Below, I share an English version of Nazrana's series on Swat, the history of the Taliban in Swat, and Malala's rise in the region. It is an effort to situate Malala in a certain historical, political, and social context that appears to be ignored in much of the discourse surrounding Malala currently. Pashtuns, particularly those who were in Swat between 2005-2009, are encouraged to read and follow the series critically and offer any insight that may be useful in our ensuring that the history is as (close to) correct as possible.
This is Part I.
2005: The Rise of Mullah Fazlullah
This is Part I.
2005: The Rise of Mullah Fazlullah
In October 2005, Swat started to experience a sensation that gradually became known as "Mullah Radio"--Mullah Fazlullah, also known as Maulana Fazlullah. The popular belief among the locals was that Mullah Fazlullah was a great man, a devoted Muslim who was sent by God to renew the faith of the spiritually-lost people of Swat, giving sermons daily after Maghrib prayers. He followed these sermons by a beautiful recitation of the Qur'an and then a sermon on the importance of modesty for women in Islam. In evenings and nights, Swatis would gather around as a family and listen to his sermons on the radio, an activity that became a household obligation, an act few people missed and that many seem to have added as a 6th pillar to their religion. Men and women--but especially women--started to view him as a the perfect guide for Muslims. As in other parts of the Muslim world, it is not uncommon in Swat for Muslims to discuss the lack of "Islam-ness" in their societies, the horrifying consequences of this reality, and what must be done to rectify it so as for all to avoid being doomed for disregarding their religious teachings. The people of Swat thus listened to him attentively as he expressed his complaints about what he perceived as immorality and decadence in Swat, which he later taught was an inexorable consequence of women's education.
Men and women passionately listening to Mullah Fazlullah would discuss the preacher's mesmerizing voice and his enthralling recitation of the Holy Book. Approximately a month passed when Mullah Fazlullah announced that we must renew our Islamic faith and fight to make Shari'a the law of our land, claiming each individual responsible for ensuring the success of Sharia in said region. He taught his adoring listeners that if they agreed with him in ending the immodesty of the women of the area, which they must, then they would understand that the only way to ove towards the elimination of said immodesty is for females to be barred from leaving their homes and especially going to school. He promised that the problem of the lack of Islamicness in the Swati society would then be solved instantly.
The Mullah's claim was far from unrealistic, perhaps because many social and other problems have historically been attributed to women; this is particularly the case when women's education is in question and is connected to a society's (perceived). Thus, in response to the Mullah's teachings, some-- although not yet most--Swatis withdew their daughters from schools and required them to stay inside their homes. Families who did this often informed Mullah Fazlullah of their "positive" influence on them, and the Mullah would announce their names on his show, applauding them and guaranteeing them heaven for following their religion correctly. His announcements would read as: "Excellent! Let's give an applause for so-and-so of the village Lower Baandai who withrew his daughter from her school."
Such public recognition appears to have inspired others as well, particularly those who may have agreed with the Mullah but hesitated in doing as the preacher had advised (later, this advice would become a requirement).
Once Fazlullah was certain that he was on his way to successfully forbidding women's education in Swat, he began to highlight other matters as a gravely un-Islamic, such as watching televisions. This idea must be understood in a wider context: Muslims in Pakistan commonly believe that Islam prohibits watching television and that any household with a TV in it is repels angels, who do not visit the home because of the presence of the television there. Didactic literature that provides instructions for how to live Islam correctly, for example, tend to include stories about what happens to people who watch television. One such story centers on a young female who refused to take her eyes off the television screen--on a Friday. When she died, people were unable to bury her until they remembered that she loved TV and decided to bring it along with her to the grave. Only then could the girl's corpse be buried in peace. Although such a story may not make sense to the rational mind and leaves a number of questions unanswered, the issue at hand is that of the repulsive attitude towards television and its link to Islam and the dead Muslims' soul. These stories are told in a way that instills deep fear in the reader's mind, coupled with the need to repent immediately and desist what she/he has been doing incorrectly, whether deliberately or in ignorance of the religion's stance on the issue.
As such, Mullah Fazlullah's ruling on Televisions was not necessarily outlandish; it was not the first time that the people of Swat were told about the prohibition of televisions in Islam.
Importantly, however, Mullah Fazlullah managed to make a connection between televisions and women: now that women are to be at home all day long, everyone must burn their televisions or dispose of them otherwise because the women were prone to become even more corrupt if they watched television all day long. Claiming to know how women naturally felt about televisions, he taught that a feeling of happiness, of pleasure, of relief comes to a woman's heart when she comes across a television; women loved televisions, they loved watching the many indecent shows that came on television, and the television was the woman's eyes' delight. Moreover, because women would now have more free time to dedicate to their televisions for not having school anymore, the TV would become their main hobby. It, he announced, is therefore forbidden for women to watch television, and it is therefore necessary for everyone to get rid of their televisions.
As people started to believe that there was logic in Mullah Fazlullah's rulings, many openly burned their televisions or otherwise made them multifunctional. The preacher would, again, announce of the names of anyone who did this, congratulating them and urging everyone to offer prayers for the individuals because they were headed towards the right--or the "only"--interpretation of Islam.
To be continued. In the meantime, however, please feel free to read Part 2 of this history in Pashto by clicking here.