Pakistan: Music centres threatened by religious extremists

10 March 2007
 “Close within three days – or you will be blown away”.
A campaign launched by a religious leader against listening to music has taken a dangerous turn in Swat Valley of North-West Frontier Province, reports our correspondent from Pakistan, who on 4 March 2007 met with the clerk and his council in Imam Dheri Village to discuss the issue about prohibition of music in Islam

By Marvaiz Khan, Freemuse’s correspondent reporting from Mingora
Photos by Sherinzada


Maulana Fazlullah supporters attacked the local police station and broke pans of police vehiclesAfter burning tv sets, video equipment and computers in the most scenic valley of Swat in north-west Pakistan, some unidenitified extremist religious groups have distributed phamplets and letters warning propieters of music centres to close down their shops within three days – otherwise they will be blown away.

Locals say that Dawat-Elal-khair (Invitation to Virtue) – an unidentified religious group – has issued phamplets and handwritten letters in Kabal area of Swat and Katlang area of district Mardan warning music centres’ owners to abide by the principles of Islam and close down their businesses.

The letter states:
“All music centres, CD centres and internet cafes’ owners are hereby informed to find another business for themselves within three days and repent for their evil actions, otherwise their shops will be blown away with bombs”.

Second part of the letter warns all school-going girls and their teachers to make sure that they will be wearing an Islamic veil within seven days – otherwise their schools will be bombed.

In the third part of the letter the radical group advises the government servants, especially the police, to support it in its war against the present evil system:

“If you can not support us then never try to come in our way because opposing us is similar to opposing the teachings of the Holy Quran”, the letter reads.

In another letter, an ultimatum of ten days has been given to the headmistress of the Government Girls High School Kabal in Swat for the complete observance of Islamic veil by both the girls students and their teachers.

Mujahadeen group in Bajaur

It merits a mention here that on 26 February 2007 a little known organisation in the Pakistani tribal region of Bajaur, the Mujahadeen Bajaur, distributed pamphlets in different areas of the tribal region situated on the Pakistan-Afghan border calling on audio-video stores and drivers of public transport to stop playing music in their vehicles, and on 3 March 2007 bombs damaged two music stores in Inayat Kalay of Bajaur Agency.

Bajaur is a tribal agency under the central government and situated close to the settled districts of Dir and Swat. Residents of Swat say that the extremists religious views regarding music and Islamic veil are now spreading from the tribal belt into the relatively liberal district of Swat.

“Swat is known as the Switzerland of the East. It is a tourist spot and rich in the centuries old Buddhist cultural heritage. It is just like a paradise. The majority of the people in the area are liberal in their thoughts, and peaceful in their day-to-day lives. In short, this talibanisation process will destroy our tourism activities, and our future too,” Zafaryab, professor in a local college, told Freemuse.

Police played the role of silent spectatorsNew fear

District Police Officer Swat Yamin Khan told journalists that protection of people’s lives and property was his department’s responsibility and it had deployed special teams in different areas of the district to counter any such action by the extremist religious groups.

But Sher Khan, a music centre owner in Mingora Bazar, said that law enforcement authorities had completely failed to provide protection to music business in the province.
“Just imagine that the six-party religious government has closed the doors of Nishtar Hall, the sole recreation centre in the province, for music shows and performances.Every morning when we open eyes we see a new threat, a new warning and face a new fear”, he said.

Many people in the area believe that the talibanisation of Waziristan has now spread over into other parts of the North-West Frontier Province, where the extremists have formed militias to enforce their version of Islam and Islamic justice akin to the toppled hard-line regime in Afghanistan: Barbers are warned not to shave beards, local citizens are prohibited from playing music, even at weddings, or watching tv. Women are barred from leaving their homes on their own. Defiance is punishable by heavy fines – and bombs.

Sources of sin

According to the clerk Maulana Fazlullah, he burnt tv sets, video equipment, computers and digital cameras worth 20 million rupees because, as he says, “these are the main sources of sin”. The Maulana and his shura (council) met with Freemuse in Imam Dheri Village on 4 March 2007, and discussed the issues about prohibition of music.

The Maulana said that earlier the government promised that it would establish a system governed by Islamic Shariah (Islamic Law), but it had broken its promise.

“Now we have no other option but to reorganise our movement and work for a society purged of all types of evils including music, dancing and and drinking alcohol”, he reiterated and maintained that music is strictly forbidden in Islam and those who support it are “friends of the devil”.

“We have no authority on the government but we have the power to motivate people to discourage music and burn their tv sets and video recorders,” he added.

‘Music is part of our culture’

Obviously, not all people of the area agree with the Maulana that they are friends of the devil because they like music. To dance and sing is an integral part of Pashtun culture and traditions. Sher Alam Shinwari, a young Pashtun writer, said that music could not be separated from Pashtuns’ cultural life:

“Tappas – a genre of Pashto folk literature – has been composed by Pashtun women, and Tappa is the most popular form of Pashtu singing. When Pashtuns come together in their harvest fields, first they arrange for Dool Surna (Musical Instruments) and then start their work,” Shinwari elaborated. He added that Pashtun Hujra (a Pashtun social club that exists in every village) was incomplete without Rabab Mangai (traditional Pashtun instruments).

“I cannot possibly comprehend why our religious people are so against music. Actually they want to kill our spirit and snatch our joys”, said Sher Alam.

After his release from Police, the extremist religious clerk adressed a huge protest rally of his supporters.The Maulana adressed the crowd from a horse back and is not visible in this photoPhotographer beaten

It is difficult to get any photos of the extremist religious groups and their demonstrations because similar to Taliban, the Maulana and his supporters are deadly against being photographed. The photos on this page are taken with a mobile phone. A camera man who dared more openly to film a demonstration that took place on 2 March 2007 had to “face the consequences”, as supporters of the clerk beat him up and smashed his camera to pieces. Then they took him away, and kept him in a house for three hours.

Shaheen Buneri, Bureau Chief of the channel, told Freemuse that when they saw that Taj Rehman was holding a camera they attacked him, beating him with their feet and fists. Taj Rehman is a camera man of AVT Khyber – a Pashto language private tv channel.

“In the critical hour I called him on his mobile, but when his mobile rang they snatched the mobile set from his hands and shouted at him”, Shaheen Buneri narrated. He added that in the night the supporters also attacked the office of the tv channel:

“They came in three vehicles and their heads covered. Holding wood sticks in their hands, in a very angry mood, they were asking us to come out and face their wrath.”

From his hospital bed, the severely injured Taj Rehman said that his tormentors kept him in a closed room, and tortured him by beating in his chest and head. They were crying and shouting at him and took him for being an American spy. “It was a nightmare for me. I was shocked and waiting for the ultimate end”, Taj Rehman explained.

A report was filed against Maualana Fazlullah’s supporters in Kanju Police Station but the police have yet to take any action in this regard.

Radio for God’s happiness

Though in his evening address on his illegally installed FM channel, Maulana Fazlullah condemned the torture of the journalist and promised to compensate the losses. But when he was contacted to fulfil his promise he said that he would talk to his ten members of the Shura (Council) and would decide the matter as per the Islamic laws.

Shaheen Buneri says that he contacted a key member of the Shura on phone about its decision but the Shura member only told him that the camera was a “source of sin”. Once it was broken he should not worry about it anymore and in future he should abide the principles of Islam.

Shaheen Buneri replied: “Look, Maulana Sahib, the thing which you consider as a source of sin, is a source of virtue for me. I highlight people’s problems through it and find solutions for them.”

The Maulana mumbled a reply and disconnected the phone.

Shaheen Buneri has demanded protection for journalists working in the area as the hardliner religious groups in the area are hostile to almost every form of media and consider them against their narrow approach towards Islam. Locals say that Maulana Fazlullah is against every form of entertainment.

The irony is that listening to his own FM channel is considered Islamic and a source of God’s happiness. By discouraging tv and video, he hopes to increase his amount of listeners,” said Sher Ali, a resident of the area.

Related articles in the media

Asia Times – 14 March 2007:

‘Beards – and polio – in Taliban country’
   By Ashfaq Yusufzai in Peshawar

International Herald Tribune – 14 March 2007:

‘Islamic militants increasingly targeting Pakistan’

Google News – continuously updated:

Search ‘Taliban’ + ‘music’
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