How I learnt where Islam ends, and culture begins

Published: November 29, 2011

Most imams in Pakistan preach hatred and violence. However, a small segment encourage peace and mercy too. PHOTO: SHAHBAZ MALIK

Like the vast majority of Pakistanis, I was raised a Muslim. Being ‘raised’ Muslim, to my best knowledge, means that during my childhood and as I grew older, I was exposed to Islamic teachings. I had a maulvi sahab, I read the Holy Quran, learned how to pray and was taught the history and fundamental principles, or pillars of the religion.

Till my teens, I was in my opinion a good Muslim. I found it very difficult to lie, I gave charity, I prayed, I fasted, I respected my parents, and forgave those who hurt me. I was satisfied with my religious beliefs because they supported the good nature that I believed I had, and promised rewards for acts of kindness and worship which I enjoyed doing.

This all was soon to change.

As I grew older, I started paying greater attention to sermons that followed Friday prayers. That’s when I received my first shock; I remember it vividly even though I was only 14-years-old. The Imam said that all non-Muslims were infidels and that the entire world was to be brought under the banner of Islam even if it was by force. The feelings that overcame me after are hard to describe – I barely got through my prayers.

I decided to ignore what I heard and just move on, but as time went on, it only got worse. Speeches of hatred against Ahmadi Muslims gave me headaches especially because one of my closest friends was from the Ahmadiyya sect. Discrimination against Jews and western culture was a favourite topic in most mosques I visited, and above all justification and celebration for acts of terror like 9/11 is what brought me to my point of saturation.

The point of saturation was me going up to my parents and grandparents to confess my thoughts about what it seemed Islam was preaching.

I was terrified.

I didn’t want to sound like an ‘infidel’, but rather discuss perhaps the truth regarding religion and violence.

That’s when it all changed.

My grandfather who was very religious, and quite a terrific man, told me of the bigotry of modern maulvis. He told me that a major message in Islam is to educate oneself. He proceeded to quote the Holy Prophet (pbuh) to me and said that philosophy is just like a faithful camel which you can take with you wherever you go. These words stuck to me like glue, and after that day I spent many hours everyday studying Islam, reading various translations of the Holy Quran and also the hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) to the best of my ability.

I want to clear that not all Imams at the mosques I prayed in Pakistan spoke so violently. Many were moderate and chose not to speak on terrorism or tolerance, but instead talked about good deeds and forgiveness. However, they were a minority. After my own study I realized so many things in the society I lived in were cultural practices disguised under the banner of religion. For example I learned that Islam calls for modesty when one dresses , yet in many families women are forced to cover their entire bodies, faces included. I researched this back to a practice called ‘purdah’ (veil) in medieval India. This was done to restrict the movement of women and to lower their status as compared to men at a time where there was immense gender discrimination. I never found an Islamic teaching asking for such layering of a woman.

Another thing I noticed was women being married against their will. These women are  forced to leave their homes and live in their husband’s household with his family. Islam categorically forbids forced marriages and gives the wife the right to refuse to live with her husband’s parents or siblings if she chooses. But if a woman should make such a demand in parts of society today, she can expect the worst. Amongst some cases I have heard, a woman was once told that God would give her misery for denying her husband’s home, even though she was married forcefully and her mother-in-law was torturing her.

Honour killings and violence against Ahmadis are justified in Pakistan today using religion as well. The latter in my opinion is due to the lack of education, radicalism and misguidance, but the former is another cultural practice. I am certainly no religious scholar or expert on Islam; far from it, but nowhere in any part of the religion have I come across justification for such horrid acts of violence and lunacy.

The idea of writing this blog came to me, ironically, during Friday prayers at my university here in Illinois in the United States. In our prayer hall we had a special guest Imam. He was from Turkey and delivered an exceptional sermon on religious harmony, tolerance and equality. After the prayers I wanted to go speak to him. I broke the ice by telling him my last name was also ‘Agha’ and had family roots in Turkey. That turned out to be a good idea and we engaged in conversation. This man supported every argument I made about religion, peace, tolerance and equality. In fact he improved my arguments by making several references from the Quran regarding force and religion.

He told me I was quite right about societies preaching culture as religion. He explained how religion was one of the few things that requires faith in the unseen and that means believing in something that can never be ultimately proven scientifically. He said that because of this some people developed an unshakable trust in their religion, and so, if taught religion irresponsibly they could find justification of immoral practices that were a violent part of their ancient culture.

It all started to make sense. People in positions of power could mould religion in ways that they wanted, to support their ideas or practices because no one questions religion. In a similar way our history is often distorted in ways that makes us feel good about ourselves, hides our mistakes, or represents the past in a way we prefer. This is why we never hear of Pakistani aggression in a war against India, or massacres by us in East Pakistan. This is why a man like Jinnah who owned so many suits is always, in our memory, wearing a kurta and a hat. It’s all because the way we are taught history and religion is wrong. It is not impartial and it is evidently biased and presently the only way to realize the absolute truth is to educate ourselves. The difference between Molana Agha and the imams and maulvis back home was that he was very educated and put his religion before his culture.

The Islam I came to know made me liberal and tolerant. I have unshakable egalitarian values and I believe in freedom and justice for all. Yet, simply because of my religious beliefs people call me a hard-core rightist. I blame this on governance. Religion is a very sensitive issue, and in my opinion only people tested and qualified should be permitted to educate people in matters of religion. Why do parents trust maulvis with the task of teaching their children Islam? What qualification do they have? Sure, some may be learned and might teach well, but how do we know? Thanks to my maulvi sahab until I was 16 I thought according to Islam, the devil, or Iblees, was an angel. After self study I discovered he was actually a Jinn, and he could never have disobeyed God as an angel because angels do not have free will.

This says enough about most maulvis and imams. My contention with education in Pakistan is similar. I just want the truth, and I want it from people properly qualified who are willing to tell even the ugly truth, but they must be impartial. The truth needs to be told and maybe by doing this the true spirit of religion, which talks against force, hatred and intolerance, will come forward too. Maybe then one day we will not be looked down upon for promoting religious beliefs and it will not be a popular fashion to stray away from them. But for this, major reforms need to be made in the administration, and more importantly, in the syllabi. Until then we will never know our true history; we will never learn about the mistakes we made as a country; we will never know the true persona’s of our forefathers. Moreover, the world will continue to learn about the version of our religion that encourages violence. In this way, the true face of Islam that preaches tolerance and peace will, in times to come, be lost forever.

What a tragic thought this is. Tragic indeed.

Abu Bakr Agha

Abu Bakr Agha

A software engineer, musician, writer and activist from Islamabad, currently based in Chicago. He tweets @AB_Agha (

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

  • Bilal

    An Excellent Read …..JazakAllahRecommend

  • Tribune Reader

    Really well written mate, but be mentally prepared, your going to be getting a lot of stick from readers who are not in short supply and have more than adopted the narrow minded, fascist, judgmental and xenophobic views towards the world and other people around them. Do not be surprised if you get a lot of hate comments directed at you. I admire your courage to write this piece and I hope you write more on individual issues such as the full burqa, xenophobia towards minorities, anti semetism etc.
    We even need some one to write about this and bring out into the open the discrimination and harassment non practicing Muslims face from religious Muslims. We are treated no differently from the people they label as Kafirs. Recommend

  • muhammad sarfraz

    yes,the maulvis want the jews,hindus,christians,parsis,atheists,agnostics,ahmadis all to go to hell and only these mullahs themselves they think will get to go to heaven.i’ve heard a lot of things similar to what you heard in the Friday sermons and also the maulvis favorite target was intelligent women,any woman who had a career the mullahs couldn’t stand,they ranted and railed against independent women,i guess to them the only ”good” woman is the one that stays behind the chaar diwari and follows her hubby as a braindead slave would follow.congrats to ET staff on having the guts to publish such blogs in an intolerant society like ours.Recommend

  • Fayez ali

    excellent article, if u r seeking truth frm a real scholar, it is javed ahmed ghamidi…Recommend

  • Midhat F.

    Very well written but get ready to be thrashed by Gheriat Brigade.
    Life would be better in Pakistan if we had more of rational and less of emotional people. Recommend

  • Saad

    In the current climate I’d be scared to even write something this “liberal.” Maybe the fact that you’re in the U.S. does make it easier for you but free speech is soon going to be a thing of the past here. Well done! Recommend

  • Haniya

    very nicely put together… awareness and that too in the right direction! All the best :)Recommend

  • Nabeel

    Excellent article! The same point was presented by Mustafa Akyol in his TED talk…

  • azhar

    people should listen to Shaikh Hamza YusufRecommend

  • sajid

    Very well written but I think the title should have been “where Islam begins and culture ends”Recommend

  • Forbidden Fruit

    It’s plain human nature to distance oneself from things one cannot fully/properly understand, it’s plain human nature to opt for the easy way out.Recommend

  • Musthaq Ahmed

    In Arab lands I saw several women observing total purdah – pitch dark purdah ! Now I realise that poor Arabs are imitating medieval Indians , the latter even to this day forcing women into such purdahs every where in India . We owe this knowledge to Mr Agha of turkic extraction. Recommend

  • Maham K.

    You keep publishing masterpiece after masterpiece.Recommend

  • Cynical

    A good try but still way to go.It’s worth pondering,

    ‘Humanity’s first sin was faith; first virtue was doubt. – Mike HubenRecommend

  • Ahmad

    Wonderful article Masha’Allah. May Allah give all of us strength and guidance.Recommend

  • malik

    Wow !!!

    So, purdah is an Indian invention now adopted by Islam followers?

    And you want us to believe that you are an independent thinker these days ? Recommend

  • Hitendra Singh

    “I never found an Islamic teaching asking for such layering of a woman”

    Veil is not a subcontinent phenomenon. It is found in many Muslim societies outside the Indian subcontinent too!Recommend

  • Faz

    Your mentioned discoveries on Islam represent how deeply you are worried and concerned for Islam and its global image. ~Sigh~
    By the way before bashing the Molvis, remember that because of these poor fellows we learned lots of practices of Islam; how to pray; how to make ablution,how to read Quran properly, how to bury a dead; though customary, the issues are important and it is mostly due to such fellows that we have learned common practices.
    Even you owe your mental growth and understanding in broader prespective on Islam to the initial learnings at mosque sermons.

    How many of us know how much a poor Imam of the mosque earns; how does he manage his family and children; how many of us even cared to invite the Imam at our local mosque just as a guest for a meal or even a cup of tea; how many of us know how he spends his eid and festives; how many?
    we should know, he lives near us and every morning without a delay of single minute he gives the call for prayers when more than half Pakistan is asleep and other half preparing to go into their beds after a night long thoughtful debate over the Islamic discoveries.

    If people like us will isolate them and start being ungrateful to their good deeds, then of course the disappointed and isolated lot will spit venom and spread hatred.

    Don’t seek the approval for your intellectual growth at the cost of criticism directed at Molvis.Be grateful to them for the little good they did to us.Recommend

  • Hareem Soomro

    Really well written! This is an important and largely ignored issue that has flourished dangerously over time and responsible for much of the intolerance in our societyRecommend

  • sariya

    Excellent article!! Very well written!!Recommend

  • Abu Bakr

    No.. but i believe society ‘forcing’ women to completely cover themselves up could have cultural roots because religion only asks for modesty. Does not have to be subcontinental culture. Purdah is not the same as hijab.. as far as my study told me. Please don’t mistake that i am implying that veil or hijab/niqaab began in India. There was though, the act of forcing women to completely cover their bodies for subordination in medieval india called ‘purdah’.Recommend

  • http://Indian fizza

    Brilliant post. I expected you to get a lot of stick for the line about purdah – some people will always miss the point. Religion calls for modesty and cultures have discriminated against women which has evolved into modern enforcement of niqab. There indeed was a practice called purdah in India long ago in which women were forced to cover their bodies completely to show themselves inferior to men. BUT the point of this post is about improper education in matters of history and religion which I can’t disagree with at all.Recommend

  • sajid

    @Abu bakar
    Pardah is a persian word and apparently an ancient Iranian tradition pre-dating Islam.Recommend

  • rizwana

    i salute you for writing this article.keep up the good work Recommend

  • zalim singh

    a very honest soul searching all muslims must do.Recommend

  • Intellect

    If culture has clouded religion don’t you think it is time to have reformation/reinterpretation of Islam? At the very least it will be homogenous to the times we live in. What say?Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    “There indeed was a practice called purdah in India long ago in which women were forced to cover their bodies completely to show themselves inferior to men.”

    In India long ago, independent of Islam?

    Fizza, can you provide us with more information? Thanks in advance.Recommend

  • Bilal Ahmed

    An extremely extremely misleading title !
    As Agha acknowledges himself, its about the Muslims, not Islam !!

    We must take extreme care before making any statements about Islam !! Recommend

  • Ali Noor

    @AbuBakr: Thank you.Recommend

  • Sheheryar

    Well written article. The train of thought is very nice, ie separating islam from culture. But the example raised are not that equally justified( of veil and Ahmedi “Muslims”).
    Anyways, why dont instead of just bashing Mullahs, provide an alternate. Why not do some good, come back to Pakistan and start preaching the real Islam.
    Your ideas are good but bashing and saying bad to Mullahs will do us no good. If you think something is wrong, You should come back and become a preacher yourself!! Then only you will be justified to bash our typical Moulvis.Recommend

  • Usman Malik

    Finally a brilliant piece of writing, altough i dont agree on some points, i consider it a misunderstanding. We just mix Cultural things with religion and call it Islam.Recommend

  • Solomon2

    “I just want the truth, and I want it from people properly qualified who are willing to tell even the ugly truth, but they must be impartial.”

    There is a problem here, Mr. Agha: you expect others to dig out the truth for you. Why should they do that? Recommend

  • Parvez

    Thank your grandfather daily for guiding you well.
    You story of the Turkish Imam shows that the problem we face is due to our poorly educated Imams who control the pulpit and so exercise power over the masses. The apathy shown by the government to correct this is shocking and dangerous.Recommend

  • Minahil

    I salute you! I really appreciate you for writing such a masterpiece :) except for the burkha part.. rest superb written :) I’ll post it on my fb as a note for my other friends to Read… thanksRecommend

  • rehashed

    While I do not believe that medieval India treated women well (or does even now), I have to take exception to the statement about purdah being influenced heavily by India. Otherwise it is still a well-written and objective article. And similar soul-searching in other religions will help a lot too. Remember that the Saudis perhaps have some of the strictest regimens when it comes to dress code. It is hardly likely that Indian medieval fashion trends (sic) carried westwards! Dont get me wrong. I am just offering my view on purdah and its origins. Islam is widely misunderstood and has a lot to teach to the world. Sikhism is perhaps a good example. Syncretism – best of Islamic practices of mercy, forgiveness and yet a warrior-like quality. There is so much to learn. And so little time.Recommend

  • M

    Most ‘imams’ preach hatred? I think you mean most ‘MULLAHS’/’MOULVIS’ mate…Recommend

  • Hira

    I may not completely agree with all the points presented in this piece of yours but bravo for having the guts to post something like this on a public forum. Its good that you are out of country, you will be safe. In Pakistan, you would probably have to take care while getting out of the house.

    IT is true that in our society, there is no line between culture and religion. Its ironic that I realized this after stepping out of the society and researching on my own. Many will also question the credibility of your research and the Imams and Moulanas you went to. Recommend

  • an A level student

    one of the best articles ive read on ETRecommend

  • Humanity

    This article is one of the best. It at least encourages us to search for the truth. I applaud the writer for his courage to write the truth he discovered during his personal search.
    I am an Ahmdi Muslim by the grace of GOD. I read the Holy Quran almost daily and have also found that Quran emphasizes equality and kindness to women and people of other religions repeatedly. Lifetime practice of our Holy Prophet (pbuh) also confirms it. Quran also teaches oneself to excel in goodness by actions of goodness towards others.

    It is sad to see the comments of some people who do not appreciate an honest and good work done by AbuBakr Agha. Maulvi’s have distorted and misrepresented the religion for the benefit of the past rulers and have done an immense damage to Islam. Any person reading the Holy Quran with the smallest understanding will get to see the harm maulvi’s have caused by promoting hate to other humans, against the teachings of the Holy Quran. There damage to Islam outweighs the minor good services they perform.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    Extreme nationalist religious conservative right-wingers who want to boost their fragile self-worth and hide their ignorance, do so by imposing their biased and rigid ideological and dogmatic re-imagined views, of a perpetual never-ending violent struggle with one enemy or another, through outrageous methods which break virtually most basic tenets of our Islamic faith, especially in promoting biased lies and hateful intolerance, to the point they become Munafiq or Kharjites. Sadly, they have a willing audience willing to be programmed to not question them, nor think, as long as their emotions are fed and give them all the adulation.

    Muslims can practice and still promote secular pluralism for peaceful co-existence. Indeed, Islam can be quite liberal if we were to practice basic ethics of knowledge, justice and equality for all and honesty (and I think bringing up how we ignore our own acts of agression, such as in 1971 was a brilliant point on how we condone, justify or rationalize un-Islamic discriminatory illegal and criminal behaviour, under the guise of religious nationalism).

    But as you point out…serious reforms are needed…and this starts with our thinking and attitudes of doing the hard positive ethical thing, not the quick short-cut negative superstitious cultural thing. Recommend

  • Zara

    So, what I understood is, that whatever CRAP movies put into our HOLY RELIGION, let them put, for they are poor people??! excuse me?? I see how they live and what they go through, how they feed their many children and how they take each day step by step. But tell me, does that mean they can invent things that make Islam look like a Sadist, Intolerant and Terrorsist Religion, thereby, not only leading milllions of people into Hell fire (as they donot take the trouble to find out the truth) BUT it also makes people SHY AWAY from Islam!! They then chose to live according to LIBERAL and WESTERNIZED living standards.
    Your argument makes NO.SENSE.WHATSOEVER. Recommend

  • sbt

    Ppl like u are the ray of home in the unfair cultural war zone we live in. Very well and logically written. Keep it up! Recommend

  • Homa

    I have news for you, mr. Agha. There was no purdah in india before the arrival of islam. Its not a part of hindu religion or even culture. In hindu communities wherever it came into existence, it came into existence as a social practice due to the widespread abduction of women during muslim rule. It was a survival mechanism for protecting women by keeping them out of view.Recommend

  • Vin

    @AbuBakr —said– “There was though, the act of forcing women to completely cover their bodies for subordination in medieval india called ‘purdah’—-

    This is the most bizzare and superficial study ever done, Purdah system of Rajputs was to save Women from Marauding Tribal Invaders such as Ghaznis, Ghauris etc…If it was rooted in Hinduism purdah would have existed througout India…on the contrar… Tantra Yoga(proposed by Shiva and followed by Tibbetian Buddhists) and Performing arts(Classical music/bhartnatyam dance) are “one” of the various ways to God realization in Hinduism….

    HIndu women since time immemorial have been dressed scantily and thats the way you will see them on all temle Carvings including Khajuraho….

    The system of covering up women came to Northern India after muslim invasion and settlement, it was never present in the south where mulsim dominance was very late or never in Kerala

    I would advise the writer to study Tantra Yoga, Kamasutra, Khajuraho temples and look at every carving on Indian Temples till date… Sexuality is divine for us and a portal to God…This is an alient concept for Abrahminic Religion as a whole..though Christian Westerners are now catching upRecommend

  • Humanity

    Further to my comment earlier:
    Quran states, Islam is a religion of peace and to prove it a Muslim in-addition to the regular daily prayers must be an honest person, be an honest witness, respect the rights of his neighbors, uphold the rights of weak (women, children, elders, orphans, beggars, travelers, etc) and be kind to every one you encounter including non-Muslims because there were no Muslims in the beginning, that is what our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) preached and practiced throughout his life, and that is how people converted not by force.

    This is one of the reasons why Quran says Islam is a religion of peace. Otherwise, if it is to be spread by force then it is not a religion of peace but rather a religion of terror against the teachings of Quran and practice of the Prophet.
    I am not sure which Islam our current maulvi’s are preaching. It certainly is not the same Islam what our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) preached.
    Promised Messiah or Imam Mahdi, when he comes, is supposed to repeat the same kinder and gentler Islam that Quran dictates and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) practiced. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad did exactly that, believe it or not. Maulvi’s by throwing dirt, filth and a multitude of lies at Imam Mahdi think they are serving Islam, perhaps an Islam of terror.Recommend

  • Alina D

    Beautiful :) Kudos to you for seeking the truth when you heard all those scary sermons, rather than rejecting Islam, altogetherRecommend

  • Nandita.

    No offence to anyone here , but i really want to know why religion in pakistan dictates every sphere of life? You will never find an indian saying ” Hinduism says …. ” blah blah.I do not remember having a discussion on religion ever, not with my parents not with my hindu friends and not with my muslim friends.As a child, my parents only gave me lessons in humanity, i was told to be kind and generous, to respect my elders and to be loving.I have read a lot about hinduism but i dont remember having discussions about religion. I am a hindu and very proud of being one but i am an educated woman capable of making good decisions. I do not need religion or anything else to tell me how to behave. As educated adults shouldn’t we use our common sense and knowledge to show us the way to being better and responsible human beings rather than just relying on religious texts? Recommend

  • The Reader

    As always, AbuBakr Agha has come up with another brilliant piece. Always good to read him.Recommend

  • Awais Khan

    Religious intolerance and bigotry have paved the way for violence.Recommend

  • Essbee

    Although a good read, I disagree with a couple of points here in this article. If women in Pakistan are being asked to cover themselves in layers because of an Indian cultural influence, then why do you think the Arab women cover themselves. This hardly seems like a cultural influence. I agree, the Qurran does not mention veil but it does ask women in Surah Noor to cover their chest and their ‘Zeenat’ with ‘Orhni’ i.e a duppatta or a scarf. Although I am an average Pakistani girl who wears a duppatta but no veil, i still believe ‘Zeenat’ is something we should leave for the women to decide. My friend who wears a ninja Veil thinks her face is the ‘Zeenat’ Allah has asked her to cover. Another friend who wears a head scarf thinks its the hair that are true ‘Zeenat’ of a woman so she covers them. Nothing clutural I believe.

    Talking about a cultural influence, now it has become an Islamic culture to wear a hijab, and this beautiful culture I may also adapt in near future. Because I have seen in practical life that it does not restrict one’s movements. A colleague of mine is a Telecom Engineer from a very prestigious university in Pakistan, is working in the largest Telecom Operator here and is also doing her masters as well as being a mother of two kids. And yes, she wears a “Burqa/ Abaya” and a veil. Nothing stops her.

    Also, You mentioned

    Honour killings and violence against Ahmadis are justified in Pakistan today using religion as well

    Now this is stereotyping I am afraid. Nowhere in Pakistan is honor killing justified using religion. You can say people practice it under false religious beliefs but saying its justified in Pakistan is a bit harsh. :) Things have changed here, and they are changing further.


  • GA

    @Musthaq Ahmed:
    So some way or other, Hinduism or India has to find some blame. The word ‘purdah’ is not of sub continental origin; but neither the intelligent and enlightened writer nor you guys would acknowledge that.
    Secondly, no where in ancient Hindu history or mythology has a women been shown veiled. This whole painful episode started with the Muslim invasions of the sub continent, when the cultured and non violent people of these lands tried to prevent the sight of these marauders from falling on to their women. Over the years, this became a part of the culture. Go to the south of India which was relatively immune to the depradations of these animals- you will find no ‘purdah’ even in the most orthodox of families.Recommend

  • Omer

    Also to note is the difference between Religion and Religious History, the two are not the same and yet are often interchangeably used as being religion.Recommend

  • NH

    ‘Moreover, the world will continue to learn about the version of our religion that encourages violence. In this way, the true face of Islam that preaches tolerance and peace will, in times to come, be lost forever.’ .

    The true face of Islam can never be lost my friend, however if the world only wants to see the other version who can help them?. No version of our religion encourages violence, its just a distorted, misleading view point they want to believe.Recommend

  • Nauman

    Good article. We ned to hear all sided of the story. Whilst all the things pointed out may not be correct as other readers have pointed out, this article brings out a separate perspective. We need to somehow also expose our non English reading fellow Pakistanis to articles of this kind.

    Our Moulvis/ Mullahs also need to educate themselves beyoooond the confines of what they have learnt in the madressa.Recommend

  • Amin

    @Abu Bakr, read and listen Javed Ahmed Ghamidi.Recommend

  • Ahsan Daredia

    An incredible read! It was extremely brave of you to stand up side by side with your honesty and write this piece. I hope more people read this and I’ll be doing my job by spreading it to the best of my ability.Recommend

  • vickram

    History tells us that Hindu women used to commit suicide whenever they heard the news that Moghul invaders had defeated their King and were on the way. There were many recorded instances when Hindu women used to jump in wells and ponds en masse to avoid being captured by Moghul military chiefs. (Of course, everyone knows about Hindu Kush.)

    Have you heard the story of girls, Tana and Riri? They were two beautiful sisters from present-day Gujarat; their beauty and their singing attracted the attention of Emperor Akbar and he sent people to ‘ask’ the girls to come to his court.

    The young girls did not want to join the harem of Akbar. So, they committed suicide jumping into the well.* That is one of the reason why Rajput women started to cover their faces with saree to avoid being seen by Moslem war lords in order to avoid bloodshed. This has nothing to do with the hijab system, which is basically to prevent men from getting ‘ideas’ in his mind.

    *(Source: Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie)Recommend

  • Mariam

    well written….
    I agree with you, we are being mislead by some of the molvis. Although, they try to motivate you through hard core urdu, long speeches, which we all think that he is such a learned man. But whenever, next time you go to meet any molvi who try to teach you, ask him about the references from Quran and Hadith, if he can do well, then listen to him o/w try to seek knowledge yourself.
    One thing that I want to highlight is that we Muslims, on our own are trying to defame our own religion. You said so much about the misleading molvis but what you wrote about good molvis? just one line : “All molvis are not same”, this is not enough man. If a non-Muslim reads this, what impression he will get. that even the Muslims are not satisfied with their teaching. We all balme Molvis, but what we do on our own to quench our craving for knowledge and to spread our religion? Nothing, beleive me nothing. So next time, highlight the bad points, but conclude with something that will give a good impression of our religion to an outsider……
    All the best.Recommend

  • Farhan

    Sorry to say but u have forgotten Hadith and Sunnah and that is also an important part of islam, not indian tradition.

    I think you have forgotten the Kalma as well, which says the last prophet is Muhammad (SAW), im sorry for the moderate muslims of islam they just need an excuse.

    And islam is never against women education, they are just against their mingling with men, ghair mehrum, and if u are beighairat, i hope u all moderate muslims understand the meaning because i do not want to explain it in english as it takes all the meaning of the word. then we all see ur women hw they walk in bazaars and offices, so please no need to comment on this.

    And Mr. US with no offence, good effort u have tried to learn islam through Quran but there is Hadith and Sunnah as well, do not be misguided u r still following the same islam that is given by ur parents, culture that is, so try and learn more… u need it, any ways good effort but pls if ur doing it by good will then do more efforts to learn and write correctly…

    May Allah help all of us.Recommend

  • Yesra

    very well written….!Recommend

  • Humanity

    It is surprising to note that some of the readers can be so naïve and so easily get strayed from the topic and are rather concentrating on the origin of ‘purda’ be it from ancient India or Persia, layering of women for control, etc, all un-important issues.
    In essence, the topic is about the cultural based misleading, intolerant, hate filled and un-Islamic preaching by our maulvi’s under the name of Islam, thus, damaging Islam and making it look like a religion of terror and no one is doing anything to correct the issue.

    Some are suggesting listen to Javed Ahmed Ghamidi or Mustafa Akyol or Shaikh Hamza Yusuf for the truth. I as an Ahmadi Muslim believe that Holy Quran through our Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) has provided us ALL THE TRUTH needed. And Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi in the form of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has further reaffirmed that look for ‘any and every truth in the Holy Quran’ by reading it daily and understanding its meaning with attention and applying its teachings in your life that will make every aspect your life crystal clear. So please, become a conscious reader of the Quran and with God’s guidance you will need no outside help. I hope this suggestion helps all readers.Recommend

  • Essbee

    Well thats because Islam is a complete way of life, not just the religious part. It teaches humanity, way of prayers, how to run the government, the jurisdiction, the international affairs, the education, economics, etc etc..Recommend

  • Junaid


    So your going to be the God and will judge Ahmadis?
    Let the judging be done by God, Play your part and He will play his on the day of Judgement. Recommend

  • waqar


    Bro please read article. Author is not ignoring or demoralizing them at all. All he is just trying to categorize them. What do you say? if our Imams are poor fellows, have financial & social issues and we do not invite them for dinner and tea, so they should spread the violence? Right?

    By the way learning basic stuff about Islam does not requires Imam, Imam is like a leader who lead people towards all directions not any specific.Recommend

  • V

    Purdah in India began after Muslim invasions and when the women were being kidnapped and raped. All those who have a doubt should come to India and see the various historical sites(some of them which are still quite well preserved) and see the status that women had.

    Stop seeing yourself with a perpetual halo.Recommend

  • maria

    amazing…….its as if someone is talking my heart out………………..excellent read………….n if we need to participate in promoting the real religion ,the best we can do is to educate ourselves……..where we spend so much time reading novels ,watching tv/movies ,surfing net………..just take out 1 hr daily n read religion first hand…….read quran translation n tafseer n hadith from sahi bukhari n sahi muslim………………..i say it doesnt matter whose translation u read……….first know what is in quran remotely…………leave minor details of differences of opinion for later……..n 2ndly stop propagating or forwarding things titled as “hadith,aqwal e sahaba etc” without cross checking it first from sum valid source…………..otherwise u will b part of the same system………..Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    My dear friends

    Help an Indian understand the mind of young modern Muslim liberals. So this is a genuine question from a neighbor, in a friendly spirit.

    Most of you seem quite impressed with this article whose basic factual footing – that Purdah is/was Indian – is obviously completely baseless.

    Now, let’s say the author had discovered somethinggly that had made him, rightly or wrongly, dissatisfied with Islam – as young people are wont to do in all religions. Let’s say, for whatever reason, the author (or any one or more of you) didn’t want Islam to be associated with some particular pactice. You could have simply used your privilege of personally interpreting the Quran according to your personal lights. And simply asserted that Islam was not at all associated with that specific practice – purdah in this case. And since you were now convinced that Islam had nothing to do with any of it, obviously the practice came from somewhere else, outside. It didn’t matter where. That would have sufficed to let you become comfortable with Islam again (if you ever developed any crisis of confidence – which one understands you should not, but occasionally may, as in the case of the author),

    Such ijtehad – reinterpretation according to needs – is done all the time.This is what makes, for Muslim believer, Islam perfectly dynamic for every case, all the time. Why didn’t you simply follow that path in this case?

    Why the need to invent an association that does not exist, and did not exist? I ask because doing so turns the whole excercise about a much ado about nothing.

    Thanks in advance. I hope none of this is deliberately provocative. Arguably, readers of express tribune reresent the best of Islam. So understanding you is a worthy goal for all of humanity.Recommend

  • Saad Hasnain

    Must say a Master Piece! Congratulations to the writer!!..Recommend

  • As a matter of fact

    @Musthaq Ahmed:
    Purdah was never prevalent in the Indian history.
    It was introduced only after the advent of Islamic invasion starting in 9th century AD.
    Incidentally Purdah become a part of custom to protect the girls from maraudering Mongols and Turks who according to their religion could take infidel women as war booty. Thousands of years prior to their invasion there was absolutely no Purdah in India. Even now no other religious group other than Muslims follow the purdah system in India.Recommend

  • Bammbaayyaa

    I hope ur thoughts may purge to Urdu speaking people and the illeterates … who the maolavis take for a ride …Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Nandita.: Beautifully put. You nailed it with your comment.Recommend

  • kaalchakra


    What Nandita wrote may sound all fine in a ‘liberal’ sense but it would be absurd Islamically, won’t it? Hinduism and Islam are completely different kinds of religions. In fact, if Islam is the true religion then Hinduism is not a religion at all.

    Nandita’s people didn’t talk about religion all the time because they simply don’t have religion (of the kind that Muslims do) to talk about.Recommend

  • Pakistani

    Love for all,
    Hatred for none.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    @ parvez – thanks man!
    @kaalchakra – everytime i read a comment like yours, it makes me love muslims in india even more. Love them for their peaceful demeanor and their tolerance and their maturity level.Love them for the respect they show people of every religion. And then i know, even if the whole world bashes islam, india never will because we have awesome muslim friends and fellow countrymen. In my eyes, the muslims i know here represent the true islam. Recommend

  • Rizwan Ahmad

    Congratulations Abu Bakr for writing an excellent article. It was really a great pleasure to read it and then read again. What i have notices in most of the blogs that most of the writers tend to go away from facts and emphasize more on their own emotions. I dont want to give an advice about research more about purdah but apart from that it was a really good read.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    @ Faz:
    I know a guy who moved to New York after his O level, along with his parents and 9 younger siblings. They all live a very comfortable life there and guess what? His father was just another molvi of a very famous mosque in Shahjamal, Lahore. Now thats what the ‘poor’ molvis earn; a humble allowance and a considerable amount of alms. And apparently they can’t even afford to use contraceptives to ease their misery.

    How ‘poor’ can one get now?Recommend

  • Atif Ejaz

    Although a good read but plz read quran before commenting on “Pardah”Recommend

  • MD

    Nandita represents a great religion and a rich culture, just read her comment once again. But, going by your comment, I am not so sure about you or your religion. Recommend

  • Sanity

    If a person, society or religion claims that it is perfect, then there is no room left for improvement and to raise questions. Unfortunately, that is the case here, all the problems are due to others (previous cultures, religions or due to western propaganda). Recommend

  • Bushra Khan

    Very well-written I must say. For quite some time, I have been fighting similar feelings – you almost put my thoughts in words. Thank you. Recommend

  • Haroon Rashid

    so we come to the conclusion that ALL OF THE EDUCATED MUSLIMS HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO READ THE QURAN WITH TRANSLATION THEMSELVES ATLEAST AND FURTHER STUDY HADITH …. we have all the time to read famous writers but dont bother reading THE WRITING OF THE CREATOR OF EVERYTHING… Recommend

  • Abhi

    I find this article good, at least you are not trying to protect wrong deeds in the name of Islam.
    But I find this “finding the true Islam” exercise little bit cult like practice, something like finding the holy grail, or orthodox jews trying to find all answers in Torah. Few people can indulge in this but you cannot expect everybody to do a detailed study of religion and comeup with their understanding on all the issues. Recommend

  • Talha

    Dear Agha, this is an excellent eye-opening blog .. Thanks for sharing your views..Recommend

  • Abu Bakr

    A Note To Commentators

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Clearly many people feel that it is factually incorrect that Islamic hijab or veil has roots in Hinduism or Indian culture. I completely AGREE. That is NOT what i was trying to say. To my best knowledge Islamic teachings asks to show modesty when one dresses and different hadith vary and people have different ideas as to what that modesty should be. What I believe there is no mention of is others compelling women to cover their entire bodies. To find how that practice became part of some families religion in PAKISTAN, I studied history of any sort of curtain or veil. I’m distinguishing here between Islamic hijab, and Purdah. NOT am i saying Islamic hijab has anything to do with Hinduism or Indian culture. I learned that the practice of Purdah was used in two places. In Persia where men wanted their wives to be hidden from public – this outdated Islam. In Medieval India yes the Muslim conquest did bring the veil into society. But in what i learned women in communities were then required to cover their bodies to conceal their form and impose mobility, so they were not able to react freely. This was a symbolic representation of the subordination of women at the time where the status of women was very low and is not consistent with the teachings of Islam or Hinduism. But to lower the relevance of women in the society religious leaders, Hindu or Muslim could have used their own prejudices to impose such things, which could have passed on to families living in Pakistan today.

    If i have my facts wrong please forgive me, i’ll hit the books again to rectify the errors. But my point is still the prejudice and ignorance of people preaching religion.


  • kaalchakra

    Abu Bakr

    As you would know, gender segregation is a key part of Islam – may be not your Islam’s but of the Islams of many other Muslims. Arabs could hardly have learnt this practice from Persians or from Indians. It is becoming more popular in Islamic South East Asia, and is being taken to Europe and the streets of Minnesota.

    But the beautiful thing about Islam is that you don’t have to believe that all of this has any relationship to Islam – unlike those Muslims who prefer things that way. You can simply reinterpret Islam just as you like to suit your own needs to maintain your faith.

    There is no NECESSARY requirement to say that gender segregation is part of South East Asian culture or Minnesotan culture or modern Europe. Or is there, to maintain Islamic faith?

    Help us understand a modern liberal Muslim’s point of view, since it does impact us all. Thanks.

    Nandita, if you possess an understanding of these things, do share. Thanks.Recommend

  • momina


  • aki

    There are many similar articles on extreme far right websites !Recommend

  • ahmed basat

    mashallah brother inshallah allah will take note of this good deed to attempt to spread the word of peace.
    my full respectRecommend

  • Atheist

    Now if only we could separate Church and State, we may be able to have a democracy. Recommend

  • goggi

    This article is based on the same Very-Strict-Authoritarian indoctrination of Islam…..either the hatemonger religious clergy or the author of this article, the psychological approach towards life is similar. Their minds are restlessly busy in a senseless metaphysical hocus-pocus, whether Iblees is a Jinn or a Angel! And so much the worse, to make innocent and peace loving humans the subject of primitive discussions, is a demonstration of limited intellectual horizon and Self-Culture.

    My Culture is a product of a millenniums-old evolution process. It is above any political or religious affiliation. It is the mother of wisdom, humanism and compassion. It is like the garden of the sweetest alfonso, duseri, chonsa mangos, like the gardens of intoxicating roses and motia in the early summer morning, and the sangeet is the melody of earthly heaven. If there is a God, then (s)he has given me birth in this holy culture, not to hate my roots but to love my people, languages and above all my uppermost religion of music.

    No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ……..BuddhaRecommend

  • Hariharmani

    @goggi and @Nandita,You two are only the sane one with comments which are profond,if read with discrimination.I just want to add to your last comment which “The Enlightened one said to have said.On his death bed He asked of us”Look inward and strive to do your best” and then went into eternal Nindra,for ever.I have been doing this look inward since retired 7 years ago as I live in USA and where, my life,limb,and the pursuit of happiness is never threatened or violated and fruits of my labor are safeguarded by promise of solemn promise,so I can pursue,the calling of my bliss and can follow “MY BLISS”.As the dictates of age old wisdom of our collective consciousness,which is age old tested,that we are sole agents, of our destiny,that is Redeemtion, Salvation and Enlightened Wisdom,can not be be given to us ,but to be realised all by our own effort and striving.No one one book ,or any one howsoever knowedgable, can hand it over to us in a platter.It has to be earned the hard way.YOU NEED NO RELIGION FOR IT.I repeat NO RELIGION FOR IT.As a matter of fact religion ,is if at all,a hinderance.Just ponder a little,rest all is upto you, and a tad common sense.That will do it for today.Malice towards NONE.Recommend

  • Shahid

    Dude, awesome blog!Recommend

  • Tahir

    “In a similar way our history is often distorted in ways that makes us feel good about ourselves, hides our mistakes, or represents the past in a way we prefer. This is why we never hear of Pakistani aggression in a war against India, or massacres by us in East Pakistan.”

    I think you have gone one too fare here. This sentence/ thought seems to be out of context here. Do you think, Americans tell their grand children true stories of what they did in Vietnam, for instance? Do not single out Pakistan here. More so, you seem to have access to some distorted historical facts yourself once you talk of East Pakistan massacres. Recommend

  • Raja of Manda

    My dear fellow Pakistanis,

    There was no purdah in India till Muslims came . as these barbers were sex crazy, they were eying Indian women and thus that part of India where Muslmis were ruling, the Hindus introduced purdah. in southern India or elsewhere there is no Purdah.

    PURDAH is actually a custom from Baddu tribe in ArabiaRecommend

  • asdf

    @NH , You say “No version of our religion (Islam) encourages violence, its just a distorted”.

    In that case, you have not read the Quran or the accompanying Hadiths. Quran has many verses preaching violence against the non-believers and Hadiths contain many accounts of assassinations for apostasy (act of leaving Islam) and blasphemy (criticizing islam). There is a lot more stuff in the Sahih Bukhari Hadiths if you have the stomach to handle it. Recommend

  • usman

    you have shown a mirror to pakistani society …. in real sense it is not a single inch better that what you have written ….every person in pakistan use the sheet of religion in order to hide up their mess. from high to lowest here are same. there is not single person, the whole society are on same line … personal interest that’s what their country? their religion is ?Recommend

  • Raman

    Rising from one pit of untruth and falling into another pit of untruth. The veil is not medieval Indian invention but it is arabic tradition. Prior to Islam women in India were free – just have a look at Khujorao. Do read all sources of knowledge and then come to conclusion.Recommend

  • Sarah Fazal

    “Thanks to my maulvi sahab until I was 16 I thought according to Islam, the devil, or Iblees, was an angel. After self study I discovered he was actually a Jinn, and he could never have disobeyed God as an angel because angels do not have free will.”

    OMG. This was a little hard to digest. I always knew he was a Jinn. Perhaps I had the privilege of being guided by an educated maulana who made sure I knew everything, especially about being a woman and how much i’m cherished by Islam. He made sure I was aware of my rights. How Islam is the only religion to give us to seek divorce, gives us respect and inheritance rights and much more… And i’m indebted to him forever. May Allah be with him and all of us. Ameen.Recommend

  • Khattak

    A very well written article.
    Muslims need to think more rationally and need to realize that their religion is not something that they need to ask a maulvi about. It is a relationship that they need to establish with Allah the almighty. His message and what he expects of us is written in the Holy Quran, and it is up to us to see what is written in it and interpret it ourselves, not some maulvi.
    And for the idiot that thinks that Agha sahab is saying that the idea of burqas is from India, well you really are lost. Agha sahab is talking about the culture of burqa, the shuttlecock burqa, and all that originate from India. He is not saying the whole idea came from India. He is saying the idea that we have today in Pakistan of how women in Islam need to dress originates from India. Please dont take his words and turn them into khichri… read the whole article and get the gist of it!Recommend

  • SHahzaib Quraishi

    The only source of education for millions of young Pakistani kids are the mohallay ki masjids. And yet, everywhere I’ve gone, all I’ve heard are political khutbas loaded with hate, not just against “infidels”, but against anyone slightly different than us. I had the privilege of knowing HIndus, Christians, Ahmadis, Shi’ites, etc while my time in Pakistan, and none of them was worthy of such hate. Islam teaches tolerance and peace… not in Pakistan though! The maulvis should preach about the concepts and logic behind Islamic principles, be it Jihad, or the daily prayers. The preached should then be able to make a calculated informed decision on how to carry out and pratice these principles. We, as Pakistanis, blindly follow whatever is shoved down our throats, without bothering to find logic behind it. Teaching a Muslim in Bosnia or Chechnya how to read the Quran properly would be better than supporting tyrannical Muslim regimes.
    And the Islamic history that we are taught in schools is all a distorted version of facts. The Mughals were not heroes… They were lying, cheating, power-hungry monarchs, who twisted Islam every which way. Never in a Pakistani textbook will you read how virtually all of them stabbed each others in the back.