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.