Imran Khan… again

It seems that Imran Khan, who I’ve photographed a couple of times on assignment (and previously written about) is finally making a breakthrough in the murky and dangerous world of Pakistani politics with a large rally on Christmas Day. I was delighted therefore to see that his new book, Pakistan, a personal history includes a couple of my images of him.

Here’s one they unfortunately missed…



Pakistan - Lahore - Imran Khan the former Pakistan International Cricket player at prayer in a mosque in Lahore, Pakistan

Just take five…

Some good news from Pakistan. The BBC reported today on the success of Sachal Orchestra in Lahore that is thriving by reinterpreting classic jazz standards – like Brubeck’s Take Five – and giving them a South Asian twist. Pakistani musicians have seen their livelihoods collapse in recent years: musical tastes, instability and a growth of religious criticism have all impacted on them.

Their Indian cousins have also to a lesser extent seen their craft disappear and it’s from them that I find a picture in my archive taken on an Old Delhi roof.


India - Delhi - Traditional musicians play on a roof top in Chandni Mahal, Old Delhi, India. Once patronised by the Mughal rulers many now scrape a living playing weddings and social functions. Violinist Afzaal Zahoor leads Zeeshan Ahmad, a singer, Shankat Qureshi (tabla) and Shakeel Ahmad (Harmonia).

It’s just not cricket

Oh dear. If there’s one  thing that unites Pakistani’s it’s cricket, so it’s with great sadness that I read about the twists and turns of the latest betting scandal involving the touring team at the moment. I never really ‘got’ cricket: I’m a Spurs fan (it’s a world of pain…) and grew up playing football. I did however make two reportage features about Imran Khan over the years. As for trying to actually photograph cricket – or any other sport for that matter – it’s a fantastic skill that I don’t possess.

Here’s a couple of images of him at home in Lahore (in more peaceful days) explaining the intricacies of the game to his nephews…

Pakistan - Lahore - Imran Khan the former Pakistan International Cricket player at home with his nephews playing cricket
Pakistan - Lahore - Imran Khan the former Pakistan International Cricket player at home with his nephews playing cricket.

Lahore crying

So, for the second time in a few days I find myself writing about Pakistani militant attacks designed to destabilse religious harmony. On Thursday night, at least 42 people were killed and hundreds wounded when two suicide bombers attacked a the famous Data Ganj Baksh Sufi shrine in Lahore. The Lahore commissioner, Khusro Pervaiz, blamed the attack on a “conspiracy in which locals are being used” – a euphemism often used to point the finger at neighbouring India. A dangerous remark that even if true does nothing to answer the charge that Pakistan is actually at war with itself. The so-called Pakistani Taleban funded by Wahabi and other conservative sects (the same groups conveniently used by the Pakistani army in the 1990s to attack Indian troops in Kashmir) are the likely culprits for this and the recent attack on the Ahmadiyya community. Despite what fanatics in both Pakistan and the West would have us believe, the dominant tradition within Pakistani society is a tolerant, peaceful Sufistic based Islam. Wherever I have travelled within the Islamic world it is the presence of Sufis that has reassured me and added to my knowledge of religion. Sufism – a mystical, internalised form of Islamic worship that centres on love and prayer and charity seems to spring up to defend Islam when repression threatens. I have met many Sufis – often practising in secret – and my admiration of their practice is matched only by my hope that this will be the last outrage against all people who seek only to practice their religion peacefully as they see fit.

I’ve never worked in the Data Ganj Baksh shrine but here are some other images linked by ‘Sufism’ from my archive:

India - Delhi - Worshippers (both Hindu and Muslim) pray and make offerings over the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awlia, a famous Sufi of the Chisti Order
India - Delhi - Musicians play and sing Qawwali (Sufi devotional songs) at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Awlia Shrine
Somaliland - Hargeisa - Men perform Zikr (recitation of the name of Allah - a key Sufi practise) in secret at a house in Hargeisa, the capital of the Self Declared Independent country of Somaliland.
Albania - Tirana - A Bektashi Dervish elder in the Order's mosque. in Tirana Albania. The Bektashi's, an order of Sufi's were persecuted along with all other religions under the Communist regime
UK - London - A portrait of a young man in the Peckham Mosque who has converted to Islam in the Sufi tradition

The Ahmadiyyas – Fear and Silence

Some years ago I travelled to Pakistan to make a set of images about religious persecution. I lasted only a few days – for the first time in my career, I left a story because I honestly felt that my presence was putting lives at risk.

I had been invited to Rabwah, the spiritual home of the Ahmadiyya community, a peaceful minority Islamic movement that questions the finality of the Prophet Mohammed. Pakistan is the only country to classify Ahmadiyya’s as non-Muslims.

In 1984 General Zia issued Ordinace XX supposedly to prevent “anti-Islamic activities”. It forbids Ahmadiyya’s to call themselves Muslims, call their places of worship mosques and worship publicly. It forbids them from quoting from the Koran, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing, and disseminating their religious materials. To gain a passport, all Pakistanis must declare themselves non-Ahmadiyyas.

The repression is of course a smokescreen to hide Pakistan’s myriad social and political problems and the Ahmaidiyyas are a perfect scapegoat. This is not about religion, it’s about state power. As Tariq Ali wrote in the London Review of Books in 2007:

“Back in the heart of Pakistan the most difficult and explosive issue remains social and economic inequality. This is not unrelated to the increase in the number of madrassas. If there were a half-decent state education system, poor families might not feel the need to hand over a son or daughter to the clerics in the hope that at least one child will be clothed, fed and educated. Were there even the semblance of a health system many would be saved from illnesses contracted as a result of fatigue and poverty. No government since 1947 has done much to reduce inequality”.

On 28 May 2010, 93 Ahmaiddyas were murdered in Lahore by gunmen who attacked two of their mosques during Friday prayers.

Ali Dayan Hassan of Human Rights Watch told the BBC the worshippers were “easy targets” for militant Sunni groups who consider the Ahmadis to be infidels. The Pakistani state is in trouble however and Ahmadiyyas are not the only minority to suffer persecution. According to Minority Rights, Baluchis, Hindus, Mohhajirs, Pushtuns, Sindhis and Christians all suffer.

Today, I read with interest an opinion piece in Dawn by Moshin Hamid (an author whose Moth Smoke I read and enjoyed some time ago) called Fear and Silence from which I take the liberty of quoting from at length. I think it elegantly echoes Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous (attributed) quote “First they came for the Jews…”. Hamid says:

“Because the heart of the issue isn’t whether Ahmadis are non-Muslims or not. The heart of the issue is whether Muslims can be silenced by fear.

Because if we can be silenced when it comes to Ahmadis, then we can be silenced when it comes to Shias, we can be silenced when it comes to women, we can be silenced when it comes to dress, we can be silenced when it comes to entertainment, and we can even be silenced when it comes to sitting by ourselves, alone in a room, afraid to think what we think.

That is the point. ”

One can only hope that all people of tolerance and faith will not be silenced.

Pakistan - Rabwah - A man holds a portrait of the Ahmadiyya prophet, Ahmed. Also known as Qadiani's, the Ahmadiyyas are the followers of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani (1835-1908). According to his followers, he was the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at and The Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi. The Ahmadiyya (Qadiani) movement in Islam is a religious organisation with more than 30 million members worldwide. Ahmadiyyas are now banned from calling themselves Muslim in Pakistan and suffer terrible discrimination under anti-blasphemy laws and are regularly murdered for their faith.

Pakistan - Rabwah - Two Ahmadiyya men after prayers at their mosque
Pakistan - Rabwah - An Ahmadiyya imam leads his congregation
Pakistan - Rabwah - An Ahmadiyya woman weeps at the grave of her murdered child
Pakistan - Rabwah - An Ahmadiyya elder, blinded for his faith
Pakistan - Rabwah - A woman beneath a portrait of her murdered husband
Pakistan - Rabwah - Ahmadiyyas praying at their mosque
Pakistan - Rabwah - After prayers, a boy plays ball in a mosque