Muhammad (pbuh) was the last of the messengers. He was an Ummi prophet sent to an Ummi people. The word Ummi means those without scriptures or from among the people to whom no messenger had come before, and was therefore without scriptures and guidance.
(62:2) It is He Who has sent amongst the Ummi a messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs, to sanctify them, and to instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom,- although they had been, before, in manifest error;-
(36:6) In order that thou mayest admonish a people, whose fathers had received no admonition, and who therefore remain heedless (of the Signs of Allah).
(37:156) Or have ye an authority manifest?(157) Then bring ye your Book (of authority) if ye be truthful!
From the above verses, and from the fact that the Quran says that Prophets have been sent to many nations (6:42), and the fact that every other civilized people have their religion and scriptures, makes all such people, the “People of the Book”. The universalism of the religion of Islam, and its inclusiveness of all other people, is obvious from the following verses:
(2:112) Nay,-whoever submits His whole self to Allah and is a doer of good, – He will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
(5:69) Those who believe (in the Qur´an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
The Momineen (faithful) and the Kafirin (faithless) are therefore terms that cannot be associated based on the religion professed, but based on behaviour alone. Else, Islam is not a universal and inclusive religion. Indeed, we do find the Quran judging people by what they do. The Mushrikin in an unjust battle against the Prophet, are referred to as the Kafaru, but the same Mushrikin, after they have been vanquished and are no longer at war, are referred to simply as Mushrikin in verse 9:5 and not as Kafirin. It is therefore the act that you are engaged in, which defines you in that context.
At one extreme are the Momineen, the people of unshakeable faith, who can never do wrong because they are always mindful of God, and at the other extreme are the Kafirin or “those who will never believe”, the likes of the Pharaoh, Qarun, Haman, Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab etc., who are evil incarnate, always opposed to what is just, right and good. In between fall the rest, who can be judged based on the act they are engaged in, and not based on the faith they profess, or their religious identity. We find the Quran doing exactly this.
(49:14) The desert Arabs say, “We believe.” Say, “Ye have no faith; but ye (only) say, ´We have submitted our wills to Allah,´ For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Faith is not simply a matter of saying “I believe”, but a state in which one is mindful of God, which helps resist the temptation to do wrong, or impels to do what is right and just, irrespective of the consequences to self. Allah guides those who are always mindful of God in their deeds, to attain complete faith in Him. See 8:23. Faith is not achieved by being born into a Muslim family nor by reciting the Kalima alone, or by affiliation to any religion, but by acts that bring one closer to God.
As it concerns the people in general, we can therefore talk only in terms of their deeds – whether their deed is worthy of a Momin, or whether it is the deed of a Kafir, or whether the deed is pleasing to God or one that God would be displeased with. Why then does it shock people, when I said that the Indian Army performed the deed worthy of the Momineen, in liberating the oppressed people of Bangladesh, from their oppressors? The oppressors were the army of Pakistan, raping and killing defenceless civilians and their deeds were certainly the deeds of the faithless or the Kafirin. People are shocked, because the Indian army is thought to be a Hindu army, and the Pakistan army a Muslim army, and in our bigoted theology, Kafir has come to mean a non-Muslim and Momin is always a Muslim. In our bigoted theology, a Muslim can never be a Kafir, even though the Quran uses the term Kafir, to describe Muslims who consume usury and those who do not give charity and the Munafiqin or the hypocrites. And if just about anyone who submits to Allah and is a doer of good will be rewarded with Heaven, why cannot such a person be called a Momin irrespective of his religious identity?
Let us consider the adjuration at the beginning of Surah 95:
(1) By the Fig and the Olive,
(2) And the Mount of Sinai,
(3) And this City of security,-
(4) We have indeed created man in the best of moulds,
(5) Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low,-
(6) Except such as believe and do righteous deeds: For they shall have a reward unfailing.
(7) Then what can, after this, contradict thee, as to the judgment (to come)?
(8) Is not Allah the wisest of judges?
The City of Security is easily recognizable as Mecca since it is a sanctuary from the days of Abraham and is associated with Islam; the Mount of Sinai is associated with Moses or Judaism. What about the Fig and the Olive? Are these fruits that Allah is recommending? If that were so, it would be a horrible mixing up of unrelated metaphors! The Olive and the Fig must therefore necessarily refer to two other religions. The Mount of Olive is associated with Jesus or Christianity, and the Fig is referring to the Fig tree under which Buddha meditated and received enlightenment or with Buddhism. Why is God swearing by these four religions if these are not a few of the different paths to Him?
5:48 “…..To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;”
What is common to all the four religions? All the four religions have a clear deontological or rule based moral code. What is uncommon? Buddhism is relatively agnostic about belief in God but strong on its moral code. I repeat, faith is not attained by saying I believe, but by following the path that is steep, which is the path of living a moral life and described as follows:
(90:10) And shown him the two highways?
(11) But he hath made no haste on the path that is steep.
(12) And what will explain to thee the path that is steep?-
(13) (It is:) freeing the bondman;
(14) Or the giving of food in a day of privation
(15) To the orphan with claims of relationship,
(16) Or to the indigent (down) in the dust.
(17) Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion.
(18) Such are the Companions of the Right Hand.
What is emphasized above? Good deeds. Anyone who practices the deeds described above, will attain complete faith in God and those who do not, will not attain such faith. And all the deeds described above are emphasized in the four religions mentioned.
What Allah clearly wants from us humans, is that we follow His deen or Laws or Religion which is the moral way of living. It is through such practice, that one can attain faith, and not simply by saying “I believe”.
Just imagine what would happen if the Muslims were to follow what I say. All of them would then be on the path of trying to attain perfection in their deeds to get closer to God and urging others to do the same. This is exactly what Allah wants us to do in Surah 103 Al-Asr:
(103:1) By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),(2) Verily Man is in loss,(3) Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.
They would also then openly hail the good deeds of others as the acts of a Momin irrespective of the person’s religious affiliation gaining their respect and admiration. This would attract others to Islam and its teachings. What do we have now? We call ourselves Momin although we have become among the worst people on this earth and call others Kafir although they are better than us in many ways. Who then wants to be such a Momin? Have we not become the worst enemies of Islam and distorted the religion beyond recognition with our bigoted vision?
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.
Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest
By Asheesh Mamgain
If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.
“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”
“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.
Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.
Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.
“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”
So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.
The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.
“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.
“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”
There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.
“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”
Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.
Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”
More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”
A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.
Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.
Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.
But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”