Najeeb Al-Zamil: 'Saudis Need Attitude Adjustment'


By Siraj Wahab

Published in Arab News on Thursday, October 22, 2009

Well-known columnist, prominent businessman and Shoura Council member Najeeb Al-Zamil has urged his fellow countrymen to open a channel of communication with expatriates in order to improve the image of Saudis.

“Now is the time to be honest about ourselves. Yes, we Saudis suffer as a result of media manipulation and Western stereotypes, but then, why is it that we are misunderstood and hated by people living among us?” he asked recently during an exclusive interview with Arab News.

“These expatriates who have come here to make a living and to improve their lives — why do they not like us? Things are so bad that if you are Saudi and you smile, people get confused. ‘Are you sure you are Saudi?’ they ask. And if you tell them, ‘Yes I am a Saudi,’ they say: ‘No, come on! Maybe your mother is from Palestine or Sri Lanka or Africa.’ This is because Saudis are known for always putting on a grim face. Of course we cannot control the global media. But why do these people who work and live among us, why do they have this bad opinion of us? Why? I am a businessman. Expatriates who work for me — they see me more than their wives or their families back home, and yet they don’t like us.”

Al-Zamil says this requires some serious consideration on the part of Saudis. “We have to think about this rotten state of affairs. If you are a doctor, then you cannot heal a patient or treat him unless you have correctly diagnosed the problem or the disease. The problem is with us — with our attitude,” he said.

“I can’t blame expatriates for having an incorrect opinion of us. This disease afflicts me, and so I need the medication. I have to initiate something to rectify the situation. Correct diagnosis led us to the discovery that people don’t like us because they don’t know us, and they don’t know us because we have put walls around us. They (the expatriates) are living on an island. We haven’t made any effort to reach out to them. We haven’t created bridges to get to their islands, and because they don’t know us, they have all kinds of things in their mind. They think that beyond their islands live monsters. They all have vague ideas about us; they are afraid of us. To them, we are mysterious people.”

Al-Zamil recently announced the creation of an informal forum called the Saudi-Expat Forum. He offered the facilities of Al-Zamil House, which has hosted many debates and discussions on a range of topics of local, national and international interest, as the staging center for this forum. “This forum is to encourage Saudis to open their doors to communicate, to engage the expatriates — to allay their fears. They are in our country; they are in our society; they are our guests. We should show them generosity. We should tell them we are modest. We should demonstrate our modesty,” he said.

What Al-Zamil says about Saudis can also be true of expatriates. Most of them have been living in Saudi Arabia for ages and have made no effort whatsoever to reach out to Saudis, to speak their language ... These expatriates are not aware of the local culture and make no efforts to make friends with Saudis. What does Al-Zamil say to that?

“The problem is we don’t encourage them. We have never encouraged them. If I go to India or Pakistan, people make an effort to get to know me. Expatriates have been here for so long, and we have not made the effort to know them, to understand their problems, to communicate with them on a human level. Since they are in our country, we have to make the effort. Let me be honest: Saudis suffer from attitudinal problems. Many of us think, ‘Oh they have come here to work. They are workers; they are beneath us.’”

Al-Zamil doesn’t use the word racism, but he says this attitude prevails everywhere. “It happens in Germany. It happens in America. In Germany, Asians are berated and sometimes insulted. However, in their case, their feeling of superiority is understandable. The world admires the Germans for their Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Volkswagens. They have technology. They have machines. What do we Saudis have? Nothing — only ourselves as human beings.”

He said Saudi elitism was something neither the Kingdom nor its citizens needed. “This attitudinal change occurred a few decades ago. A conscious effort was made to drill into our psyche that we Saudis are different, that we are the best, that we are special people, that we don’t need to work. This work is for that Indian and that Pakistani or that Bangladeshi to do. I don’t have to work. I am Saudi. I have to be the boss, nothing else. We were taught such stuff for decades.”

It is a fact demonstrated by some of the Kingdom’s economic statistics. “Who would believe that we have unemployment? That is precisely because our people don’t want to work. Islam encourages people to work hard. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said a working hand is much better than an idle hand and that an idle hand will only unite with evil. Work is sacred. Work is divine. Saudis have to change.

“They have to lead from the front and let these expatriates know us better so they will go and bat for us and speak for us. If we beat our own chest, nobody will believe us. It is when others say good things about us that the image will change,” Al-Zamil said.

Dr. Israr Ahmad Worries About Pakistan's Future


By Siraj Wahab

Published in Arab News on Saturday, September 9, 2006

Dr. Israr Ahmad is known for his excellent analysis of the Qur’an in Urdu. He appears regularly on PTV, QTV and Peace TV providing critical explanations of the holy verses. He was originally associated with Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, the founding father of the Jamaat-e-Islami. He was even more closer to the legendary Maulana Ameen Ahsan Islahi, the author of the monumental analysis of the Qur’an entitled “Tadabbur Al-Qur’an.” Dr. Israr drew inspiration from his mentor, Maulana Islahi.

Maulana Islahi was also associated with Maulana Maududi. When there were differences between Maulana Maududi and Maulana Islahi and many other leading scholars of the time on the issue of whether the Jamaat should dabble in politics, Maulana Islahi parted ways with Maulana Maududi. Dr. Israr followed his mentor and dissociated himself from the Jamaat and Maulana Maududi in the late 1950s. Maulana Islahi and Dr. Israr were of the opinion that reforming society should take precedence over politics.

Maulana Islahi also edited the respected Islamic journal “Misaq,” which is still published from Lahore. In a special issue of the journal, Dr. Israr’s biography was published.

Dr. Israr completed his graduate degree in medicine (MBBS) from Lahore’s King Edward Medical College in 1954. He gave up his medical practice in 1970 and since then has devoted his life for the study and teaching of the Holy Qur’an.

Dr. Israr was in Jeddah last week and Arab News sat down with him for a discussion on the current state of affairs in Pakistan. Now in his 70s, Dr. Israr seemed very disillusioned and pessimistic. In his younger days he was very active in politics having been the president of the Jamiat-ul-Tulba, but it is politics that now disturbs him.

“I am upset with this vicious cycle, or what I call this three-sided prism of military democracy, civil bureaucracy and feudal lords,” Dr. Israr said. “They take turns at power. Sometimes the military takes charge, and the other two follow it; at other times the bureaucracy takes over, and the remaining two follow suit. Their interests are intertwined.”

Dr. Israr described the situation. “When Ayub Khan took over everybody joined hands against him,” he said. “At that time, it was believed that Ayub was the source of all evil and that immediately after his removal, things would be hunky-dory. When Ayub left, Yahya Khan took over. When Yahya left Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assumed power. Then all the religious parties came together to oust him. Then Zia-ul Haq took over. So democracy could never take root.”

The scholar said Pakistan has been thus plagued since its beginnings. “The party that was responsible for the country’s creation — the Muslim League — was in fact not a party. It was a ‘tehreek’ (movement). And as with all movements when it achieves its goal, it folds up. The Muslim League that created Pakistan died immediately after achieving its sole purpose.”

When asked about military interventions interrupting the flow of the political process, Dr. Israr said they were due in large part to the weakness of Pakistan’s political system. “If the political traditions were strong, the military would never have dared to intervene. Why didn’t the military intervene in India? Is it a small army? Morarji Desai (the former prime minister of India) was once visiting Pakistan. He was traveling by train from Lahore to Karachi. As was mandatory, the DIG in Rahim Yar Khan area was accompanying him in the train’s coupe. So he asked him why the Indian military never intervened in his country’s political affairs. Desai replied that the Indian military knew full well that if martial law were to be imposed, there would be thousands of bodies littering the streets of India, and one of them would be that of Morarji Desai.”

Dr. Israr said the ongoing political upheaval in Pakistan damaged the nation’s respect among its neighbors and the world community. “We became a laughing stock with the frequent changes in governments. So much so that (Jawaharlal) Nehru (India’s first prime minister) once said sarcastically: ‘People keep pestering me to hold dialogue with the Pakistani leadership. My question to them is: Who should I talk to? I don’t change my clothes as frequently as they change governments in Pakistan.’ It is very easy to blame the military establishment, but one should also be asking who gave it the reason to intervene? It was the ineptitude of the political leadership. There were elements in the political class that were ready to welcome the military rulers with garlands. If the military had felt that the people would not like its intervention in the country’s political affairs, then it would have hesitated; it would have thought twice.”

Now Dr. Israr finds a disturbing portent for the future of Pakistan. “I am worried. The reasons why Pakistan was created (‘wajh-e-jawaaz’), its raison d’etre, are being questioned now. This worries me. ‘Why Pakistan?’ the younger generation keeps asking. It is becoming a chorus now. ‘Why did you go for partition?’ they ask. ‘What was the reason?’ Is that not a worrying factor?”

Dr. Israr elaborated. “There were two reasons (for the creation of Pakistan) — one positive and one negative. The negative factor was the fear of the Hindu: the Hindu will finish us off; the Hindu will suppress us (‘Hindu hum ko dabayega,’ ‘Hindu hum ko kha jayega’... etc., etc.) The Hindu will take revenge. It will finish our culture. It will strangle our language. This was the negative issue that became a rallying cry for the Muslim League. Remember, at this stage the Muslim League was not a party. It was just a club of nawabs and jagirdars. In his address of 1930 in Allahabad (‘Khutba-e-Allahabad’), the legendary poet Iqbal gave an ideological injection to this movement. During the address, Iqbal said: ‘It is my conviction that in the north of India an independent Muslim state will be established.’ It was a prophesy — not a proposal. Iqbal went on to say: ‘If this happens, we will be able to project the true picture of Islam to the world.’ This was the positive reason. One year before 1930 Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah ... I am not calling him Quaid-e-Azam because he had not yet become the ‘quaid’. He was not among the founders of the Muslim League. And for six years after the founding of the Muslim League he didn’t join it. He was the private secretary of (the Indian independence hero) Dadabhai Nawroji. Even when he eventually became a member of the Muslim League, he retained dual membership — both in the Congress and the Muslim League. He did his best (‘sartod koshish ki’) to find some solution to the Hindu-Muslim problem. That is why Mr. Jinnah was referred to in those days as the ambassador of unity. Then he became disillusioned. So in 1929 one year before Iqbal’s ‘Khutba-e-Allahabad,’ Mr. Jinnah closed his political shop, bought a palace (‘kothi’) in London and started practicing law. S.M. Ikram, who wrote some interesting books in Urdu, was in England in those days studying at Oxford. He went to see Jinnah and asked him why he had left India. ‘The Muslims of India need your leadership,’ he told Jinnah. Jinnah’s reply will give you some idea of his disillusionment. ‘Hindus are incorrigible,’ he told Ikram. ‘And the thing with Muslims is that their biggest and tallest leader who talks with me in the morning goes to the commissioner or deputy commissioner or governor in the evening and spills all the beans. How can I lead such a community?’”

The turnaround in Jinnah, according to Dr. Israr, came later. “It happened in 1932 when Iqbal went to London for the Second Roundtable Conference. At that time, he gave the same ideological injection to Mr. Jinnah. ‘This is the cause of the Muslims,’ he told Mr. Jinnah. It was this injection that Mr. Jinnah came back with to India in 1934. He was rejuvenated, and then he became the Quaid-e-Azam.”

When Dr. Israr thinks back to the creation of Pakistan, he marvels over the consensus that formed it. “It was a miracle. Can there be any bigger stupidity from the political standpoint as to why a UP Muslim should support the Muslim League? It was an emotional atmosphere. Bombay Muslim, Madrasi Muslim, CP (Central Provinces) Muslim — what did they have to do with Pakistan? But they were the real creators of Pakistan. In Punjab, there was never a Muslim League ministry even for one day. It was either in East Pakistan or Sindh. Until the end, it was the Congress ministry in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The real creators of Pakistan then were the Muslims of the minority provinces. They generated a wave in 1946. It was because of this wave that when the elections took place, they established beyond a shadow of doubt that the Muslim League was the sole representative party of the Muslim community.”

Dr. Israr said that what started right, soon went wrong. “The creation of Pakistan was a good thing. It was created with good intentions; there was a long historical background to the movement, but we failed badly. There is one quote from Quaid-e-Azam worth remembering: ‘God has given us a golden opportunity to prove our worth as architects of a new state, and let it not be said that we didn’t prove equal to the task.’ Unfortunately, we proved that we were not equal to the task. Where is Pakistan? We divided it into two countries (in 1971). What do we have now? There is no such thing as ‘qaum’ in Pakistan. ‘Qaumiyaten basti hain.’”

The Islamic scholar was asked if his view was similar to the American view which considers Pakistan a failed state. “I don’t know what the Americans are saying. When they say Pakistan is a failed state, maybe they are referring to the country’s failed economic policies. I am talking about the ideological failure. Pakistan was not an ordinary country. It came into existence on the basis of an ideology. If you couldn’t take care of that ideology, then it is a failed state. It is an ideologically failed state.”

When asked if Pakistan’s nuclear leadership of the Muslim world qualified it as having some measure of success, Dr. Israr dismissed the idea out of hand. “What is the use? Just one phone call — ‘with us or against us’ — and you are finished,” he said, noting that it wasn’t just a failure of leadership but rather the failure of personal conviction of the populace. “A country is known by its leader,” he said, “and then what about the people? What did they do? Don’t just blame the leader; the people are equally responsible for the sad state of affairs. Paisa imaan hai, paisa deen hai. Except for materialism, people are not interested in anything. This is not the case of one or two people; I am talking about everybody in Pakistan. They have become too materialistic.”

So now the aging scholar holds a dim view of Pakistan’s future — divine intervention notwithstanding. “Only a miracle can save Pakistan,” Dr. Israr said. “To me, the creation of Pakistan was in itself a miracle, and I see optimism only in the form of a miracle. In 1946, Quaid-e-Azam had given up on the demand for Pakistan. When you had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan, what did it mean? It meant that the country would remain united for 10 years. There were to be three zones. Yes, after 10 years any zone would have had the option of secession. All this meant that for 10 long years, there was no question of an independent country. It was only after Nehru issued a statement saying ‘Who lets anybody separate after 10 years?’ that is when Quaid-e-Azam got adamant. He took a step back. ‘Agar yahi niyat hai to ye Cabinet mission plan hamen manzoor nahi hai’ (If these are what your intentions are, then we don’t accept this Cabinet Mission Plan). It was Nehru who created Pakistan. To be honest, what Nehru said was absolutely true. Would anybody have allowed one zone to separate after 10 years? Nehru was right. ‘Nikal jaati hai jis ke muh se sacchi baat masti me/Faqeeh-e-maslehat been se wo rind-e-baada khaar accha.’ A miracle is possible even now but only if there is a will in the nation and among the people for the cause of Islam. Not for Islamabad but for Islam. The young generation should re-read the chapters of history. Sabaq padh phir shujaa’at ka, adalat ka, sadaqat ka.”