August 29, 2010

They ask me, “Are your people human cockroaches; or terrorists; or dead?” This is my answer:

My people are not the cricketing superstars out for money or ego; my people are not the corrupt politicians – or, face it, generals, talking heads, and chattering classes – living off the billions pouring in from ‘The West’; my people are not the inflexible obscurantists wedded to a narrow faith, quick to condemn everyone that does not believe as they do.

Yes, those are of my people, too. Those are our wayward children, whom my people have given too much rope.

But my people are my elders whose deep, deep faith never was the hard, angry faith you see in the pictures on CNN; my people are my younger brothers and sisters who you see in the picture above.

My people are a Sufi people deep under their skin; oblivious to money, ego, power, and violence. Oblivious to the cockroaches running around underfoot. Whether they sit for 10 nights alone in a mosque this month; whether they carry red banners, wear Ray Bans and go deep into the Sindhi desert to work with the poorest and the landless – even when there is no flood and no earthquake. My people are a people of the spirit.

For my people are not the noisy whirling dervishes of Rum; not the militant Naqshbandi fighters of Shamyl; not the Tijani warriors of Shehu Usman. My people are of what scholars call “quietist” Sufis. The enduring value of my people is sabr-o-shukr, a metaphysical patience with and thankfulness for what they receive in life; they persevere; and they are quiet.

And it’s a quiet that hides a strength. For amongst my people is a popular line, one you will find painted in gawdy colours on multi-coloured trucks, buses, taxis and rickshaws from Kutch to Kaghan, from the border with Iran to the Line of Control in Kashmir. It says, simply:

Na chaid malanga nu

Don’t torment the malang; the fakir; the poor, simple, spiritual being that seems to only live on the very little the world leaves him – and her.

For that is the question going through my mind tonight: how long will the malang, oblivious and patient in his lot, maintain that composure, that sabr. That tolerance of cockroaches.