The following piece of writing is a work of fiction; however, any resemblance with true events is intentional.

“Get out of the class!” was the last sentence I heard and I was confused, not sure the teacher was serious about it. I looked at the other students and everybody was quiet; not ready to say anything in my favor, not even my close friends or who I thought to be my close friends. I said nothing and left the room in despair. What was my mistake? I kept on asking myself. The events that had led to my expulsion from the class started recurring in my mind.

The conversation was about literary criticism and the teacher was emphasizing on ethical aspects of it. In fact, the teacher was very much furious about the ‘new’ and so-called liberal critics, who, in his opinion, do not consider the sanctity of even the well-known writers and intellectuals of the society. He started elaborating his views through an example. He had read a young critic recently who had written an essay about the famous Ashfaq Ahmed and Bano Qudsia . Our teacher was of the view that the critic had, in fact, raised questions on the sanctity of Islam, Urdu language and ‘traditional Pakistani culture’ by criticizing the works of such heroes.

“If such shortsighted and so-called liberal critics are allowed to keep on criticizing such matchless and perfect works that have been showing true path to millions of Muslims in Pakistan, our whole society is doomed to moral degradation. These amateur critics are the ones who receive some appreciation from the Westernized minds and start considering themselves as the intellectuals of the society. In some cases, they are funded by ‘Kafirs’ and pursue their mission. They should never be allowed to misuse freedom of speech and malign the dignity of the true stars of Pakistan and Islam.”

He was getting grumpier with each sentence and the class was getting quieter.

I gathered some courage and started my question on his views in a trembling tone.

“But sir, how do you consider the criticism on the works of these honorable writers as a criticism on Islam, Urdu language and Pakistani culture, as these works, though great they are in literary standards, cannot be considered synonymous with Islam, Urdu language and Pakistani culture? Don’t you think their works are their way of looking at Islam, culture and ethics and their way of looking at things canhave some deficiencies in certain aspects?”

Our teacher did not like my question. Instead of answering my question he started his own.

“What do you know about these writers? Have you read their works?”

“Sir, I have not read all their works but I have read Raja Gidh by Bano Qudsiya and Aik Mohabbbat Say Afsanay by Ashfaq Ahmed ,” I heard myself saying.

“So now you think you are Socrates and can criticize these writers after reading only one of their works?” our teacher said and the whole class started laughing.

Humiliated a bit but not completely defeated, I started explaining myself, “I am not criticizing the works of these writers; rather I was giving my view about the way we look at the criticism of their works. A well-written criticism of their work may in itself become a great work of literature if it has the potential. We should not shun such criticism by labelling them anti-religion or anti-nationalism; rather we should gauge them as per their intrinsic worth.”

The teacher seemed to understand that the last statement was a criticism on him and he did not want that to be approved by the students; therefore, to make me falter, he said:

“Can you give an example of a ‘great literary criticism’? Just give your critical view of the work you have read of these writers. Give your views about Raja Gidh?

“Sir, I can’t criticize it on the literary basis as I don’t consider myself skilled or knowledgeable enough to do so but the concept of halal and haram that is given in it is not closely connected to reality. Like, it is not necessary that a person who comes to the world through haram means follows haramkhori; it is not his/her blood that decides his/her destiny, rather there are many social factors involved in it. In fact, the concept does not fulfill the requirements of a reasonable argument.”

“See you also talk in the tone of the same liberal critics – you are one of them. These writings are above your reason and logic. They are spiritual and can be understood through the lenses of Sufism, not philosophy or science,” our teacher concluded.

I replied: “Sir, you are labeling me with a title instead of analyzing my arguments.”

“Your arguments are pathetic!” he shouted.

I don’t know why I said: “Sir, you are avoiding responding to my arguments!”

“What! You don’t know how to talk to a teacher! Get out of the class!”