Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Islamic Law: When a Muslim Takes the Law too Far

I was reading a book today and I came across this wonderful story relating to Imam Abu Hanifa. It made me think about the way in which we Muslims get so bogged down in the nitty gritty of the law that we fail to realise that law attempts to create order through rights and wrongs which are not always on the path of God. I would go as far as to say that it often goes against the love of God and humanity that is pouring out from the Qur'an. The Qur'an allows the Muslim mind to seek God and love through a discourse of perfect ambiguity! Seeking God through a spiritual maze is more alluring that seeking God through a legalistic one.

...Once a man was walking through Baghdad carrying a wine flask until the police dragged him to court. The judge ruled that the hadd punishment for drinking wine should be ordered, and that is lashing. Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi legel method, heard of this and confronted the judge, demanding to know why the hadd penalty should be applied. The judge said, “Even if he did not actually drink, he was found carrying on his person the instruments for committing a crime punishable by the hadd, so the exemplary punishment should be applied and he should be lashed.” Abu Hanifa retorted, “So stone him as well! Isn’t he found carrying on his person the instruments for committing adultery also?”

Monday, 10 March 2008

God's Whores: Mughal Courtesans

By Irfan Yusuf
June 25th 2003
Published at Muslims Wake Up: http://www.muslimwakeup.com/main/archives/2003/06/gods_whores.php

Back in the days when I was young and innocent, mum would regularly seat me in front of the VCR and force me to sit through a 3-hour Urdu/Hindi movie. It was mum’s way of getting her ‘piyara beta’ (allegedly beloved son) to brush up on his language skills. It was also her attempt to immunize me from totally assimilating into local ways (which in my white Protestant sectarian retro-Aussie neighborhood meant ensuring I did not hate Catholics too much).

After 10 of these awful sessions, I knew the drill. I could predict the story, the actors, even the playback artists. I knew that Muhammad Rafi was dead, and that chances were his amazingly sweet and versatile voice would be replaced with that of Kishore Kumar, a gentleman mum often referred to as the dude with ‘avaare ki avaaz’ (the voice of a lecher). I could even measure how far the fist of the ‘ghunda’ (gangster) was from the victim’s face during a fight scene. And up which trees the orchestra was hiding when the couple were dancing and singing in the park.

But then one day mum showed me a movie whose story line still haunts me. It haunted her when she first read the novel as part of her undergraduate studies at Aligarh Muslim University. The story was yet another illustration of what an awful deal corrupt and violent men dish out to women. And that includes Muslim men.

Umrao Jan Ada (Umrao Jan’s Tale) is said to be a masterpiece of Urdu literature. It is set during the eve of the East India Company’s move out of Bombay and across the rest of northern and central India. These were the last days of the decaying and decadent Mughal Empire. Yes, they were tolerant (apart from Aurangzeb who mercilessly massacred the followers of sufi-inspired Guru Nanak and pushed them beyond the fringes of the Indian Muslim community). Yes, they were cultured. Yes, they were rich. Yes, they were my ancestors.

And yes, they were decadent. Many a courtesan entered the Mughal court. Religion and religiosity did not seem to matter when it came to sexual pleasure. But I guess the Mughals were just following what everyone else did.

Visiting courtesans and prostitutes was a gentleman’s game. The great nawabs and princes would gather at the ‘mahkhana’ (glorified brothel) where they would marvel at the poetic skills, the linguistic masonry and the sheer intelligence of girls who were usually kidnapped from their families at a young age and trained by poets and musicians and other cultural technicians on the art of being a respectable courtesan.

Of course, my semi-drunken Mughal ancestors weren’t just interested in the great minds and sweet words of these highly cultured women. For a few bags of gold, they had access to other treasures. Although the men had to prove themselves worthy, and this was not just an issue of money.

Umrao Jan Ada has been cinematized in both Pakistan and India. Mum reckons the Pakistani version has better ghazals (lyrical songs), but the Indian one is more true to the novel. I beg to differ. But that is not the point of this article.

The point is that the character of Umrao Jan is so typical of the hypocrisy many have toward women (and in some cases, men) who work. Yes, it is true that this is a most oppressive and exploitative industry. Yes, women are often physically and psychologically abused. But they are still women. They have made their choice. And some may not have even had a choice.

Umrao Jan was kidnapped in her early teens. She had just been engaged to a young chap. Her dad had an argument with someone who had Umrao Jan kidnapped and sold to a ‘randi’ (female pimp) to be raised as a ‘thawaa’if’ (courtesan). Umrao lived in this brothel environment for some 6 years, during which she was taught classical music, poetry, etiquette and other culturally seductive arts.

Eventually, Umrao was unleashed upon an unsuspecting community of male admirers who had never seen anything like her. She was a princess. And like all princesses, she attracted a prince. He wooed her, seduced her, promised her his heart and then dumped her when his mummy found him a more ‘decent’ girl (ironically one of Umrao Jan’s friends who grew up with her in the brothel but who never appeared as a courtesan).

The town where Umrao stayed was attacked by the British, and she joined a convoy of refugees. One night she found herself in a town that looked ever-so-familiar. Some of the refugees asked her to sing for them. She sang of the familiarity of the place. In the audience was a young handsome man whom she felt she had seen before.

After the performance, Umrao went walking and found a house she recognized and an old frail woman who she had seen many years ago. The old woman recognized Umrao as her own daughter. She told Umrao of her father’s death from the grief of her kidnapping. Then the young handsome man in the audience appeared. The old lady said to him: “Look, son! Your sister has returned!”

The boy looked at her scornfully and said words that represent the attitudes many of us have. “She cannot be my sister. She is Umrao Jan. She is just a prostitute”.

Umrao Jan left after hearing these words. The Indian version of the movie ends by showing Umrao looking at herself in the mirror and touching the mirror. The novel says that she committed suicide.

So how should we see Umrao. How should we allegedly pious and spiritually astute people view someone like Umrao Jan? I guess the first step will be to declare that prostitution is haram (legally forbidden) and that prostitutes will go to hell. And that society should reject and shun prostitutes.

But let me ask all you mullahs and mullettes this. Why do prostitutes exist? Why is there a plentiful supply of sex-on-tap? Simply because there is plentiful demand. And who are the clients? Usually the respectable people, the judges and politicians and businessmen and lawyers and doctors. And priests and rabbis and maulanas also.

So why are the customers, the clients, the real reason for prostitution to exist let off the hook so easily? And why are the workers, the service providers, the women with often multiple mouths to feed condemned?

And why is it that a prostitute is so dirty and awful whilst a girl who sleeps with some dude she just met at a bar or club and who bought her a drink so clean and wholesome? It reminds me of this female stand-up comedian I once saw who had this to say: “I cannot understand you men. Like, I go to a bar. And I sit there and one of you comes and buys be a drink. And then he expects me to sleep with him. Now tell me this – which prostitute would sleep with you for four dollars and twenty five cents?”

Among those of you reading this will be people who claim to believe in Jesus (peace be upon God’s Noble Messiah). And some who even claim to be following him. Now I ask you this. Who was Jesus’ closest female companion? Who was the one who went to the Garden where his tomb was to rub herbs on his body in accordance with Jewish custom? Who was the one who spent so many hours and days with him? Who was the one who shared his own blessed mother’s name?

Jesus had two Mary’s in his life. One was his mother, the one who miraculously conceived him whilst she was still a virgin. The one about whom the Qur’an says that she was chosen over and above the women of all nations. And the other Mary?

She was a prostitute.

Real Islam, indeed real religion is designed to rid us of the pomposity and self-righteousness that plagues so much religiosity. The prophets of God sat with and made time for those whom society pushes away. Christ spent time with tax collectors, fishermen and prostitutes. Christ did not go to King Fahd of his day and seek a few measly riyals in return for loyalty.

We know that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) was known to spend time with a woman in Madina who suffered from schizophrenia. He also had a close friend Julaybib who had no known ancestry and apparently suffered from some physical deformities. And he was so fond of a black woman whose name has not come down to us but whose place in paradise is assured since she spent so much effort sweeping the Prophet’s mosque. And where did the great sufis come from? They originated from those poor starving semi-naked People of the Bench (‘ashab as-suffah’), the equivalent of today’s street people.

We don’t look up to street people or schizophrenics or cleaners. We look up to scholars and philanthropists and martyrs. Yet the Prophet told us that a person from each of these honored categories will be amongst the first to be dragged into hell.

He also told us about the prostitute. The one who finished her shift and went to the well. She saw a dog that was dying of thirst. She took pity on it, dropped her shoe into the well and dragged it out full of water for the dog. For showing kindness to a dog, the prostitute earned God’s mercy and forgiveness.

During his recent tour to Sydney, Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller referred to this incident. And he made a comment to this effect: “How I wish I was that prostitute. We should all wish we could have been her. She understood the reality of things. May God give all of us the understanding possessed by this woman”.

Yes, God created whores too.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

University of Glasgow: Islamic Studies Alumni Society - Movie Night

Saturday 15th March @ 7pm
The society regularly meets up at someones house and watches a topical movie about Islam, religion or culture. Very chilled out, relaxed. Although for alumni, we welcome anyone who wishes to take part in discussions on Islam. We will be watching Le Grande Voyage - a film by Ismael Ferroukhi.

"Reda, summoned to accompany his father on a pilgrimage to Mecca, complies reluctantly - as he preparing for his baccalaureat and, even more important, has a secret love relationship. The trip across Europe in a broken-down car is also the departure of his father: upon arrival in Mecca, both Reda and his father are not the characters they were at the start of the movie. Avoiding the hackneyed theme of the return to the homeland, the film uses the departure to renew a connection between two generation."

If you are interested in joining us please contact the Alumni Secretary: m.rhead@btinternet.com for further details.

Also, Alina Mirza from Heer Productions (http://www.pakistanifilmfest.com/) will be giving a talk on Pakistani Film and Arts on Tuesday 11th March 2008, 6:00-7:30pm, Departmant of Theology and Religious Studies, Upper Seminar Room, 4 The Square, University of Glasgow. This is open to all. One not to be missed!

How progressive is the Progressive Muslim movement?

An interesting take on the term 'Progressive Muslim by Aamir Siddiqui. Such important questions are much needed and I am reflecting upon them myself. No one can fault me on not being self critical:) In order to make this piece more relevant to Scotland just excuse all the references to North America with Scotland - it will soon make sense:)

How progressive is the Progressive Muslim movement?

Without presenting believers with a clear understanding of what they represent, the Progressive Muslim movement is at risk of making itself unrecognizable to mainstream believers

By Aamir Siddiqui, August 23, 2005
Published at: www.altmuslim.com (copyright)

Opinions Everywhere

Islam is a religion often entwined in intellectual debate. Changing social pressures both external and internal demand responses. Scholars and leaders must rise to the occasion and guide the believers to the best answer. Recent events publicized in the media seem to be accelerating this natural process.

The term "Progressive Muslim" has been used by both supporters and detractors to forward individual agendas. The progressive Muslim movement is an umbrella term for believers trying to navigate an ever-changing socio-political landscape in North America along with the pressures of globalization. The progressive movement strips away cultural and emotional aspects of 21st century Islam to redefine it in a more sociologically relevant image. To some it is a humanization of the apparent unpleasant side of Islamic dogma and rhetoric including gender separation, anti-homosexual doctrines, intolerance of other faiths and the role of warfare and violence in Islamic history.

Detractors of the movement see a subversion of Allah's message as well as the example of His last Prophet (PBUH) to achieve political correctness and to spin a more palatable religion; easier to sell as sound bites and polite dinner party conversation. They see 1400 years of tradition and knowledge ignored and denied.

Neither side can win this debate without the Muslim Ummah paying a heavy price. If the progressive movement wins its attempt to re-write the religion for Muslims in the West a split will invariably develop and we the believers will be forced to choose which type of Muslim we are, which masjid to attend and to whom we can say salaam. If the traditionalists are victorious many good Muslims will be disenfranchised and lost permanently.

I believe both sides have the same goal; to serve Allah while living as good citizens of the world. Any change is painful and potentially confrontational. What needs to be determined is where change is warranted and if that change is legitimate. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) should be our guide in such matters. Most scholars agree that for the Prophet (PBUH), given reasonable options, he preferred the easier, less burdensome path.

Does the progressive Muslim movement represent this? Are the essential message and spirit of Islam preserved despite the concerns of traditional Muslims? At this point it is difficult to say exactly what falls under the rubric of progressive. The movement has yet to clearly define what if anything is too progressive. Once this boundary is identified, hopefully the debate can being in earnest. Without presenting believers with a clear understanding of what they represent, the movement is at risk of making itself unrecognizable to mainstream believers both here and especially abroad.

With the ground rules established, the next question is where this dialogue should take place. The progressive movement ideologies are most visible on the internet, in various academic institutions in North America and the popular press. Mainstream Islam in the US still takes its cues from the local masjid level and, arguably, to a large degree from overseas influences. A recent study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and the work of others including Jeffery Lang suggest that organized Islam (i.e. masjids) in this country are failing to serve many American-born and second generation Muslims. Many good Muslims are unable to connect with the masjid hierarchy and culture. It is in the interest of these masjids to become more relevant to the Ummah in the US and to engage them on both an intellectual and spiritual level.

The Progressive movement needs to take the discourse to the grassroots level. The movement must extend its sphere of influences beyond its present comfortable boundaries and allow the believers to hear and understand why change is necessary. It is in the interest of both sides to engage the believers in North America. Only good can come of a clear, deliberate and impassioned discourse. After all, the search for knowledge and truth is a basic tenet of Islam. But if this debate results in the disharmony within or schism of the Ummah one must pause to reflect on the merits of the conflict. If the argument cannot be won at this level, possibly the progressive movement is wrong in its attempts to modify the practices and ideologies of Muslims. Maybe what is being proposed is not even Islamic.

The "meetups" organized by the Progressive Muslim Union are a good start, though a pitfall to avoid is losing focus of the true issues at hand. The discourse can drift off course due to participants desires to upstage or distract for political gain. The abortion debate is a classic example - since there is no anti-choice or anti-life movement the two side never have to clash head on. Both sides can retain the moral superiority of being pro-choice and pro-life without the risk of saying something which may lose them favor in the arena of public opinion. There can never be a resolution to the abortion issue until both sides decide to proceed in earnest with the realization that one group will lose. A female Imam for jummah salat in New York City does not answer the question of gender segregation that exists in every masjid (worldwide). It merely serves as a distraction. The issues we Muslims face here today are too important to allow them to deteriorate into such a quandary.

The role of religion should be to guide us through the murky path towards goodness and salvation. If progressive Islam is the natural evolution of our religion in the United States then, Inshallah, nothing can stop it. However, if it turns out to be a reactionary phase that distracts true believers, much infighting and bitterness will have been for nothing. For all of us the imperative should be that Islam survive and thrive in the US for the next generation and beyond. Our goal should be a religion that first and foremost provides for the believers at least as well, and possibly better than traditional Islam has done for those before us. Our Islam must exist in a form recognizable by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and give believers the least difficult path to follow. Political correctness and polite dinner conversation come in a very distant second.

Aamir Siddiqui, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Chicago, is a physician living in Detroit, Michigan with his wife and 2 inquisitive children. He studied English at Johns Hopkins University and medicine at Northwestern University.

Dagh-e-Dil Hum Ko: the abrasions to my heart - Iqbal Bano

Another attempt at translation:) I found a very weak translation of this beautiful Ghazal written by Baqi Siddique. I felt compelled to translate this and offer it the credit it is due. This version is sung by Iqbal Bano.

My translation is dedicated to all those who seek God through love.

"The angels were asked, what is heaven? It is a heart full of love. And what is hell? A heart without love..."

dagh-e-dil hum ko yaad aane lage
The abrasions to my heart are once again being rekindled
dagh-e-dil hum ko yaad aane lage
The abrasions to my heart are once again being rekindled

log apne diye jalaane lage

The abraders are re-igniting their flames
dagh-e-dil hum ko yaad aane lage
The abrasions to my heart are once again being rekindled

khud farebi si khud farebi hai
Indeed deception is deception in itself
khud farebi si khud farebi hai
Indeed deception is deception in itself
pas kay dhol bhi suhaane lage
The beloved so near is even mesmarising (Irony)
log apne diye jalane lage
The abraders are re-igniting their flames

ab to hota hai har kadam pe gumaan
At every step I fall into doubt
ab to hota hai har kadam pe gumaan
At every step I fall into doubt

hum ye kaise kadam uthane lage

For I wonder what type of step I am taking?
log apne diye jalaane lage
The abraders are re-igniting their flames

dagh-e-dil hum ko yaad aane lage
The abrasions to my heart are once again being rekindled

aik pal mein wahan sey hum uthe

I arose from that corner (of my heart) in a flash
aik pal mein wahan se hum uthe
I arose from that corner (of my heart) in a flash
bethney mein jahan zamane lage
Where it took me a few lifetimes to sit
log apne diye jalaane lage
The abraders are re-igniting their flames

dagh-e-dil hum ko yaad aane lage
The abrasions to my heart are once again being rekindled

apni qismat pe hai maqar kis ko
Tell me who has a grasp of their own fortune/destiny?
teer par ur ke bhi nishaane lage
Even after ones flight the arrow finds its victim

dagh-e-dil hum ko yaad aane lage
The abrasions to my heart are once again being rekindled