The Middle Way, the Difficult Way—Sharper than a Sword and Narrower than a Hair

by Maniza Naqvi

WhirlingWe drank hot tea which helped to cool us down. Without the fans swirling the air around us, it was sweltering hot in the room. And the many layers of silk I was wearing were beginning to stick to my back and arms. Just as we were getting started, the lights went out—load shedding—a power cut. This was normal for Karachi. It could have been October or maybe May–must’ve been early evening because just as I was wondering how to peal of a few layers— I remember also wondering how the lovely azaan in the background would affect the overall sound. Like a mantra he invoked his teachers: Rumi and Saadi and the Buddha and Bishop Grundtvig and Confucius, and Gandhi, and Raiffeisen the Americans and the Chinese. He talked about Al Ghazali and Imam Hunbal, and he talked about how he learned of the Prophet’s teachings at his mother’s knee.

His response to my questions whirled around the Cooperatives movement, land grants, Development, technology, how change happens, China, the British and the Indian Civil Service, the Orangi Pilot Project, Sufism, Buddhism and the World Bank. And how “money is not the answer it only corrupts”.

I grew anxious when we discussed religious beliefs and stumbled upon the threatening and most dangerous menace of being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan by anyone for anything if they provoke and upset the established power base. A very real menace that he had faced from 1989-1992. A menace, which continues to threaten Pakistan and beyond. To the point where to simply exercise one’s brain let alone be brilliant or brave is to be blasphemous. “No one can help the poor without evoking the ire of one vested interest or the other,” said I.A.Rahman, the director of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan when HRC took up the case of Dr Khan back in 1989.” (here).

He, Dr.Akhtar Hameed Khan, was the founder of three important Development programs which are examples all over the world for community based approaches for low cost and appropriate technology solutions in low income communities. These were the Comilla Pilot Project in Bangladesh, the Orangi Pilot Project, in Karachi Pakistan and the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. He was called Dr. Sahab though he was not a medical doctor. I had first met Dr. Hameed Khan when I started working in Karachi in 1986. That’s when I also met his very dynamic team including the brilliant urban planner and architect Perween Rahman and her colleague Anwar Rashid. Together they have run the Orangi Pilot project and its training institute which supports the replication of the approach and its lessons in other towns and cities of Pakistan and other countries. Dr. Hameed Khan died in 1999.

I can’t remember the exact day or year when this interview took place—let’s see— we used a VHS tape. My mother climbed four flights of stairs up to Dr. Sahab’s apartment—so that would have to be many, many years ago —In the video I’m very thin—- so that’s definitely mid 1990s—though not thin enough—so probably before I ran the New York marathon. But this was the 1990s and it was Benazir’s government and I was back on a visit from Washington. And there’s Fazal Noor: we used to be co-members of the then nascent and small NGO called Shehri. He and I were always ready to go do a lovely little project like interviewing Dr. Akhtar Hameed or go make a video of old Karachi—because I was enchanted with the beautiful 19th and early 20th century structures in decay and Fazal had done a whole thesis on old Karachi's buildings. And back then I was all over the city going from place to place in Karachi in those days doing this or that for surveys and research for work and on weekends without any clear purpose or reason for those things except that I wanted to know and learn as much as I could about the city. If I wasn’t at the beach with friends on Fridays (which was the weekend back then)-I would spend the afternoons taking photographs of kids playing cricket on the streets or in Khudadad colony, or mornings attending Shehri meetings or struggling with my writing.

It would have to be circa early 1990s because we had a videographer who had a battery powered camera and lights, back then we didn’t have our own hand held video devices. The use of generators wasn’t widespread and the now ubiquitous UPS battery powered generators in Karachi hadn’t appeared on the scene at that time for dealing with the daily power cuts. And there are no abrupt sounds of bells tinkling Bollywood tunes or verses of the Koran or chirping birds—So this was before we had mobile phones.

I was still wearing silky flowing A-lined long kameezes and white silk dupattas. So perhaps 1994–, it would have to be then–because just around then I started wearing the Khaadi numbers from Koel and traded in the white silk dupattas for white cotton starched dupattas. Probably 1994— Dr. Sahab talks about the prevalence of corruption and bribes in Pakistan and mentions Asif Zardari: “Look at Asif Zardari” he says at one point in the conversation “Look at what he is doing!”

Dr. Sahab seemed perfectly fine in the heat, cool in his muslin kurta and pajama—and Ami was comfortable too in her cotton shalwar kameez. My mother wanted to meet Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan who like her was from Agra. Dr. Sahab knew her father and knew his writings and poetry—and I will never forget how he stood at the top of the stairway—an Octogenarian who climbed up and down those flights of stairways every day no doubt—there he stood concerned about her ability to get up the last flight of stairs—and encouraging her at each step up by welcoming her and reciting to her a poem written by my Nana. At one point in the interview she interjected “There is nothing wrong in it!” Which now, come to think of it, sums up her entire way of being. Being towards others, about thought, about questioning everything.

I asked Dr. Sahab several questions that evening and now in hindsight I wish I had asked him a different set of questions—about how does one find joy—and what was the secret to his health and good spirits at his age. But instead I asked: How he defined development-was it dependent on technology—or money; how did he define change; how could change be brought about; how does change occur in the context of development; what were his intellectual and spiritual influences, since he had mentioned ancient sages, who were these sages, and what ideas of theirs influenced had influenced him; what role did the Indian Civil Service (ICS) play in shaping his thinking because he had been with the ICS for nine years.

I kept the tape for years never getting the chance to view it because I never got around to getting a VHS recorder and then technology changed by the time I got around to buying a television. But recently a friend uploaded it for me on youtube albeit with a haphazard numbering sequence. Here below are the videos and the transcript of that interview which begins at minute 2.2:

MN. I wanted to ask you questions at five levels—but if they are bogus questions you can tell me what I should ask—

AH: No. No—

MN. How do you define development, what is the meaning of development, The second question is how do you define change, what do you mean by change, how do you define change and how can one bring about change, and how does change occur in the process of development.

AH: Alright.

MN. Next two questions are rather personal, next two are very personal. In your autobiography you mentioned that you were influenced by ancient sages— who were these sages, and what ideas of theirs influenced you? You can take any of these questions and answer them.


MN. And the last question is that you were with the ICS for nine years?

AH: Nine years.

MN. And what role did that experience—the Indian Civil Service was a very important institution—

AH: Yes.

MN: That must have shaped some of your thinking—–

AH: Yes, very much.

MN. So I’d like to talk about that what role did the Indian Civil Service, the bureaucracy and the system play in shaping the way you think about development.


MN: So the first question was: How do you define development.

AH: Let us specify. You are saying that some development experts think that development is primarily the transfer of technology—Now. That is a truth. But it is a half truth. It is a transfer of technology because if the third world people do not adopt the modern technology in every field whether in agriculture or sanitation or industry they cannot survive, without technology there is no survival in the 21 century. And the technologies have to be continuously upgraded. It is impossible for survival that Europe, or the United States or that the first world should have modern technology and any third world country should not—they should teach them. It is not technology it is also the institutions. Institutions also have to be transferred. The point is that modern technology without modern institutions cannot be transferred.

MN: You mean the institutions should be updated with the modern technology?

AH: Inevitably. The problem is that it is very easy to just transfer technology. Let me give you an example. In the 19th century, late 18th century it was realized by—it was first realized, as far as muslim nations are concerned by Mohammad Ali the Caliph of Egypt that without a modern army Egypt cannot survive. And by a modern army at that time was meant to follow the pattern of France. Napoleon had completely changed, both the armament, you know and the tactics, the organization of the army. Mohammad Ali tried, not only Mohammad Ali, you know a contemporary was Ranjit Singh of Punjab. So you know what they did, they invited the French army in Mohammad Ali’s army or Ranjit Singh’s army, it was French officers after the French revolution, ex French revolution officers who were introducing the new parade, who were modernizing the arms. Now that failed. Why did it failed. Because Ranjit Singh could not sustain it. The British defeated him quite easily. He remained the King of the Punjab as long as he did not fight the British. But when it came to fighting the British—–similarly the Mahretas also. You know this transfer of technology, or the process of modernization, or you may call it development, these are very much synonymous names. Development may mean modernization. Modernization may mean current contemporary technology taking the example of the army. But it failed. The Maharetas also had French officers but they could not fight the British. Because the British and the French had something more—they not only had the new technology, they had the new institutions. What were those institutions? You go back and you further look back and see the difference between Ranjit Singh’s army who had bought some French guns, they had brought French officers, they had introduced parade, this that, the hierarchy, everything. What was missing? The missing element was one. You know the French army, the British army—was also supported by the French industry, the British Industry.

The armaments—the factories. And the factories were supported by the scientific research. This was metallurgy. This was missing. The metallurgy research was not there. The metallurgy research itself was supported by the scientific attitude. The rejection of traditions and new research. That was supported by the renaissance and the new research. You see how the tree of development has these roots. Europe acquired superiority by first the renaissance, the renaissance was this, was for instance Leonardo Da Vinci, you have diagrams of how he has pictured a flying machine. You have records of how he changed metallurgy for casting. It was in the 13th and 14th century, they rejected tradition, what we call tagligh, they rejected Aristotle. Do you know that Aristotle says that women have less teeth then men.

MH: Well I certainly do!

AH: He should have looked inside the mouth of his wife and counted her teeth. So the renaissance rejected funny ideas. They said let’s find out. Now let me sum up. The French army was powerful not only because it had better guns and methods of killing but it had also the ideological basis, it was supported by an educational system, it was supported by an industrial system it was supported by a social system. This is our problem

MH: It was supported by a social system. Must there be a uniform—universal social system? Or can there by different social systems that work?

AH: You know this is a question of detail. But there are two main varieties. One is a social system which is traditional which is based on following precedence and no change. The Hindu ideals. Manu principle. The caste system. Or the Chinese system the old system, very conservative very traditional. The new system was of change, we should have authority of change. In the Islamic system there was one school of thought Ishtihad that there can be change—and another of no change—we cannot have any change we have to follow the Sunnah. This was true in China, this was true for Hindus. Now in modern renaissance and reformation, was a rebellion against authority and an eternal, and an eternal system. If the conditions change and the system is with tyrannical operatives it should be changed. This is the foundation of the Western so called superiority.

MH: Do you think a reformation will ever come in the so-called Islamic world. People are pushing on the edges of that all over the world now…

AH: There was greater content fifty years ago and it seemed there would be no change in China. If you read what was written about the Chinese in the 19th century and the early 20th century, it was an opium society, they were opium eaters, they were bad, they will never change. Napoleon had said, let China sleep, China is a giant, let the giant sleep. When China wakes she will shake the world.

MH: And she’s shakin’ the world.

AH: De Toqueville said this about Russia in 1820 that Russia would become another continent and there will be only two great powers. Unfortunately the Muslims are the most backward in accepting new systems. The Chinese have broken their own systems, they have accepted new social systems and the principle of reform. This is against the principle of revolution. Laws of Confucius and Islam and Manu, are based on no change. While, Buddhism is based on change; But the reality is that the Chinese society has changed drastically, and it is ready to implement more changes and it is the master of its own self. The Hindu society is changing more slowly. For instance Gandhi could stand up and say we don’t want the caste system anymore and it was changed constitutionally. Whereas the greatest difficulty is faced by the Muslims, some slight changes. Let us sum up the answer to your question that development is a kind of modernization. Unfortunately, at present, the role model of that modernization is that of Europe. The reason for that is very simple, for the last three or four hundred years this civilization based on science, on industry on social innovation on the sovereignty of the people, on the right of the people to change their own institutions. This has made it the dominant civilization for the last hundred years and now it has become even more dominant. It is these ideals which have provided the ferment everywhere, whether it be China it be India or Latin America or Africa, everywhere it is these ideas. In other words we are passing through, these countries are passing through the phase which appeared in Europe in 15, 1, 17th, 18th centuries. Our renaissance and reformation is taking place. Some countries have broken through while others are struggling and some are moving backwards like the Muslims.

MH: Will we have a reformation…

AH: There is no alternative. We have the greatest difficulty. We suffer—the best explanation is given by Sheikh Saadi——The foolish man also does what the wise men do—but after a lot of trouble and after suffering greatly. We will have to do what China has done. We will have to do what the Hindus are doing.

MH: When you say we will have to do what China has done, what do you mean?

AH: The Chinese believed that women, particularly rich women, they had to perform a kind of show function. Their feet should be tied so that they can be beautifully adorned. So they tied their feet. Similarly the Muslims think that the women should be confined to their homes———–Our weakness—now, today in keeping the women confined in the homes is just like the Chinese tying the women’s feet, making them look like the feet of cows or birds and then making them immobile. They had to change it. And we have to and we are.

MH: And we are. You see women everywhere…..

AH: In my mother’s time it was impossible that I could or you could sit and talk like that…And that is only one example. Similarly, nobody has the right to change the laws which were finally, you know which were codified in the 8th century. That is that nobody can change the Hanafi law or the Fiqa e Jafira. This is impossible. The new law is that the nation will decide—that the parliament will decide. This is the new law. And we will have to adopt this law. So the point is that when they say that only technology will solve the problem—they are saying what has already been tried—Ranjit Singh thought, the Mahrathas thought—but it was not enough.

MN: How about money. If we give enough money….

AH: Money doesn’t solve any problem. Money only creates corruption. For instance the more money the World Bank gives, the greater will be the corruption. A Government scheme here, let’s say which costs a hundred rupees, in a project supported by the World Bank it will cost four hundred rupees. Four times inflation. Now, the convention is that a Government scheme of one hundred rupees 60 or 70 rupees is stolen. But in a World Scheme even more money is stolen. So money solves no problems. So, but the answer to your question that this was an old idea, in fact –there were only two courageous men—Syed Ahmed and Attaturk who said no we will destroy the caliphate, the Arabic script, we will have to destroy the Purdah….the sufi institution. And you know Syed Ahmed also wanted to say that Muslims should not believe in Jinns. But the Koran says there are Jinns. But he wanted to change this. He did not want to say that the Koran was wrong. He was against women’s education.

MN: Sir Syed Ahmed?

AH: Oh! He did not want women to be educated.

MN: He didn’t! How come there were women at Aligarh? My father went to Aligarh, there were women there.

Ami: Afterwards

AH: Anyway don’t argue!

MN: Okay after he went….

AH. One man had to stand up for women, it was Sheikh Abdullah and he fought and he fought—My father, he went to college, but he didn’t want to send his girls to college. We would fight with him. And he would stamp his feet and say what will they do walk around with their faces exposed like a large skillet! My elder sister didn’t go to school. But we fought and fought and then they went. So now the point is that not only will the institutions have to be transferred all the modern attitudes will have to be accepted but it is happening.

MN: It makes me uneasy when you say these modern institutions, these modern ideas, does this mean that the west has it right, that they have the answer, they have the truth—and there is no truth but that which is comes from the west.

AH. No

MN: Or does have everything reach the same point and goes to the same path…

AH: Ah, that is the real problem. Because you know everything has a credit and a debit balance. If you accept the industrialization and urbanization then you have to accept the problems which come. The west has been successful in being powerful and strong but the west has not been happy. Every human effort—Now it was the West that introduced the renaissance and it also destroyed its traditional patterns but it also destroyed its spiritualism. It also weakened morality. They introduced science and industry and it created all these problems: Of environment and pollution and all these dirty cities. They emancipated women and destroyed the institution of the family. Every successful—now this is called Hegel’s dialectical theory materialism. Hegel’s analysis and it is a very correct analysis—is that no human solution is installed forever. So basically, that idea, that the Revelation or that Manu has solved problems forever by establishing the caste system.

AH: He has not. That by putting the women in Purdah you have insured everything for the firm foundation of the family, you haven’t! You have created newer problems. Every thesis, creates an antithesis, and then you have again to make a synthesis, but then that synthesis becomes a thesis and again you have to make an anti-thesis, you will never be free from problems. So if you emancipate the women—there is no alternative to the emancipation of women, because if you don’t emancipate the women, your industry will not flourish, if you don’t emancipate the women you and send them to school the health of the nation will be destroyed, the children won’t be properly brought up. You will never have literacy and if you don’t have literacy you will not have a proper industrial labor force. These are all connected.

MN. But we rarely talk about women for themselves. It’s always given as we must educate women because it makes a society productive. Nobody says we must educate women for the sake of the fact that they are human beings who deserve to have their basic human rights-regardless of whether they provide production for others or increase others activities—why must we find these excuses for why women should be …

AH: Because It is meaningless!—saying that—There is no such thing as human rights—there is only you know—functional importance. The women according to Hitler, the role assigned to women in Islam was ideal, that they should be the mothers of the mujahideen. That–they should produce a huge number of children.

MN: Armies.

AH: Yea- but so, now you see now if we accept that modern idea. Take the emancipation of women, that they should be equal partners, that they should be free, they should go out, they should go to school—they should go to work, there is no escape from all the consequences if the women are free they will become like the Japanese women, like the German women. Now it should be our effort then to see if we can do something to retain-to keep the family strong—while not insisting on the enslavement of women. Even the women rights as well. That is the synthesis we have to make. Surprisingly the Confucians have made this synthesis to some extent—In China, no not in China but in Japan or in Korea they have become what they are with women—migrants who have come from Asian countries there the families are is still strong and they are beating the Americans on account of this strength. On the other hand the families which have been degraded to the utmost are the African blacks and they are far behind and you can see how the Vietnamese, the Koreans, the Chinese Indians and the Asian Muslims are making a synthesis and sending their children to school. But the Muslims are caught in a trap—I have visited Canada, I have visited England—America and have met these Muslims—Pakistanis you know—they want to date with English girls but they don’t let their girls date. I was the guest of the BCCI. They sent a driver to take me around. And he was weeping. I asked, what is the problem? He said my girls have grown up and they’ve started dating. So he sent them here to Karachi when they came to Karachi they could not stay for more than two days. The neighbors made their lives hell. Now what we should do is—look at my daughter she was totally free, she was going to the Aga Khan school. She was not dating anybody out of her own choice. She was not interested. It is difficult. It is like a pul sarat—It is said about pul sarat –it is the Middle way, the difficult way—sharper than a sword and narrower than a hair. Bal sey zaida bareek aur talwar sey zaida tez. To make a synthesis is very difficult. So our worry that modern institutions involve difficulties and problems is quite right. But to come to the conclusion that we will not accept them that we will keep to our own institutions, taking for example Purdah—although it is quite—-Purdah never made the Muslim community chaste or moral. On the other hand it was a highly immoral society with this difference that the women were controlled but the men were not controlled. Syed Ahmed’s father, himself took him to the Tawaifa’s (courtesan) house.

MH: Was it considered a refinement for young men?

AH: yes—-yes–It was the norm—And ah—every house had concubines. Every rich house, there were four or wives—Imagine the atmosphere of the house in which there were four wives.

MH: Imagine the expenses!

AH: Don’t—-Forget the expenses. The disasterous moral consequences-it was like living in the middle of Krukhetha—(reference to Mahabhartha?)—–there was continuous warfare. And imagine the moral cruelty on a boy or a girl who sees that the father has four concubines. Bandiyan (concubines). Kya. (what). It was not moral. If you want to really know the picture of the Muslim society (in India)—read Alif Laila—it is a true picture, a mirror of society in the 8th and 9th century. It is not a moral society. Alright?

MH. Uh- huh.

Fazal Noor: Dr. Sahab—in this transfer of institutions-is it just that the borrower is not expecting these institutions or is it also that the west is not letting go of or passing on transferring all the institutions?

AH: You see it is not just a uniform direction, it is staged—The Japanese, have made a very good synthesis, they have made a beautiful thesis of their communal solidarity and their samurai spirit—and they compete with the West and they are no less—no more weaker than let say Germany. It is vaid—55 to 100 years ago they were like us. They were in great trouble. They are there. Behind them are coming more Confucius families—take Hong Kong—take Korea—and now coming in a big way is China on this scale. It is technology plus institutions. About institutions, it’s not a simple copy it is never a copy—It’s an adaptation but there is a basic change of attitude instead of traditionalism and conservatism it is innovation. That is the train of thought. The essence of that train of thought is not this or that institution but the willingness to change as opposed to no change. The Islamic formula is ——basically Innovation is a disaster. It is an error. Every innovation is an error. And follow the Sunna.

MH: In the Koran?

AH: This is fiqah.

MH: This is fiqah but it is not in the Koran.

AH: Well…

MH: Is it in the Koran?

AH: No it is not in the Koran.

MH: Well anything else—which is not in the Koran….

AH: No this is not in the Koran but this is a quotation “Sab ka Babul Ishtehad”—they don’t believe in innovation or making changes is closed. This is the fundamental principle of the Ahle Sunnah.

MH: This must’ve been said by some guy who came up with—-

AH: No it is a saying by Imam Ahmed Hunbal—Sab ka babul ishtehad—and as far as the Koran is concerned, you have to as far as the philosophers want to interpret that God cannot have hands God cannot have a sip of water, God cannot have a face, –we cannot be resurrected in our own bodies, we cannot have houris and all that—this is allegory then Imam Hunbal says No. God has hands. Accept everything that the Koran says, bila khaifa—without asking how?

MH: This is not the Koran.

AH: Arey!!!

MH: Isn’t the very basis of the Koran, thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis….that the thesis has arrived with thousands of prophets but we humankind keep getting it wrong…..and then you have the anti thesis—Jesus Christ on the cross, etc…..

AH: Don’t deceive yourself. That is not the thesis of the Koran. The Koran is the foundation of a great religion. Lays down the condition that these laws are eternal—there will be no change—

MN: Yes…

AH: And—some jurists, already there have been some variations…The majority community has been the most conservative on these things—the Asna Ashari—they gave some authority to the Imam—the imam could change—because according to the Asna Asharis—there could be many more changes. And their mushtahids have a lot more authority. Then the Fataimids—the Ismailis, they have taken authority—their Imam is also the Koran e Nadir—He can say—so –they don’t sit and pray like the other Muslims. They don’t even call—umm—they call it the Jamaat Khana. It is not called Masjid. They’ve changed everything. And the Imam has the right. For instance the Imam can say—the girls should go to school, he has kept that Ayat of the Koran.

MN: So you think that is one of the reasons why the AKRSP (the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in the North of Pakistan) succeeded in the Northern Areas?

AH: No, no. AKRSP succeeded because we followed certain principles, fundamental principles. Its quite wrong because you will find very little difference between the Sunni, and the Shi’a and the Aga Khanis. There are some differences.

MH: You know when one is presenting the AKRSP model—many times the ……

AH: Another problem is the rights of women, the subjugation of women. Out of that has arisen the break up of the family. The disintegration of the family……..In the Muslim community for instance they say that the prophet and the Koran has given more rights to women then any nation has. They don’t want to discuss the problem. What a great handicap Purdah is. What a great injustice we are doing. Today we have—Zohra yad hey—Zohra Rizvi—Do you remember Zohra—

MN: Jee—Yes.

AH: She was saying that she had a cousin. Ten years ago she was married to a mushtahid..

MN: Zohra Rizvi who does the financial accounting…

AH: Han-Han—yes-yes. Ten years ago her cousin was married, and he was a leader, a mushtahid, and a big maulvi and she was working as a phone operator in Philips company. First thing he did was put her in Purdah—job finished, put her in purdah—four children in ten years. And now she has gone to London because of his other wife—and he refuses to give her a talagh—a divorce. And that woman Zohra was saying after ten years in purdah she is totally lost. She doesn’t know how to take it. And the youngest child is only one and half years old. This is your Islamic community. But they will not discuss their problems.

MN: You can’t blame Islam if one person is a criminal.

AH: One person? I will give you ten thousand cases like it!

MN. Yeah but you can’t blame Islam! Can you?

AH: It is the Islamic community.

MN: Its bad toilet training!

AH: Ha. No. This is the result. This is Islamic law. That Mualvi, that mushtahid, he was following what was said by Imam Jafar—he was following the fiqah Jafria. And Imam Jafar was doing what the prophet had said. The prophet had overturned—in the Jahlia, it was that polyandry a woman could have five husbands….the woman was totally free. It was a matriarchal society. And he overturned it. He took away the right of five husbands and reversed it and put it on its head. Put the women in Purdah. When Imam Jafar says put your women in purdah and do not let them go out of the house—he is following the Koran. (recites from the Koran). Do you know Arabic.

MN: No—I don’t know Arabic.

AH: Ya Nisa Nabi—God is addressing the wives of the Prophet—Qurna we bayut e Kuna. You wives of the prophet, you stay inside your house. Wala Tabarna. Don’t go out. Oh wives of the prophet, stay in your houses, don’t go out of your houses as you used to do in jahliya. Now look at Hazrat Kadija how she lived. He was an employee of Hazrat Kadija and she had businesses everywhere. But he overturned it. (Recites in Arabic). This is the ideology of the Koran. The men are appointed guardians and supervisors of the women because God has made men superior to women biologically and economically. This is the ideology of the Koran…….(looks at my face..) I don’t want to disturb you.

MN: No I’m not disturbed I’m just afraid that we are video-taping you! That is what I’m afraid of.

AH: If you play this to a Muslim audience…..

Ami: There is nothing wrong in it……..

AH: You are not playing it to a Muslim audience…

MN: No but I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize you.

AH: Aach—then cut it out—why do you ask me these questions.

MN: There are so many ignorant people around that they might.

AH: I’ve already been prosecuted for blasphemy and just escaped being hanged by the skin of my teeth. Will you go and hang me?

MN: I agree with what you are saying completely.

AH: You know my job is to analyze. Don’t ask me—I don’t go preaching around….

MN: No, I agree with you.

AH: But these are the topics! If the Chinese had not opposed tying of feet—and If Gandhi had not attacked the untouchability the Hindus would not have risen. I don’t want to be a Muslim preacher. My misfortune is that I have studied Islamic history, Islamic fiqah, and Islamic lectures, I take this quite seriously. As you see I am quite optimistic about the positive aspect—I have noted that the ideological basis of Muslims is quite good.

MH: One has only to look at what you have achieved in Orangi-to know this.

AH: 87% of schools there are co-ed.

MH. And our last question you had mentioned that you were influenced by ancient sages..

AH: By ancient sages I mean, if you read that carefully its like this, to give you one example, let’s begin from here…I firmly believe that what the Chinese philosophers like Confucius, what Socrates said about moral behavior, what Confucius said about social behavior and political behavior, what the Buddha said about spiritual behavior, from my child—-from my boyhood I’ve been reading these things and I firmly believe and follow. The moral behavior, Socrates says, that live simply and think highly. Reduce your needs and live an intellectual life. I follow that. I believe that this is true. Similarly even in Islam I follow the principle of sufis. But on my mother’s knee I learned that when the prophet entered his house he became an ordinary person. He did not order anybody about. He worked in the kitchen. I follow that. I do not dictate, I do not demand, ask my wife, Farida is a witness. Do I..

His wife: This is completely correct. Its been such a long marriage and never has he asked me to fetch him even a glass of water.

AH: And I’m quite willing to work. This is what I mean. All this, you should be kind, you should try to Nikolaigrundtvig1843-406serve other people, you should not demand services. This Is with regard to moral and spiritual. I believe in the ancient sages. But when it comes to development, I’ve found, I’ve written that in our case we have more to learn from Raiffeisen or Bishop Grundtvig then we do from modern experts. What I’m doing in Orangi is you know more like what Raiffeisen did in Germany in 15th -16th century. You know my role models are Raiffeisen and Bishop Grundtvig—Bishop Grundtvig did this, Denmark had been defeated—they lost a lot of their country to Sweden—They were rich because they were supplying wheat to the industrialized England of that time. In the Prairies, the Americans had started growing wheat—and the steam ship was invented and they dumped all the grain in England and Denmark lost its weak market, they were economically destroyed, they were politically destroyed. Then Bishop Grundtvig came along and with his cooperatives and they taught them alright your wheat is no longer required, go into Dairy. Within thirty years they regained again… these are the people who guide me. This is what happens. I study them. I studied Socrates and Plato and Confucius and Buddha and Al Ghazali and Rumi. For my moral and spirituality—similarly I studied how Germany was rescued from the money lenders or the Danish farmers became prosperous through cooperatives.

Fazal Noor: Dr. Sahab have you tried to apply the cooperatives principle here.

AH: I tried not only to apply it but successfully apply it in Comilla. But here I believe in the modern principle of Ishtehad—because the cooperatives have failed. And they have to discover a new shape in Pakistan on account of our own misdoings—the cooperatives system was destroyed as soon as Pakistan was established—-Punjab had one of the strongest cooperatives system in India. Rural cooperatives, rural banks and so had Bengal. Bengal and Punjab were in British times were far ahead in cooperative organizations. Pakistan destroyed them. How? Because unfortunately, cooperatives depend on idealism. If you don’t have people who are willing to sacrifice, like me, their personal advantages cooperatives don’t flourish. Cooperatives simply become an instrument of ——Most of the idealists, 99% of the idealists were Hindus and Sikhs and were driven away.

MN. This leads me to ask you We are talking about idealists and self sacrifice and we are living in a world of market forces, privatization, sustainability, profit making—how do we—How will we find a middle ground—On one hand we are talking about self sacrificing and institutions which have a different set of criteria and so then how does one—I mean what is wrong with self aggrandization—what is wrong with profit-making…after all sustainable institutions only last through profit making because they need to be able to pay for themselves and expand.

AH: There is nothing wrong with the profit motive. There is nothing wrong with earning a living. There is nothing wrong with having a business. There is nothing wrong with seeking promotion—except that it can be exaggerated to such an extent that it becomes a—absurdum—All politics in a way is a way a pork barrel distribution—but if you make it like it is in Pakistan—then it becomes unworkable. How? We had a —-my father was a police inspector and he had a rule that he would never take a bribe. At the same time he had seven children, he was always in debt and he was always in trouble, but he had two principles: never take a bribe and never flatter any son of a bitch. So he never got any promotion and he was in trouble. Our neighbor—his wife was a close friend of my mother. She was a very fine lady—I remember her so well—she used to always tell me mother: You are a fool! Your husband is a fool. And my mother used to say: Why? It is wrong to take bribes, it is wrong to flatter, it Is wrong to seek promotions like that—and her answer was: yes, it is wrong if you make it like wheat flour in salt, but if it is like salt in wheat flour. —If it is controlled then it’s alright. Now if they behave in the United States like they have been behaving here then the system will break down. Look at what they are doing here! Look at Asif Zaradari what he is doing.

MN: do you think this doesn’t happen there—or that it is nothing compared to what happens here.

AH: There is dishonesty there, there is selfishness there, it is still within bounds. But here all bounds have been broken. All the cooperatives have been destroyed. The function of the cooperative was to help the poor man. No poor man is helped. There is a cooperative society, Fishermen Cooperative Society which was established in British times and which was helping the fishermen, it is even today—literally crores of rupees. Charges six rupees from each fisherman for each fish transaction but the fisherman are not getting any loans and the Jamotes have Pajeros and they distribute money here and they build a school and a community hall from which fifty percent of the money will be stolen. If they started behaving like this in England or the United States the country would go to pieces in ten years. So this is what is wrong—there always was—-people were always selfish—they were always rearing families, earning wealth—but there always was a small number of idealists. Do you think in the British times everybody was honest? No. But there were teachers who spent all their lives living on 100-200 rupees. And it is they who brought about the liberation of the country. There were cooperatives in which for twenty years of thirty years they worked without stealing anything and the cooperative became strong. There were always people like me but in much larger numbers. I am the last of the dinosaurs.

MN: Where were they?

AH: Everywhere. But mostly Hindus. But there were Muslims too.

MN: In the civil service?

AH: They were in non government colleges, in non government schools, they were in government schools, government colleges, they were in the cooperatives, secretaries of cooperatives, chairmen of cooperatives, like Nausherwanjee, the chairman of the—the Mayor of Karachi—they did not sleep—they went around looking at sanitation, seeing that garbage is removed, lots and lots of them. But when Pakistan came—the worst thing we did was to drive away the Hindus and the Sikhs-in Bengal also—unfortunately we could not drive away all the Hindus from Bengal—so they helped the Bengali Muslims to free themselves from Pakistan.

MN: And the last question is what role did the Indian civil service play in shaping your world view and your management style and organization style.

AH: I’ll put it like this you know . I am a composite personality. My overall concern has been moral and spiritual. There my main source of teaching was Rumi, the Islamic sufi Al Ghazali. They are my real teachers. You know I’ve been reading Rumi from the age of fifteen. And I read Rumi like somebody takes opium, for hours and hours. I wanted to follow what he was saying. He is my leader. My teacher— Sufism. Then I found Al Ghazali, for that I studied Arabic. Then I found Tolstoy. He said don’t live luxuriously, work very hard, live simply, that was also what Socrates was saying, that was what Buddha was also saying. These are my teachers, moral and spiritual. Then my mother has taught me the sayings of the prophet, that be kind, be gentle—although there are times I get very angry, irritated and so on but I try to be gentle and to be non-aggressive. This is the spiritual and moral part. The other part is professional.

AH: I took my training very seriously, I took my job very seriously as an Administrator. I went to Cambridge. I gave great attention to financial management, administrative management, to the reporting system to what they now call a participatory system—of mobilizing people—in this the British are my teachers

MN. In participatory development, the British are your teachers.

AH: No in the professional work, in administration, financial management, institutions building. Then I learned a great deal from the Ghandians how to—–Then I learned a great deal from the Americans, I’ve been there since 1954 . I’ve been to American Universities—I’ve studied all the development literature and I’ve also taught it. So I have four teachers, the Sufi teachers, Chinese, Buddhist, muslim; Tolstoy, I read even now I read very few books which I have selected, even now I read frequently, Tolstoy. I read Rumi. I read—I’ve just finished—- Then I read, um—I thoroughly understand the British Administrative system, I am an expert of their methods, the Gandhian methods, and whatever the Americans have to teach, I have learned to the best of my capacity. For instance the Americans are masters of this research and extension technique—I have studied very thoroughly what the land grant colleges have to teach. And what we are doing here (in Orangi Pilot Project and AKRSP) is the land grant approach—first find out what the problems are, do research, prepare a package of advise and then teach the people. This is how sanitation has been introduced this is how we are going to change the whole countryside. This is my fourfold—, moral, spiritual and professional—British, plus American plus Ghandian. Is that clear? Very confusing?

MN: No! That’s great. Dr. Sahab, thank you very much, aap ney humain bohath wakth deydiaya or app ko garmi mein bhi bhitaya—Sab ko bitha diya. You gave us so much of your time and we’ve made you sit in the heat—made everyone take the heat.

Other Writings by Maniza Naqvi (here)