Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Wafa Sultan: "Islam is not above criticism"

Happy New Year 2009

This was sent to me by a good friend, I was left saying...'so true, so true'...enjoy...

"It is hard to believe 2009 is tomorrow / or even today depending when you read this.
I hope next year will be a good one for everyone.

There comes a point in your life when you realize:
Who matters,
Who never did,
Who won't anymore.
And who always will.
So, don't worry about people from your past,
There's a reason why they didn't make it to your future.
Because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Price of Dissent in Islam

An interesting article.

By Rafi Aamer - 3/31/2008

Individual disagreements on many issues are common occurrences but when this disagreement involves religion, things have the potential to become really nasty. Faith invokes strong emotions. Disagreements with someone’s belief can earn you pronouncements of apostasy--and even a death threat is not out of question. Such has been the case with people belonging to almost every religion at one time or another. Lately, though, it has become predominantly a Muslim phenomenon.

Most of the times, the death threats are not carried out but a very few that are, make every threat equally scary. The murder of Dutch film maker, Theo Van Gogh, for making a 10-minute long movie called “Submission”, is still fresh in memories. Just delivering a death threat to someone’s door is enough to wreck lives and mental peace. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a recipient of many death threats herself, writes in her book, “People are always asking me what it’s like to live with death threats. It’s like being diagnosed with a chronic disease. It may flare up and kill you, but it may not. It could happen in a week, or not for decades.”

I had been observing these demonstrations of intolerance by Islamists from a distance but recently it hit too close to home for me when two of my friends, Farzana Hassan-Shahid and Tarek Fatah of Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), received a chilling death threat (1). Someone left a voice message on MCC’s answering machine saying, "This is a warning to Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan and to all the members of your Munafiq [hypocrite] organization. Wa Allah al-Azeem [by God who is great], I swear… on all 99 names of Allah, if you do not cease from your campaign of smearing Islam...Wa Allahi, Wa Allahi, Wa Allahi [by God, by God, by God], I will slaughter all of you." (2)

Hassan-Shahid and Fatah do not belong to the category of people who have received death threats for renouncing their faith in Islam. They are being victimized because they are moderate Muslims. The mission statement of their organization, MCC, states that they want to make Muslim communities an equal and active partners in the development of a just, democratic and equitable society in Canada. Some of their views—for example, their positions regarding secularism and their opposition to Shariah laws in Canada—are quite different from the fundamentalist Muslims so the death threat to them, while sad and scary, is not really surprising.

A death threat, fundamentally, is an instrument to stifle speech but it’s not the only instrument to achieve that end. Intimidations and accusations are also employed in the same pursuit and moderate Muslims, like Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan-Shahid, are no strangers to them. I, personally, am a witness to ad hominem attacks against Farzana the likes of which I have not seen in my life. The most frequent charge leveled against moderate Muslims by Islamists is that they don’t represent the larger Muslim community--as if the Islamists do. No matter how many times one claims that he/she is not trying to be the representative of the entire community and all he/she is doing is voicing his/her opinion, the charge won’t go away. The superfluous nature of this charge is apparently lost on the people who hurl it but what is more important is to see what is implied by this assertion. Is it a caution to the people out there to not to mistake moderate Muslims for mainstream Muslims or is it saying that since one has different ideas than the larger Muslim community, one should not express those ideas?

Another frequent accusation is that moderate outfits like MCC bring divisive issues to the fore. Such accusations, once again, are attempts to dictate the agenda. The issues usually dubbed as ‘divisive’ are the ones which some shrewd Islamists do not want to discuss publicly in North America lest the incompatibility of their views on those issues with the norms of North American society is exposed. They would rather sweep the issues like homosexuality under the rug of ‘divisive issues’ than openly state their positions on them. Maybe there are some people who are genuinely concerned about the divisiveness but, seemingly, it hasn’t occurred to them that there is nothing wrong in being divided over certain things. It is actually good for the outlook of a community. Had it not been for the moderate Muslims, the entire Muslim community would have looked as a monolithic one. The moderate and progressive Muslims elevate the image of Muslim communities by bringing diversity of opinion to the discourse and by giving the Muslim communities an alternative outlook; one that is not homophobic, misogynist and intolerant. The diversity of opinion, however, is not that important to Islamists who generally do not encourage dissent and so the moderates are rewarded for their services with death threats.

One can dismiss the importance of such threats by calling them acts of fanatic minds but simple analyses of what culminates in a death threat present a very disturbing picture. Most of the moderate Muslims either never speak out in the first place fearing Islamist backlash or bow out when the intimidation tactics are applied. The ones that decide to take on the challenges, who keep speaking despite all the efforts of stifling their dissenting voices, are usually the ones who end up getting death threats. In this sense, a death threat is metamorphosis of earlier efforts to silent the opposition. Once a death threat is made, all kinds of organizations instantly jump in to issue condemnations against the threat but what is sadly missed is that a death threat is the natural result of continuous negative propaganda targeted at a person or a group. If you keep saying that someone is defaming Islam just by opining about it, you can be rest assured that some fanatic somewhere will decide to do something about it. And some of the organizations who issue condemnations after the violent act are usually part of that negative propaganda so they can't absolve themselves fully just by issuing a press statement deploring the act of making a death threat. If they are serious about curtailing death threats, they need to understand what John Stuart Mill meant when he said, “He who knows only his side of the case knows little of that.” That would make them more appreciative of dissenting views and they would engage moderates in discussing the issues rather than trying to silence them by accusations of divisiveness and non-representation.

Probably the saddest part of this entire sorry state is the role played by the liberal-left of North America. The Left, unashamedly, allies itself with Islamists in North America in the name of politically correct cultural relativism that says that the social and moral values of immigrants, who constitute the overwhelming part of Muslim communities in North America, should be interpreted in the terms of the culture they have migrated from. Tarek Fatah aptly calls such attitude “racism of lower expectations”. The real and unstated basis of this alliance, though, is the common anti-U.S. Administration rhetoric of the Left and the Islamists. It is quite ironic that the Left that is in constant struggle against Christian Right on issues like abortion, gay marriage, teaching evolution in public schools, etc. is engaged in this unholy alliance with Islamists who have an identical social agenda as Christian Right. For the sake of political expedience, the Left has deserted the very people who should have been their natural allies due to their progressive ideas. It seems that the Left has decided to completely ignore the plea of Salman Rushdie to support people victimized by Islamists for these moderate and progressive Muslims, as Rushdie put it, are involved in the struggle for the soul of Islam (3).


1. The Toronto Star. March 22, 2007
2. The actual recording of the threat can be heard at muslimcanadiancongress
3. Salman Rushdie, “The Struggle for the Soul of Islam,” New York Times, July 11, 1993.

The pain of the heart knows how to drip from the eyes

One of my favorite songs sung by Mala (below) and also a latest rendition by Fariha Parvez (below). Enjoy...

Gham-e-dil ko inn aakhon se chalak jana bhi aata hai
The pain of the heart knows how to drip from the eyes
Tarapna bhi hamein aata hai tarpaana bhi aata hai
I know how my heart flutters in pain and how I can make it happen to you

Kisi ki yaad mein jo zindagi hum ne guzaari hai
I have spent my life in the remembrance of some one
hamein woh zindagi apni mohabbat se bhi pyari hai
That life is dear to me more than the actual love

woh aayein ru-ba-ru hum dastaan apni sunayein ge
If they come in front of me I will tell them my story
kuch apna dil jalayein ge, kuch unnko aazmayein ge
I will let my heart burn a bit and let their heart burn a bit

Sare Mehfil Hamein to Shamma Bhi bun jana bhi aata hai
I know how to be the heart of the party at the peak of the party

Dabe paaon hamein aa kar kisi ka gud-gudaa dena
Somebody who comes silently and tickles me
Woh apna rooth jana aur woh unnka manaa lena
That act of me being angry in love and that making up with me

Woh manzar jhaankte hain aaj bhi yaadon ki chilman se
These scenes trickle from the curtains of life
Bhula sakta hai kaise koi woh andaaz bachpan ke
How can someone forget these acts of youth?

Hamein aata nahi hai pyar mein be-aabru hona
I do not know how to be ashamed in love
Sikhaya husn ko hum ne wafaa mein surkhuroo hona
I have taught beauty how to be proud in faith

Hum apne khoon-e-dil se zindagi ki maang bhar dein ge
I will colour life with my hearts blood
Yeh dil kya cheez hai, hum jaan bhi Qurbaan kar dein ge
The heart is nothing I will sacrifice my life as well

Khilaf E Ulfat hum ko Mar jana bhi hamein aata hai
Unlike love I know how to die.
Tarapna bhi hamein aata hai tarpaana bhi aata hai
I know how my heart flutters in pain and how I can make it happen to you

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Mirza Ghalib (27 December 1796 - 15 February 1869)

Remembering the Life of Mirza Ghalib...

Mirza Ghalib's
Ishq Mujhko Nahin,
Vehshat Hi Sahi*

"(You say) It is not love, it is madness
My madness may be
The cause of your fame
Sever not my relationship with you
If nothing then be my enemy
What is the meaning of notoriety
In meeting me
If not in public court meet me alone
I am not my own enemy
So what if the stranger is in love with you
Whatever you are,
It is due to your own being
If this not known then it is ignorance
Life though fleets like a lightening flash
Yet it is abundant Time to be in love
I do not want debate
On the sustenance of love
Be it not love but another dilemma
Give something O biased One
At least the sanction to cry and plea
I will perpetuate the rituals
Even if cruelty be your habit
Teasing and cajoling
The beloved cannot leave 'Asad'
Even if there is no union
And only the desire remains"
* Translation by Rajender Krishan

The Rose with its redolent petals
By Mirza Ghalib

"The Rose with its redolent petals
The Water lily with its robe of virgin white
These have surely come to us in transmigration
Of but a few of those
Endowed with sublime beauty and grace.
Some embrace death to sprout again
But most, forever, in dust remain."

Benazir Bhutto: "I have a choice to stay silent or stand up and say this is wrong"

Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007): One Year On

Written in the Daily Mail UK by Daphne Barak

TV journalist Daphne Barak has befriended many of the world leaders she has interviewed - from Nelson Mandela to Shimon Peres - but none became such a close friend as Benazir Bhutto. Here she reveals the private world of the murdered former Pakistan prime minister. “Daphne, you don’t want me to go back home?” asked Benazir Bhutto. She knew the answer - we’d been having the same debate for months.

Benazir was a close friend of mine and, even before an assassination attempt on her life in October this year, I was against her returning to Pakistan.

“You know how I feel,” I said. “It’s a trap! You fell into it, but you can still get out…”

“I can’t,” Benazir replied, sounding stressed. “You see Daphne,they are expecting me in Pakistan. They know Washington is supporting me. My photos are already all over the streets. Asif [her husband] and I are taking into account what you are saying. But how can I back out? It’s too late. And if I don’t go now, I might as well just quit politics forever.”

She was confident in the support of the Bush Administration. But I wasn’t so sure. I had a bad feeling about it and when I last saw her I became emotional. I knew I wouldn’t see her again. She came over and hugged me. I cried. She didn’t. She just held me tighter.

The Benazir I knew and loved was the most extraordinary woman. Everyone knows she was brilliant and extremely ambitious but what very few people know - and I am privileged to be one of those - was that she was also what I would call a girlie-girl who loved to talk about skincare and hairstyles.

Benazir, who used to sign off her emails to me with the name Bibi, was one of those rare women who had the ability to move a conversation from heavy politics to lightweight gossip in the space of a minute.

Benazir was like a big sister to me. I am still trying to come to terms with the loss of someone so close to me. We met for the first time while she was serving a second term as Pakistani prime minister when she gave me an exclusive interview in June 1995 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

We got on well and met again in 2000 at the home of our mutual friend Esther Coopersmith, who is known in Washington as the hostess with the mostest. Benazir was no longer in power but Esther had arranged an amazing lunch for her, and everything from plates, napkins and even food was in either green or white, the colours of the Pakistani flag.

From then on Benazir and I developed an increasingly close friendship. When we met - usually in New York, sometimes in London - we talked about politics, of course. I knew she was determined to bring democracy back to Pakistan and I would sometimes arrange parties for her and make sure she met the right politicians in a private and relaxed setting.

But, as so often happens with powerful women I interview, like Hillary Clinton and Segolene Royal, I also had the great fortune to get to know her as a woman, wife, mother and friend, the sides she revealed only to people she could trust, and these are the areas I want to concentrate on.

As a woman she was very different from the tough politician she presented to the world. She wasn’t, as some have said, a brutal man in feminine clothing. She was just like so many women. She was always keen to lose weight and wanted to look younger and healthier. We discussed girlie subjects alone and when men were present.

Benazir had a very good appetite and particularly loved Italian and French food. When we went to restaurants together - only those that were off the beaten track so we would not be snapped by the paparazzi - she would always order three courses.She particularly loved desserts and cakes and chocolates. She also gained weight from stress.

No one would recognise her when we went on our dinner dates. She would dress very casually, usually in a blouse and slacks, and her hair would be uncovered. Sometimes she wanted to diet. I introduced her to my own private general practitioner Mark Hyman, who lives in New York, and he worked out diet regimes for her.

Dr Hyman would prescribe a powder that had to be made up into some kind of milkshake. You drank that and ate only vegetables for three days at a time. I found it disgusting, but Benazir persevered and would ring or email me from Dubai or wherever she was, thrilled when she’d lost a few pounds.

“Daphne,” she would say. “It’s wonderful I have lost some weight. Please send me more of those detox powders.” She always took vitamins every day, too.

She cared about what she looked like under her clothes. I introduced her to Victoria’s Secret, the sexy stylish underwear company, whose range she loved and always wore. She was very Americanised and wore her headscarf only when it was politically correct to do so.

I helped her with her hair,too.My hairdresser, Diego, who works for the Regency Hotel in New York,would style her hair when she came to some of my parties. When she was in exile, I introduced her to influential people and she wanted to look her best.

She had the most wonderful, lush, thick, dark hair and she loved, literally, to let it down. But, of course, only in private. Benazir was interested in the latest face and body creams and asked me for advice. I change brands all the time but my latest recommendation was Pria, created by a friend of mine. Benazir told me she loved it.

We often exchanged gifts - anything from the latest political books to very sensual candles. Of course we talked a lot about men, as all women do when they get together. She enjoyed hearing in detail about other people’s love affairs but most of all she was totally fascinated by Princess Diana.

She knew I was friendly with Hasnat Khan, the Pakistani doctor whom Diana fell totally in love with before she died. Benazir enjoyed speculating endlessly about the couple’s relationship.

“I am curious to know why their love didn’t have a happy ending,” she would say. “I wonder if Diana was serious in her intentions to go and live in Pakistan. It would be hard for her.”

I also remember her discussing Diana’s relationship with Dodi Fayed shortly before the Princess died. “I am sure it is just a summer fling,” she said. “I firmly believe it is her attempt to lure Hasnat back to her. It won’t last.”

As far as her own love life went, she was completely and utterly in love with her husband Asif. In him she knew she had found a man who was confident and secure enough in himself to allow a woman to be really powerful and not to feel threatened.

Asif is also very liberal and they behaved like teenagers together. In public they were very restrained, but in private or with close friends they were very demonstrative and would hold hands and kiss. You could feel the passion between them.

She could be very giggly when she was with Asif and I can tell you he was the power behind her throne because although she was very strong-willed, she always wanted to please him.

He is really the one who has been calling the shots. He is a brilliant man and she always did everything political that he advised her to do. He will certainly run for office instead of her to maintain the legacy.

Of course Benazir and Asif did not spend very much time together throughout their 20-year marriage and had to face major challenges that not many other couples would have survived. In a way it made their relationship such a romantic one.

Asif was a rich playboy when he met the heiress of the political dynasty and became politically involved when he fell in love with her.

But in 1997 he was jailed on corruption charges and she didn’t see him at all for the seven years he was in prison. She used to joke to me: “My life is strange. It seems that either I am prime minister or my husband is in jail. There can’t be many like me.”

During the last three years or so they saw each other only about 25 days a year. Asif lived in New York where he was undergoing heart treatment while Benazir was in exile in Dubai but they would speak and email each other all the time.

Both Benazir and their children - Bilawal, Bakhtwar and Aseefa - would travel to New York to see Asif. She would say: “They must spend time together. It is very important that they know their father.”

It was hard for them all. Asif was trying to become a father and husband again, but he found coping with noise and even a lot of space very difficult after his years in confinement. Even going to a theatre was a problem and I remember him leaving one venue shortly after we had arrived because he couldn’t cope with the crowds.

Asif was living in an apartment hotel and initially wanted Benazir to stay somewhere else, mainly because he didn’t want to be recognised and also because it wasn’t romantic enough for her, but she gradually persuaded him that they should be together. They had two dogs - one very small and one that looked like a horse - who both chewed all the furniture. Benazir didn’t complain. She didn’t even seem to mind that the flat was sparsely and simply furnished.

No one besides family and extremely close friends were invited to visit and anyway she had other more important things on her mind. She would say: “My mind is on politics. My home in New York is temporary. I am not interested in making it comfortable.”

She was very patient with her husband and he brought out the feminine side of her and liked her to shine. After his time in jail it was as if they found each other all over again.

I remember having a meal with them and some other friends. I had just come back from interviewing Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency against Nicolas Sarkozy last May. Benazir wanted to know what Segolene wore and how was her relationship with her partner.

I told Benazir that Segolene resembled her. Asif responded forcefully and immediately. “Nobody is as beautiful as my wife,” he said. Benazir blushed deeply. She loved him saying that.

She was also a wonderful mother. I called her a cross between an earth mother and a Jewish mother because she was loving but also pushed her children to do better than their best. She was very hands-on with the children and they would tease and hug each other a lot. But she wasn’t at all strict.

She didn’t want to put any more pressure on them than they already had because of her political ambitions. I feel she was always trying to compensate. But even though she was easy-going, the children were very well mannered.

I met them all many times. When one of her daughters, I think it was Bakhtwar, decided she wanted to become a punk singer, Benazir asked me if I could introduce her to Puff Daddy, who I know, to give her advice about a career in music.

She wasn’t snobbish about it. Nor did she seem in the least concerned about the implications it might have on her own political future. Benazir was also particularly proud that her son Bilawal got into Oxford and made sure that both she and Asif took him up and helped him settle in, just as any parent would.

Benazir was a wonderful friend to me - the best friend you could ever have. I was staying at the Dorchester Hotel and was injured just as she arrived to spend a few days with me before her historic return to Pakistan.

Asif told her I couldn’t get out of bed but she wouldn’t take no for an answer and came up with creative solutions like going to Harry’s Bar wearing a jump suit to cover my injuries.

Despite what she was going through herself she would regularly email me to ask how I was and if I didn’t tell her exactly, she would remember to ask me again, and be very specific. Sometimes her emails made me laugh.

For ages it was impossible to use a Blackberry in Dubai, but that changed recently and so over the past six months she emailed me from it all the time. In an email about her plans for her farewell dinner in October, she wrote: “Wld u like to join me for dinner? I am having dinner at nine and cld collect you at 8.15. I am having dinner with a friend and I told him I wld like to bring you. Bibi.”

Later that day as we finalised our plans, she sent me another email: “Dinner at harry’s bar. Can u come in a jump suit? Do u want to check? If its not too late when we finish we will drop by for coffee. Let me know if harry’s bar allows u to come in a jump suit.”

After eight years in exile, Benazir finally returned to Pakistan on October 18 this year. There was an attempt on her life that very day at a homecoming rally in Karachi - a suicide bomber killed 140 people but Benazir escaped unhurt. I spoke to her on the phone and realised that she was suffering from trauma after the blast.

On November 3, Pakistan’s President Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended elections. Suddenly, after being snubbed for nine years, Benazir was being feted by Washington. She thought this was fantastic news and that President Bush’s support would help her win the election in Pakistan.

But Asif asked me to check with my own contacts in Washington and Islamabad. I did and the information I got was that as soon as Musharraf ended the state of emergency, the Bush Administration would abandon its support for Benazir. She would be left extremely vulnerable. I thought it was a death trap.

On November 8, Benazir was placed under house arrest after threatening to join a protest rally against Musharraf. I rang several times before I managed to get my call answered.

I didn’t speak to her but she later called me back. She couldn’t talk freely as she knew her conversation would be overheard. She sounded frantic. I asked her if she needed anything, meaning a book, face cream, perfume or me to contact anybody. She replied: “Yes. I need a bulldozer.” I couldn’t understand what she meant and thought she was talking in code. Later Asif called me and said her house was surrounded by so many guards, Benazir needed a bulldozer to get out.

In one of our last phone calls, Benazir told me: “Washington is behind me. I can’t lose this opportunity. I have been waiting for it for nine years. We need to get Pakistan democratic again. I am needed here. It is now or never.”

I said: “There will be a better opportunity for you and I wouldn’t bet on Washington’s support. You have already been prime minister. Try something else.”

Again she didn’t listen. Once Benazir made up her mind about something, there was no way to change it. How I wish I could have made her think again. Bibi, I’ll miss you so.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas/ Jinnah Day

I've had a very busy Christmas, yet thoroughly fun and enjoyable! It seems a blessing that Eid and Christmas coincide in the same month with much joy and happiness between and amongst faiths. This year I was at midnight mass at Saint Peters Catholic Church in Partick, Glasgow. I go every year with my tennis coach, Frank Wilson, who enjoyed taking his Muslim friend with him for some spiritual upliftment.

And today I was at the Episcopalian Church in Dumbarton where Father Kenny Mcaulauy (Picture above and across) was preaching the morning service (see: I was there with Mrs Margot Rhead (and family) who were my students of Islamic Studies. We serve a beautiful example of how academics mixed with friendship can serve a great purpose in love and humanity. It was a beautiful sermon in which he preached a story about a girl who was scolded by her father for giving him a present that was empty only to be told that she had blown loads of kisses inside it! The story was heart breaking and it lead to Father Kenny telling everyone that an empty box, wrapped up, empty should be placed under everyone's bed and when we lose hope and think the worst is upon us we should turn to that box and know that God loves us!

It was also a busy day at my sisters where we were cooking a 7.6 Kilo Halal turkey! I wanted to have a joint celebration for Christmas which also coincided with the birth of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. I have read with much interest the life of Jinnah and his values and approach is something that I feel is lost in the sea of mullah-led initiatives in Pakistan, contrary to the beautiful vision that he had. God help us all in nurturing the land we call Pakistan.

I had a very special time with my family, friends and ex-students. Oh and no one can say I am a party pooper for I sang a few verses of a Noor Jehan song ;-) I hope everyone else had just as much fun! :)

Monday, 22 December 2008

Death Anniversary: Noor Jehan - The Pakistani Melody Queen (born September 21, 1926 – December 23, 2000)

Noor Jehan has been understood as one of the jewels of the Indian Subcontinent as she encapsulated her audiences in her mesmerizing voice. Singing both film songs and ghazals, she has become a household name amongst many who appreciated her inimitable pitch and tone. In 1957, Noor Jehan was awarded the President's Award for her acting and singing capabilities. Noor Jehan died on December 23rd 2000 in Pakistan.

Remembering one of her greatest ghazals, written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz...

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...

The Scottish Terrorist Threat and the Scottish Islamic Foundation Solution?

I read with interest an article by a good ol’ family friend of mine, Azeem Ibrahim, in the Sunday newspapers this weekend. I have a lot of respect for Azeem but I felt compelled to respond to a few statements that he made. I have to say that I agreed with most of his thought in the initial parts of the article but I began to cringe a little when I read his solution to the problem section. So here it goes…

Azeem wrote, “There is only one way to beat Islamist terror in the long term, over decades. That is to reduce the motivation for young people to radicalise in the first place. Governments must redefine success against terrorism. Military objectives achieved and plots foiled are insufficient.

One way to do this is to undermine the intellectual conditions in which radicalisation takes root. We must discredit interpretations of Islam that permit the murder of innocent people. Western governments should draw media attention to authoritative Muslim religious and legal figures abroad who renounce violent jihad. This kind of tactic has been used successfully by Egypt and Saudi Arabia for many years. It is cheap or free. By drawing attention to authentic Muslim, and sometimes ex-jihadi, authorities who renounce violence abroad, governments can make it harder for radical groups to grow.

I am a little worried about the way in which Azeem seeks the support of ‘authoritative Muslim religious and legal figures abroad’ it is as if he has little faith in the work that western based academics of Islam are involved in. I may be biased but why seek that voice away from Scotland? Why must we seek solutions from figures that have little awareness or understanding of what it is like to be in the west? Will the threat of terror be diminished just by parading ex-Jihadists or moderates who grace the platform with ‘Islam is against terror and is a religion of peace’? After highlighting these messages it is as though they punch their cards, ‘work done’!? If you seek to ‘discredit interpretations of Islam that permit the murder of innocent people’ then why stop just there? What about all the other difficult interpretations that have created problems? Such as polygamy? Or wife-beating? To name a few. Terrorism is not the only disease that ails the Muslim communities in the contemporary world so let us set our parameters a little wider. Or maybe I’m reading this sentence too illustratively and Azeem just seeks to discredit the pro-terror interpretations but not seek a re-interpretation or re-reading of the Qur’an?

Well, it seems that moderation is the flavour of the month when it comes to Islam. I’m guilty as charged, I seek progress. If we seek a political quick-fix then fine but if we seek progress for a brighter, stronger future for Scotland then we must reflect further and seek a progressive solution. For that we must take bold steps.

I believe that the problem lies with the usual suspects who are far too moderate. It is the same ‘figures’ who diminish Islam to a set of right and wrongs with their politically laced so-called Islamic messages which leave a distaste of the religious experience to many Muslims. I am saddened when Muslims contact me to tell me how they walk away from Islam when these political Islamists stand up because they feel that their motives are led by a quenching of a current thirst and opportunism. Sadly it is these disenfranchised Muslims who I believe are the true partners in eradicating the terrorist threat and ideology because they have made a painful decision of thinking and reflecting over issues as they walk away. Those left are the ‘same old, same old’ moderates who keep all the issues stagnant. Where are we heading?

Azeem wrote, “Bilal Abdulla's path from Glasgow doctor to terrorist shows that undermining the conditions for radicalisation is no less important in Scotland. Until recently, there has been no Scottish Islamic organisation working on a national level. But now, initiatives like the Scottish-Islamic Foundation are filling the gap. It works closely with reputable Islamic scholars to increase the theological resistance of young Muslims to violent jihadist interpretations of Islam. At the same time it gives them the confidence and skills to make a positive contribution to Scottish society. In the long term, the challenge is not to stop radicals striking. It is to stop young Muslims radicalising, and that is what the Scottish-Islamic Foundation does. We must all start thinking about terrorism long-term. It is freelance now, and it relies on a pool of young radicals more than ever. The key to beating it is minimising the motivation to radicalise.”

Who are the Islamic scholars? In the words of their own spokesperson they are ‘a broad church’ so I wonder how broad is broad for the Scottish Islamic Foundation. It has been a few months now since I asked a few simple questions to the Scottish Islamic Foundation and the Scottish Government but they failed to answer them. Infact all I did get was a slap on the wrist from the same spokesperson who said that the Scottish Islamic Foundation do not aim to speak on my behalf but on the ‘pressing issues affecting Muslims’. Hmm, well, I am a Muslim and if it’s taxpayer’s money which has rolled out to pay for your seats then I have every right to ask these questions!

Oh, point to note, the same spokesperson said the questions I raised were ‘old debates’ – could someone please enlighten me on which of these relate to an ‘old debate’? Maybe the fact of the matter is that the Scottish Islamic Foundation is not ready, or maybe incapable, for the real debates! So here goes the questions, again. Answers on a postcard…

Does SIF represent the diversity of Muslim denominations in Scotland such as the Ismaillis, Ahmediyyas and the Shi'ias too? Why is it that all of these 'supporters' of SIF we keep hearing about are strongly inclined to views and understandings of the 'Muslim Brotherhood'? Where are the diverse voices? Is SIF a true indication of the reality in which Muslim communities thrive? There are too many voices that are overlooked in this debate. This reminds me of a lecture at Glasgow University a few years ago by Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK, in which she said, "the loudest voices are not representative and must be challenged". Muslims are not a monolith, so stop bundling us all in the same package.

The Scottish Government has stated that funding SIF will help 'celebrate diversity'. Is it that ill-informed by its political advisers to understand that there are multi layers to diversity within any faith group? What problems would the Scottish Government experience if they funded a small group of Protestant Christians to establish a Scottish Christian Foundation? Would there be dissenting views among Scots or would such a foundation be welcomed with open arms by all Christians of Scotland? In what way do SIF endorse a cross section of the Muslim communities? In what way do they show the bare bones of a political Islam that is both presentable and palatable by our Scottish Government?

The crux of the matter is that SIF may do an excellent job in providing moderate (or modern) views to the Scottish Government and those wanting to hear the usual 'Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance' platitude but this just not good enough in 21st-century Scotland. What we must accept is that change and progress in Muslim communities will only happen when there is a critical internal debate, silence is unacceptable and no issue must remain out of the question. It is only when this takes place that we will see a clear distinction between the extremists, political Islamist moderates and the Muslim progressives. I smell worry in the words and actions of the political Islamists, Mosques and our so-called Islamic leaders who want to cage and control the sentiments of the true progressive Scottish Muslims, but this new wave will emerge in full force, and time will then be the judge of who are the best partners in creating a flourishing Scotland.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Pakistan Girl Band Creates a Stir

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

"We have been doing music together since we were six years old - as long as I can remember," says Haniya Aslam, as her cousin Zeb (Zebunissa) Bangash sits beside her. "It started out as a fun thing at family functions. "Music was very much a part of our family set-up - my father was an aficionado and all my uncles could play an instrument. "Our grandmother was also a big influence - she was a poet and was fluent in three languages."

While certainly not a typical Pakistani upbringing, it's hardly exceptional among educated urbanites. Despite the growing threat of Talebanisation across the country, most Pakistanis remain a serenely liberal and tolerant lot. The country's top music acts such as Junoon, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Adnan Sami and Atif Aslam are South Asian superstars and have a strong international following as well. Addicted to their Bollywood movies and Pakistani pop music, many are at ease with privately imitating their idols.

But, like all other professions in the country, music remains male-dominated. For women it is another matter altogether - raised eyebrows are the least possible obstacle. Some have broken the barrier, none more so than the late Nazia Hassan, who took the sub-continental music scene by storm with her pop music in the early 80s. There have been others who followed in her footsteps, although none have been able to reach those dizzying heights. That may account for all the hype surrounding Zeb and Haniya, Pakistan's first all-female music band. Another is the fact that their debut album, Chup (Quiet!), was recently released to rave reviews in Pakistan's major newspapers.

But the most startling fact about these girls, for Pakistanis and the world at large, is their origin. Both Zeb and Haniya are ethnic Pashtuns, and their families hail from the town of Kohat in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. That region has, of late, become synonymous with the Taleban and al-Qaeda. "We've never lived there, but we do keep going back for family functions and get-togethers," Haniya explains. How accurately the militants represent the cultural identity of the Pushtuns is one of the mostly hotly debated topics in the region. Zeb and Haniya are a living and vivid example of how much more there is to the Pushtun sensibility than the images of gun-toting renegades.

But that is all by default - the girls say they are here to be recognised for the quality of their music, not their background. So far they seem to have struck all the right chords as the praise keeps on coming from the media. "It all started five years ago when we were in college in the US and starting writing songs," Zeb explains. The girls were then undergraduate students at Smith and Wesleyan college. "I started experimenting with different instruments and sounds," Haniya recalls. "Zeb had been taking singing classes for a while and we got together to record some songs."

That might have been that, Haniya says, if not for the decision to upload the songs on to the internet. "When we got back to Pakistan, we found out that some of the local FM radio stations had actually been playing them." Since 2001, Pakistan has seen a boom in local radio channels which broadcast both local and international talent.

"That got a lot of our friends encouraging us, so we decided to do it more seriously," Zeb continues. "That is when we decided to try and make and album. "Before we knew it Haniya had put together 10 songs and we had taken the plunge." While the girls work as a team when it comes to the music, Zeb says Haniya is the main music writer and sings in a few of the songs on the album. "I help out as much as I can, but I am basically a vocalist," she says.

The pair say that local musicians have also helped them out a lot in the making of the album, which generated a response greater than the girls ever expected. "We were a bit overwhelmed - it just took a little while to sink in," says Haniya. "The first time we played in a concert, we were hooted at initially. "But when the music started the response was stupendous. It was gratifying as our music is not typical Pakistani pop."

The pair say they felt especially pleased when Pushtun boys and girls thanked them for promoting the culture. In fact, that may well be part of the girls' appeal - their music blends western and eastern influences seamlessly. Paimona, a Pushtun ballad about love, rendered with a blues influence, perhaps best illustrates this.

The music is soft with a lot of blues influence and some eclectic pop flavour. Nadeem Farooq Paracha, Pakistan's leading music critic, says the pair have "broken new ground being an all-female band" but cautions that the music is good, not extraordinary. "I wouldn't like to discourage them though - they need to keep on working. I think they can produce better music than this." Both Zeb and Haniya are self-deprecating when it come to their musical career. "It's just started and while it's going well I think we have much room for improvement," says Haniya.

"We are not into politics, but as Pakistani women we feel it is important to dispel the stereotypes abroad. "Pakistani women do face problems and discrimination, but I think we are strong enough to stand up for ourselves. "As musicians, I think this is especially clear when people get to know we are from Pakistan."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/12/21 05:37:11 GMT


Saturday, 20 December 2008

Guns and Peace Don't Mix!

Boys play with toy guns in the courtyard of the Jamia Masjid, or Grand Mosque, in Delhi. When will we stop giving little boys guns to play with? This picture speaks volumes to all those who want an Islamic culture of peace and progress. Think about it...

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Liberals and Hardliners: Islam at War with Itself?

By Bramantyo Prijosusilo, New America Media. Posted December 17, 2008.

The founder of the Liberal Islam movement in Indonesia, Ulil Abshar Abdalla, frequently receives death threats from Islamists who accuse his movement of being designed by America and "the Jews" to destroy Islam.

However, amongst the educated elite in Indonesia, Liberal Islam's supporters tend to be growing. It actively disseminates its ideas through a website (, through national broadsheets, a network of FM radios and even through Facebook.

The growth of liberal Islam was obvious when Islamic scholar Dr. Siti Musdah Mulia was recently awarded a prestigious human rights award in Jakarta. Dr. Mulia controversially accepts gay Muslims. Supporters of Liberal Islam feel that it is a way to express Islam without being in conflict with their common sense and modern values.

Meanwhile, hardliner Islamism is also growing through mass organizations that reach down to the village level through madrasahs and rallies. Recent surveys in West Java revealed that up to 80 percent of Muslims believe that Sharia law should be implemented by the state. Every problem, they believe, no matter how complex, can be solved by the implementation of Sharia law.

The current global financial crisis has supplied fresh ammunition to the jihadi propagandists. Indonesia's chapter of the trans-national Islamist party, Hizbut Tahrir, for example, recently published a letter from a party member living in the United States, describing the crisis as a disaster of consumerism and proof of the damage and suffering caused by the absence of an Islamic Caliphate. This simplistic way of thinking becomes particularly attractive when it is presented by someone perceived to hold religious authority.

Indonesia not only has the largest Muslim population in the world, it also has the liveliest debate on issues related to Islam. The country holds a uniquely strategic position in the ideological battle against literalist Islamism. Historically, Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), was founded in 1926 as a reaction to the Wahhabi takeover in Arabia. Most contemporary Indonesian scholars and activists of Liberal Islam were educated in NU schools, and many of the brightest amongst them are currently studying on American scholarships at Ivy League universities. The debate within Islam can be seen in a growing gap within NU between the educated elite and the village level: recent studies revealed a literalist and anti- pluralist trend among NU affiliated madrasahs in villages.

To decisively end the debate and bury Islamist terror forever, the United States, and particularly American Muslims, must aid the efforts of Liberal Islam activists in Indonesia, but not through moves that will be dismissed as a ‘scholars-for-dollars' program. This debate is not only a war of ideas; it is also a battle of charisma. Though charisma alone will never suffice to deal with the task at hand, without charisma, there can be no spiritual leadership.

To keep and nurture a following, a scholar must be careful about where he or she receives funding. American Muslims must produce not only Islamic rap and Islamic youth novels. They need to nurture Islamic scholars who are educated in the classical subjects of Islam but who can also independently offer an Islamic way of life that is compatible with and beneficial to the global village of the 21st Century.

Islamist terror did not begin with perceived injustices committed by the United States; it started with ideology. Islamists respond violently to the perceived injustices of America's foreign policy because their ideology demands it. Islamists have plenty of charismatic scholars whose works glorify their thirst for violence. Often these scholars lived through a time of profound suffering, such as Ibn Taimiyyah, who experienced the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate to the Mongols in the 13th Century.

Islamist ideologues see the Muslims' predicament as punishment from Allah for not adhering to religion. In what can be seen as an inferiority complex, they feel compelled to purify the expression of Islam in their societies by word and by sword. The enforcement of a total acceptance of Islam is the main theme of all Islamist ideologues. The total acceptance of Islam requires a state that implements Sharia law expressed through the adoption of 7th Century customs of Arabia.

In a way, Islamdom today faces a situation similar to the time when Islamist fundamentalism was born in the ideas of Ibn Taimiyyah. While he faced the destruction of the Muslim community at the hands of the grandson of Genghis Khan, currently, mankind faces obliteration by the failure of states, nuclear wars, and natural and man- made environmental breakdowns.

The problem is that the Islamists' responses to current issues are stuck in the 13th Century. The Mongols have become the United States, the United Kingdom and their allies. Muslims and the world need a new, relevant, expression of Islam, one that can stand up to the militancy and the desperation of the jihadi Islamists. It must be an expression of Islam that is true to the spirit of the Qur'an and the examples of the Prophet Muhammad, but it must also contribute towards the humanism and ecological awareness of the 21st Century.

American (and Western) Muslims are the best equipped to produce this desperately needed expression of Islam. Traditional Islamic scholars are not well educated on current environmental issues, and do not relate to modern humanistic concepts such as gender equality and democracy. Islamic scholars brought up in the West have a much broader understanding of the issues facing mankind today.

Could these scholars now please stand up and speak?

The Hijab: To Veil or Unveil?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Pen is Mightier than the Shoe?

I am going to make a bold statement against the way in which a Baghdadi journalist threw a shoe towards President George Bush in Iraq the other day. Let us be clear that support of this incident cannot be warranted by our opposition to the atrocities against the Iraqi people. But is this the way a God fearing individual should act towards anyone? For me, faith should push us towards respect in our 'loves' and our 'hates'? If not, then we are left asking that age old question, who are the barbaric and the barbarians? 'Be the change you want to see in the world', said Ghandi.

Do we really want to see that change in the act of throwing a shoe towards an elected (agree or disagree but he is elected) head of state? If the Prophet Muhammad was alive today would he act in this way? I recall the numerous times that he wrote to heads of states and every time he would address them using their official titles. For those who argue that this has shown Bush, or 'the west', as some commentators have argued, the 'Iraqi peoples or Muslim' resentment to the war through the action of throwing a shoe then this has dangerous analogous implications in our condemnation of terrorist acts which are legitimised by some as a way of highlighting their resentment but at a more fatal level. We must all embody that 'change' and progress for the betterment of our society.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Where is the Palestinian Homeland?

Palestinian fashion designer Mirvat Ghandur (R) shows off her winning dress in Lebanese TV talent show Mission Fashion, worn by winning model Sabrina Arab of Algeria. The inscription reads: "Everyone has a homeland... except us, our homeland lives in us". Photo by Awar Amro AFP.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Virtual World for Muslims Debut

BBC Online

A trial version of the first virtual world aimed at the Muslim community has been launched. Called Muxlim Pal, it allows Muslims to look after a cartoon avatar that inhabits the virtual world. Based loosely on other virtual worlds such as The Sims, Muxlim Pal lets members customise the look of their avatar and its private room. Aimed at Muslims in Western nations, Muxlim Pal's creators hope it will also foster understanding among non-Muslims.

"We are not a religious site, we are a site that is focused on the lifestyle," said Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder of - the parent site of Muxlim Pal. "This is for anyone who is remotely interested in the Muslim culture and the Muslim lifestyle," he said. "From what we have seen from our market research is that most Muslims have a lifestyle that is not so different from everybody else," he said. "They all share the core values which are from Islam then beyond that they actually have made identities, they have many interests."

Mr El-Fatatry said had 26 different categories of content, only one of which was religion. He said he hoped it would help Muslims meet and talk to others that shared their interests. Those joining the site will get to control the life of a cartoonish avatar or pal that they can then use as a proxy to explore the Muxlim Pal virtual world - which has a beach bar, arena and shopping areas.

The pal or avatar that members control has several "meters" governing its happiness, fitness, knowledge and spirituality that change when the character carries out tasks in the social world. "How it differs from The Sims is that it is social," said Mr El-Fatatry. "So you can actually be with other people at the same time, interact, and see what their characters are doing."

The browser-based virtual world can be used for free but alongside will go some premium services that will help users do more with their avatar and personal room. Those joining Muxlim Pal get a few virtual coins to spend in the online world's shops - to clothe their avatar or decorate their room. Real cash can be used to buy more virtual coins. So far no exchange rates have been given for swapping real for virtual coins.

Mr El-Fatatry said the impetus to create Muxlim Pal grew out of observing what's 1.5m monthly users spent most time on. He said: "We were seeing that our users were enjoying certain character developing elements of, and as no other virtual world offers a family-friendly environment for our community, we felt there was a need to cater for the people who were being left out." Mr El-Fatatry said because the trial version was only six months old it was likely to change significantly before the public launch in 2009. Muxlim was investigating whether members want to be able to create their own content, such as chairs or clothes, and be able to share those with other users. "This is nowhere near the vision of where it will be someday," he said. "It is very important to put things out and listen to how people interact with it. What feedback they give us and then that will play a big role in which direction we take the product in."

Monday, 8 December 2008

Eid: Hagar, Sacrifice and Family

Amanullah De Sondy – BBC Radio Scotland – Thought for the Day 08/12/08

Muslims throughout the world are celebrating Eid today which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia where around 2.5 million Muslims have gathered to pray to God. There are many rituals associated with the Hajj pilgrimage. Muslims all wear the same white clothes to show equality amongst them. They also walk together around the Ka’ba, the black stone structure in the centre of the Mosque. Time is also spent at the mountain where the Prophet Muhammad preached his final sermon and stones are thrown by the pilgrims at a structure which signifies the devil.

However, the pilgrimage also includes a ritual that speaks to me about patience, sacrifice and the family. Every Muslim man and women run between two hills following in the footsteps of the pious Hagar. As her child Ishmael lay crying with thirst she began running in a frenzy to find water only to find it emerging from the ground where he was banging his feet. Even though the prophet Abraham had assured her of God’s protection she still felt, as a Mother, the need to run between these two hills. It has made me think about the way in which the family was the focus of God’s message of sacrifice and raises an important question about our relationship with our own family.

Sacrifice is not an easy task but it needn’t be impossible. We may not be faced with the same situation as Hagar today but we all have family members who require our sacrifice and patience. I for one will be spending my day with my parents and family but my moment of patience and sacrifice comes in the form of my thirteen nieces and nephews who will be running riot at home!

Special days of celebration are frequent in nearly all world faiths and most commonly involve the family. But what we must all consider is the meaning behind our moments of celebration and what we can learn from them to better ourselves, families and the society we live in.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Oum Kalthoum: The Qur'an, Singing and Music

Umm Kulthum (Arabic: أم كلثوم‎, born أم كلثوم إبراهيم البلتاجي Umm Kulthum Ebrahim Elbeltagi; see Kunya; Egyptian Arabic: Om Kalsoum). (May 4, 1904 – February 3, 1975). Various spellings include Om Kalthoum, Oum Kalsoum, and Umm Kolthoum. In Turkish, she is named Ümmü Gülsüm. She was an Egyptian singer, songwriter, and actress. Born in El Senbellawein, she is known as "the Star of the East" (kawkab el-sharq). More than three decades after her death, she is still recognized as the Arab world's most famous and distinguished singer of the 20th century. Kulthum had a contralto singing range.

Shahrukh Khan: Islam, Terror and Secularism

Shahrukh Khan (Hindi: शाहरुख़ ख़ान, Urdu: شاہ رخ خان), born 2 November 1965, is a highly acclaimed Indian actor who works in Bollywood films, as well as film producer and television host.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Surfing Islamic Art

Sydney art fuses surf with Islam
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

An Australian artist has produced a range of Islamic surfboards in an attempt to create a greater understanding between East and West. Phillip George was inspired by his trips to the Middle East and by riots in 2005 when Lebanese Australians were targeted on a beach in Sydney.

He has called the range the Inshallah - or God Willing - surfboards and has put them on exhibition in Sydney. There are 30 surfboards in all, each adorned with intricate Islamic motifs.

Mr George hopes that the Inshallah surfboards can help bridge cultural and religious misunderstandings within Australia. His inspiration has come from his travels and also from the Cronulla riots, when a crowd of mainly white Australians gathered at a beachside suburb of Sydney and targeted people of Middle Eastern appearance.

This is an attempt to fuse the Australian beach culture with the Islamic culture, he says. "What I've done to bring the joy and the interest of our Islamic art to an Australian audience," said Mr George. "I have actually transposed a lot of my photographic images - the work of the tiles and shots of the mosque - on to a surfboard so that they become a lot more acceptable or easy to digest for an Australian audience."

The exhibition, Borderlands, is at the Casula Powerhouse arts centre near Sydney. All the surfboards face Mecca, and visitors have included schoolchildren from Cronulla, a mainly white suburb, and pupils from Sydney's Islamic schools. This is not the first time that symbols of the Australian beach culture have been used in this way.

A local designer has already brought out what she calls a burqini - a full-length swim suit to make Muslim women feel more comfortable at the beach.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Lovers, Religion and Inhumanity

Amanullah De Sondy
BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Monday 1st December 2008

‘Porridge for my breakfast and Dall for my lunch, I’m a typical Scots-Asian’ said the main character in the Glasgow adaptation of the famous Punjabi love story, Heer Ranjha. I went to watch the play at the Tramway in Glasgow at the weekend. It’s an interesting and tragic tale of a rich Sikh girl, Heer, and a poor Pakistani Muslim boy, Ranjha, who is given a job in one of Heer’s father’s Indian restaurants. Ranjha cannot be accepted by the Sikh family, because of his Pakistani Muslim roots, and he’s taunted by the Sikhs around him.

In the end, Heer is forced to marry a famous Bollywood movie star, Sikh of course, but at the final moment Ranjha re-appears and is killed by her uncle. In a tragic finale, Heer kills herself so that she can to be with Ranjha.

The play raised the issue of how the identities of the new generation of Scots Asians are continually being defined and challenged. It showed how ethnic roots are hugely important in shaping the lives of youngsters. Heer Ranjha’s love made me realise that racism is not a one-way process between the white and non-white communities, but that the ugly disease of racism can also be seen within.

But I think the most powerful message of the play was that race, religion and cultures can make us lose our humanity. The love between Heer and Ranjha was beyond race and religion, yet no one seemed to realise this until after their deaths.

The terrorist bombs in Mumbai have also jolted the international world to yet another form of human hatred. Where relations between India and Pakistan were looking positive recently, in a matter of days there has been talk of war between them. Fear and recrimination have rushed in again. Love is not simple; love comes out of a mixture of emotions and events, hardships and successes, good times and bad. Love has to struggle against hate, bombs, revenge and inhumanity. For after all it’s an eternal struggle.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Youth, Life and the World Around Us

Abhi to Main Jawaan Hoon
I am still young

One of my favorite poems by the famous Pakistani poet Hafeez Jallandhari. Most famously sang by Malikha Pukhraj, below sang with her daughter Tahira Syed. The translation below is by Ayesha Khanna.

Here are a few words of commentary by my good friend Saba Sajid;

"This poem is not about asserting ones youth. It's more a call to those who are unaware of the wonders of life and earth's bounties. It's about embracing the wonders and the riches all around you and to take them in with a complete awareness and understanding. Its about opening your heart and let yourself be filled in what life offers to you.

Its about understanding that the desire for salvation and the ever after shouldn't keep you away from what else is there for u too. One doesn't negate the other. Also one mustn't die before ones time and life is to be lived as long as u have it.

But there is an element of sadness where it looks like the poet is not all absorbed in the wonders himself and is rather trying to forget his sorrows and pains which have taken his hope away. He doesn't care for the stories of existence or existentialism. All he is doing is to try to get his hope back and also lose a bit of himself in it if it can take his heartache away. He also knows that the world inside you may be in chaos and a complete mess but the wonders outside stay just as bright and just as wonderful.

He then wants all these wonders to become a part of him, to exhilarate and excite him as they promise to do, so he may imbibe them and forget what he has been through."

Havaa bhi kushagavaar hai, gulon pe bhi nikhaar hai
tarannume.n hazaar hai, bahaar purabahaar hai
The air is delicious, flowers are blooming
Melodies are in the air, spring is everywhere

kahaa.N chalaa hai saaqiyaa, (idhar to lauT idhar to aa)
are, yah dekhataa hai kyaa? uThaa subuu, subuu uThaa
Where are you going, wine-giver?
Ay, Come back here
Why do you wait? Bring the pitcher of wine

subuu uThaa, piyaalaa bhar piyaalaa bhar ke de idhar
chaman kii simt kar nazar, samaa to dekh beKabar
Bring the pitcher, fill my cup
Observe, the world is blissfully unconcerned

vo kaalii-kaalii badaliyaa.N, ufaq pe ho ga_ii ayaa.n
vo ik hajuum-e-maikashaa.n, hai suu-e-maikadaa ravaa.n
Those dark clouds that are now on the horizon
How they sway like inebriated taverns

ye kyaa gumaa.n hai badagumaa.n, samajh na mujhako naatavaa.n
Kayaal-e-zohd abhii kahaa.N?
abhii to mai.n javaan huu.N
What suspicions you have!
Don’t judge me so feeble
Why should I think of abstinence?
I am still young

ibaadato.n kaa zikr hai, nijaat kii bhii fikr hai
junuun hai savaab kaa, Kayaal hai azaab kaa
All this talk of worship, this worry about salvation
These rewards in heaven, those torments in hell

magar suno to sheK jii, ajiib shay hai.n aap bhii
bhalaa shabaab-o-aashiqii, alag hue bhii hai.n kabhii
Dear Shaikh (Mullah), how strange you are
Surely you know, youth and passion dance together

hasiin jalavaarez ho.n, adaae.n fitanaaKez ho.n
havaae.n itr_bez ho.n, to shauq kyuu.N na tez ho.n?
Beautiful women, resplendent and full of mischief
Brought to me by the wind, how can I resist?

nigaarahaa-e-fitanaagar, koii idhar koii udhar
ubhaarate hai.n aish par, to kyaa kare koii bashar
Those playful lovers, some there, others here
When they so arouse, what is a man to fear?

chalo jii qissaa muKtasar, tumhaaraa nuqtaa-e-nazar
durust hai to ho magar, abhii to mai.n javaan huu.N
All right then, my story will be short
Critical looks abound
You are probably right but ...
I am still young

ye Gasht kohasaar kii, ye sair juu-e-vaar kii
ye bulabulo.n ke chahachahe, ye gularuKo.n ke qahaqahe
These wandering mountains with gushing rivulets
Chirping nightingales, this laughter of lovely maidens

kisii se mel ho gayaa, to ra.nj-o-fikr kho gayaa
kabhii jo vaqt so gayaa, ye ha.Ns gayaa vo ro gayaa
I met someone, and fled all worry of anguish
Time stood still, there was some laughter, a few tears

ye ishq kii kahaaniyaa.N, ye ras bharii javaaniyaa.N
udhar se meharabaaniyaa.N, idhar se lantaraaniyaa.N
The stories of passion, youth filled with sweetness
Some kindness there, a little boasting here

ye aasmaan ye zamii.n, nazzaraahaa-e-dilanashii.n
une hayaat aafarii.n, bhalaa mai.n chho.D duu.N yahii.n
This heaven, this earth, these wonderful sights of His
Demands He a life well spent, my sins for me to leave

hai maut is qadar qarii.n, mujhe na aaegaa yaqii.n
nahii.n-nahii.n abhii nahii.n, nahii.n-nahii.n abhii nahii.n
abhii to mai.n javaan huu.N
That death could be so near, I cannot believe
No, not yet, not yet,
I am still young

Gam kushuud-o-bast kaa, bala.nd kaa na past ka
na buud kaa na hast kaa, na vaadaa-e-alast kaa
Not concerned am I with proximity or distance, zenith or nadir
My status or my existence, the promise of man’s creation

ummiid aur yaas gum, havaas gum qayaas gum
nazar se aas-paas gum, hamaa.n bajuz gilaas gum
I have lost hope and despair, reason and self-awareness
My vision is blurred, even my goblet have I misplaced

na may me.n kuchh kamii rahe, kadaa se hamadamii rahe
nishast ye jamii rahe, yahii hamaa.n hamii.n rahe
Let the wine not fail me, the friendship with the tavern grow
The evening remain the same, the gathering live on

vo raag chhe.D mutaribaa, tarab-fizaa, alam-rubaa
asar sadaa-e-saaz kaa, jiGar me.n aag de lagaa
Crooner, sing a melody, exhilarate me, snuff my ire
Influences of song and dance, set my soul on fire

har ik lab pe ho sadaa, na haath rok saaqiyaa
pilaae jaa pilaae jaa, pilaae jaa pilaae jaa
abhii to mai.n javaan huu.N
Everyone is imploring, don’t stop this flow of wine
Keep on pouring, keep on pouring
I am still young...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Religious Pluralism: A Debate


Christianity and Religious Pluralism

A public debate between Gavin D'Costa (University of Bristol) and Perry Schmidt- Leukel (University of Glasgow) chaired by Werner Jeanrond (University of Glasgow)
Tuesday, December 2nd 2008, 17.30-20.00
Boyd Orr Building, Room 407 (Lecture Theatre A)

Can Christianity accept other religions as different, but nevertheless equally valid manifestations of divine revelation and as paths of salvation? This issue, know as "religious pluralism", is at the centre of this public debate between one of its most renowned critics, Prof. Gavin D'Costa, and one of its leading proponents, Prof. Perry Schmidt-Leukel. The discussion is chaired by Glasgow's new Professor of Divinity, Werner Jeanrond.

Everybody Welcome!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Mozart and Beethoven meet Khan: The Musical Interplay of Religion and Culture

I had the utmost pleasure of attending a very special concert last night, on the invitation of the Rhead family from Dumbarton. The world renowned Sarod player, Amjad Ali Khan, was performing with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the City Halls, Glasgow. An enchanting ensemble of music with a mixture of Mozart, Beethoven and Khan. A wonderful fusion of ‘east’ and ‘west’ that had me wondering if these musicians had cracked what we academics have spent a lifetime trying to unravel. The way in which music brings hearts together into a shared humanity was pretty overwhelming for me. It would be good to have more musical, cultural programmes like this which highlight our shared sense of the world as opposed to politically motivated ones.

The first part of the programme started with Mozart’s Overture to 'Idomeneo', K366 and then Beethoven’s Symphony No 8 in F, Op 93. The second part was featuring the music of Khan in which the Scottish Chamber Orchestra dabbled in some pretty intense South Asian sounds and from the smiles on their faces and the tapping of their feet, they were enjoying every minute! In the first part of the programme we saw the orchestra wearing black but in the second part there was colour, red in particular.

Talking about the collaboration, Amjad Ali Khan commented:
“I was very happy and honoured when the Scottish Chamber Orchestra approached me to write a Sarod Concerto for them. David Murphy was to conduct the entire concerto and also put my thoughts together. He has a great regard for Indian classical music so he could understand and read my vision.”

Conductor David Murphy said:
“It became immediately apparent to all of us that something very special could come out of this collaboration - Khan Sahib was thrilled at the affinity the SCO LAB players had for his music, the LAB were similarly thrilled by Khan Sahib’s vibrant musicality and I was delighted that a truly creative musical dialogue without barriers was taking place between musicians from East and West. It was then that the idea for a concerto for sarod and concertante group was born, and immediately took wing.”

Amjad Ali Khan life long dream of performing at the Baha’i House of Worship in Delhi was fulfilled in the year 2000 with his sons Aman and Ayaan. "I have had a dream for sometime now, which I want to share with you," he wrote. "I have wished to perform, most humbly, with the Baha'i Temple in the background." The concert was held as part of the opening ceremony for the international "Colloquium on Science, Religion and Development" organized by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India and the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity.

When asked how he (Khan) reconciled his mainstream Islamic faith with the Baha’i faith he said, "I feel connected to every religion of the world. Water, air, fire, flowers and music have no religion, but their beauty is universally acknowledged. I feel drawn to any religion that is not fanatical in its approach but teaches love of other humans." Let us all reflect upon these sentiments!

And we Scots are proud to have had this man perform in a land where "We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns"

Enjoy Khan playing the Sarod below.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Religion should 'Liberate' more than 'Moderate'

I had a wee chuckle to see that the BNP’s members lists have been leaked, which has created widespread pandemonium. The members are worried of being ‘outed’ and the BNP seem silently happy that they get coverage which dismisses the accusation that they are a party for the ‘skinhead’ types. I listened to a Radio 4 interview of the BNP leader who presented his views earnestly and with great pride. I was left wondering what it is that makes the far right strong? Was there anything to be learnt from this party?

The BNP are a lost cause because they have a barrage of institutions against their policies of exclusivism, racism and white elitism. But what I want to question is the extent to which the views of the BNP have been condemned but through a moderate agenda because maybe...there still lurks some demons in our closets? If a far right party is to be countered then surely its counter would be a far left/progressive response? Is the centrist response of many good enough? Are we really saying that race is not an issue in the UK? When I was dancing the streets, not literally, of Brooklyn on the night of Obama’s victory I heard a black man shout ‘Racism is Dead’. It made me wonder if he was actually right? Or is racism dying? In the same way moderation is dying to make way for real progressive values, socially and religiously. And now we see the media arguing whether it is right to argue that Obama is indeed a ‘black’ man because to be black, for these commentators, one needs to be a descendant of black slaves and definitely not from a mixed race background, let alone being cared for by white grandparents!

I’m remembering my undergraduate classes with Dr. Mary Keller who introduced me to the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, and the ground shattering work of Cornel West, ‘Race Matters’.

It must be accepted that the BNP are an honest party, they say what they have to say and you either love them or loathe them. We have a firm substance to react against and condemn their policies. As for the ‘politically correct’ majority in the UK it may be a different tale to be told. This is why I believe ‘moderation’ is a disguise for a deeper malaise which many are not willing to unveil. In politics we see how moderates/centrists rule but in theology and religion we see how the boundaries are so much more liberated. For theology and religion is a not a matter of votes or power, if you’re saying ‘yes it is’ then you’re reading too much political Islam! Theology and religion is progressive and it belongs to every individual believer, not an institution or political party. When theology and religion becomes a thing to ‘possess’ it loses its liberation. In the same way I firmly believe that religious leaders, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Ayatollahs are in a very difficult position for their role is highly politicised and the burden of pleasing the masses may quite easily force them to overlook their own personal progressive thoughts on an issue and become ‘moderates’.