Pakistani students present traditional celebration, dance

by Andrew Johnson

On the brink of another winter in the Minnesota hinterland, the Pakistani Student Association staged a night of traditional dance and festivity Saturday to celebrate the University’s 150th anniversary.
While the student group includes roughly 40 members — 11 of whom are typically active — more than 300 members and friends of the Twin Cities Pakastani community filled the St. Paul Student Center for the annual event.
The event itself seemed highly anticipated by those who attended. The student group has recently gone through a period of inactivity.
The evening commenced at 8 p.m. with the singing of the Pakistani national anthem, followed by short addresses from graduating group president Waseem Hassan, an economics and math major, and the new president, Atif Sheikh, who will replace Hassan at the end of this semester.
Highlights from the hour-long program included the performance of a Minneapolis dance group, Bhangra Group, whose male members danced ecstatically to traditional vibrant fare; and three coordinated fashion shows that followed traditional Pakastani garb through several time periods ending with today.
Folk dances performed by student group members and a video montage that included footage of Pakistan’s birth of a nation in 1947 rounded out the program.
In the video, news reels celebrated Pakistan’s first president, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was an advocate of Muslim rights and instrumental, along with Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru, in the end of British rule in India.
As a Muslim leader, Jinnah’s strongest concern surrounding the inevitable power change in India in the 1940s, was that Hindu religious oppression might replace British oppression in a newly independent India. At the end of 200 years of British rule, one result was the creation of an independent Muslim state in northeastern India, negotiated by Jinnah. Its name today is Pakistan.
At the time of its conception, Pakistan became the largest Muslim country in the world, with 80 million people.
The Twin Cities has the third-largest Pakistani community in the Midwest, after Chicago and Michigan.
Neighboring Canada also has a large population of Pakistani, especially in Toronto.
Other even larger Muslim communities within the Twin Cities include local Egyptian and Indian groups.
While neighbors India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the 1940s, Pakistani Student Association club treasurer Yousuf Khawaja, born in Pakistan, said a Muslim brotherhood exists, as seen on campus, and nations are the only boundaries between all Muslim people worldwide.
With that in mind, Khawaja commented on support by club members of Palestinians in the recent violent clashes in the Middle East with Israel. Because of a Muslim bond, club members are concerned with what they perceive as inadequate or biased U.S. media coverage concerning the Muslim world.
Closer to home, both Khawaja and club president Hassan expressed overall satisfaction with Muslim life in the Twin Cities and at the University. Although admitting that international students tend to band together, Khawaja said the only stark differences between the two obvious worlds, East and West, are exhibited socially.
In that regard, noticeably absent at the function on Saturday was alcohol, often a center of American college life, but consumption of which runs counter to the Muslim faith.
Yousuf added that Eastern culture — whose young people stay closer to their parents longer — in general remains more community-minded than what he perceives here.
He estimated that “we are more conservative in our religion … less individualistic.”
The band Y2K from Los Angeles, Calif., closed out the night with loud Western rock music that borrowed heavily from traditional Pakistani themes.