Kalash-Muslim coexistence signifies religious harmony

21 Jan, 2018

  .. by Zahiruddin
Kalash women dance during the Chilim Jusht festival. — Dawn
Kalash women dance during the Chilim Jusht festival. — Dawn

“Had it been true, today you would not have found me attired in this outfit,” Syed Gul points towards her typical Kalash dress when asked about the issue of forced conversion of Kalash people to Islam. An educated woman who studied archaeology in university and presently serving as supervisor in Chitral Museum, Ms Gul goes on to assert that she passed four years of her college life in a deeply religious Muslim family, but they did not talk to her about her Kalash religion. She added that none of her Muslim friends in the girls’ college ever discussed her religion and similar was the case when she studied in Hazara University.

About the contents of a recent report compiled by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) painting a bleak picture of Kalash people, she said that she did not know any single person who had been converted to Islam by force. She claimed that the other issues as discussed in the report pertaining to land settlement, basic human rights and oak forest ownership were all devoid of facts.

She praised the Muslim natives in the three Kalash valleys of Bumburate, Birir and Rumbur for their affable attitude towards Kalash people. She said that according to the last population census report, the strength of Kalash people stood at 3,800 compared to 12,000 of Muslims in all the three valleys, but the majority had never hindered their religious rituals.

Wazirzada Kalash, manager of Ayun and Kalash Valleys Development Programme, and Muhkamuddin, a former chairman of the organisation, insisted that if someone wanted to see the practical manifestation of interfaith harmony in its best form, the Kalash valleys were the best places to visit where Muslims and Kalash lived in an ideally peaceful atmosphere ensuring coexistence. They admitted the fact that the Kalash people were gradually decreasing in strength due to their conversion to Islam, but said the process could not be stopped due to the social environment.

Not a single complaint about forced conversion of Kalash has ever been reported in Chitral, says DPO Mansoor Aman

They said that in schools the Kalash and Muslim children intermingled and read the same syllabus from the same teacher and played in the same ground. “The Kalash children’s unwittingly adopting the norms of the Muslim majority starts from primary classes. They have to wear the dresses like the Muslims children in schools.”

Islamiyat is taught as a compulsory subject in the schools which moulds their inclination towards Islam. The co-education in the government middle schools of Rumbur and Birir valleys and the high school of Bumburate valley can also be counted as one of the factors in this regard, they said.

They regretted that the primary level schools for Kalash had been abolished which were set up many years ago in all the valleys and now Muslim children were also enrolled there. They said that at primary level the Kalash children must be given an exclusive environment along with teachers from their own community so that they might retain the essence of their religion and culture.

District education officer Ihsanul Haq confirmed that the students of both sexes and communities were taught in the same schools. He said that the subject of Ethics could not be started in the valley schools for Kalash students as the KP Textbook Board did not provide free textbooks. Regarding abolition of Kalash-specific primary schools, he said that it was unnecessary for the Kalash children to have a separate school.

About the issue of conversion, district police officer Mansoor Aman said that according to the police record, not a single complaint about forced conversion of Kalash had ever been reported. “Those Kalash who convert to Islam, exercised their constitutional right of changing religion.

There might be larger social and economic factors which influence their choice. There is no constraint on Kalash people in performing in their religious rituals. They can do their festivals and routine rituals with freedom and security,” Mr Aman said.

Wazirzada Kalash also said that the land settlement process had recently been completed in the district as per procedure of the department.

He said that the land settlement department informed the villagers to remain present in their lands at the time of demarcation and settlement and this was practiced in the valleys as well.

About the allegation of deprivation of Kalash from the local forest, he said that the forests in the valleys were being managed under the Forest Act 2002.

He said that Kalash lived side by side with Muslims in the valleys sharing the same facilities. “If Kalash in some locality was the sufferer of the lack of a certain facility, then his Muslim neighbour also did suffer and it had never happened that the Kalash were debarred from taking advantage of a certain facility in an area,” he said.

Syed Gul said that the Kalash felt themselves more secure than ever before as both their Muslim neighbours and the state agencies cared for them and no outsider could dare to intimidate them. She said that at present there were hundreds of Kalash girls enrolled in different colleges of the city while enrolment rate of Kalash children in the schools was nearly 100 per cent.

The Kalash exponents, however, suggested that Kalash children should be taught by teachers from their own community in separate schools up to primary level while the subject of Ethics should be taught to them in the middle and high classes instead of Islamiyat.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2018