Saturday, 2 May 2009

Pakistan: Struggling to See a Country of Shards

The New York Times
Published: May 2, 2009

LAHORE, Pakistan — On a spring night in Lahore, I came face to face with all that is puzzling about Pakistan.

I had just interviewed Mobarak Haidar, a Pakistani author who was confidently predicting the end of the world. Islamic extremism, he said, was a wild animal that would soon gobble up Europe and all of Western civilization. “All the world’s achievements for the past 500 years are at risk,” he said in a gloomy tone, sitting in his living room. Soon there would be no more music, dancing or fun of any kind. The power went out and candles were lit, adding to the spookiness.

And then, as I climbed into a car to go home, a wedding party came out of nowhere, enveloping us in a shower of rose petals. Men playing bagpipes marched toward us, grinning, while dancing guests wriggled and clapped, making strange-shaped silhouettes in our headlights.

So which is the real Pakistan? Collapsing state or crazy party?

The answer is both, which is why this country of 170 million people is so hard to figure out.

Pakistan has several selves. There is rural Pakistan, where two-thirds of the country lives in conditions that approximate the 13th century. There is urban Pakistan, where the British-accented, Princeton-educated elite sip cold drinks in clipped gardens.

The rugged mountains of the west are inhabited by fiercely tribal Pashtuns, many of whom live without running water or electricity; there, an open Taliban insurgency seems beyond the central government’s control. In the lush plains of Punjab in the east, the insurgency is still underground, and the major highways are as smooth as any in the American Midwest.

The place where these two areas meet is the front line of Pakistan’s war — valleys and towns less than 100 miles from the country’s capital, Islamabad. Taliban militants, whose talk is part Marx, part mullah, but whose goal is power, now occupy this area. In recent weeks they pushed into Buner, even closer to the capital, and last week the military, after weeks of inaction, began a drive against them.

The war, in a way, is a telling clash between Pakistan’s competing impulses, so different that they are hard to see together in the same frame.

“It’s like when people try to take snapshots, but the contrast is too sharp,” said Feisal Naqvi, a Lahore-based lawyer. “You only capture a little bit of the real picture.”

Islam is perhaps the only constant in this picture. Pakistan, after all, was established in 1947 so the Muslims of the subcontinent would have their own country after independence from Britain. The rest became India, a multifaith, Hindu-majority constitutional republic.

But Pakistan didn’t declare itself an Islamic republic until 1956. In its early years, Pakistan’s liberals will remind you, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founder, delivered two speeches in which he said that Pakistan would not be a theocracy and that citizens of other religions would be free to practice.

Nevertheless, Islam became a powerful glue for the new nation; subsequent leaders, civilian and military, relied on it to stick the patchwork of ethnicities and tribes together. Then, like a genie out of a bottle, it took a direction all its own. “Once you bring Islam into politics, it’s hard to handle,” Mr. Naqvi said. “You don’t have the tools to control it.”

Young countries have long memories, and Pakistanis have not forgotten (or forgiven) the actions of the United States since the 1980s, when its spy agency, together with Pakistan’s own, backed Islamists fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Soon after the Soviets left, Washington withdrew its aid to Pakistan, and the Islamists were left with their own safe haven.

“The Americans just walked out, and Pakistan became the most sanctioned state in the world,” said Najam Sethi, editor of The Daily Times, a newspaper. “That has now created a powder keg of sympathy for the Taliban.”

Like splinters in fingers, these memories continue to irritate. They came tumbling out in a candle-lit room (again, no power) full of journalists in Muzaffargarh, a town in southern Punjab where militants had recently issued threats. Instead of hearing about those threats, though, I was reminded of grievances against America.

“Baitullah Mehsud is the puppet of the C.I.A.,” sputtered Allah B. Mujahid, a newspaper editor in his 50s, referring to the Pakistani Taliban’s leader. A man in thick glasses blurted out: “America has supported dictators in Pakistan!”

Now Pakistan, a young state still wrestling with growing pains and insecurity, is at a turning point. It is in danger of being strangled by Islamic extremism, and the big question is: What will it take for its people and its government to shake off the confusion and stand up to the militants?

Manan Ahmed, a University of Chicago historian, says such an effort would require a fundamental rethinking of Pakistan’s identity. Pakistan, he argues in his blog, Chapati Mystery, never defined what it meant to be a Muslim state. Is it Saudi Arabia? Is it Turkey?

“Somewhere between the Taliban and the drone,” he wrote, “the Pakistanis have to begin forming a sense of their whole.”

Some argue that Pakistanis should return to their roots. For centuries they practiced a tolerant South Asian form of Islam, heavily influenced by Sufism, a mystical, open-minded blend that worshipped in music and dance. The trouble began in the 19th century with the strict Sunni Deobandis, who rejected all that was modern, even nation-states, and demanded a return to the seventh century, when Islam began.

For them, “laughter is not permitted, not even a full smile,” said Mr. Haidar, the writer in Lahore.

Pakistan is not a collapsed state. Its urban infrastructure works far better than most of the Soviet Union’s during that empire’s peak. Pakistan has a national airline that sells tickets online, and highway rest stops with air-conditioning and packaged cookies. But the poorest Pakistanis know nothing of these things, and the bigger the gap between rich and poor, the more likely are major social unrest and war.

“This is really a war for the soul of Pakistan,” Mr. Sethi said.

Pakistanis may have restored civilian rule in the last year, but few of them pin much hope on Pakistan’s political class, most of which comes from the landed elite and has ruled corruptly in the past.

There’s the lawyers’ movement, which recently showed it has a national following. But will it harness its power to stand up to the mullahs now on the rise in the north? Does it want to?

Mr. Sethi says the movement will not. In the short six weeks since it challenged the government and won, he said, it has retreated to its old ethnic and class divisions. It has not, for example, come to the aid of embattled colleagues in the courts of Swat and Dir, areas the Taliban have seized.

Insurgencies can only be stamped out if societies turn against them, and Mr. Sethi said he believed that Pakistan’s brightest hope for salvation may be the clumsiness of the Taliban themselves. In recent weeks, they have offended many Pakistanis by defending the public flogging of a girl and declaring Pakistan’s Constitution, Supreme Court and National Assembly un-Islamic.

Although the militant Islam preached by the Taliban is alien to most Pakistanis, many had identified with the Taliban as a native movement fighting foreign occupiers on their borders. Now, Mr. Sethi said, “after so many years, people are now looking askance at the Taliban. People are saying, ‘They might be anti-American, but they are also anti-us!’ ” He said this was a moment that Islamabad and Washington must seize.

But there are many ifs.

Mr. Naqvi shared a memory from the final day of the recent lawyers’ march to celebrate a victory over the government. The sun was shining. Crowds were celebrating. Among them, a lawyer was holding a giant silver rattle, dancing and wiggling his body. He was shouting a longstanding slogan of the religious right: “What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God but Allah.”

For me, a newcomer to Pakistan, the thoughts seemed mismatched — almost as if the man was changing the subject, rather than answering a question. Mr. Naqvi saw a contrast of his own — a modern lawyer dancing to a fundamentalist chant.

“Who is Pakistan?” he asked. “I think it’s that guy dancing. It’s confused. But it’s us.”

The Questions Must Be Discussed


By Asghar Ali Engineer

A few days ago I was invited to speak in a Prophet Day’s function. There were other speakers as well. As usual the speakers before me indulged in rhetoric ‘Islam is the solution’ and also said the world economy has failed and slowed down as it is based on gambling and interest. Another person said Islam declared human rights 14 hundred years ago whereas UNO declared it only sixty years ago. Yet another speaker said Islam has given equal rights to women and made it obligatory for them to seek education. Also it was emphasized that Islam is religion of peace.

All this provoked me to say all this is true and I can add much more to it but have we ever seriously reflected why Islamic world is in such turmoil today. Why Muslims have totally failed to adopt these teachings in practice. I said if one caste a critical glance at Islamic world today one finds exactly opposite of what Qur’an teaches. If Qur’an lays great emphasis on knowledge, Islamic world from Indonesia to Algeria has more illiterates than any other community.

If Qur’an gives equal status to men and women Muslim women in most of the Islamic countries are most suppressed lot and whole world thinks Islam deprives women of their rights. If Islam is religion of peace why Islamic world is in such turmoil and is dogged with ‘jihadi’ movements? If Islam upholds human dignity and human rights why is it that there is hardly any Islamic country which respects human rights? The human rights activists find themselves in jails in these countries.

I also said we try to compensate for our failure in all these respects through rhetoric. Only those resort to empty rhetoric who have nothing concrete to show. Our ‘Ulama have brought us up on such empty rhetoric. Time and again we hear ‘Islam is the solution of all problems’. Let alone solution these worthy beings are not aware of what are the problems of the modern world.

Unless we go beyond such rhetoric and critically examine what is wrong with Muslim world we will continue with such rhetoric without improving our condition. And if criticized for our failures we will come out with our pet conspiracy theory or blame the media for projecting adverse image of Islam and Muslims. We have fallen in such a love with these pet theories that we refuse to see reality. We love rhetoric and hate reality.

We are adept at sectarian polemics and spend all our skills in proving followers of others sects ‘kafirs’ and only people of our own sect as naji (i.e. who will achieve liberation). We keep on reproducing medieval commentaries of Qur’an without ever trying to understand the divine text in our own times. We consider it a sin to revisit Qur’an and realize its great potential for our guidance in modern context. We quote more from medieval commentaries on Qur’an than from the divine text itself.

Also, we are most intolerant lot and suppress any new point of view. Our ‘Ulama have convinced us that any new thinking is a sin and amounts to innovation (bid’ah). And for our theologians only solution of all problems is to be regular with our prayers and we are doomed today, not because of our ignorance and refusal to understand modern world but because we have neglected five time prayers.

This is the quality of our thinking about our problems. Not that one should not pray but to hide behind it and neglect real problems is to fool ourselves. And when we talk of a’mal (actions or deeds) we refer only to prayers and some other ritualistic actions. We have totally forgotten real meaning and significance of prayer. We are more than happy with symbolism as any concrete action requires totally different mindset.

It is unfortunate that our ‘ulama are educated in totally medieval atmosphere. We are even resisting any change in the madrasa syllabus which was evolved centuries ago. Our ‘ulama are totally differently oriented and are incapable of understanding complexities of modern world with its highly complex modern problems. I have always maintained that our commitments should be to Qur’an, not to its understanding by the ‘ulama and jurists in the past.

But unfortunately we are more committed to how Tabari or Zamakhshari or Imam Razi understood it than to the Qur’an itself. In all our religious arguments we quote from these and other medieval commentaries and rejected any other argument based on Qur’an itself or on fresh understanding of the Qur’an. And if we cannot make a point with the help of Qur’an, our last resort is hadith, however controversial or contradictory to Qur’an it may be.

If any revolution in the Muslim world has to begin, it has to begin from our madrasa system. It has to be thoroughly overhauled so as to give them training in modern subjects. And modern subjects should not mean only social sciences but also natural sciences besides theological training. Tafsir literature (commentaries) should be taught only as history and they should be encouraged to develop new understanding of the Qur’an.

The whole theological training today is not only confined to medieval subjects but even ma’qulat (rational sciences are confined to Greek sciences based on Plato, Socrates etc. What an irony! The world of sciences has gone far beyond Greek period and our madrasas still consider it as the last word. All this either may be taught either as a history (so that they may understand evolution of modern sciences) or must be scrapped all together.

I think our madrasas of higher levels like Darul Ulum Deoband should be converted into modern universities so that the modern syllabus taught in other universities could be taught there while of course, retaining theological courses. In these some theologians should also be able to do their doctorate in either social or natural sciences. One may argue then why not join other secular universities for doing doctorate and why have these madrasas?

Yes, it is true other secular universities are available for the purpose but if these doctoral courses are integrated with theological sciences, it will create new intellectual capacities in our theologians and their medieval thinking will be reoriented and it will result in totally different intellectual products. And it will not be some thing new. We have very rich heritage in this respect which was lost completely when decline began and final blow was dealt by colonial rule.

All great philosophers and scientists that Islamic world produced like Ibn Sina (Avisina) or Ibn Rushd (Averos) and several others were also theologians in their own right. It was because of this tradition that then educational authorities began to teach ma’qulat (rational sciences) in the madrasas. However this tradition unfortunately stagnated and Greek sciences are taught even today.

All we have to do is to integrate new social as well as natural sciences with the theological courses. Today the madrasa graduates can either become teachers in madrasas or become imams in the mosque. And then they continue to teach in the same old ways they have learnt or continue to lead prayers including tarawih prayers. I have seen in many Islamic institutions thousands of children committing Qur’an to memory several hours of the day. It hardly serves any useful purpose. That time could have been utilized for imparting useful knowledge.

I am aware of some of the madrasas, especially in Kerala and also other parts of India, where some madrasas have switched over to teaching of modern sciences also. But they are far and few in between and moreover we have to take entire Muslim world to produce any worthwhile impact. In Qur’an the word ‘ilm (knowledge) is not restricted only to theological knowledge but knowledge about the whole universe.

Unfortunately our ‘ulama have restricted this knowledge to Dini ‘ulum (theological sciences) only. Now of course attitudes are changing gradually but until recent past everything except Dini Ulum was even considered false. One will still find resistance to change and insistence on continuity. There is hardly rich intellectual debate as to what is worth continuing and what needs to be changed.

There is nothing wrong to emphasize healthy traditions based on principles and values but tradition per se should not have any sanctity. Unfortunately we always give centrality to tradition over change. Rationality is, at best, of marginal value. In modern society reason plays central role while in traditional society it is tradition, which is accorded centrality. Change is possible only if reason acquires centrality.

Islamic world is too much obsessed with centrality of tradition to think afresh. Our madrasas and institutions of Islamic education are, as Herbert Marcuse, a noted American philosopher of last century would have put it, centres of acknowledgement rather than of knowledge. Or they are centers of recognition rather than centers of cognition. In such centers no new knowledge can be produced only acknowledged traditions can continue. These centers cannot become centers of intellectual excellence but centers of traditional knowledge.

Such centers cannot bring about any qualitative change in the Muslim world. We urgently need new intellectual culture for this. And to create this new intellectual culture we need thorough political changes as well. For new intellectual culture we need freedom of thought and action. It is true the Qur’an stands for freedom of faith and conscience but with some exceptions there are no basic freedoms in any Islamic country.

In most of the Islamic countries political class, while swearing by the Qur’an and shari’ah, has never allowed fundamental Qur’anic values to be practiced. Like five pillars of Islam, there are five Qur’anic values i.e. Truth (Haq), Justice (‘adl), benevolence (ihsan), Compassion (Rahmah) and Wisdom (Hikmah) and these are Allah’s names also. Alloah is Haq, ‘Adil, Muhsin, Rahman and Wise.

If like five pillars of Islam these values are practiced, the Islamic world would be leading other countries of the world in ethical and moral values and also achieve, by rigorous practice of these values what others have not. But the political class, while talking of Islam and Islamization, adopts, very shrewdly, a selective approach so that it enjoys all its privileges and political power and at the same time earn merit of Islamizing the society.

It is obvious that it is political class which controls education system and decides what is to be taught and what is not to be. The whole education system creates conforming culture merely acknowledging what is taught as ‘true’. The system imparts selective information, never holistic knowledge. Such a system can never produce creative and free mind to constantly critically evaluate and bring about qualitative change in society.

Thus a political revolution is needed before any revolutionary changes in education system can be brought in Islamic world. But chances of such revolution seem very bleak. The western powers also need a compliant political class in most of the Muslim countries. In fact, these powers need such a compliant class and they do everything to support such a class in the Muslim world.

‘The oil revolution of seventies of last century coupled with globalization has converted entire middle east into a vast lucrative market for Japanese and western goods (though a current melt down has somewhat adverse effect) and promoted unabashed consumerism in the Arab world. People are engaged more in competing for consumer goods that any moral and qualitative change in society.

Such a society finds traditional and ritualized religion quite harmless and political class finds it quite convenient to promote such a religion. Thus total lack of freedom, decline in values, and promotion of competitive consumer culture makes society quietly accept domination by political authoritarianism on one hand, and religion reduced to an opium pill, on the other.

Though this appears to be a very bleak scenario those intellectuals who believe in ushering in qualitative change in the society based on freedom, human dignity, equality and the five values mentioned above, will have to pave way for this change peacefully and with total dedication. Then question arises what is to be done in these circumstances?

We have to have an action program. Though it is difficult to evolve such a program without thorough discussion but an outline for a discussion could be presented here. I would like to propose following measures for those interested in value-based qualitative change in Muslim societies and countries:

1) Modern intellectuals must learn and master Arabic language (for non-Arab countries and societies) and read and re-read Qur’an along with traditional commentaries and reflect in new understanding in keeping with our situation and our problems. The old commentaries, it would be seen were very much influenced by the then prevailing conditions and socio-economic problems. It is not necessary that there would be complete agreement among all modern commentators.

In medieval ages too, there was no such consensus. It would be more in keeping with intellectual freedom to arrive at different meanings though there may be a consensus about the methodology of understanding Qur’an. These new commentators of course should be well versed in modern social or natural sciences.

2) All such commentaries should be situated within the framework of five values of Qur’an above referred to as these happen to be most modern values too. Also, those ahadith (traditions) would not be taken into account which are in direct contradiction of the Qur’an and Qur’anic values as traditional tafasir (commentaries) are full of references to such traditions even if these traditions distorted Qu’ranic values.

3) There is great need to improve situation of women’s rights in Islamic world and for that we also need women perspectives for understanding Qur’an, especially those verses which pertain to marriage, divorce and women’s rights. So far Qur’an has been mainly interpreted by men though during the Prophet’s time and during subsequent period lasting for few years only, there was glorious tradition of women ‘ulama, women narrators of ahadith and women commentators of Qur’an. There is great need to revive that tradition, not in mechanical sense but with new perspectives gained during last one hundred years or so.

4) Along with women ‘alimat (scholars) there is need to go beyond patriarchal values and patriarchal culture as Qur’an, while making few concessions to patriarchy in those days, tried to go beyond patriarchal values and usher in new culture based on human dignity and according fully human dignity to women. However, soon women were subordinated once again as men were hardly prepared to accept gender equality and slowly even made Qur’anic interpretation as their sole preserve. In those overwhelming patriarchal values women hardly could assert themselves and also began to interiorize Qur’anic understanding as developed by men commentators.

5) This is possible only if we promote the Qur’anic concept of women as free agents and decision makers in their own rights. This would also need especial emphasis on female education. Though the Prophet (PBUH) made education obligatory on Muslim women (muslimatin) in ensuing feudal culture women were required to mind domestic role and serve their husbands and bring up children and no need was felt for education for this domestic role. This feudal culture has to totally change and women should acquire both secular and religious knowledge as much as men do reviving the true spirit of Islam.

6) There is great need to usher in culture of human rights in Islamic world and Muslim societies. Though Qur’an contains all provisions of declaration of human rights charter, by UNO, Islamic countries present stark contrast and human rights record of Muslim countries is among the worst in the world today. It brings worldwide criticism and creates an impression that Islam has no respect for human rights. It is only modern intellectuals armed with Qur’anic values and Qur’anic respect for human dignity can actively promote such culture.

7) Also, we have to change our outlook to other religions, often denouncing them as false and claiming superiority for ourselves. We should not only accept pluralism but actively promote it through dialogue and mutual understanding and harmonious co-existence. Though Islamic world does not have bad record in this respect but religious minorities do not enjoy equal political rights. We have to accept notion of citizenship which did not exist in the medieval world and hence we have different juristic pronouncements in this respect.

8) Also, we should actively promote science and technology as we are too dependent on western countries for modern technology. Our record in this respect is poorest in the world. In modern times we cannot boast of single revolutionary invention. Most of the Muslim countries are nothing but bazaar and are capable of even producing a single modern gadget. Without excellence in science and modern technology Islamic world will remain mere beggars. Most of the oil revenues are deposited in US banks and not even one percent is spent on research in these fields. Minimum 2 and half to 3 per cent of GNP should be spent on research in these fields. Institutions of excellence should be set up.

9) Also, Islamic world today is torn with violence and some countries are notorious for what has come to be known as ‘jihadi culture’. We must go back to the real Qur’anic meaning of jihad AS DEFINED BY THE Prophet (PBUH) and seen to be active promoters of peace and culture of dialogue in the world. We must understand root causes of violence in Islamic world and do every thing possible to remove these causes. If peace is central to Islam what are Muslims doing to promote it? Why Islam is being associated with ‘jihadi culture’, instead of culture of peace? We must seriously debate this question and take active steps to fight this ‘jihadi culture’.

These are some of the suggestions to at least pave the way for new qualitative changes in the Islamic world. It would be really most challenging task for anyone to undertake. But there is no other way either. These steps, if taken, will not only bring us out of the rut we have fallen in, it would release tremendous energy in the Islamic world for construction of new world order. Today we are mere prisoners of our own age-old traditions and unable to contribute richly, which otherwise we could.

Source: (Islam and The Modern Age, April, 2009)

Friday, 1 May 2009

A Kite in India

A kite takes a drink on a public lawn in Delhi amid high temperatures in northern India.
(Taken from BBC News and dedicated to a dear bird lover - Tim Rhead)

Islam in Britain and South Asia - A Single Space

(So, here is something I've said from the very beginning - the words 'I told you so' ring to mind ;)

Apr 30th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Theologically as well as socially, Muslims in Britain and their countries of origin form a seamless whole

TWO government ministers, both practising Muslims, met in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, in April and agreed to co-ordinate their efforts to broaden the curriculum at religious schools. A set of teaching materials would be sent out to madrassas with the aim of enriching the diet. As well as learning the Koran, pupils would be taught how Islam was compatible with citizenship.

This approach, the ministers decided, would work well in their respective countries, Britain and Pakistan. Admittedly, the role played by madrassas in the two places is different. In England’s smokestack cities, they are frequented by Muslim children as a supplement to state schooling. In the slums and refugee camps of Pakistan, they offer a meal and an education of sorts to boys who would otherwise be illiterate.

But in both countries, the ministers agreed, madrassas at their most deficient can leave the young open to extremists. That is not just because of what they teach, more because of what they do not, such as how to live peaceably with those who follow a different faith or just another form of Islam. As the Pakistani official told his British counterpart, the cohesion minister, Sadiq Khan, inadequate theology and terrorism can be points on a single spectrum.

Not just for security types and sociologists, but also for theologians, Britain and its ex-dominions in South Asia are virtually a single entity. Schools of Islam that emerged in India as a reaction to the British raj are now vying for influence in the north of England. The passions generated by the Bangladeshi variety of Islamism are as lively in London as they are in Dhaka. Anybody who hopes for stability and social peace in the Muslim parts of South Asia has to keep an eye on the Islamic scene in Britain. The reverse also applies. The flow of South Asian imams to Britain has recently slowed, but in an internet age there are other ways for ideas to travel.

Whenever intra-Muslim tension flares in Pakistan—for example, with the trashing of a Sufi shrine or the takeover of a mosque—Britain’s authorities watch for tension in English cities. And the war now raging between the Pakistani government and Taliban rebels is affecting the mood among British Muslims. How exactly may depend on where they come from, geographically and theologically.

Life would be easier for students of Anglo-Asian Islam if one theological movement always produced moderates and another always led to extremism. But things are never that straightforward. As Philip Lewis, a Bradford-based writer on British Islam, puts it, “In all schools [of Islam], there are some individuals playing a constructive role.” And in virtually all schools there are some doing the opposite.

Still, in their Islamic scenes Britain and Pakistan do have one simple thing in common: religious education is dominated by purist teachers, who trace their roots to the Indian town of Deoband where an Islamic place of learning was founded in 1866. Designed to instil and spread a rigorous form of faith (robust enough to survive colonialism and the “corrupting” influences of other cultures), the Deobandi philosophy sets austere rules for personal behaviour. It sees the veneration of saints, and even excessive attention to the Prophet, as a distraction from God.

Among its offshoots are the Tablighi Jama’at, a huge, worldwide missionary movement (strong in Yorkshire and London), in which lay people help to propagate the idea of a pious life. And another offshoot of the Deobandis, as critics always note, is the Taliban, as they emerged in Afghanistan and then in Pakistan.

But that does not mean all Deobandis, either in Britain or South Asia, support violence. Just as well, given that at least 16 of Britain’s 22 Muslim “seminaries” (in other words, places that offer intensive, full-time Islamic instruction from the age of 12 upwards) are of the Deobandi persuasion. Their curriculum is modelled on Islamic learning under the Mogul empire.

Tim Winter, an influential British convert to Islam, believes that for all their narrow intensity, the British Deobandi seminaries won’t foster violence: their ethos is cautious and traditional. But some alumni of Britain’s Deobandi institutions do advocate self-segregation by Muslims, especially where local indigenous culture is dominated by alcohol and drugs.

Anyway, in Britain as in Pakistan, a plurality of ordinary South Asian Muslims follows a different form of the faith: the Barelvi tradition, which celebrates shrines, saints and music. One pioneer of Muslim education in Britain is of the Barelvi school: Musharraf Hussain, an imam who runs a school, mosque, radio station and magazine in Nottingham. He fears that among Britain’s Muslim establishment, sectarian splits are becoming “entrenched and fossilised”. Some Deobandis retain a deep sense of victimhood and grievance.

Clearly, some young British Muslims ignore the sectarian issues that gripped their parents. Sometimes this reflects secularisation. Sometimes it reflects the opposite: belief in a “global umma”, or community, that differentiates all Muslims from all non-believers. Still, the Nottingham imam has observed one unexpected side-effect from the turmoil engulfing Pakistan. Many British Muslims, he thinks, will “move on” in a healthy way. They will give up the dream of resettling in South Asia and put down firmer roots in Britain.

A harsher message is emerging from some mosques in the north of England, especially in places like Burnley where many have roots in the war zone on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The plight of people fleeing the region is keenly felt. Many blame Pakistan’s government, not the rebels. “People think the Pakistani government is fighting not for itself, but for American interests,” says Abdul Hamid Qureshi, the chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, which groups Muslims of all shades. People in an angry and defensive mood will hardly welcome Gordon Brown’s pledge, on April 29th, to work with the Pakistani army to fight terror. Neither will they take too seriously the prime minister’s vow to boost education and ease poverty on Pakistan’s border.

British Muslims, who number at least 2m, can amaze their cousins from South Asia with their religious conservatism. One reason is the high incidence of migration from poor, rural parts of South Asia, such as Mirpur in Kashmir and Sylhet in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh the fortunes of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party plummeted in last December’s election. But the movement can still attract second- and third-generation youths of Sylheti origin in London, who know little of the group’s record at home. Some British-based Bangladeshis are dismayed by the influence the Islamists enjoy in the diaspora.

Worry over radicalism made in Britain extends to Bangladesh, too. In March the Bangladeshi authorities raided a madrassa that was full of guns and ammunition. It emerged that this supposed school had been financed and run by a charity based in Britain. There are some institutions that no teaching material will correct.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Scholars see ‘empathy’ in Jews’ study of Islam

Mark Cohen, center, greets Ismar Schorsch and Susannah Heschel before a Princeton University lecture program on the Jewish fascination with Islam. (Photo by Marilyn Silverstein)

Princeton confab recalls historic links between the cultures
by Marilyn Silverstein

NJJN Staff Writer
April 30, 2009

Two leading lights in the world of Jewish scholarship were at Princeton University on April 23 to reflect on the Jewish “fascination” with Islam.

And while contemporary Jewish colloquia on Islam tend to dwell on conflict, Susannah Heschel and Rabbi Ismar Schorsch instead focused on how Jewish scholars helped shaped the study of Islam, and how Islam in turn shaped Jewish self-understanding.

“What Jews brought to the study of Islam and Arabic was empathy,” said Schorsch, chancellor emeritus and the Rabbi Herman Abramowitz Professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. “Jewish scholars had an innate empathy for the study of Islam. Jews loved Islam for what it had offered them in the Middle Ages.”

Schorsch and Heschel, the Eli Black Professor in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, spoke before more than 120 people at the university’s McCormick Hall.

The program — the 31st Carolyn L. Drucker Memorial Lecture — was sponsored by the university’s Department of Near Eastern Studies and the Perelman Institute for Judaic Studies of the Program in Judaic Studies.

Mark Cohen, professor of Near Eastern studies and a founder of Princeton’s Program in Judaic Studies, served as moderator.

During the program, Heschel analyzed the impact of the study of Islam on European intellectuals of the 19th and early 20th centuries. She recently received a two-year grant from the Carnegie Foundation to complete research for a book on the subject, tentatively titled The Monotheistic Triangle: Judaism and Islam in the Modern Christian World.

Schorsch, who retired in 2006 as the Conservative seminary’s sixth chancellor, recounted details of the life of 19th-century German-Jewish bibliographer and Orientalist Moritz Steinschneider, the subject of his biography-in-progress.

“There’s a story to be told,” Schorsch told New Jersey Jewish News as he arrived at McCormick Hall for the program. “It’s a topic waiting to be done, and this is the right venue for it. Princeton has one of the great Near Eastern studies departments in the world.”

In his remarks, Schorsch pointed to Steinschneider’s work in uncovering a wealth of Arabic-language manuscripts written by Jews in the Middle Ages.

“We forget that the vast majority of Jews in the Middle Ages spoke Arabic and wrote Arabic,” he said. For years, Judeo-Arabic works by Maimonides and countless other Jewish writers were stored in archives; they became known to 19th-century Jews only through their Hebrew translations, Schorsch said.

“It was Steinschneider who went into the archives and began to discover this treasure of Judeo-Arabic manuscripts — which put our knowledge of these Jewish classics on a much firmer basis,” Schorsch said. “Steinschneider transformed our understanding of medieval Jewish history.”

Schorsch said Jews were drawn to Arabic because it was part of a “Sephardi mystique,” and scholars of Judaism made a “critical contribution” to the study of Islam.

“The contribution Jews made to the development of this field has yet to be told,” he said.

‘Handmaiden of Judaism’

Heschel’s remarks focused on the work of the German-Jewish Orientalists of the 19th century — in particular, rabbi/scholar Abraham Geiger. Geiger and his colleagues saw Islam as a kind of prophetic Judaism, Heschel told the audience. In their view, Islam was a “handmaiden” of Judaism — one that demonstrated the power of Jewish monotheism.

“The Jewish Orientalists turned to Islam and reconfigured it as…a product of Judaism,” she said. “Early Islam took shape around questions of Judaism and its practices.

“There is a Jewish fascination with Islam, even in our time,” she added. “We see it in Jewish scholarship…and in the use of Moorish architecture in European and American synagogues.… The Moorish architecture of the vast number of our synagogues continues to proclaim that Islam can stand as a signifier for Judaism.”

During the question-and-answer period after the presentations, Cohen responded to a question from NJ Jewish News about the evolution of the Jewish fascination with Islam today.

“In the academy today, both in this country, in Europe, and in the State of Israel, the study of Islam — particularly, the study of Jews and Islam — takes second place to the study of the Jews of Ashkenaz,” said Cohen, who specializes in the study of Jews in the Muslim world of the Middle Ages.

“Of course, today, given the political situation in the Middle East, I can understand why the Jewish fascination with Islam has turned into a Jewish de-fascination with Islam,” he said. “In a sense, Islam has become a subject not of admiration, but of fear.”

Schorsch observed that although the majority of the Jews in Israel today are Sephardim — the descendants of Jews from Muslim lands — the academic world has been dominated by Ashkenazi Jews — Jews of Eastern European descent.

“So you continue to have a preponderance of work done on Ashkenazi-Jewish history,” he said, “but I think that’s changing.”


Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Lacy Threads and Leather Straps Bind a Muslim Business

April 28, 2009
Karachi Journal

KARACHI, Pakistan — In Pakistan, a flogger is known only as the Taliban’s choice whip for beating those who defy their strict codes of Islam.

But deep in the nation’s commercial capital, just next door to a mosque and the offices of a radical Islamic organization, in an unmarked house two Pakistani brothers have discovered a more liberal and lucrative use for the scourge: the $3 billion fetish and bondage industry in the West.

Their mom-and-pop-style garment business, AQTH, earns more than $1 million a year manufacturing 2,000 fetish and bondage products, including the Mistress Flogger, and exporting them to the United States and Europe.

The Qadeer brothers, Adnan, 34, and Rizwan, 32, have made the business into an improbable success story in a country where bars are illegal and the poor are often bound to a lifetime in poverty.

If the bondage business seems an unlikely pursuit for two button-down, slightly awkward, decidedly deadpan lower-class Pakistanis, it is. But then, discretion has been their byword. The brothers have taken extreme measures to conceal a business that in this deeply conservative Muslim country is as risky as it is risqué. It helps that the dozens of veiled and uneducated female laborers who assemble the handmade items — gag balls, lime-green corsets, thonged spanking skirts — have no idea what the items are used for. Even the owners’ wives, and their conservative Muslim mother, have not been informed.

“If our mom knew, she would disown us,” said Adnan, seated on a leopard-print fabric covering his desk chair. “Due to cultural barriers and religion, people don’t discuss these things openly,” Rizwan said. “We have to hide this information.” Even customs officials were perplexed at how to tax the items, not quite sure what they were, they said.

Recently, when a curious employee inquired about the purpose of the sleep sack, a sleeping bag-like product used in certain kinds of bondage, she was told it was a body bag for the American military in Iraq. Adnan Ahmed, a former air traffic controller who is now AQTH’s chief operating officer, said the items were undergarments. When asked if he considered a red-hot puppy mask an undergarment, he had a straightforward, but honest reply: “No. It’s just for joking.”

Still, word of the business has at times escaped. Last year four “powerful guys” from a conservative Muslim group threatened to burn down the factory if it was not closed within a week. The brothers calmly explained that it was merely a business, and that the items were not used in Pakistan. The next day they bribed a local Islamic political organization to ensure their safety.

These days, the gravest danger is Pakistan’s crumbling economy. The brothers idolize former President Pervez Musharraf, crediting their success to his industry friendly policies, like not requiring export licenses and banning trade unions. When Mr. Musharraf resigned last year, the brothers “didn’t eat for three days,” Adnan Qadeer said. Since President Asif Ali Zardari took office, Adnan said, trade unions have been legalized and prices of some raw materials, including leather, have shot up, as have interest rates. The result: a 15 percent dip in AQTH’s profits.

Echoing the pervasive fears of entrepreneurs across the country, the brothers are considering relocating to East Asia if Pakistan becomes more unstable — or if they receive another threat.

The shoddy factory seems like an ode to their humble upbringing. Adnan’s executive bathroom has no toilet paper. Rizwan has no office. And their preferred lunch is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Their inspiration for success came from their father, a civil servant who supported a family of six with a $150 monthly salary. While other children were forced into labor, or played aimlessly, the Qadeer brothers had to study.

In 2001, after the brothers graduated from a university, their father lent them $800, enough to purchase their first computer and to cover several months of rent on a studio apartment. There, the brothers searched the Internet day and night for a high-value garment product that was not widely available.

They experimented with basic leather goods, like jackets and pants. Adnan slept at mosquito-infested stitching factories to oversee sample runs that, in the end, proved more costly than their Chinese competitors.

“It was very hard time,” Adnan said. “We had nothing in our pockets, not even money to fuel our motorbike.” Rizwan said: “People used to say: ‘You can’t do business in Pakistan. You’re wasting your time. Just go get a job.’ ” But our father boosted our morale.”

The brothers said Pakistan’s “stone-age production” worked to their advantage. The country, they said, lacks visionary product development. “Everyone’s still making the same products,” Adnan said. Then, they discovered a kind of straitjacket online. At first, they thought it was used for psychiatric patients, but it quickly led them to learn about the lucrative fetish industry.

Without family connections in the finance industry, and with nothing to mortgage, they were refused a loan by four banks. “Our education was our only connection,” Rizwan said. They finally secured a loan from an American bank, and then the Sept. 11 attacks offered a timely chance. Orders for garment exports were canceled across Pakistan in the slower economic climate, allowing the prices of raw materials like leather to be cut in half.

But fear after Sept. 11 raised suspicions among their own Western clients. On Sept. 12, 2001, a customer sent an e-mail message with a photo of two F-16s flying over Pakistan. Orders were canceled. Today, they sell their products to online and brick-and-mortar shops, and to individuals via eBay. Their market research, they said, showed that 70 percent of their customers were middle- to upper-class Americans, and a majority of them Democrats. The Netherlands and Germany account for the bulk of their European sales.

“We really believe that if you are persistent and hard working, there is an opportunity, in any harsh environment, even in an economically depressed environment like Pakistan,” Rizwan said. A major perk, they say, is attending international fetish shows to see how their products hold up in action. “I go to Sin City every year,” said Rizwan, referring to Las Vegas in a sheepish laugh. It’s all business, he said. “Clients know our country and culture, and they don’t invite us to participate. We’re a little bit shy.”

SNP urged to drop 'sectarian and divisive' Muslim candidate

By Angus Macleod, Scottish Political Editor
From The Times
April 23, 2009

An organisation set up to counter Islamic extremism in Britain has accused a Scottish National Party parliamentary candidate of being “sectarian and divisive” and alleged that he is using the Nationalists as a front to campaign for his radical views.

The Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank set up by two former activists to foster better relations between Islam and the West, is urging Alex Salmond to drop Osama Saeed, formally adopted last week as the SNP's general election candidate in Glasgow Central, unless he changes his views.

The foundation claims that Mr Saeed, a former spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain and who has set up the Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF), has written in support of a global Caliphate that would see the world's 1.3 billion Muslims united in a superpower under one leader - a position, says the foundation, that is also espoused by al-Qaeda.

Ed Husain, the director of the foundation, told The Times last night: “It is encouraging that the Scottish National Party is trying to promote more ethnic minority and Muslim candidates - however it is troubling that members of the party's hierarchy appear unaware of the nature of Islamism and unaware that through their support for Osama Saeed they might be inadvertently promoting one of the more divisive and illiberal strains of modern Islamic thought.”

“Osama Saeed should be told by Alex Salmond to change his views or stand down. He is more interested in politicising Islam as a global revolutionary movement.”

Last night, the Nationalists accused the Quilliam Foundation of a “disgraceful smear” and Mr Saeed himself said the comments from the think-tank were “utterly disreputable”.

In an “alert” on its website, Quilliam says that the Scottish Islamic Foundation has since its creation by Saeed acted to provide a platform for a wide range of high-profile Islamists while also promoting religious separatism and a range of Muslim Brotherhood-style policies.

It adds that Mr Saeed has also used his contacts with the Scottish National Party to arrange meetings between other British Islamist activists and senior members of the Scottish government.

For example, in January 2008, Mr Saeed arranged for several known activists to meet Linda Fabiani, the (then) Scottish Minister for Europe, to discuss Mr Saeed's plan to hold an Islamic festival in Scotland. Shortly afterwards, says Quilliam, the Scottish government gave the SIF £215,000 towards funding the event.

Quilliam also alleges that on his website Mr Saeed has advocated curtailment of non-Muslims' rights to free speech while simultaneously defending Muslims' rights to free speech, quoting a comment he posted about the controversy over the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in which he said: “Much has been made of the right to ridicule and cause offence, even if I disagree there is such a right.

“I don't remember it being in any UN charter or the Geneva Convention ... The right to offend doesn't work on the playground and it shouldn't work on the international arena either ... you just don't do pictures of the Prophet, period. It's a cultural thing, accept it and respect it.”

Quilliam also says that in an article in The Guardian newspaper, in November 2005, Mr Saeed defended Sharia. He wrote: “The aim of Islamic law, contrary to popular belief, is not punishment by death or amputation of body parts. It is to create a peaceful and just society, with Islamic scholars over centuries citing its core aims: the freedom to practise religion; protection of life; safeguarding intellect; maintaining lineage and individual rights. This could be the basis for an Islamic Bill of Rights.”

In a response to the Quilliam website, an SNP spokesman said: “This disgraceful attack is untrue from start to finish, and shows that the politics of smear is not confined to websites.

“The Quilliam Foundation has zero credibility ... this smear must be seen for what it is. We have strong community relations in Scotland, and when we are all working to build unity, the very last thing we need is people with no knowledge of Scotland spreading nastiness and smears.”

In a statement issued through the SNP at Holyrood, Mr Saeed said: “This is a politically motivated smear and is utterly disreputable.”

Quilliam, established last year, received almost £1million of public money as part of the UK Government's strategy to combat the radicalisation of British Muslims.

Mr Husain, 34, and the think-tank's co-founder Maajid Nawaz, a former political prisoner in Egypt, were both at one time members of the radical Islamist political group Hizb ut-Tahrir. They travel the world to lecture on the threat of Islamist ideology. Mr Husain's autobiography, The Islamist, has sold 87,000 copies. Quilliam says that it is working to tackle extreme Islamist ideology coming out of mosques, universities and madrassas in countries such as Syria and Pakistan. It also gives advice to the police and security agencies on counter-extremism methods.

My persecution by the Muslim McCarthyites by Dr. Taj Hargey

Islam in Britain has been taken over by the followers of a distorted faith. We need a reformation to rescue it

This week I not only won a libel case in the High Court but a victory against religious fanaticism within Britain's Muslim community. Muslim Weekly, a conservative newspaper, had falsely accused me of belonging to a heterodox sect and therefore being a heretic. I was apparently less of a Muslim than the readers of that paper.

As the head of a progressive Muslim organisation in Britain that is dedicated to an enlightened, egalitarian and erudite Islam, I was victimised, like other forward-looking Muslims, by a campaign of classic McCarthyism. Just as Senator Joseph McCarthy ruined the lives of countless Americans during the 1950s when he and his committee smeared innocent people as communists, the Muslim hierarchy in Britain have used witchhunts to maintain their unquestioned theological power. Any Muslim freethinker is automatically branded as heretical or un-Islamic and excommunicated from the community - and debate is shut down.

I hope that my public vindication in the courts will embolden more progressives, dissenters and particularly thinking women to put their heads above the parapet and challenge the fundamentalist mullahs. Only then can we loosen the deadly grip of the self-appointed religious fraternity on what it is to be a Muslim in Britain.

Unfortunately, Islam in Britain has been taken over by the followers of a warped manifestation of the faith. The Muslim Council of Britain, the main Muslim newspapers and many of the big mosques are dominated by men who subscribe to a virulent and backward-looking brand of Islam that has been exported from the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.

We need a reformation that saves Islam from foreign-inspired zealots. That reformation is already under way, with Muslims going back to the pristine teaching of the transcendent Koran, not taking on trust the hadith (a compilation of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad recorded some 250 years after his death by non-Arabs) or the corpus of medieval man-made Sharia (religious law). But because this reformation is still in its infancy, the reactionary clergy and its supporters is doing everything to strangle it.

Most if not all the thorny problems of faith that British Muslims face today - whether it is apostasy, blasphemy, jihad, women's oppression, homosexuality, religious intolerance or the democratic deficit in and outside the community - can be traced either to fabricated hadith or the masculine-biased Sharia.

Although the Koran repeatedly declares that God's revelation is conclusive and sufficient guidance for Muslims and that there is no need for any supplementary legal authority in Islam, the traditional Muslim clergy defies this explicit divine assurance. They falsely convince their flock that they cannot be true believers without the hadith. They falsely assert that this source of Islam is at the heart of being a real Muslim. Most Muslims have been told that the hadith are the sacred authentic words of the Prophet, but the plethora of fictitious and forged hadith proves otherwise.

Granted, there may be some useful guidance in the thousands upon thousands of hadith but they need to pass a rigorous double test. First, they cannot contradict the Koran and, second, they must not defy reason and logic. Unfortunately, most Muslims have been programmed to regard hadith as sacrosanct teachings that cannot be challenged. This holds all Muslims hostage to the antiquated prejudices or distortions of the narrators and recorders of the prophetic traditions.

The rampant oppression of women in Muslim society does not stem from the Koran but is chiefly the product of misogynistic hadith. For example, a famous “authentic” hadith declares that there will be a preponderance of women in Hell. But the facts here on earth suggest otherwise - male criminality far exceeds that of females.

These anti-Koranic perspectives will continue to predominate in the British Muslim community as it becomes more directly tied to ultra-conservative and extremist sects - such as the Wahhabi, Deobandi, Jamati Islami and the Tabligh Jamaat. These ideological radicals propagate a highly toxic caricature of Islam. They regard creed and culture as indistinguishable, refusing to grasp that Islam is a global religion, not a faith that is linked to one particular people or place.

Although Muslims have their own specific territorial cultural traditions, there is no such thing as an Islamic culture. Therefore the modern trend among British Muslims blindly to emulate Arab ethnic dress or grow beards or for women to wear the Wahhabi-sanctioned niqab or face masks has nothing to do with the Koran but everything to do with the primitive tribal mores and sexist practices of Arabia.

The relentless importation of Wahhabi-influenced theology and tradition into the body politic of the Muslim community is mainly the result of two factors. First, the Saudis control Mecca and Medina, the centres of Islam. This gives the Wahhabi Saudis both a spurious legitimacy and a captive market to peddle their sectarian poison.

Second, with their petrodollars the Saudis can afford to export the most horrendous brand of Islam around the globe. Here in Britain, conservative mosques and madrassas receive funding from the despotic Saudis and in turn extol their nefarious interpretation of Islam.

It is essential therefore that all thinking Muslims resist this foreign theological imposition and create a British Islam that is not only faithful to the original uplifting teachings of the faith but one that is natural to and at home in modern British society.

Dr Taj Hargey is the chair of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and the Imam of the Summertown Islamic Congregation in Oxford

Monday, 27 April 2009

Emirates art lovers welcome Orientalism

By Sylvia Smith
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Given the negative connotations of the term "Orientalist" in this post-colonialist world, one might expect the opening of the first major exhibition of British Orientalist art in the Gulf to be a controversial event.

In fact the 85 oil paintings, sketches and water colours that make up the Lure of the East exhibition, have elicited little else apart from curiosity and delight in the Emirate of Sharjah. The works, first displayed at Tate Britain, have travelled via Turkey to the Gulf following a roughly similar route to that taken by many British artists who made their way to the Orient in the 19th century.

These early adventurers brought back images that stirred the European imagination showing scenes of a very different way of life; one that lured many of the artists to stay on for prolonged periods.

“No Muslim woman would ever have dressed like that. It is just playing up to a fantasy. But to us it is irrelevant ” Hemadi, Iraq-born artist

According to Manal Ataya, the director general of Sharjah Museums Department, the exhibition will bridge cultural gaps. "We know that these paintings can be viewed as controversial," she explains. "But we see them in a positive light. It is fascinating to see places in the Muslim world that now no longer exist. We are lucky to have such accurate records of the architecture of the time. In many cases they are the only records we have."

Hung in a series of rooms on the ground floor of the Sharjah Art Museum, the works reflect the West's fascination with life in the East in the last two centuries.

They include portraits of TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Lord Byron, both in Arab dress, bustling souqs, people and livestock.

The valuable works of Europe art have attracted large numbers of Emirati nationals and expatriates, including Sharjah-based Iraqi artist Hemadi. He recognised the quality of the work, but pointed out that only the sketches and water colours were actually completed in the Orient, while the oils were painted on the artists' return to Britain.

"At the time there was a new market for art," he says. "The artists often tailored their work to suit the tastes of those who had the new money to commission work. They were less discerning than the earlier patrons of art, the aristocrats." But he notes the European desire to make the Orient appear more exotic, such as portrayals of bare-breasted slaves or hareem girls.

"No Muslim woman would ever have dressed like that. It is just playing up to a fantasy. But to us it is irrelevant. We don't feel less because of this sort of thing." Curator Zakryat Matouk agrees, arguing that few Arabs outside a small number of wealthy collectors are even aware of the existence of this genre of paintings. "They have not dented our self esteem," Ms Matouk says. "We feel flattered that people came all this way to paint us. They say, 'Look, isn't this place wonderful? So different from home'. They certainly don't put us down in our own eyes."

So at a time when Orientalist art is enjoying a critical reappraisal and breaking auction records, it seems that critical and philosophical questions about the cultural appropriateness is mainly confined to the Western mind. The Emaratis of Sharjah scarcely even noticed.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/04/27 11:19:48 GMT


If Islam was a Palestinian boy on a Bicycle...

A Palestinian youth holds a baby goat as he rides a bicycle on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Lying at the Doorstep of the Lover...God

A Poem by Mirza Ghālib and sung below by the recently deceased, Iqbal Bano, God rest her soul. (Photograph: courtesy of Thomas Gugler (Berlin) who found this painting hung in the residence of the Pakistani Poet Philosopher, Sir Muhammad Iqbal, in Lahore)

Da’im para hu’a tere dar par nahin hun main
Khak aisi zindagi pa ke patthar nahin hun main

Lying perpetually at your doorstep, I am not?
Shame on a life like this for I am not a stone.

If we read the first line without a question mark then it would show the desire of the lover to be the stone of her/his threshold.

Kion gardish-e mudam se ghabra na jae dil
Insane hun, piyala-o-saghar nahin hun mein

Why would not my heart get distraught from circulating perpetually?
After all, I am a human being, not a goblet or decanter

This verse refers to self-pity derived from being pushed around. It is also a desperate protest to the world for not being kind to him.

Ya Rabb zamana mujh ko mitata hai kis liye
Lauh-e jahan pa harf-e mukarrar nahin hun main

O! Lord, why does the world keep erasing me?
I am not a letter written by mistake twice on the slate of the world

Had chahiye saza mein uqubat ke vaste
Akhir gunahgar hun kafir nahin hun mein

A limit there must be to the harshness of punishment;
After all, I am only a sinner and not an unbeliever of God

Kis vaste aziz nahin jante mujhe
L’al-o zamurrud-o-zar-gohar nahin hun mein

For what reasons do you not keep me dear to you?
I am neither a ruby, nor an emerald, gold or pearl?

This an the next two verses form and ode to the Prophet Muhammad. Those who shun material things are dearer to the prophet Muhammad.

Rakhte ho tum qadum meri ankhon se kion diregh
Rutbe mein mahr-o-mah se kamtar nahin hun mein

Why do you refuse to place your foot on my eyes?
No less am I than the moon and sun in my status!

In the night journey, the prophet Muhammad travelled to heaven and perhaps touched the moon and sun. I am no less than the moon or sun. Why then do you not find my eyes worthy of your feet?

Karte ho mujhe jo man-e qadam bos kis liye
Kya asman ke bhi barabar nahin hun mein

Why do you forbid me to kiss your feet?
Am I not equal to the heavens?

In the night journey, prophet Muhammad placed his foot upon heaven and thereby let the heavens kiss his feet. Ghalib complains that perhaps he is not equivalent to the heaven and that is why he has not been given the honour of kissing the prophet’s feet. In this and the previous verse, the poet invokes the grand status given to man by God, well above material things. He then questions why he is not allowed to come close to the prophet.

(Taken from Love Sonnets of Ghalib, translated by Sarfaraz K. Niazi, pp. 421-424)