Books and Documents

Islamic Culture

Burqa the Most Fashionable Route to Paradise
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney
Burqa the Most Fashionable Route to Paradise
Rafia Zakaria

These are the women of tea parties and coffee parties, newly reincarnated in (post) ‘war on terror Pakistan’ as the newly religious. … the paraphernalia of piety is far more crucial in this game than the actual act. Among the newly pious, partaking of tea and pastries in drawing rooms, the allure of the burqa as a beautiful eccentricity — a newly discovered hobby that elevates morally and distinguishes socially — presents some unique dilemmas.

Irresistible Appeal of Urdu and the Bilingual Pakistan
Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media
Irresistible Appeal of Urdu and the Bilingual Pakistan
Aakar Patel

There is one last thing that makes Urdu appealing. It is our language and can better express our emotions than English. Wielding it correctly, as so many Pakistanis do, makes the listener proud of our shared culture. Perhaps, unfortunately for Pakistan, the only nation that can really appreciate this lovely quality of theirs is not China or America, but India. …

The spasm of violence that has shaken the country since copies of the Quran were dumped in a trash incinerator at a U.S. military base is emblematic of a culture war among Afghans themselves, one that is likely to grow more intense as the Western military presence wanes. Many believed that the protests were being deliberately exploited by a variety of players: the Taliban movement, neighboring countries — such as Iran and Pakistan …

The reason I am writing this blog is to make people realize that memorising the Quran is not as easy as we believe it to be. It is a continuous process and needs constant revision. It is very difficult to balance between modern and religious education and, unfortunately, I could not do that... -- Jamshed Memon


“Just 40.1 per cent of the 5-16 age group [schoolchildren in Pakistan] could do two-digit subtraction sums (with carry) whereas a mere 23.6 per cent were able to do three-digit division sums. Only 41.8 per cent could read a sentence in Urdu or their mother tongue (English is a far cry). Far fewer could read a story,” revealed the nuclear physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy... Wasn’t it the founder of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who whilst on a visit to Karachi in the 1970s was asked how his country could help Pakistan become an economic power, and he had remarked with words to the effect, that how can you even begin to think helping a people who believe that real life starts after death? Obviously, we were yet to shape our blasphemy laws back then, and the dignitary left this country in one piece. -- Murtuza Razvi

Three of his six invitees were bearded Maulanas. They agreed with the need for revolution, but declared that it could only happen through mosque schools and madrasas. During our noisy three-hour meeting, they ranted against the existing education system as a western conspiracy to secularise Pakistan. One Maulana insisted that literacy was worthless without teaching “alif-se-Allah, bay-se-bandooq, jeem-se-jihad”. -- Pervez Hoodbhoy

Fathers are special, particularly for their daughters. It is an endearing bond that lasts for a lifetime and one that colours the first impressions of a girl about the opposite sex. As somebody said that, in actual fact, girls seek their father’s attitudes in their husbands and are so often disappointed. I do not know about anyone else, but it certainly holds true for me. I also learnt that age is just a number and you can continue to relish life, even when blessed with a long one. -- 

United States Has Just Delivered a Big Slap in the Face of Wahhabi Cultural Terrorism
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
United States Has Just Delivered a Big Slap in the Face of Wahhabi Cultural Terrorism
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

New York: Opening new galleries for the fascinating Arts of Islamic Lands, New York’s Metropolitan Museum appears to have delivered a huge slap in the face of Wahhabi Cultural Terrorism. The ideological centre of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia has been busy demolishing every vestige of Islamic culture and history in the Muslim land. The United States has just finished a decade-long effort to preserve Islamic Art and craft, architecture and history and created a space for all Muslims and non-Muslims to exult in the glory of Islamic Art. The contrast couldn’t be starker. ...

During the past 50 years, says Ziauddin Sardar in an article “The struggle for Islam’s Soul” published in New Statesman on 18th July 2005, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina have suffered incalculable violence. More than 300 historical sites have been levelled systematically. Only a few historic buildings remain in Mecca – and these are about to be demolished. He quotes Sami Agnawi, Saudi expert on the Islamic architecture of the Holy City, as saying: “We are witnessing now the last few moments of the history of Mecca. Its layers of history are being bulldozed for a parking lot.” Agnawi, who has fought to conserve the historic sites of the Holy City, for more than 25 years, has no doubt what is largely to blame: Wahhabism, the dominant religious tradition of Saudi Arabia. “The Wahhabis,” he says, as reported by Sardar, “have not allowed preservation of old buildings, especially those related to the Prophet.” Why? Because other Muslims will relate to the history of the Prophet, and they will then see him as a man living in a particular time and space that placed particular demands on him and forced to act in particular ways. The Wahhabis want to universalise and externalise every act of the Prophet. For them, the context is not only irrelevant but dangerous. It has to be expunged, comments Sardar.

Moving from room to room in these New York Metropolitan art galleries was like being transported instantly in both space and time, rejoicing in the exquisite beauty, splendour and brilliance of Islamic art created by Arab, Persian, Turkish, Indian artists. Conscious of the near-moribund state of Islamic inventiveness today, it was difficult to believe that Muslims, and indeed in many cases Arabs, had created so much beauty not very long ago. One room in the galleries was created by a Moroccan artist brought here and left for months to demonstrate his skills. So the Arab Art is not completely dead even today despite massive Saudi, Wahhabi efforts to delegitimize all quest for beauty and radiance.

Nothing had put me in a better and more grateful frame of mind towards the United States in a long time as did the experience of walking through the Islamic Art galleries in the Metropolitan Art Museum here. But it also made sharper my consciousness of the inexplicability of American policy towards Saudi Arabia and the Taliban. It is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan while continuing to protect the ideological fountainhead of these Jihadis that lies in Saudi Arabia. Even after 9/11 in which 16 of the 19 terrorists were Saudi and the rest three too had gone through Saudi educational curriculum, the US is continuing to allow Saudi Arabia to spend tens of billions of petro-dollars in exporting its dry, desiccated, narrow, desert version of Islam throughout the world including the United States itself.  Wherever, they had an opportunity, in Arab lands or Central and South Asia or Europe, Saudi Wahhabis have destroyed the rich cultural heritage of Islam.

But this is no time for complaints. Let us just celebrate the richness of Islam’s artistic and cultural heritage that is being showcased now here in New York. Not being an art critic myself, I can do nothing better than let experts who put together this exhibition speak for themselves and explain how they managed to achieve the remarkable feat that these art galleries are. -- Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

…..the principles of Sufism came to life in Western industrialized societies not by spiritual design, but out of necessity. There is no doubt that Waris Shah would critique capitalist societies for their focus on material wealth and excess. Still, Waris Shah would reflect on the mix of temples, churches, and mosques that dot the American landscape and feel his ideas of tolerance and common-humanity came to life. Sufism turns this critique upside-down by agreeing that the Mosque and State must be separated, but not in order to preserve the State, but in order to preserve religion or spirituality itself. -- Waris Husain


"You are lucky because you are going to a country, which is the only one in the world, where even common people in the street love Pakistanis" The first place for an accredited diplomat to visit is the mausoleum of the founder of modern Turkey and father of the nation Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Set in the raised portion in the middle of the city, it is an overpowering and imposing structure with vast lawns and open spaces around it. My wife and I paid our respects to the great leader of Turkey by visiting his mausoleum soon after our arrival in Ankara. Later we had several occasions to visit the place with the important Pakistani delegations and with our new Ambassador. It is a tradition that newly appointed Ambassadors place a floral wreath on the mausoleum soon after presenting their credentials to the President of Turkey. Some well known quotes of Ataturk are engraved on the walls of the mausoleum. One which I liked most is an epitome of patriotism. Ataturk said, "Ne mutlu Turkum dedi." ('How happy I am that I can say (that) I am a Turk.') -- Nazar Abbas


So, now, I can count names of at least five Muslim actresses who were around in the '40s, '50s and '60s — Suariya, Khursheed Bano, Noor Jehan, Nigar Sultana, Madhubala. Add to that Meena Kumari, Nargis, Mumtaz and Waheeda Rehman, and the number goes up to nine. Of course, these are only the well-known actresses. There were other not-so-well-known ones like Zubeida, on whose life a film was made by Shyam Benegal. ….the number of Muslim actresses in our films has gone down to just one or two? What does his have to say about the Muslim community, which has since the earliest days of Hindi cinema been an avid contributor of talent in music, direction, scripts and acting? -- Irena Akbar

“Baba, I want to offer prayers with you,” my daughter said to me one day. I treated the words quite casually and told her that she could join me. Nevertheless, I was amazed when she started reciting ‘Surah Fateha’ and a few other Quranic verses on the prayer mat. I lost my concentration and started listening to her. Tears came to my eyes and I was grateful to the Almighty. Children also accompany their parents and females coming to the mosque are a norm. People greet one another when they enter the mosque. There is harmony, nobody dislikes anyone and dinners are frequently arranged by Muslims to strengthen their unity. -- Asif Mian

…..the entire education system under Gaddafi was a disaster, and the university is a prime example of its failure. "Nothing was actually taught. It was all about control and the glorification of the leader," he says. Only people that were considered loyal by the regime were allowed to work at the university. Everyone, whether he or she wanted to or not, had to be able to provide evidence of a spotless biography and attitude in order to get a job. As in all totalitarian states, those who did not want to go into exile had to accept the situation in Libya. -- Alfred Hackensberger


Madrasa Aliah which was formerly known as Calcuttea Madrasa is one of the oldest educational institutions of India which was founded by the then Governor General of India Warren Hastings in 1780. The West Bengal government decided to upgrade Madrasa Aliah into a university. In 2007, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed the Aliah University Act XXVII of 2007 turning it into a university and conferring on it the status of a minority institution. The word Madrasa was omitted from the name. "What should bother is whether it remains a Madrasa or becomes a university, the institution should run efficiently. The students should get quality education."-- S. Arshad, NewAgeIslam.com


In November 2011, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opened what is considered to be one of the finest collections of Islamic art in the world. This exhibition, from the Islamic World, may be a means of healing wounds, 10 years after the events of September 2001. This, potentially, has a special symbolic significance. Diplomacy has to be deployed to keep the cultural juggernaut moving. Diplomatic matters have to be managed and manipulated. Cultural diplomacy, or the more pejorative alternative – cultural imperialism, has become important player in global events. -- Salim Fredericks

About 24,000 madrasas are licensed. However, analysts believe there are just as many unlicensed schools operating…they have also been associated with extremism, educating thousands of young men who formed the Afghan Taliban or acting as recruiting grounds for terrorist groups."We all condemn the Sohrab Goth incident in Karachi when police rescued around 50 students of a Madrasa found chained in the basement during a raid," he said. Young boys and men were chained up for days on end in a brutal form of religious rehab. Police said they found boys as young as eight who had been beaten raw. -- Rob Crilly

Photo: A Pakistani child weeps after being rescued by police Photo: AP


….. Hurriyat (G) Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani said, “From past many decades Christians are imparting education to our children. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to set up even a single educational institute at par with these Christian Missionary schools.” While the anguish of the patriarch is certainly heart rendering, the unfortunate part is that we ourselves are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. -- Neloofar Qureshi

In Delhi drawing rooms, one of the many rumors circulating about Zardari is that some venerable mullah convinced him that he could scare away the assassination bids and prolong his life by sacrificing a goat every day. So, the heavily secured President’s House in Islamabad is the site where a big fat goat is martyred each day so that Benazir Bhutto’s widower could live from one day to another. Friends, none of my friends in RAW could confirm this rumour but do ask around your ISI contacts. Meanwhile, this week winter has finally started showing its true colours in Delhi. -- Mayank Austen Soofi


As I grew older, I started paying greater attention to sermons that followed Friday prayers. That’s when I received my first shock; I remember it vividly even though I was only 14-years-old. The Imam said that all non-Muslims were infidels and that the entire world was to be brought under the banner of Islam even if it was by force. The feelings that overcame me after are hard to describe – I barely got through my prayers. I decided to ignore what I heard and just move on, but as time went on, it only got worse. Speeches of hatred against Ahmadi Muslims gave me headaches especially because one of my closest friends was from the Ahmediyas sect. Discrimination against Jews and western culture was a favourite topic in most mosques I visited, and above all justification and celebration for acts of terror like 9/11 is what brought me to my point of saturation. The point of saturation was me going up to my parents and grandparents to confess my thoughts about what it seemed Islam was preaching. -- AbuBakr Agha

Dialogue, Language, and Culture
Dr Munawar A Anees and Maryam Iraj

The way language enriched the universal linguistic heritage, civilisation can also enrich the global heritage by becoming increasingly involved in a constructive, durable and outstanding dialogue It is time to believe in the puissance of logos that words have a virtue; the virtue of being ‘spoken’, being ‘named’. Various global issues we encounter in the present times carry a characteristic of their being and that motivates us to pay heed to the revealing power of dialogue. Through dialogue, we bring things to their full presence.  -- Dr Munawar A Anees and Maryam Iraj


The exploitation and slaughter of animals is seen by many as a model and impetus for human oppression that we inflict on each other. The enslavement of animals, for example, can be said to lead to human slavery and how the assembly-line slaughter of animals led to the assembly-line slaughter of people. In this context, an American professor, Charles Patterson in his book ‘Eternal Treblinka’ has compared the abuse of animals with the Holocaust. The industrialized assembly-line for slaughtering animals, according to him, provided the model, in several important ways, for the slaughtering of humans in the Holocaust. He thus on the basis of extensive evidence draws profound connections between animal exploitation and Hitler’s Final Solution. -- Anees Jillani   

New York: As part of the week-long “Many Facets of America” Tour of visiting Asian Muslim journalists, organized by the Department of State, we got to meet two remarkable young American Muslims. Starting from the idea of breaking their Ramadan fast in 30 different mosques and discovering the variety of Muslims who live in New York and have mosques in different areas, these two friends writer Aman Ali and filmmaker Bassam Tariq went on to travel across the United States of America in 30 states this year in Ramadan in a fascinating journey of discovering the variety of Islam that is practiced and Muslims that live here.

As they described in fascinating detail, beginning Aug. 1 in Alaska, the two intrepid American Muslim youth spent each night of Ramadan at a different mosque in 30 states around the country. The two travelled as many as 13,000 miles (nearly 21, 000 Kms), on a route that essentially took them across the entire country before reaching their homes in New York City.

During their Ramadan-long journey, they met a cross section of an estimated 3 to 4 million Muslims living in the United States – a number that is expected to double by the year 2030. Muslims in the U.S. come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds including African Americans, South and East Asians, Europeans, Arabs and East Africans. Nearly all sects and schools of thought of Islam are represented here. Muslims have been living here at least for a couple of hundred years. The two were awestruck to discover beautiful mosques in the middle of nowhere sometimes.

One of the most important features of their journey and experience is that it encompasses Muslims of all sects and schools of thought including the Ahmadis whom one Islamic government (that of Pakistan) has branded as non-Muslim. Bassam Tariq and Aman Ali apparently consider Muslims of all opinion as Muslim and did not discriminate. -- Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam


To bring their talk and their journey to life, we reproduce a video interview of the two travelers shown by Al-Jazeera.

The Changing Face of Bauls of Bengal
S. Arshad, NewAgeIslam.com

Though the word baul is found in Bengali literature as far back as in the 15th century, the researchers believe that the sect originated in the 17th century. The earliest mention of the work baul is found in Maladhar Basu’s Shri Krishna Vijay (1473- 80). The book Shri Chaitanya Charit Amrit (1580-81) has the word baul used nine times. The word has also been used in Roop Goswami’s Sanskrit play “Bidagdha Madhab’ (1615). The word has also figured in Bahram Khan’s poem ‘Laila Majnu’ composed in 1615). It is believed that baulism originated as a result of the alienation of the lower caste people in the feudal society.  Both the backward caste people from Hindu and Muslims formed a common platform to share their joys and sorrows as the upper castes of both the Hindus and Muslims did not give equal status and respect to them, rather treated them as untouchables. Another theory is that the Baul sect came into existence out of the interaction between Muslim fakirs and Vaishnav Sahajiya sadhus. -- S. Arshad, NewAgeIslam.com (Photo: Japanese baul Maki Kazumi with Sadhan Das Bairagya)

Why Distorted History?
Farhan Ahmed Shah

Recently, I wrote an opinion piece on why our history books should include Ranjeet Singh. The name Maharaja Ranjeet Singh was symbolic and used as an example to point out the need to look at our history objectively. For the critics who just could not shed their keyhole vision of looking at history through a religious lens, I would ask them a question. When Pakistan plays a cricket match with India, why do we support Danesh Kaneria, a Pakistani Hindu cricketer, over Irfan Pathan, an Indian Muslim cricketer? We support Kaneria for the simple reason that we associate his spirit of nationalism with the geographic confines that he represents, not the religion he follows. Going by the same logic, shouldn’t our hero be Raja Jaipal instead of Mahmood Ghaznavi? And if Ghaznavi being a fellow Muslim is enough for us to overlook his devastation in India, then we should also gleefully accept Taliban suicide bombings in Pakistan. -- Farhan Ahmed Shah

One day while I was travelling on a public bus on my way to university, I felt a hand on my backside. Startled, I turned around in an attempt to catch the culprit. However, the only person standing behind me was an old man. Clad in a white shalwar kameez and topi, this man’s pure white beard was long enough to reach his chest. He couldn’t have been less than seventy-years-old. I doubted myself, thinking that I was just being paranoid and it was probably an accident. The old man probably had several grandchildren my age. He would never commit such an act. I turned back around. Thirty seconds later I felt the hand again. I was outraged. I turned and confronted the old man, but he pretended to be deaf. ”Excuse me! I am talking to you. What do you think you are doing?”-- Sahar Syed

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