Books and Documents

Islamic Culture

Around a hundred eminent citizens from the Muslim-majority town—clerics and qazis, businessmen, engineers, doctors, advocates, mandap decorators and caterers—attended a unique meet to delink dowry and dinner from weddings. Forming a group called Tanzeem Khuddam-e-Millat (Organisation of the Community’s Servants), the town’s gentry took a decision to observe austerity in wedding celebrations. By banishing dowry and ostentatious arrangements for the baaratis who accompany bridegrooms, the new order aims to turn the age-old costly custom on its head. “Mehar is wrongly interpreted as bride price. It is actually a gift to the girl who has left her parents’ house for her husband’s home,” explains Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali, who commends the initiative in Bhiwandi as “healthy and exemplary”. “Many middle- and lower-middle-class families are getting ruined, as they pawn jewellery and mortgage property to meet the cost of ostentatious weddings. This must stop.” We couldn’t agree more. -- Mohammed Wajihuddin

SOMETIMES the Third World looks like an ancient Roman stadium in which syndicates of powerful democracies, the latter-day Caesars, indulge in a favourite bloody pastime — of pitting local gladiators against one another. On most days the contestants are split, by force if necessary, between terrorists and their opponents. As a rule, the definition of terrorism is kept malleable and keeps changing with the requirements of the bloody sport. From Nicaraguan communists to Afghan Islamists, the ayatollahs in Iran to the secular Baathist rulers of Iraq — they’ve all shared the sobriquet as terrorists. Partisan interests are part of the rulebook. The gory gladiatorial contests remind me of Kailashnath Kaul’s contention that we are all children of cannibals and killers. Of certain Urdu and Hindi idioms expressed in anger — i.e. ‘tera khoon pee jaoonga’, ‘tujhe kaccha chaba jaoonga’, ‘teri chutney bana doonga’ — the late Prof Kaul (brother-in-law of Jawaharlal Nehru) claimed they came to us through our cannibalistic past. -- Jawed Naqvi

For Muslims, all things come from Allah. In everything they do they declare, "Inshallah." Even the sun coming up in the morning depends on His will.  Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) urged his followers to "tie your camel, and then trust in Allah." In other words, Muslims should do everything they possibly can, and then when they have done everything they put their trust and their faith in the One who controls all things. There is only one Islam. The beauty of Islam, though, is that it has so many beautiful faces throughout the world. These faces don't change Islam, since Islam is at home in every country and in every culture, but they do show its colours and its diversity. In fact, they show how practical and sensible Islam has been throughout the centuries in making its message relevant to all people on the face of this earth. The Maldivian people have their own very beautiful portrayal of Islam. -- Idris Tawfiq


When I first saw the video, I couldn’t help being in awe of Haroon’s bold sense of creative genius and attempt at loosening the noose around the globally-debated burqa, but what about the hundreds and thousands of Muslim women who have taken serious offense to the comedian’s laughing gas? Statistics show that the burgeoning popularity of the burqa has increased from 10 to 30 per cent in the Indian state Kerala and the burqa has become a fashion statement in Bhopal. Britain’s Immigration Minister Damian Green has stated that the British government should not seek to ban the burqa for a “tolerant and mutually respectful society,” a Spanish court has recently suspended the burqa ban and finally, Amsterdam’s Chief of Police Bernard Welson announced that if the burqa ban would be enforced, he would practice civil disobedience.-- Anum Pasha

In Islam, the loving remembrance of Allah is known as dhikr. Remembrance of the divine presence may be either silent or vocal. The Qawwali may be viewed as an extension of the vocal form of this remembrance. Islamic mystical tradition indicates several different paths to arrive at the ultimate truth or marifat, which is achieved by meditation and other practices; qawwali brings one closer to the experience of this inner truth by presenting the words (kalam) in the vehicle of music. "Your devotion was loveless, now your protestations are worthless," says Bulleh Shah, adding, "I would've remained silent; It's love that compels me to speak forcefully." Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music, mainly performed at Sufi dargahs or shrines. The central themes of qawwali are love, devotion and longing for the Divine, or Allah, urging him to end hijr or separation. Woh jahannum bhi mujhe de to karoon shukr ada, koi apna hi samajh kar to sazaa deta hai - Even if he sends me to hell, I will still be grateful, since we punish only those who we count as our own - sings a qawwal. -- Masha Hassan


The Muslim monuments, apart from the beautiful gardens laid out in distinctive landscape architecture, are not dedicated to the beauty of nature or the joys of living, but rather to the glory of God and to a defiance of the passage of time: “I shall build such a tomb and lie in it for all eternity, like Ozymandias, so that people shall look upon it and be filled with respect and wonder.” I did add in my fleeting advice to the travellers that, even if the tourist guides didn’t direct them thence in Delhi, they ought to visit the shrines of Sufi saints such as Nizamuddin Auliya. They would have to be prepared to wade through slush, to bear the unsavoury odours of the slum that surrounds the tomb and its adjacent mosque, ward off a thousand beggars and touts, watch their wallets and valuables and pass through alleys and gangways which wouldn’t anywhere else but in India lead to the tombs of a sainted Sufi missionary, of a princess who was his follower and of two of the most important and glorious poets of the country. -- Farrukh Dhondy


OUR society today exhibits all signs of decline. The institutional structures of a post-colonial administration have become redundant. Whenever an innocent person is killed, tortured or raped, a part of our Pakistani self is scared and mutilated. A shameful silence and withdrawal from the painful reality of social and political breakdown follows. We inherited the mantle of an elitist-driven colonial administrative system from the British Raj. That system evolved from the ashes of a decadent Mughal, darbar-centered administration. -- Ahmad Raza


The American Center Mumbai, in collaboration with the Sayed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhair Dargah Trust have hosted a poster and video exhibit, which they say, showcases the various aspects of Islam and Muslims in America and celebrates cultural diversity in America. The exhibition, a first ever for the Haji Ali Dargah comprises a posters and a video film, which shows Muslims in America, with thumbnail sketches about their background and how they have integrated into society. The exhibition is open to the public and will be on till September 18. Famous Muslim Americans like Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight world champion boxer (Ali was formerly Cassius Clay who converted to Islam and became Muhammad Ali. Reports state that in 1964 he embraced the Nation of Islam) and basketball superstar Kareem Abdul Jabbar are featured on posters. There is also a picture of Keith Ellison. Ellison is the first Muslim to be elected to the United States Congress.

[The exhibition also put on exhibit Indian Muslims’ obscurantism.] Efforts to prove that women are equal to men in Islam and there is no discrimination, suffered a backseat when a woman photographer was denied permission to enter a minaret and take pictures of Peter Haas at the event. Photographer U Kadam of the Times of India (TOI) was not allowed to enter a minaret, which was within the masjid’s premises to take pictures of Haas at the minaret. The Times of India’s correspondent, M Wajihuddin also argued vociferously with the Dargahs personnel who stood steadfast in their denial to allow Kadam to enter the minaret. – Report in Middday, Mumbai


Gone are stirring speeches, the passionate poetry which instigated workers of the world to unite and break the chains of capitalism. Since capitalism rules the roost everywhere, the old comrades at Awami Idara too have reconciled to it. Recently the Idara called some leading Urdu writers of Mumbai, appealing to them to save one of few relics of the city's `progressive' past. “It is difficult to engage the youth for a communist cause,'' rues Javed Kamil Idara's secretary. Perhaps Mumbai's only Urdu library founded (1952) and run entirely by mill workers, Idara was, for decades, a Mecca for mill workers. After toiling at their looms and spinning machines, the workers repaired to the Idara to read, listen to writers and watch plays of Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA).—Adab Nawaz, NewAgeIslam.com


Sufi literally means 'someone with wool' but in reality it is a person who aspires to union with God through mystical contemplation. When someone seeks union with God, he travels the spiritual path that has seven stages (lata'if): the quest, love, understanding, detachment, unity, astonishment, and poverty and annihilation. During the spiritual journey (suluk), the seeker (salik) tries to conquer his Nafs (ego, self) by transformation of consciousness. He starts with nafs al-ammara (animal self - governed by greed and instincts) and progresses through the seven stages under the supervision of a shaykh (Pir, Murshid) to the level of nafs al-kamila (wholesome self - total union of God with the individual). The Pir is responsible for giving instructions, and then supporting, monitoring, and appraising the spiritual progress of Murid (disciple). -- Dr M Aamer Sarfraz


A country gets recognition through its intelligentsia and artists. They are the real assets of a nation. The cultural growth of a society is not possible without these individuals acting as the precursors of change. Unfortunately this state was not created, nor was it meant for these kinds of people. It was carved out for hypocrites and looters who could have enjoyed a heyday without any fear or restraint. Saadat Hassan Manto a renowned short story writer migrated to Pakistan after 1947. Here he was tried thrice for obscenity in his writings. Disheartened and financially broke he expired at the age of 42. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century was arrested in 1951 under Safety Act and charged in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case. Professor Abdussalam the internationally recognized Pakistani physicist was disowned by his own country due to his religious beliefs. He went to Italy and settled there. He could have been murdered in the holy land but was awarded the Nobel Prize in the West for his contribution in the field of theoretical physics. Had Mohammad Rafi the versatile of all male singers of the Indian sub-continent chosen to stay in Pakistan, what would have been his fate. A barber in the slums of Bilal Gunj in Lahore, while Dilip Kumar selling dry fruit in Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Peshawar. -- Waseem Altaf

Eid, A Social Tradition
Maulana Wahiddudin Khan

The day of Eid begins with two units of congregational prayer his prayer gives a spiritual direction to the festival of Eid. After performing the two-unit prayer, Muslims leave their homes and meet people, both Muslims and non-Muslims. They accept sweets and also offer sweets to others. They say Mubarakbad, or greetings, to everyone. They wear new clothes, which is a sign of purity and cleanliness. On the occasion of Eid, Muslims are enjoined to give Sadaqah al-Fitr.The purpose of Sadaqah al-Fitr is that even the less privileged can have the means to celebrate Eid along with others on an equal basis. Sadaqah al-Fitr is an expression of that kind of living in which people share with others. Though Sadaqah al-Fitr is a one-day practice of brotherhood, it is a form of training to promote universal brotherhood. -- Maulana Wahiddudin Khan


Only those in the vicinity of mosques make it a congregational affair. And when the mosque happens to be one of the world's great monuments, Jama Masjid, people sometimes travel long distances to participate in this remarkable confluence of faith and aesthetics. The incentive to visit the area multiplies because of several well known restaurants, particularly Karim's, renowned for a special fare during Ramadan — nihari, mutton cooked all night on slow fire, and paya, or goat's trotters, with khamiri roti or leavened bread. These may sound like mouth watering delicacies, but not when one of us happens to be an Arya Samaji, acute vegetarian Swami Agnivesh, from head to toe in his elegant saffron outfit. (I carried home cooked vegetables for him.) Others in the group were Lord Meghnad Desai, a Nagar Brahmin from Gujarat, now member of the House of Lords, who was in the reckoning to be the Speaker, plus a Distinguished Professor at the London School of Economics. His wife, Kishwar Ahluwalia a Sikh by origin, a writer and their daughter, Mallika, who has just completed her Masters in Politics at Harvard and wishes to plunge headlong into Indian politics — an eclectic group, you would say.-- Saeed Naqvi

Ramadan Shopping
Sarah Kaleem Ahmed

The last ten nights of Ramadan are the most precious among all the other nights. The last ten includes one night which Allah says is better than 1000 months. But the system of shopping in the end is creating a barrier to all the efforts and measures taken to ensure that each Muslim gets ample time and opportunity to say voluntary prayers, ask for repentance, do more and more good deeds and most importantly make full use of the Night of Laylatul Qadr which falls in one the last ten nights. -- Sarah Kaleem Ahmed


In 1987, when he was 66 years old, he walked 2,500 km across the burning heat of the Arabian Peninsula in order to perform Hajj and to collect funds for a charitable hospital in Karachi. At 77 he sky dived from a height of 10’500 ft to raise funds for the ‘Support a Child, Save the Nation’ project, aimed at eradicating child labour in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. When he was almost 82, he walked 100 km in Canada from Whitby to Mississauga … all to procure funds for a Seniors’ Home. No wonder then that he earned the sobriquet of the “Volunteer Charity Walker from Pakistan.” Their tireless efforts aided by volunteers and donations, the MWC began to take on more and more causes. In 1996, they established the Muslim Welfare Home, a shelter for needy women and children, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a full-time staff on duty. So far, over 3500 single women and mothers with children, irrespective of their backgrounds, have benefited from this shelter. -- Saulat Pervez

THERE was a time when the words ''Muslim radical'' painted a clear picture - a young man strapped with explosives, perhaps, or a bearded cleric calling for Shariah. But things have changed. The protesters of the Arab Spring are both Muslim and radical, as are the bungling Jihadis of Chris Morris's movie Four Lions. And now a new film, The Taqwacores, attempts to further stretch the definition. There's a fundamentalist faction in this commune at odds with the punk renegades such as Jehangir, and their battle comes to a head in a raucous final concert. Just as the Chuck Palahniuk novel Fight Club spawned actual fight clubs, The Taqwacores spawned real-life Muslim punk bands, such as Boston's The Kominas, the all-girl Secret Trial Five from Toronto, Al Thawra from Chicago and even a few bands in Pakistan and Indonesia. They took Knight's book as a manifesto for a new kind of Islamic youth culture. It's Western Islam's first real voice of dissent. Because we are complicated. I don't even feel Muslim most days.-- Sanjiv Bhattacharya


Of course, if fasting poses bodily harm to a person, he or she should not fast, and can feed the poor instead. In addition, pregnant and nursing mothers, people with chronic illnesses, and those who are travelling do not have to fast. Indeed, I could contemplate travelling the entire month of Ramadan, but I would likely not have a job waiting for me when I came back. And I would have to make up the days I missed. It shames me to admit that I am so scared to fast, because the month of Ramadan is chock full of divine blessings and rewards. The sins of the fasting person are completely erased, and Prophetic tradition holds that there are tremendous benefits for those who fast. -- Hesham A. Hassaballa


Several studies show soldiers with amputated limbs, with & without prostheses, in rehabilitation. Heartbreaking images. Certainly his pictures portray something significant about the cost of war. But what is left out? In the publicity for the show, the CMCA has said, “In his art, Mumford strives to maintain objectivity about the politics of war, while providing an artist’s humanistic view of the individuals involved.”  I was under the impression that to warrant the claim of objectivity one had to present many sides of an issue, and let the viewer try to make sense of the complexity and live with the uncertainty. If that is the case, the last thing this show is or strives for is objectivity. The actions of the US soldiers are only shown in a favourable light. The only humans injured are Americans, except for one drawing of an Iraqi child. In the information posted with each picture, the word “occupation” is never used. We see no Iraqi amputees --- with or without care. -- Robert Shetterly


With renewed fighting in 1989, most weddings became a low-key affair as gun battles and frequent curfew restrictions didn’t allow the hosts to indulge in traditional extravagance. But, with a considerable drop in violence in Kashmir since 2004, after India and Pakistan resumed their composite dialogue process, weddings ceremonies have returned to their former lavishness. This has brought on the self-imposed burden of spending beyond ones means.  Again, most of the hosts dish up ostentatious feasts whose sheer wastefulness makes them a sort of status symbol across the Kashmir Valley, especially in Srinagar. “Islam doesn’t teach us to indulge in unnecessary pomp and show, that is why I have opted for a simpler nikah ceremony,” Shah told “Islam Online”. -- Showkat A. Motta


Summer temperatures regularly reach over 40ºC (104ºF) in Iran, but women are not allowed to wear shorts or loose hijabs. Those accused of wearing “western-style” clothes, as well as women whose headscarves fit too loosely, or whose clothes fit too tightly, face humiliation, fines and arrest by the so called morality police. For Iranian women, the feeling of wind blowing in their hair is something they can only dream about since the Islamic clergy came to power. Actresses must wear veils even when portraying indoor activities, such as sharing a meal or sleeping. Iranian people from the various classes, led by women, university students and intellectuals, have risen against it. -- Alireza Khanderoo

It’s possible. To be honest, I think Islam enhances it, because you’re more in-tune with yourself. It depends on what you find in it, and what I always figured is that Islam enhances it because you find a rhythm and a peace about yourself and as well as others. If you see yourself and you look inside yourself for all the answers, you wouldn’t have to look outside yourself to see confusion. You’d see all of the same people. You’re all one, one conscious mind linked by weaknesses and insecurities. As that, we won’t step on as many toes, press as many buttons knowing that stuff.

...It’s all good in all reality, even when it seems or appears to be bad. Life is not Islam. That’s a good thing. Even if it looks bad, if they look at that, all they’re going to find is that it’s good. If they’re paying attention to it long enough under the microscope, they’ll find that it’s all good, really, that’s how I’m looking at it. If they find something bad in it, I wouldn’t even consider it negative. I know for a fact this is all good. We have perceptions of it that get misconstrued. When someone gets killed, people really pay attention and think ‘Wow, even a Christian and Arabian calls Allah ‘God’.’ It’s language. In the case of a Muslim, they call God ‘Allah’. -- JT LANGLEY(Photo: Kenyattah Black)


Religious groups that curtail women’s rights, forcing them to adhere to certain principles are similar to the advertising executives in various businesses who utilise the female form to sell products or to magazine editors who entice male readers with pictures of scantily-clad women while also selling hair gel or shoes. If one was to switch on the television during an ad break in any country and mute the sound, it will be apparent how women’s bodies and sexuality are treated as nothing more than an aid in selling anything from ice cream to mobile phones. In Arab countries attractive women, albeit wearing the hijab, are used in order to increase the desirability of various products. -- Ali Khan Mahmudabad 


Sherif Arafa's Terrorism and Kebab from 1992 is one of the few Egyptian film comedies to date to attract international attention. With the current upheavals in the Middle East, the film is now being touted in the press and elsewhere as an early critical work. -- Irit Neidhardt


“Nothing in the world scares me more than the thought of being born a woman or a eunuch in a country like Pakistan, where obscurantism has deep roots. It is very unfortunate that we make tall claims, full of pride, about the rights of woman granted by our religion and yet when I look around in underdeveloped Muslim countries in general and Pakistan in particular, I find things totally the opposite. Tragically, our interpretation and application of religion seem to begin and end with woman. Leave the five per cent urban educated elite aside, women seem to be the playground (battleground) where we practise a medieval form of religion.”-- Anita Joshua (Photo: Shoaib Mansoor)

I went to Shabistan cinema at Lahore’s famous Abbott Road to watch ‘Aik Aur Ghazi’ (Yet Another Conqueror). Since the film, according to director Syed Noor’s claim, is based on a ‘True story from Lahore 2002’ (Lahore shehar ka sacha waqi’a), I was curious to find the Khabrain-link. To be honest, I was not surprised. It is one [and easy] thing to glorify, justify and validate the cold-blooded murder of unprotected, vulnerable and defenseless people accused of blasphemy. To name Khabrain in a ‘True story from Lahore,’ is quite another affair. Hence, Syed Noor’s ‘Ghazi’ in the film receives the weapon from a strange source as nature lends a helping hand too. It is indeed strange to see nature (qudrat) intervening only when ‘Tariq’, Syed Noor’s ‘Ghazi’, wants to decapitate a blasphemer. However, nature remains nonchalantly aloof when his God-fearing, pious family was gruesomely ruined by his rivals. Himself a loafer and gambler, Tariq (played by an actor I did not recognize) has a religious bent of mind too. -- Farooq Sulehria

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