After finishing my work and stopping by the museum I spent an afternoon at the Lahore Fort, the nearby mosques, then wandering through parts of the old town. That evening I had arranged to meet and be hosted by the brother of a friend, Aqib Mian.
Khalid snuck up next to me at our meeting point, in what I now assume to be typically under-stated Mian style. We jumped in his car, negotiated our way out of a parking-fine by organising to sort out the ticket wardens electricity (Khalid works at the state power company) and headed into the smog. The next 24 hours were a whirlwind of introductions, new clothes, food, and an all-expenses-paid-for (despite my protesting) tour of the sites in a minivan with Khalid’s brothers, sons, nephews. I really was overwhelmed by the attention, care and how out of their way they went to treat me. It is nothing like I have ever experienced, and may never experience again. But, definitely an experience I shall try to re-create for people who are my guests in Australia, in the future.
The Islamic mosques, shrines and sites we visited were remarkable, if only for the sense of reverence and peace that was communicated through everyone’s manner. I had quite a few questions, and given grandfather Mian’s role as an Islamic preacher and leader, the guys were well able to answer many of my questions. Through the day my interest in Islam was noted and appreciated, so much so that they bought me half a dozen books on the topic from Iran’s leading Islamic publisher. When wandering inside the store (oblivious to the fact they were stocking up on books for me), I was struck by the different perspective from the Islamic material I had seen in the UK. Especially with regards to women. The material in the UK was aimed at showing the congruence between modern values and the role and treatment of women. However in Iran, there were a number of books that were not apologetic or seeking to explain, rather providing material for men wanting reference material to justify strict guidance of women’s roles, dress or behaviour. But, that was just my impression from 5 minutes in a bookshop, not conclusions based on actual in-depth knowledge of Islam or Iranian culture!
That night, I sort of got the ‘hard word’ from some of my hosts regarding the the primacy of one god. While they had shown interest in meditation, and some of my perspectives, I suspect only one amongst them actually had an open mind regarding the potential for multiple perspectives on Truth, which is not unexpected. I listened to the one-god ideas, where some effort was put into contrasting this with the ‘crazy’ Hindu belief in many gods, which can not be sensible because there must be ‘one administrator’ to keep things running (just like you need the man to administer the house, you can’t have two bosses!). While I re-interpreted and accepted their invitation to consider this central religious question often (daily, I suggested) I was pretty clear with them that I would not be pursuing Islamic studies. This seemed to cause everyone around the table some sadness, and for some seemed to suggest that our relationship would not really be going any further…
Lying in bed that night, I was starting to get annnoyed by their insistence on this perspective, especially in light of their absolutely minimal experience of any culture or belief system other than their own. But this is not unusual, it is probably the most common paradigm (that there is only one perspective) on earth, actually. And, by morning, I was more comfortable with what was happening, and felt safe in the knowledge that there was no risk of them changing my mind. I hoped, and it turned out to be true, that the conversations and relationships with them would only be enriched by me providing honest responses.
The next morning, I felt fresher and happier about engaging with it all. And, when left alone in the living room, decided to investigate the laughter in the kitchen. I had previously been quietly discouraged from venturing into. Two ‘servants’ and mum were laughing away. In the three days of being there, I had not been introduced to Mum, but her English was actually fantastic, and the two girls delightful. Mum is actually the first cousin of Dad, an arranged marriage that occurred prior to the risks of such unions being well-recognised. 90% of marriages in Pakistan are arranged, though I think there is a slightly After that, everything felt a bit more relaxed and I really enjoyed the extended tour of the city, relatives (including some UK-based cousins heading to Mecca two days later), though Mum did spend most of the time waiting in the car.
There are many more stories from those two days, including witnessing the fantastic Wagah border ceremony. But, I won’t be forgetting them, so you can ask me more about it anytime ; ) Number one thing to say is that the Pakistani people are warm, friendly, and have taught me some real life-lessons about family and relationships. Pakistan has fantastic food and it is an incredibly interesting place. And, it is different, so don’t go there expecting a liberal, unpolluted, wealthy and progressive culture.
Below is a slideshow with the best photos (with captions) from Tehran:
If the slideshow is not showing up, view at this link