Friday, 28 December 2007

Liberal vs Progressive

Senator Hilary Clinton is asked if she would define herself as a liberal. I was recently called by a national newspaper who said quite openly to me, 'I am calling you because I wanted an alternative liberal viewpoint'! Not quite sure if I was to be offended but I did feel at unease that I was being boxed in this way. Are the narrow minded conservatives the mainstream viewpoint then? Who decided these paradigms? The progressive voices in Islam are the is just a matter of time before we all realise it:) If you kill one force of liberty another wave will emerge!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto - 1953-2007 - An Obituary from the Heart

It is with great sadness and pain that I write about the untimely death of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan. The first female leader of a Muslim country and the leader of the largest political party in Pakistan was assassinated today.

After addressing an audience in Liaqat National Park in the garrison city of Rawalpindi it is alleged that a lone assassin opened fire and shot her in the neck and then detonated explosives strapped on him that killed over thirty people.

This is a shameful and ghastly attack on a political leader and a time of great sorrow for the nation of Pakistan. Since its inception Pakistan has been fighting for its national identity between the Mullah’s who demand an Islamic state and those who sought a state infused with Islam yet progressive and cultural. Benazir was a beacon of progress as she had been aware of the needs of bridging the gap between Pakistan’s rich heritage and the modern world. Every political leader in the world is accused of corruption and sleaze but in every political leader there is something good which they have all contributed to society. Why is it that we hear so little of the corruption charges against other political leaders in Pakistan?

As a woman, Benazir faced great hardship from those men who used every means to discredit her. From using faulty Hadith (sayings of the prophet) against female political leadership to corruption charges, they spared no means to dismiss her. Just recently I saw another despicable way of discrediting her on youtube where someone had posted a fake photograph of her exposing herself. As we are aware that conservative and political Islam places a huge emphasis on the outward appearance of people, especially women, this was a way of saying that she was in some way a lesser Muslim. Another accusation against her was the fact that she did not wear the head covering tight enough.  Against all this non sense, she marched on.

Benazir fought against all of these and showed the world that she was a woman focused on the progress of Pakistan. Benazir, as a woman, managed to lead a nation dominated by men and show the same calibre and charisma that the Qur’an shows in the case of the Queen of Sheba (Bilqis – Surah Naml). To take someone’s life in this way is something far from the realms of Islam and this is an act motivated by a political Islam which angers and depresses me. Let us not forget that the prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was one of the most powerful woman in the land and she was one of the greatest protectors of the prophet when the community refused to accept he was a prophet. The prophet’s other wives were also just as powerful. Aisha is credited with narrating many thousands of sayings of the prophet. I am fully aware of the warts and all that are associated with Benazir but she gave hope to the many hundreds and thousands of women in Pakistan, and around the world, to raise their voices against patriarchy and male domination not just in the political sphere but also the religious and cultural. For how long will we continue to muzzle the voices of women? For how long will women accept their voices to be muzzled because they have accepted patriarchy as a given in Islam?

The politics of Pakistan has a rippling effect on what happens in British/Scottish Islam too as the link between our two countries is strong because of emotional and familial ties of the first generation of Muslims in the UK, who are predominantly from Pakistan, and also the fact that the subsequent generation are still going back to Pakistan to find marriage partners and we continue to import Pakistani born Imams to lead us in the Mosques. Those Mosques who think that they can fool us into believing that there is progress by having British born Imams must not think we are that foolish to realise that they may wear the faces of British Muslim but their training, teaching and regressive Islamic understanding is from the same madrassas (seminaries) who exported the previous bunch!

Pakistan also has a very poor literacy rate and those wanting blind conformity have no intention of changing this status quo. Was an Oxford and Harvard graduate maybe just too much to handle by such people? Did they not want Benazir to be a role model to a new generation of educated Pakistanis who could stand on the international academic platform and be recognised for their expertise? How many international academic experts do we know from Pakistan? Why are the so-called Muslim leaders in Scotland so reluctant in highlighting this courageous woman's contributions to the Muslim world? I find it astonishing that they remain cold hearted and dismiss her even after her death. Even the prophet Muhammad stood for the funeral of a Jewish person stating that he had a duty to stand for a soul had died. Where is the mercy and grace to which Muslims pray to five times a day? Is it then not a weakness of faith when the faithful fail to find a positive word about the deceased? Much soul searching needs to be done all sides!

And so we must all seek progress in Pakistan in order to see progress in the UK. The two are interlinked and will continue to be interlinked for a very long time. The death of Benazir will be welcomed by all the narrow minded Muslim bigots but let there arise from this a wave of progressive voices who shout louder than those who want Muslims to conform as one uniform monolith. God bless us all! May the soul of Benazir be graciously accepted into the gardens of heaven and her sins be forgiven in the same way we seek the forgiveness of every deceased, Amen.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Eid and Christmas: Khutbas and Turkey

Eid-al-Adha was an interesting day this year. For one, the car park at Glasgow Central Mosque was not as jam packed with cars as it usually is. However, the mosque was pretty full with a nice atmosphere. The Imam gave a pretty down the middle sermon (khutba) in which good and bad, right and wrong were clearly defined. He said that we must accept when ‘brothers want to dress and look in the way that our beloved prophet did’ or when ‘sisters want to dress in the correct manner’ and his rational was based on the idea that when we have people wanting to follow one, two or no God then why must our dress code be such shock horror. Hmm, somehow I feel the theology is weak for surely there is a difference between what we wear and what we believe? Even the prostitute during the time of the prophet was guaranteed paradise for just feeding a thirsty cat with some water. I found the prayer very spiritual and the Imam did a great job in showing the love and compassion to all in these prayers.

Christmas was sunny! I started the festivities with Midnight Mass at Saint Andrews Catholic Cathedral in Clyde Street, Glasgow. I went with my tennis coach and some other friends. I was amazed so see so many non-white faces, it was one of the most multicultural congregations I had seen in a Church. The sermon was full of many formalities and let’s not forget the incense!

On Christmas morning I went to Saint Augustines Episcopal Church in Dumbarton where Father Kenny gave a wonderful sermon. He recalled a primary school nativity play where a Down syndrome boy had just one line to say, “There is no room at the Inn” for Mary and Joseph. The teachers gave out a sigh of relief that he had managed the lines when they turned to see that he had ran behind Mary and Joseph and gasped out, “But it’s ok my mammy has a spare room that you can stay in!”. A beautiful example of innocent love, a love that at times is non-existent in the adult as it filters through the complexities of our ugly world and loses its place in our hearts. I had Christmas Lunch at a Methodist Ministers house. We sat and watched Her Majesty the Queen give her Christmas speech. She made an interesting point of remembering those servicemen who are out in the battle field as we sit to feast ourselves on a Halal turkey!

I want to keep this short so here are a few of my conclusions to these two important events in the Muslim and Christian calendar. Sermons need to relate to the lives of the congregation. A good step has been taken in Glasgow Central Mosque to recruit English-speaking Imams but we need Scottish born Imams! We need sermons to be in English that talk about Scottish life. Ethics and morality become an ideal without any examples from our lives in Scotland. There are times when I feel there are some examples but it always turns out to be examples which highlight something ugly in Scottish society. For example to highlight the effects of alcohol, Imams will illustrates its negative effect by talking about the binge culture of a few Scots and all the antics of some hedonists on a Friday night! This is not what makes me feel proud as a Scot. If we as Muslims want others to seek the beautiful in our faith then we must seek the beautiful in all that surrounds us too and accept it as ours, correcting what is bad for our society. In the Catholic Cathedral there was a presence of women at the altar, notably when they read scripture. Women must have a presence in Mosques that is visible to everyone. The prophet’s wives did not sit on a balcony and teach the faith! They took an active part in the promotion of good and this is what we need at the very heart and soul of the Muslim life. I pray that everyone had a wonderful Eid and a special Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2007

Salman Ahmed: Music, Liberty, Mullah's, HIV and Pakistan

Salman Ahmad (Urdu: سلمان احمد) is a Pakistani American musician and former actor, who used to be a member of Vital Signs but left after their debut album due to creative differences. He is also a medical doctor. See:

I came across this al-Jazeera TV interview recently which I thought was great. A lot to think about.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Eid and Christmas Dinner 2007

As part of my commitment to furthering the study of Islam, I direct an alumni society for all past and present students of mine. Our secretary, Margot, must be commended for helping us put together a superb Christmas/Eid Night out on Sunday 16th December at Cafe India, Merchant City, Glasgow. It was a fun night! Just wanted to post the photos! Enjoy!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

'Hum Dekhain Gay' - We Shall See...

Iqbal Bano is one of the most renowned classical ghazal singers in Pakistan. Bano was born in 1935 in Delhi and from a young age was given training by some of the finest Ghazal experts such as Ustad Chaand Khan of the Delhi Gharan. After her marriage she moved to Lahore in Pakistan and began learning from Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan of the Patiala Gharana and Ustad Abdul Karim Khan of the Kirana Gharana. It was observed that she was apt to genres like thumri, dadra and ghazal. For an explanation of what Ghazals are see: Bano has also been acclaimed by Iran and Afghanistan for her Persian singing. It is said that the Afghan King once presented her with a golden vase after one of her performances at an annual Jashn-e-Kabul (Festival of Culture) before 1979.

Bano was considered a specialist in presenting the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. One such ghazal is 'Hum Dekhain gay' which means 'We will see'. This ghazal roused the emotions of many (at one gathering it is said there were 50,000) during Faiz imprisonment, under charges of treason, and this poem has widely been understood to be a metaphor against the injustice that was prevalent in society. I have found this poem being recited by many even today on the situation in Pakistan. At the bottom of this page you can see Bano sing this ghazal at a concert in Dubai. Bano's hand gestures capture the sentiments of this piercing poem perfectly!

'We will see' has hit many a chord with me too as I am still saddened to see that Muslims in seats of power in Scotland are not fighting for justice and social equality but fighting for their own self promotion. Those speaking in the name of Islam and Muslims are abusing their platforms to further their own political motives. They use the letters of God to rouse emotions but lost is the spirit of God within them. 'We will see' these times come to an end as narrow minds never succeed. The media continues to use these same so-called Muslim leaders for sound bites which suit their ends. It leaves me thinking do we really want to see Scotland progress to pastures new and fruitful or is this just one big political game? I am left in hope that Gods kingdom will prevail and that the veils will be snatched from the faces of evil who disguise themselves in Islam. I pray that we all see the progressive voices stand up and be accounted for, no longer smothered by the loudest voices. Good will always prevail over evil and I pray for the day when we are blessed with spiritual and Godly Muslim leadership in Scotland! We shall see...

Poem By Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Translated by Ayesha Kaljuvee

Lazim Hai ke hum Bhi Dekhain Gay
It is necessary that we shall also see
Woh Din ke Jis ka Wadah Hai
That day which has been promised
Jo Loh-e-Azl pe Likha hai
Which is written with God's ink
Hum Dekhain Gay
We shall see

Jab Zulm-o-Sitam ke Koh-e-garaan

When the mountains of cruelty and torture
Ruii ki Tarah Urd Jain Gay
Will fly like pieces of cotton
Hum Mehkumoon ke Paun Talay
Under the feet of the governed
Yeh Dharti Dhard Dhard Dhardkay gi
This earth will quake
Aur Ehl-e-Hukum ke Sar Uper
And over the head of the ruler
Jab Bijli kard Kard Kardke gi
When lightening will thunder
Hum Dekhain Gay
We shall see

Jab Arz-e-Khuda ke kabay se
When from God's Mecca
Sab but Uthwaaiy Jain gay
All the idols will be shattered
Hum Ehl-e-Safa Mardood-e-Haram
Us people standing in the mosque
Masnad pe Bithaaiy jain gay
Will be elevated to a higher platform
Sab Taaj Uchalay jain gay
All the crowns will be tossed
Sab Takht Giraaiy Jain gay
All the thrones will be toppled

Bas Naam rahay Ga Allah ka
Then only God's name will remain
Jo Ghayab Bhi hai Hazir Bhi
Who is both absent and present
Jo nazir bhi hai manzar bhi
Who is both the observer and the view itself
Uthay ga Analhaq ka Naara
When the anthem of truth will be raised
Jo Main bhi Hun aur Tumbhi ho
Who I am and you are as well
Aur Raaj karay gi khalq-e-Khuda
And the people of God will reign
Jo main bhi hun aur tum bhi ho
Who I am and you are as well

Hum Dekhain Gay
We shall see
Lazim Hai ke hum Bhi Dekhain Gay
It is necessary that we shall also see
Hum Dekhain Gay

We shall see...

Friday, 14 December 2007

Faiz Ahmed Faiz - A Progressive Pakistani 20th Century Poet

I personally have a great love for this poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (see right), especially when sung by Noor Jehan. I found this fascinating article about it and thought I would share it. It might be an idea to read the article and then listen to the ghazal. If you are not conversant in Urdu then at least you have an idea about what she is saying.

by Simon Korner @

"Don't Ask Me for That Love Again"

Romantic love disturbed by rumours of injustice, and the strange sweetness of a prison evening. Simon Korner intoduces a poem by Pakistan's great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. (

Just as the poetry of Pablo Neruda was massively popular with ordinary Chileans - who regarded him as their national poet - so Faiz Ahmed Faiz was loved by millions of Pakistanis, who knew his poems by heart. His funeral in 1984 was a day of mourning for the whole country, and many Faiz poems have been set to music and are still widely sung.

Faiz, a Communist like Neruda, was born in British India in 1911, the son of a lawyer. He joined the newly formed Progressive Writers’ Movement in the 1930s, served in the Indian Army during the Second World War, becoming a Lieutenant Colonel, and after Partition - which he condemned - moved to Pakistan, where he became editor of the Pakistan Times, an English-language daily. He also worked as managing editor of the Urdu daily Imroz, and was actively involved in organising trade unions.

In 1951 Faiz was accused of plotting a coup with a group of Pakistani army officers and, after four years on death row, was released in 1955 after worldwide pressure from such stars as Paul Robeson. In 1962 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union. He went into exile in Moscow, London and Beirut, eventually returning to Pakistan.

Faiz as a young manMuch of his poetry follows the conventions of ghazal, the classical form of traditional Urdu poetry, which had been influenced by Persian literature. But Faiz’s work revolutionises the conventions, extending the meanings of many traditional terms. For instance, Faiz often addresses poems to his "beloved", a central word in the ghazal vocabulary. In his hands, it refers to both a person and also to the people as whole, even to revolution. He sees the individual as existing within a wider context: “The self of a human being, despite all its loves, troubles, joys and pains, is a tiny, limited and humble thing.”

His most famous poem Don’t Ask Me for That Love Again, which is not in the strict ghazal form, explains why he can no longer cocoon himself inside romantic love:

“That which then was ours, my love,
don’t ask me for that love again.
The world then was gold, burnished with light –
and only because of you.”

He goes on to recall powerfully the total absorption of being in love:

“How could one weep for sorrows other than yours?
How could one have any sorrow but the one you gave?
So what were these protests, these rumors of injustice?
A glimpse of your face was evidence of springtime.
The sky, whenever I looked, was nothing but your eyes.”

But such romanticism is answered in the second part of the poem, where his later experiences are described:

“All this I’d thought, all this I’d believed.
But there were other sorrows, comforts other than love.
The rich had cast their spell on history…”

The youthful, Romeo-like quality in the line “If you’d fall into my arms, Fate would be helpless” cannot be sustained in the face of reality:

“Bitter threads began to unravel before me
as I went into alleys and in open markets
saw bodies plastered with ash, bathed in blood.
I saw them sold and bought, again and again.”

An alternative translation of these lines puts it even more strongly:
“Everywhere – in the alleys and bazaars –
Human flesh is being sold -
Throbbing between layers of dust – bathed in blood.”

He can’t ignore this reality once he has seen it, and yet neither can he forget his human beloved. “And you are still so ravishing – what should I do?” This, perhaps, is the source of the poem’s power – its refusal to opt for simple heroics and straighten out the ambivalence he feels. He can’t deny how sweet love is, and yet in spite of this he also acknowledges that:

“There are other sorrows in this world,
comforts other than love.
Don’t ask me, my love, for that love again.”

It isn’t that he scorns love but that he understands that it can’t exist in isolation from the world. The phrase “comforts other than love” suggests the joys of political struggle and comradeship, as though these could be a different, wider form of love. In that repetition of “my love” in the final line, Faiz nevertheless re-emphasises how difficult it is to leave behind his former bliss. This is a poem about the heavy burden of taking on responsibility, and the inner struggle that that entails.

Don’t Ask Me for That Love Again
mujh se pehli si mohabbat meray mehbub na maang

mein ne samjha tha kay tu hai to darakhshaan hai hayaat
I had thought if I had you, life would shine eternally on me
tera gham hai to gham-e-dahar ka jhagdra kya hai
If I had your sorrows, those of the universe would mean nothing
teri surat se hai aalam mein bahaaron ko sabaat
Your face would bring permanence to every spring
teri aankhon ke sivaa duniya mein rakkha kya hai
What is there but your eyes to see in the world anyway
tu jo mil jaaye to taqdir niguun ho jaaye
If I found you, my fate would bow down to me
yun na tha mein ne faqat chahaa tha yun ho jaaye
This was not how it was, it was merely how I wished it to be

anaginat sadiyon ki taarik bahimanaa talism
The dreadful magic of uncountable dark years
resham-o-atalas-o-kamkhvaab mein bunavaaye huye
Woven in silk, satin and brocade
jaa-ba-jaa bikate huye kuuchaa-o-baazaar mein jism
In every corner are bodies sold in the market
khaak mein lithade huye khuun mein nahalaaye huye
Covered in dust, bathed in blood

jism nikale huye amaraaz ke tannuuron se
Bodies retrieved from the cauldrons of disease
piip bahatii hu_ii galate huye naasuuron se
Discharge flowing from their rotten ulcers
laut jaati hai udhar ko bhi nazar kyaa kije
Still returns my gaze in that direction, what can be done
ab bhi dilkash hai tera husn magar kya kije
Even now your beauty is tantalizing, but what can be done

aur bhii dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke sivaa
There are other heartaches in the world than those of love
raahaten aur bhi vasl ki raahat ke sivaa
There is happiness other than the joy of union
mujh se pehli si mohabbat meray mehbub na maang
...Don’t ask me, my love, for that love again.”

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Are Muslims a Cultural Threat to Scotland?

The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, led by Professor John Curtice - University of Strathclyde, has revealed that 1,500 people were asked if we should do everything we can to get rid of prejudice, 65% said yes, but it seems that 29% said that it was sometimes 'ok' to discriminate. Half of those interviewed said that Scotland would lose its 'identity' if more Muslims came to live here. The full news can be read at:

Great, another reason for the usual suspects to come out and use this piece, I stress piece - 1500 is in no way representative, to scream Islamophobia. A great rallying point for the so-called Muslim leaders to embolden the 'us' and 'them' mentality which we so need to lose as Scots. Prejudice and discrimination occurs in every society but in every society there are also the good people who raise their voices and heads above all of this nonsense and build bridges between communities. Why must we always be set on profiling the ugly? This piece of research will probably raise issues that weren't issues before! Those Scots (Muslim or non) will now sit back and consider what are the pros and cons of having Muslims live in this country. It is also worth considering what exactly is our Scottish culture and identity? Could it be that having a nationalist government has made us all sit up and consider our identity? When an identity is vulnerable and weak it pushes up barriers to the other so maybe we need our nationalist government to put their money where there mouth is and begin a national dialogue on a 21st century Scottish identity. Not just saltires, haggis and kilts (see picture:) but the nitty gritty of Scottish lifestyle. Are we up to the challenge of such a debate?

I received an email from asking me to comment on this news. Interesting, this is the first time that they have contacted me for my views. I'm sure they were hoping that I would say the usual, 'everyones against us, we must unite', well I'm sorry this is a problem for all of us, regardless of race, creed and religion and we must all fight it together. What is it that makes folk so afraid of Islam? Are we allowing a critical discussion and debate to take place which will eradicate such prejudices? Scottish political leaders must wake up and smell the coffee. They need to stop entertaining the so-called moderates because they are the ones who breed discrimination with their regressive, monolithic views which fail to express the sentiments of the progressive and critical masses whose voices have been hijacked by those politically motivated. As a Muslim I know how quick narrow minded bigots in some Muslim communities are to gag people from writing something critical about Islam or name a teddy bear after our beloved prophet, so are we so shocked that people worry that their culture is threatened by Muslims? Are we saying that Muslims don't discriminate or bear prejudices? Are we always the victims and never the guilty? Where is the fun and liberty in Islam that flourished in every culture during the medieval period? And then we must consider to what extent are the wider communities in Scotland taking the step to move closer to minority communities? Are they breaking down barriers and building bridges? Are they informing themselves on the 'other'? It is surely a double edged sword, no one community is to blame for this mess of prejudice and stereotype that we have.

Prejudices and stereotypes are not broken by stating the usual platitudes of 'Islam being a religion of peace', they are broken by bearing warts and all to each other and seeking help from one another in mending what is wrong and celebrating all that is right. The sooner Scots realise this will we rid our beautiful land of the narrow minded idiots! Amen!

And here is the proof of the pudding. This weekend my sister and I were invited by a dear friend to help decorate a Christmas tree. My sister and her kids had a great time and at no time was their Islamic identity threatened by this very Scottish tradition (I'm trying not to say Christian because I don't think trees are!:) Just look at the smiles and also note the Archbishop TuTu doll behind my Hijab-clad, tinseled sister's head, that is what makes me feel proud as a Scot, the fusion of such diversity, each proud in its own right.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Mercy of God: Jerusalem

Eid and Christmas will be celebrated in the same month this year. As Muslims celebrate the end of the Hajj season and the sacrifice of Abraham of his son for God, Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. I began to think about Jerusalem, the holy land where Jews, Christians and Muslims once lived in peace and harmony. I managed to find one of my favorite clips from Orlando Bloom's 'Kingdom of God' where Saladdin offers him a peace treaty. Saladdin, the 12th Century leader of the Ayyubid Dynasty, conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187AD. According to the French writer Rene Grousse, "It is equally true that his generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in Frankish Syria than in the lands of Islam." I pray for the day when we are blessed with Muslim leaders who are led by the spirit of God.

an Ode to Love: The Qur'an

The Qur'an is the central point of law and guidance for Muslims throughout the world. Law and guidance, it sounds so formal. I have heard so often the idea that there are two paths in Islam, one takes you to heaven and the other to hell. The former is difficult and full of thorns and the latter is full of bright lights. This over simplified reasoning just doesn't make sense to me. What exactly is meant by the 'bright lights'? Are they symbolic of our worldly delights? Does this mean we all hibernate in prayer and recitation of the Qur'an all day and night? Even the prophet Muhammad prohibited his companions from such actions. They came to him one day each trying to show his belief in the highest form, I will give up women, I will give up eating and drinking, I will pray all the time. No, said the prophet, I do all of these things but in moderation and balance, live your life in this world but never forget what is yet to come, your return to God. This world has many delights to offer and it is those who hold a strong faith, can remain faithful to God and still enjoy the world that He has blessed us with. Those who wish to isolate themselves in some religious bubble may well be Godly but the real struggle of faith is its interaction with all that surrounds it. Don't get me wrong I admire those who spend hours in the Mosque or in a Church, if it works for them then who am I to argue, but for me my faith becomes stronger when it faces the ugly and the beautiful in the world.

And so, I believe that the Qur'an is a scripture rooted in love, a message lost at the hands of the puritans who wish to make it a text of law. The Qur'an is not a legal text, it is a text which has many different facets to it. God is addressed at the beginning of every passage, bismillah al-rahman al-rahim, 'beginning with the name of God, abundant mercy, ever lasting mercy, forgiveness'. Starting any passage with these words gives us an insight into the way God forces us to reach for this text with the touch of mercy, the touch of love. I am amazed at how such a beautiful text has been abused by the narrow minds. In one passage it says, 'Ask your sustainer to forgive you your sins, and then turn towards Him in repentance - for, verily, my Sustainer is the dispenser of grace, a fount of Love' (Qur'an 11:90)

Christmas is a time of love and compassion. Venerating the life of Jesus Christ or Prophet of Islam. A time when we must all reflect in the love that our faith and this world has to offer. It is time to see the way in which belief, scripture and the world we live in complement each other so beautifully.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Scottish Interfaith Week: Crescents and the Cross

Left-Right, Margot Rhead, Me and Father Kenny at St Augustines Church

I was kindly invited to present a public lecture at Saint Augustines Episcopal Church in Dumbarton on the invitation of Father Kenny and Mrs Margot Rhead. I was not quite sure what I should highlight in the short time allocated to me as there was so much that I wanted to talk about. I began my discussion with an enquiry into the term 'believer'. A believer in monotheism is one who believes in God and so in my view this includes Jews, Christians and Muslims. When Muhammad turned to the believers of his day with the message of Islam they turned to him and said 'truly we were Muslims (believers) before it' (Qur'an 28:52-55) This brings up the issue of God incarnate. In my view it is not such a stumbling point of unity between the faiths. It's pretty simple really, God becomes flesh (Jesus) or God becomes the word (Qur'an). The central and key point here is that God is central to everything and one must submit to God. The key historical figures we find in religious scriptures, the Bible, Qur'an or Torah all move us towards the blessings and mercy of God so why are so many taking part in this rat race in the battle for God?

For me then the term believer bears no box of Muslim, Jew or Cristian for these terms all fall at the wayside when we all try to uphold good and prevent evil. It is then essential to understand that no one faith has a monopoly on the truth and Islam, Judaism and Christianity all need one another in order to clarify their positions. There are stories in the Qur'an which make more sense when you complement them with biblical readings and vice versa. The most important point is that one must move away from the 'this is right' and 'that is wrong' mentality. John Hick states, 'we have no reason to restrict ourselves to the spiritual resources of our own traditions.' I couldn't agree more.

I am sad to see that we are so caged in our boxes that we need an Interfaith Week to be coerced to find out about the other. Could it be that that pluralism is the biggest threat to religion in the modern world? This question was once raised by one of my inspirational teachers, Mona Siddiqui, and it is a question that has been buzzing around in my head for a very long time. It saddens me that the love and mercy of God is lost through the political ambitions of man, using and abusing each other using God as their weapon. When we stop to do this will we ever realise our shared humanity and then appreciate the liberating and progressive force that God truly wants us to experience.

I found this quote quite refreshing, 'The disciples asked Jesus, "Tell us, which man is the most devoted to God?" "He who labors for the sake of God without seeking praise of mankind", replied Jesus. "Which man offers sincere counsel for the sake of God?" they asked. "He who begins by fulfilling his duties towards God before his duty to men (and prefers) the duties of God to the duties of men. When faced with two choices, worldly matters and matters of the afterlife, he begins with what concerns the afterlife and then turns his attention to this world." (Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (d181), al-Zuhd)

Finally, I want to promote a book which I think is going to be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Islam and Interfaith. This is a booked edited by two key figures within the department that I work, Professor Perry Schmidt-Leukel who is professor of Systematic Theology and Religious Studies and the Chair of World Religions for Peace and Dr Lloyd Ridgeon whos is senior lecturer in Islamic Studies. Ok, Ok, I am bias a bit because Lloyd is my phd supervisor and my guiding light these days, he is an amazing guy, so humble and scholarly. The book is called 'Islam and Inter-faith Relations', see at This is an edited collection of papers that were presented in a series of lectures at the University of Glasgow jointly by the Centre for Interfaith Studies and the Centre for the Study of Islam. Five Muslim theologians discuss issues of interfaith with scholars of Christianity, Judaism , Hinduism and Buddhism, a must read!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Postcard from California!

West Hollywood, November 2007

Yes, they let me in!

The eleven hour flight was made all the more enjoyable on Air New Zealand with my own personal TV screen with movies on demand. I watched Angelina Jolie's movie, A Mighty Heart, This was a moving account of the Daniel Pearl case which sent shockwaves throughout the world. Jolie played the role of Daniel's wife superbly. The movie showed that amongst all the nutters in Pakistan who have no respect for life and death there are still some good people, it is the same good people that made Mariane Pearl bear no hatred towards Pakistan or Pakistanis.

So why was I off to the States? I was in San Diego for the American Academy of Religion conference, The AAR hold the world’s largest conference where scholars of religion gather to present papers and hold stimulating intellectual conversations, well, nearly always. San Diego is a lovely city with much to offer, especially the weather. The first day I walked to the convention centre from my apartment and quickly learnt why nearly everyone in California has a car. There is so much space that roads just don't seem to end, from one block to the other is like walking the whole of Glasgow’s west end, ok ok, a tad exaggerated but you get the idea!

One thing about this conference was that everyone was trying to impress everyone. If not through their academic papers then through their networking schmoozing. "Let's do coffee later", "Let's do breakfast tomorrow" or "How about dinner the day after". I skipped a dinner and a breakfast I was invited to because I knew it was going to be too much like work than just eating! A senior academic once said to me that those who are good will not need to network and so true it is. And you would think that religion scholars would be humble and modest, ye right, they are all out to promote their own ideas better than anyone else’s. As for those in Islamic Studies, hmmm, it seems that every Tom, Dick and Muhammad (just don't call your Teddy that name! Oh one word on the subject 'ridiculous'!) in Islamic Studies wants to be the Muslim Martin Luther, calling for this reform and that reform. There are some progressive scholars out there who are working their butts off in order to keep the study of Islam as fresh, appealing and most of all fun. I am forever going to be critical but credit where credit is due so hats off to the organisers for putting it all together, a place where in between all the egos there was some intellectual buzz, that is what makes me return year after year. I met Ghazal Anwar there who seems to have gone through a very difficult time in Pakistan, I believe wholeheartedly in academic freedom, no one has the right to try and silence anyone.

Next stop LA! After the conference I decided to take a few days off and spend it in West Hollywood. I stayed at a beautiful resort and met some really wonderful people. I read the book 'Ode to Lata' by Ghalib Dhalla ( last year and decided to contact the author. Ghalib was pleasent yet earnest in his response as he told me that his book was being made into a movie directed by the bollywod genius behind movies such as Devdaas, none other but Bharat Shah. A daring movie, 'Ode', which would be based on Ghalib's book about a homosexual Muslim living in LA. So I met up with Ghalib and I spent thanksgiving with his family which was sweet. LA was everything I imagined it to be. Bright lights, the movies, the faces, the attitude, the plastics, the add ons, the add offs. In amongst all the dazzle and glitter I could not help but notice that a lot of people are sad in that part of the world. Their lives are full of the most expensive things on the planet but some of them have only these things to keep them company at night. Everyone wants to be a movie star too! I met a young boy aged twenty two who has already had his first nose job and is at acting school. “Waiting for that big break, you think I will make it?” he said to me. I was not quite sure what ‘making’ it really meant. We all have ambitions and goals I guess but I stopped to wonder if these were really this boy’s goals or were they being enforced upon him. I was on vacation so I had to stop making every experience an academic enquiry! So I shopped in Beverly Hills and dined at Sunset Blvd. I have to confess I did try the little attitude in the Armani and Gucci stores, ok, didn't quite work but at least I tried! Guess who has the latest Gucci bag? Not me!

You are wondering where I am going with all of this, right? Well, I'm just trying to say that sometimes jumping out of our comfort zones and moving into zones that we may already be reluctant about are sometimes good experiences for us. I am tired of all the anti-American (and anti-Israel) talk that exists. In amongst all the wicked people in America there are a lot of good people too and we have must focus on the good in order to enrich our own lives. So I would recommend California to everyone!

On the way back I watched an interesting movie called the Tattooist, This was a movie about a guy who wants to learn the ancient Samoan tradition of tattooing but as he begins to learn he awakens the evil spirits which aim to kill. Tattoos are a big no no in Islamic tradition because they change the natural appearance of the body. I'm sure this has not stopped many Muslims from getting a tattoo though. It depends what the tattoo means to the person getting it done and I believe that there are many other ways that human beings disfigure their 'natural' bodies!

So here I am back in Glasgow! Trying to overcome jet lag and getting used to our cold and wet weather. Ah well, home is where the heart is :)

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Tears from the Heart

I was reading Martin Lings biography of the Prophet Muhammad and came across this interesting story about tears and the mercy of God.

Lings recalls the time when the Prophet Muhammad went to the grave of his daughter, Ruqayyah. His other daughter, Fatima, accompanied him. As they sat at the side of Ruqayyah's grave, the tears poured from the eyes of Fatima for her sister. The Prophet comforted her and dried her tears with the corner of his cloak. The Prophet's companion, Umar, raised his voice against the weeping at which the Prophet said, "Let them weep, what comes from the heart and from the eye, that is from God and His mercy, but what cometh from the hand and from the tongue, that is from Satan."

This reminded me of Rumi's poetry, "Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation"...

I found an interesting collection of some of his poetry translated. Enjoy!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Pakistani Films, Artists - Between Islamic Texts, Law and Real Lives

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day - Monday 5th November 2007

The Pakistani Film Festival began in Glasgow this weekend. The festival aims to showcase Pakistani films, arts and artists. Does Pakistan even have a film industry I hear you say? Well, Bollywood, the Indian film industry, churns out the largest number of movies in the world but the Pakistani movie industry, better known as Lollywood, has not been as successful. This has been largely due to Pakistan’s turbulent political times.

For in Pakistan there's been a 'push and pull' between those who wish to promote film and the arts and those who believe that they should not be part of their ideal ‘Islamic’ state. So - It is only in recent times that Pakistanis have started to invest properly in their movie industry. This has meant a new wave of more daring, critical and controversial themes in movies. Terrorism, mixed faith marriages, and reform in Islam are just some of the issues people have been making films about in recent years.

The puritans of Pakistan have used many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and passages of the Qur’an to curb music and films, but to no avail. Music and movies have always been a part of Pakistani culture. The current wave of Pakistani movies, show us that every religious text and law needs to relate to the lives of real human beings, and not exist in a cultural or historical vacuum. With emergency rule being enforced this weekend - the media restricted, hundreds arrested and possibly elections delayed; it seems a faint hope that the film industry will not be affected!

But for me, the cinema theatre is a 'sacred space' where the mind and soul sees no limit to creativity and critical analysis. Something I personally take for granted from the western film industries. I pray that peace comes to Pakistan soon and they continue to make such challenging films. We all have our own sacred space for creativity and I hope this space is not denied to others but celebrated.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Noor Jehan, Queen of Melody, Pakistan

Some of you may know I am a great fan of Noor Jehan (Light of the Worlds) (1926-2000). Noor Jehan was one of the most prolific and outstanding singers of India/Pakistan. She is revered by Pakistan as 'Malika-e-Tarunum' - Queen of Melodies. Noor Jehan has sung around 10,000 songs in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi films in both India and Pakistan. After partition of India and Pakistan she decided to settle in Pakistan. For me she was a beacon of a progressive Pakistani mind which was creative and musical. Her songs are powerful and her aura was even greater.

On 23rd December 2000 Noor Jehan died after suffering a heart attack. It was also the 27th Night of the Holy Month of Ramadhan. I still recall the night when I heard the news on a Pakistani Satellite channel. It is said that her funeral prayers were offered at Jamia Masjid Sultan, Karachi and that She is buried in the Left Side of Gate 2 at the Gizri Graveyard near Saudi Consulate in Karachi. Her grave is built of golden marble.

One report states, "In death, Noor Jehan dissociated herself from those she kept her company all her life, and left in the company of taraweeh prayers. When news of her death spread, people could not resist and turned on their televisions in the middle of the holy night's prayers for one last look of that smiling, dimpled face - that magic, charisma, that legend they called Malika-e-Taranum Noor Jehan." Taken from Wikipedia

Here are a few verses of a very famous song she sang which I have tried to translate, those Urdu experts please excuse any shortcomings here. This was sung in the movie Anmol Ghari (1946) in which she also starred. If anyone knows the poet please let me know.

I watched a live performance of Noor Jehan recently and whilst she was singing this song I noticed something very interesting. Let me place the context. This was one of her last live concerts which was in aid of the new cancer hospital that Imran Khan had established. It was also at the height of Noor Jehan's illness and it is evident that she is not at her best. As she is introduced on stage she begins by thanking God who has blessed the worlds with His grace. So when Noor Jehan starts with the words 'Aawaz de Kahaan Hai' she looks towards the sky as if to call to God... I found it very moving, amazing how at an earthly level we may understand these as love songs between human beings but they can quite easily be exchanged for the true love that a believer has, between themselves and their true beloved, God.

aawaz de kahaan hai
Call for me, where are you?
duniya meri jawan hai
My world is still young, healthy
aabaad mere dil mein ummeed ka jahaan hai
There is yet much hope in my heart
aaise mein tu kahaan hai
And then I wonder where are you?
duniya meri jawan hai ...
My world is still young, healthy

aa raat jaa rahi hai
Oh the night departs
yu jaise chandani ki
As if the stars
baaraat ja rahi hai
Are also departing in congregation
chalne ko ab falak se
Moving towards the galaxy
taaron ka kaarvaan hai
An exodus of stars
aaise mein tu kahaan hai
And then I wonder where are you?
duniya meri jawaan hai ...
My world is still young, healthy

kismat pe chha rahi hai
Why is it prevailing my destiny
kyon raat ki siyaahi
This dark night's ink
viran hai meri neenden
My sleep is abandoned
taaron se le gavaahi
Seek witness from the midnight stars
barbaad main yahaan hoon
I am unsuccesful here
aabaad tu kahaan hai
You are left succesful there
bedard aasmaan hai ...
The sky is left unshaken, unmoved
aaise mein tu kahaan hai
And then I wonder where are you?

aawaz de kahaan hai ...
Call for me, Where are you?

Monday, 29 October 2007

Eid-al-Fitr Party!

Some of you have been emailing me asking about my Eid Party photos. So here they are! I had an Eid Party at my flat on Sunday 14th October and around 30 folk came along for a pot-luck dinner!

Eid is a time of celebration, the mercy and blessing of God for giving us the strength to fast for a whole month in His remembrance. It is a time when we must share that love with everyone and I wanted to organise an Eid party where I invited close friends (and family) and also not-so-close friends who I wanted to get to know. I meaningfully have not mentioned the words Muslim or non-Muslim because for me it is beyond these terms. The party was a huge success and we all had loads of fun! I have not added names to the photos in order to safeguard identity, those who know will know:) I'm a little worried, I have started a tradition which I must follow every Eid....hmmmm ;-)

Friday, 26 October 2007

Zionism, Israel and Peace

I have recently been accused of being a 'Zionist' for my progressive views that peace should be established between Israelis (who can be Jews or otherwise), Muslims, the Arab world. I firmly believe that by visiting Israel every year I am not 'losing my faith' but infact strengthening it. To be of faith demands us to promote peace wherever we can. Every year when I go to Israel I meet so many different people, some are anti-Israel, or anti-Arab but deep within them they all yearn for peace. Peace cannot prevail unless they rid themselves of these prejudices and take steps towards the other, offering a hand of friendship and humanity, easier said than done but I have hope that the love of God will prevail in the Holy Land and it will become a land for all in the very near future.

Some very courageous views from the Egyptian American writer, Nonie Darwish, on Arabs, Muslims and Israel. Some may find my decision to promote her a little confusing as Darwish is a convert from Islam to Christianity. Shock horror! Yea, yea, we all know the apostacy laws of Islam. Converts do not bother me in the least as a Muslim I believe that everyone has the right to choose whatever religion and path to God as they wish. At the end of the day it is not I, or you, who judges individuals, thank the Lord for this! However, I do believe that as a Muslim one must grapple and struggle (Jihad) with all that humanity has made ugly within Islam in order to experience the beautiful which God had intended it to be.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Liberal, Bahraini - Dhiyah al-Musawi

Here is a brave man who is speaking out against the way Islam has been hijacked by those promoting a political Islam. Such views are a welcome breath of fresh air at a time when all we smell and see is the ugly.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Short Listed - University of Glasgow Teaching Excellence Award 2007

This may sound a tad big headed but I thought I'd gloat a little about being short listed for the University of Glasgow Teaching Excellence Award 2007! (Since the uni website only seems to be promoting the winners...ahem ahem:)

Breaking a number of 'firsts' -
the First to be short listed in Theology/Islamic Studies,
the First to be short listed who is Muslim/Ethnic Minority/Scot,
the First to be short listed who is a Doctoral Candidate and NOT a full time member of staff.
the First to be short listed who has had his teaching reviewed and featured three times in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) and the Times Educational Supplement.

Although not winning this prestigious award, my teaching was commended by the selection committee and a letter from Professor Andrea Nolan, Vice Principal for Learning and Teaching at the university, stated how the committee were impressed 'with the considerable amount of time and effort put into promoting Islamic Studies and the enthusiasm shown and achievements in such a short period of time'.

It has been a pleasure teaching at the University of Glasgow and I hope that this will continue. Now all I need is for the University to offer me a permanent post in teaching! ;-)

Gravity and God

Can theology answer the law of gravity? Yes! :)

I was thinking about this one the other day during a lecture at university. When God created the first human being he called him Adam. The Arabic word is adim-al-ard -- literally means 'something from earth'. God creates human beings who must dwell on earth and remain associated with earth. And so the laws of gravity strengthen this association as we are unable to move away from earth! A believer’s submission to God is both earthly and divine. This is why every Muslim has an obligation to God and then to their fellow human being. I believe the human being in this instance is a metaphor for 'earth'. The earth demands a right from us. Of course we do move away from the earth when we die but interestingly we leave behind our earthly body which was only of use and significance on earth, after death the soul and life that God has given us moves away to a different world, for the believer a world which is not controlled by the law of gravity.

The 19th Century poet Mirza Asadullah Ghalib from India says,

"The pleasures of the world are nothing but dust before my eyes,
Except for blood in the liver, there is nothing left in the liver."

Friday, 12 October 2007

Eid, Glasgow and Community

The holy month of Ramadhan is over and Eid is here! Alas I get to scoff my face with scones and morning coffee. Interestingly there was no consensus, yet again, amongst the Muslims nationally or globally on the day of Eid. Eid was on Friday in parts of the UK and Middle East but we Glaswegians will celebrate on Saturday! That is not so unusual. But I can't help feel that I will miss this month since I had gotten so used to the whole process.

One of my dear Christian friends asked recently how on earth one is able to concentrate on attaining 'God consciousness' when you feel unconscious with hunger! Bearing in mind that this is the exact reason why fasting was prescribed by God in the Qur'an. Interesting question.

I think the answer to that one lies in the simple word known as’spirituality’. Spirituality can mean many different things to different people but to me it means understanding my existence through all that is happening around me, seen and unseen. This then means that when I fast I can empathise with those who have no food; even though I know I will get a meal at the end of the day. It also means that whenever the pangs of hunger hit me I am able to remind myself why I was fasting in the first place. There is a lot to ponder over when it comes to fasting. Sadly such reflections are lost when a religious community become so engrossed in the ritual that they forget the reason for doing it! I think fasting has become a ritual which a lot of Muslims do for its collective strength as opposed to its spiritual strength. If a believer who has submitted to God to the extent that they give up food for God's sake then surely that would see a growth in love and beauty in the hearts of the believer? Imagine the world if this same love and beauty was manifested in the lives of every believer on this earth? How much of a change would we see? How quickly would the worlds greatest misery and war be eradicated?

The Mosques are full, overflowing to the streets outside actually, on Eid. Everyone has their new outfit on, meeting and greeting their friends and exchanging wads of cash (money is usually given as opposed to material gifts in most Muslim cultures) but I still don't feel the buzz of spirituality. The Mosque sermons don't even uplift my spirituality since they are sermons usually 'telling me off' on all the bad things I 'could' do on Eid and how I 'should' come to the Mosque in the other 11 months! Yawn yawn.

I guess Christmas has become like this too. My good friend the Methodist Minister moans every year at how commercialised and ungodly Christmas is becoming. Maybe this is the effect of our secular culture, on one hand we cherish our secular, progressive Scottish values but we also want our religious rituals. So what do we do? We try and secularise the religious rituals and we make a clear mess of it all! If we have a total fusion of the secular, progressive and religious we will surely see the most beautiful explosions!

Friday, 28 September 2007

A Friend Remembered – Miss Floria E. McGlade (b.1915-d.1993)

When I was in first year at Hillhead High School in Glasgow, I often went to my Dad's shop to eat all the chocolates! One day when I arrived for my regular scoff, there was a letter from a Mrs McGlade lying at the side of the cash register. I was immediately struck by the fancy handwriting that reminded me of my English teacher, Miss Small. The letter was addressed to my father and asked him to come and visit her at St Thomas’ Nursing Home in Royston. My father paid little interest as he was too busy but he encouraged me to visit her. My Dad paid for my taxi fare and handed me over a bottle of lucozade and a fruit cake!

Mac, as I knew her, was an interesting woman and a great source of inspiration for me. Floria Elizabeth McGlade was born on 14th March 1915, as far as I know in Glasgow. Mac lived in Afton Street in Glasgow, across from the shop that my Dad owned for 21 years. Mac never married and was trained as a secretary and shorthand typist. Mac worked for Sir Julian Huxley who was the Executive Secretary of the UNESCO preparatory commission and later the first Director of UNESCO. Mac also worked for the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a secretary. She had travelled the world, from Ethiopia, Morocco, Turkey, Europe, the stories were superb and riveting. Mac was also a devout Catholic who often spoke to me about her faith. I remember taking her tuna sandwiches and cake most weekends, as she lay on her bed and I sat beside her we chatted for hours. The Nuns were very kind to Mac and often chatted to me about her health.

A friend and I took her to watch Home Alone at the cinema one night and she was all smiles. I still remember how she saved her popcorn for one of her friends who she said would enjoy them more than her. Mac wanted to take me fishing in the Trossachs one weekend and she had planned it all. However, Mac died suddenly a week after our trip to the cinema. She had suffered a massive asthma attack. I still remember her saying to me on the last occasion we met that the medication was no longer working for her. Mac was buried at sea and I was invited to a remembrance service in the Chapel. I read from the Bible, passages I don’t remember but the solemn air that circled the Chapel that day is with me even today. It was quite a moving experience for me. My Mother went with me to the service and my sister bought flowers that we took with us.

Looking back at this brief but special friendship there is much that I learnt. It was not about me being a Muslim and Mac being a Catholic, it was about friendship, compassion and love. We enjoyed each others company and we had many laughs. Mac left me the remainder of her estate after she died with specific instructions it be used for my education. It was with this money that I went to France for a year between 1997/98 to study Arabic. When I came back I began my studies in religious studies and then on to focus particularly on Islam. Funny how things work out and how people influence our lives in the most special of ways. Mac is one of those special angels who touched my life and gave me that head start in understanding the world around me. In my travels to Jerusalem and Rome I have lit candles in remembrance for Mac in Chapels.  I pray that she is enjoying a beautiful garden with all that she could ever want in a place far from this earth. I thought long and hard before posting this personal story on my blog but I wanted to relate a real life example to my previous blog post which will hopefully make us all think about love and friendships beyond just ‘interfaith dialogue’.

The above pictures are of Mac and Me sitting in her room at St. Thomas’s Nursing Home in Royston. I look awful, but still a very special photograph. The other is of Mac and someone she must have been very close to and the last one is of Mac at a young age.  God rest her soul.

Uncovering the Interfaith Masks

I’ve been thinking more and more about Interfaith and exactly what it means to us all in this current day and age. Many pieces of documents have been signed to show support for this ‘good cause’ but I am still left confused as to why people take part in this.

At a time when there are so many divides between religions, a time when Islam is hijacked by an ugly political Islam, I can see the need for this but are folk involved in interfaith truly sincere to its cause. I sit back watching Muslims who are involved in ‘interfaith dialogue’ who are, as one of my close Christian friend tells me, ‘wolves dressed as sheep’. So why are we still moving closer to them? Well, basically because everyone is disguising themselves very well these days. We wheel out those who are presentable and articulate because we want to be seen as doing the politically correct thing. We all want to promote the view that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. It is seen as a good move to have something ‘positive’ about Islam today. But a lot of people know no better and so select the usual suspects who say all the right things based on narrow minded views on Islam. Someone who is a ‘firm’ believer in Islam, Christianity of Judaism may not want to hear truly progressive thoughts on theology. How all three faiths stem from the same God or how they are so intrinsically intertwined that they are unable to part from one another. Or that when the Prophet Muhammad went to the believers of God at that time with his new message they turned to him and said ‘We were Muslims before you’ – a 'Muslim' here meaning 'someone' who has submitted to God, 'someone' being Jews and Christians!

I think these wolves want defined boxes to categorise each other into because they themselves are not secure and strong in their faith. Another Christian mentor of mine, who happens to be a Methodist Minister, said to me once, ‘Aman, when faith is not strong and secure the barriers come up and one becomes narrow minded. Spoon fed views are a good retreat because folk don’t want to think about the grey areas, it’s either black or white, heaven or hell, right or wrong, but when faith is strong and secure then nothing harms it and you enjoy everything colourful around you’.

Let’s work with this word enjoyment and interfaith for a moment. Enjoyment for me is about understanding, friendships and love. The wolves in interfaith all have an agenda of converting the other, they may have a smiley face at a conference or exhibition on an ‘Introduction to Islam’ but deep down they hold beliefs that the other needs to be saved from hell and converted to Islam which will take them to heaven! You could quite easily change the word Islam for Christianity because I know many who want me to realize that salvation is only through Jesus Christ.

For me as a theologian and believer in God I find this absolutely pathetic! No man (or woman) has the right to decide who will and will not be saved, thankfully this remains in God’s hands. This is why I have huge issues with conversion. My passion for Islamic Studies is not driven with a view that I must convert people but it is for people to ‘enjoy’ Islam and all that is beautiful within it. I don't have an interfaith hat, I just make friends as I enjoy life with them! It is not about being politically correct, ticking the multicultural, multifaith boxes! People convert to religions for all sorts of different reasons and I don’t deny people the right to convert to Islam or away from Islam but that is something I have no interest in promoting.

Finally, let’s end with a Qur’an quote which sums it all up for me. There are many other passages of the Qur'an which could be seen to be very negative towards Jews and Christians too but for me the message of the Qur'an is rooted in peace and love and so the positive messages outweigh the negatives, to arrive at that conclusion is what true faith means to me,

“Those who believe and those who have been Jews and the Christians and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the last day and does good, their reward awaits them with their Lord and no fear shall be on them and neither will they have sorrow.” Qur’an 2:62

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Scots Islamic Terrorist

I wrote a letter to The Herald newspaper ( on the issue of the first convicted Muslim terrorist in Scotland. This was published on 19th Sep 2007)

Dear Sir/Madam,

A shudder went down my spine when I read ‘Guilty: first Scots Islamic terrorist facing 15 years’ (Article by D. Henderson on 18th Sept 2007). A guilty charge in the Scottish court room must be accepted as a guilty charge in the Mosque halls. It is unacceptable and offensive to me, as a Scot who happens to be Muslim, to dodge outright condemnation of any individual who is convicted of having terrorist intentions. Acceptance of this verdict demands a significant response from us all. Sweeping the issue under the carpet is all too common in such quarters but the response of some that Siddique was ‘seeking answers on the Internet’ or that the Internet is the ‘big bad monster’ just doesn’t make sense to me.

The religious arenas may not be preaching a message of terror from the pulpit but their message of peace is most certainly not linked with Scottish society and culture. Could this be the main reason why the new generation of Scots are stuck between two extremes, between acceptance of all that is expected of them from so-called Muslim leaders, which is by and large a highly politicised Islamic view far from their realities, to the opposite end of total rejection, leaving them in an identity crisis and vulnerable from all avenues. What we need are Scots who are a happy medium between these two ends, spiritual and progressive. And so maybe we need fewer platitudes of politics from these Muslim leaders and more expressions of seeking the beautiful in Islam through the beautiful landscape, culture and promise of our dear Scotland. This begs the question, are our Muslim leaders and Mosque Imams up for this challenge or even equipped for this?

Amanullah De Sondy
School of Divinity
University of Glasgow

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Radio Ramadhan: Saturday 22nd September 2007

I was very kindly asked to speak on Glasgow Radio Ramadhan on Saturday 22nd September at 4:30am for the Bazm-e-Seher Program, hosted by my good friend Dr Abdul Quddus Sohaib, who is a visiting fellow at our Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow.

I was asked to talk about the Qur'an and I pondered long and hard about what angle I wanted to take. It was actually not an easy task. I am so used to giving lectures at university or lessons at school and my audiences are usually non-Muslim but on this occasion I knew that everyone listening was going to be Muslim. Waking up to have their pre-dawn meal they probably didn't want to hear my rants about my critical approach to the study of Islam.

"Why is it you are so critical when it comes to Islam Aman", said my good friend one evening. I just laughed. The answer to this is that I believe that any religion has the capacity and capability to withstand any criticism but most importantly God does not need a defender, infact God has given us so much choice that we can accept or reject Him.

Anyway, so I stayed up most of the night writing my thoughts! At the same time my two Roborovski Hamsters (Mirza and Ghalib!) decided to have the biggest fight in Hamster history! There was blood! They were quickly placed in seperate cages! Phew! So here is what I said on the radio that night.

"I want to talk about building a relationship with the Qur’an and to explore what the Qur’an means to us.

The Qur’an is the focal point of every Muslim’s belief and practice. I think every Muslim child and adult has this message strongly in their mind. Personally my relationship with the Qur’an started when I was reading the Qur’an at a small age but I understood very little. So where we understand little we look for real life examples. The sunna of our beloved prophet Muhammad is our excellent example but we also have many roles models who we look up to. When we are children we emulate the actions of those who we look up to, our mothers and fathers, a good parent or teacher should have all the goodness of the Qur’an within them. As we grow from childhood to adulthood our ideas change and our questions could be more different. We are then outside the safety and security of our closest role models and it is here that we hope that all the teachings create a good person in us all. It is here that we ourselves must seek answers and guidance from the Qur’an.

We must all reflect upon the Qur’an and firmly feel comfortable with the fact that the Qur’an must make sense to us in the context in which we find ourselves in. In education studies there is a theory called the child centred approach, when you link the teaching to the life of the student they understand it better. This is something we must all do when we learn and teach the Qur’an. We must grapple with the text which is the foundation of every Islamic tradition. When we do this we will see the very beautiful way in which the Qur’an will make all the other pictures clearer, be they social, cultural or political. When we delve into the Qur’anic world all the petty issues of the world become minute and the Qur’an becomes our guiding light. However, the academic study of the Qur’an in English works on the basis of ‘no holds barred’, meaning that everything up for grabs, the discussion and debate moves to the extent that some scholars have presented some extremely offensive discussions on issues such as the authenticity of the Qur’an or the compilation of the Qur’an. But contrary to weakening our faith through these discussions it must strengthen it and push us all to seek our own answers to these arguments. It is a two way process, we read and we reflect, reading the Qur’an demands us to utilise our mental capacity also. We will find negative ideas surrounding the Qur’an every where, in the media, on the Internet, but it is our deep love and commitment to the Qur’an that with stands all these arguments, ‘there is no compulsion in religion’, the Qur’an answers it most perfectly, ‘you have your religion and I have mine’. It is a beautiful place to be in when faith is so strong that no matter how negative someone will be it bears no significance on your state of mind and action.

And so when we move towards the Qur’an do we understand our existence and mission on this earth. The Qur’an becomes more than a beautiful book that we wrap up and place on our shelves or place within numerous frames around our house or something we just rote read and listen to in the Mosque. The Qur’an has to be more than just our show piece, it has to be a living entity in our lives. It has to be accessible to us all.

There is a blessing in the recitation and memorisation of the Qur’an and that is something we should all aspire to doing as often as we can but the text has to mean something to us all. The Qur’an must be a source of guidance to us all at every corner of the way. This is where I worry about the place of the Qur’an for the up and coming generation of Muslims. We have placed so many barriers to the Qur’an that we are losing touch with it. We are constantly told that to understand the Qur’an we need a)scholarly interpretation and then b) we must place that within the prophetic traditions and then we must do x, y, and z….by the time we get round to all these places we have lost interest in the initial intention. OK, if you have time to do all these things then brilliant but what if you don’t have time to do this? We must all seek the beautiful within the Qur’an, explore the stories that tell us many different things, in different ways. If God wanted to create a structured legal text he would have provided us with one but he provided us with a Qur’an. A Qur’an that narrates many beautiful stories with which we can learn about the love of God and the world we live in. From the very beginning the Qur’an is rooted to education, chapter [96: verses1-5] Read! In the name of your Lord who created - Created the human from something which clings. Read! And your Lord is Most Bountiful - He who taught (the use of) the Pen, Taught the human that which he knew not.

It is of utmost importance that we actively engage with the Qur’an. Don’t pass the buck to the nearest scholar but take ownership of your own beliefs and duty towards the Qur’an.

And so in conclusion I want to let the Qur’an speak , "Alif Laam Raa. A book which we have revealed to you (Muhammad) so that you may lead the people from darkness into the light by their Lord's leave to the path of the All-Mighty, the Praiseworthy." [Qur'an 14:1]

One of my favorite passages of the Qur'an is in the Chapter titled Kahf, verse 109, ‘If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would be spent before the Words of my lord are spent.’ How vast is the sea yet how trivial is it in the context of the greatness of God. This is very warming that the same God is the most merciful and so much greater than anything we think is 'great' on this limited earth!

So during this blessed month of Ramadhan, the month of the Qur’an I pray that we all reflect on our relationship with the Qur’an in hope that our love for it is not a burden on us but a truly liberating force. The Qur’an must become our source of love and peace between us all and our path to God for He awaits us with a much greater love. May God accept our prayers and sincere actions.

God Bless Humanity! Peace to All!

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Chaste Love to Explicit Sex: Three Types of Arabic Love Poetry

Detail from the medieval love story of Bayad and Riyad, 13th Cent. AD, Spain.

By Mohja Kahf

Early Arabic love poetry developed into three models that might be called Hijazi, Udhri, and Kufi. You could say Hijazi love poetry was the Dating and Romance Network of classical Arabic literature. From that Hijazi baseline, Udhri love takes the high road, expressing chaste, idealized love, while Kufic erotic poetry is the soft porn of its time.

Hijazi Love: Meet Me by the Mosque, Darling

Hijazi love poetry developed in Mecca and Medina just a few decades after the advent of Islam, taking its name from the northwestern region in the Arabian peninsula where those two cities are. It speaks of relationships between men and women whose feet are firmly planted on earth. Lovers in the poetry sometimes get a glance at each other, a conversation, a touch, a clandestine rendezvous (can we say ‘a date?’).

Umar ibn Abi Rabi’a* (d. 93 AH/ 711 CE) is the best-known exemplar of Hijazi love poetry. Born in Medina the day of Caliph Umar’s terrible assassination and named for him, he grew up in a wealthy family. Later he moved, avoiding Medina’s political turmoil, to Mecca, where many of his love poems are set.

Umar ibn Abi Rabi’a loved pursuing women who were traveling to Mecca on Hajj. He declares,

Standing at the two Marwas stirs me—
Passion is thought created in a lover
(Arthur Wormhoudt’s translation in Bitar, p. 25)

The phrase “two Marwas” refers to Safa and Marwa, the boulders near the Kaba between which pilgrims run seven times to commemorate Hajar’s running, part of the landscape Umar traversed daily. Meccan landscape, holy site for Muslims becomes, in Umar’s poetry, backdrop for scenes of the lover’s passionate adventures—not pining for a Divine Beloved, but scanning the cityscape for a lady of recognizably human dimensions:

To Aisha daughter of Taimi: I have
A fever in the heart whose heat I fear not
A gazelle reminds me of Taimi’s daughter
(Arthur Wormhoudt’s translation in Bitar, p. 25)

Umar praises the ladylove, sometimes named ‘Hend,’ sometimes ‘Um Amr,’ sometimes “Aisha bint Taimi,” for her beauty, character, and lineage. She is “Mistress of women in the king’s house, her ancestors dwelt on peaks of respect” (Wormhoudt in Bitar, 29). The lady figure in his poetry is not a pedestal persona standing for all womankind, but a typical woman belonging to Umar’s era, specifically one with “Quraish gravity,” “good manners and spotless garments” (Bitar, p 29), who journeys on Hajj with her kin, dispatches servants with notes for her boyfriend, and gives him the time of day for a date.

“She shows down her back black tresses that cover her” (Bitar, 25), Umar says. He spies her getting dressed; she is veiled only by the back of her tent (Bitar, 27). The point of view of the poet here is waiting lovingly outside for her to come forth. The speaker longs for what the girlfriend does not always give him:

Say to the beauty: Memory wastes,
and tears for you, each morn, hurry.
Would my heart with your love in it
had no such thing or thought within.
It sobbed when Hend was stingy and
gave not what I hoped and expected.
(Arthur Wormhoudt’s translation in Bitar, p. 27)

Still, he does at least hope and expect to kiss her, hold her waist, laugh with her. Umar’s poetry, with its concern for fashion, its often merry and snap tone, reflects the more sophisticated lifestyles of the city in the new, expansive and cosmopolitan Umayyad era. Sometimes Hijazi love poems allude to the imagery of the desert and tribal Arabian life, but this is fading into poetic convention, for the real world the poets know in the early Umayyad era is increasingly urban. Other poets of Hijazi love include al-Ahwas and Ibn Qays al-Ruqayyat.

Ancestry of the Hijazi love poems found in pre-Islamic couplets:
The very earliest appearance of eros in Arabic literature is in the odes of the pre-Islamic era. Convention was that the first few couplets of the ode were devoted to romantic love. Then the poem went on to its main topics, usually the chivalry of the poet in defense of the tribe.

Perhaps the greatest pre-Islamic poet, Imra’ul Qais, begins his famous Muallaqa with a boast of how he made love to his lady ‘Fatima’ while she breastfed a baby, with the upper half of her body twisted toward the infant and her lower half nestled against her man (a gymnastic feat worthy of boasting by her, it seems to me, more than by him). Pre-Islamic Arab women wrote love couplets as well. Um al-Dahhak al-Muharibiya wrote these lines to “her Dibabi husband, with whom she was madly in love:”

The contentment of love is hugging, kissing, and bellylapping,
Then hairpulling and bodyrocking that floods the eyes
(Udhari, p. 54)

These early erotic couplets of the pre-Islamic ode are the grandparents of Hijazi love poetry. Romantic love is limited to a few couplets prefacing the body of the ode in pre-Islamic poetry. However, it describes a love that is understandable in earthly, social, human terms, like the love that develops into a full genre in Hijazi poetry, which is described above.

Udhri Love: Love Unto Death

The object of love in Udhri poetry, on the other hand, almost evolves into something other-worldly. Udhri poetry emerges in the same early Umayyad period as Hijazi poetry and in the same northwestern Arabian province, but is named after Bani Udhra, the tribe of Jamil ibn Ma’mar, a poet of Medina (d. 82 AH/ 701CE).

Jamil is famous as a lover of the lady Buthayna from a neighboring tribe. The story of their romance is that Buthayna’s people turn down Jamil’s marriage proposal because they feel Jamil’s verses praising their love have compromised her honor—merely saying that a woman loved a man was considered a blot on her honor in ancient Arab tribal society (and in some sectors of modern Arab societies, for that matter). Buthayna is forcibly married off to another man, but she and Jamil continue to be in love with each other, although they never consummate their love. Jamil continues to visit her and to complain in verse of his longing.:

My bosom friend, in your whole life,
have you ever seen a slain man
weep for love of his slayer, as I do?
(my translation from Farrukh, Vol. 1, p. 482)

Here he portrays himself as “slain” by love of Buthayna, a typical Udhri conceit.

Indeed, Jamil ibn Ma’mar came to be called “Buthayna’s Jamil,” or in Arabic “Jamil Buthayna.” He was the first to come up with the notion, which became a staple of Arabic love poetry ever after, that to die in love is martyrdom, as in these verses:

They say, go out in jihad, Jamil, do battle
But what jihad do I want beside woman?
For every conversation with women is joy,
and he who is slain while among them is a martyr
(my translation from Farrukh, Vol. 1, p. 481)

Jamil is playing here on the tradition that posits jihad as a win-win for the believer—if the jihad is victorious the mujahed wins victory, and if slain, he wins heaven anyway. Likewise, Jamil says, he who makes jihad among women wins either way: Simply to be among them is heavenly, and if love kills you (which was not melodramatic fancy in ancient Arabia, mind you—love could seriously get you killed by the lady’s tribesmen), well, you still win, but on a higher, metaphysical level.

Udhri, or chaste, love poetry celebrates a lofty union of souls between a man and a woman that endures despite societal obstacles and legal limits, eternal beyond even death. Udhri poetry turns the unattainability of physical union with the beloved into a spur to virtue, high devotion, and chivalry in the life of the lover, who ultimately dies as a martyr to love. Jamil’s poetry “adds a new dimension to Arabic love poetry. His love is chaste, but not strictly platonic, since he seeks fulfillment in marriage” (R. Jacobi, 411).

The classic Udhri lovers are Laila and Majnun, a star-crossed pair whose story is set, as Udhri romances tend to be set, in the desert rather than the city landscape of Hijazi love poetry. The real ‘Majnun’ is said to be the poet Qais Ibn al-Mulawwah. The real ‘Laila’ is Laila bint Sa’d al-Amiriya (d. 688CE). Also a poet, she wrote:

I have been through what Majnun went through,
But he declaimed his love
And I treasured mine,
Until it melted me down
(Udhari, p. 76)

Udhri poetry typically sets the love story in a primitive tribal Arab lifestyle that was fast fading in reality. The poets and their readers lived in the increasingly urban and sophisticated world of the Umayyad empire, but they romanticize the old desert life, the way a rapidly industrializing America in the 1880s romanticizes cowboy life. Qais & Lubna and Kuthayyir & Azza are other famous couples in the Udhri genre.

Udhri love poetry posits passions that may begin between regular men and women seeking earthly union in marriage, but spirals toward the more purely spiritual. The lover’s pining is magnified to a life calling. The beloved’s distance renders her almost angelic in her loftiness. The lover describes her beauty in awed veneration; he would no more imagine making love to the lower half of her half-twisted torso or rendezvousing with her in the vicinity of the Kaba than Dante would think of bedding heavenly Beatrice in The Divine Comedy. The Udhri lover yearns for union with the ladylove, withers and pines away without her, laments pitiably outside her house, is driven mad by his longing, and often must leave society to wander as an outcast in his love-driven misery—but is liable to fall dizzy and faint should she actually come within sight. ‘Love unto death’ is the core theme of Udhri poetry.

Udhri love and the genesis of religious love poetry:
You can tell where this is leading, right? Udhri love evolves toward later Sufi poetry of Divine Love. Sufi poetry feeds freely on the imagery of human love, taking every image of courtship and romance as an allegory for the ineffable, for the stages and stations of the journey of the soul toward God, the Ultimate Love. Rabia al-Adawiya is the first to love: She is the first in Arabic poetry to phrase the relationship of the worshiper for God in terms of Love. In later Sufi poetry, some of which becomes more extravagant in its metaphors for Divine Love, even references to “Laila” –a woman’s name meaning ‘dark one’—can turn out to be an allegory for the Kaba in her black gown, whom the worshipper seeks on his Hajj journey.

Kufi Poetry: Baby, Take It Off

Founded as a garrison town by the Caliph Umar in 17 AH/638 CE, the city of Kufa in Iraq gained importance when Ali ibn Abi Talib made it the seat of his caliphate for four years. As a frontier town, it was the scene of the mixing of Arabs with Persians and other races newly entering the growing Islamic empire—and the site of adventures in multiculturalism which this mixing, by no means a happy one for all parties, produced. During the Umayyad era, Kufa became associated with light-hearted, urbane poetry such as that of al-Uqayshir al-Asadi, “known for wine poetry as well as for his licentious love poetry” (Leder, 456). Kufa experienced another cultural boom during the early Abbasid period, fed in part by the Persian influence.

One of the genres of poetry that flourished in Kufa early on is the poetry of ‘mujun,’ meaning jesting, satire, ribaldry, shamelessness. One might call this genre of licentious literature the poetry of ‘shocking and mocking.’ Khamriyat, or poetry celebrating wine, was another genre to flourish in the earliest days of Kufa and later in its Abbasid prosperity. Love poetry was another hot genre in Kufa, sometimes licentious and associated with mujun poetry, sometimes not so libertine.

If Udhri love poetry leans toward religious love poetry, Kufi poetry is often deliberately sacrilegious, sometimes jestingly turning the religious terminology of Islam itself into sexual innuendo. Even the word ‘islam,’ which means ‘submission,’ is outrageously used in one poem to suggest the passive position in sex between men. Not all this is to be taken literally. Mujun poetry has an element of political protest against the centralized Islamic order ruled by the Abbasid caliphate (in effect, the Abbasid monarchy). Poets “used illicit symbolism contained in sacred texts and religious commentaries to create parody and satire about political and spiritual leaders” (Wright, 2).

Abu Nuwas (d. 199 AH/ 813 CE), born right at the cusp of the Abbasid era of both Arab and Persian parentage, was educated in Quran, hadith, and Arabic at Basra and Kufa, and traveled to Mecca for hajj. “Give me a cup of distraction from the mu’adhin’s call,” he writes brazenly in the mujun genre, “Give me wine to drink publicly, and bugger and fuck me now.” (Wright 12). Although he seems to have gone through cycles of revelry and repentance, he is known for his poetry in praise of wine-drinking and sexual exploits with women, men, and boys, such as:

Make love to boys in their youth,
When their beards begin to sprout,
And in ripe old age
Sit down in every tavern, where wine
And lovemaking are offered . . .
And if you are asked, ‘Is pederasty
Permitted at this time?’
Say ‘Of course!’
To keep souls away from what they love is a great sin . . .
In this way you will carry out the holy war
A share of the booty and paradise will then be your right . . .
(Wright, 12)

Abu Nuwas has poems describing anal sex with men and boys in no uncertain terms. Yet Abu Nuwas is not only a poet of graphic sex and vulgar language. The poems with such shocking elements are those in the mujun and khamriyat genres, not his love poetry. Moreover, mujun poetry and explicitly erotic poetry can certainly be found outside Kufa, despite the association of its name with the early flourishing of these genres.

As far as Abu Nuwas’ love poems, they are divided by redactors into the “mudhakkarat,” or poems addressed to men, comprising about two-thirds of the whole group, and the “mu’annathat” or poems addressed to women, about one-third. However, it is not always easy to tell which category an Abu Nuwas poem should enter, especially because of an Arabic poetic conceit of concealing love for a woman under a male pronoun. And where does one put his “ghulamiyyat,” poems to young girls disguised as men, who apparently formed a fascinating segment of Abbasid society?

His love poems to men, women, and shall we say “others,” actually do not contain obscenities. In his love poetry, “Abu Nuwas describes the appearance of the male or female beloved, the pain of the lover (his tears, emaciation, insomnia, submissiveness, etc.), but also the joy of reunion. Furthermore, he describes the blamer, the jealous watcher, and the one who slanders the lovers; also the procuress, the apple that serves as harbinger of love, and many other things” (G. Schoeler, 42). Abu Nuwas is said to have truly loved only one woman, after all is said and done, his beloved Janan:

A muhajjaba fascinates my heart
Beauty is her niqab
. . . .
She uses it to cover her face’s rarities
And increases the value of the bits she shows
(my version based on Arthur Wormhoudt’s translation in Bitar, p. 37, with consulting the original)

If we were to look only at his actual love poetry, leaving out the mujun verse, Abu Nuwas may even be seen as a Hijazi-style poet of love like Umar ibn Abi Rabi’a.

With some poetry it is hard to say whether it is Hijazi or Kufi, or something else entirely. Dahna bint Mas-hal complains:

If you want to know how the old man fared with me,
this is what went on:
He lolled me the whole night through,
and when dawn flashed his private lips,
thundered rainlessly,
and his key wilted in my lock
(Udhari, p. 90)

She died in 708 CE, which puts her in an era where all three modes of erotic writing existed. Where to place her, and other verse like hers? When typologies fail in their usefulness, it is best not to be rigid about applying them.

Three Arab Ways to Say ‘I Love You’

Elegant, sensual, and high-spirited, the lover in Hijazi poetry usually gets to first base, and is ever hopeful and cheerful in the pursuit of a real, earthly love, grounded in his or her social world.
The melancholic Udhri poet falls down chastely at the foot of his worshipped lady, in selfless surrender even unto death to the spiritual power of a love that, alas, can never be realized in this cruel world. Udhri poetry of chaste love is linked to later developments in purely religious, mystical love poetry.
Never mind chaste or mystic love with the Kufi poet of mujun, a gay devotee of the erotic; he goes all the way, in every position, and flippantly tells all.

The Fun Doesn’t Stop There

Ibn Hazm’s twelfth-century Andalusian love treatise, The Ring of the Dove, has the elegant, discreet, and courtly ring of Hijazi love, as does the poetry of Arab noblewoman Wallada bint al-Mustakfi. (Women participated in all three genres of love poetry; a separate column detailing Arab women’s erotic writing is forthcoming.) In the early twentieth century, the popular love writings of Lebanese-American Khalil Gibran (who was of Christian background) bear the stamp of idealized, spiritualized Udhri love. The bawdy stories in the Thousand and One Nights, such as ‘The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad’ could be considered in the same category as the Kufi or ‘mujun’ erotica.

These three canons of love poetry may have developed early in the history of Arabic literature, but they remain useful categories when we look at the subject of eros in later Arabic literature, and indeed, in the literature of the world.

Dr. Kahf, a member of the Middle East & Islamic Studies faculty at the University of Arkansas, teaches a course on “Love and Eros in Middle Eastern Literature.”


*AH = After Hijrah, using the Islamic reckoning. CE = Common Era or Christian Era (=AD).

*Fyi, the man’s name ‘Rabia’ is totally different in Arabic from the woman’s name which looks the same in English transliteration. The male name, as in the poet Umar, has a short ‘a’ at the beginning, and the stress is on the next-to-last syllable, which is a long ‘e’ sound, whereas the woman’s name has a long ‘a’ sound in the first syllable, which is the stressed syllable, and a short ‘i’ vowel sound in the next-to-last syllable.


Bitar, Farid, Treasury of Arabic Love: Poems, Quotations, and Proverbs in Arabic and English. Hippocrene Books, 1996.

Farrukh, Umar. Tarikh al-Adab al-Arabi, Dar al-Ilm lil Malayin, 1984, Vols. 1 and 2.

Giffen, Lois A. Theory of Profane Love Among the Arabs: The Development of a Genre. New York University Press, 1971.

Jacobi, R. “Jamil ibn Ma’mar” in Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey, ed., Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, Routledge, 1998.

Leder, S. “Kufa” in Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey, ed., Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, Routledge, 1998.

Schoeler, G. “Abu Nuwas” in Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey, ed., Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, Routledge, 1998.

Udhari, Abdullah al-. Classical Poems by Arab Women: A Bilingual Anthology. Saqi, 1999.

Wright, J.W. “Masculine Allusion and the Structure of Satire in Early Abbasid Poetry,” in J.W. Wright Jr. & Everett K. Rowson, ed., Homoeroticism in Classical Arabic Literature, Columbia University Press, 1997.