Monday, March 29, 2010

Reading namaz in church...

A domestic help has most kindly agreed to work for my husband and I. I must admit that I wasn’t exactly excited at the prospect of being “interviewed” by her (to borrow a phrase from a dear friend who has been rejected in such interviews a few times now), going by her size and age, but so far (day four) the going has been good (even though on day one, I shuddered when she lovingly called me ‘bachchey’!).

Our new help is a Pakistani Christian – not a Pakistani Punjabi Christian, but a Pakistani Sindhi Christian. She speaks excellent Urdu, with a good amount of English thrown in, unlike local Christians, most of whom speak Punjabi.

Since many members of the minority communities have dual names in Pakistan, our help too gave a Muslim name when she was interviewing me. However, when she came in to work, she revealed her real Christian name.

Call it cultural assimilation or whatever, I found it rather awkward when she greeted me with “As-salam-alaikum”; when she began a chore with “Bismillah”; when she retorted with “Inshallah next time”; or when she showered praise on our cats with “Mashallah kitni samajhdar hain”.

I am aware that most religious minorities in Pakistan speak like that but I decided to tell her that she needn’t prefix-suffix her sentences with Inshallah-Bimisllah-Mashallah in our home. “My dadi taught me to say Bismillah. It’s a habit,” she told me. I didn’t know what to say to that.

It just reminded me of another occasion, when a Hindu shopkeeper in Islamabad explained to me, “Hamari do ‘Eid’ hoti hain. Ek Diwali, ek Holi.” The shopkeeper told me his community didn’t feel harassed, didn’t want to relocate (they had strong business interests and were well off) but liked to keep a low profile – and, of course, the two names – one for local consumption, the other for near and dear ones.

Another time, I heard a Hindu priest in a television documentary saying “Allah chahega to sab theekh ho jayega”, and our predecessor’s domestic help referring to his ‘pooja ghar’ as ‘namaz ka kamra’.

As per her terms and conditions, our new help wanted Sundays off to go to church. I asked her if a lot of Christians go to church, and she remarked, “Arrey, bahut Christians hain yahan. Namaz padhne ki jagah nahin hoti.”


  1. That is refreshing aspect about Christians living in it.BTW a well deserved congratulations on the maid, your dreams have come true :-),or at-least alleviated u r nightmares :D . But the concept of having dual name was really really funny, guess people adapted pretty well.

    As always nice blog and stay safe....

  2. I remember reading about this aspect before - that is, non-muslims in Pakistan using Islamic religious terms when talking about their own faith. M. J. Akbar (I think) mentioned how some Hindu girls he met in Pakistan even talked about "our Islam." It is difficult knowing what to make of all this. What exactly does it say about the role of non-Muslims in Pakistan?

    What one can say is that this is different from India. To the best of my knowledge, Muslims in India do not use Hindu religious terms (like "puja") when talking about Islam. Christians, to some extent do use Hindu religious terms (suitably reinterpreted), but that is due to a definite strategy of the church following the policy of "inculturation." (See the Wikipedia page on this term, and more particularly, the page on the missionary Roberto de Nobili.)

    Your post raises some interesting issues: I am not sure of the answers but definitely a lot to think about. Thanks!

  3. This is how people assimilate without any complaints. It was nice reading about minorities from the other side.

  4. Wow. I'm loving all these details about life there, that I would not have ever known otherwise. Thanks! And glad you have help now :)

  5. First things first- Congratulations on your new maid.:)
    It sounds strange to read of Hindus or Christians in Pakistan.. interesting. Keep the updates coming.

  6. It never ceases to amaze (and irritate) me when Indians think 'oh my God there are religious minorities in Pakistan' (how brainwashed about our country are you people???)

    Why wouldn't there be a category Pakistani Christian, when there is a category Indian Christian/Muslim/Sikh/Hindu etc.???

    Your ignorance verges on patronising, almost like a white westener amazed than an 'Islamic' country can have non muslims living there... How badly do you paint us people in your collective imagination?

    Its an education not only for you Indians but for us Pakistanis on how you (mis)perceive us.

    Although i take no offence at your ignorance or surprise as you wouldn't know any better being an Indian.

  7. Ashu, Soli, A New Beginning, Absolutely Normal Chaos, Tulika -- thanks :)

    Anonymous 1, right -- just too many questions, no answers.

  8. From Kannan, India:
    I don’t see much Aman-ki-Asha feeling after reading your blog. Last one raised my BP and I totally "lost it", identifying myself with the situation…. Ignorance is not a lifelong excuse for a nation. Yes, good human beings exist everywhere and as a whole most people are the same everywhere in the world..but the question is as a country.. The effervescence of intolerant values and compulsive obsessive hostility which leaks out time& again in "personal" opinions aired on Pakistani TV channels, and lately outright callous remarks by their cricketers expressing disappointment at perceived bias is telling. Sigh! :-(

  9. Kannan, the most valid point in your response is that good humans exist everywhere. Including both sides of the Wagah and that is what counts and that is what we should focus on.

  10. Anonymous 2, in India, an Indian Muslim does not sit in a mosque and say "Bhagwan chahega to sab theekh ho jayega". Nor will an Indian Christian say "Church main pooja karne ki jagah nahin mili".

    Also, in India, minorities do not take on names of the majority community - and definitely not Indian Muslims. Neither do they have to worry about lying low...they can celebrate festivals wherever they are, unlike Hindu shopkeepers in Isloo, who have to go to back to Karachi, or miss the festivities.

    The presence of minorities does not amaze us, its their total social and cultural assimilation that is surprising.

    And it never ceases to surprise us how patronising people here can be about India's minorities, especially the Muslims.

    Thanks for reading, reacting.

  11. Author,

    I really dont know in Urdu what the word would be for Christian prayer, the closest would be Ibadet (prayer). As you know from living there Pakistan is an Islamisiced country and most of its inhabitants Muslim. So the way a Christian or Hindu would be able to explain their prayer or prayer house to the majority would be using majority known terms (like my Muslim Guyanese friends who go to 'Church').

    Terms like namaz and all the Allah sayings aren't only meant for muslims or muslim-only they are used by all (i remember mentioning in another post to you that they were commonly used). Whereas in India these words would have a muslim only connotation they do not in Pakistan as its just part of the Pakistani-Urdu vocabulary and culture.

    RE: your point about Pakistanis and Indian minorities i agree with you there. I have many Indian friends of all religions and from various states and becasue of this know the reality of ppl in India better. As i mentioned to you in a previous post, you, by virtue of the fact that you are Indian Muslim are now breaking all of their stereotypes.

    What irks me is the look of surprise on the faces of my Indian friends when they hear of Pakistani Hindu or Christian and their 'oh my god...' 'really a Pakstani hindu/christian/etc'..

    I dont understand what you find surprising about cultural assimilation? are the muslims and christians of maharashtra or bengal not assimilated into those states? then why would a Punjabi or Sindhi christian not be assimilated into Punjab and Sindh provinces?

  12. Anonymous 3, point well taken. Thank you.

    I am fine with assimilation as long as it is not out of fear :)

  13. Anonymous 3, that still does not explain why they would take muslim names.

    Don't kid yourself.

  14. anonymous

    they take muslim names to make life easier... why would i be kidding myself here? theres nothing to kid about...


  15. I never knew this side also exists in Pakistan. You bring out a lot in your blogs that one wouldn't otherwise know. Your blogs can be compiled into a nice book of essays on life in Pakistan seen through the eyes of an Indian. You are doing a really good job.

  16. @All Anonymous people - The authors are simply stating their honest perspective, their point-of-view on the events that happen in their daily life.

    Why do you take offense to that? Why do you ask so many 'Whys?' to them? Don't you think the questions you ask need more introspection from yourself than any reply from author?

    Yes, things are different in both the countries and authors are doing an honest and sincere job at breaking the stereotypes!

    Authors, once again - You guys rock! Have a blissful stay in Pakistan!

  17. 30, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    I agree with many commentators here , material u post on blog is worth a nice book, deserve a book deal.

    few book suggestions on lighter note:-
    "Days of our Lives--Pak-version" or
    "Pakistan for Dummies"
    "Halal Soup for the Soul - Pak edition"
    "How to loose weight in Pakistan:Stress,No Maid etc etc..."

  18. @ author
    Congrats for getting a maid... nd dnt mind sumone calling u bachey... :P some ppl hav a habbit of saying it to persons they like...

    Its really gr8 to see that your articles help us to know more about Pakistan...

    @anonymous 1,2 & 3...
    Pls dnt make this blog a debate ground.... :)
    Everyone doesnot know everything... some have their own concepts, some have different concepts...

    Some ppl may be surprised to know abt minority religions in Pakistan, and they r surprised becoz its new for them... To be a critic is easy but to appreciate its hard... let us come together and appreciate these two guys who r trying to bring a better and clear pic of Pak to other countries...

  19. I think that, while at some level it is meaningful to say 'Muslim names' - my barber recently asked me my name, and instantly concluded I wasn't Muslim, for example - but really, the way to classify names is as Arabic-derived or Persian-derived or Sanskrit-derived. While most people who have Persian/Arabic-derived names are Muslim, many non-Muslims also have these names. Persian-derived names used to be quite popular among Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs, for example. Arab Christians have many names in common with Arab Muslims, and indeed, even Latinized Hebrew names which we call 'Christian' names such as David or Joseph, for example have Arabic equivalents - Javed or Yusuf. And Arab Christians do refer to God as 'Allah', which is simply the Arabic name for God, just as 'Bhagwan' is the Sanskrit name. I have also certainly heard Punjabi Jains and Hindus in India using 'Allah' to refer to 'God' in general, not necessarily in the 'Muslim sense'.

    All this said, of course I agree that there should be no assimilation out of fear - yet in practice, once a certain language or religion achieves overwhelming majority status, then the result is a quiet hegemony, where people participate in the overall majority-defined practices without explicitly realizing that they are doing so. So yes, the names and practices of Adivasis and tribals in India are converging toward Sanskritic names and practices, and while you may not recognize 'bhajans' or 'kirtans' in Islam directly, much of Sufi musical and religious traditions resemble them. Life is complex, complicated and wonderful.

  20. If I could continue from my earlier comment, saying 'Hamari do Eid hoti hain - Diwali aur Holi' - is literally true, since 'Eid' just means 'celebration' or 'festival' in Arabic, and by extension, in Arabic-influenced Urdu. In fact, when Arab Christians say 'Merry Christmas' they often just say 'Eid-e-milaad al-sayeed!' which just means something like Happy Blessed Birthday! Some may even add 'ul-nabi' to 'Eid-e-milaad', thus showing the absolute equivalence of Christmas and the Prophet's Birthday in concept. Similarly, one can call Friday the Muslim Sabbath - so complete are some of the simlarities between the 3 'Abrahamic faiths'.

  21. @ottawamysteryman
    u didnt get the point did u?
    Its not abt assimilation or lack of it! Ppl r hiding their religious&cultural identity for mobility with two is as simple as that.
    If that isnt clear enough..then nothing will..

  22. what do you think about Sania-Shoaib wedding?

  23. @ anonymous ... when pakistan was created there were 15% minorities , today it is less than 3% ... We are just surprised to see that 3% actually managed to survive the pakistani state led pogoram including the blasphemy law ... now we know how they survived they hide thier identities from people for fear of retribution and bias, are you aware there is not a SINGLE hindu policeman in Pakistan ...India we have lakhs of muslims who are doctors,lawyers ,engineers ,movie stars ,cricketers and indeed journalist, so when you say we have misconceptions about pakistan I suggest you do a little introspection and do something to improve you country ,cause NO one in the whole world likes you except the Afghan taliban

  24. when pakistan was created there were 15% minorities , today it is less than 3%

    Misleading. Pakistan in 1947 also comprised East Pakistan which did have a substantial non-Muslim component (and does even now). If you are going to compare like with like, then compare the fraction of non-Muslims in West Pakistan in 1951 (the first Pakistan census) with the fraction in Pakistan now. I am not aware of such an exercise.

    It would also help if you could tell us the source of your claim that there is not a "single Hindu policeman in Pakistan." And incidentally, pointing to individuals from minority communities is a game that Pakistan can play too. Here are a few: there's a Hindu on the Pakistani Supreme Court, Rana Bhagwandas who even acted as the Chief Justice temporarily. There are Hindus who have played for Pakistan in cricket (Anil Dalpat, Danish Kaneria), there are/were prominent Christians like W. Mathias (in cricket) and Justice Cornelius. Indeed, the late Justice Cornelius was highly respected within Pakistan. The ambassador to the US under (of all people) Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, was Jamsheed Marker, a Parsi. And recently, there was a news item about the first Sikh commissioned as an officer in the Pakistan army. So what does this prove? That Pakistan is a haven for non-Muslims?

    Pakistan does have a lot to answer for regarding its treatment of minorities. You can make that case without wild exaggeration. And for the record, I am Indian and Hindu at that.

    1. good for you! we need more people like you on the net!

  25. @ Anonymous... you are lucky to be Indian , whether you are hindu or muslim makes no difference to me , let me ans your question , In the entire Pakistani police force there was just one sikh policeman ( traffic police that too) and even he quit citing discrimination, you have given 4 examples of minorities making it big in Pakistan , I can give you several hundred in India , as for the 15 % minority becoming 3% these figures do not include east pakistan , check out the UN report for minorities on the web , Pakistan considers entire India as "Hindu Baniyas" and thats the line the offcial both elected and non elected tote... Pakistan is a failed state and you trying to become an Indian only shows the deep shame pakis have for themselves , and let me add all of it is deserved....

  26. Nice post. Reminds me of our Bangalori servant who used to call Christmas - Christian log ki Eid.

    Premal - let's not feel all pompous about our minorities. On average, Muslims in India are way behind other (Indian) communities as far as development. Yes, there are many who have become famous and popular, but we still remain behind in education, jobs and development. Let's work on that.

  27. Hey, I have recently start reading your blog and was wondering where is your post called "I will call you when alone"



  28. 'namaaz' is the Persian/Urdu equivalent of the Hindi word 'puujaa'(pooja). Generic. Nothing to do with either Islaam or Christianity.

    The legal word for Muslim penta-quotedian ritualistic worship is 'Salaah' (Salaat in Urdu).


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  30. On the "Humari do eid hoti hain" comment- I have heard people in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (till it becomes Telangana), India also use the generic word 'eid' for any festival. My sister's Hindu domestic help once told me in Hyderabadi hindi/urdu 'day after tomorrow is eid and I need to go to my village for the puja'. Of course she was referring to a Hindu festival.. I don't recall which one.

  31. Yes religious tolerance is the best way forward for Pakistan to be recognised as a peaceful,vibrant and united society.

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