Friday, 15 August 2008

Pakistan Independence Day: What does it mean to us?

It’s Pakistan and India’s Independence Day celebrations, 61 years of independence. I went to the Pakistan Independence Day Concert, organised by Goshi Entertainments, at the SECC last night to celebrate this occasion but came away thinking about what exactly I was celebrating.

The show started with the son of outgoing Glasgow Central MP Muhammad Sarwar (also present) presenting an awards ceremony for leading Pakistani figures in Glasgow. Anas Sarwar, the Labour MSP candidate for Glasgow Central, introduced Labour leaning individuals to the platform but in amongst all of these was Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), our Deputy First Minister. Nicola made a passionate speech using all the right buzz words, Pakistan, Independence, illegal war, Palestine, Scotland. Then again, independence and the SNP are synonymous, are they not? Interestingly the term Scottish Muslim, which the SNP seem to have quite happily funded nearly half a million pounds towards promoting, was ditched and the term Scottish Pakistanis was used by our Deputy First Minister. Why was this the case? And where were the representatives of the Scottish Islamic Foundation? Could it be the case that SIF believe that what was going on at this concert of dance and music, which is most certainly a part of Pakistani culture, was not ‘Islamic’?

It seems that our political parties in Scotland have gone daft over courting the Muslim vote, or is it the Pakistani vote? I’m not sure they actually care, as long as they get the vote. What troubles me is that there seems to be no concern about change, progress and development. But like I’ve said before, change in the Muslim communities must come from within, it is not the duty or interest of others to call for progress. It seems that politicians may try and deceive us into thinking that they are seeking, or funding, change and progress but in fact their motive and action is purely political. The whole fracas between the SNP and Labour party over the government funding to the Scottish Islamic Foundation is an example of this. The Scottish press seem to be having a field day publishing cheap, or not so cheap in the case of SIF, snipes between the SNP and Labour parties. The ultimate question we should be asking is, does anyone care about what SIF stands for or is this purely a party political issue?

This is why I believe that our political parties or Muslim politicians cannot deliver strength and progress in the Muslim communities. The status quo of Muslim societies in Scotland, or in any other part of the UK, has moved to a moderate stream but what we need is the alternative progressive voice. I have no intention of denying anyone a voice but just aim to promote a truly progressive one too. The regressive agenda of many moderates is being unveiled but I fear that this unveiling is not to support the progressive cause but to further political agendas. I am shocked to hear some Scots use the unfortunate position of the Scottish Islamic Foundation to have a dig at Muslims as a ‘whole’, as if to understand us as a monolith. Progressives cannot continue to sleep through such sentiments but they must be challenged with progressive Islamic values.

Change is happening but I believe that it lacks spiritual strength and understanding. Take the vast majority of attendants at the concert last night. I’d say they were between 18-24 and all were thoroughly enjoying the acts on stage by predominantly Brits with clear south Asian roots. The singers sang a mixture of r&b, traditional Punjabi bhangra, Hindi songs which some might say is a nice mixture of everything but in reality it is neither here nor there. It is a bit like the word multiculturalism – we get so involved in trying to figure out all these different cultures and accommodating them that we lose sight of what we actually are ourselves. Only when a culture, be it religious or otherwise, is confident in itself and has grappled with its own state of affairs will it be able to live and thrive in one that is diverse. Only when the new generation of Scots, who are Muslim, are confident and strong in their religion, roots and culture/s will they be able to venture out.

At the moment we seem to be failing this new generation by not highlighting their roots and how proud they should be of them. Instead we are trying to create this Scottish Muslim which shies away from its real roots. Why are we so reluctant to highlight the beautiful culture of the subcontinent? The answer is simple - because it is progressive. Let us not forget that Muhammad Ali Jinnah created Pakistan as a secular, yet very Islamic, state. A state that proudly presented a Hindu as it’s first Foreign Minister. A state that was created through the vision of a great mystical Urdu poet, Muhammad Iqbal. A state which has failed to uphold these progressive values because the Mullahs of the land have been trying in vain to create an ideal Islamic State! I’m also not altogether convinced that independence for India or Pakistan was a good idea for their ultimate strength in culture and creativity lay in their unification, but that’s for another day. I felt that these critical questions were lost in a sea of identity crisis at the concert last night.

Here is a speech given by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Founder of Pakistan. Note how the speech makes no comment on how to make the state 'Islamic' but talks about shared values and deep Islamic vales and ethos which require no need to detail political Islam.

Maybe I am deconstructing music too much but for me at a Pakistani Independence Day concert we needed to hear songs which Pakistani greats sang such as Noor Jehan, Farida Khanum, Malaika Pukhraj, Iqbal Bano, Mehdi Hassan, Naseebo Lal and others. These singers have sung some of the most outstanding songs with powerful Urdu poetry that is deeply spiritual and progressive. The problem is that the moderates have hammered in this idea that music, singing and dance is totally ‘un-Islamic’ which has led the younger generation to see such creativity far from the realms of Islam. Islam has inspired some of the most wonderful poetry, ghazals, music and singing in South Asia and the very core of a lot of these songs sung by the new generation of Brits has its roots in that land. The problem is that the vital link between music, singing and poetry has not been developed with the younger generation. So the vital question is who is doing this? Are we expecting our political parties or politicians to do this? If we are truly to be proud of Pakistan and India’s Independence then we need to ask ourselves why that is and what questions does that raise about our identity and roots.

God's Blessings: Appreciating Parents

It's a bad state of affairs when we need specific events and dates to make us realise what we have. It's my birthday today (and Princess Anne's!) and I wanted to write something in appreciation of my wonderful parents. My Dad, Inayat Ullah, came to the UK from Pakistan in the 1950s and worked very hard to provide for my Mum and his wife, Nasim Akhtar and seven children, not an easy task. Now my parents are both retired and enjoy lazing around, traveling and annoying each other. I believe that my progressive streak comes from my parents who have always been pretty laid back about issues and always supporting my work. This is a picture of my Mum and Dad.

I'm not going to start pontificating about how children should respect and love their parents because every situation is different but I think appreciation of what our parents have done for us is vital. This morning as I sat to have my morning coffee with my Mum, who was having her traditional cooked Pakistani Chai, told me how difficult her labour was. I was apparently a healthy baby but with complications, typical!, and this forced the physicians to operate. My Mum was told that had I not been as healthy as I was, I may not have survived the labour. Thank the Lord of our beautiful world that I was born in the early hours of Wednesday 15th August 1979. So, this day isn't really about me, it's about my parents, God Bless 'em!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Bring out the Female Arab Leaders

The picture says it all...
Posted on the BBC: Lebanese and Syrian first ladies Wafaa Sleiman (left) and Assma al-Assad caught in a gust of wind at a welcoming ceremony in Damascus

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Unfortunate Self - A Poem by Aman

I'm taking a big risk here by publishing a poem I wrote in April 2007. This was during my intense research on the 19th Century Mughal Poet Mirza Ghalib. I was greatly inspired by him to write a poem, of course no where near his calibre and also in English. Before you all enquire about my state of mind and how close I am to jumping into the bath tub with a hair dryer let me tell you that I am fine! I think my inspiration was a mixture of self inquiry, spirituality and love.

I start my poem with the inscription that is engraved on the tombstone of Mirza Ghalib's mausoleum in Delhi (see picture), India.

“When there was nothing, there was God
If nothing had been, God would have been
My very being has been my downfall
If I hadn’t been, what would it have mattered?”

Unfortunate Self...

Pain that digs deep within me
Is more fortunate than my Self
For it's weight sees no boundaries
Unlike my unfortunate Self

Love that pierces through me
Is more fortunate than my Self
For it's strength sees no boundaries
Unlike my unfortunate Self

Flowers that fragrant my soul
Are more fortunate than my Self
For their beauty sees no boundaries
Unlike my unfortunate Self

The divine blesses life upon me
And sits wryly above my Self
For his blessings see no boundaries
Unlike my unfortunate Self...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Daag Dehlvi: Saba Sajid and Noor Jehan

I'm getting awfully political lately and that's now officially bothering me. So I've started back in the library on the ol' thesis front. Deadlines looming and even though it is all going to plan, so far, Noor Jehan keeps distracting me. I keep finding these old live shows of hers on YouTube and being totally mesmarised.

I read recently this beautiful anecdote on a blog which brought everything back into perspective, Rabia al-Adawiyya, the famous female mystic from Basra, Iraq (717-801AD), was consumed by love and desire for God. Rabia was found running while carrying a fire torch in one hand and a pail of water in the other. When people asked the meaning of her actions, she replied, “I am going to burn paradise with the fire and dampen the fires of Hell with this water so that people love God for the sake of God and not for want of paradise or the fear of Hell. I think we lose sight of beauty, love and God when we start inflicting politics on ourselves. I am just as much to blame as others and so we must thank singers like Noor Jehan who constantly remind us to seek love and God, not politics and self glory for the latter leaves us empty and the former full of spiritual worth.

Nawab Mirza Khan (Urdu: نواب مرزا خان) (b. 1831 - d. 1905), commonly known as Daagh Dehelvi (Urdu: داغ دہلوی) was an outstanding Indian poet famous for his Urdu ghazals and belonged to the Delhi school of Urdu poetry. He wrote poems and ghazals under the takhallus (Urdu word for nom de plume) 'Daag Dehlvi' (the meanings of 'Daag', an Urdu noun, include stain, grief and taint while 'Dehlvi' means belonging to or from Delhi). I stole that bio from Wikipedia:)

This is one of Daagh's famous ghazals, 'Lutf woh ishq mein paye hain ke jee janta hai' (Urdu original above). I was finding it difficult to render this into English and so I consulted a dear friend of mine who happened to come across my love of poetry through this blog and contacted me. It just goes to show how one meets people for a reason in their lives. Saba Sajid (see picture) has offered her understanding of this beautiful ghazal and Noor Jehan has sung this live in a concert. I've also included one of Saba's favorite paintings by the Argentinian artist Fabian Perez, lady smoker, I've named it:) There is a moment in between where Noor Jehan says that the following verse is her favorite, 'Muskurate hoe woh majmaa agiyar ke saath, Aaj youn bazm mein aaye hai hain ke jee janta hai...' I'll let you figure out its meaning.

Lutf woh ishq mein paye hain ke jee janta hai
Ranj bhi aisay uthaye hain ke jee janta hai...

Only the heart/soul knows the ecstasy of this love
only the heart/soul knows the pain of this love

Jo zamane ke sitam hai woh zamana jane
Tu ne dil itne dukhaaye hain ke jee janta hai...

What the world did are mere wordly cares
But the hearts that you hurt, only the heart knows

Muskurate hoe woh majmaa agiyar ke saath
Aaj youn bazm mein aaye hai hain ke jee janta hai...

The way he/she has come smiling with a horde of strangers
Only the heart knows what and how it is

Inhi qadmoN ne tumhare inhi qadmo ki qasam
Khaak mein itne milaye hain ke jee jaanta hai

These feet, I swear by these feet of yours
How many have been trampled only the heart knows

Saadgi, bankpan, agmaaz, shararat, shokhi
Tu ne andaz woh paaye hain ke jee janta hai...

Simplicity, sassiness, pride, naughtiness, impudence
You have a style that only the heart knows

Kaaba-o-deer mein pathra gayi dono ankhein
Aisay jalwe nazar aaye hain ke jee janta hai...

Between the house of God and stone, the eyes turned to rock
What they saw and how they have seen, only the heart knows

Tum nahin jaante ab tak ye tumhare andaaz
Wo mere dil mein samaaye hain ke jee jaanta hai

So you know not how your styles
live deep in my heart, only the heart knows

Dosti mein teri, darparda hamare dushman
Is qadar apne paraye hain ke jee janta hai...

In your friendship hide my enemies
And the close ones are strangers how only the heart knows

'Daag'-e-warafta ko hum aaj tere kooche se
Is tarah khainch ke laye hain ke jee janta hai.

What it took to drag away this love crazy Daag of yours
from your path, its only the heart that knows