Words are undoubtedly one of the most powerful forces available to humanity. At times, one comes across expressions that are instantly forgotten, having little or no influence on the listener, passing by one’s ears as if a traveller who has no intention of residing. At other times however, words can be so powerful that they are etched into memory for good, having found their way into one’s heart and settled there without even seeking permission. Undoubtedly, the Qur’an has this effect on those who recite it with humbleness and sincerity.
There is however a specific set of Qur’anic words that stand out in this regard, demanding attention and provoking deep thought, captivating the heart of both the Muslim and non-Muslim reader. This is where Allah says, instructing man how to treat his parents:And lower to them your wing of humility…”
What is meant by this linguistic comparison? What are the secrets behind its pull? What does Allah want man to do after reading this?It is important to note that the above wasn’t the first time that the subject of birds and the flapping of wings is mentioned in the Qu’ran, for it truly is – for those who reflect – a mighty scene.
What is the link between the wing of a bird and the concept of humility that Allah wants man to show towards his parents? At face value, the link may not seem very obvious, as the term janah (wing) is in reference to the physical limb of birds that are used for flight, whilst dhull (humility) is in reference to an inward state of the heart. So, what is the connection?
The scholars of Islam have thought long and hard on this question and have derived several answers; let us shed light on four of them:
Al-Qaffal al-Shashi gives the links between wings and humility.He says,“The answer to this is from two perspectives. The first: When the bird wishes to bring its little ones closer to itself to nurture them, it lowers its wing, thus the concept of lowering one’s wing has become a metaphor for good nurturing. Therefore it is as if the ayah is guiding man to care for his parents by bringing them close just as they did when you were young.
“The second perspective: When a bird wishes to fly and ascend, it will spread out its wings, and when wanting to land, it will lower them. Thus the lowering of the wing became a metaphor for humility.”
Ibn al-Athir, gives a third link between wings and humility: Likening a wing to humility is very relevant, because when a bird is fatigued or becomes weak, it spreads out its wings, lowers them and places itself onto the ground.”
Al-Shihab al-Khaffaji,gives a fourth link between wings and humility: Also, when a bird sees a predator whom it fears, it draws close to the ground, having lowered its wings to it, whilst being in a state of terror and humility.”
In short, these four explanations revolve around the meanings of utmost care, utmost humility and utmost awe. However, at this point, one almost feels compelled to make a comparison between these remarkable explanations and what many parents are complaining of today. When one sees a young man or woman arguing with their parents as if they are peers, corning his parents with his complex vocabulary, loud voice and intimidating approach, one cannot help but be haunted by the four explanations above as one wonders:
– Is this the lowering of the wing of humility which Allah described?
– Is this the lowering of the wing like that bird which cares for its young ones?
– Is this the lowering of the wing like that bird which is landing from flight?
– Is this the lowering of the wing like that bird which is fatigued and hurt?
– Is this the lowering of the wing like that bird which surrenders before its predator?
But there is more.
The Qur’anic word for “humility” is “dhull” (with a damma). However there is another authentic recitation for this word, which is “dhill” (with a kasra); what is the difference between them? The linguists have said that the former – “dhull” – is used in reference to the humility of a human being whilst the latter – “dhill” – is used in reference to the humility of an animal.
Ponder, therefore, over the Qur’an’s enormous emphasis of how man must conduct himself towards his parents, likening his humility to that of an animal towards its shepherd. Thus when these two meanings of “humility” are added to the four meanings of “lowering of the wing” mentioned above, yet another vast set of meanings relating to humility, obedience and gentleness towards parents open up.
This instruction – “lower to them your wing of humility” – is so profound that it has caused some of the Islamic jurists to think deeply about how advice is to be offered to one’s parents in light of this ayah. How does one go about doing it? This is because the advised usually feels that the adviser is addressing him from a higher platform.
As for the remaining three categories, he argued that none of them are appropriate towards one’s parents. Other scholars have mentioned other methods. Consider the words of ImamMalik, whose heart had clearly been captured by the ayah, when he argued that parents are to be enjoined to do good and forbidden from evil, and added:
Yes, advice can be given to one’s parents where and when needed, but notice how ImamMalik’s ruling kept in mind Allah’s guidance. Our predecessors’ fascination of this ayah was not limited to the field of research and verdicts however, but it governed their everyday interactions with their parents, having raised the bar of good treatment to unimaginably high levels.
As for the scholar ‘Abdullah b. ‘Awn his application of this ayah was so great that he included it within his very tone of voice when speaking to his parents. It was mentioned in his biography that his mother once called him to which he responded in a voice that was louder than hers, thus in repentance to Allah, he freed two slaves.
It must not be forgotten that the freeing of slaves is, in the Qur’an, an expiation for the major sins, including marital relations during one’s fast in Ramadan, accidental killing, and others. ‘Abdullah however considered that his tone of voice that became louder than his mother’s fell into such a category, despite him not intending to be rude or argumentative. What then can one make of a person who screams from his room at his mother because his dinner is late or not what he expected? Or those perhaps who bang at their car doors or sound their car horns to hurry his mother who is taking “too long” to get ready, as the poor lady scrambles around in her house, frantically trying to get her matters together, fearing the rage and displeasure of her son?
How huge, therefore, is the gap between these people who held themselves accountable over the tones of their voices and length of their glances in comparison to some of us who scream when they open their drawers and find that their clothes haven’t all been washed and ironed in time.
Amr b. Maymun b. Mahran was travelling with his father in the city of Basra when they came across a puddle that they needed to cross but his father was too weak to walk through it. At once, ‘Amr lowered himself into the water, allowing his father to walk on his back, using it as a bridge to cross over.
How lucky was the father of ‘Amr who did not live to witness a day where children find it burdensome to push the wheelchairs of their mothers or those who get frustrated due to “yet another hospital appointment” which their parent requires, and when he gets there, he spends his time on his phone, wishing that he could be with his friends.
As for Imam Abu Hanifa, he would frequently make dua for his parents and dedicated a sum of 20 dinars for charity each month on behalf of them. His mother would at times ask him Islamic questions but would not be convinced by his response, demanding the opinion of Zur’a al-Wa’ith. In a beautiful display of humility towards her, he would take her to him and would ask Zur’a, to which Zur’a responded, “You have far more knowledge than I do! Please give her the answer.” AbuHanifa said, “My answer was such and such,” to which Zur’a said, “Therefore it is my opinion as well.” AbuHanafi’s mother was satisfied and returned.
As for Muhammad b. al-Munkadir, he had a brother called ?Umar b. al-Munkadir. The former was known for his knowledge whilst the latter was known for his worship. On one particular evening, ?Umar got up to pray at night whilst Muhammad spent it massaging the feet of his mother. Muhammad said, “My brother spent that night worshipping Allah and I spent it massaging my mother’s feet, and I would never exchange my night for his.”
This was their understanding of “lowering the wing of humility” to one’s parents, examples that are nothing but a direct product of their deep knowledge of Islam and in-depth understanding of how Allah loves to be glorified and worshiped. Their practice of Islam was not artificial, limiting it to the obvious outward acts of worship, but their religiosity was real, having realised that any act of worship, pursuit of knowledge, teaching of others or giving of da?wah that overlooks humility towards one’s parents is deficient, largely useless and ultimately fake.
You will encounter many moments in your life where serious decisions are needed to be made, whether at the academic, employment, investment, marital levels, or others, and it could be that either or both of your parents are in opposition to the move, to which the son/daughter feels that their opinion is irrelevant due to their lack of knowledge, experience or exposure to the matter at hand. As such, s/he chooses to proceed regardless of their opinion without even thinking of first trying to please them. In reality, the majority of such decisions end up being completely devoid of barakah (blessing).
The wise one is he who does all what he can to ensure the comfort of his parents before proceeding in such decisions, and if they insist on their stance, then “whoever fears Allah, Allah will provide for him a way out of every difficulty, and will provide for him from where he least expects.”
Taking the opinion of one’s parents, humbly seeking their consent and benefiting from their status over you is a real garden of paradise on earth, the joy and satisfaction of which is only felt by those who live by “lower to them your wing of humility.”
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.”