Friday, 21 May 2010

Daag Dehlvi: Saba Sajid and Noor Jehan

I read recently this beautiful anecdote on a blog, 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."

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 has been a while since this was posted so I am reposting this. It just goes to show how one meets people for a reason. 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

Thursday, 20 May 2010

When Islamic atheism thrived, Monday 10 May 2010 13.30 BST
Amira Nowaira

It's astonishing to read about the freedom of expression afforded to Muslims in the 10th century, in contrast to our own times

Freethinking is perhaps not one of the strongest suits of modern Islam. For one thing, the list of books that have been banned for challenging prevalent religious orthodoxies and sensibilities during the past hundred years is disconcertingly long.

Modern Islamic clerics and scholars in various Muslim countries are often highly selective of which part of the Islamic heritage to emphasise and bring to light. Out of the countless and varied sources from centuries of vigorous debates, commentaries and controversies, they seem to dig out, and revel in, interpretations that are hopelessly conservative or frustratingly and grotesquely at odds with the life of modern Muslims.

It may therefore come as a surprise to many people that there is a long and vibrant intellectual tradition of dissidence and freethinking going back to the Middle Ages. The Islamic thinkers of the early medieval period expressed ideas and engaged in debates that would appear strangely enlightened in comparison with the attitudes and views adopted by modern Islamic scholarship.

This is the basic argument presented by From the History of Atheism in Islam by the renowned Egyptian thinker Abdel-Rahman Badawi. Published in Arabic in 1945, the book was reprinted only once in 1993. It discusses the work of the Islamic philosopher-scientists of the medieval period and the way they upheld reason, freedom of thought and humanist values, while questioning and often refuting some basic Islamic tenets.

Although many of those thinkers, according to Badawi, did not attempt to disprove the existence of God, they lashed out against the notion of prophethood and argued against the privileged position occupied by the Prophet Muhammad and his followers.

Most prominent among those scholars was Abu Bakr al-Razi (865-925 CE) who believed in the supreme importance of reason. He argued that the mind had an innate capacity to distinguish between good and evil, and between what was useful and what was harmful. According to him, the mind did not need any guidance from outside it, and for this reason the presence of prophets was redundant and superfluous.

Al-Razi directed his most vehement attack against the holy books in general, including the Qur'an, because he saw them as illogical and self-contradictory. He also believed that all human beings were equal in their intellectual capacities as they were in all other things. It made no sense therefore that God should single out one individual from among them in order to reveal to him his divine wisdom and assign him the task of guiding other human beings. Furthermore, he found that prophets' pronouncements and stories often contradicted those of other prophets. If their source was divine revelation as is claimed, their views would have been identical. The idea of a divinely-appointed mediator was therefore a myth.

Al-Razi understood the hold of religious belief on society, which he attributed to several factors. Firstly, systems of beliefs spread mainly through the human propensity for imitating and copying others. Secondly, religion's popularity rested on the close alliance between clerics and political rulers. The clerics often used this alliance to impose their own personal beliefs on people by force whenever the power of persuasion failed. Thirdly, the lavish and imposing character of the attire of religious men contributed to the high regard in which they were held by common people. Lastly, with the passage of time religious ideas became so familiar that they turned almost into deep-seated instincts that were no longer questioned.

In examining this chapter of Islamic history, regardless of the validity or otherwise of the views expressed, one cannot help feel amazed at the fact that the Islamic thinkers of the 10th century had the freedom to discuss and publish their "unorthodox" ideas, while the Islamic world now cannot, or will not, deal with any form of intellectual dissent. It might be reasonable to suggest then that the problem of Islam does not lie in inherited texts and traditions, but in interpretation. The Islamic heritage, like its Christian counterpart, is made up of a huge body of commentaries and interpretations that were produced in various periods of history to address problems specific to their age. We need to remember that the Christian scriptures have not changed since the middle ages. It was in the name of these very texts that innumerable so-called heretics were burnt at the stake.

There is little doubt that Islamic scholars have the task and the responsibility to review tradition and re-emphasise the human values of tolerance and freedom of thought. They do not have to look far for these values. All they are required to do is to reach deep into their own cultural coffers to retrieve the pearls and discard the dregs.

Amira Nowaira obtained her PhD in English from Birmingham University. She is former chairperson of the department of English at Alexandria University and is currently professor of english literature in the same department

Miss USA Scrutiny Indicates Weird Obsession with Islam

Ahmed Rehab
Huffington Post
Posted: May 19, 2010 11:42 AM

Why must a Muslim person's faith come up the moment that person breaks through the mainstream in any conceivable way -- regardless of relevance or context? And why does it invariably end up linking that person through multiple degrees of separation to terrorism?

The fact that even a Miss USA could not be spared this exercise in futility puts away any remaining doubt that there is a segment of America that is suffering from a bizarre and unhealthy obsession with Islam.

Diverse examples abound:

When Dubai Ports World won a contract to manage six US seaports in 2006, US Lawmakers rushed to invalidate the deal. Their objections essentially came down to the shocking discovery that Dubai was an "Islamic" country (even as they bore no qualms about billions of dollars in US business contracts going the other way). Of no weight was the more relevant fact that the Dubai Ports World is one of the most reputable operators in its industry.

And when Mazen Asbahi was appointed as the Obama campaign's liaison to the Muslim community in 2008, the Wall Street Journal riled up just enough "guilt by association" terrorism-related controversy against the clean-as-a-whistle Asbahi to force him to resign only a few days into his post.

Most recently, when Dr. Parvez Ahmed was nominated for Jacksonville's Human Rights Commission, the established humanitarian was smeared with "ties to terrorism." He subsequently faced a torrent of abuse (including one commissioner's request that he demonstrate to the commission how he prays to his God) before eventually being confirmed.

The fact that Muslims who aspire to prominence in business, political, and service circles routinely face special scrutiny as a result of their faith is alarming. The fact that Muslims involved in the banality of looking good would not be spared similar scrutiny is comical -- in a sad sort of way, of course.

And yet just one day after Rima Fakih, an Arab-American Lebanese Muslim from Michigan, won the Miss USA pageant, her faith took center stage, and sure enough, some found a way to "link" her to terrorism.

AOL News, no less, led the foray with the provocative title, "Controversy Swirls Around Miss USA Winner." They quote right-wing blogger Debbie Schlussel, who tells us that Miss USA has "many relatives" who are terrorists and that "a Hezbollah supporter helped bankroll her pageant run."

"It's a sad day in America but a very predictable one, given the politically correct, Islamo-pandering climate in which we're mired," she says.

As paranoid as Schlussel sounds, this was in fact a sanitized version of the original Islamophobic, foul-mouth tirade found on her blog under the flattering title, "Hezbollah's American Sharmuta" ("whore" in Arabic).

Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson also blamed "political correctness" as the culprit in Fakih's victory. "Did the Muslim-American win because of the whole PC society that we find ourselves in?" she wonders.

Another conservative blogger, Michelle Malkin, lamented that "Fakih's cheerleaders are too busy tooting the identity politics horn to care what comes out of her mouth," while neo-conservative blogger Daniel Pipes argued that this and five other recent Muslim beauty pageant winners in the West indicate "an odd form of affirmative action."

And as always, there is no shortage of kooky blogs that feed off of this stuff. Other articles questioned whether Muslims would celebrate or bemoan a Muslim Miss USA. The fact is, just like the 58 winners before her, Rima Fakih's faith has absolutely nothing to do with her beauty.

Rima is just another American girl who pursued a personal dream. The fact that she happens to be Muslim is completely irrelevant to the story. She should neither be hailed as a Muslim hero, nor made into a punching bag for anti-Muslim haters.

That her religion is even brought up is only indicative of how far our unhealthy obsession with this age-old global faith and its adherents has gone.

Future Muslim spelling bee champions, beware.

Originally published on Chicago Tribune Blog.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Faiz Ahmed Faiz: No one has a right to close anyone’s mouth!

Speak…for your lips are free
Speak…for your tongue is still yours
Your well built body…is but yours
Speak…your life is still yours
Look…in the shop of the blacksmith…
Bright are the flames…
The iron is red…
Appearing to open…
Is the locked mouth…
The depth/spread of those chains are/is widespread
Speak…this little time is indeed much…
Before the death of the body and the tongue…
By speaking is this truth alive…
Speak…say whatever it is you have to say

Asked and Answered | Shirin Neshat

New York Times: Culture
May 14, 2010, 3:34 pm

Shirin Neshat’s “Women Without Men,” which opens Friday in New York, represents this experimental photographer and video artist’s first venture into feature filmmaking, and it’s already proven to be an auspicious start. Neshat won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival last year for her exploration of political and religious oppression in her native Iran. And given the increased international attention to Iranian politics in recent months, the New York-based artist’s work — much of which deals with gender and identity in the Muslim world — is more in demand than ever. A comprehensive monograph of her work is out this month from Rizzoli, and she has just optioned the novel “The Palace of Dreams,” by Ismail Kadare, for her second film.

Q. Were you concerned about making a controversial film that questions Islam? After all, the Dutch director Theo van Gogh was murdered because of his short film, “Submission,” about Muslim women.

I have never tried to provoke the Muslim community, as I consider myself a Muslim. I, too, found Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s short film disrespectful to Muslims. I believe we don’t need to widen the divide between the West and Islam. Rather, we need to build dialogue to encourage tolerance and respect.

The movie is based on the book by Shahrnush Parsipur. How have you adapted it?

The magic realism of the novel was extremely difficult to turn into a screenplay. Also, it was written as a series of five short stories, which followed the lives of five women separately, who in the final chapter converge in a mysterious orchard. We went with four main characters and divided them into two realistic characters and two allegorical characters.

The film is set in 1953. How historically accurate is it?

With this film, I had pay attention to fashion as a way to depict the distinct classes and cultural dynamics of the 1950s, a significant period in Iranian history. We had a secular government and a very Westernized and sophisticated society. My team and I did extensive research to understand the architecture, interior design, fashion, hair and makeup of Iranian culture at the time. For instance, women of the nonreligious community did not wear the veil, whereas lower- and middle-class religious women did.

One of the characters, Munis, longs to take part in political protest but can only do so as a ghost. Why?

Munis represents an Iranian woman raised in a traditional religious family, which generally keeps women away from the political process. Out of sheer frustration, Munis chooses death over life in stagnation. Of course, Munis is an allegorical character, so her death and resurrection is symbolic of flight and freedom instead of suicide. The metaphor of flight is central to the ideas of mysticism in Persian and Islamic literature. In political terminology, Munis’s death returns to the concept of martyrdom. It is the same with the young and beautiful Neda, who died in the streets of Tehran this past summer and whose unjust death made her an instant martyr.

Zarin, the prostitute, is skeletal. What was your reason for casting her like this?

Her physical presence had to embody the character’s emotional and physical crisis. When it became impossible to find such an actress among the Iranian community, we looked to the international community. I was immediately impressed by the Hungarian actress Orsi Toth, but only later did I discover that she was clearly anorexic. With this in mind, we revised the script to fit her physique and her being non-Iranian. Ultimately, what became the force of Zarin’s character was her silence and her devastating body.

Which out of the four main characters is the closest to representing you?

I feel closest to Zarin, perhaps because of how she quietly suffers and inflicts her pain onto her body, an experience that many women, including myself, are familiar with. Zarin’s body becomes a tool — she punishes herself for all that is wrong with the world, the social stigma, religious taboos and her own feelings of guilt, shame and sin.

In the film, utopia is an enchanted garden where the women escape from men. Is the solution a world without men?

Absolutely not. The story of “Women Without Men” evolves around the journey of four women as they each try to change their lives for the better. In fact, most of the women’s problem are not men, but the larger social, political, and religious structure of the culture they live in.

Would you call yourself a feminist?

This question has been asked many times before, and I am afraid my answer often disappoints, as I don’t claim myself a feminist in the conventional sense. I believe and support the feminist movement, but I am not generally interested in considering women’s rights in relation to equality with men, or in a competition with men, but rather within their own rights and feminine space.

But the men portrayed in your movie are oppressors, rapists and thugs.

Some male characters are negative, but it is absolutely not my style to make clichés about Muslim men, or to identify them as systematically oppressive and barbaric. The character of the Gardener, for instance, is the guardian of the women as they try to cope with life in exile.

You are an exile yourself, for more than 30 years. Do you consider the United States home?

The first years of my life in the U.S. were very difficult. Today my life in New York is much happier because I am surrounded by a loving Iranian community. Frankly, I can’t imagine moving back to Iran with the current situation there, but I do long to spend more time in the Middle East.

Do you think your film will ever be shown in Iran?

Not legally, as long as this government is in power. The book has been officially banned for many years; there is nudity in the film, and my own work has always been considered controversial. But I have just found out that the film is being distributed underground. Most films find their way into the country through piracy. I am delighted by this news.

Why did you choose to shoot in a magical realism style?

Censorship, harassment, arrests and imprisonment are a way of life for any Iranian artist or intellectual who dares to cross the boundaries of what the country deems acceptable forms of expression. So artists have consistently relied on the power of allegory and poetic language to express everything that is not possible to express directly. Magical realism allows an artist like myself to inject layers of meaning without being obvious. In American culture, where there is freedom of expression, this approach may seem forced, unnecessary and misunderstood. But this system of communication has become very Iranian.

Where is your enchanted garden?

I have been in search of that enchanted garden all my life, not sure where it is, and what it might look like, but I still have not arrived there. I only hope one day I will.

Women Without Men Preview Clip from IndiePix on Vimeo.

She's Hot and Hezbollah: When Women Are Wielded as Ideological Weapons

Haroon Moghul
Executive Director, The Maydan Institute
Posted: May 19, 2010 02:33 PM
Huffington Post

Some of my fellow Americans are sure that Miss USA 2010, Lebanese-American Rima Fakih, is a Hezbollah plant, an effect of the liberal treachery that's handing America over to Islam. Some Muslims are angry that Fakih, who showed herself off in a barely-there bikini, is identified with their religion and getting positive press for it. She might be a means by which certain types of Islam, liberal in behavior, are celebrated, while others are pushed out of bounds. Who gets to decide which Islam is OK?

The sillier reactions have rightly -- and hilariously -- been put down by playwright Wajahat Ali, writing for Salon. But what do we make of the apprehension with which Muslims approach Fakih, unsure whether they should ignore, cheer, or shrug at her? Because it's hard enough being a conservative Muslim woman in the West. Especially when things like the French burqa ban happen.

Then along comes a pretty pageant winner, letting the world know that Muslims are "normal" -- and we are -- but her normal is, in part, bikinis, unreal beauty exploited to capitalist benefit, and the negative pressure it smacks down on women worldwide. Janan Delgado, writing for AltMuslima, gets the consequent stresses. My sympathies rush to reach my co-religionist sisters struggling to prove that piety isn't reactionary, that covering your head doesn't mean covering your mind.

Because pressures to prove we're Western come from two sides, right and left. Many on the rightest fringe just want us behind fences, but some on the leftest edges cannot fathom how or why religion survives in the modern world. (They might limit fences to religions, which is fine except that religions only exist in -- and on -- people.) How do we prove our Westernness? And why do we have to? Here I am, with a better command of English than most of the people who push English-only laws.

So Fakih could, with her descriptions of swimsuit normality, hurt those women who cover and contribute to and care for the world around them. They're already made to feel like their sartorial philosophy pushes them outside the fringes of civilization, anti-burqa laws bringing new meaning to "pro-choice." But then I think of all the women in countries that tell them what (not) to wear (Belgium, France, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc.), punished if they stray, and I'm confused all over again.

While I'm not so naive as to imagine that there is a pure, unadulterated individuality, we sometimes underestimate the great harm in being forced or even pushed to conform. Sometimes it's your family; sometimes it's advertising. (Are those equal forces? Capitalism, Marx would say, could kick traditional patriarchy's behind. In part by unveiling and selling it and making us feel socially acceptable only if we have it and flaunt it.) Wear "modest" clothes, dress how the stereotyped Muslim does, and you risk alienation, with the eyes of the world damning and excluding. Do the opposite, and you win the world's applause. (It works the same way, but backwards, in many majority Muslim lands.)

Very few issues can be easily condensed into right or wrong, judged by more clothes or less. Fakih will doubtless be wielded as a weapon, more often than not to tell women what they're wearing is wrong. For far too long, women -- or, rather, women reduced to their bodies -- have been the fields on which ideas, identities, and now corporations do battle. It's sadly ironic that feminine beauty incites so much ugliness.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Top Saudi Arabian editor resigns

A leading Saudi Arabian journalist has resigned from his post as editor-in-chief of one of the country's more progressive newspapers. Jamal Khashoggi was editor of al-Watan which published an opinion piece questioning Salafism, a form of Islam at the heart of the Saudi state. There is speculation that Mr Khashoggi had been forced to resign.

Mr Khashoggi had clashed with the authorities before with articles on the religious police and women's rights.

'Questioning faith'

The resignation was said to have come as a shock to staff at the newspaper.

“ We may question social issues like women's rights, but we should not have allowed an article to question the essence of faith ”
Jamal Khashoggi

The opinion piece by Saudi poet Ibrahim al-Almaee criticised Salafism, a conservative school of Sunni Islam that draws inspiration from the practices of the earliest Muslims.

Saudi Arabia is governed under an austere form of Salafi Islam, Wahabbism.

Salafi Muslims reject popular religious traditions such as the veneration of important Islamic figures and shrines connected to them.

"We believe in al-Watan newspaper, and we believe in reform," Mr Khashoggi said after resigning.

"The newspaper is more important than I am, and I hope it will continue. We may question social issues like women's rights, but we should not have allowed an article to question the essence of faith."

He said he was abroad when the decision was made to publish the article, and he did not agree with the points made by Mr Almaee.

In 2003 Mr Khashoggi was dismissed from al-Watan for criticising a 14th Century Muslim theologian, but returned to the newspaper in 2007.

Mr Khashoggi will keep his position on the editorial board of the paper, and said he would continue to write in support of reform.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/05/17 09:42:38 GMT