Posted by Mahim Maher
Just got word that a Namaz-e-Janaza or funeral in absentia for Osama bin Laden is going to be offered on University Road in Karachi at 6pm. It is being organised by the banned Jamaat ud Dawa group.
11.22.13 at 11:32 pm | Salvaging a missed music day
11.9.13 at 9:43 pm | As told to me by an old colleague and reporter. . .
11.5.13 at 11:10 pm | Some reading resources
10.16.13 at 7:54 am | Eid Mubarak everyone
10.11.13 at 12:58 am | Her versus Them versus Us
10.6.13 at 6:30 am | Never a dull day in the newsroom - my personal. . .
May 3, 2011 | 2:37 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
It is a measure of the trust deficit that many people are questioning whether Osama bin Laden was indeed killed in Pakistan in an operation early Monday morning.
That night, Urdu television channel Express News ‘Kal Tak’ [Until Tomorrow] programme host Javed Chaudhry opened his show with some questions. And while his may not be the most highly rated show, it does provide some idea of the debate in media and street circles.
Mr Chaudhry opened the show by posing some questions. He gave an incomplete list of the seven times that the international media has declared that Osama bin Laden has been declared dead. The first people to do this was Fox News in Dec 2001.This was followed by The New York Times, daily Telegraph, the US president at the time and an Arab newspaper even gave the news of his funeral.
A Taliban leader was quoted as saying he had in fact, attended bin Laden’s funeral. Then in July 2002 a top FBI official gave the BBC an interview saying that bin Laden was deadl. By Oct 2002, Afghan president Hamid Karzai told CNN that this was true. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf said the same thing, adding that bin Laden had died of kidney failure. In Oct 2002 the Telegraph quoted Israeli intelligence saying the same thing.
News of Osama bin Laden dying continued to resurface, according to Javed Chaudhry, in the years 2005, 2006 and 2009. It last appeared in Dec 2010 in The Washington Times that went so far as to show bin Laden’s grave. All this information is not my own, it was presented by Javed Chaudhry in his introduction to his show.
Mr Chaudhry then went on to ask the following questions: If bin Laden has died now, in 2011, then who were the bin Ladens who died in 2001, 2002, 2005 etc. Who were the bin Ladens they buried earlier on?
Mr Chaudhry then raised the question everyone is asking. Why didn’t the Americans/Pakistanis hand over bin Laden’s body to his family in Saudi Arabia? Why were journalists not invited to view the body and why were DNA tests not conducted to prove it? He asked why the body was “thrown” into the sea [phenk dia gaya]. In Urdu this sounds offensive and disrespectful. His use of that phrase is telling. Someone else on television, I caught in between the madness in the newsroom, also said that burying at sea is not Islamic.
Then, Mr Chaudhry went on to pose more questions:
Is it that Osama bin Laden died earlier and the Obama administration decided to announce it now as a re-election ploy?
Is it that by saying that Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, America wants to give the world the impression that Pakistan is a terrorist state?
Mr Chaudhry then went on to say, well, if we accept what the US president says, that Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbotabad then:
Where did the American helicopters come from? If they came from Jalalabad, it would have taken them 3.5 hours to reach Abbotabad. Why were they not stopped by the Pakistani authorities when they were in our airspace? If they were already in Pakistan, then is it true that the US army is in Pakistan – even though our government has denied this previously?
If Osama bin Laden can live in Abbotabad, asked Mr Chaudhry, then perhaps we can assume that Ayman al Zawahiri can live in Karachi or Lahore. If the US forces can sweep in and target Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, then can they do the same for Ayman al Zawahiri in Karachi or Lahore?
If indeed bin Laden was living in a compound a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s Kakul academy (like say Quantico or Sandhurst), did the intelligence agencies not know this? Was this a massive failure on their part? What are they doing with all the money the Americans and Pakistani people are giving them?
May 3, 2011 | 1:18 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
I sighed with relief when the news broke that Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbotabad, near Islamabad – not just because well, he was dead, but because I thanked my stars as the city editor of Karachi that he wasn’t killed on my turf. Karachi has had its fair share of violence over the years and our team’s good at covering it, but digging for an OBL story would have been a nightmare.
I watched people celebrating outside the White House and thought about all the people who lost loved ones on 9/11. This was probably one of the best things the Americans could have done for them, hunt down bin Laden and kill him. In the newsroom we cracked jokes about how Obama would be re-elected for the next 20 years.
But, as I and many of my colleagues in the newsroom know, it is not that simple. Just a day ago I had helped one of our stellar reporters, Saba Imtiaz, put together the WikiLeaks information on how Karachi is or at least was al Qaeda central. We gave it a double page spread and had a special story done on a hotel downtown where all the operatives used to stay. All the major operatives transited through this city.
The battle has been won, for America, but indeed, the war is not over. A seething city like Karachi – unmapped and unmanaged by its administration – will continue to provide just the right petri dish for terrorism. Anyone can hide here, get guns and explosives and funnel money through it for any organization without being detected. It is like a city on the loose.
And I’m sure the American administration knows that much more work has yet to be done. Osama would have died at some point, either of natural causes or some other. But don’t you think he and his men expected that and prepared for it? I am not a terrorism expert at all, or a defence analyst, but the prospect, and I stress, prospect of this worries me.
Also, we have seen increasing evidence that relatively smaller militant outfits have been hooking up with one another, depending on their sectarian leanings. The pro-Shia groups and the anti-Shia groups are divided neatly. From what anti-terrorism investigators have told my reporters over the years, it is most probably the case that they abet and train each other, depending on their strengths. These outfits are the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jundullah, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Tehreek-e-Taliban etc.
Also, Karachi is just one city – what about Peshawar, Quetta, North Waziristan, the entire stretch of border with Afghanisan, Chaman? Heck, the south of the Punjab has produced the most suicide bombers this country has seen. Jhang is the place where they have emanated from.
That said, I must mention that in Karachi at least, the police have been hard at work trying to bust these networks and have managed some successes. While we were looking at the WikiLeaks data, Saba Imtiaz pointed out to me that after 2003 the number of foreign visitors dropped to Karachi because certain groups had been busted. Just recently, the new chief of Karachi police Saud Mirza told officers from across Pakistan at a seminar that they needed to coordinate more across the provinces to catch these men. I can only hope that our law-enforcement agencies – who have lost an estimated 5,000 personnel in the fight against extremism – will manage to get the funding to meet their challenges.
May 3, 2011 | 12:46 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
I was expecting a major backlash when news of Osama bin Laden’s killing spread on Monday morning. I thought the major madrassas in Karachi and the religio-political parties would come out on to the streets and burn the place down.
But that didn’t happen. Instead Karachi saw reactionary violence over the target killing of a political party worker. At least 25 buses and trucks were burnt and several people were injured and four were killed in aerial firing. But it wasn’t for OBL.
That said, I’m still expecting some reaction. A reporter who I know at a television station who is close to the mullah parties said that only one of them told him that a “response” is being planned. Otherwise there was silence.
The chatter erupted instead on the media. And certain ugly questions will surface in the days to come for Pakistan’s army and its politicians. (More on this in a bit).
March 27, 2011 | 3:03 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
The Thar desert is about six hours by road from Karachi. The water here is completely unfit for human consumption because it has too much fluoride and arsenic. In fact, the levels are between 4,000 to 5,000 ppm, which is well above the WHO standard. I will be able to comment more on this a little later. But I wanted to share a photo I took of a hut outside Mithi town. A non-profit called the Sukaar Foundation is doing some good work there helping villagers harvest or collect and store rainwater for the dry season. The water they get from the wells is hard. I’ll post more later.
March 10, 2011 | 1:20 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
The grammar may be off, but it makes sense: What goes of my father. This is the literal translation of an Urdu saying, ‘Mere baap ka kya jata he’. In American it turns into: I don’t give a shit.
We speak English in Pakistan, not just because it’s become a global language that no country has been able to avoid, but also because of our British masters who ruled the Indian subcontinent for 200 years. Anyone interested in brown sahibs and coolies, dysentery and howdahs can read ‘Plain Tales from the Raj’ by Charles Allen.
People in Pakistan’s major cities, Karachi, Quetta, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Hyderabad, Faisalabad, Multan, Sukkur among others will understand if you speak to them in English. I was once happily surprised to meet a five year old boy in a bus, entering Karachi from a long journey from Peshawar to flee the army’s fighting from the Taliban, who proudly that, “I study at Ghazali Public School.” In fact, most of the young men and women in Peshawar speak excellent English because the province has a strong schooling system.
When I was in Canada, the US and Australia most people would comment on how good my English was. I’ve had a really privileged upbringing and education, but pretty much anyone who’s been to school will be able to manage in English in Pakistan. We have a huge secondhand book market across the country and young people buy everything from Enid Blyton to Nancy Drew, the Silhouette Sensations, Sweet Valley High, Jackie Collins, Sidney Sheldon, Marx, Samuel P Huntington, Edward Said, Karen Armstrong, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, all the classics such as War and Peace and Sons and Lovers. Heck, I just picked up a second hand copy for $2 of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying the other day.
More than that, the English language script is used by Pakistanis in newspapers (Dawn, The News, The Express Tribune, Pakistan Today, Newsweek, Herald, Newsline, She, Women’s Own, The Friday Times), on television (BBC, CNN, al Jazeera, Express 24/7, Dawn News), on Facebook, YouTube, in advertising, while text messaging, on store fronts (Delhi Sweets, Baloch Ice-cream, Gul Ahmed home and ideas, McDonalds, New Quetta Hotel). All government correspondence is in English.
In fact, we have our own particular Minglish, or variations. We have our own use of the suffix “ify”, as if terrify. We use the verbs “ratta” and turn it into “rattofy” to talk about learning by rote.
We’ve created the word “upgradation”, which I will eternally be editing out of copy at the newspaper. We’ve stopped using the pure Urdu words for “bus”, “glass” and “jug”. I’m not sure we even have a word for “orgasm” in Urdu. We call diabetes “shoogur” (sugar).
Perhaps my favourite word is “suicider”, a pure creation by the crime reporters I’ve worked with. They call suicide bombers, suiciders and pronounce is ‘soos-cider’. It makes perfect sense grammatically, bank, banker, clean, cleaner, drive, driver, suicide, suicider.
We have speedy dumpers run kids over. We have ‘no any’ people attending the function for the upgradation of the basic health unit. People hold up play cards at poRtests. We take the train at the tayshun. We hop onto the moat-cycle. And I just came across Yale Professor Sara Suleri’s ‘no dort’ for no doubt in her stellar ‘Meatless Days’ novel, which I personally think is the best fiction to come out of Pakistan ever.
My father, a surgeon, is called ‘daak saaab’ for doctor sahib. We enter the backsides of buildings. We call Brazilian waxes ‘deep waxing’.
We love acronyms. Oh my God, do Pakistanis love them. The TPO (town police officers), the SHOs (station house officers), the PC1s, the DCOs, the KESC, the Wapda, the CCPOs, the KDA, the KATI, the PMDC, the APTMA, the PkSF, the MQM, the MQM-H, the Tehreek-e-Nifaz e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM).
A hot chick will be “tight”. We ‘marofy’ dates. We have Christian wistian, date-shate, talk-shawk, video-shideo, car-waar, phone-shone, Taliban-waliban. We want Green Cards to go to Amreeka, Ing-lend, Aastralia.
Ok. Making fun of the accent aside, Pakistanis don’t ride on donkeys and live in trees. We keep a keen watch on international developments via the media. Go to any roadside tea stall and talk to labourers and construction workers who can’t read and they will have a fair idea of what is happening politically, what is the latest thing Obama said and how much trouble Pakistan is in.
At the other end of the spectrum we have a slim but vibrant arts scene with musicians keeping alive the traditional classical music of tabla, sitar and qawwali in places like Toronto (Farid Ayaz and Company). Our designers like Noor Jehan Bilgrami make exquisite cloth with the indigenous indigo that the Japanese love. Our novelists like Mohammad Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) and Daniyal Mueenuddin (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders), have won international acclaim. Type in Pakistan on Google Scholar and you will see millions of published papers.
We watch every Hollywood release, even the crappy ‘Season of Witches’ is playing at the Atrium cinema. We love House and Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives and the Billy and the Sundance Kid.
They love AJ as they call her here, Angelina Jolie. We all know about Michael Jackson and Madonna. Our radio shows play Ella and PJ Harvey. It’s hard to escape American culture exports with the Internet these days. And thanks to Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and George Bush, every Pakistani has an opinion on America and its foreign policy.
So, while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you apply for a tourist visa to Pakistan just yet, there’s plenty of literature, film and music out there to enjoy that will give you a pretty good picture of the land of Pak.
March 9, 2011 | 11:56 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Pakistanis love conspiracy theories. They call it the “foreign hand” meddling in their affairs. Some people call it the “hidden hand”. The American devil is behind the corruption of our youth that is addicted to MTV and Cheetos, and Israel and India are ganging up against us on our borders. The Americans only want to be friends because they want our nukes. Raymond Davis is a CIA operative, (perhaps yes), and he was also the chief of Blackwater and XE and was also in bed with the Russians.
When Arab states began to topple, el Baradei’s arrival in Egypt prompted my father to quip: “How come he came at this time. The Americans must be behind it. He worked at the UN after all.”
Who killed Benazir Bhutto is another favourite one. People love to hold forth on how their information is most correct. “Who stood to benefit the most,” they ask. When I pooh-pooh their answers, they call me naïive. “Don’t you know what the game is,” they ask. “You’re supposed to be a big journalist.” When I ask them to prove their point they just refer to more drawing-room conversations or something they heard on a talk show. Pakistani television has exploded with talking heads because the media has just discovered this format. Dr Shahid Masood was a hot favourite. These days there are screaming matches on Jasmeen Manzoor’s show, Mehr Bokhari’s show and then there are the evangelists like Zaid Hamid.
By far, the favourite conspiracy is the Hollywood one that Jews own the media and the world and the entire global banking system and CNN and Fox News. They own Coca Cola, so you’d better drink Pepsi.
I fear that the average illiterate Pakistani, who has never met a Jew in their life, or been affected by the actions of one, would most likely be swayed by anti-Semitic arguments whether in the mosque or drawing room. I also fear that there are educated Pakistanis, who trawl YouTube and read the international newspapers, but do not take a nuanced view to complex issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict. It disturbs me that people wholly unrelated to this issue claim to speak for it and the people involved.
I remember being horrified while teaching an A’ Level grade 12 class English with one student standing up to extol Hitler’s actions. My personal opinion aside, I did not want a 16-year-old boy to be so rigid in his opinion without having done his research. It later turned out that he had been to a mosque where he had met some angry young men.
While going through the website, I found a YouTube video of a man called Pir Saqib Shaami, who I am unfamiliar with. Here is a rough translation of what he said in Urdu: [Classical] Jews believe that Dajjal’s sultanate, the greater Israel, will be formed from Egypt to Iraq… all seven countries will become a Jewish state. They believe they need to work on this fast as they think they only have 200 years to do this. [before the end of the world].
It was thus with much relief that I read the third part of a series my newspaper did on the topic. It was the brainchild of The Express Tribune’s magazine editor Zarrar Khuhro. I’ve taken the liberty of putting some choice excerpts here, but the full text is available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/113104/will-the-real-zionists-please-stand-up/.
“If I had a hundred rupees for every time I’ve heard the term ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zionist conspiracy’ used in everyday conversation, newspaper articles or political speeches I’d be a rich man. But despite the term’s widespread use it is bandied about little understanding of its meaning, origin or implications. In fact, the words ‘Jewish’, ‘Israeli’ and ‘Zionist’ are used interchangeably. Let’s try to clarify this a bit: Judaism is a religion, Israel is a state and Zionism is an ideology.”
Khuhro goes on to trace Zionism’s roots from 19th century Europe, to the1896 publication of a book titled Der Juddenstaadt (the Jewish state). It author was an Austro-Hungarian journalist named Theodor Herzl. “Herzl, who spoke no Hebrew and had little understanding of Jewish culture, was so removed from the religious aspects of Zionism that he even proposed Argentina and Uganda as proposed sites for the new Jewish homeland, and once even proposed mass conversion to Catholicism as a remedy to European anti-Semitism.”
Khuhro cautions that, “Not all Jews are Zionists, but interestingly, not all Zionists are Jews either. It was the so-called ‘British Zionists’, who were in fact mostly Christian, who actually played the largest role in the creation of the state of Israel, and their motivation ranged from religious prophecy to imperial ambition.” He explains Lord Balfour’s contribution etc. etc.
And I could not agree with Khuhro more when he wraps up with this: “[J]ust as we condemn attempts to depict all Muslims as terrorists, we should also take care not to paint all Jews, or even all Israelis, as Zionists. To do so only plays into the hands of those who claim to be representatives of an entire religion…”
March 8, 2011 | 12:22 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
I always wanted to be Jewish, mostly because of the literature I discovered in my teenage years – The Diary of Anne Frank, the ten-part Meryl Streep series Holocaust, Isaac Babel’s ‘How it was done in Odessa’. Later, I came to love certain poets and writers such as Leonard Cohen, Mordechai Richler (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Barney’s Version). And then there were friends like Herky Halpert, a bagel-baking Grateful Dead fan in Montreal who introduced me to Steppenwolf. And then there was Yiddish, gelt, verklempt, mensches, spiels. Later, I discovered on the upper end of Montreal’s Ave. du Parc the Chassidic Jews. The women who all seemed to have the same brown bob cut, which later turned out to be wigs, their blue serge skirts, the blue prams, the long black coats. Schwartz’s sandwiches.
This branched off into a fascination with the genetics of the Indian sub-continent simply because I feel history and science can often teach us that we have more in common with our “enemies” than we would care to face. Anti-Semitism is fairly widespread in Pakistan, but recently the weekly magazine T’s editor Zarrar Khuhro at my newspaper The Express Tribune commissioned three pieces as part of the cover story looking at our Jewish ‘heritage’.
Our newsroom’s Pashto-speaking assistant news-editor Naveed Hussain, who hails from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (the North-West Frontier Province), wrote a stellar piece, asking the question: Could one of Israel’s lost tribes have settled in modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan? He took a look at tribal culture to reveal some intriguing links. I have taken the liberty of pasting the text in this blog. But I would urge readers to go to the tribune.com.pk website and go to the magazine section for the article ‘Blood Ties’ for the full experience. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/113111/taming-afghanistan-blood-ties/)
This is the full text of the article published February 3, 2011:
Every superpower, in its heyday, has been lured into Afghanistan, the landlocked country ravaged by military adventurers and civil wars. It is hard to say what lures them to this land, but no conqueror has managed to tame the unruly, fiercely-independent martial tribes of Afghans. Some have had to retreat in humiliation while others are “bled to death.” The Afghans, Pakhtuns or Pathans are an ancient people and, if one is to believe their own claim, they are as old as humanity itself. Rough estimates put their population at around 18 million, with the majority of them living in southern and eastern Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan. This makes them perhaps the largest living tribal society in the world, one that still cherishes the customs enshrined in its Pakhtunwali or tribal code.
The origin of the Afghans has puzzled ethnologists, historians and scholars for some time. Reason: the Afghans are distinct both in complexion and in character traits from other groups in the region, such as the Turks, the Mongolians, the Persians, or the Indo-Iranians. Also, in a region where countless nations and peoples have come and gone, it’s difficult to trace their descent. Nonetheless, two theories about their origin are referred to most often: while one establishes their Aryan ancestry, the other, more intriguing theory, traces them as Israelites.
Among the Afghans a widespread oral tradition says that their origin is from the Benjamin tribe of the family of the biblical King Saul. Afghana, a grandson of Saul, was raised by King David and remained in the royal palace during the reign of Solomon too. About 400 years later, in the days of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezer, the Afghana family fled to Gur (Ghor province in present Afghanistan).
Sir William Jones, English philologist and scholar of ancient India, also subscribes to this theory. According to him, after the death of King Saul, Nebuchadnezer captured Palestine, and the children of Israel, including Afghana, fled Palestine and settled in Kohistan-i-Ghor, Koh-i-Feroz, Koh-i-Khorasan, Kandhar and Kabul.
Shahid Orakzai, a senior lawyer at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, has come up with a unique evidence to claim Semitic origin. “The Pashtu word ‘Orak’ means ‘lost’ and ‘zai’ can be translated as ‘tribe’,” he says about the Orakzai tribe of the Afghans, to which he himself belongs.
Now the question arises, how did these Jewish people convert to Islam? Namiatullah Haravi, the first historian to have penned down Afghan genealogies during the era of Mughal Emperor Jehangir, has the answer. The descendents of Afghana were 10, writes Haravi in his book Makhzan-i-Afghani (Origin of the Afghans). One of them strayed into Mecca where he met Khalid bin Walid, the fabled Islamic general who also belonged to the Benjamin tribe of Israelites. He invited his Afghan kinsmen settled in Ghor to embrace the new faith. Led by Kais (a descendent of King Saul in 37th generation), a delegation met the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and converted to Islam.
Olaf Caro, the British governor of what is now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas, also refers to this event in his book, The Pathan. “The Prophet (PBUH) gave Kais the name of Abdur Rashid and predicted that God would make his issue so numerous that they would outlive all other people, and their attachment to the faith would in strength be like constructing a ship which seamen call ‘Bathan’. On this account he conferred upon Abdur Rashid the title of Bathan (the ‘b’ converted to ‘p’ later on).”
Tradition says that Kais married Sara, daughter of Khalid bin Walid and Kais’s three sons – Saraban, Bithan and Ghurghustan – are the ancestors of the various Afghan tribes.
Most Afghans believe in this theory. And they have carefully preserved family trees on their relationship to Israelites. The names of their tribes speak for themselves: the tribe of Harabni is the tribe of Reuben, the Shinwari is Shimeon, the Levani – Levi, Daftani – Naftali, Jaji – Gad, Ashuri – Asher, Afridi – Ephraim, and so on. Interestingly, some of these tribes use Hebrew pronunciation for their names, like Yusufzais, sons of Prophet Joseph, use the Hebrew pronunciation of Aesop instead of the Quranic ‘Yusuf’ or biblical ‘Joseph’.
Weighing the Evidence
Some scholars, however, believe the idea of the Afghans’ Semitic origin was encouraged by their tight tribal structure, their stark code of behaviour, their strikingly Semitic features, their bearded patriarchal appearance, and their predilection for biblical names.
“They (genealogies of the Afghans) were first set down by Persian-speaking chroniclers at the court of Mughal emperors in the early part of the 17th century. The sophisticated Mughal historians, possibly impressed by the same outward signs of Semitic connections that misled the British two hundred years later, apparently made up the descent of the border tribes from the mythical Kais and improvised a connection for Kais with Saul of Israel,” writes James W Spain, US diplomat and scholar, in his book The Way of The Pathans.
But perhaps the theory about the Semitic origin of the Afghans cannot be rejected only because their genealogies were created in the 17th century. Take the Yusufzais, the most blue-blooded of all Pathans - their chronicles are ancient, going back well beyond the Mughal era.
Apart from that, the Afghans to this day maintain Jewish customs preserved from the recesses of their past, notwithstanding their conversion to Islam long ago. Jewish scholars A Avihail and A Brin, in their book Lost Tribes from Assyria, have listed some of the most common customs, which include sidelocks, skullcaps, circumcision within eight days, Talith (prayer shawl), women’s customs (immersion in springs), honouring the father (the son stands up when father arrives), Levirate marriage (marrying a brother’s widow), forbidden foods (horse and camel: while most Muslims sacrifice camels on Eid ul Azha, the Pathans never do so), the code of revenge, the Hebrew amulet (Kamia), blood on the threshold (when a Pathan’s house is built, the blood of a sacrificial animal is smeared on the doorposts and on the gate), and the Star of David symbol is found on every house in Pathan localities.
But Dr Sayed Wiqar Ali Shah, Professor of History at South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, Germany, says that similar customs are not enough to prove that Afghans have Jewish origins. “The resemblance of names between the Jews and the Afghans was probably the result of Arab influences in the subcontinent,” he says. “The Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself adopted many customs from the Jews living around him.”
At the same time it is important to note that in a region inhabited by countless nations only the Pathans follow Jewish customs. Why do only the Pathans, from around 21 nations in Afghanistan, look clearly Semitic? Their countenance is lighter than that of other peoples, their noses are long and some of their tribes have blue eyes, particularly the Yusufzais.
“The Pathans’ ancient code of hospitality, Pakhtunwali, by which generosity and protection of guests are paramount, is sufficient proof for some of their Jewish affiliation,” says Shalwa Weil of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in her research published some time ago in the Jerusalem Post.
While many scholars are keen to attribute Aryan ancestry to the Pathans, I find it interesting that so many Pathans cling to the ‘Lost Tribe’ theory despite the wave of Islamic extremism and anti-Jewish feeling that is sweeping across the Afghan heartlands. In my eyes, this only strengthens the case of those who believe in a Semitic origin for the Pathans.
The legend of the lost tribes
According to Jewish lore, the ten lost tribes of Israel refer to the ten tribes that formed the Kingdom of Judah and then vanished from Biblical accounts after the kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians around 723 BC.
Proving the link
A few years ago, media reports claimed that genetic testing aimed at proving the link between Pakhtuns and the tribes of Israel was underway in Israel. However, when The Express Tribune contacted Professor Karl Skorecki, the Israeli geneticist reportedly conducting the study, he claimed such a study would be impossible without obtaining extensive samples from Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas; something he says is unlikely at this stage.
So-called lost tribes across the globe
In the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur live a 7,000-strong community called the Bnei Menashe (sons of Manasseh). They claim descent from the Lost Israeli tribe of Manasseh which was exiled by the Assyrians in 723 BC. To this date they still maintain Jewish customs and rituals.
BBC has reported that scientists have proven a genetic link between Semites and the Lemba tribe of Zimbabwe and South Africa. The BBC says that the 80,000 Lemba tribe members abstain from eating pork, wear yarmulke-like skull caps, conduct ritual animal slaughter, and even put a Star of David on their gravestones.