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UNDERSTANDING THE TRUE TOLERANT LEGACY OF ISLAM

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I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness

– George Bernard Shaw

Islam is a powerful faith today with 1.6 billion followers and a considerable section of them living as a minority community in many countries, thereby battling the issues of stereotyping, discrimination, and identity crisis.

 

With the rise of Islamophobic brigades, this psycho-social phenomenon has gained momentum and there is a massive surge of hatred. People have begun fearing Islam without even; understanding the faith as the mass media, academia, social media, intelligentsia, rumor mills hate mongers, , etc., are playing a big role in aggravating the problem of Islamophobia.

Islam, Muslims and Qur’an have been regular subjects of major concern to the world media, religious groups and people. Many articles and books have been written about a religion followed by over one billion people worldwide, some of which see in Islam a separate civilization that is not tolerant and incompatible with peace and nonviolence.

The most vulnerable victims of an increasingly invidious media are Islam and its adherents. Muslims continue to be projected as uniformly fundamentalist, violent, and anti-secular. The terms ‘Islamic’ or ‘Muslim’ are regularly identified with extremism, militancy and jihad as if they are organically related (Muslim extremist, Muslim fundamentalism, Islamic terrorism, Islamic gender injustices, etc). This powerfully flawed narrative and negative stereotyping dominate our newsfeeds.

In addition to the media, scholarship often pays limited attention to the debates that Muslims have among themselves about Islam, what it means to be a Muslim, how Muslims deal with differences among themselves and their diverse understanding of Islam.

Islam, in a word, is a religion of peace: that is its aim and goal .Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. But it also lays down strict rules of combat which include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. Islam has been a driving force in the rapprochement of cultures, and provided a framework within which diverse cultures could flourish and interact. it is critical that we understand the depth of wisdom of Islam as a religion of peace, tolerance and moderation.

It is unfair to symbolize Islam with extremism. Before condemning the Qur’an and the historical words and deeds of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad for inciting violence and intolerance, Jews are counseled to consider the historical atrocities committed by their Hebrew forefathers as recorded in their own scriptures. Christians are advised to ponder over the brutal cycle of violence their forbears have unleashed in the name of their faith against both non-Christians and fellow Christians. Jews and Christians need to introspect and understand that those who live in glass houses should not be hurling stones at others.

Muslim stands with the entire world in condemning the wanton, ruthless and mindless destruction of innocent human lives .But they believe that ,in all fairness, that the west should also equally condemn the brutal carnage of Muslims in various parts of the world. The West demands an apology from Muslims for the acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam .If that be so what about the apology for acts of genocide against innocent Muslims the world over. What is glossing the entire issue is the selective approaches of word leaders .we need more statesman-like qualities to arrive at sustainable and just solutions to these intractable problems.

The Qur’an has justice at the core of its entire message .compassion and kindness underpins its teachings .to understand this philosophy one has to read the entire Qur’an and not isolated verses .no verse in the Qur’an is a standalone commandment .each of them has a bearing on the other and each amplifies the other .Through these verses, and by Islamic rules, the lives of innocent people are protected. In addition to this, spiritual, faithful and devout Muslims believe in the Last Judgment, and would flinch from oppressing other people. They fear God and they know very well that everything they do in this world will be examined and made accountable in the hereafter.
Here are some of the terms and conditions:

First, Muslims cannot pre-emptively initiate a war. They are only allowed to act in defense. Muslims have permission from God to fight back only when they are expelled from their houses or lands. War can be waged if there is a situation where defenseless people are under attack and ask their Muslim allies for help. The last reason for a just war is when war breaks out between two groups of believers and one party does not intend to stop it in spite of a proposed truce. Even for battles and fights, the Quran has set limitations and frameworks. If the enemy proposes peace, Muslims should immediately stop the war.

Second, Muslims are not allowed to transgress the divine justice: “fight for the cause of God, those who fight you, but do not transgress, for God does not love the transgressors.” The idea of unrestricted, apocalyptic warfare as proposed by Isis is totally un-Islamic.

Third, Muslims have to treat prisoners of war with honour, not behead them, as seen recently in the bloody propaganda videos spread by the so called Islamic state. Prisoners should be released after the war, either in exchange for Muslims captives or only as a favour. Also Muslims do not have permission to keep prisoners of war, enslave them, or use them as future soldiers. Finally, followers of Islam are not allowed to force their religious beliefs upon their enemies.

The Quran indicates that Muslims should not seek hostility towards those who haven’t sought any war against them. The verse mentions that Muslims have to establish mutual relationships with those who have not expelled, nor have helped to expel, Muslims from their lands. Thus it becomes clear that the Quran has not hindered the Muslims from being kind and just toward free-thinkers.

The following verse of the Quran is quite equivocal:”Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as though he had killed all of mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” (Q5:32).

The Qur’an is read, and its voice is heard, by people with each one’s conscience. The pacifists and the terrorists read the same text, but present fundamentally different interpretations. It is important to consider the reader and interpreter of the Qur’an. The voice of Qur’an heard by Islamic fundamentalists is not the same as the voice heard by progressive Muslims. The fundamentalist ideology has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the terrorists who emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Qur’an and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate the violence.

What is propelling this ideology of hate among Muslim youth? Must we blame religion for the actions of a few lone wolves?

A common practice among terrorists is cherry-picking verses of the Qur’an and placing them out of context. By this deliberate act of distorting the teachings it is easy to manipulate young impressionable minds. For example, the word “Jihad” is now synonymously used with “holy war” which is completely wrong. The correct translation of the word “Jihad” is “struggle”.

Qur’an 3:8 pre-emptively calls out people who cherry pick as “perverse” people, declaring, “…those in whose hearts is perversity seek discord and wrong interpretation of [the Quran].”

In retrospect, no such violent act of so called ‘Jihad’ is evident in Islamic history. The Prophet enjoined utmost kindness towards the creation of God so much so that it was even forbidden to treat animals with cruelty, let alone human beings. Often critics of Islam level allegations against the character of Prophet Muhammad, and out of ignorance discredit his otherwise compassionate nature. For example, during the early days of Islam, Muslims were subject to severe persecution by leaders of Quraish, a ruling tribe of Mecca. The leaders, blinded by their hate, were so adamant on destroying Islam that they finally decided to slay the Prophet. But divine intervention saved his life and Muhammad finally migrated to Medina to escape this persecution. Post-migration to Medina, Prophet Muhammad and his companions penned ‘The charter of Medina’, a classic example of Islamic pluralism.

“There is far more violence in the Bible than in the Qur’an; the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam.” So writes Karen Armstrong the acclaimed writer on monotheistic faiths. This quote sums up the single most influential argument underlining that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant. All monotheistic religions, proponents of such an argument say, and not just Islam, have their fair share of violent and intolerant scriptures, as well as bloody histories. Thus, whenever Islam’s sacred scriptures—the Qur’an first, followed by the reports on the words and deeds of Muhammad (the hadith)—are highlighted as demonstrative of the religion’s innate bellicosity, the immediate rejoinder is that other scriptures, specifically those of Judeo-Christianity, are as riddled with violent passages.

More often than not, this argument puts an end to any discussion regarding whether violence and intolerance are unique to Islam. Instead, the default answer is that it is not Islam per se but rather Muslim grievance and frustration—compounded by economic, political, and social factors fuelled by the strident “islamophobia” of the west .—that lead to violence. The best way to get over this crisis is through education. Depriving students of knowledge of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other religions will only further validate stereotypes rather than promote coexistence and understanding. We need to find ways to continue working to build bridges of understanding and peace, because the alternative, which leads to more fear and more violence, is not at all a tenable option.

Islam did not impose itself by the sword. This is a statement in which the Arabic is extremely emphatic The Qur’an insists, “There must be no coercion in matters of faith!” (2: 256). Constantly Muslims are enjoined to respect Jews and Christians, the “People of the Book,” who worship the same God (Q29: 46). In words quoted by Muhammad in one of his last public sermons, God tells all human beings, “O people! We have formed you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another” (Q49: 13)–not to conquer, convert, subjugate, revile or slaughter but to reach out toward others with intelligence and understanding.

As non-Muslim historian Stanley Lane-Poole attests: “The day of Mohammad’s greatest triumph over his enemies was also the day of his grandest victory over himself. He freely forgave the Quraysh all the years of sorrow and cruel scorn in which they had afflicted him and gave an amnesty to the whole population of Mecca.”

We should all strive to learn about true Islam and fight the fallacies that have taken root in the hearts of our youth. This applies very strongly to non-Muslims who have been fed for generations by a biased media and shoddy scholarship. A prudent approach is needed to deal with this conundrum whereby Muslims should take charge of their legacy and raise a voice which echoes a narrative of peace, not war. Similarly non-Muslims should desist from making baseless accusations against non-Muslims while at the same time putting the lid on the skeletons in their own closets.

(The author is a regular contributor to this newspapers and can be reached at: [email protected])


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Opinion

INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI

The Kashmir Monitor

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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])

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Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer

The Kashmir Monitor

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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.

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Opinion

Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest

The Kashmir Monitor

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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.”

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