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Solidarity Always Outdoes Divisive Conflicts


A Unique Mosque

By Farooq Sulehria

December 12, 2012

Growing up in the 1980s Sargodha was no fun, at least not for the action-hungry youth. Sargodha was not a cultural centre, neither a hub of political unrest, nor a town known for its sporting talent. Of course, it has never been a tourist destination. However, literary circles and activities were not totally missing, even though they were confined and uninspiring. Every now and then, a bad quality play was staged at Town Hall.

Interestingly, the local public library is named after Ghalib. Students thronged the Ghalib Library. But often the most sought after book had been ‘issued’ forever by the deputy commissioner or Commissioner Saab Bahadur.

The local press was a mockery. There were six beautifully named and nicely built cinema houses. However, only two would screen the latest Lollywood productions. Eager middle class cine goers would travel to Lahore to watch Hollywood films. A film trip to Lahore was also a status symbol. In the glitzy film world, nobody from Sargodha made any name. Inam Khan, an obscure TV actor and newscaster Mahpara Safdar, were considered success stories by local standards.

Similarly, Sargodha’s only cricket stadium lacked the status to host international matches. In the early 1980s, when West Indies visited Pakistan, a three-day match was played here. It was a big sensation. The all-pervasive cricketing culture produced gifted cricketers like Tariq Wafai, Ghulam Abbas, Irfan, and the Gin brothers but none earned a coveted place in the national squad.

Hockey was equally popular. There was plenty of talent too. Najam (now squadron leader), Zaheer (a colonel in the army) and Imran were magicians with hockey sticks in their hands. However, Sargodha was no match for neighbouring Gojra. Only full back Zahid made it to the Pakistan Eleven; he was part of the Pakistani squad that won gold at the Los Angeles Olympics back in 1984.

Centre half Shafquat was the other hockey prodigy. He was part of the squad that won the World Cup in 1994. Another local sporting hero was Olympian Fayyaz, an excellent athlete. But none of these not-so-local heroes achieved a celebrity status nationally or internationally.

Likewise, institutions of higher education were non-existent. The only time Sargodha was mentioned in PTV’s Khabarnama was during the summer when it would occasionally beat Jacobabad and Sibi in the match for being the country’s hottest town.

A lot has changed for the better since the 1980s. Abdul Hafeez, presently captaining the Pakistani side in the T20 matches, hails from Sargodha. Sargodha wallahs are proud of him. The University of Sargodha and Sargodha Medical College have transformed not merely the look of the city but have also enhanced the city’s culture. While hockey is dying in the country, Ustad Bashir continues to run his Punjab Hockey Club.

However, being a resident of Sargodha, I am most proud of a little mosque just opposite my family home, even if I visit it only for Eid prayers. Every Muharram when the media begins reporting sectarian tensions, I proudly think of my Mohalla mosque, a unique experience in sectarian harmony. Built back in 2003, this mosque is a joint Shia-Sunni worship place. A small working class locality in the 1980s, Mansoorabad – my Mohalla – has transformed into a decent middle class locality; the population has also increased over the years. However, what remains unchanged is its sectarian harmony.

In the beginning the mosque’s foundations generated a bit of controversy in the local community. The Shias wanted it to be an Imambargah and the Sunnis wanted it to be an exclusive Sunni mosque. This dispute, however, was amicably solved by the elders of both communities. A crucial role was played by two ex-air force colleagues. Once the mosque had been built, a few rules were set. Ten years down the line, both the communities abide by these rules.

This is how it works: Neither the Sunnis nor Shias recite azan (call for prayers) using loudspeakers. In fact, there are no loudspeakers installed. A mosque sans loudspeakers in itself is a rarity in this country. The mosque employs two prayer Imams, one is obviously Sunni, the other a Shia. Both have been given separate Hujras (residential rooms) in the mosque. Both are Hafiz-e-Quran (one who learns Quran by heart) and live like good friends. However, the Mohalla community takes equal care of both the prayer leaders regardless of their sect.

Another understanding between the two communities is not to offer Friday prayers at this mosque. However, both sects offer Eid prayers. Similarly, while Shias do not hold their Muharram Majalis at this mosque, Sunnis do not hold exclusive Sunni rituals. This little composite mosque offers big lessons for Pakistan. Communal, ethnic or sectarian tensions can be diffused by mobilising communities. Solidarity always outdoes divisive conflicts.

Farooq Sulehria is a freelance contributor.