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Even as Lahore limps to normalcy

By | March 30th, 2016|Categories: Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Hindu, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , |

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for killing at least 72 people in a heinous attack in Lahore at a popular park where scores of families had gone to spend their Sunday. Images of wailing mothers and a bloodstained park continue to haunt the people of [...]

Pakistan Needs Deradicalization Programs. Force Alone Won’t Cure Intolerance

By | March 30th, 2016|Categories: Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Huffington Post, terrorism|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

  Even by Pakistan’s warped standards, recent turmoil in the country is extraordinary. On Sunday, a suicide bombing in a public park in Lahore killed more than 70 people and injured at least 300. Most were women and children. A Taliban splinter group that treats non-Muslims as inferior claimed the Lahore attack was an assault on Pakistan’s small and marginalized Christian community, taking advantage of the tradition of celebrating religious festivals in public spaces. While Lahore was still grappling with the immense tragedy, a rally in Islamabad turned violent. Thousands of demonstrators had turned out to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a former policeman who murdered a governor who had dared to criticize Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. The demonstration was organized by groups that follow relatively peaceful branches of Islam in South Asia. The protestors burned vehicles and reached the Parliament building in a high security zone. Their demands — other than declaring the executed policeman an official martyr — include the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan. […]

A message from Nizamudddin Dargah

By | March 27th, 2016|Categories: Arts & Culture, Sufism, Sufism and Sufi poetry|Tags: , , , , , |

I have never met Marta but the attachment to Nizamuddin Dargah has bound us for years. Yesterday I got this email and beautiful photographs from Marta Irene. Marta herself suffered a major accident in recent years and survived. Human connections… RR     […]

A twist in the tale

By | March 10th, 2016|Categories: books, Delhi By Heart, governance, Journalism, Pakistan, Published by Earthen Lamp Journal|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

  My Interview conducted by Abdullah Khan for Earthen Lamp Journal: ELJ: Tell us something about your journey from being a civil servant to a journalist and then to a writer of non-fiction books. RR: It has been a mad, chaotic yet edifying journey. I have been a civil servant in [...]

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s, Badge of honour

By | March 3rd, 2016|Categories: Arts & Culture, Cinema, Pakistan, Pakistani Art, Published in India Today, South Asian Art, SouthAsia, women, World Artists|Tags: , , , , , , |

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Badge of honour incisive documentary helps reignite the debate on honour killings in Pakistan. Second success: Sharmeen with her Oscar. Photo: Reuters Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has won the second Oscar for a short documentary that brings international attention to an endemic evil in Pakistan (and India for that matter) known as honour killings. Officially, there are a thousand victims of honour killings every year but the actual number may be much higher. Aside from Sharmeen’s recognition by Hollywood, which by itself is a big win, the Oscar for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is a victory for Pakistan’s long list of activists who have been advocating to end this heinous practice. Days before the Oscars ceremony, a special screening of the movie was held at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s house. The Pakistan PM issued a statement saying he would bring changes to the legislation to end the curse of honour killings. Sharif’s recent overtures to causes such as minority rights and talking about a liberal Pakistan have come as a surprise, given his conservative politics, and his party’s attempts to prevent progressive legislation during the 1990s. Or it is a sign of Pakistan’s drift into extremism that even centrist politicians like Sharif are worried about the future of the country.   […]

“Remembering Intizar Husain”

By | February 19th, 2016|Categories: Arts & Culture, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Urdu, Urdu Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Raza Rumi remembers Intizar Husain as a colossus of letters, but also as a formative influence for himself (L-R) Jamila Hashmi, Intizar Husain, Masood Ashar and Kishwar Naheed I remember the languid afternoon in Lahore when I met Intizar Husain surrounded by his friends and admirers. This formal introduction happened as poet-writer Fahmida Riaz was visiting Lahore and wanted to see Intizar Sahib – as we all called him. This was nearly a decade ago and my memory of that meeting is a bit hazy. All I remember is that Intizar Sahib showed extraordinary enthusiasm when he heard my name. “Arrey I have been reading you in The Friday Times”, he said. Bewildered, I thought that he was trying to humour a young novice with literary pretensions. Noticing my maladroit attempt to hide my expression, he added in chaste, homely Urdu: “I had thought that this guy Rumi was some old man writing about the shared cultures of the subcontinent…Aap tau naujawan nikle (you turned out to be a youth).” In those days, I was regular feature writer at TFT and had penned many a rant on the civilisational ethos of the Indian Subcontinent that has fast eroded in the past few decades. Little did I know that it would be noted by – of all the readers – Urdu’s master fiction writer and columnist, essayist and a critic! Intizar Sahib had resisted the temptations of turning into a cult figure, a pop star or a pir This was a moment of reckoning for me. I was but a pygmy in front of this literary giant and man of all proverbial seasons. Hearing his acknowledgment was a kind of homecoming – a process that continues, distracted by the necessities of garnering jobs and nurturing pretenses of a ‘career’. Among other reasons to change direction in my life, perhaps Intizar Sahib was a major reason. His encouragement – to an utterly unimaginative person like me – acted as an elixir. […]

Save Palmyra From ISIS’s Rampage

By | June 26th, 2015|Arts & Culture, History, Published in Huffingtonpost, Published in The Huffington Post, Religion|

  Photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils, Myron Bement Smith Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have placed on view a relic from ancient Palmyra in Syria. In addition, the galleries are displaying images of 18th century engravings and 19th century photographs from its archives. In the wake of Daesh or the Islamic State’s offensive in Syria, this exhibition has attained a symbolic significance. Being held in the capital of the world’s only superpower with a questionable Syria policy, the display reminds us of what is at stake. It was exhilarating to be connected with this rich past of humanity and at the same time extremely devastating to remember that we live in a world where our ancient treasures can be wiped out while we look on helplessly. Haliphat – a limestone funerary relief bust on display at Sackler- stares at you with an intense expression. Her two fingers on the chin represent modesty and virtue. For a moment it seems like a reflection on what is happening in Palmyra today. Halpihat has been dated back to 231 C.E. The almost-alive figure displays Roman and Aramaic artistic styles, reminding us of how Palmyra was the bridge between the East and West. The Islamic State reportedly has planted mines and bombs in Palmyra. It is unclear if ISIS intends to destroy Palmyra or is using the threat as a strategy to deter attacks by Iraqi forces. Nevertheless, our collective heritage under grave threat. […]

The verse of freedom

By | February 7th, 2015|Arts & Culture, History, Pakistan, Poetry, Published in The Friday Times, South Asian Art, Uncategorized|

In a powerful exploration of resistance poetry in indigenous languages, I discovered marginalized poets challenging mainstream Pakistani identity in moving verse.  Faiz Ahmad Faiz Much has been said about the literary and artistic revolution of Pakistan. Undoubtedly Pakistani writers, artists and musicians are now recognised globally for their work which engages with the world and brings forth perspectives which alter the unidimensional image of the country. At home, the new wave of literary and creative output is celebrated each year at the Karachi and Lahore literature festivals which have emerged as major venues for conversation and showcasing of what is being produced in the mainstream. Away from the spotlight of international media and TV channels, Pakistan’s regional poets and writers are waging a far more perilous battle by engaging with their subaltern, marginalised audiences in the local idiom, thereby putting themselves at risk. The days of Faiz and Jalib are not over as we often moan. Instead they have deepened and regionalised. Our region has had a rich, ongoing folk tradition and it continues in myriad forms and expressions now. In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan poets and artists continue to challenge power and injustice. More so in Pakistan where instability, extremism and uncertainty have impacted people in a profound manner for the past few decades. […]

Back in the Driver’s Seat

By | January 16th, 2015|History, Pakistan, Published in Foreign Policy, terrorism|

Pakistan’s military retakes pivotal control, and the public does not seem to mind. Pakistan’s military is back in the driving seat. This time, not through a conventional coup d’etat, but through an amended constitution that enables military tribunals to try civilians accused of terrorism. On Jan. 6, in a joint session, the Parliament amended the country’s constitution to establish military courts. The Islamist parties, opposed to the inclusion of the term “religious terrorism,” backed out at the last minute. But the major secular political parties, ostensibly committed to democratic rule, passed on the judicial powers to special military courts for a period of two years. This is a significant blow to the democratic transition that occurred after Gen. Musharraf’s ouster in 2008, when the country returned to civilian rule. The unenviable history of democratic evolution in Pakistan is well known. The military directly governed for more than three decades, and in the periods of so-called civilian rule (such as the present one), the military retains control over security and foreign policy. Pakistan’s military is also synonymous with the nationalist identity and therefore shapes the political discourse as well. The current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, assumed office in June 2013. In November, he appointed a new Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, thinking that he was consolidating civilian power. Sharif also pushed for the trial of former President Musharraf (who ousted Sharif in 1999) for violating the constitution by imposing emergency rule in November 2007. […]

A definitive history of Pakistan

By | January 13th, 2015|Bangladesh, books, Extremism, History, India, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Politics, Published in the Express Tribune|

Pakistan’s best-known historian, Ayesha Jalal, is back with a new book: The Struggle For Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics. This book essentially synthesises much of Jalal’s earlier work that by all accounts is rich and comprehensive. In short, the new book presents an overview of Pakistan’s progression as a national security state, a lop-sided federation to its current existential woes fuelled by state-sponsored Islamisation. Jalal acknowledges that the country’s Islamic identity was not enough to hold it together and the continued cycles of military rule turned it into a polity that cannot provide full citizenship rights to all Pakistanis. This emphasis on citizenship is an important perspective that Jalal has brought forth to a global reader, who views the country as an epicentre of terror and blowing itself as a jihadi state. As the premier scholar on the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jalal refers to the origins of Pakistan as a “truncated … moth-eaten and mutilated state” in the most peculiar circumstances of 1940s and the breakdown of power-sharing schemes that were deliberated in that decade. Lord Mountbatten’s ominous sentence marked the start: “As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are putting up a tent. We can do no more.” And even today in many parts of the country, the tent exists without a responsive state structure. Sixty-seven years later, Pakistan is a country of 200 million people with no local governments that can assure accountable services (including security) to its citizens. Pakistan’s insecurity is rooted in that phase when it was widely projected that it may just collapse under the burden of its inherent contradictions. Over 40 million Muslims stayed in India; its two wings were 1,000 miles apart and the task of creating a nation-state was even more onerous given the diversity — ethnic, linguistic and religious — of the new state. Nearly 25 per cent of Pakistanis in 1947 were non-Muslims (today only four to five per cent are). The perennial debate on Pakistan’s national identity has not ended. […]

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Chronicles of our recent past

By | July 10th, 2015|Categories: books, Islamophobia, Published in The Friday Times|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

FS Aijazuddin’s new book is an erudite and introspective account of a turbulent decade The past decade in Pakistan has been cataclysmic. Political upheavals and assassinations, the menace of terrorism that cost us more than 80,000 lives and over $100 billion; and a time warped foreign policy kept pushing the country into a vortex. All of this reproduced the curse of endemic political instability that has been a hallmark of Pakistan’s trajectory. Much has been written on this decade especially by foreign commentators given our global relevance as an American ally in the War on Terror. Within Pakistan, a handful of commentators and analysts have articulated more grounded, organic narratives; and FS Aijazuddin is one of the chosen few. His new book The Morning After is a collection of articles, essays and speeches he delivered in various capacities during the years 2006 and 2014. As the author tells us, the book is a fourth in the series of such compilations. The last one – When Bush Comes to Shove and other writings – was published in 2006. Such compilations can be tricky for a reader as often the contents respond to time-bound events and explore topics that run the risk of losing relevance overtime. Given the structural constraints of Pakistani state and society, the issues covered in The Morning After appear relevant even in 2015. Take the case of a column entitled ‘Making Cartoons of Ourselves’ on the global outrage against Danish Cartoons. It is hauntingly familiar and newsy. In 2012, there were countrywide protests against a film made on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and last year 14 staffers of a French magazine – Charlie Hebdo – were killed by fanatics in Paris. Aijazuddin’s conclusion is spot-on: “We are not the caricatures stencilled by the western press, nor the cartoons extremists make of themselves and of us by their aberrant behaviour.” […]

Manto’s women

By | February 13th, 2015|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Published in The Friday Times, South Asian Literature, SouthAsia, Urdu Literature, women|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Manto stands more or less alone in the position he takes on women, contends Raza Rumi, in an exploration of Manto’s relationship with his female protagonists   Saadat Hasan Manto Perhaps the most well-known and also controversial Urdu writer of the twentieth century happens to be Saadat Hasan Manto. He left us with a stupendous literary output, which continues to remain relevant decades after his death. Manto, not unlike other ‘greats’ died young and lived through the greatest upheaval in the Indian subcontinent i.e. the Partition. As a sensitive writer, he was influenced and traumatized by political turmoil during 1947 and beyond. His stories reflect his repeated attempts to come to terms with this cataclysmic event especially for millions in North India. For Manto, partition remained a mystery but he did not keep himself in a state of denial about it. He always used the word ‘batwara’, never partition.i Manto felt that it was the ripping apart of one whole and would lead to greater divisions among the people of the subcontinent. This coming to terms with the ‘batwara’, is experienced in his works by unusual characters driven by plain ambitions, mixed emotions and above all sheer humanity. Like Nazeer AkabarAbadi, Manto’s characters are universal and often it is difficult to condemn or dislike them since their humanity remains overarching. Manto raised the slogan of humanism at a time when the subcontinent presented the picture of a boiling cauldron of religious riots and protests, of acts of misogyny committed in the name of communal honour and ‘nationalism’. For example, in the story Sahai, Manto writes, “Don’t say that one lakh Hindus and one lakh Muslims have died. Say that two lakh human beings have perished.” Manto uses his characters as metaphors to highlight the prevalent abuse of humanity in those times. […]

A definitive history of Pakistan

By | January 13th, 2015|Categories: Bangladesh, books, Extremism, History, India, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Politics, Published in the Express Tribune|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Pakistan’s best-known historian, Ayesha Jalal, is back with a new book: The Struggle For Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics. This book essentially synthesises much of Jalal’s earlier work that by all accounts is rich and comprehensive. In short, the new book presents an overview of Pakistan’s progression as a national security state, a lop-sided federation to its current existential woes fuelled by state-sponsored Islamisation. Jalal acknowledges that the country’s Islamic identity was not enough to hold it together and the continued cycles of military rule turned it into a polity that cannot provide full citizenship rights to all Pakistanis. This emphasis on citizenship is an important perspective that Jalal has brought forth to a global reader, who views the country as an epicentre of terror and blowing itself as a jihadi state. As the premier scholar on the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jalal refers to the origins of Pakistan as a “truncated … moth-eaten and mutilated state” in the most peculiar circumstances of 1940s and the breakdown of power-sharing schemes that were deliberated in that decade. Lord Mountbatten’s ominous sentence marked the start: “As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are putting up a tent. We can do no more.” And even today in many parts of the country, the tent exists without a responsive state structure. Sixty-seven years later, Pakistan is a country of 200 million people with no local governments that can assure accountable services (including security) to its citizens. Pakistan’s insecurity is rooted in that phase when it was widely projected that it may just collapse under the burden of its inherent contradictions. Over 40 million Muslims stayed in India; its two wings were 1,000 miles apart and the task of creating a nation-state was even more onerous given the diversity — ethnic, linguistic and religious — of the new state. Nearly 25 per cent of Pakistanis in 1947 were non-Muslims (today only four to five per cent are). The perennial debate on Pakistan’s national identity has not ended. […]

Citizen of the world

By | November 26th, 2014|Categories: Arts & Culture, books, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Published in The Friday Times, South Asian Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

He wanted variety and could not confine himself to a uni-dimensional career or vocation. Other than being a rare blend of East and West, Patras exemplified the modern man – searching for new meanings in life and experimenting with experiences This December witnessed a literary landmark of post-internet Pakistan.A dedicated website – www.patrasbokhari.com– on Patras Bokhari, a towering literary figure, was launched at the Government College University, Lahore. It is well-known that the GC produced world-famous personalities while it was the leading educational institution in this part of the subcontinent, but its stature as a hub of education, culture and literary regeneration declined over the years. Some observers hold, however, that the recently increased autonomy and elevation of GC to the status of a university will reverse the decline. It was the glorious tradition of this institution that produced giants such as Patras, Faiz and Iqbal, amongst many others. Prof Syed Ahmed Shah Bokhari (1898-1958) is most famous through his penname “Patras” Bokhari. While he was a first-rate educationist, broadcaster and diplomat, perhaps his lasting fame is the result of his stature as an inimitable essayist and humourist – a rare trait amongst the mourning and elegy-prone South Asian creed. Patras Ke Mazameen , immortal as they are, set the standard for high quality, incisive satire and humour. Unlike the medieval mores of literature being the preserve of the courts and its courtiers, these essays reach out to everyone, encompassing a modern sensibility that makes them pertinent and attractive even today. There is a distinct universality in these writings that perhaps had to do with the humane and cosmopolitan side of Patras himself. The compelling evidence of this aspect was his huge success as a diplomat when he served as Pakistan’s permanent envoy at the United Nations in the early 1950s, enabling him to be titled ‘a citizen of the world.’ […]

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Negotiating Freedom of Expression

By | July 23rd, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Published in CIMA, Religion, terrorism|

The unresolved debate on freedom of expression was reignited when Islamic militants killed 14 staffers of French magazine Charlie Hebdo last January, ostensibly for the cartoons that offended Muslim sentiments. Earlier this year, two secular [...]

Raza Rumi: They Tried to Silence Me Once and For All

By | February 11th, 2015|Extremism, human rights, Islam, Journalism, Pakistan, Published in The Clarion Project, SouthAsia, terrorism, women|

I spoke with Clarion about fighting for fredom of speech when the price for failure is death. Raza Ahmad Rumi is a Pakistani policy analyst, journalist and an author. He has been a leading voice in Pakistan’s public arena against extremism and human rights violations.  In March 2014, he survived an assassination attempt in which his driver lost his life. Within weeks, he left Pakistan and has been affiliated with the New America Foundation and the United States Institute of Peace.  He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project’s Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about Pakistan, free speech and blasphemy legislation.   Clarion Project: You are a writer. What challenges have you personally faced due to what you write about extremism in Pakistan? Raza Rumi: When you write about growing radicalization and extremism and call for introspection, critique the role of clergy, then your writings are edited so as not to ruffle too many feathers. At times, one is labelled as anti-Muslim and anti-Islam for demanding a rational discourse on religion and its public manifestations. Earlier, this opprobrium was restricted to verbal abuse and attacks, but now it has taken a dangerous turn with the increase of blasphemy law victims and in my case an assassination attempt. Though I must clarify that writings in English draw less attention than those in the vernacular languages, I got into serious trouble due to my views aired on the mainstream Urdu broadcast media. My public engagement with media, academia/think tanks and civil society was too much for the extremists (backed by elements within the state) to handle. So they tried to silence me once for all. An angry mob riots in Pakistan.   […]

Islam Needs Reformation from Within

By | January 18th, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Published in The Huffington Post, Religion, terrorism|

“Would you permit me to teach my children that God is greater, more just, and more merciful than all the (religious) scholars on earth combined? And that His standards are different from the standards of those trading the religion” — Nizar Qabbani, Syrian poet. Much has been said about the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and its slain cartoonists and their provocative cartoons about Muslims. Satirical representations of the Muslims in Europe do merge with racism and evoke destructive passions. But the barbaric killing of journalists exercising their right of free speech is beyond condemnable. It strikes at the heart of press freedom. Muslim communities in most Western countries view themselves as besieged collectives. Issues of integration, racism and the colonial baggage resonate each day. But in the past two decades especially with the rise of violent extremism as global phenomena, these complexities have become even more intractable. By brutally killing staffers of Charlie Hebdo magazine, the violent extremists have offended their faith far more than the perceived blasphemy of the magazine. Theirs is a political ideology — of using terror as a weapon — to avenge a history, to settle grievances and to assert power through violence. Billions of men and women who practice Islam often have little input in shaping such narratives of hatred. Such violent ideas emanate from the minority schools of thought within Islam, which rationalize the killing of ‘infidels’ and their ‘associates’. This ideology is the same that hounded Salman Rushdie, and killed Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam for a film. Ironically, the main targets of this ideology have been Muslims themselves. From the mass killings of Hazara Shias in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the ongoing killing spree in Syria and Iraq, it is the Muslims that bear the brunt of this violent mindset. Dozens of Sufi shrines and hundreds of schools have been blown up in Pakistan by extremists. Most of the 50,000 Pakistanis killed in the last decade were Muslims. And in this day and age this ideology prevents the majority of Pakistanis to access YouTube simply because somewhere, someone lampooned the holy figure of Islam. […]

Blasphemy Divide: Insults to Religion Remain a Capital Crime in Muslim Lands

By | January 8th, 2015|Blasphemy, Extremism, Islam, Islamophobia, Journalism, Religion, terrorism|

Excerpt of My statements: “The issue of blasphemy is about the political insecurity of the Muslims, and about the Muslim public reaction to the so-called injustices committed by the West,” said Raza Rumi, the editor [...]

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Save Palmyra From ISIS’s Rampage

June 26th, 2015|Arts & Culture, History, Published in Huffingtonpost, Published in The Huffington Post, Religion|

  Photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils, Myron Bement Smith Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have placed on view a relic from ancient Palmyra in Syria. In addition, the galleries are displaying images of 18th century engravings and 19th century photographs from its archives. In the wake of Daesh or the Islamic State’s offensive in Syria, this exhibition has attained a symbolic significance. Being held in the capital of the world’s only superpower with a questionable Syria policy, the display reminds us of what is at stake. It was exhilarating to be connected with this rich past of humanity and at the same time extremely devastating to remember that we live in a world where our ancient treasures can be wiped out while we look on helplessly. Haliphat – a limestone funerary relief bust on display at Sackler- stares at you with an intense expression. Her two fingers on the chin represent modesty and virtue. For a moment it seems like a reflection on what is happening in Palmyra today. Halpihat has been dated back to 231 C.E. The almost-alive figure displays Roman and Aramaic artistic styles, reminding us of how Palmyra was the bridge between the East and West. The Islamic State reportedly has planted mines and bombs in Palmyra. It is unclear if ISIS intends to destroy Palmyra or is using the threat as a strategy to deter attacks by Iraqi forces. Nevertheless, our collective heritage under grave threat. […]

Ideology, impunity & chaos

May 15th, 2015|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune, Religion, terrorism|

The sheer barbarity of the attack on the Ismaili community in Pakistan’s largest and one of the more misgoverned cities shocked the country. It is not the first time that such a sectarian attack has happened. During the past two years, more than a thousand people have been killed in targeted sectarian attacks. However, this was the largest attack on Ismailis. The head of the Ismaili community, Prince Karim Aga Khan, rightly termed the massacre of 43 men and women “a senseless act of violence against a peaceful community”. It is ironic that the Pakistan movement owes its genesis to the contributions of Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III who was the founder, patron and the first president of the All-India Muslim League. In fact, the Quaid-e-Azam was born into an Ismaili household. Today’s Pakistan is clearly an unsafe place for this community. The National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism has been under implementation since December. Evidently, it is going nowhere. In January, dozens of worshippers were killed in an imambargah located inShikarpur, Sindh. There have been several other incidents of sectarian killings and now the Karachi carnage comes as a rude reminder that perhaps, the strategy to fight terrorism is flawed or is just another un-implementable document. While military action to eliminate hideouts of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may be a good short-term measure, Pakistan cannot curb the menace of extremism and terrorism without working towards an ideological reorientation. In March, the government reneged on two vital commitments: regulation of religious seminaries and dismantling of proscribed terrorist groups. In fact, such is the power of these militias that they have been openly holding rallies despite the announcement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while launching the NAP that “no armed organisation will be allowed to operate”. […]

One size may not fit all

March 8th, 2015|Extremism, human rights, published in DAWN, Religion|

Excerpts from my statement: Raza Rumi, Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, says the government has much to do when it comes to reforming madressahs. “There are three issues of main importance: [...]

The terrorism challenge

February 27th, 2015|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Religion, terrorism|

The Pakistani government must take swift, effective action to implement its will and assert its authority. Pakistan’s terrorism challenge has burgeoned into a full-blown national crisis. Terrorism emanates from extremist ideologies that use religion to glorify violence. In addition, when there is constant marginalization of particular sections of society, people are denied basic necessities of life and any aspirations for a better life are in vain, many are driven towards violence. In Pakistan, surveys have shown that while the masterminds of extremist outfits are often well-educated, their recruiting ground is among the under-privileged. In Pakistan the extremist narratives emanate from three main sources – the mosque-madrassah complex, school curricula, and the media. The country’s policymakers and law enforcement agencies need to take appropriate steps targeting these sources in both the short and long term, if the menace of terrorism is to be effectively curtailed. Terrorism emanates from extremist ideologies that use religion to glorify violence Short Term Measures: Credible information is needed about all mosques and madrassahs operating at the district, provincial and national level. At the district level, the District Coordination Officers (DCOs) should be tasked to map and monitor all mosques and madrassahs operating within his jurisdiction. All madrassahs should be required to be formally registered with the local authorities. Information collected from each district should then be compiled into provincial and national data banks containing verified information on those running these mosques/madrassahs, their activities, their donors etc. Any madrassahs with foreign funding sources and teachers should be kept under extra scrutiny. In addition, police officers need to compile their data from each district and create national data centers which can help law-enforcement agencies to identify and monitor suspicious activity in any part of the country. Any funding from any sources, both loc […]

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Karbala and the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo-Muslim literature – Schimmel

November 24th, 2012|Religion, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

Thanks to a friend on Twitter I rediscovered this essay by the great Annemarie Schimmel which I had read in the pre-internet times. The essay entitled Karbala and the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo-Muslim literature is a remarkably panoramic review of how the themes of martyrdom and sacrifice are central to Islamic faith and Sufi principles. Schimmel looks at the older Persian poets, traces the evolution of Karbala motif in Sindhi Sufi poets such as Bhitai and later Urdu poetry of Ghalib. The essay moves to Iqbal and the commentary by Schimmel is most insightful as it puts his poetry and vision in the spiritual perspective. I hope this is widely read and popularised for this view is essential to countering the popular, ideological narratives on appropriating his poetry for Islamist ascendancy and hypernationalism in Pakistan. ***  I still remember the deep impression which the first Persian poem I ever read in connection with the tragic events of Karbala’ left on me. It was Qaani’s elegy which begins with the words: What is raining? Blood. Who? The eyes. How? Day and night. Why? From grief. Grief for whom? Grief for the king of Karbala’ This poem, in its marvellous style of question and answer, conveys much of the dramatic events and of the feelings a pious Muslim experiences when thinking of the martyrdom of the Prophet’s beloved grandson at the hands of the Umayyad troops. The theme of suffering and martyrdom occupies a central role in the history of religion from the earliest time. Already, in the myths of the ancient Near East, we hear of the hero who is slain but whose death, then, guarantees the revival of life: the names of Attis and Osiris from the Babylonian and Egyptian traditions respectively are the best examples for the insight of ancient people that without death there can be no continuation of life, and that the blood shed for a sacred cause is more precious than anything else. Sacrifices are a means for reaching higher and loftier stages of life; to give away parts of one’s fortune, or to sacrifice members of one’s family enhances one’s religious standing; the Biblical and Qur’anic story of Abraham who so deeply trusted in God that he, without questioning, was willing to sacrifice his only son, points to the importance of such sacrifice. Iqbal was certainly right when he combined, in a well known poem in Bal-i Jibril (1936), the sacrifice of Ismail and the martyrdom of Husayn, both of which make up the beginning and the end of the story of the Ka’ba. […]

‘I belong to Ranjha’ – the syncreticism of Lahore’s Shah Hussain

June 27th, 2012|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Published in the Hu Magazine, Sufi poetry, Sufism|

Lahore, the ancient city of Loh, the age-old halt for invaders, is also the home to eclectic Sufis. Men and women who shed conventions and discovered newer planes of spirituality found a home in this city. The merging of centuries’ old Indus valley bastion – the Punjab and its primordial language – with core strands of Islamic Sufism was a unique moment in South Asia’s cultural evolution. And, no one can better represent the composite soul of Lahore than its poet and Sufi master Shah Hussain, whose identity has forever fused with his Hindu disciple Madhu Lal. Those who seek Lahore’s Mela Chiraghaan or Festival of Lights still frequent the 16th century shrine of Madhu Lal Hussain. Shah Hussain’s father, Shaykh Usman, was a loom weaver, and his grandfather Kaljas Rai (Kalsarai) was a convert to Islam who gained the confidence of the state during the reign of Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq. Shah Hussain Lahori was born in 1538 AD near Taxali Gate, Lahore. His early religious education was followed by induction into the Qadiriya order by Hazrat Bahlul Daryavi at a very young age. As a devout Muslim in his early years, he gained a formal outward knowledge and imbibed the spiritual moorings of Lahore, including the blessings of Hazrat Usman Ali Hajvery, aka Data Saheb, whose shrine has guided scores of saints, fakirs and yogis for nearly a millennium. Hussain’s grandfather Kaljas Rai (Kalsarai) was a convert to Islam who gained the confidence of the state during the reign of Emperor Firoz Shah Tughlaq Mythological accounts suggest that at the age of thirty-six, while studying a commentary on the Quran, Shah Hussain was struck by a line which equated the ‘life of this world’ to ‘game and sport.’ He asked his instructor to explain the concept but his teacher’s response did not satisfy him. He is said to have interpreted this verse as a means to undertake sport and dance. It is said that Shah Hussain pursued dancing, sport and frolicking but his mentor Hazrat Bahlul Shah Daryavi was not alarmed as he thought his student was spiritually intact. […]

The sufi solution

February 14th, 2012|SouthAsia, Sufism|

“…The Chishti school of Sufism did not exclude any religion and gave way to a plural Indian identity. This is why the extremists in Pakistan, especially the Taliban, are against such devotional practices.” In 2010, the dargah of Baba Farid in Pakistan, another saint of this Sufi order, was bombed…” This is a fabulous piece published in Livemint.com.. On entering, the white dome attracts your attention. It’s not the architecture or the gold centrepiece at its top. Nor the birds circling it. This dome seems to shape and consecrate every moment of this place. The fakirs (ascetics) near the ablution pool face it. So do the pilgrims in the marble courtyards. The Khwaja’s tomb is directly below. The heart of Sufism: Pilgrims carrying flowers for Moinuddin Chishti. Four months later, when Rajasthan’s desert winter has given way to the heat of June, the dargah will be filled with lamps. Its assembly hall, resounding with the sound of the qawwals’ harmoniums, will herald the 800th urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Smaller groups of musicians will draw their own listeners within the various courtyards and sama (a gathering listening to mystical verse) music will echo in the streets. The terraces surrounding the dargah will come alive with their own qawwali gatherings and the last melodic strains will die only when the early morning prayer is called by the muezzin. As the cliché about the intolerant Muslim refuses to go away, as Sufism remains anathema to a section of Muslims, what is the significance of South Asia’s most important Sufi shrine? […]

Marta Franceschini: H Nizamuddin Auliya’s devotee

January 25th, 2012|Arts & Culture, Personal, Sufism|

This message cheered me up. Amazing that some of us have never met yet there is a bond we share - the calm space in Delhi where a 13th century mystic is buried. I am [...]

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Walk with a Dehlvi

August 1st, 2013|books, India, South Asian Literature, Travel|

Another review of my book, Delhi by heart, over at the Indian Express One thing that can be said about Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi with a great amount of certainty is that he is a traveller. In recent years, he has travelled a lot between Lahore and Delhi, and, while in Delhi, between different parts of the city and Nizamuddin East. Many of these visits were to the Dargah Nizam-ud-Din Auliya located across the road from the house of his host. Rumi calls this book Delhi by Heart and from the first page, you can make out that a large space in his heart is occupied by Dilli. The Delhis of the past and the present are as enmeshed in the book as they are in reality and that is its strength. By his own admission, he has not planned the book. It follows its own logic, one thought leading to another, crossing man-made boundaries, sweeping across centuries and, suddenly, discovering a nugget of commonality, a strand of continuity, a shared shard of reality—and he shares that excitement with the reader. Rumi finds common strands between Lahore and Delhi and Amritsar, he finds also that the image of the “other” that he carries is reciprocated on this side as well. He finds similar fanatics on both sides, the RSS here and the Jamaat-e-Islami and others of their ilk there. And yet, it is the commonalities of love, heritage, architecture and music that he foregrounds. […]

Book review: Delhi of the past and the present

August 1st, 2013|books, India, Travel|

Here is a lovely review of my book, written by the esteemed Intizar Husain   Raza Rumi tells us that he aspired to be an author. His visits to Delhi offered him this opportunity and he availed it. In his exuberance, Rumi started writing without planning beforehand, knowing not how his narrative will end. The narrative, however, came to an end by itself. When published under the title Delhi by Heart, we had a precious book authored by Rumi. Delhi by Heart is a scholarly work but written in an unscholarly manner. Instead of posing as a scholar or researcher, Rumi likes to be seen as a stranger in a city hitherto unknown to him, a city enjoying the reputation of being the city of cities. Wonderstruck, Rumi wanders in the city, from posh areas of New Delhi to the narrow and dingy lanes of old Delhi. Walking about aimlessly, he enters a lane with shops on both sides selling roses and soon finds himself entering the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. To his amazement, Rumi is suddenly in a different city, traditionally known as Bais Khawaja ki Chaukhat, the threshold of 22 Sufis. Rumi feels that he is moving in a vast world which carries a touch of the divine, where the past and the present merge into each other and the Hindu-Muslim divide loses its edge. How easy to jump from here and land in the city of the Salateen-i-Delhi, to touch the threshold of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s khanqah where he preached to his disciples, Muslims and Hindus, about the peaceful coexistence of different faiths. At this point, Rumi’s wanderings seem to be transformed into a journey of discovery. Roaming through the world of mysticism and bowing at the dargahs of Chishti mystics, he knows much about this tradition and about the city of Delhi which has been the cradle of this tradition. But at the same time, Rumi wants to keep abreast with the present and learn about the contemporary Delhi. So he is also seen in the company of the modern intellectuals of the city — Khushwant Singh, Professor Mushirul Hasan, Sadia Dehlvi, Rakhshanda Jalil. His narrative easily shifts from the present to the past and from past to the present. […]

The heart divided

June 27th, 2013|Arts & Culture, books, India, Personal, Published in The Friday Times, Travel|

Here’s an excerpt from my book ‘Delhi, by heart’ that was featured in TFT   I am not sure how I met Bunty. It was perhaps through a reference from the office during one of my early work-related visits. Bunty Singh, brother of Sunny Singh and Goldie Singh, became my guide and companion. Sunny and Bunty have set up a mini empire of rental cars through investments made by Goldie who lives in Germany and is married to a “good” German girl. Bunty, a boisterous, internet-savvy young Sardar, found me to be somewhat like him. We spoke in Punjabi, often using lines that would quite miss those outside the ‘Punju’ realm. And we both were equally fascinated by each other-the thirty-something grandchildren of Partition. So after an hour of awkward client-service interaction, Bunty decided to befriend me. It was just the right thing to have happened I guess. How else would I know a real Sardar? Most of my interactions with Sikhs took place when I was a student in the UK decades ago. However, as soon as there was mention of Partition, there was a palpable unease. It was only after a day or two that he confided how half his family was butchered at a railway station. To use Amrita Pritam’s words: Who can guess How difficult it is To nurse barbarity in one’s belly To consume the body and burn the bones? I am the fruit of that season When the berries of Independence came into blossom. (Translated from the Punjabi by Harbans Singh) […]

That easy intimacy

October 15th, 2011|Bangladesh, Published in Himal Magazine, SouthAsia, Travel|

By Raza Rumi A Pakistani re-discovers Bangladesh. Image: Carey L Biron As a Pakistani, there is a part of you that reacts instantly to the word Bangladesh: guilt, remorse or, in some cases, nostalgia can suddenly take over. I am from the generation that was spared the horrors of Pakistan Army actions, of information blackouts on the massacre of Bengalis in the name of Pakistani nationalism. But what does it mean to be half a Pakistani, without East Bengal – especially when you know a bit of history and have managed to see through the falsities of the textbooks? It means nothing or it means a lot; it depends on which way you want to look at the other half, now a proud, vibrant country. Working in international development is what took me to Bangladesh for the first time, nearly five years ago. Prior to that, I had been familiar with the country’s mythical music, rich poetry and tales of its golden sunsets and singing rivers, but had never touched its soil. Bengal’s magic is embedded in the Subcontinental imagination, and these images and literary references long shaped my view of the country. However, my romantic notions were severely jolted when I arrived in Dhaka – at first glance, an overcrowded concrete jungle typically lacking in urban planning. More of the same, I concluded: big cities, despite their buzz, can let you down. Still, my disappointment did not last, as I soon undertook to seek out the city’s various corners, its hidden spaces of beauty and comfort; above all, what I found was an engaged citizenry marching on. Discovering the University of Dhaka and its surroundings came as a much-needed connection, though older parts of Dhaka are also quite mesmerising. The gulmohar (or krishnachura) trees, almost on fire, greet a visitor on nearly every street, as does a tremendous volume of rickshaws. Then there is the Shaheed Minar, the monument marking Bengali resistance founded on linguistic identity. The physical monument is modern, and by itself is not particularly exciting. However, its significance is truly monumental, marking as it does Bengali nationalism from 1948 to 1971 under the misrule of West Pakistan elites. Given movements for ethnic, linguistic and provincial identities ongoing in today’s Pakistan, the Shaheed Minar is a powerful reminder of how centralised rule and marginalisation of cultural identities lead to festering problems. A colleague who took me to see these sites was most polite with me. He was fervently nationalistic but chose his words carefully – at least until I asked him to drop the formalities and just say what he wanted. Then the floodgates opened, and out came his personal memories and renditions from Bengali oral histories. I even found myself apologising, though I then laughed at myself for such a delusional gesture – my few words of apology meant nothing against the horrors of Bengali suffering. Luckily, the charms of the place and the krishnachura trees came to my rescue. And so, I brushed the dark side of our shared histories under the proverbial carpet, just the way that Pakistan has done. For many people in Pakistan, 1971 is today an invisible event, a deliberately ignored footnote in our collective memory, despite being one that should remain understood as a moment of reckoning for the entire country. After all, majority provinces seldom secede; it is usually the other way around. […]

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My interview with Ithaca Times, U.S.

By | April 4th, 2016|Arts & Culture, Pakistan, terrorism|

Recently I was interviewed by Ithaca Times, USA. Here is the text: The Ithaca Times sat down with Rumi to talk about his work—in past, present, and future—the state of Pakistan, and his impressions of [...]

My interview with Interfaith Radio, DC

By | April 4th, 2016|Extremism, Islam, Pakistan, Peace, Personal|

Even as Lahore limps to normalcy

By | March 30th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Hindu, terrorism|

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for killing at least 72 people in a heinous attack in Lahore at a popular park where scores of families had gone to spend their [...]

Pakistan Needs Deradicalization Programs. Force Alone Won’t Cure Intolerance

By | March 30th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Huffington Post, terrorism|

  Even by Pakistan’s warped standards, recent turmoil in the country is extraordinary. On Sunday, a suicide bombing in a public park in Lahore killed more than 70 people and injured at least 300. Most were women and children. A Taliban splinter group that treats non-Muslims as inferior claimed the Lahore attack was an assault on Pakistan’s small and marginalized Christian community, taking advantage of the tradition of celebrating religious festivals in public spaces. While Lahore was still grappling with the immense tragedy, a rally in Islamabad turned violent. Thousands of demonstrators had turned out to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, a former policeman who murdered a governor who had dared to criticize Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. The demonstration was organized by groups that follow relatively peaceful branches of Islam in South Asia. The protestors burned vehicles and reached the Parliament building in a high security zone. Their demands — other than declaring the executed policeman an official martyr — include the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan. […]

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