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An existential crisis

On 4 January, Punjab province Governor Salman Taseer was killed by a member of his security detail, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. But as disturbing as the assassination itself were the circumstances surrounding and following the governor’s death… In the aftermath, the hold of Pakistan’s religious lobbies has proven to be so powerful that no mullah, not even one appointed and paid by the state, was willing to conduct his funeral rites. While progressive civil-society voices have condemned both the incident and the direction in which Pakistan is heading – an act of great courage in these times – they remain a desperately small minority.

The entire incident epitomises the very real existential crisis in which the Pakistani nation now finds itself – one that relates to its very identity. Successive governments in the country have been quiescent before the forces of religious fundamentalism, and over the years brought in legislation to appease the religio-political forces – including the blasphemy laws that have been under such scrutiny of late. Today, this has reached a situation in which the country’s religious minorities (constituting less than five percent of the national population) are beleaguered amidst a legal system that denies them basic human rights. In turn, this has enabled fundamentalist ideologies to take firm hold in the minds of government functionaries. The support of the state and its security agencies, including sections of the armed forces, to such sections has now reached a point where they are becoming a threat to the very existence of the Pakistani state itself – at least, in the form we know it. […]

February 2nd, 2011|Personal, Published in Himal Magazine|6 Comments

Pakistan: “It is time for the judiciary to address incompetence and prejudice within its own ranks”

Ali Dayan Hasan, Senior South Asia Researcher for Human Rights Watch, spoke to Raza Rumi about the blasphemy law.

What is your position on the blasphemy law and how is it viewed internationally?

The blasphemy law is a blot on Pakistan and brings disrepute to Islam. It is precisely the kind of law that reinforces, with good reason, negative stereotypes of Pakistan and Muslims. Because it is justified in the name of religion, it is difficult to explain to the world that this is a law imposed by a military dictatorship in the ‘80s for cynical political purposes and does not enjoy any “divine” sanction. It is our view that Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which include the blasphemy law, should be repealed forthwith. The obscene consequences of these laws have been evident for decades through the continued criminalization and persecution of those the state ought to actually be protecting and failure to repeal makes successive governments, and the state itself, complicit in heinous discrimination and egregious human rights abuse.

But a substantial body of religious scholars argues that the blasphemy law is in keeping with Islamic jurisprudence…

It is interesting that political actors operating in the name of Islam, such as the Sunni Tehreek, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the JUI, take this position. They are cynically exploiting religion and encouraging social persecution and legal discrimination to seek political mileage. No serious religious scholar without a political axe to grind has spoken out in favor of these appalling laws. In fact, scholars such as Dr Javed Ghaamdi and Prof Khalid Masood oppose it vehemently. It is important to bear in mind that the imposition of these laws was a political not religious act, as is their defence. […]

December 4th, 2010|Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|3 Comments

Mazhub – a voice for peaceful South Asia

Brijinder SagarIn 2006, I read this brilliant poem by Brijinder”Sagar (found here on Adnan’s brilliant site). I had kept it with me for an adequate translation. I have been unable to do justice and therefore I will rework my draft to post here. In the meantime, this poem will be accessible to Urdu-Hindustani speakers. This poem is about bigotry and extremism in the name of religion that has overtaken India as well as other South Asian countries. Pakistan is no exception and Bangladesh is also witnessing the rise of Islamism, though not as alarming as India and Pakistan. Sri Lanka has also seen ethnic warfare, different in its manifestation but akin to the violence and death that comes in its wake. In such a charged environment, voices for peace are delightful.

Mazhub
Har haath main mazhub kay parcham
Har aaNkh main wehshat ka junooN
Lub pay haiN nafratoN kay sholay
KhyaaloN pay ik aawaaraa fusooN
Ik zehar ka baadal fazaa pay chaayaa hai
Khumaar-e-ghaphlat phir zehanoN pay aayaa hai
Har nighaah main bus ik swaal ki bu
Hindu ki aulaad hai ya muslim hai tu
Tarak subnay kiyay viraasat kay khazaanay
Woh Nanak ki wehdat Kabir kay taraanay
KahiN talwaaraiN to kahiN trishool aayaay
SadioN ki pehchaanaiN sub bhool aayaay
Bhai ko bhai kay qatl ki pyaas
NamooN har samt yahi ghurbat-e-ahsaas
Lahu phir apnay hi lahu say laraa hai
Waqt phir sehmaa saa ik aur ja kharaa hai
Abhi to bhray bhi na thay Zakhm tam_ddun kay
Abhi to bhoolay bhi na thay woh aleel ayaam
DariNda insaaN main uthaa tha yeh abhi kal ki baat hai
Aadam khud bika tha yeh abhi kal ki baat hai
Aur aaj phir utraa hai afreet-e-wehshat
Aur phir say lagaayay hai chehraa mazhub ka
Phir say hai hujoomoN pay ik shauq-e-bekaar
Phir say banaa mazhub bahaanaa nafrat ka
Kab talak paighaMbar yooN neelaam karogay?
Kab talak latkaingay masihay saleeb-e-yaas par?
Kab talak pinhaaN insaaN qattl hogaa?
Kab talak pashymaaN karogay apnaa wazood?
Kab talak? […]
February 14th, 2010|Religion, SouthAsia, Urdu Literature, World Literature|19 Comments

Four poems by Bulleh Shah (new translations)

Who I am

I know not who I am,
I am neither a believer going to the mosque
Nor given to non-believing ways.
Neither clean nor unclean,
Neither Moses nor Pharaoh.
I know not who I am.

I am neither among sinners nor among saints,
Neither happy nor unhappy,
I belong neither to water nor to earth.
I am neither fire nor air,
I know not who I am.

Neither do I know the secret of religion,
Nor am I born of Adam and Eve.
I have given myself no name,
I belong neither to those who squat and pray,
Nor to those who have gone astray.
I know not who I am.

I was in the beginning; I’d be there in the end.
I know not any one other than the One.
Who could be wiser than Bulleh Shah
Whose Master is ever there to tend?
I know not who I am.

Come my Love, take care of me

Come my Love, take care of me,
I am in great agony.
Ever separated, my dreams are dreary,
Looking for you, my eyes are weary.
All alone I am robbed in a desert,
Waylaid by a bunch of waywards.

The Mulla and Qazi show me the way,
Their maze of dharma that is in sway.
They are the confirmed thieves of time.
They spread their net of saintly crime.

Their time-worn norms are seldom right,
With these they chain my feet so tight!
My love cares not for caste or creed.
To the ritual faith I pay no head.

My Master lives on yonder bank
While I am caught in the gale of greed.
With his boat at anchor, He stands in wait,
I must hasten I can’t be late.

Bulleh Shah must find his love,
He needn’t have the least fright.
His Love is around, yet he looks for him
Misled in the broad daylight.

Come my love take care of me,
I am in great agony.

**************

Strange are the times!

Crows swoop on hawks
Sparrows do eagles stalk
Strange are the times!

The Iraqis are despised
While the donkeys are prized
Strange are the times!

Those with coarse blankets are kings;
The erstwhile kings watch them from the ring.
Strange are the times!

Its not without reason or rhyme,
Strange are the times

Says Bulleh, kill your ego
And throw away your pride.
You need to forget yourself
To find Him by your side.

It’s all in One contained

Understand the One and forget the rest.
Shake off your ways of an apostate pest.
Leading to the grave to hell and torture,
Rid your mind of dreams of disaster.
This is how is the argument maintained,
It’s all in One contained.

What use is it bowing one’s head?
To what avail has prostrating led?
Reading Kalma you make them laugh,
Absorbing not a word while the Quran you quaff.
The truth must be here and there sustained,
It’s all in One contained.

Some retire to the jungles in vain.
Others restrict their meals to a grain.
Misled they waste away unfed
And come back home half alive, half dead.
Emaciated in the ascetic postures feigned,
it’s all in One contained,

Seek your master, say your prayers and surrender to God,

It will lead you to mystic abandon
And help you to get attuned to the Lord.
It’s all the truth that Bulleh has gained.
It’s all in One contained.

Bulleh Shah, a renowned Muslim spiritual leader of the sub continent of Indo-Pakistan, was a Punjabi Sufi poet. His spiritual master was Shah Inayat Qadiri of Lahore and because of this Bulleh was referred to as a saint or spiritual leader. Bulleh’s real name was Abdullah Shah, but he was known as Bulleh to his family and that was the name he chose to use as a poet. […]

Islamic poster art in India – and South Asia

This piece entitled, My Name is Green, published in the weekly Outlook India traces how “forged in the cultural ferment of a century ago, Islamic poster art in India thrived on the frontiers of taboo.” The author is Shruti Ravindran, who has obviously undertaken a lot of research and also published some great samples of such posters. That Islam in South Asia acquired and adapted the local flavour and modes of social and spiritual interaction is well known.

While reading this piece, I also recalled seeing similar eclectic posters in Pakistan in my childhood before the puritanism of General Zia ul Haq engulfed the country and Wahabi variant of an exclusive and suspicious man made ‘faith’ deepened its presence, well at least in the public domain of representation.

This piece looks at some of these aspects through the popular art form. Read and enjoy – full text has been posted below courtesy the intelligent Outlook. […]

Einstein on Religion and Science

Came across this brilliant quote from Einstein:

In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests.

The excerpt from The […]

December 1st, 2007|Religion, science|18 Comments

Mughal Princess Zebunnissa – Lady of the age

Mughal history ignores women of the empire, including Emperor Aurangzeb’s daughter Zeb-un-Nissa: patron of the arts, poet, and a keeper of several lovers – according to rumours. The eldest daughter, she was Aurangzeb’s close companion for several years. She was born in 1638 to Dilras Bano of the Persian Safavid dynasty. Loved by Aurangzeb, she was named carefully to reflect his station.

A favourite, she was exposed to the affairs of the Mughal court. With a sound education in the arts, languages, astronomy and sciences of the day, Zeb-un-Nissa turned into an aware and sensitive princess. She never married and kept herself occupied by poetry and a spiritual Sufi quest.

This is the irony – Aurangzeb’s daughter was an antithesis of her father’s persona and politics. Zeb-un-Nissa was both a Sufi and a gifted poet. The Divan-i-Makhfi – a major divan – is credited to her name. Given her father’s dislike for poetry, she could only be makhfi – the invisible.

There was subversion too – like all rebels she attended and participated in the literary and cultural events of her age, dressed in her veil.

Unlike her puritanical father, Zeb-un-Nissa did not share her father’s orthodox views on religion and society. Steeped in mystic thought, her ghazals sang of love, freedom and inner experience: […]