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Number of Downlaods: 27

Published Date: May 15, 1999

The Teaching of Pashto: Identity Versus Employment (W-46)

Tariq Rahman, SDPI

Historical Background

The first book of Pashto which is extant is Bayazid Ansar’s (1526-1574) Khair ul Bayan .  It was written in the Nastaliq, the Arabic-based script as adapted for writing Persian, which itself ‘began to be recognized as an independent form in the second half of the fourteenth century’ (Hanaway & Spooner 1995: 3).  It has been called a textbook by recent writers (Haq 1986: 143; Guide 1990: 8).  It does, indeed, have passages about the rudiments of Islam which may be understood by ordinary people.  Thus, there is a strong likelihood that it was part of the curricula of madrassas.  However, Bayazid Ansar’s opinions were considered objectionable, and some even outright heretical, by Akhund Darweeza (1533-1615) who countered them in his own book Makhzan ul Islam .  The Makhzan (or treasure) was a collection of famous Arabic religious texts in Pashto translation.  Moreover, the language of explication was Pashto.  This book is said to have been taught both in the madrassas and at homes.  It was also read out to those who could not read it themselves.  After this, the poetic collections of Rahman Baba (1653-1809) and Khushal Khan (1613-1689), both of whom appeal even now to Pashto-speaking people, were available for readers.  However, even if couplets from these poets were quoted by educated people, there is no evidence to suggest that their works were formally taught anywhere.

The next book which is said to be part of the curricula, especially for women, is Mulla Abdur Rashid’s Rashid-ul-Bayan (1717).  It was read by women in their homes and was a kind of sermon in verse.  The following lines from it will serve as illustration of the whole.  The nature of the deity, for instance, is described as follows:
Na e naqs shta pa zat ke
Na e aeb shta pa sifat ke
(neither has He any defect in His Being
nor has He any fault in His qualities)

There were also a number of other books, as in the other languages of the Muslims of South Asia, which purported to explain religion and the moral system contingent upon it, to readers in these languages rather than the elitist Persian.  Among them are Nafe al Muslimeen by Sheikh Akhwan Gada (1874); Rabqat ul Islam by Maulana Moizuddin; Majmua tul Khutab by several poets and a number of booklets called Nur Nama, Jang Nama and Lahad Nama.  The latter are about the well known stories of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom at Karbala, common beliefs about the questioning in the grave and so on.  Such booklets were common in Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi as well and common people’s beliefs about religion must have been greatly influenced by them.  Nafe al Muslimeen and Rabqat ul Islam are both about the rudiments of Islam in verse.  Their purpose seems to be a practical one: to make people behave in a recognisably Islamic way or, at least, to make them aware of such a code of behaviour.  For instance the Rabqat ul Islam enjoins upon all readers to begin everything with bismillah (in the name of Allah) as follows:
Har sa kar che momin kandi
Bismillah boea pare bandi
(Everything the Muslim does – In the Name of Allah he says first)

The Majmua tul Khutab must have been really popular.  It is a collection of versified sermons. It is said to have been read out at occasions such as the Eid ul Fitr.  Some of the lines commemorating the departed Ramzan are:
Ajab daur voo Ramzan
La mung teer sho pa yovan
Ae momina lar zaman
Ghuara fazal da sufhan
(strange and wonderful were the days of Ramzan which we passed together
O good Muslims everywhere always desire the grace and blessings [of God])

This book is said to have been especially significant as a textbook in the Pashto-speaking areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan (Guide 1990: 11).

Moreover, the well known Persian book of tales, Anwar Suhaili, is said to have been taught in the Pashto translation also.  While on the subject of translations, it may be worth noting that Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s Bahishti Zewar [the jewellery of paradise], perhaps the most famous Urdu book on the rules and regulations of Sunni Hanafi Islam, had also been translated in parts by Syed Tasneem ul Haq as Da Jannati Kale.  Later another translation, this time a complete one, was made by Gulbar Khan under the same title. These translations, it is said, were read by both men and women like textbooks (Guide 1990: 11).