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Friday, 31 December 2010

Secular Jinnah

Never judge a book by its cover, they say. Imagine a child who is interested in Yeti, comes upon a tantalizing title such as Yeti: the Abominable Snowman, and excitedly reads cover to cover only to find out that the book contains evidence to show that the abonimable snowman is a myth, and no such creature actually exists.

Remember this the next time you hear someone talk about Saleena Karim’s book, Secular Jinnah and Pakistan: What the Nation Doesn’t Know. Contrary to the title, the book is actually a well-researched and convincing study to show that “secular Jinnah” is a myth (and abonimable like the snowman: some readers might conclude)!

In my opinion, it is a book that must be read. I shall try to explain from a personal point of view why I think so.

The founder of Pakistan was the hero of those who wanted Pakistan, and therefore a villain to those who didn’t. The latter included the Western media, the Israel Lobby and Indian nationalists. Against the enormous influence of this school, the pro-Quaid point of view was bound to lose. It got buried by the early 1980s (the historical fiction, Gandhi, released on the big screen around that time, may also have contributed).

When it became too difficult to defend Pakistan and the Quaid at the same time, a new trend emerged among the pro-Quaid: never mind Pakistan, just defend Jinnah. The most well-known classics of this school include The Sole Spokesman (1984) by Ayesha Jalal; Jinnah of Pakistan (1984) by Stanley Wolpert; and the belated attempt by Jaswant Singh last year. In order to defend Jinnah internationally, some of these writers suggested that Jinnah didn’t actually want Pakistan.

Back in the 1980s, such writers were received like a breeze of fresh air. Compared to the homebred defenders of the Quaid, their work seemed to be presented with more elegance and better research. Hence, rasing the standards of research and widening the horizons was the permanent contribution of these writers, but there were drawbacks.

One of the drawbacks was the myth of “secular Jinnah”. Healthy debates are good for society, but unfortunately “some” secularists resorted to unfair means, such as a "fake" quote attributed to Jinnah by a former secularist Chief Justice of Pakistan – a "hoax" exposed by Saleena Karim in her previous work, and further explained here.

Coming out in the year 2010 – almost twenty years after Wolpert’s book got reprinted locally – Secular Jinnah and Pakistan brings things to full circle, in some ways. It gives back to the people of Pakistan their familiar Quaid-i-Azam: the father of the nation who shared their ideals and beliefs. He had been away for twenty years, but like the hero of Arthur Jones' play Silver King, he has come back more elegant and well-equipped than before. A must-read, and you may like to visit the book’s website too.

To be continued

Thursday, 30 December 2010

National anthem: fact and fiction

For some time now, some secularists in Pakistan have been suggesting that (a) Jinnah was in favor of secularism, and therefore (b) he commissioned a Hindu poet to write the national anthem of Pakistan but it was replaced by the present anthem after Jinnah’s death.

Therefore, it is rather serendipitous that two well-researched books should come out at the same time, each addressing a different half of this statement separately (and both having long titles, but that is beside the point):
  • Secular Jinnah and Pakistan: What the Nation Doesn’t Know by the British Pakistani writer Saleena Karim is a 317-page study about whether Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a secular state.
  • Pakistan Ka Qaumi Tarana: Kiya Hai Haqeeqat, Kya Hai Fasana by Aqeel Abbas Jafri is a 104-page analytical presentation of archival resources about the national anthem of Pakistan. 
The first book is in English, and the second is in Urdu, and let’s begin with the second. Although he is little known abroad, Jafri ‘s name has become synonymous with archival research in Pakistan. One of his most recent crowning achievements is the Urdu Chronicle of Pakistan, which presents a chronological illustrated history of the country since 1947.

In Qaumi Tarana (allow me to refer to the book by this short title), Jafri shows with conclusive documentary evidence that:
  1. Pakistan did not have a national anthem in the lifetime of Jinnah.
  2. The present national anthem was the first to be officially adopted by the state.
  3. There is no evidence to show that any poem by Jagan Nath Azad was played from radio on 14 or 15 August at all.
Some of the findings of this book were earlier shared by Jafri in his curtain-raiser article in Urdu press (covered here in a previous post, ‘Jafri reveals the truth). The book offers much – much – more: a fantastic trip of time travelling to the early days of Pakistan, and inside the secret vaults of classified information, all in a light and refreshing manner.

I strongly recommend it to everybody. Being a basic document about a key symbol of our sovereignty, i.e. our national anthem, it should be kept in every household (Imagine losing your domicile certificate, passport, identity card and personal documents?). The book is modestly priced at Rs.200, which is roughly the same as a full plate of Biryani plus cold drink (and minus the TIP) – so, please do not “starve” your souls.

Now, very interestingly, while explaining that his purpose is just to keep the record straight, Jafri clarifies in the preface that it would not have been unexpected if the Quaid had actually got the national anthem written by a Hindu poet, but facts are facts and history needs to be respected. In the same vein he admits: “I do not have any doubts about Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah being secular, liberal and enlightened… Since Islam is the very name of tolerance.”

This brings us to the second book, which addresses the question: Did Quaid-i-Azam want Pakistan to be a secular state (and is secularism the same thing as the “tolerance” preached by Islam)? In the next post we shall see what Saleena Karim has to say about this in Secular Jinnah and Pakistan: What the Nation Doesn’t Know.
Next: Secular Jinnah

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Secular Jinnah and the National Anthem

On the right you see the titles of two new publications that have just hit the stalls in Pakistan:
  • پاکستان کا قومی ترانہ از عقیل عباس جعفری
  • Secular Jinnah and Pakistan by Slaeena Karim
On the face value they may not seem to have anything in common, since one is just about the national anthem of Pakistan whereas the other seems to have a broader scope as it might be telling us all about Quaid-i-Azam’s vision of Pakistan. Personally, however, I see these two books as interconnected (but I am not suggesting in any way that the authors would also agree with this). This will be discussed in the next post.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Learn from experience

2006: Female cadets at the Quaid's tomb
The following is my article published as Friday Feature in Dawn on December 24, 2010. Some of the wording may vary from the printed version.
The year 1987 was memorable because even those segments of the population who had not been much interested in politics during the various struggles for the restoration of democracy earlier in the decade were now feeling restless. This presumption was corroborated by the historic turnout during the elections that followed a year later. The elections of 1988 were the second occasion in the history of Pakistan where the results, however rigged they may have been, were at least accepted by all major contestants (the first such occasion were the elections of 1970).

In the light of the ideals indigenously developed since 1887, and the goals achieved through them, there are reasons to believe that the new goal that had appeared before the nation in 1988 was actually “emancipation” rather than anything else. This goal had to be achieved through the “inner synthesis” of diverse political experiments carried out in the previous twenty years. The ideal of to be pursued whilst in quest of the goal was “Learn through experience.”

Emancipation was the new goal. This may be concluded from the fact that according to the generally accepted views, conventional democracy (i.e. Western democracy) pre-requires a high literacy rate, which did not exist in Pakistan at that time (nor does it now). If so, then the masses had less reason to care for such democracy and more to care for the other, indigenous, variety that had already been idealized by them: it had been taught to them by the most influential teachers, preachers, poets and artists for more than a thousand years. It was the spiritual democracy, envisioned by the more genuine schools of Sufism in the past, and more recently turned into a political idea by the likes of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Shah Waliullah, Waris Shah, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Ali Brothers and Allama Iqbal. (For a detailed outline of this development, see the previous articles by the present writer published in this newspaper).

In The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930-34), Iqbal stated that for a Muslim, this idea was “a matter of convic¬tion for which even the least enlightened man among us can easily lay down his life.” Hence, the indigenous conception of democracy does not pre-require literacy or formal education, but only spiritual emancipation. Does it not seem natural that the true aspiration of the masses can only be this indigenous variety of democracy? It does not degrade them because of poor literacy rate. It has been ingrained into their consciousness by the best-loved poets and teachers in more than a thousand years.

Just as conventional democracy pre-requires literacy and education, the indigenous variety calls for spiritual emancipation (in the above-mentioned passage, Iqbal goes on to say, “in view of the basic idea of Islam that there can be no further revelation binding on man, we ought to be spiritually one of the most emancipated peoples on earth”).

Spiritual emancipation, in this sense, means emancipation in all spheres of life rather than just one. Artistic and literary, social and political, religious and legal, education and psychological emancipations collectively amount to spiritual emancipation.

In retrospect, we may recognize that we started pursuing this goal in 1987. Unlike some of the earlier goals, such as Muslim nationhood, separate electorates and Muslim homeland, the goal was not clearly stated on this occasion. Beginning with the election of a woman prime minister ahead of any other Muslim nation, the journey towards emancipation was carried out, perhaps, unknowingly for the most part. The quarrels between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the work of the human rights activists and the feminists, the so-called enlightened moderation at the turn of the millennium, the emergence of an all-powerful media with its good and bad influences, and the uneasy alliances with the Western powers may all have contributed towards the achieving of our goal. The strongest factor, however, was undoubtedly the “inner synthesis” of the diverse political ideologies that had been tried out since 1967.

In the absence of a well-stated ideal, the only ideal to be pursued was to learn from experience. This was also important because the emancipation that we were trying to achieve was unprecedented. It was a long-cherished goal that had never become a reality for our society during the long centuries of tyrants and despots. Therefore, the best way forward was to learn from experience.

The benchmark came in 2006, when judicial activism of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, prevailed upon the combined whim of a native military ruler and the sole super power on earth, and made them answerable in a court of law for “the missing persons”, most of whom were not only insignificant citizens, but also disfavored citizens.

As if to symbolize the ethos of the past twenty years, six women cadets and a Sikh gentleman cadet were seen among the contingent that took over guard duties on the mausoleum of the Quaid-i-Azam on 25 December 2006. The 130th birth anniversary of the founder of Pakistan was indeed a good day to mark the end of a stage in the history of the nation, and to start preparation of the next stage. “Emancipation”, which was the goal achieved in the past twenty years, was soon going to become a tool for achieving the next goal, and a new ideal would then be pursued.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

From Pakistan, with Love

The following article of mine was published in Dawn, Books & Authors today.
Ibne Safi goes international, again. In a way, he was always international since his books used to be published simultaneously from India and Pakistan. Yet his work was not available in English. Random House, India, has now started publishing Imran Series translated by Bilal Tanweer. Titled The House of Fear, the collected volume containing the first two novels is already out. Blaft Publications is coming up with some novels of Jasoosi Duniya translated by the renowned Shamsur Rehman Faruqui.

The Hindi editions are being published by Harper Collins, India. Unlike the earlier Hindi versions of the 1950s and 60s, the names of the heroes Ahmad Kamal Faridi and Ali Imran have not been changed to Vinod and Rajesh. Perhaps it is the right moment to reconsider how much was lost when the society failed to locate Safi in its literary current in the early years of independence.

He was born Asrar Ahmad in April 1928 in Nara, a small town near Allahabad. One of the earliest influences on him was Talism-i-Hoshruba, the gigantic Urdu classic (currently being translated into English with the first volume already available). The next most important influence was Rider Haggard, whose romances She and The Return of She he read soon after moving to Allahabad for higher education.

When he stared writing fiction and poetry, for a while he followed the literary trends of those days, such as the Progressive Writers’ Movement, but became disillusioned with them sometime around 1942. It seems that he had come to believe that purely speculative theories did not provide a very sound basis for collective development of societies – at least that is the impression one gets from his autobiographical essays such as ‘How Did I Start Writing’ (‘Mien Nay Likhna Kaisay Shuroo Kiya’) and ‘Baqalam Khud’ (In My Own Hand). However, he kept the company of the leading progressive writers of the area as long as he stayed in India, which was till August 1952.

The catastrophic pillage and massacre of 1947 confirmed, at least to him, his doubts about the ability of pure speculation to prevent social tragedies. “I kept thinking and thinking, and arrived at the conclusion that such things will keep happening until the human being learns to respect the law,” he later wrote.

In the late 1951, a comment by someone to the effect that only sexual stuff could sell in Urdu provoked Asrar to launch a movement against the contemporary trends of high literature. He picked up Ironsides’ Lone Hand, a detective story by Victor Gunn and adapted it according to the tastes of the reading public of Urdu, adding some literary flavor of his own and remodeling the two main characters to represent his ideals. Dilair Mujrim, published by Nakhat Publications, Allahabad, and distributed by A.H. Wheeler & Co. in March 1952, sold like hot cake. Asrar Ahmad, now using the penname “Ibne Safi” (“the Son of Safi”, since Safiullah was the name of his father) had proven his point.

He migrated to Pakistan in August the same year and spent the rest of his life in Karachi. By the time he died on July 26, 1980, he had written 246 mystery novels on stock characters Faridi, Hameed and Ali Imran. All except eight adaptations were based on original plots (by his own account), and almost all had been published simultaneously from Allahabad and Karachi, since the author remained equally popular on both sides of the border.

Literary critics labeled him a mere “popular writer” and his fiction as “pulp”. This was to overlook the fact that writers of pulp fiction seldom have explicitly reformist agendas: Ian Fleming once justified the promiscuity of James Bond by saying something to the effect that he was catering to an age where courtship was being replaced with seduction.

Not so with Ibne Safi. He was reinforcing the messages of commonly respected reformers, such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Ali Brothers and Allama Iqbal, while, ironically, the writers of “high literature” were trying to outdo each other in selling sex and sadism. Also, his work touched upon a wider range of contemporary issues – and his literary allusions covered a more diverse range of art, literature and philosophy – than any other writer who ever wrote fiction in Urdu. That does not sound very “pulp” either.

These happen to be a few of the questions brushed under the carpet by the gatekeepers of the literary establishment long ago. More questions can be raised, and they are likely to be raised now that interest in the work of Ibne Safi is about to scale new heights.

Note: Online information about the life and works of Ibne Safi can be found at www.ibnesafi.info and www.wadi-e-urdu.com, both non-profit websites supported by his family, which also maintains a Face Book page at http://www.facebook.com/ibnesafi

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Parable of the Sea


The following is my article published today as 'Samandar, a Parable?' in Dawn, Images.

On January 6, 1968, the government of President Ayub Khan announced that a conspiracy had been un covered between some personnel from East Pakistan and Indian politicians to overthrow the government in East Pakistan and establish an independent state of Bangladesh. Twelve days later, the popular Bengali politician Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was also implicated (he was already under arrest for almost two years, since he had suggested partial autonomy for East Pakistan in his Six Points given in March 1966).

“The young Bengalis were quieter than usual at the Dacca and Chittagong Clubs,” the American Consulate General in Dhaka wrote secretly to the US Department of State a little later. “Eid was quieter this year. Fear was in the air. Men were afraid to pass more than the barest of greetings. Once argumentative chaps endured the taunts of Punjabi and non-Bengali members.”

Against this backdrop, the film Samandar was released on March 10, 1968. It was produced by Waheed Murad, who also played the lead role and sang an unaccredited song. Shabnam, a successful talent from East Pakistan, appeared here in her first lead role in a West Pakistani production. Could the on-screen alliance between talents from the two wings be a thinly veiled parable about the federation?

There are no conclusive answers but there are some pointers. Director Rafiq Razvi was known to be a patriotic filmmaker: his best-known work was Bedari (1957), a film with explicitly patriotic agenda, whose songs are played as national songs even today ("Ae Quaid-i-Azam tera ehsan hai ehsan", to name just one).

The lyrics of Samandar were written by Sehba Akhtar, who would later write such national songs as "Mein bhi Pakistan hoon", and become known as “the Poet of Pakistan”. The music was composed by Deboo Bhatacharya. Since the two wings of the country were connected by the sea, and not by the land, the title song becomes especially symbolic: "Saathi, tera mera saathi hai lehrata samandar" (Friend, the sea is our common friend).

The story is set in a fishing colony, which could be treated as an analogy of Pakistan. Rajah (Waheed Murad) aspires for nothing except love, while his best friend Jeera (Hanif) aspires to become the next chief of the community but ends up playing into the hands of Jaggu Seth (Rashid), a foreign intruder who wants to monopolise the economy. Rajah is persuaded by the people to contest a boat race through which the next chief would be elected. Rajah wins the race, but hands over the power to his former friend after eliciting from him a promise that he would defend the community against the intruder.

If Jeera is taken as a symbolic representation of the politicians of East Pakistan, Rajah becomes a role model for their counterparts in the western wing of the country. Significantly, his love interest is Noori (Shabnam), the chief’s daughter, whom the custom requires to marry the next chief. Thus being associated with Jeera, she becomes a symbol for the land and culture of East Pakistan. In this capacity, she is balanced by Rajah’s sister Bali (Rozina), who is wooed by Jeera.

The paradox is that Rajah does not want to rule, and yet he wants the hand of Noori, who by custom should only marry the ruler. This is not unlike the challenge that the politicians of West Pakistan faced at that time, probably without grasping it: they were supposed to keep the federation without wanting to rule over it forever.

The film was released at a time when there were rumors about Ayub Khan suffering from ailments. His successor would turn out to be Yahya Khan, whose reputation of heavy drinking would even precede his real procrastination. Consciously or unconsciously, both aspects are reflected in the ailing chief in the movie, who admits, “Old age, sickness and alcohol have rendered me incapable of taking a firm stance (against the enemy).” A community ruled by an inebriated head, threatened by foreign intrusion and divided against itself through mistrust, while fear lurks in the hearts of those whose love is pure — could there be a more candid depiction of Pakistan at that hour of its existential crisis?

Rajah resolves the moral dilemma at the tomb of a local saint where the visitors are dressed to represent diverse ethnicities but the two qawwals singing the traditional Sufi song, "Damadam mast qalandar", wear Jinnah caps. Spiritual ideals translated into collective action might be the solution required for Pakistan, even today.

Carving a unified nation out of a diverse stock is like striving against the forces of nature. The human being seems to be in conflict with nature in every song of the film, until it is announced in the final one that the lamps of the people have outshone the stars, and their garden boasts of a perfume that cannot be produced by spring.

This is the promised goal of Samandar, and the film tells us how to achieve it. Whether those who delivered this message 42 years ago were thinking about the debacle of East Pakistan or not they managed to provide an insight that is as relevant today as it was then.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Unite Organically

The following is my article, which appeared as Friday Feature, 'On Organic Unity' in Dawn today. The text presented here may vary from the version printed in the newspaper.
A new goal that appeared before the people of Pakistan in 1967 was to discover a synthesis of socialism and democracy through Islam. The tool for achieving it was the organic unity that Pakistan had achieved in its first twenty years as a new state. The ideal to be kept in front was to use this unity, i.e. unite organically, or through ideals. Some indicators may show us that a synthesis had occurred, in some ways, by 1986.

This may sound like a far-fetched hypothesis because we are not used to reading the history of modern Muslim thought in this manner. However, such a conclusion seems to be the only plausible one when the matter is revisited in the light of the propositions of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam.

For that, we may begin with three essential concepts: (a) synthesis of ideologies through Islam; (b) organic unity as a human resource; and (c) definition of ideals.

When Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was founded on 30 November and 1 December 1967, its credo was stated to be, “Islam is our religion; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; power lies with the people.” The intellectuals who wrote the foundational papers of the party, as well as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who founded the party, may or may not have been aware, but the ideas mentioned in this credo had a long history in the collective consciousness of the society. As it was, Maulana Shibli Numani and Allama Iqbal had stated democracy to be the political ideal of Islam long ago, Quaid-i-Azam had talked about Islamic socialism and the very idea of Pakistan was based on the presumption that all power lied with the people.

Hence, the enormous popularity of this credo, as evident from the results of the elections of 1970 in West Pakistan, need not have meant that the people were willing to embrace a new ideology. They had not said yes to socialism, but to its synthesis with democracy and Islam (on the condition that all power remains with the people). Such a synthesis would not have been unprecedented in the history of Islam, since a primary function of Islam had always remained to be the assimilation of alien ideas and beliefs, and their re-evaluation for practical uses in Muslim cultures.

There was no reason to believe that Islam would not do the same for modern ideas and beliefs, such as Western democracy and socialism (in fact, as early as 1920, Iqbal had forewarned the Orientalist R. A. Nicholson, “Islam certainly aims at absorption. This absorption, however, is to be achieved not by territorial conquest but by the simplicity of its teaching, its appeal to the common sense of mankind and its aversion to abstruse metaphysical dogma.”)

The synthesis of ideologies had to occur in the consciences of the individuals. Indeed, that is what happened between 1967 and 1986, but it seems that the intelligentsia failed to notice it due to a “predominantly intellectual culture” (loathed by Iqbal as early as 1926). Hence, the synthesis that occurred was, in the terminology of Iqbal, “an inner synthesis of life”, but unfortunately, it has not been articulated by the intelligentsia to this date.

Mainly due to this failure on part of the intelligentsia, the process of synthesis became tedious, painful and unconscious. First, the country had to withstand the harsh socialistic measures taken by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during his first tenure, i.e. 1971-77. Then a certain kind of Islamization was introduced by General Ziaul Haque during his regime, i.e. 1977-1987. Just a year before the end of that regime, it became obvious that all schools of thought, now also including the right-winged conservatives who had earlier played as “B-Team of the Martial Law”, had come to an agreement for a full-scale adoption of Western democracy without any indigenous modification whatsoever.

This brings us to the second concept, i.e. organic unity as a human resource. Organic unity means unity through shared ideals. Obviously, the conscience of the people must have retained something from each experiences through which the society passed collectively. While the intelligentsia failed to synthesize socialism, Islam and democracy, the masses evidently synthesized these diverse experiences at least at an unconscious level. Therefore, the synthesis has to be sought at the level of ideals, even if not in terms of day-to-day reality. In this sense, ideals are those aspirations that form in the depth of our hearts or souls. They are formed through action, and as an aid to action.

Once formed, ideals express themselves in their own way. This may also explain why the histories of Bangladesh and Pakistan, even after their separation in 1971, reveal some striking similarities. It is quite possible that despite being completely independent of each other, as self-respecting sovereign states must be, both have retained some common ideals from their common past – especially when they struggled to shape Muslim nationalism in South Asia.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Thank You, Iran

Pakistan and Iran have ancient ties. The region now called Pakistan was part of the Achaemenid Commonwealth founded in 559 BC by the great Iranian visionary Cyrus the Great, who, according to some very credible interpretations, was the enlightened Zulqarnayn mentioned in the Quran.

After the advent of Islam, a majority of the people in both areas became Muslim. Since then, the cultures of Iran and the areas now included in Pakistan have had many exchanges, enriching the art and literature on both sides of the border.

Against such background, many in Pakistan would welcome, not just politically but perhaps also personally, the recent statement of the supreme leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about the issue of Kashmir – an issue that is so close to the conscience of the people of Pakistan.

According to a news report published on the front-page of Dawn today, Khamenei asked Muslims across the world to back the pro-liberation campaigns in Kashmir, equating the region with Afghanistan and Iraq.

He has been quoted as saying, “Today the major duty of the elite of the Ummah is to provide help to the Palestinian nation, to sympathize and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir, to engage in struggle and resistance against the aggressions of the US and the Zionist regime.”

Reportedly, the Indian external affairs ministry has not been very pleased with this statement and on Friday lodged a protest with the Iranian embassy in New Delhi.

Especially for the youth of Pakistan, many among whom are turning into enthusiastic bloggers, and writers and producers of the “new media”, the best way of showing gratitude to such international support is, perhaps, to understand the issue of Kashmir objectively and to further elaborate the principle-centered stance of Pakistan on this matter.

In all the noise created by an almost senseless and irresponsible media today, we must not forget that the issue of Kashmir is not a sentimental matter for Pakistan. The issue is based on principles, and chief among those principles is the right of a people to choose their own destiny. Well-wishers abroad who express sympathy on this issue in a peaceful manner are not only showing sympathy with the plight of the people of this region but are also raising their voice for a just cause.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Respect the Law

The following is my article published in Dawn on October 29, 2010, as Friday Feature, 'Respecting the Law'. Some of the wording might be slightly different from the printed version.
With the birth of Pakistan, the Muslim community of the sub-continent not only created a new country but also a new nation. The first goal of this nation was to achieve a kind of organic unity, and Pakistan itself was the tool for achieving it. Respecting the law was the ideal to be kept in front. Studying the history of Pakistan in this light, one finds many indicators suggesting that the goal was achieved by 1966.

Obviously, this requires us to understand three concepts first. They are (a) organic unity; (b) Pakistan as a tool for achieving it; and (c) the significance of respecting the law in this special context.

The organic unity intended here is based on a portion of Verse 28 of Surah Luqman (Chapter 31 of the Quran). It is translated by Iqbal as, “Your creation and resurrection are like the creation and resurrection of a single soul.” Creation and resurrection are biological concepts, and hence the kind of unity implied in this verse is a biological unity, as if entire humanity was a single organism and individuals were its parts. If such a connection exists between all human beings, then obviously it is moderating the worldly and spiritual power of each individual, whether he or she knows it or not.

Giving us awareness of this connection is the aim of religious thought, according to Iqbal. However, thought alone cannot be sufficient. We need a practical tool as well. Hence, in the preface of The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930), Iqbal wrote, “A living experience of the kind of biological unity, embodied in this verse, requires today a method physiologically less violent [than the methods devised by the past masters] and psychologically more suitable to a concrete type of mind.”

The same year, while presiding over the annual session of the All-India Muslim League at Allahabad, he seemed to be suggesting that the achievement of a Muslim homeland in the region could become, somehow, the new method through which this kind of organic unity would be realized. In his presidential address, after proposing and predicting the birth of a Muslim homeland, he went on to suggest, “One of the profoundest verses in the Holy Quran teaches us that the birth and rebirth of the whole of humanity is like the birth and rebirth of a single individual. Why cannot you who, as a people, can well claim to be the first practical exponent of this superb conception of humanity, live and move and have your being as a single individual?”

Hence, if we could “live and move and have [our] being as a single individual,” we would experience what is meant by the Quran when it says that the creation and resurrection of the humanity is like the creation and resurrection of a single soul (and it seems that neither Iqbal nor Jinnah meant to exclude the non-Muslim citizens of the Muslim homeland, since according to the Quran, this organic unity is a biological fact that moderates the existence of every individual on this planet).

If Pakistan was the tool – “a method psychologically suitable to a concrete type of mind” – for discovering this organic unity, how was this tool going to be used? The most logical answer was, by respecting the law. This was how the homeland had been achieved in the first place, and even against the bitter opposition by powerful and unfair adversaries.

The first twenty years of Pakistan present a curious case study when visited in the light of this ideal. It seems as if the educated elite and the intelligentsia were on one side, often ignoring the significance of the ideal and the implications of the recent history. Apparently, due to the one hundred and fifty years of British domination, much power had been left in the hands of the liberals and those who favored secularism in some form. Quite often they were found to be guilty of abusing that power, for instance when Chief Justice Muhammad Munir, a self-proclaimed believer in secularism, upheld the decision of Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad to abrogate the elected parliament. Conservatives and socialists, perceiving that the just demands of the people were being suppressed, would often invite the masses to agitation and direct action. When the masses chose to ignore such calls, they were accused of lacking in political awareness.

Hence, the unschooled masses of Pakistan seem to be standing on the other side, clearly distinguishable from the reactionary educated elite and the intelligentsia. At least three successive events in the last three years of this period should have vindicated the masses against the widespread accusation of being politically unaware. These were the tremendous unity displayed in supporting Fatima Jinnah against Field Marshall Ayub Khan in the presidential election of 1964, the display of patriotism during the 1965 War and the general outcry against Ayub Khan after the signing of the treaty at Tashkent in 1966.

These are some indicators in terms of the broader current of history only. Understanding and experiencing their deeper meaning requires us to revisit our literature, politics and religious thought with a new approach, which has never been attempted (and unfortunately, our education offers us little preparation for such a task). However, in terms of the general outline of the story of our ideals as a Muslim nation, the year 1966 seemed to be the moment when the ambiance of being a ‘new country’ had ended, and the nation seemed poised for starting a new stage, together.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Rise Above Yourself

The following is my article published in Dawn on October 15, 2010, as Friday Feature, 'For a common destiny'. Some of the wording might be slightly different from the printed version.
The election of 1926 was the first occasion when Muslim masses voted in large numbers according to separate electorate. However, in the assemblies that were inaugurated the next year as a result of this election, no single party had emerged as common leader of the entire Muslim community. It seemed as if there was no new ideal, no commonly agreed goal anymore, and hence no means for a collective effort.

This, however, did not last very long. In 1928, Congress demanded through Nehru Report that separate electorates should be abolished. Apparently, it was impossible for an Indian nationalist to understand what a separate electorate meant to a Muslim.

Unity of matter and spirit as a philosophical concept may be incomprehensible by ordinary persons but the activities of the Aligarh Movement and its offshoots in the past sixty years had been sufficient for showing even the most unschooled Muslim how literature, politics, religion and education were interconnected as far as the Muslim community of the region was concerned. Separate electorate appeared to be a tool for formalizing this unity of ideals and reality. Hence when Nehru Report questioned the separate electorates in 1928, Muslim leaders who disagreed on everything else suddenly agreed to disagree with the Hindu majority on this issue.

Against this backdrop, Allama Iqbal, who was also a successful candidate of the election of 1926, presided over the annual session of the All-India Muslim League held in Allahabad on December 30-31, 1930. There, he proposed a new goal. It was “a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state”, which appeared to him to be “the final destiny of the Muslims at least of the North-West India.”

Thus, Pakistan became the next goal to be achieved (and Iqbal left open the possibility of it being “within the British Empire, or without the British Empire”). Separate electorates then became the tool through which the new goal, Pakistan, was to be achieved.

The ideal to be pursued whilst in quest for Pakistan was “selflessness”, which Iqbal had been preaching at least since 1906. It was embodied in verses that had become proverbial to at least two successive generations, such as the famous line from a 1912 poem, “An individual is sustained by its bonding with the nation and is nothing on one’s own, just as the wave exists in the river and is nothing on its own.”
فرد قائم ربط ملت سے ہے تنہا کچھ نہیں
موج ہے دریا میں اور بیرون دریا کچھ نہیں
As explained in his longer poems and his lectures, selflessness (or bekhudi) was an experience through which an individual could annihilate his or her individual ego (khudi) and arrive at the next level, which was the collective ego, thus acquiring a greater wisdom inaccessible to the individual ego alone.

Iqbal’s conception of a collective ego did not mean that one should cease to have personal opinions, or renounce the freedom of thought and expression. Selflessness was not an act of the mind but an act of love, through the heart. It could only be induced through highly entertaining literature (as Iqbal did in his own times) and could never be imposed through repressive legislation (in fact the suppression of individual liberties could become a hindrance, since it curtails selflessness by enhancing mistrust).

This emphasis on transcending the individual ego was timely, since the elections of 1926 had presented a highly egotistical picture of the community. “Things in India are not what they appear to be,” he said in the Allahabad Address. “The meaning of this, however, will dawn upon you only when you have achieved a real collective ego to look at them.”

Selflessness, or rising above oneself, became the new ideal as the demand for Pakistan gained momentum under the leadership of Jinnah, “the Great Leader”, whom his followers came to see as the incarnation of their ideal in flesh and blood. How the new state came into being is a story that belongs to political history. What ought to be noted here is that the goal was achieved through the election of 1945-46 when an overwhelming majority of Muslims voted for Pakistan, especially in provinces where they were in a minority and were not going to be included in the proposed state.

Pakistan could not have come into being without their support but voting for Pakistan meant invoking the almost inevitable wrath of the future rulers of India. They voted, and they paid the price with their blood and tears. Recorded history of the human race may not offer another instance when such a large number of people made a common decision that required such high degree of selflessness.

Iqbal had said in the Allahabad Address, “Rise above sectional interests and private ambitions, and learn to determine the value of your individual and collective action, however directed on material ends, in the light of the ideal which you are supposed to represent.” The Muslim masses of India could not have followed his words more diligently.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Think Long-Term

The following is a revised version of my article published as Friday Feature in Dawn today.
The birth of All-India Muslim League on December 31, 1906 in Dacca was the biggest consensus ever achieved in the history of Islam. It brought together diverse sects of Muslims under one banner. Twenty years earlier, Muslims of the sub-continent had set their goal to become “a real nation” rather than “a nation only in name”, and that goal was now achieved. Hence the stage that had started in the modern history of the community in 1887 came to an end.

The League offered a new goal. It was to win separate electorate for Muslims in the sub-continent. Since they were a minority in the region, their newly realized nationhood could only be preserved if they were represented as an organic unity in the legislatures (the idea had been originally presented by Syed Mahmood, son of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, in 1896).

This became the explicitly stated goal of the League, which described itself as the means through which this goal was going to be achieved. Hence a second stage could be said to have started in 1907 and completed in 1926 when separate electorates were effectively achieved and exercised (as described below in more detail).

However, it may be helpful to remember that membership of assemblies at that time was through nomination. General elections had not yet been introduced in the sub-continent (and were not conceded until 1919). Hence separate electorate was not something that concerned a citizen in daily life. If still the ordinary people became interested in it then obviously they were thinking long-term.

Hence pursuing separate electorate also meant embracing a new ideal, “Think Long-Term”. This did not mean that all details ought to be laid out in advance, since the future generations were likely to discover new ideals of their own. Therefore, commitment should not be to any particular ideology but to the society itself. A generation should pick a goal that everybody considers most important for conserving the common ideals. Things should be readjusted according to this goal but it should be remembered that tomorrow would be another day: the future always exists as an open possibility.

This approach can be best illustrated through a statement of Muhammad Ali Jauhar about the birth of the League itself. Jauhar said (ironically while presiding over an annual session of the Congress) that the birth of the League was a result of the MAO College founded at Aligarh nearly thirty years earlier in 1877 (“In obedience, as it were, to a law of nature,” he said. “Once more after nearly thirty years after the foundation of the College, there came into being a political institution of the Muslims.”)

Interestingly, the founder of the Aligarh College, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, had advised his followers to stay away from politics. Yet, his arch-disciple Jauhar not only named him as the major catalyst for the birth of a political party but also regarded him as the pioneer of Muslim political activity in the sub-continent.

This is often very difficult to be understood by scholars steeped in the Western academic paradigm but from the perspective of “long-term thinking” as practiced by Syed and Jauhar, our real identity is not defined by our specific opinions. It consists of our ideals, goals and the means we leave behind for achieving goals. Superficially, Jauhar and his colleagues seemed to be the antithesis of Syed but in terms of ideals and goals they were continuing the initiative started by him. Hence Jauhar addressed him ecstatically in a famous poem, “You are the one who taught us all this rubble-rousing. If we are the height of it, you were its genesis.” (Sikhaya thha tumhi nay hum ko yeh shore-o-shaghab sara/ Jo is ki inteha hum hain toe is ki ibtida tum ho).

It seems that the demand for separate electorate fired the imagination of the common people in such a manner that the ideal, “Think Long-Term” sunk into the hearts too. Tendency of seeing beyond immediate environment seemed to increase as the demand for separate electorate gained momentum. This could be judged from the way the community responded to the affairs of far-off places like Balkan, Tripoli and Gallipoli. After their Hindu compatriots conceded separate electorate by signing the Lucknow Pact in 1916, Muslims of the sub-continent went to the extent of joining them in the Non-Cooperation Movement of the early 1920s. They even went ahead to boycott Election 1922 on behest of Indian nationalists, although direct voting had been introduced for the first time on that occasion and the voting was to be done through separate electorate.

Think long-term, because you are part of a bigger picture, which is alive and breathing. This much was understood instinctively by a Muslim – especially the unschooled one, whose consciousness was less tainted by foreign education.

It was an ideal that could be epitomized and conveyed, not less effectively than the poetry of Allama Iqbal and the heart-to-heart journalism of Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Zafar Ali Khan, by even a balled written by a little-known poet and sung in the streets in the days of Khilafat Movement, “Bolien Amman Muhammad Ali ki/ Jaan beta khilafat pay day doe” (“Said the Mother of Muhammad Ali: O Son, lay down your life for the Caliphate”). Think long-term because you are part of a bigger picture.

By pursuing the ideal of long-term thinking, the community finally achieved its stated goal. Election 1926 witnessed a historic turnout. Non-Cooperation Movement was long over. Masses thronged to polling stations and cast their votes through separate electorates. The League had served its purpose. It was time to discover the next ideal and set a new goal.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Seek Consensus

The following is my article published as "Friday Feature" in Dawn, September 17, 2010.
THEY were 67, and represented the largest Muslim community in any one country. They had come to Aligarh from all over British India, and included knights and nawabs as well as primary school teachers and ordinary people.

Since 150 chairs were laid out in the Stretchy Hall of Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, some 70 students also got invited for filling the vacant seats. The issue, in the words of their host, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, was this: “Although we are called a nation, we are unaware of each other’s circumstances, as if we were different peoples.”

The participants wanted to realise a Muslim nationhood. To this end they agreed to hold annual gatherings where the community could reach consensus on matters of national importance. The organisation holding these sessions, each year in a different city, was to be called Mohammedan Educational Congress (later changed to Conference). It came into being on December 27, 1886.

This event may qualify as the starting point for the present phase in the history of the development of Muslim thought in the subcontinent. Although the idea of consensus was rooted in the Quranic instruction that believers should consult each other when deciding important matters, no Muslim community after 7th century CE had been able to make its own consensus the final arbiter, since monarchs had come to hold sway after the Pious Caliphate of the early period. Hence the resolution of 1886 was the beginning of a new chapter, not only in India but across the world of Islam. It read:
"In view of an overall decline in education among Muslims, and with a mind that efforts should be made for progress in all forms of education through a national consensus and by taking national initiatives, it is desirable that a session called Mohammedan Educational Congress, comprising people from several districts, should be held every year for deliberating on such matters. This session shall not be held at a fixed place but held each year at a place whose residents are willing to make arrangements for it.”
The rationale behind founding such an organisation was, in the words of Sir Syed, “that we should meet and convey to each other our ideas regarding education and progress of the nation. Whatever mistake there might be in our thinking should get corrected through the opinions of others.”

Hence the idea of rejuvenating Muslim thought in regard to education, a Quranic injunction no less than one that urged the faithful to consult amongst themselves on matters of public good, was different from ‘consensus’ as viewed in a western democracy, in which a contender remains a contender, and the winner’s view prevails over all others. It was also different from the socialist agenda that emerged later, where public opinion would be overruled by a preconceived ideology. Thus, consultation amongst the faithful, as inspired by Islam, treads its own course. Sir Syed’s Education Conference was a potent example of that immutable aspect of applying Islam as a guide in practical affairs by a group of individuals who felt responsible towards the Muslim nation, the millat, as Sir Syed called it.

The ideal then, as perceived by the founders of the Conference, was that an election, poll or any other forum of public debate and representation ought to be an opportunity for learning from others rather than proving oneself to be right. Since a human being has a soul, a heart and a mind and therefore the ability to reason for his own good, seeking consensus of the community – including the unschooled and the uninitiated – could shape new ideals to overrule any pre-existing thought or ideology.

There were three significant implications inherent in the resolution that was passed that day: (a) quest for an ideal; (b) identification of the tool through which it should be pursued; and (c) the commitment to work towards achieving the identified goal. The ideal was that in all matters of collective life, action would be taken through consensus. The tool was the annual Conference itself, and the goal to be achieved was to become a nation that was willing to act for the common good.

Over the next twenty years, the Conference took its message across India. Thousands would gather at the annual session and become inspired by the new ideal through poetry, lectures and debates. A significant goal post was achieved in the 20th annual session on December 31, 1906, when All-India Muslim League was founded at Dhaka as a representative voice of the millat.

The party united diverse Muslim sects under one banner. Sunnis were in a majority but by consensus they chose the leader of the Shia Ismaili community, Sir Sultan Mohammad Shah, Aga Khan III, to lead them. This was the most aspiring consensus in the history of Islam of at least the last 1000 years. India’s Muslims had done what Muslims elsewhere had failed to do repeatedly since the death of Umar bin Abdul Aziz in the early 8th century. It truly transformed the community into a nation that would henceforth act as a whole for realising its aspirations.

Thus the ideal born in 1886 was realised, and the goal achieved, in 1906. It was time to shape the next ideal, and set a new goal in the saga of critical Muslim thought in the subcontinent.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Quran-Burning: Conflicting News Items

Conflicting news are coming about the Quran-burning event. The story changed even as I was writing this post, and since I don’t know what twists are yet to come, I am posting the thing the way I wrote it (just now), along with link to the news page where updates can be found.
Pastor Terry Jones, who had called for burning the Quran on September 11, has cancelled the event “because the leader of a much-opposed plan to build an Islamic Center near ground zero has agreed to move its location”, according to an item from Associated Press, posted on Yahoo! News just a while ago. “The agreement couldn't be immediately confirmed,” AP adds. There are glitches.

GLITCH 1: According to the news item (still being updated as I write this), “Jones said Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida told him that officials would guarantee that the mosque would be moved.” The “mosque” refers to Park 51 (the so-called “ground zero mosque”), which is being led by a certain Imam Feisal Abdur Rauf. Did he authorize Musri of Florida to make any such promise? (See next).

GLITCH 2: "I asked him three times, and I have witnesses," Jones said, referring to Imam Musri of Florida. "If it's not moved, then I think Islam is a very poor example of religion. I think that would be very pitiful. I do not expect that." What if Rauf has not been consulted and Musri has made a promise on his own? (Since President Obama has already called the whole act of Jones a “stunt”, we wonder if this announcement about a deal is yet another stunt staged by Jones after he failed to gather support for his call to burn the copies of Quran: see next).

GLITCH 3: According to news report, Imam Musri “thanked Jones and his church members ‘for making the decision today to defuse the situation and bring to a positive end, etc”. Even if this deal turns out to be real, the saddest thing is destruction is being equated here with construction. Somebody wants to build a community center. Jones responds by threatening to burn copies of the Quran. This is blackmail and coercion, and not “a positive end” of anything (See next).

GLITCH 4: This came just as I was writing this post: “The imam and developer behind a plan to build an Islamic center near ground zero are denying reports that there is a deal to move the facility.” This is the latest update. So, was it just another "stunt" of Mr. Jones after all?
Note: Photograph is from Associated Press.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Jafri Reveals the Truth

Jagan Nath Azad did not write any official national anthem of Pakistan nor was he ever asked, directly or indirectly, by Quaid-i-Azam to do so. This is what the Pakistani researcher Aqeel Abbas Jafri has shown - convincingly, it seems - in his forthcoming book from which excerpts were published in the Urdu newspaper Express (Page 20 of the Sunday Express Section) on August 15, 2010.

It seems that the poet Jagan Nath Azad (1918-2004) only claimed that the first “tarana” (anthem) broadcast from radio on the night of August 14-15, 1947 was penned by him. While even this claim doesn't seem to be true, in the video recording of a 1993 event where Azad is making this claim, he never says that the said anthem was the official anthem of the country.

There is no evidence supporting the sensational story in which Azad is dramatically called to Lahore Radio Station a few days before independence and asked to write the official national anthem because Quaid-i-Azam wants it to be written by a Hindu, and then the anthem remains official untill the Quaid’s death.

This version was circulated by the award-winning Indian journalist Luv Puri about a month after the death of Azad, with quotations from an alleged interview with the dead poet. Now Jafri has shown with the help of primary sources that Pakistan did not have a national anthem at the time of independence (an additional piece of evidence is an announcement, published in the lifetime of Quaid himself, promising a reward for whoever would write the national anthem of Pakistan).

Details can be seen in the above-mentioned article or in the forthcoming book of Jafri (the title has not been announced yet). Can we at least expect Wikipedia to now stop presenting the unsubstantiated account of Luv Puri as a fact, and the allegedly Pakistani writers and bloggers who promoted the same to at least publish a correction?

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Quran Burning Event

"Church plans Quran-burning event" is a headline from CNN. It can be misleading for some  Muslims, among whom it is circulating widely, and some of whom may not grasp immediately that the "church" which has asked for burning of the Quran on 09/11 this year is not "the" Church - not the Vatican.

The very first line of the news clarifies this (but only for those who understand what is a "nondenominational" church):
In protest of what it calls a religion "of the devil," a nondenominational church in Gainesville, Florida, plans to host an "International Burn a Quran Day" on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
According to Wikipedia, "In Christianity, non-denominational institutions or churches are those not formally aligned with an established denomination, or that remain otherwise officially autonomous." The Dove World Outreach Center (founded in the 1980s in Florida with a sister church in Cologne, Germany), which has called for the event is a "non-denominational" church and already its suggestion has  been opposed by many other Christian organizations. Perhaps one thing that we need to do, at least in countries like Pakistan where Muslim and Christian populations live side by side, is to make the clarification accessible to as many as we can.

It is yet to be seen whether the event takes off. Facebook, however, is likely to be in the related news once again because the Dove has set up a page on it for the event.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Martyrs of Pakistani Renaissance

For Pakistan, last July has been a month of grief. There was the tragic accident of the Airblue flight on July 28, claiming 152 lives. Floods started soon afterwards, claiming several hundred more by the end of the month.

Nobody knows how the strings of destiny move, weaving the fabric of our lives and deaths. Each of these lives was precious and the loss has wrapped us all in grief. Feelings that go seep so deep into so many at once are likely to stay there for a long time, even when they cease to become obvious. How the present grief is going to affect our actions in the future cannot be guessed right now. It is therefore important that the memories are preserved so that they could be revisited when need be.

Already, the memories and pictures of some of those who left us last month have started coming up on blogs. Here I shall mention only one group of the departed souls. They were some of the members of a "youth parliament".

These young men and women were star students to whom their peers looked up as role models. They were going to Islamabad as part of their activities, which were aimed at mobilizing the youth of Pakistan for a better society and a better world. It cannot be over-emphasized how noble a cause it was - one of the noblest aspects of that new awakening that has started in Pakistan since 2007.

As such, can we not call them the martyrs of that renaissance which is bound to happen in Pakistan and has already started? These youth were among the most well-known and well-connected of their generation. Their deaths are sacrifices that are likely to stay in the hearts of not a few but many. May God bless their souls and keep their memories alive like the lamps of tulips burning bright, with love and light.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Workshop on the Power of Consensus

SOIS (Society of Iqbal Studies) presents
The Power of Consensus
How are our personal opinions related to opinions of the society, and do we lose or win by respecting this connection? What are the types of consensus and how do we recognize them? Why do we need to recognize them? Are there existing sources of moral power which we have failed to utilize? How can we empower ourselves with the least effort?
These are some of the core issues of Iqbal Studies that will be addressed in a two-hour session conducted by Khurram Ali Shafique, Research Consultant, Iqbal Academy Pakistan.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
4 pm to 6 pm
I2L Academy, 201-O, Block 2 (Opposite Ghausia Mosque), P.E.C.H.Society, Karachi.
Contact: Dr. Irfan Haider, hyder@pafkiet.edu.pk
For Directions: Mr. Waqar, 0346 321 6009
  1. Driving on Tariq Road, if you are going from the liberty signal towards Allah Walla Chowk, take third left, and then take fourth right. Masjid Ghausia would be on your left (if you don’t see the Masjid, you are lost; ask for it). I2L Academy (201/O) is right in front of the shops in the Mosque adjacent to International School.
  2. From Allah Walla Chowk if you are on Shahrahe Quaideen, going towards nursery, take left on the road just after McDonalds. Then, take fifth right. On your left would be Imperial Court (Chinese Restaurant). Go down and then take 3rd right. Masjid Ghausia and its shops would be on your left. (if you don’t see the Masjid, you are lost; ask for it). I2L Academy (201/O) is right in front of the shops in the Mosque adjacent to International school.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Reading Habits in Pakistan

Let’s daydream about the culture of reading in Pakistan: When I walk out of my house, I find a small library in every few lanes. People are so eager to read that they pay for borrowing books. These libraries lend books on daily rental fees.

Due to these trends, even general stores have started keeping books: the cold corner in my neighborhood makes more money selling books than it does on ice cream. The topics of books on these counters range from fiction and poetry to general history.

If this is just about shops which are not even book stores then you can imagine what proper book stores are like. There are at least three or four big ones (and a few book rentals) in every major market of the country.
Films and popular television serials spawn several unofficial tie-in books published by amateurs. These books also sell well, so nobody can say that the popularity of film or television is cutting down on people’s reading habits.

Publishers are growing like mushrooms, and there are more of them in low-income areas. In any such vicinity, you would easily find ten to thirty people who have published at least one small book in their lives.

Children read books because everybody is talking about them: if they don’t catch up on the latest fiction published for children in Urdu then they would have little to discuss with friends at school, most of whom are found comparing their favorite authors with others’.
Before you read the next paragraph, take a few moments and ask yourself: Would you like to see it happen? Would you like to be part of any effort to make it happen? How much time and resources would you be willing to spare, personally, if a serious effort was made to this end? But do you that this is possible in Pakistan any time in the future? Pause here and answer these questions before you read the next paragraph.
Now consider the irony. This is not a fantasy about the future of Pakistan but about its past. This is what our society used to be in the 1960s, 1970s and the early 1980s. Remember?
  • Why do you think this has changed? What went wrong?
Picture at top right shows the fiction-writer Ibne Safi (right) at Aziz Library, Nazimabad, in 1963. The thirtieth death anniversary of Ibne Safi passed yesterday, July 26, 2010.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Book Launch: Rashid Minhas

Man wants to know the truth, the truth about himself, about the world, about everything. This is what they call the eternal quest for truth (Rashid Minhas, 29 October, 1969, Risalpur).
Educational Resource Development Centre (ERDC)
and
PAF KIET
cordially invite you to the book launch of
Rashid Minhas (Urdu)
the first full-length biography of Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas Shaheed, N.H.
by Khurram Ali Shafique
6:00 pm - Friday, July 23, 2010
At PAF Kiet (City Campus), 28-D, Block 6, P.E.C.H. Society, Shahrah-i-Faisal, Karachi
Kindly confirm ERDC for participation
at (021)36723454, 36051229
or info@erdconline.org

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Ishara: the wind-up

Ishara (1969) winds up within three minutes after the last song. Here is the clip, and you may like to consider the following question while you watch it:

Please post your answeres as "comments" below. The clip is 4 minutes long and I have sub-titled it. Apart from Amir (Waheed Murad), Aliya (Deeba) and Bezar Sahib (Lehri), whom you know from previous clips, you will also meet here Ishrat (Talat Husain), who is the boy Aliya's guardian wants her to marry, and Reshma (Rozina), who is a sponsor of Amir's paintings who has fallen in love with Amir but Amir cannot love her back because his thoughts are with Aliya.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The last song

In the movie Ishara (1969), Amir (Waheed Murad) meets his soulmate Aliya (Deeba) but they must part when Aliya's guardian decides to marry her elsewhere. Amir paints a picture of the gate that has been closed on him thus, and on his own painting takes him elsewhere.

The fantasy song takes a step deeper into the artist's imagination. We entered his mind when the film started and now we are visiting his soul. The film turns from black and white to color, and we see archetypes of South Asian cinema rearranged to depict the spiritual realm. Consider this question as you watch the video:

The video is not sub-titled, so a basic translation of the song is being given here (chroeographers mime most of these lines anyway).
[Prelude]
My Love, do not be sad, life is the Tale of Suffering;
I am here, you are there, and the ruthless Time is in between.
[Intro]
We meet for the last time, so why not meet smilingly:
Put out all lamps of grief while we meet.
[Stanza 1]
Hide the tears in your eyes,
For God's sake do not burn you heart like this;
Today is a test on integrity,
Let's look into the eyes of Time as we meet it.
[Stanza 2]
Let's look at you to our heart's content today,
Since we must become estranged tomorrow.
Do not leave us yet,
Let's hide every suffering today while we meet.

Bezar Sahib

As already observed, people from all segments of society are included in the inner world of Amir in the movie Ishara (1969). The video presented here offers a comparison: in the song sequence you will see the inner world of Amir's friend and neighbor Bezar Sahib (literally Mr. Fed Up), who was introduced at the beginning.

Please answer the following question as you watch the video:
  • In what ways is the world of Bezar different from Amir's?

The clip is 5 minutes 11 seconds long. I have sub-titled it in English. Credits can be found on the Youtube Page. Please leave a comment below, and then proceed to the next post.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The World of Consensus Literature

The film Ishara (1969), written, directed and produced by Waheed Murad (1938-1983) begins with the subjective camera moving onwards. So, it is you entering that street (which is the artist's world), while the artist welcomes you in a voiceover.

In the previous post, we discussed people and objects in the artist's world with whom you may like to identify yourself. Now, as you watch the second clip, please consider two questions and then write your answers as "comments" below:
  • What actions are performed by Amir (Waheed Murad) during the song?
  • How do these actions symbolise the role played by artists like Waheed Murad in their societies?

The clip is 3 minutes 38 seconds long. I have sub-titled it in English. Credits can be found on the Youtube Page of the clip (you reach there by double-clicking the video). Please leave a comment below, and then proceed to the next post to see where this discussion is taking us.

This is the second post in a five-part series about the role of literature in society, beginning with 'Know Yourself'.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Know yourself

What is literature, and how does it affect you? Understanding this might be more important than we usually presume. I am starting a series of posts on this subject and shall try to make them interactive.

The following is a clip I use in my workshops on this topic. As you watch the clip (sub-titled in English), try to answer this simple question: Where are you in this clip, or Who are you in it? Please post your answers as "comments" below.


After you have posted your "answer", you may like to visit the next post on this blog to see a follow-up and wind-up (page will be posted on Friday, June 18).

Note: the clip is from Ishara (1969), a film written, directed and produced by Waheed Murad (1938-1983), who also plays the artist Amir in the movie. I find this movie to be an excellent entry point into that entire discourse on literature which is so crucial to our civilization today.

Other posts in the series:

Monday, 14 June 2010

Afghanistan: mineral wealth of more than $900 billion found

The latest about Afghanistan is that vast mineral wealth has been discovered there, enough to turn the country into Saudi Arabia of mining. Of course, most media is using headlines such as "US finds mineral riches in Afghanistan." Details suggest that the wealth is enough to turn Afghanistan into an ultra rich country as well as financing the US war in Afghanistan. Hence one can begin to wonder about the ulterior motives of foreign powers and about how much of this wealth will eventually go to the people of Afghanistan (see details in The New York Times and Yahoo! News).


Those familiar with the work of Allama Iqbal may recall the apt advice offered by him on this matter long ago. In 1923, he dedicated his second volume of poetry, Payam-i-Mashriq (A Message from the East) to King Amanullah of Afghanistan and suggested that Afghanistan should pay attention to acquiring modern knowledge for extracting its mineral resources while at the same time building moral strength and sharpness of mind for defending them. In his latter writings, Iqbal went on to suggest that Asia was a single organism and the Afghan nation was like the heart in it: the whole body would remain ill as long as the heart was diseased.

The dedicatory epistle addressed to King Amanullah has been summarized in Chapter 32 of the revised version of The Republic of Rumi (available online on blog as well as website).

The following is translation of an excerpt from the original (translation is by late Hadi Husain), followed by link to the chapter of RR which summarizes the poem.
Life is a struggle, not beseeching rights;
And knowledge is the arms with which one fights.
God ranked it with the good things that abound
And said it must be grasped, wherever found.
The one to whom the Quran was revealed,
From whom no aspect of truth was concealed,
Beheld the Essence itself with his eye;
And yet “God, teach me still more” was his cry.
Knowledge of things is Adam’s gift from God,
The shining palm of Moses and his rod,
The secret of the greatness of the West,
The source of all that it has of the best.
We would see, if our spirits had true zest,
Nothing but diamonds in the roadside dust.
Knowledge and wealth make nations sound and strong,
And thus enable them to get along.
For knowledge cultivate your people’s minds;
For wealth exploit your mineral finds.
Go, plunge a dagger into your land’s bowels;
Like Somnat’s idol it is full of jewels.
In it do rubies of Badakhshan lie;
In its hills is the thunder of Sinai.
 See details in Chapter 32: The King of Afghanistan