a
    seemingly impious name, they have done more benefit to the rural folks with their shoddy schools and roads full of potholes, than could the piously named ‘Islamic republic of Pakistan’.Recommend

  • Sidra

    It’s sad people just use Arabic names to give the illusion of legitimacy!! Educated people need to unite against such misuse. The problem in our country is that educated, thinking people still remain in minority.Recommend

  • Rabia

    @Jumma Khan:
    I know which Pakistan I live in Mr Khan. I can’t be sure about yours. Are you sure you live in Pakistan at all? Literacy levels touching 100 percent?Recommend

  • Jarrar

    @Jumma Khan:
    Dude you Drunk?Recommend

  • Burjor

    I, like all your readers feel very sorry for the poor man. What is possible perhaps, is that thru technology make the rickshaw much lighter, make it for one person, use lighweight materials, which is very much possible. I am sure there are many engineers who can achieve this. The technology allready exists. Recommend

  • Disgusted in USA

    @Jumma Khan:
    What Pakistan are you living in? Are you insane?Recommend

  • Parvez

    You had me hooked from the first line……………absolutely brilliant and more so because its so true.Recommend

  • Ahsan Mansoor

    But then again …
    He did something that was left undone by the Governments be it Militiary or Civilian.

  • sars

    @Jumma Khan:
    This was a realistic blog, well written at that. Where do you live ? (and perhaps hide your head in the sand?)Recommend

  • usman

    like the picture in article, this article also not belong to Pak. I don’t know why editor allow it or atleast change the title picture which showing either bangladeshi or Indian rural life. Rural Pakistan and rural life Pakistan and is very much different and it clearly shows the article written with imagination. Recommend

  • Dr Imran Ahmed

    @usman: It is a fiction, a story, a tale, a satire. Did you take it to be a news report?Recommend

  • Sane

    @Jumma Khan:

    Literacy levels in villages are starting to touch 100%

    Ha…ha….ha…. really. Are you sure that you mean it.Recommend

  • salmanzq

    This is one of the best pieces I’ve read in the blog section! Again, apologies on behalf of my brethren who cannot understand satire. Interestingly, research is indicating that an inability to understand satire may be an early warning sign of brain disease – true story!Recommend

  • Pharell

    @JummaKhan, One of the most vibrant economies in the world! Literacy level 100%! How long have I been in my room! What century is this!?Recommend

  • AniS

    Is this man Jumma Khan for real??? Recommend

  • Jumma Khan


  • stranger

    Negative article.Recommend

  • Rabia

    but true, true, true. What price truth?Recommend

  • anwar suhail

    No he isn’t drunk, others are. Dude you missed the SARCASM and irony. Do you not have any sense……of humor !!Recommend

  • anwar suhail

    Agree with you Sir.Recommend

  • Womenpower

    @Jumma Khan: Are you serious? Pakistan is not prosperous, Pakistani citizens are being treated like garbage by their own country. Most people in Pakistan do not even earn enough to have 3 meals a day and there is no security and quality of life in Pakistan. Please come out of denial and accept the problems that our country is facing. Acceptance is the first step to finding a solution. Recommend