Books and Documents

Islamic Culture

In all honesty, no politician in the country today uses Urdu sayings as frequently and with the facility displayed by the two Sharif politicians; Nawaz Sharif is only outdone on this count by Shahbaz Sharif. “Meray baap ki tauba” were the words with which he broke the illusion of reconciliation...... “Awam kay saath mil kar hukumranon ka garaiban pakrain gay,” he roared at the anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb in May..... when the need arises he hails the army as the crown on our proud heads (army hamaray sar ka taaj hay). -- Asha’ar Rehman

Purdah and Islam
Anees Jillani

This is an indication that times have changed and human societies have evolved to a degree where segregation can be a matter of personal choice but need not be the norm, as is the case in the vast majority of Muslim countries today. A strict enforcement of purdah by the state, as done in Saudi Arabia, Iran and during the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, is no longer required to keep order in society. Women today are educated and work alongside qualified men in professional capacities. An unsaid code of decent behaviour in the public sphere is observed without any coercion in most Muslim societies where the state does not force women behind a head-to-toe purdah. Therefore, it should not be a matter for the state to be concerned with, but that of the individual’s choice.-- Anees Jillani

The ad about dinner and drinks with live dance performances at the Beach Luxury, or sister acrobats Klaudia and Karla (pictured in short, frilled skirts) at the Metropole, talk not of different times but, indeed, of a different country. Such acts have not been tolerated in Pakistan for upwards of three decades - the lifespan of an entire generation.  Even before Pakistan involved itself in America's duplicitous 'war on terror', which is when the situation really went into freefall, Klaudia and Karla could not have performed here. It was the Nawaz Sharif government, after all, which banned men with long hair on television. And Zia who dictated that all women appearing on television should have their heads covered at all times, so that it would appear to audiences that they went to bed and woke up in the morning wearing their modesty firmly on their heads.  Is the tragedy greater for those who knew such a Pakistan and then watched it die? Or is it greater for those, the people who are nearing middle-age now or younger, who never saw it at all and learnt to find their way through an increasingly complicated maze of fundamentalism and repression? -- Hajrah Mumtaz


Graffiti can be more than just a can of spray paint: It played a small part in the revolutionary change that swept the Arab world earlier this year. The uprising in Syria was incited by the arrest in early March of a group of children, aged 8 to 15, who had been caught spraying anti-government graffiti on the wall of their schoolhouse. The children were released on March 20, reportedly showing signs of torture, and people took to the streets against the regime. Since then, human rights groups say that more than 1,000 people have been killed and 10,000 arrested. In Syria, the security army removed the fingernails of teenagers who sprayed anti-government graffiti, while in Libya some of the protestors who took their message to the street with spray cans paid a much higher price. "It's more dancing than being structured together. It's more a musical script,"… -- Cinnamon Nippard

(Photo: Examples of Arabic graffiti are currently on tour in Germany and France)


In the latest X-Men movie, that has been attracting crowds at cinemas in Karachi and internationally, Ali was primarily in charge of the character Banshee as effects technical director with company Rhythm and Hues (R&H). The mutant’s voice scream shatters solid objects, kills, and allows him to fly. “I created a basic tool for the sound waves. Unlike the Hulk’s single thunderclap, the Banshee’s audio waves are continuous, so we had to find a way to show the ripples without making it look like they’d been slapped on afterwards. Then we could adjust the speed and magnitude of the Banshee’s scream according to the director’s needs.” “If I were to make a movie about Karachi, it would be a horror movie. I just love those,” he grinned. “Or better yet, I’d just shoot the city as-is and that’d be my movie. Everything you would ever need in a movie is already going on right here in the city.”-- Husna Anwar


Now Muslim women can be sporty without breaching Islam's emphasis on modesty For the time being, burkinis are only allowed in one swimming pool in Berlin, but Nele says her business is thriving. And even if the sight of a woman doing lengths in Sharia-compliant clothing might cause a bit of a splash, she firmly believes that her product gives observant Muslim women an opportunity they might otherwise be denied: to participate in mainstream social activities and come out of the margins to which they are so often confined. In this respect, Germany is so yesterday, as a fashionista might say - or indeed, a hijabista, as stylish Muslimas like to call themselves. -- Jane Paulick

Photo: A Muslim woman walks along in a fashionable modest dress


"We try and keep up-to-date with worldwide trends in cinema – whether Hollywood or European films," says Ali Husseini. The group has been strongly influenced by the films of the Nouvelle Vague, the group of French avant-garde filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s. They stress, however, that "we experiment and make our own style of films. We always try and maintain the highest professional standards and expand the limits of what is possible." "Filmmakers are important in countries like Afghanistan, because they can offer the country an identity," explains the director Hassan Fazeli. "Many people are searching for their own identity. We, as independent filmmakers, can have a positive effect in these circumstances."-- Martin Gerner


Crusades and Jihads are engraved in the historic memories of Europe and the Islamic world in the Middle East and North Africa .Till 17th century Ottomans arms were knocking at the Gates of Vienna, an event repeatedly recalled by political parties in Europe to keep Turkey out of the Europe Union, even by French leaders. While south European countries have populations from their former colonies in North Africa, millions of poor Turks were invited by Germany in 1960s and 70s to fill the shortage of labour for its booming economy. Thus a complex relationship exists between Christians and Muslims in Europe and neighbouring Muslim countries .Following 9/11 events, and the US led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have poisoned the relations between the two religions . -- K Gajendra Singh


One can also abandon the Koranic demand for additional covering, directed towards women in Early Arabic tribal society. What would still initially remain is the khimâr, the head covering that was part of women's clothing at that time. The Koran neither speaks against nor in any way emphasises that form of covering. God uses the word only once in the Koran (24:31). That occurs in passing in connection with a call for moral behaviour. So there is no Koranic emphasis on such head covering. However, if God had required a special head covering, would He not have said so explicitly? -- Lamya Kaddor

Where’s the Beef?
Nadeem F. Paracha

My first objection is based on certain disturbing but confirmed reports: The Pakistan team was served only vegetables during its stay in Mohali. That’s why Umar Gul looked disoriented, Mishbah was so slow and Afridi delayed taking the power play. And anyway, what good is power play to a vegetarian, no? Reports coming from Mohali also state that the night before the game, Afridi and the boys were lured by certain Hindus posing as Muslims into going to a restaurant that only served vegetable thali. Can you imagine, our meat eating boys having veg thalis? That’s why God did not listen to the prayers of 18 trillion meaty Pakistanis. Our current team should learn from great Pakistani players of yore, like Inzimamul Haq, Saeed Anwar and Mohammad Yusuf, who are these days running a successful chain of meat stores. They know where their roots lie: In the land of fat, male camels. Even more disturbing were reports about the players’ discipline. Famous cricket-jihadist and journalist, Sangsar, told me that he found a dozen or so carrots in the mini-fridge in Afridi’s hotel room, while Umar Gul and Misbah were seen carrying a kaddu (pumpkin) in the hotel’s lobby. When Sangsar spotted them, they claimed that the pumpkin was actually a lamb which they, along with Wahab Riaz, were planning to eat, absolutely raw. But Sangsar is no fool. He knew the players were still high on the thali. -- Nadeem F. Paracha

This was just an expression of his humble nature, otherwise his poetry was beautiful. Volumes could be written about his work, but today I would like to introduce an extremely important and not easily available work. I believe it is the first Urdu translation from Persian of Ghalib’s own preface to his Urdu Divan. This information, together with the Urdu and English translations, has been sent to me by my dear friend, Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi, son of that great Urdu scholar of the subcontinent, Allama Niaz Fatehpuri, who was royal librarian in Bhopal and who was decorated with the highest civil award of Padmabhushan by the Indian government. Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi is a biochemist and genetic engineer by profession and has written extensively on this subject.  Dr Sarfraz Khan Niazi has done an invaluable service to Ghalib by the translation of his preface to his Urdu Divan. The language used in the original was so difficult that publishers refrained from printing it, but it should be introduced to Ghalib’s fans. -- Dr A Q Khan


Our Syed Noors have no problem when in Lollywood productions girls pose in the most vulgar fashion, or even undress. The cultural Jihadis do not find anything objectionable in “Al Rais” (The Boss) the Arabic version of “Big Brother.” “Al Rais” was broadcast in the Middle East by a channel owned by a Saudi prince. Ironically, the countrymen of this prince have been funding the Taliban. In turn, these brutal, self-appointed custodians of Islam not only stage public hangings and beheadings but also make bonfires of television sets from Kabul to Swat, because in their opinion television was a vehicle for the popularisation of vulgarity and obscenity.  It is strange that the cultural Taliban in Pakistan, who are so annoyed by Veena Malik, have no problem with reality television itself, or with game shows and talent-hunt serials, which all originate from the “vulgar” West.  At the same time, they do not object to the increasing commercialisation of the media, or the Western-dominated global political economy driving the electronic media. In 2008-09, of the top ten advertisers on privately-owned TV channels, nine were trans-national corporations. -- Farooq Sulehria


In the lush vast manicured paradise expanse, cooled by the shades cast by the floating clouds and sprawling majestic oaks overhanging the limpid honey, milk, wine and water streams, were seated the two most illustrious and revered scions of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal, enthusiastically acknowledged as the poet pioneering the idea of an exclusive land of the pure on this planet, had come to grace the centenary celebrations of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, idolised for his fight against tyranny, dictatorship, deprivation of the oppressed and the downtrodden and denial of the dignity and decent living to the toiling masses. The wide-eyed voluptuous houris and cup bearing Hermes hovered around in utter awe, admiration and wonder. They had been almost incurably mesmerised by the scintillating splendour, beauty, mood and style of their verses and serenades. Both icons also had some other stunning similarities, like being born at Sialkot and studying at the same institution at Lahore. -- Elf Habib


Over the past days and weeks of the "Arab Spring", many political observers in the West have been rubbing their eyes in astonishment at the fury and intensity of the popular uprisings in the Arab world. This has served to spotlight how little acknowledgement in the West has been given to the deep-seated dissatisfaction felt by Arab civil society. This is also and particularly true for the younger generation, which has so vehemently rebelled against the suppression of free speech and artistic freedom as well as against the social hardships and the lack of job opportunities in their countries. And this didn't just come about yesterday. -- Arian Fariborz


But Faiz was willing to do more than write poems to give vent to his anger. An honorary colonel in the Army, he, along with some other Armymen and civilians, engaged in an attempt to overthrow the regime and replace it with an egalitarian one in Pakistan in the early Fifties. The attempt failed and Faiz, along with several others, was imprisoned for over four years in what was designated by the government as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Some of Faiz’s finest poetry was composed during his incarceration, published as Dast-i Saba (The Touch of Breeze) and Zindaan Nama (Prison Memories). As with every political prisoner, the regime’s main weapon was to demolish his morale by destroying hope. Faiz became a warrior of hope by finding romance in the most dismal prison conditions. He constantly sought to demonstrate the utterly limited nature of the regime’s power by counterposing beauty and romance to it. -- Harbans Mukhia

Photo: Faiz Ahmad Faiz


In the more developed world, the contract between a producer and a broadcaster covers first airing rights only. If the broadcaster decides to run the programme again, or to sell it onwards, the original producer must be paid his dues. That is why successful series, say or, have made their creators rich for life. Every time an episode runs anywhere in the world, a portion of the earnings is meant to go to the copyright holders. By paying scant attention to these issues, Pakistan can be seen as forcing its producers of cultural products to go elsewhere, where contracts are fairer and laws enforceable. The sad reality is, unfortunately, that culture tends to be language-, area- and audience-specific. A film or television programme that relates to the Pakistani experience will be far less relevant to someone in another country, and entirely irrelevant to an audience that does not speak Urdu. (Though there is somewhat greater flexibility in music.)-- Hajrah Mumtaz


Why should a Pashtun Muslim feel any sense of responsibility for the culture of Gandharan Buddhists? Dozens of times over the past 3,000 years, the plains and valleys around the foothills of the Hindu Kush have changed hands between Iranians, Greeks, Chinese, Scythians, Turks and Indians. An oft-photographed plaque outside the National Museum in Kabul reads: “A Nation Stays Alive When Its Culture Stays Alive”. No one should be taken in by the bland phrasing — this is as provocative as it gets. Which culture? Whose nation? At the heart of the exhibition is the miracle of Tillya Tepe, the “hill of gold”, a huge earthen barrow 80 miles west of Mazar-i-Sharif, between the Hindu Kush Mountains and the streams of the Amu Darya. Sometime in the mid-first century AD, this mound was chosen by a nomadic prince as his burial kurghan.The prince himself was interred at the peak of the hill, and a horse was sacrificed and buried alongside him. In a ring around the prince`s tomb were the graves of five women, probably his five wives, all of them clad in gorgeous textiles and jewellery of extraordinary splendour.-- Peter Thonemann


He was the editor of the Ajkal, the mothly literary magazine of the government of India and also the advisor of All India Radio. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his remarkable contribution to society and literature. The first Prime Minister of India was a great admirer of Josh but they fell apart after the partition. He was not happy with some of Nehru’s policies. Secondly, after partition, Urdu was sidelined making Hindi the national and official language of India. This was a cause for great disappointment for him and of his disillusionment with India. A sense of insecurity about the future of Urdu compelled him to decide to leave India and settle in Pakistan, a decision he regretted in his later life as he felt suffocated in his adopted country because of the treatment he got in Pakistan. -- Sohail Arshad

Photo: Josh Mallihabadi

The inclusion of this important Uyghur cultural practice as well as the former inclusion of the Uyghur muqam in 2008´s list underscore the imminent danger of extinction that Uyghur traditions and Uyghur culture are facing in today’s China. The meshrep is a traditional Uyghur social gathering which may include women, men, young people or a mixed group.  One person leads the group and gives turns to attendees to speak, play music, sing songs, or recite poems.

Although the WUC welcomes the inclusion of the meshrep on the list, the WUC is concerned about the Chinese authorities’ intentions in nominating the meshrep.  Given that the Chinese authorities have banned the meshrep throughout East Turkestan (also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China), the authorities’ nomination of the meshrep is rather ironic. -- World Uyghur Congress


Poland, like many other European countries, is trying to find ways of integrating, or co-existing with, its immigrant population. The country has a growing Muslim community, fed by immigrants from Syria, Iraq and Libya, who are attracted by Poland's membership of the European Union. Polish authorities have begun granting permission to construct several mosques in the country.

In Warsaw, a project to build a cultural centre initially proved controversial, and was opposed by traditional Roman Catholic groups. But others were more supportive. Liberal Christian, Jewish and lay groups expressed solidarity for the rights of Muslims to practice their religion. -- Rafal Kiepuszewski

Recently london’s Asia House hosted a literary event called “Pakistan: A Corona Burst of Talent” – a panel discussion with Pakistani writers followed by a celebration of the Fall issue of Granta, which focuses exclusively on writing, including fiction, reportage, memoir, travelogue and poetry, from and about Pakistan.

“Pakistan is one of the most dynamic places in the world. It is also at the forefront of a cultural renaissance” ran the description of the event. Many others agree, and in India, publishing houses are courting Pakistani authors as never before, eager to pick up the new voices from next door and then pass them on to international audiences. -- Bina Shah

Urdu needs a kiss of life
Firoz Bakht Ahmed

Urdu's uplift, as a language of courtesy and tehzeeb (cultural heritage), is not possible unless it's introduced in the schools of the country as part of tri-lingual formula and promoted in the world of media. Umpteen Urdu-language newspapers and magazines - Qaumi Awaz, Aljamiat, Shama Khilauna, Bano, Toffee, Jannat ka Phool - got discontinued for want of attention. The sad plight of Urdu will continue unless Urdu medium schools are taken care of by the community itself.

There is this unfortunate discrepancy and double-speak when the so-called champions of Urdu's cause cry hoarse about it but don't send their kids to Urdu medium schools. In my own life as an Urdu lover for around forty years, I've been seeing the same Urdu professors taking to stages and lamenting about the language's decline. But they do nothing to promote it at the grassroots level. They must stop hogging the limelight at public platforms and do something concrete to save the language. -- Firoz Bakht Ahmed


I have been coming to Istanbul for nearly half a century, and on each visit, I find the city bigger, richer and busier than ever before. The traffic jams on this trip were getting really serious. When I first came here in the early Sixties, one could only cross the Bosporus by ferry; now there are two long bridges, and even they are no longer enough to cope with the growing traffic. Mercifully, a tunnel under the historic waterway is being planned.....

Another change I noticed is the increasing number of headscarves in the more fashionable parts of the city. Earlier, a conservatively dressed woman would be the object of suppressed amusement among Westernised Istanbul gentry. No longer. Now, scarves – often fashion accessories rather than religious symbols – are taken for granted. And yet, women wearing them are still the battleground between modernity and religious conservatism. -- Irfan Husain


Thirty years ago , when posted at Dakar, capital of Senegal in West Africa, I was going up in the lift to my office when a young lady joined me . After some hesitation she asked if I worked at the Indian Embassy. On my saying yes, she enquired if Mohamed Rafi was dead. I said I had heard so . Her face lost color and she started sobbing .When I enquired if I could do anything, through tears she replied that she had come only to confirm if the tragic news was true. There were many messages of condolences. -- Gajendra Singh

The Turkish public is enthusiastic and ensures that the cost of a film is quickly recouped. Hollywood films are well-known and popular, but the public is so keen on domestic films that the 2009 top ten included six local productions: Levent Sekerci's "Nefes: Vatan Sagolsun" ("The Breath") took third place with 2.4 million ticket sales. That was the very first film to deal directly with the Kurdish conflict in Eastern Anatolia in which 45,000 people died during the nineties. – Amin Farzanefar

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