Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Maulana Bijlighar, his Political Background, and His Disrespect for Women

Maulana Bijlighar
Maulana Bijlighar has passed away. I wasn't a regular listener of his--and if I had been, it would not have been to get a laugh (I don't think sexist jokes or mockery of women is something to laugh about) or to increase my little knowledge of Islam; it would've been to understand what it is that makes Mullah Bijlighar so popular and appealing to his listeners, or something like this. I do this with Zakir Naik, too. Preachers and the idea of preaching fascinate me, you know.

On Dec. 30th, 2012, famous Pashtun preacher Mohammad Amir, popularly known as "Bijlighar Mullah" (also known as Mullah Bijlighar and Maulana Bijlighar), passed away at age 85. Thousands are reported to have attended the funeral. He was named after his village, Bijlighar, in Charsadda, although his main base and appreciation was in the Peshawar Valley. His sermons are shared widely on DVDs, CDs, flash drives, and now Youtube.

I can't claim to know how influential he was or what sort of reverence he enjoyed among his audience; but I do know that he was a remarkably popular figure in Pashtun circles, and a random Youtube search for his videos reveals the high number of men listening to him and supporting him. Some Pashtuns on Twitter attribute his popularity to the sexual references he frequently makes in his lecture; these mentions are often jokes about women's sexuality, their private parts, and the clothes they wear (or don't wear). Vulgarity is thus an important theme in almost all of his speeches--and his audience is expected to (and they do) applaud and laugh at it all.

Background and Political Context

Born in Darra Adamkhel, Maulana Bijlighar was a strong supporter of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and an adviser and friend to Maulana Mufti Mehmood (died 1980), who was president of right-wing political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) in 1970 and formerly the Chief Minister of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. As Dr. James Caron, lecturer in Islamicate South Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), tells me in a personal conversation, "Mufti was patronized in a sideways fashion by Bhutto I [Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto] to politically defeat Pashtun nationalism through religion; and [he] transformed the Jamiat al-Ulama-i Islami from an ineffectual fringe party that actually often-times cared about social justice, into the right-wing masculine-populist phenomenon we know it as today." Maulana Bijlighar, who was also "the main source of Mufti’s communication with PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto," was a critical part of the Shari'a campaign in Pakistan and enjoyed immense fame in 1993 when Sufi Muhammad, father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, started his movement--the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammad (TNSM), a militant organization working towards enforcing its version of the Shari'a in Pakistan. Until 1993, Maulana Bijlighar also actively supported and campaigned for Fazl-ur-Rehman's election, who was Mufti Mehmood's son and is currently the president of JUI; it was under Fazl-ur-Rehman's supervision that the Taliban were trained and nourished: "he went often to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to enlist their financial support and military help for the Taliban, which was forthcoming" (Fundamentalism Reborn?: Afghanistan Under the Taliban,  p. 76). In 1993, however, when Fazl-ur-Rehman made alliances with Benazir Bhutto during her second term as Pakistan's prime minister, Maulana Bijlighar lost support for Fazl-ur-Rehman and actively condemned him in his speeches. Bijlighar was, after all, known and widely appreciated by his audience for speaking against the Pakistani government, although he was imprisoned several times for doing so.

The political context in which preachers in general and Maulana Mufti Mehmood and Maulana Bijlighar in particular were able to create an authoritative space for themselves after the fall of Ghaffar Khan's Khudai Khidmatgar ("Servant of God") movement needs to be discussed as well. Caron tells me in a personal conversation:
"They [the preachers] were able to do that [step in and colonize the less formal ... political space, taking over some of the  same social networks that were left over from the tattered remnants of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement] because the Khudai Khidmatgar movement itself would not have succeeded prior to independence to the extent that they did, without the help of Marxist Deobandi scholars such as Maulana Popalzai. So there was already political/social space for this religious scholars' party to take over discourses of social justice, even critical activism, and convert it into populism once it served Islamabad's needs. Maulana Mufti Mehmood was all too happy to do so."
This background is important because his chances at success would have been unlikely had the above political context been nonexistent. Why exactly he was popular remains to be understood, although, as noted earlier, some believe his vulgar humor allowed him to easily earn himself a loyal audience. While the vulgarity in his speeches appears to have been unique to him, he draws on older forms of Talib  and Mullah satire in Pashto that have been popular for around a century, as Caron discusses briefly in his Chapter "Taliban: Real and Imagined" in Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands, edited by Shahzad Bashir and Robert D. Crews.

The Misogynistic Nature of the Mullah's Sermons

The Mullah's speeches are replete with misogyny, which is generally defined as the hatred, dislike, and mistrust of women. Most misogynists are unlikely to explicitly state that they "hate" or "dislike" or "mistrust" women, but their attitudes towards women--and in Bijlighar Mullah's case, his teachings about/against women--illustrate their attitude towards (against) women rather clearly. Throughout his sermons, he regularly mocks women's leadership, abilities, skills, and actions, and he takes time out of his sermon to curse women, wish them death or otherwise their demise or their families' demise, and he puts to shame men who are associated with the women he openly condemns and insults. 

Importantly, the Pashtun society, like all other societies, claims that it respects women, and one way it shows this respect is by avoiding making any references to the female body or female private parts in public or at least in front of women. Mullah Bijlighar, however, never shied away from making these references, often reducing his humor to the mention of the female private body parts in an attempt to be funny. Using words like "mangotee" (literally, round water pitchers), for instance, are commonly used in his speeches; they refer to the female's "behind."

Although the Mullah clearly mistrusts, hates, and disrespects all kinds of women, he particularly enjoys insulting and discussing the ones he identifies as "barbandey," which literally means naked but generally means immodest, shameless. An immodest woman in many South Asian cultures includes a woman who does not cover her head, but for Maulana Bijlighar also includes the following women: those who think for themselves; those who ride motorcycles; those who do not cover their faces; those who are involved in the public sphere, especially in politics; those who challenge their husbands and other men around them; those who leave their home for any reason at all--since all women obviously have at least one male member at home who can take care of non-domestic chores.

Examples of some of the different kinds of women appear throughout his lectures. It seems that in any random lecture of his, no matter the subject matter of the sermon, he finds a way to bring women into the discussion. Particularly the barbanda woman.

For example, here, he discusses three types of women--in terms of weight. They are: fat, extremely fat, and a huge box. It is these kinds of women who commonly accompany men on their motor bikes -- and, says the Mullah, "Have you noticed how and where her hands are wrapped on the man?" He goes on to wish death upon the woman who does this. The video ends with his expressing gratitude for the death of another woman, apparently a politician or otherwise a political leader, who died from an electric shock. The Mullah says, "She was a politician. Thank God we've been rid of one - now pray that we get rid of all the other ones, too!" (Khaza wazira wa - shukar dey che da yawey na kho khlaas shu; dua kawai che da noro na hum khlaas shu) The audience responds with, "Aameen." He goes on to say, "May God put to death all barbanda women, may their husbands become widowers!" The rest of his video condemns women who ride motorcycles with their husbands and puts to shame any man who rides his motorcycles with his wife.

In another speech, he confidently exclaims that any destruction (azaab) that the nation of Pakistan faces is because of women (2:50-2:55). He explains that, literally, anyone who can afford to feed himself has his wife roam around barbanda. In the past, he says, it was clean-shaved, beardless men doing these kinds of things, but now even bearded men do it. He thus especially speaks evil of the bearded man who has his wife ride with him on a motorcycle--and the tail of a dog, the Mullah tells us, is better than the beard of such a shameless man.

Even when he's talking about issues that generally men face, such as that of sud, or interest, he finds a way to center them around women and curse them for using sud and not being fearful of God.

In other sermons (07:50-08:00), he makes references to the woman's breasts by holding and lifting up his own to demonstrate why women should not be allowed to be involved in politics. "Today," he says, "60% candidates are women. Mufti Mehmood, may he rest in peace, asked me once why I don't run for office. What would I do in an assembly full of women [breast demonstration here]? On one hand, these women will be in my company; on another, I'll be giving a speech - I'll be so distracted by the women that I won't be able to concentrate" (07:39-08:15). For him, then, women are a source of distraction for men and should therefore not be allowed to be involved in politics.

Needless to say, Pashtuns are not the only people to have found humor in the mockery and demonization of women. MTV permanently banned Andrew Dice Clay, an American misogynistic comedian, in 1998 from ever appearing on the network because of his careless use of profanity during his speech.

[I will continue the misogyny theme of the mullah's sermons in a part 2 of this discussion.]

Misogyny, Sexism, Discrimination Are Never Funny.

Sexist, misogynist jokes are never funny. Just as racist jokes are always unacceptable and should never be laughed at, so, too, are misogynistic jokes never a thing of laughter. They are an insult to not just women but to men as well. Over half the population of the world is being mocked, and we are expected to find humor in it. No respectable man ever reduces himself to making a mockery of women. At the very least, he is insulting the mothers, sisters, daughters, and other important females of our nation and of this world.

Most importantly, jokes are never just jokes; they are always more because they reveal significant information about what a society finds humorous and at least one way through which a people entertain themselves. And then to joke about an entire group of people or to make profane references to their bodies or private parts should be completely unacceptable. I find it ironic that the Mullah speaks consistently of hell--of how we're ALL (all of Pakistan) going to hell because we're not Islamic enough while he objectifies women and makes references to them that are easily considered indecent in Islam. That Maulana Bijlighar enjoyed such a large following and that many believed he was "funny" and made good jokes is telling of the general attitude towards women in our society.

To be Continued.

24 comments:

  1. Very well done Qrratu. Our people love such nonsensical humor. For the very same reason, Mullah Fazlullah, Naddar Mullah and others also earned fame in Swat. They'd give weird names to female body parts and men loved it.
    But this is all I expect of our jahil pukhtana. All they can do is sit on roadsides, pick their noses, chew naswar and listen to people like Bijligar.

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    1. lollz well said nido

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    2. Thanks, folks, for your responses!

      That's the thing, man!! On the one hand, we at least claim not to respect people who disrespect women by talking about them or their private parts in public (or at least where women might come to know about them or hear them directly!), but on the other hand ... look at this Mullah's sermons. I am utterly disgusted! I'm not insulted; I'm just disgusted. And what kind of a man with any sense of respect for himself applauds such things?

      I've also been noting that the audience is at times very bored, esp when the Mullah is talking about politics, but they all wake up the moment he starts talking about women or does sam kanzal. And his kanzals are so bad I can't even write them in public! The man talks about... really, the most disgusting, most foul things you can imagine. And you know what Pukhtuns' kanzals are like ...

      Zaka kho weim che oh the irony! He tells us women are all going to hell and the whole world is going to hell because of women because of women's indecency :| wah.

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    3. Nido: "But this is all I expect of our jahil pukhtana. All they can do is sit on roadsides, pick their noses, chew naswar and listen to people like Bijligar."

      Jahils all over the world are same; be it Punjab or KP. Educated Pakhtuns are one of the most enlightened people I have ever seen (Although they talk too much, case in point my brother's mother in law). Anyway, it is very easy to manipulate the thoughts of an illiterate person.

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  2. sa wala na wartlal, pa kanzalo ye khalak raghwandawal. was te tapos kawal ghwari che da sera so pakhege. LOL @ flash drives.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Waqara! lol @ pa kanzalo :p It's true, though. When I asked some Pukhtuns on Twitter/FB why they thought Bijligar was so appealing and popular, most of them made it seem like it's oooobviously because of the kanzal - that people actually liked hearing the kanzal, and the more kharaab da kanzal are, the more people enjoyed.

      I wonder if his age had anything to do with it. I mean, let's imagine a 30-year-old giving sermons in the same style lol Kho Bijligar was prolly among the oldest in the crowd, so no one could object even if they wanted to.

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  3. very true and entirely complete article about Maulana Bijligar and his attitude. I loved reading it. You clear my mind because I havnt lestened him completely.
    Shehla Zaland

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    1. Thank you, Shehla gwaley, for reading it and responding! :) Glad you got something out of it.

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  4. Excellent read. The maulana may have been an obscurantist with no training in gender sensitivity, but I still cannot help laughing and enjoying his sermons even though I am hardly a practising muslim!

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  5. first time i heard of the fat useless CHAKHUN donkey aka bijlighar mulla was in coaster from swat to Kohat on my way to college. it was 1997 or 98. i was along with dozen of college mates. i still remember the song playing was Dedi tera daiwer deewana that was the last song after which we have our own cassette ready to replace it that was of takkar and ghani khan with the song CHAY WUS DAY DA BADOU NAWEE rewinded (those were the time where we have started listening and enjoying ghani and takkar). Suddenly a bearded man typical tablighi type character who objected to songs and pulled a cassette out from his inner vest pocket and made the driver play it authoritatively using God's shoulder .i can still feel that excitement, that thrill, those smiles at our faces at that time because we were young, we were wild, our brains were in our muscles and people used to say YERA TAASO JUNG PASAY DWA PAISAY GERZAWAIEE and above all we out numbered the whole people present in the coaster. the guy introduced us the cassette as the new arrival of Bijlighar mullah and too useful and a thing to be followed and it will ultimately end us up in Heaven and blah blah... One of my friends already in bad mood as usual as we were on our way to college, got up and said to that guy AMIR saib lets listen to our mullah, the big dad of ur bijlighar and u can shove that cassette in appropriate place of urs. Amir saib angrily looked back but controlled his anger as he saw few of us standing with our friend and few more sitting in that coaster. In short bijli ghar cassette was out of the window,the coaster stopped, amir saib started telling us about the wrath of God and the intensity of the sin which we have committed within no time. By then we were at swat admin boarder i.e Landakay. we told the amir saib to leave the coaster and in Isha prayers we will repent and ask for God forgiveness arrange himself another means to transport him self or we are ready as our ties were in our pockets. The driver injected wisdom to that amir saib and he left,finally we started listening to ghani and takkar. Any ways now i feel we were equally bad as amir saib but this is what happened. Rest of our journey was good and according to our SOPs as we stopped at takht bhai for kabab, in kohat we watched a movie i think it was Rangeela and at night we were in college meeting frnds telling and listening to the stories that have piled up during leave and preparing our uniform for tomorrow s classes. So in that trip we named bihlighar as PAIR KHWASHAY CHAKHUN KHAR (fat, stray (i dont know how to translate CHAKHUN to english) donkey).

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    1. I wonder if it is still possible to do that? i.e. stand up to the mullah

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  6. There were thousands of people sitting in front of him who would jeer and approve of what he was saying. Maulana was just reflecting what the crowd wanted him to say. After all, that is the quality of a "good" politician. Maulana had put his fingers on the crowd "nabaz". So the real point should be "Misogyny in Pakhtun culture".

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  7. Offtopic: the RSS feeds of your blog are not showing up in Google Reader (and in an offline reader). Please look into it. I don't want to miss your blog entries.

    All the best.

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    1. Thank you for letting me know, Anonymous :)

      I actually am not sure what that means (yet), but I'll look into it and correct the issue. I have a feeling, though, that it might be due to my having changed the URL of the blog, though that was several months ago. A friend of mine isn't able to get updates on my blog posts, either; instead, her blog redirects readers to my older URL. Not sure how to deal with that (yet) either.

      Thanks again for letting me know!

      ~ q

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  8. The psyche behind acceptability is that the person should speak the language of his audience effectively, should have the body language including dress code of the profession which he represents, should know the classic version of the subject he talks about and resident or preferably local. Mullah Amir Bijlighar knew Pashto, had dress code of typical mullahs and represented the classic interpretation of religion. Hence he got popular among Pashtuns.

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  9. Sorry to say, but discrimination against women was not Bijlighar's issue only. It is the problem with core teachings of Islam, or in a different case, the interpretation of Islam. Bijlighar was a comedian turned religious cleric, so people enjoyed his language. People enjoyed because conscience level of people was and is extremely low. That is what sort of jokes they need.

    In relatively serious sermons, discrimination against women is relatively harsher and more strict.

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  10. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pashto/multimedia/2013/01/130101_im_mullah_bigligar_obituary_rahmanullah.shtml

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  11. zamung da pukhtano kanzal awridal der khwakh ye, che bal ta kege, zamung kali k yaw budha kas o, a ba pa yaw num qaredo, aw kha spengery zma da nika pa zay, kho che qar ba sho agha ba d c d c kanzal kawal che parishto ba la tarosa likali nae, haha, aw awaz bae hm duna teez o che pa tol cham gawand k ba khalko awredo, aw khalko ba der enjoy kao, da gawandi cham na ba warpasi khalko tape recorder raoro aw kanzal bae warla record kawal, aw agha da sik zway (allah d was obakhe da bakhany sho marr dy) ba ado chap kedo na. yawa genta ba agha bia kanzal kawal. Che sanga khalko bejligar enjoy kao d c ba mung agha enjoy kao. ka obama kanzal shoro kro zma de dre khudyan owai mung tol pukhtana bae malgari u.

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  12. The style of speeches and word used by Bijligar are not expected from old & religious personalities in our society ,same is true for children & abnormal as well, that's why it is always enjoyed

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  13. He wasn't named bijlighar because of the name of a village in Charsadda (as he himself born and belonged to Darra Adamkhel) but because he used to work as a transformer repairing (probably with WAPDA as bijlo wala) guy in his young age.

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  14. You people call yourself Muslims yet you talk and write behind this Alims back? To make it worse he has passed away and yet you people talk as if you have listened to every single one of his speeches! Do you guys even know the context in which he was speaking? You people have studied a little so think the world is your oyster. That little education you all have will be if no value in the grave. What will be of value is you religious Ilm. Why is it that when men and women read a few books in school they think they have seen the world and act snobbish? Who are you ppl to judge. In the Quran ALLAH says he has made shaitan and a persons desires (nafs). A clear enemy to mankind. So don't follow your desires. Then ALLAH teaches us how to kill those desires. By salaah(meditating) duã(praying) saum(fasting) zakah(charity) for men to lower their gaze and follow Quran and sunnah and for women to cover their heads and follow Quran and sunnah. You people haven't seen oppression or experienced war yet claim to know everything. There are men and women who live in harsh circumstances day in day out but don't say bad about anybody and have faith in ALLAH. Call yourselves taleemafta. Chindakaha luti ta ukhata aw wai ma kashmir ulidu. That's the saying that comes to my mind when I look at you people. At the end of the day all you people really are pare likai gawaar.

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    1. Hello, Anonymous,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Actually, you missed the point. No one is backbiting here; we're simply analyzing his speeches and discussing how harmful his message actually was. If anyone's backbiting, it was actually the person you consider to have been an aalim :) Sorry that you missed the point.

      Also, you assume none of us have seen war or oppression. That's an inaccurate assumption.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Best,

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  15. Good work ... Women in Pashtun society must claim their equal rights and space. You see men in this 'gheratmand society' either become fan of Bijli Ghar Mullah or Taliban. You are the future of Pashtuns... Do'nt rely on men.. trust your own potentials, agencies and abilities... Commendable work Qrratugai

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  16. hey tasoo garda jahilan bkwas ma ka we maulana Saab dear auchat how buzrag Sarah who zaa DA Quetta na ye am auo za balkul DA khabara pa yaqeen Sara wayem chef aga ba inshallalh pa janat ki Wii stasoo ba sa hal Wei leeg soch au dear sharam pakar dai tasoo gardoo ta

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Dare to opine :)

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