Lahore’s iconic mosque stood witness to two historic moments where tolerance gave way to brutality

On the morning of January 5, 2011, as the body of slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was placed in the grounds of the palatial Governor’s House in the heart of Lahore, there was much confusion over who would offer his funeral prayers.

Earlier, the federal government led by the Pakistan People’s Party, with whom Taseer was associated, had requested the Badshahi Mosque’s khateeb─ one who delivers the sermon during Friday and Eid prayers ─ to lead the prayer.

At the last minute however, the khateeb, who happens to be a government employee, refused. Another khateeb from the mosque within the Governor’s House was eventually brought in.

Even though he didn’t say as much, the khateeb of the Badshahi Mosque was likely responding to the calls of the leading ulema (scholars of Islam), to boycott the funeral procession terming Taseer a blasphemer and hisNamaz-i-janaza, or funeral prayers, un-Islamic.

In this way, the Badshahi Mosque, through its khateeb, decided to side with Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer’s killer and the face of a new kind of religious extremism in the country. Qadri, Taseer’s body guard, had assassinated the governor for opposing the country’s blasphemy law. History was repeating itself. For, centuries ago, it was this very mosque that had become a symbol of rising intolerance and religious fanaticism across the peninsula of undivided India.

Laying the ground

Facing the Lahore Fort, the mosque, with its tall minarets and bulbous dome, is a major tourist attraction. The adjacent food street with rooftop restaurants overlooking the courtyard of the mosque is a must-visit. Unaware of its historical context, many visitors consider it a symbol of Lahore and its Mughal past.

However, the mosque is also linked to the gruesome and blood history of the subcontinent.

Towards the end of his stint as the Lahore governor from 1646 to 1657, Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and the crown prince, summoned red bricks from Jaipur.

He sought to build a pathway from the Lahore Fort, the bastion of the Mughal empire, which would lead halfway across the city to the shrine of the Sufi saint Mian Mir who had died in 1635. Mian Mir had a special place in the prince’s heart because Dara Shikoh’s spiritual master, Mullah Shah, was a disciple of the saint.

Embracing diversity

Like the Sufi saint, the prince also represented a syncretistic Islam, diabolically opposed to the literal and puritanical form of the religion that was to be espoused by his younger brother Aurangzeb ─ who would eventually defeat him to the throne and go on to become Emperor of India.

In his lifetime, Dara Shikoh translated about 50 Upanishads ─ sacred Hindu texts – from Sanskrit to Persian, making them accessible to Muslim scholars. In his famous work, Majma-ul-Bahrain, he talks about the similarities between Sufi and Vedantic philosophies. He is also believed to be a close friend of seventh guru of Sikhism, Guru Har Rai, who had promised him military assistance against brother Aurangzeb in the impending war of succession.

Mian Mir, on the other hand, was a close friend of Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh guru, and came to his rescue when he was being persecuted by Mughal authorities. Under Dara Shikoh, one can argue that the Mughal throne was heading towards embracing not only religious tolerance but also religious pluralism, which had been shunned by both Shahjahan and before that, Jahangir, at various points for political expediency.

Now protected by a fortress-like wall the shrine of Mian Mir is a modest structure, standing in a spacious courtyard, brimming with pilgrims through the day. The wall seems to be a recent addition, given the security threats that Sufi shrines face from the onslaught of militant Islamism.

Facing the wall of the shrine on a vacant plot is the mausoleum of Nadira Begum, the consort of Dara Shikoh. The alignment of the two mausoleums is such that the grave of the princess begins from where that of Mian Mir ends ─ symbolic of her head being at his feet.

Another Lahore icon associated with Dara Shikoh is the Naulakha bazaar, which falls between the Railway station and the historic Walled City or Old City of Lahore. Now a congested locality dominated by ironsmiths and wholesale traders, this was once a spacious garden ─ one of the many built in the Mughal era that gave Lahore its epithet, “city of gardens”.

Dara Shikoh is believed to have constructed a pavilion at the centre of this garden at the cost of Rs9 lakh ─ thereby giving the locality its name.

The pathway that never was

As Lahore governor, Dara Shikoh once again brought funds into the city and embellished it even though the Mughal capital had shifted from Lahore to Shahjahanabad in Delhi during his father’s rule.

Lahore, at this point, stood the risk of becoming a Mughal outpost, but it was due to the efforts of Dara Shikoh that it remained in the political imagination. It is this love and loyalty of their prince that the people of Lahore repaid after his assassination.

Before Dara Shikoh could complete his pathway from Lahore to the shrine of Mian Mir, he was captured and killed by Aurangzeb’s men.

Aurangzeb ordered that a mosque be constructed out of the pile of red stones that Dara Shikoh had summoned for the task. The act itself symbolises the political and religious realignment of the city ─ whereas a Sufi shrine symbolised syncretism, the mosque was symbolic of religious orthodoxy.

This is how the iconic Badshahi mosque of Lahore came into existence. This was a portent of what was to come under the rule of the new emperor, who did not have much patience for the diverse religious traditions of India.

However according to folklore in the oral tradition, many Lahoris refused to offer their prayers here, saying the mosque was constructed on the body of their prince, Dara Shikoh.

These stories have now been forgotten and Badshahi mosque has been wholeheartedly embraced by the people of Lahore. However, in 2011, the mosque was at the forefront of another controversy regarding the murder of another governor of Lahore, who, like his Mughal predecessor, was one of the few remaining progressive politicians in the country.

Just like Dara Shikoh’s death at the hands of Aurangzeb was a watershed event in the history of Mughal India, representing the death of a syncretistic Mughal culture, the death of Taseer too represents the end of secular progressive politics.

With the way people came out in support of Mumtaz Qadri it became clear that the country had undergone a paradigm shift, in which the myth of the silent tolerant majority had been busted. Much has changed between the deaths of these governors. But the role of Badshahi Mosque remains the same.

Written by: Haroon Khalid

CPEC to reduce poverty, unemployment: PM Nawaz

ISLAMABAD: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will help regional countries in reducing poverty and to bring in durable peace, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Monday.

Addressing the inaugural session of the two-day CPEC Summit and Expo to enhance awareness about the ambitious project, Sharif said the project would not only serve as a “game-changer” for Pakistan, but also for entire region by helping it rid of deprivation and bringing peace and prosperity.

The prime minister termed it a “new concept in diplomacy” and said it would help in elimination of poverty and unemployment.

The premier said CPEC was not merely a strategic agreement, but culmination of a decade-long friendship between Pakistan and China. He said it was an advanced stage of relationship in the history of cooperation and collaboration between the two countries on issues of global importance.

He said the two sides never left each other in times of distress and recalled Chinese assistance to Pakistan following the devastating earthquake in 2005 and floods in 2010.

He said during his visit to Pakistan, President Xi Jinping told the parliament that Pakistan stood by China when it was isolated. He said now China has reached out to the country when Pakistan stood economically isolated.

He termed the relationship between the two countries as “very special” and said the two countries have always supported each other at international fora and was based on basis of trust and honesty.

He termed CPEC most important initiative of 21st century and said it perfectly complements Pakistan’s vision 2025.

Sharif said Pakistan was an emerging economy and was rich in natural resources. He mentioned the highest GDP in last eight years, with best performing stock market, doubling of the foreign exchange reserves and improvement of security environment.

He said the economic value of the project was $46 billion dollars, however, the real impact was many times more and would have a longer lasting effect.

He said the project would not only improve Pakistan’s own infrastructure but would also provide it the much needed know how, knowledge and expertise in new technologies.

He said $35bn would be invested in energy sectors alone to produce 10400MW of electricity.

The project will benefit all regions of Pakistan equally including Gilgit Baltistan and remote areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, said the PM.

He described development of Gwadar as the “jewel project” of the entire CPEC, with its own power generation, road, rail and air links and said it would serve as a “model smart port city”.

The event was attended by Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal, Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Chairman Parliamentary Committee on CPEC Mushahidullah Khan, Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong and leading industrialists, ambassadors, businessmen.

The Summit held here at the Pakistan China Friendship Centre was hosted by Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform and marks the inking of historic $46bn CPEC project. It was inaugurated earlier in the day by the prime minister.

Stokes eager to bowl against Pakistan

LONDON: Ben Stokes is looking forward to giving England an extra bowling option as they go in search of a one-day international series-clinching win against Pakistan at Trent Bridge on Tuesday.

England will head to Nottingham 2-0 up with three to play after convincing wins at Southampton and Lord’s.

All-rounder Stokes has been involved in both those victories but as a batsman only after a calf problem prevented England one-day captain Eoin Morgan deploying him as a member of the hosts’ pace attack.

But the Durham star hopes to be firing on all cylinders come Tuesday’s day/night clash in the English Midlands.

“The plan from the start was to be fit and ready to bowl by the third ODI and by the way things are going it is looking likely I will be an option for Eoin in Nottingham if needed,” he said after Saturday’s four-wicket win at Lord’s.

“I have done all the prep to get myself fit and put my hand up to say I am ready to bowl.

“I’ve bowled for about 15 minutes flat out and all the build-up stuff I needed to do has been done, so if I am needed hopefully Eoin will ask.”

An outstanding fielder, the 25-year-old Stokes said not been able to bowl had proved a frustrating experience.

“It’s so boring. Honestly, it makes the fielding innings seem a lot longer because if you bowl 10 overs it kind of takes 20 overs out of the game for you,” he said.

“But I pride myself on my fielding as well and one thing that keeps me switched on the whole time is that I don’t want to give away any runs.

“I want to try and stop as many as possible – and applying myself to that has got me through the fact I am not bowling.

“But it’s nice to get that confidence from your captain and coach saying ‘we want you to play as a specialist batsman’ – so I have wanted to make sure I make some runs in these first two matches.

“I think that knowing I wasn’t going to bowl in these first two games I have worked longer on my batting in the buildup days in training.

“It’s been quite nice to solely concentrate on the batting side in these first two.”

England, whose 50-over cricket has improved markedly since their dismal first-round exit from last year’s World Cup, have so far dominated a Pakistan side who are a lowly ninth in the one-day international rankings.

But Stokes played down talk of a 5-0 whitewash by saying: “We could spill into dangerous territory if we start to think too far ahead.

“We have gone 2-0 up in the series because we have been playing the better cricket. If we were to think we have won it already and slip up on what we have been doing that could be the worst thing we could do.

“We haven’t won the series yet so. We’ve got the next one to do that, so we’ll still be trying to improve on these performances.”

Uber, Careem suspend services in UAE capital

ABU DHABI: Ride-hailing companies Uber and Careem have suspended services in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, since Saturday and do not know when they can resume operations, they said on Sunday.

The National, a UAE newspaper, quoted unnamed sources as saying that as many as 50 drivers for Uber and Careem had been arrested.

An Abu Dhabi source familiar with the situation told Reuters some drivers had been detained over violations of regulations, but did not specify how many drivers or describe the violations.

“This is a temporary suspension and we will let you know of any further updates,” an Uber spokesman in Dubai said via email. He did not respond to questions about the arrests or the reason for the suspension of services.

Christian Eid, vice-president of marketing and communications for Careem, a Dubai-based company, said many of its drivers were being stopped by authorities in Abu Dhabi, apparently over licensing issues, and as a result had become nervous and were staying off the roads. This had forced Careem to halt services there, he said.

The Abu Dhabi government’s Centre for Regulation of Transport by Hire Cars, which manages the taxi and transport sector, did not respond to queries.

The centre oversees about seven taxi operators and 18 limousine operators, some of which are partly government-owned.

Abu Dhabi police did not respond to requests for comment.

Uber and Careem said they had not suspended operations in neighbouring Dubai, the commercial and tourist hub of the UAE.

The emirate of Abu Dhabi has a population of about 2.8 million and Dubai has roughly 2.5 million.

Uber, which launched services in Abu Dhabi in 2013, said last year that the Middle East and North Africa contained some of its fastest-growing markets and that it planned to invest $250 million to expand in the region.

PTI files petition with Supreme Court seeking PM’s disqualification

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Monday filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from his office as well as the National Assembly.

The petition, a copy of which is available with, was filed by PTI’s counsel Naeem Bukhari on behalf of party chairman Imran Khan. It has been filed against 10 respondents, which include Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, sons and government institutions.

“We plea to the Supreme Court to review the evidence, documents and the contradictions, we have raised and provide justice to entire nation,” Naeem-ul-Haq, spokesperson to the PTI chairman, said.

Haq said his party believed that on basis of the evidence presented before the court, Nawaz Sharif was no more eligible to remain the prime minister.

PTI counsel Bukhari told reporters that they have submitted the petition with the apex court’s registrar office, which will decide if it is maintainable.

The PTI counsel claimed the petition was flawless and that it was enclosed with records of previous speeches made by Prime Minister Nawaz.

He also referred to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding disqualification of former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani, saying that the court “disqualified him because by violating law, he acted against the will of masses”.

“Justice Khawaja in his note had made it clear that if an elected prime minister violates the Constitution or law, it will be translating into acting against the will of people, so such a person could not retain the office or membership of an assembly,” Bukhari said.

He was of the view that on the same grounds, Nawaz was also not eligible to remain in office as “he acted against the will of masses by lying in the National Assembly”.

Bukhari told reporters that their petition is based on the prime minister’s May 16 speech delivered on the floor of the National Assembly. “A statement delivered on the floor of an assembly possesses prestige,” he said, adding that were a lot of contradictions between the facts and the claims made by Nawaz.