Sacred Love, Lyrical Death by Christopher Shackle

If it is death that determines the limits of life, it is love which offers the promise of overcoming those limits. Between these two great defining fac­tors of human existence there is a necessarily complex relationship, which in one way or another involves just about every aspect of what it means to be truly human. Every society therefore has to evolve its own ways of under­standing how that relationship is ideally to be managed. These various ways are typically best expressed in the finest creations of its artists and thinkers, which in turn help form the values and attitudes of the society at large. In the modern world, where no society lives in isolation from another, it is through the study of their different creative legacies that we can hope to understand how societies other than our own have formulated their own understandings of love and death, and that we may perhaps come to distin­guish between socially conditioned norms and truly universal values.

Punjabi Muslim society, which as the largest element in Pakistani society to a considerable extent determines the character of the nation, has a long and complex cultural history. From the time of the Muslim conquests initiated by Mahmud of Ghazna in around 1000, the Punjab was a crucial bridge between the Muslim societies of Western Asia and the very different cultural and religious world of India. The region was variously subjected over time to different imperial powers, variously based in Ghazna and Kabul or in Delhi and Agra, and traditional Punjabi society evolved as a not always stable combination of different elements. Besides the not always easy coexistence of the religious communities of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus, each with their own religious specialists, there were the divisions created by caste groupings and by the distinctions between indigenous inhabitants and immigrants from Western Asia, as well as by the rivalries between the tribes of pastoralists and agriculturalists for the control of the all-important resources of the land. And within this very large area, there were also of course sub-regional vari­ations, marked by differences of ecology and dialect.

As in other parts of South Asia, the period of British rule brought about major changes to that traditional society. The massive extension of canal irrigation greatly extended agriculture at the expense of the pastoral way of life, the new education system replaced Persian with Urdu and English, and a new publishing industry helped spread entirely new kinds of literature and distinctively modernist understandings of Islam. Above all, the increasing bitterness of communal rivalry led eventually to the Partition of 1947, when ethnic cleansings and enforced population transfers saw the tempo­rary triumph of death over love, and resulted in the different Muslim soci­ety of Pakistan Punjab today.

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