Casting shadows of doubts over Pakistan’s future has been a favourite pastime of many ever since the country came into being and there has never been any dearth of pessimists who love to draw bleakest scenarios of Pakistan’s future. The so-called think-tanks in the West had even predicted, in their ‘research-based studies’, total chaos in the country; Pakistan becoming a failed state or even its disintegration in the first decade of the 21st century. A country — the most allied ally of the West — that came into being against all odds and survived against all odds has yet again managed to survive beyond the deadline given by our western well-wishers. Of late, some Western scholars have become more careful and they talk about only the near-future of Pakistan, say five to seven years, and are kind enough to vaguely say that in the near-future the country might “muddle along” in the same manner as it did in the past.
But, strangely enough, there have always been some people, no matter how few, who have had great confidence in this country’s future, which has generally not looked much promising. Aside from the common Pakistanis, the bunch of these optimists includes some mystics and saints, too. Interestingly, some websites have been posting predictions about the country’s bright future on the basis of prophecies attributed to a Sufi saint named Shah Ne’matullah Vali. Shah Sahib’s ‘qaseedas’, or panegyric odes, that have recently become hugely popular again are known for their prophecies. Just as symbolic and as arcane as the predictions by Nostradamus, these poems forecast, according to some interpreters, among other things, Pakistan would not only become a prosperous country but one that leads the world. Sounds too good to be true? Well, maybe.
Mumtaz Mufti, one of Urdu’s prominent fiction writers of the 20th century, had turned to mysticism during the latter part of his life. Mufti Sahib had always been very confident about Pakistan’s bright future. His optimism was based on some spiritual experiences and prophecies of some Sufis he was in touch with. When Dr Najeeba Arif, International Islamic University’s faculty member, carried out a research on Mumtaz Mufti’s life and works, the mystical dimension of Mufti’s life, too, came under her probe. In her doctoral dissertation, Dr Arif had brought under discussion this aspect of his life and works. Now she has come up with a research paper that discusses the prophecies about Pakistan based on Shah Ne’matullah Vali’s predictions.
Published in ‘Mabahis’, a new Urdu research journal from Lahore and edited by Prof (Dr) Tehseen Firaqi, the paper’s title can be translated as ‘Pakistan: a dreamland for South Asian Muslims or a failed state, a recent scholastic perspective of Shah Ne’matullah Vali’s prophecies’.
She begins her paper with some deliberations of the international conference on Pakistan held in Italy in May 2010. Delegates from 16 countries participated in the conference and all but one said that Pakistan was a failed state. The only delegate who disagreed with the view was a former diplomat, Tariq Fatemi. He later admitted to Dr Arif in an interview that he did not have enough evidence to prove his optimism about Pakistan’s future.
Trying to find a balanced approach towards the issue of Pakistan’s future, she reminds the readers of the forecasts posted on different websites and then refers to a paper by a renowned scholar, Prof C.M. Naim, who has been associated with the Chicago University for long.
Titled ‘Prophecies in South Asian Muslim discourse: the poems of Shah Ne’matullah Vali’, Prof Naim’s paper has appeared in an Indian research journal and he has shown doubts about the genuineness of Shah Ne’matullah’s poems. These poems not only predict that a new era of peace and prosperity is to dawn soon but, according to some interpretations, Pakistan is to become a super power. The prophecies include one that says Islam would be revived and Muslims would conquer India. Prof Naim thinks that these versified predictions, originally in Persian and translated into Urdu, surfaced first during the upheaval of 1857 (to encourage those who were fighting against the British forces) and again when political and economic situation deteriorated in Pakistan. The recent reemergence of these predictions shows, according to him, that all is not well in Pakistan and these verses have been used for ulterior motives in the past too. He alleges that the reemergence of these predictions might have been a work of Pakistan’s armed forces. His paper drew sharp reaction and criticism on websites and blogs.
Some 20 years ago, a booklet titled ‘Azeem paishingoiyaan’ (great predictions) containing Shah Ne’matullah’s predictions was published from Karachi, too, and this writer has a photocopy of that booklet. Even if the verses are genuine, the Urdu translation and the interpretations seem wishful. But attributing a renewed general interest in them to Pakistan’s armed forces is so far-fetched that one wonders how a veteran scholar like C.M. Naim can believe in it. Dr Arif has tried to trace the tradition of these forecasts, and the ones attributed to some other mystics, and then tried to figure out how authentic these poems are and whether there are sources other than Shah Sahib’s predictions about the great future of Pakistan that we all dream of.
She has first established the facts about the life of Shah Ne’matullah Vali (C.1329-1431) with historical sources and says that Shah Sahib was not only a well-known and revered Sufi saint but he founded a ‘silsila’ (an order of dervishes). He was a prolific writer and a poet, too. His divan was published from Tehran but more popular are his verses that contain predictions. She then quotes E.G. Browne, who confirms that Shah Sahib’s poems are “couched in the prophetic strain” and they “still exercise a certain influence”. Browne had visited Shah Ne’matullah’s mausoleum in Kirman and reproduced in his book the famous poem that consists of 50 couplets and contains predictions. Dr Arif also tells us that different versions of the poem containing slightly different text also exist. Prof Naim thinks some couplets were added later. Dr Arif has reproduced the entire poem from authentic sources and has given a gist of its meanings. But there are other poems too that have additional predictions. She then reveals that the authenticity of some of the poems may be questionable.
Dr Arif then narrates the visions and dreams of different Sufis, all of which point to a brilliant future for Pakistan. But the paper finishes with a message for her fellow Pakistanis: we must work hard and show a character that justifies the great Pakistani dream.
Now a few words about the magazine ‘Mabahis’ that carries the article: as it is edited by Dr Firaqi who is known for his meticulousness and a knack for perfection, one can well imagine the high standard that he has set from the very first issue.