Pathan - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Islam is an essential and unifying theme in Pathan life, and it also unites the Pathan with an international community of believers. The overwhelming majority of Pathan is Sunni Muslim of the Hanafi legal school. Some groups, notably in the Kurram and Orakzai agencies of Pakistan, practice Shia Islam. A number of supernatural figures reside among the Pathan. Jinn are spirits born of fire that can enter and possess people. Other negative beings include the ghosts of disturbed or cursed souls, witches, and fairies. The souls of pious figures can also return to Earth to play a more positive role.

Religious Practitioners. While Islam has no ordained priesthood, religious leaders are recognized. At the village level this role is played by the mullah, a man who has attained some religious training. Besides tending the mosque and making the call to prayer five times a day, he officiates at the rites of passage that mark the stages of life, birth, circumcision, marriage, and death. Another important figure is the Sayyed who stands outside the tribal structure, since his genealogy extends to the Prophet himself and not to the ancestors of the Pathans. Not bound by the Pashtun code of honor, Sayyeds are saintly figures who can arbitrate between conflicting groups.

Ceremonies. Besides ceremonies at the various rites of passage, the religious calendar includes: three days of celebration at the end of Ramazan, the month of fasting; a day observed by the ritual slaying of sheep in memory of Ibrahim slaying a sheep in place of his son on Allah's order; and the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.

Arts. Poetry is the art most esteemed by Pathans. Their greatest poet, Khushhal (d. 1689), wrote both love poems and patriotic poems. Embroidered waistcoats and elaborately decorated rifle butts were traditionally the major visual arts.

Medicine. While some medical facilities are being introduced, people customarily go to the mullah or traditional herbalist for cures. A jinn possessing the patient is commonly held to be the cause of disease. Indigenous treatment is in a tradition said to be of Greek origin or in a religious tradition worked out centuries ago. A common cure consists of the wearing of talismans around the neck composed of magic formulas or verses of the Quran sewn up in cloth or leather.

Death and Afterlife. In Islam the body is to be buried ritually pure so that the soul is prepared to enter Heaven on Judgment Day. After death the body is washed and wrapped in a white sheet. A mullah performs the death rites, leading the congregated mourners in a special prayer. The body is buried with the face pointing toward Mecca. Mourning obligations continue after the burial. The deceased's relatives gather at the grave on the first few Fridays and on the fortieth day after the death, and they observe the first year's anniversary of the death with a final memorial ceremony.

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