Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ghairat: an extinct commodity

Some time ago I was having a conversation with one of my friends, a renowned professor settled abroad. He is internationally known for his academic work and books published in Britain and Germany, which are reference works in most of the world’s best universities. He is a Pathan and is proud of the fact that he is a Bangash. He correctly pointed out that most of our social and other maladies are due to the disappearance of ghairat.

His father, a Bangash from Hangu, went to England decades ago, from where he obtained a FRCS degree and then returned to his area. He then started treating many of Faqir Epi’S warriors fighting the British colonialists. Once, my friend asked his father the meaning of ghairat. His father jokingly replied that a nation that was bereft of ghairat would not have that word included in its dictionary. He had a point there. Our current national character testifies to that. We are now universally looked down upon as beggars. We are now totally devoid of that golden trend we used to be famous for. Prof Muhammad Al-Ghazali has drawn my attention to this important topic and has helped me with useful input.

Ghairat is an Arabic word that has no equivalent in any other language. It has been adopted in both Persian and Urdu. In Urdu we use this word in a much narrower sense than its original meaning. In Arabic it embraces the sense of self-esteem, courage, chivalry, honour, bravery and loyalty to one’s highest values, and readiness to sacrifice everything for the sake of these values.

The Arabs, even before Islam, were known for ghairat. One of the greatest poets of all times in Arabia, Amr bin Kulsoom, had killed the king of his time, Amr bin Hind in his own court when his queen had insultingly addressed the poet’s mother. They were invited by the king to test the level of their ghairat. In a tone as if she were speaking to a maidservant, the queen asked the poet’s mother to fetch a spittoon. Thereupon the poet’s mother called for help. As soon as the poet, who was with the king in his chamber, heard his mother’s cry for help, he took out his sword and decapitated the king there and then. It was on this occasion that he recited his famous ode (qaseeda) extempore. This ode is included in the best collection of poetry known as Muallaqat. In English this qaseeda is known as “Seven Odes” and has been translated by the famous scholar of Islamic history and literature who also translated the Holy Quran, Prof A J Arberry.

Muslims, their great leaders, trusted rulers and popular heroes, always displayed the quality of ghairat at all crucial moments of history. The conquest of Sind by Muhammad bin Qasim was itself a consequence of the feeling of ghairat by Hajjaj bin Yusuf. A group of Muslim traders travelling on the Arabian Sea were attacked by some local pirates who looted them and insulted the women who were on board. One of these Muslim ladies called for help. She was addressing Hajjaj bin Yusuf, the Umayyad governor of Iraq. Some of the Muslims who managed to escape the pirates conveyed this woman’s call for help to Hajjaj. He was very angry and with a feeling of ghairat, he immediately dispatched an army under the command of his young nephew, Muhammad bin Qasim. He came to Daibal (Karachi) and after a fierce fight defeated Raja Dahir, the local Hindu ruler who took the side of the criminals. After some time bin Qasim, who had become quite popular for his heroic help to those victims, annexed Sind to the Islamic Empire.

In fact, all great events and achievements have been possible only because our elders were full of self-esteem, faith, courage, chivalry, honour, bravery and an unlimited capacity for sacrifice. On every page of our golden history there is a story of a great achievement. These series of achievements made it possible for our rich culture, civilisation, state and society to progress, expand and advance in the face of all challenges and difficulties. These challenges were far greater than what we face today. However, the present difficulties seem to be insurmountable to us because we are devoid of that courage, honesty and commitment that were the hallmark of our forefathers.

At this time what Muslims in general, and Pakistanis in particular, need most is ghairat. We should remember that our great leaders and heroes of Muslim India, to whom we owe our present existence as an independent nation, were all embodiments of ghairat. All the great men who made history and shaped our destiny, were paragons of the great qualities of leadership – Muhammad bin Qasim, Mahmood Ghaznavi, Shihabuddin Ghauri, Tipu Sultan, Sirajud Daula, Sayyed Ahmad Shaheed, Shah Ismail shaheed, Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam — all of them did what they did by a great impulse of ghairat. Their inspiring lives provide us with clear evidence.

Ghairat is transmitted from generation to generation through proper education, upbringing and, above all, through inspiring examples set by the elders. If someone does not receive this quality from his family, environment and education, then he/she cannot acquire this quality by any intellectual effort. Either one is ghairatmand or one is not. Some people reading this might find it difficult to appreciate. But there will be many who, having a tradition of life based on these values, inherited from their ancestors, teachers, mentors and other exemplary characters, will find in their hearts an echo of the thoughts expressed here.

The feeling of ghairat is not to be confused with anger and a reaction thereto. It is a positive quality, not a negative one. It helps a person overcome the inner baser impulses for sin and wrong-doing. It also provides the energy for action when one’s moral values are threatened. When this quality assumes a collective trait, it provides society with a great deterrence against external threats to undermine prestige, honour and other vital interest of that society.

The difference between a self-respecting and a self-debasing person is that of ghairat. The former maintains his/her honour at all costs and reacts whenever there is any threat to this honour. The latter digests all threats on account of cowardice or greed or just lack of sensitivity. What is the main distinction between a prostitute and a chaste woman? It is none other than ghairat. In the eyes of the former, honour has no value. In the estimation of the latter, it is the highest value that must be protected, whatever the cost, and it can never be bartered away for any gain, however high. For a free man, his freedom is more valuable than whatever might be offered in terms of compensation for purchasing this freedom. However, for a slavish man, freedom could be sold for any immediate material gain.

Ghairat is the greatest capital of a nation. Once this capital is lost, then no amount of prosperity, affluence or material wealth can bring back the lost honour and prestige. Poets, leaders, opinion-makers, teachers, men of letters, thinkers, philosophers, etc., of a nation constantly strive and exhaust their potential to protect and maintain their nation’s honour and prestige in the world. Like all valuable things, honour and prestige is acquired with tremendous effort but lost with negligence and omission. The nation’s collective awakening and awareness guards itself against such disasters. I ponder, hope and pray that our nation finds this lost treasure. Am I asking for the moon?

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