God Bless A. R. Rahman

In 2017 we shall celebrate the 200th birthday of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the Indian Muslim who was declared a kafir by the mullahs of India on more counts than any other person before him or after. Here is a partial list of the reasons why some mullah or other thought Sir Syed was beyond the pale of Islam. He does not believe that wearing Western clothes is against the Shari’a. He believes that Angels and Satan are not real beings and instead believes them to be human powers, as endowed by God, to do good or bad. He believes that the Quran does not mention any miracle attributable to the Prophet Muhammad. He believes that Islam ended slavery forever even during the Prophet’s life. He eats at a table, while sitting on a chair, and uses a knife and a fork. He shares his table with Christians, and also eats at their homes. As countable in his biography by Altaf Husain Hali, the list runs to more than fifty similar accusations.

One of Sir Syed’s most persistent detractors was a Maulvi Ali Bakhsh Khan, a Subordinate Judge in the colonial administration. When Ali Bakhsh Khan went on Hajj he spent more time in obtaining fatwas against Sir Syed and publishing them back in India. Sir Syed’s response was something to this effect: I’m proud of my kufr because it made possible my friend Ali Bakhsh Khan to obtain the blessings of a Hajj. On another occasion, when his detractors fell silent for a while, Sir Syed wrote in his journal, Tahzib-al-Akhlaq, “I feel like that old biddy who was regularly teased by market urchins, and if any day it didn’t occur she would say, ‘What happened to the boys? Has some plague taken them?’”

Until now they used to be my examples of how best to respond to the fatwas that are headlined every other Thursday in the press—issued by some obscure entity eager to seek some easy publicity and written-up by some perfervid newsperson anxious to get into print that day. Now I have a third example, the statement issued by A R Rahman in response to the fatwa issued by Mufti Mahmood Akhtarul Qadri, the imam of Haji Alig Dargah Masjid, in response to a request made by Saeed Noori of the Raza Academy, Bombay. And what a classy response it is!

“What, and if, I had the good fortune of facing Allah, and He were to ask me on Judgement Day: ‘I gave you faith, talent, money, fame and health… why did you not do music for my beloved Muhammad (Peace be upon him) film? A film whose intention is to unite humanity, clear misconceptions and spread my message that life is kindness, about uplifting the poor, an and living in the service of humanity and not mercilessly killing innocents in my name.”

Read it in full; see how a genuine man of faith speaks, bearing witness to the faith that feeds his spirit and the talent he earns his living from, and considering both as gifts from the Divine and thus fully in tune with each other.

The trouble with people like Qadri and Noori is that they have split personalities and have as much stuff to hide as they profess to strut before us. And the news-writers go along out of ignorance—but also due to a lack of genuine curiosity. Qadri earns his living at a mosque attached to a dargah. Now if we went to a Deobandi mufti, he would be happy to issue a fatwa against anyone whose source of income is a dargah, for that is not what the Deobandis allow. For them: no dargahs; no grave-worship; no belief in any miracle-making saint. And the same savant would happily declare Noori a mushrik—one who shares his belief in God with a belief in another god—for Noori, when he goes to his ‘Bareli Sharif,’ bows before the grave of Ahmad Raza Khan, and touches his forehead to it. Likewise, God help the Deobandi who attends a meeting to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet but fails to stand up and sing along with the congregation when the preacher announces the Prophet’s birth. So it goes, and it gets worse every day. This rising sectarianism is to be blamed as much on the silence of the liberals in India, Muslims and non-Muslims—as on the belligerent vociferousness of the mullahs.

I am old enough to remember the time when the same kind of mullahs objected to the use of sound amplification in mosques. Even its use during the sermon part of the service on Fridays and the two Eids was considered an abominable innovation— a bid’a. Now even the tiniest mosque has two loudspeakers on its roof. One of the joys of my childhood in Barabanki was to wake up in the morning and listen to the music of the azaan as it came wafting over the air—in human dimensions. Now the same words turn into a painful cacophony as they blast into the air from at least eight different sets of loudspeakers. So here is a request to the newsperson who next goes to get the details of some fatwa from one of the savants from Bareli, Deoband, Nadva, Firangi Mahal, and so forth: please ask the savant what he thinks of the loudspeakers on his mosque; also ask him if there is not a ruling in several religious texts that no mosque should be built so close to another that its azaan—unamplified, of course—be heard in the other mosque? Then, if the mullah convinces you of the religious sanctity of his two loudspeakers, please move next door to his mosque, but please spare us his blathering calling it a fatwa. Please remember that a fatwa is not an edict; it is not binding on anyone; it can be countered by another fatwa; it dies with the death of the person who issues it; and it is never issued against some specific person. And please always tell us who might expect to gain some money or power from that fatwa.


Originally appeared in Scroll.in on September 17, 2015.

Meet Bibi Ashraf

She was born Ashrafun Nisa Begum in September 1840, in a Shia family that held a small zamindari in Bahnera, a small town in Bijnaur district, north-east of Delhi. She died in May 1903 in Lahore, where she was widely known as ‘Ustani Sahiba.’ Here we shall equally respectfully refer to her as ‘Bibi Ashraf,’ as was also done by some in her time. When she was growing up she was forbidden to learn to read and write. But when she died, Bibi Ashraf had been teaching little girls of Lahore to read and write — and much more — for 25 years. What had transpired? How did she obtain what her guardians had forbidden?

Bibi Ashraf grew up in her grandfather’s house. Her father had struck out on his own, much against the wishes of his father, and worked as a lawyer in the princely state of Gwalior, far away from Bijnaur. Her mother had died soon after giving birth to a second child, a son, when Bibi Ashraf was only eight. Consequently she was raised by her grandmother, who loved her, and an aunt, who did not, with everyone under the strict control of her grandfather.

Since there were other little girls in the extended family, a live-in ustani, a young Pathan widow, was hired to instruct them in homemaking talents such as cooking and sewing. She also taught them to ‘read’ the Quran, i.e. to vocalise the Arabic text but could not teach them how to read Urdu because she herself did not know it. After only a couple of years, however, the young ustani’s parents found a match for her and got her remarried. With that, Bibi Ashraf’s grandfather ended the girls’ education. “I can’t even bear the thought of having a stranger in my house teaching my girls,” he declared, “It would be better if the girls remained illiterate.”

Bibi Ashraf could have studied with her mother, but unfortunately she died very soon after the ustani’s departure. By then Bibi Ashraf had learned to vocalise seven chapters of the holy book. Her grandmother, seeing her inconsolable grief at losing her mother, told her to read those chapters every day, and then offer their ‘reward’ to her beloved mother’s soul. Bibi Ashraf was soon doing that several times every day. “The constant repetition improved my reading skill, and soon I could decipher and read forward on my own. In that manner, through God’s favour and my own effort, I finished the Quran in just one year, and a majlis was held to celebrate the occasion.”

But she still could not read Urdu, the language she spoke. Urdu texts did not come then, nor do they come now, equipped with extensive diacritical marks. And the few female relatives who could read Urdu refused to teach her. She begged and begged but they were either scared of her grandfather or just couldn’t be bothered. “‘What would you do with it if you learned to read?’ they said, ‘In any case, teaching isn’t easy, and we don’t have the time or energy to waste.’” Then, if she persisted or began to cry, they would say, “Your crying all the time made you lose your mother; God knows what further misfortune your tears might bring now”. On one such occasion, the little girl wiped her tears and walked away, but when alone she prayed to God for help, and also made a promise: “If I ever learned to read Urdu, God willing, I shall teach that skill to anyone who seeks it, and even forcibly to those who might be unwilling, for I shall never forget the pain I feel right now.”

She then decided to learn on her own, but first she had to find some texts to read. She sent the word out among her female relatives to let her have any devotional poems that they might have, promising to return them after getting them copied. She also asked her grandmother to get her some blank paper from the market. Very soon she had some poems and some paper, but who was there to make copies for her? She could not ask her fearsome grandfather and equally irascible uncle, and no female relative had the necessary skill since writing had always been forbidden to the women in her family.

Tenacious and intrepid, the little girl again decided to do it herself. “I resolved that when at noon everyone rested I shall make some ink with the soot from the tava in the kitchen and start copying. And that is exactly what I did. I gathered some soot, the lid from a water pot, and a few twigs from the broom, then sneaked up to the roof [to be by myself] and happily started copying a poem. Childhood can be so innocent — no sooner had I copied a few words than I felt I had won the battle.”

Before coming back downstairs she broke the ink-stained lid and threw away its pieces. That routine she followed for many days — much to the annoyance of some of the ladies: “They grumbled and cursed the wretch who stole a lid from the pots every day”. And then, much to her dismay, she discovered that though she had made copies she was still not able to read them. “I had spent so much time and effort, but for nothing. I tried but could not make any headway. Then God brought me a teacher.”

One day as she was reading the Quran a younger male relative asked her if she could help him with his daily Quran assignment — he wished to be saved from the thrashing he received daily from his Maulvi Sahib. She agreed. One day, when she was helping him with his assignment, a book fell out of his book bag. It was an Urdu book, its text unmarked with diacritics. “What book is that? I asked. The script is like that of a marsiya. Read me some of it.” The boy did. She liked the contents, and asked him to teach her to read that particular book. The boy refused — he didn’t have the time; the book was too difficult for her; she could never learn — but quickly changed his mind when she threatened to stop helping him. Her joy, however, was short lived. Three days later the boy was sent away to study at Delhi.

But Bibi Ashraf still had his book, and so once again she started teaching herself a new skill on her own. Months of effort finally brought success. She finished the book, then turned to the copies she had made, and found to her great delight that she could make sense of those scrawls. “I said to myself, ‘Whatever one gets, gets only through her own effort’. I then returned to my routine with twigs and kitchen blacking — considering them my true teachers — and started copying sentences from different books. After only a few days’ practice, I was able to freely write from memory.”

But she had to keep it a secret. Though her grandfather had passed away, her uncle was still at home. It was only after he joined his brother in Gwalior that Bibi Ashraf’s ability to read and write became known to all the females in the extended family in Bahnera. Many of them started coming to her to get letters to their husbands written. “The women would disclose to me their innermost secrets, things that they would never speak of in front of anyone. I understood only one-tenth of what they dictated. But the letters I wrote for them brought back replies.”

Then came the turmoil of 1857, and for 18 months the people in Gwalior received no news from Bahnera. When some peace had returned, her father sent a man to find out how everyone had fared. The man took back two letters with him, one from Bibi Ashraf’s grandmother that she had asked her own brother to write on her behalf, and one from Bibi Ashraf that she had written on her own. Her father wrote back to his mother, “Mamun sahib’s letter told me the news of only the members of the household; he didn’t write anything of the turmoil or about the other relatives. The girl’s note, however, made me very happy, for she wrote all that she had heard or seen. Her letter gave me the pleasure of a newspaper or a history book. I read it over every day. But tell me, who taught her to write?” On learning that she had done it on her own, he sent her many gifts; her uncle, however, was very upset, and sent only a chiding note.

In 1859, Bibi Ashraf was married to Syed Alamdar Husain, a second cousin, who had studied Arabic at the famous Delhi College. After a stint in a minor position in the Education Department, he had been appointed as the assistant professor of Arabic and Persian at the Government College, Lahore. Unlike the men of the previous generation, Husain brought his wife to Lahore, where they had four children. Only two survived beyond infancy. Then a bigger calamity happened. Husain died of tuberculosis in 1870; he was then only 39. (Incidentally, it was his vacancy that was then filled with the appointment of Muhammad Husain Azad, the famous writer.)

Shortly thereafter Bibi Ashraf lost her father too. The director of public education, an admirer of her late husband, offered scholarships to the surviving daughters and Bibi Ashraf a teaching job in the local girls’ school; she accepted the scholarships but declined the job, choosing to support the family by doing sewing and lace-making at home. But eventually, in 1878, some elders managed to persuade her to accept the job when it was again offered, and thus began her long career at the Victoria Girls’ School — and the fulfilment of the promise she had made to God when she was in despair over her own illiteracy.

We know about Bibi Ashraf because an equally remarkable woman left us a book about her. Muhammadi Begum was a novelist and poet; she was also the editor of the Tahzib-e Niswan, the famous weekly journal for women that her husband Munshi Mumtaz Ali had started publishing in 1899. (It is little known that it was one of Muhammadi Begum’s poems that provided the title for Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s Bihishti Zevar — he quoted the poem but did not mention her name to protect his own modesty.) Muhammadi Begum knew Bibi Ashraf personally, and persuaded her to write several pieces for the journal, including an account of how she had learned to read and write. At Bibi Ashraf’s death Muhammadi Begum published a poem in Tahzib-e Niswan; then some time later she further expressed her love and admiration for Bibi Ashraf in a short biography entitled Hayat-e-Ashraf. It was privately published and remained lost till it was reprinted in 1978, though again for private distribution. It includes the autobiographical essay by Bibi Ashraf from which I have quoted above.

It is a book that deserves to be better known for several reasons. Besides telling the story of a remarkable person, it throws light on certain facets of middle-class Muslim women’s life in small towns in north India while also giving us a glimpse into the emergent changes in the lives of a similar cohort of women in Lahore at the end of the 19th century. I wrote about it in 1987 in an essay, ‘How Bibi Ashraf Learned to Read and Write’ in The Annual of Urdu Studies, No. 6. I subsequently prepared an English translation of the entire book but have waited to publish it, for I also wish to include, in translation and in Urdu, the 18 short pieces that Bibi Ashraf published in Tahzeeb-e-Niswan between 1899 and 1902. All efforts to find the old files have so far failed. Like so many other things, we have failed to preserve most of the cherished Urdu journals of the past. May I hope now for some reader to step forward and prove me wrong?


Originally published in Dawn (Karachi).


Islamophobia and Blasphemy

I have huge respect for Javed Anand and the work he has been doing (with Teesta Setalvad) for a few decades. But I would like to raise some caveats concerning his piece ‘On the other side of fear‘ (IE, September 29).

His essay chiefly consists of three parts. In the first, he rightly condemns the manner in which Muslims in some countries have protested against the notorious anti-Islam video. Next, he asserts that something new is taking place now: a “reiteration… by a growing number of Muslim scholars that Islam too rests on the freedom bedrock and the very notion of blasphemy is ‘un-Islamic’.” In support of this claim, Anand refers us to unnamed editorial-writers and religious leaders in the Urdu press, and in particular draws our attention to a “boxed” letter from a Saudi Arabia-based Indian Muslim, Abdul Rehman Mohammed Yahya, that simultaneously appeared on September 24 in three Urdu journals, Sahafat, Inqilab and Rashtriya Sahara. To quote Anand: “The gist of the long letter is a rhetorical question addressed to fellow Muslims: ‘What did Prophet Muhammad do in the face of repeated insults heaped on him during his lifetime?’ The answer: he forgave them.”

Surely, the present Muslim definition of “blasphemy” is not limited to “any insult to the Prophet of Islam”? Even in India, there are at least two prominent anti-”blasphemy” movements at play among the Muslims under the guise of Tahaffuz (Protection): Tahaffuz-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwat (Protection of the Finality of Prophethood), accusing the Ahmadis of “blasphemy”; and Tahaffuz-i-Namus-i-Sahaba (Protection of the Honour of the Companions of the Prophet), accusing the Shias of “blasphemy”. Not to mention the accusations of “blasphemy” against Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin. Second, while Anand is right in stating that it “is a universal Muslim belief that the Prophet never retaliated to repeated insults to him, through either word or deed”— and, indeed, the vast majority of Muslims live by that belief, and many may even try to emulate it in their own lives — it is also true that a few enemies of the Prophet were ordered by him to be mortally punished, including one or two who verbally abused him. A devout Muslim, therefore, may claim a right to follow whichever tradition suits his own inclination.

The issue should not be what the Prophet did or did not do, for once we raise it we only fall into an easy trap. It becomes a conflict between only apparently equal claims of righteousness; quickly, it becomes another instance, at best, of sectarianism, and, at worst, of “blasphemy”. In any case, a devout Muslim may aspire to emulate the Prophet’s actions but by the same token can never claim to have done so. Yahya’s letter is a good sign, but so are also a few other articles. These are acts of personal piety, and one must be thankful for them. But the same boxed space — actually there is nothing special or prominent about it — in Sahafat (Delhi) that carried Yahya’s letter contained on September 29 a letter on the same subject of the video from a Muhammad Ziaur Rahman, department of Urdu, Delhi University, under the title: “Yahud wa Nasara Musalmanon ke Khullamkhulla Dushman” (Jews and Christians are blatant enemies of the Muslims). Rahman claims, among other things, that on September 11 this year, the film “Innocence of Muslims” was shown in cinemas across the United States, and that the United States rained missiles on Iraq when a woman in Baghdad named Laila Al-Attar drew a cartoon of President George Bush [in 2003].

In the final part of his essay, Anand highlights “Islamophobia” in Western countries, using as his chief source a recent book, The Islamophobia Industry, by Nathan Lean. I confess I have only read about the book, and not the book itself. Its significance seems to lie in what its subtitle describes: “How the right manufactures fear of Muslims.” It is the political right in the US that Lean is concerned with, and “Islamophobia” is not what describes it. The American right has its own political agenda; its domestic dimension, in fact, is its chief driving force. “Islamophobia” is only one of its many tactics — similar, to my mind, to the fear-mongering of the right in India, as also of the right among Indian Muslims. Vis-à-vis the latter, it mainly takes the form of “anti-Jewism” and anti-Ahmadism, together with the cry of an exceptional and absolute “victimhood”. From the perspective of the health and security of any democratic polity or its civic society, however, the two slogans—“Islam is a cancer” and “Islam is in danger”—are equally pernicious and corrosive.

Anand closes his comments by asking a rhetorical question: “Are Muslims being made the “new Jews” in post-Holocaust West?” The influence and success of the Israel lobby in American politics should not mean that anti-Semitism has disappeared in the US. It is as much present now as is racism, though not in the blatant manner it used to be before World War II, and, judged by what appears in the Urdu journals of India and Pakistan, still is among much of the Muslim population in South Asia.


Originally published in The Indian Express (New Delhi), October 2, 2012.

English/Urdu Bipolarity Syndrome in Pakistan


An editorial—‘Into the Open’—in the Express-Tribune of December 16, 2014, begins: ‘There has been much speculation, frequently alarmist or simply ill-informed, as to the extent or otherwise that the Islamic State (IS) has a presence in Pakistan. Government ministers have gone on-the-record to say that there is no IS presence, but there are reports of supportive wall-chalking and the circulation of literature that supports the IS from several parts of the country.’ It then goes on to allow that ‘there are parts of the country where the extremist mindset has been fostered and grown over many years, and the ideology of the IS may find fertile ground to root itself in,’ and offers two examples. One is of Abdul Aziz, the chief cleric of the infamous Lal Masjid in Islamabad—the paper charges: ‘[Aziz] is happy to declare that he holds the group in high regard’—and the other is the case of some ‘female students of Jamia Hafsa [a part of the same institution] who have prepared and circulated a video extolling the IS.’

The naming of names is commendable even if it amounts to only one institution, for the practice is rather rare in Pakistani editorials and columns. But I wonder why the editors of the Express-Tribune had go to the trouble of finding just one example so far away from their comfortable offices when they could have easily found an equally redoubtable supporter of IS in their own sister Urdu journal, the Daily Express. I, of course, mean the one and only Orya Maqbul Jan, the self-proclaimed expert on International Finance, Muslim Political History, and the Doomsday. Consider his column of November 17, 2014—titled Taqsim Wazih Ho Rahi Hai’ (‘Lines are now clearly drawn’). In it he ever so blithely argued that Syria was the place where lines had been clearly drawn between Islam and non-Islam, and where would likely be, in his view, ‘the headquarters of [the promised] Imam Mehdi and the capital of his Caliphate.’ He then expanded his argument by quoting two alleged hadith. According to one, the Prophet allegedly prophesied that before the end of the world there would be a decisive battle between Muslims and Christians near Aleppo, and that, according to the second alleged hadith, the best among the Muslims at that time would be those who would do the hijrat to Syria—in other words those who would leave their lands to join the Mehdi’s army.

A few days later, on December 5, 2014, Mr. Jan shifted from Doomsday forecasts to Political History and questioned the sincerity of any Muslim who accused Amirul Mominin Abu Bakr Baghdadi and his IS crowd of wanton killing. I cannot reproduce here his long and a bit convoluted argument—it should be read in Urdu to get its full flavour—but this is how he closed: ‘According to all the principles of Political Science the Daulat-e Islamiya [i.e. IS] is a state; it is also a state according to those who champion the cause of a Muslim Social/Political Contract (musalmanon ka nazm-e ijtima’i).” He then proceeded to argue that in 1988 the revolutionaries in Iran were fully justified in declaring Iranian Communists and Liberals to be mulhid (heretics) and munafiq (dissembling enemies) and therefore fully deserving execution as enemies of the Revolutionary Islamic State. If that was right in 1988, he asked his co-religionists, why should it be wrong and un-Islamic now?

Then, only a day before the Express-Tribune published its editorial, Mr. Jan published the second part of a long essay against contemporary democracies, arguing in favor of a system where only certain ‘worthy’ individuals should have the right to choose the ruler of a Muslim state, and that once a Caliph had been chosen in that manner it was incumbent on all Muslims to obey him. No one must challenge a ‘chosen Caliph,’ he wrote, and then, expectedly, quoted another alleged hadith in which the Prophet allegedly ordered that in situations where two persons claimed the title and obtained allegiances (bai’at) from different supporters, ‘the person to make the second claim must be executed.’

Now it is quite possible that the common owner of the two journals has issued strict orders that the people of one journal should never question or even read what the other publishes. That would make good business sense. Each journal then meets the expectations of the audience the owner and his advisors imagine for it, and does nothing to rock the boat of commerce.

The same business acumen might be seen in two other sets of twin publications that I am slightly familiar with: the hellfire and brimstone in some of the columns of Jang and Nawa-i-Waqt do not find their way into the columns of The News and The Nation, just as the moderate and rational mode of thought in most columns of the latter two does not seep into the la-la musings that the former two mainly peddle. Most instructional in that regard are the English and Urdu versions of the column that the ‘Father of Islamic Bomb’ Dr. A. Q. Khan writes in The News and Jang. When writing on some political issue he always appears more subdued in English, but lets loose in Urdu. In the same two newspapers, Ansar Abbasi, another popular columnist, takes an easier way out by writing on certain subjects only in Urdu, avoiding them in English and in general dampening down his rhetorical flourishes.

Not quite coincidental to the above is the fact that these same conglomerates make piles of money presenting endless talk shows in Urdu on the channels they own, but have not done much to provide anything on the same channels that could possibly reflect the moderate posture of their English publications. They know what sells, and in what language.

But perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree. It may be more accurate to assert that the ‘Anglophone’ population in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad prefers it that way. Who are these ‘Anglophones?’ The people who quickly switch to English when after starting a serious conversation in Urdu, seldom buy and then read an Urdu newspaper, and prefer to look with disdain at what they may perchance see in Urdu—’Just some more backward thinking.’—rather than take it as seriously as any scribbling from the English language sister journals of the same Urdu dailies. As I wrote I tried to recall some serious engagement with Urdu columnists in any English newspaper of Pakistan, but nothing came to mind. I hope I am wrong.

On the other hand, to see how juvenile a view ‘Anglophone’ Pakistanis take of what is published in Urdu newspapers just check the section, ‘Nuggets from the Urdu Press,’ in any issue of The Friday Times. This week’s (Dec. 19, 2014) issue contains a dozen or so such ‘nuggets.’ The shortest is titled, ‘Widower runs away on the day of second marriage,’ and reads: ‘According to Nai Baat (November 26, 2014), a widower and father of three ran away from his home in Narang Mandi on the day of his second marriage. He was caught from Lahore, where he said he was joking about wanting to get married again, only to see if someone would give him their daughter. A panchayat seized his tractor and trolley when he failed to pay a Rs. 1 million fine.’ Giggle, giggle!

Never mind that Nai Baat is generally considered to be the paper of preference for the ‘enlightened’ and ‘liberal’ supporters of the Jama’at-e Islami, and should be taken as seriously as The Friday Times, if not more so, where the political, intellectual and cultural future of the country is on the table.

The ‘Shahi Imams’ of India

Saudi Arabia is a kingdom, and has had several Kings during the last 100 years, but it does not have a ‘Shahi Imam’, nor had one before. Even the men who lead the prayers at the Ka’ba in Mecca are simply known as Imams. Pakistan has had no king so far, but it has the great Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. It too has only Imams, and they, regardless of any other delusion of grandeur that some could have entertained, have remained content with the simpler title. Compared to the Saudi Kingdom and the Islamic Republic, India stands tall—in fact taller than most of us think, for it has four ‘Shahi Imams’. And that’s the four I know of. Someone more diligent might yet find a few more.

The nation’s capital, not surprisingly, is blessed with two: Mr Syed Ahmad Bukhari at the Jama Masjid, and Dr Mufti Mukarram Ahmad at the Fatehpuri Mosque. The first mosque was indeed built by a Shah, but the second was not. It was built by Fatehpuri Begum, one of Shahjahan’s many wives, and so its Imam is technically only a ‘Begumi Imam’. But who wants to be called that?

Kolkata has our third ‘Shahi Imam’. The city, in its previous incarnation as Calcutta, had indeed been British India’s capital for decades, but neither George III nor Queen Victoria built an imperial mosque there. Mr Nurur Rahman Barkati claims his title by virtue of leading prayers in a mosque that was built by Tipu Sultan’s sons during their stay in the city as virtual prisoners. Since Tipu never designated himself a Shah, Mr. Barkati can at best call himself a ‘Sultani Imam’, but, obviously, he wouldn’t get as much mileage out of it.

By now you might be expecting to visit Lucknow to meet the fourth ‘Shahi Imam’—after all the later Nawabs of Oudh had themselves anointed as ‘Badshah’ by the British. But there is no Shahi Imam in Lucknow. Even the Imam of the major Shi’ah mosque in the city does not claim that title. No, dear reader, our fourth ‘Shahi Imam’ resides in Ludhiana, Punjab, that city humming with productive energy of every kind. Mr Habibur Rahman, however, is unique; he claims to be the ‘Shahi Imam’ of not just Ludhiana but all of Punjab. (Does his Punjab also include the areas that are now parts of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, not to mention Pakistan? I can’t say.) Mr. Rahman is also the President of a political party, the Ahrar, long defunct everywhere except in Ludhiana. Since last year, his followers have also started calling him Sher-i-Islam (The Lion of Islam), for, like some Sikh leaders, he likes to carry a sword when making appearances in public. Much to my shame I don’t know what Shah bestowed upon his ancestor that title, though I hope it was not Ahmad Shah Abdali.

So here we are with four ‘Shahi Imams’ in one republic, a secular one at that. Mera Bharat is indeed mahaan.

My least favourite is the savant of Kolkota. From what little of him I have seen or read on the Internet, I get the impression that his range of words and ideas is rather limited. Always ready to ‘deal’ with anyone who dares to question his actions within the precincts of his mosque, he is also a gourmand and believes that for Muslims to invite people like him to a feast or festive gathering is the same as extending an invitation to the Prophet. During the recent elections he threw his weight around in Bengal politics, and consequently may have lost some of his clout.

The most irascible of the four has to be the savant of Ludhiana. The ‘Lion of Islam’ is always ready to wave his sword and threaten the Ahmadi Muslims of India. He regards them as not only outside the pale of Islam but also tools of a vast ‘Jewish’ conspiracy against Islam and India. Last year, when a prominent Muslim educationist and scholar accepted an invitation from the Ahmadis in Qadian, the ‘Lion of Islam’ declared that she had ‘ruined her faith and injured the hearts of all Muslims’, and threatened to have fatwas issued against her if she didn’t give a satisfactory explanation ‘within three days’. Since the threat appeared only in the Urdu press, no brouhaha followed. Earlier his range was restricted to Punjab, but lately he has gained many friends and supporters in the South, in particular in Andhra/Telengana, where Barkati too has been on occasion an honoured guest of the Owaisis. Thankfully, most politicians in Punjab have so far ignored him, but one never knows what a ‘leader’ desperate to win might do.

The more educated of the four might seem to be the savant of the Fatehpuri Mosque. But education and common sense are not synonymous. Recently a seminar was held at the Jamia Hamdard in New Delhi under the auspices of the Dept. of Islamic Studies where the chief guest was our Dr Mufti Mukarram Ahmad. In his keynote speech, he cast light on ‘the scientific facts described in the Qur’an’, and announced that what science now knew concerning human embryo formation had already been described in the Qur’an centuries ago. Incidentally, a Mr Harun Yahya has recently made a similar claim about the nature and function of cartilage in human bone structure. What the two champions of Qr’anic science do not bother to ask themselves are such simple questions as ‘Why nearly 13 centuries had to pass before that scientific knowledge became known to the world?’ or ‘Why that epiphany about the alleged similarity was alleged first in France and then in Canada but not in some so-called Muslim country?’ Apparently, Allah revealed all scientific verities in the Qur’an to the people of East but left it to the people in the West to discover them many centuries later without the help of the Qur’an!

That brings us to the fourth, and hopefully the final, ‘Shahi Imam’: Mr. Syed Ahmad Bukhari of the Delhi Jama Masjid. He could be the most delusional of the four, and also the most successful in his delusions—at least so far. Last week, Bukhari anointed his heir, and, while extending an invitation to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, pointedly did not invite the Prime Minister of India. The press, of course, fell for the bait. The event would have gone unnoticed by everyone, but not anymore. Some are saying it was an insult to India, but I say it was an insult to Pakistan. In fact it was rubbing salt into the wounds—since Pakistan has no ‘Shahi Imam’ of its own.

Let’s face it. India heard of the Bukharis only after Sanjay Gandhi launched his scheme to ‘clean up’ Old Delhi, in particular the area around the Jama Masjid, and in the process threatened the livelihood of any number of hawkers and traders who gave that area its colour and hustle and bustle, and who had long been a major source of income and authority to the Bukharis. Then came the end of the Emergency and election time—and the rise of the Bukharis in politics. It has been a rough ride. Plenty of ups and downs. But Mr Bukhari deserves credit for never giving up. He has been a true heir to his father—despite what Azam Khan might say.


According to the reports published in the Urdu newspapers Rashtriya Sahara and Sahafat, Mr Bukhari presents the story of his family as follows. After the Jama Masjid was completed the Emperor wrote to the King of Bukhara and asked him to send some ‘alim or learned man who was also ‘mystically inclined’ to lead the prayers in his great mosque. The King of Bukhara sent him his own son-in-law named Syed Abdul Ghafur Shah, and it was this gentleman who led the prayers when the Emperor Shahjahan performed an Eid prayer in it for the first time in July 1656. After the prayers, the report claims, the Emperor enrobed Syed Abdul Ghafur and gave him the title: Imam-al-Saltanat (Imam of the Realm).

Since the reports do not refer to any historical source I imagine the story is a family lore, and was supplied by Mr Bukhari. Some of it could be true. Non-Arab Muslim kings often had their daughters married to some Syed in order to avoid the ‘shame’ of giving her to someone of their own race but necessarily lower in rank to them. And since Shahjahan’s empire at one time extended up to Balkh in Central Asia it is also quite possible that he made a request to the ruler of Bukhara—the hometown of the revered Imam Muhammad al-Bukhari—for some worthy man.

As everyone knows, Delhi was not Shahjahan’s original capital; it was Agra. Nor was it ever his only capital, for Lahore was also counted as one. In fact, from Akbar to Aurangzeb, the Mughals had at least three different ‘capitals’ simultaneously. Both Lahore and Agra have major mosques, but neither has a ‘Shahi Imam’. Even in Delhi, before the Jama Masjid was finished, the Emperor often went out to the Eidgah for the two major annual prayers. Someone must have done the duty of an Imam at those prayers. He is also recorded to have prayed at many Eids at the mosque built by another wife, Akbarabadi Begum. Someone must have led the prayers there. In other words, Shahjahan did not have a particular ‘Shahi Imam’ who tagged along with him to lead the prayers wherever his campaigns took him. He had many Imams.

Syed Ahmad Khan wrote a remarkable book in 1847 about his Delhi entitled Asar-al-Sanadid. He has much to say about the Jama Masjid, but nothing about its Imam. The only mention comes when he refers to a lane called Imam ki Gali close to the Jama Masjid. This is what he writes: is kuche men qadim se imam jama masjid ka makan hai aur ISI sabab imam ki gali mashhur hai, ‘Since old times the house of the Imam of the Jama Masjid has been in this lane, and that’s why it is known as Imam ki Gali’. Just plain old ‘Imam’s Lane’. His description of the lane takes up only two lines. Immediately after it he spends ten lines describing a shop at the mouth of the lane, the shop of Ghazi Bharbhunja (one who sold parched grains). At the end of the same book he devotes many pages describing the most important scholars, Sufis, poets and physicians of the city. No Bukhari finds mention in those pages. Apparently both ‘ilm and tasavvuf had long disappeared from the descendents of the first Bukhari Imam.

Things had not changed in 1894, when Hakim Abdul Hai, father of the late Maulvi Ali Miyan of Nadwah, visited Delhi and wrote an account of his stay there. He visited the Jama Masjid, and prayed there at least twice, including a Friday prayer, but has nothing to say about the Imam. Apparently the person was not known for any learning or spiritual status. He too mentions Imam ki Gali, since he passed through it on his way elsewhere. He describes how preachers from four different Muslim sects harangued people after Friday prayers inside the precincts of the Jama Masjid, and how the Nawab of Bahawalpur was getting repairs done to the portions of the great mosque that had been damaged by lightning that year. But nowhere is any mention of a ‘Shahi Imam’.

‘Amal-i-Salih a.k.a. Shahjahan Nama is a reliable history of the Emperor’s times. It mentions the construction of the city and the subsequent inauguration of the mosque but makes no mention of the mosque’s Imam, ‘Shahi’ or otherwise. More usefully, it lists at the end all the dignitaries or mansab-holders of the time. The lowest mansab was titled pan-sadi (i.e. with income from the royal treasury or grant sufficient for the maintenance of 500 foot-soldiers. That was the way things were done in those days.) The list contains 180 names—in descending order of importance—under that category, and the name of one Syed Abdul Ghafur occurs just about in the middle. So, yes, the man from Bukhara got the appointment, as claimed, and was also treated reasonably well by the Emperor, but that was that. There was no special status or title.

In fact, the claim made by Mr Bukhari that Shahjahan named his ancestor Imam-al-Saltanat is bewildering, even laughable, unless he has a document to prove it. Shahjahan was a Badshah and not a Sultan, and rather finicky in such matters. A brief check did not turn up any title of his time that included the word saltanat.


Be that as it may, what is certainly laughable is the claim made in those same published reports that the Imam of Jama Masjid used to perform ‘the tajposhi of the Mughal kings’. As if the so-called ‘Shahi Imam’ was also an ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ for the Mughals! To begin with, since Akbar’s time no Mughal king, except the last two, wore a crown, and those two were fairly Anglicized when it came to presenting their royal visage to the public. Just look at the surviving portraits. All Mughal Emperors from Akbar to Shah Alam II are always wearing a turban. Only Akbar II and Bahadur Shah II are shown wearing something that could be called a crown or taj. (The other taj-wearers were the equally pretentious Nawabs of Oudh, beginning with Ghaziuddin Haidar.)

Could it be that the Bukhari family lore mentions a position of ‘turban-tying’? My betters will correct me but I think such daily tasks as enrobing the Emperor, holding his mirror, or tying his turban were regularly assigned to various dignitaries, and Syed Abdul Ghafur could have been one among the many turban-tiers that Shahjahan had. A prestigious enough position. In fact, I too would be a tiny bit proud had some ancestor of mine held such a position. But I wouldn’t turn him into an Indian ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’. Foolish I am, but not delusional, at least to that degree.

The phenomenon of an ordinary Imam turning himself into a  ‘Shahi Imam’ is easily accountable. What is still known as Dabal ka Mitha in Hyderabad was turned into Shahi Tukre in Lucknow. Check the menus at fancy restaurants and you will find some simple daal turned into Shahi daal. A sad looking sign on the road from Lucknow to Barabanki points to an equally sad King George English Medium School. South Asian academics once added ‘Dr.’ to their names if they had done a PhD but otherwise were content with ‘Professor’ or ‘Mr.’. Now many come with calling cards describing them as ‘Professor Doctor’, even if they were not trained in Germany. This desire to gild a lily—or a cauliflower, for that matter—is understandable, but why has it afflicted at least four Indian Imams in this manner but not any of their peers in Pakistan and Bangladesh? And why do so many Muslims in India go along with these pretensions? Could it be that in Pakistan and Bangladesh most Muslims have got rid of that old syndrome of pidram sultan bud a.k.a ‘We ruled here for centuries’, and now feel no need to attach themselves to an imaginary imperial past except perhaps in matters of café cuisine? A syndrome that unfortunately may still be found expressed frequently enough in India, though more mutely than before, in the pages of many Urdu newspapers and journals. Equally unfortunately, it is then reinforced by the clamour of those who persist in believing that they became independent only yesterday, ‘after 800 years of subjugation’.



Originally published—with additional images—in Outlookindia.com on November 26, 2014.


Modi and Gujarati Muslims: An Urgent Perspective

In July 2011, Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanavi was abruptly removed from his post as the Rector of the Darul Ulum at Deoband after just four months into the job. His ‘crime’ was to have made some brief remarks concerning Gujarat. (Here is one version.)

“Muslims in Gujarat have progressed during Modi’s rule. Muslims have benefited from the state’s development model and are enjoying its fruits. Gujarat and its Muslims have forgotten the wounds of 2002 riots and are progressing.”

That was nine years after the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002. The uproar against Vastanavi was deafening. As if no healing or recovery in Gujarat was even thinkable, not to suggest actually possible.

Now Madhu Purnima Kishwar, the veteran feminist/activist editor of “Manushi,” has started publishing the results of her recent extensive research and interviews in Gujarat, under the title “Modi Nama.” This is how the first installment begins: 

The political discourse in India is so vitiated by Modi phobia that even if you express happiness at the quality of roads in rural Gujarat or 24×7 power supply in the villages and towns of Gujarat, you are branded a “supporter of fascism.” It is politically fashionable to defend Kashmiri secessionists, press for peaceful engagement with the Pakistani establishment which sends terror brigades to India and project murderous Maoists as saviours of the poor. But to say a word in appreciation of governance reforms in Gujarat is to commit political hara-kiri—you are forever tainted and tarred with the colours of fascism.

This intellectual terror created by the anti Modi Brigade pushed me to find out for myself why this obsessive anxiety about Modi? Why do “secularists” not want to be reminded that Gujarat has been riot free since 2002? Why don’t they want to document what made Gujarat—a state that witnessed hundreds of riots post-Independence leading to deep mutual estrangement between Hindus and Muslims—experience its first riot free decade after Independence under Modi’s rule? What do Gujarat Muslims have to say about it? Why they are not allowed to speak for themselves?

This installment mainly consists of what she heard from four persons knowledgeable about the communal situation in Gujarat, and most particularly what one of them, Zafar Sareshwala, related at length about his own changing views.  While the views Kishwar reports may go against our absolute convictions, they nevertheless deserve some patient attention.

The next two installments deal (2) the actions taken by the Modi administration in the wake of the riots, and (3) some indicators of the economic life of Gujarati Muslims. The fourth is an extensive interview with a Muslim woman who left the Congress to join the BJP.

Since the publication of the above serious, albeit acrimonious, exchanges have occurred between Madhu Kishwar and her critics. I found the following useful for own thinking.

1. January 15, 2013. Zahir Janmohamed’s “Open letter.

2. April 17, 2013. Kishwar’s response, followed by Janmohamed’s comments. I may mention that Kishwar had titled her piece: “Victimhood as Ideology.”

3. April 18, 2013. Aditya Nigam, also in Kafila.





Do we really need Jinnah’s Pakistan?

I wish this essay by Hussain Nadim had appeared in the Urdu press, for the debate he mentions rages most fiercely and incessantly in the columns and letters published in Pakistani Urdu newspapers. The author makes an urgent plea to think anew. It has been made by others too. Even I, a non-Pakistani, once wrote: [The Pakistanis] will have to delve deep into themselves as they are now, and not as they think they were in the past, recent or remote. After all Iqbal told them:

“Why should I ask the ‘wise men’ what my beginning was?
I am busy discovering what my destiny is.”

Adab and Civility: Some Tangential Thoughts


Some Tangential Thoughts on Adab and Civility*


I begin with a quotation in translation.

—Nowadays true spiritualism is as rare as the Philosopher’s Stone; for it is natural to seek the medicine that fits the disease, and nobody wants to mix pearls and corals with common remedies…. In times past the works of eminent Sufis, falling into the hands of those who could not appreciate them, have been used to make linings for caps or binding for the poems of Abu Nuwās and the pleasantries of Jāhiz…. Our contemporaries give the name of “law” to their lusts, pride and ambition they call “honour and learning”, hypocrisy towards men “fear of God”, concealment of anger “clemency”, disputation “discussion”, wrangling and foolishness “dignity”, insincerity “renunciation”, cupidity “devotion to God”, their own senseless fancies “Divine knowledge”, the motions of the heart and affections of the animal soul “divine love”, heresy “poverty”, scepticism “purity”, disbelief in positive religion “self-annihilation” neglect of the Law of the Prophet [PBUH] “the mystic Path”, evil communication with time-servers “exercise of piety”. As Abu Bakr al-Wāsiti said: “We are afflicted with a time in which there are neither the religious duties of Islam nor the morals of Paganism nor the virtues of Chivalry.”— [1]


Don’t let the sad litany deceive you into thinking that I was quoting from some sermon I heard last night on Pakistani TV. As some of you may have recognized, the passage comes from the beginning pages of that magnificent book, Kashf-al-Mahjūb, whose author Syed Ali bin Usman al-Hujwiri is now renowned and revered by the name Dātā Sahib. He wrote it ten centuries ago, and probably not terribly far from these borders. And I did not quote that passage to give you some cold solace by suggesting that if things looked bad presently they looked much the same a millennium ago too. My interest lies in what al-Hujwiri quoted from Abu Bakr al-Wāsiti—who in fact lived a century earlier—to add a powerful final flourish to the denunciation of his own times. I repeat:  “As Abu Bakr al-Wāsiti said: ‘We are afflicted with a time in which there are neither the religious duties of Islam nor the morals of Paganism nor the virtues of Chivalry.’”

al-Wāsiti bemoans his days, and claims that his society had lost its moorings totally. Nothing exists that could give his society direction or vitality, and thus make its life full of meaning and purpose. He lists the three things that to his mind could have served the purpose but were no longer found in the land: the ādāb of Islam, the akhlāq of the Jahiliyya, and the ahlām of the Men of Muruwwa, the men who lived by a code of Chivalry.

I’m not as well informed as I should be when talking of these things, but to my knowledge Muruwwa was a code of chivalry, kindness and forbearance that many in the upper classes of the Muslim society identified themselves with around the time of the first Crusades—like the codes of chivalry among the Knights of Europe. If one influenced the other, it is of no concern to me. What I would note, however, is that the Muruwwa  of the non-Sufi elite was not very different from what came to be called Futuwwa among many Sufi circles.

In any case, what matters here is the naming of the three by al-Wāsiti, and the order in which he placed them. First and foremost are the ādāb of Islam, which are not to be confused with the laws of Islam. This is no time to discuss what falls under the rubric of ādāb or Adab in the Islamicate world. The literature is vast, the topic enormous. Muslim societies have produced countless treatises on Adab, and Muslim authors have tried to lay down the Adab or an ideal code of praxis for all sorts of trades, disciplines, and professions. From the Adab of a Qazi to the Adab of a Sufi Disciple to the Adab of a Poet-Lover. In essence, the concept of Adab served a key role in that binary of Zāhir and Bātin—the External and the Internal; the Shell and the Kernel—that governed much of the life and thought in the pre-modern Islamic societies, Adab claiming to define the “inner reality” of anything and everything, usually in the guise of protocols and codes.

Going back to al-Wāsiti, he seems to declare that the people of his Muslim society had lost what gave meaning to their lives, the ādāb of Islam. “Externally” or on the surface his society was Islamic, but not so “internally.” Next, he seems to suggest that his people could have possibly given some significance to their lives by cultivating the akhlāq—the natural virtues—that existed in pre-Islamic societies and enriched the lives of those bygone people. But that too was no longer possible. The final nail in his society’s coffin, according to al-Wāsiti, was the fact that even the qualities of Chivalry, the virtues belonging to a very small group, were no longer to be found. My understanding of al-Wāsiti’s ordering of the three is that the first refers to a unified vast community defined by a religion, the second to a smaller society defined by tribes, and the third to a much smaller group that consisted of self-driven individuals. The decline, therefore, was total, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

I submit that the above tripartite delineation, despite its hierarchic undercurrent, could be useful in any discussion of what we are now calling “Civility”, be it with reference to its commonplace meaning or its etymological connotation. “Civility” as perceived and practiced by a society, to follow al-Wāsiti, can arise not only from laid down rules—religious, professional, or tribal—and enforced through some institutional device; it can arise also from individual initiatives and acts of choice or preference. Today we live in nation states of the kind that did not exist in al-Wāsiti’s time, and are surrounded by technologies that possess much greater totalizing force than any emperor in the past could have imagined. In our times, “civilities” of one kind or another can be imposed fairly successfully on large groups of people, not necessarily through the muzzle of a gun, but in various, much more innocuous ways. Meanwhile, it appears that the possibilities for individualized or individually inspired “civilities” are threatened everywhere. Particularly in many so-called Muslim countries. Muslim societies that were religiously multi-chromatic for centuries, and peacefully so, are now riven with extremist movements that would rather impose some one or other monotonous color.

That, to me, suggests that the tripartite thinking of al-Wāsiti—religious Adab, natural Adab, and individual Adab—should be borne in mind when considering, for example, school curricula. I believe that any institutional effort to cultivate or inculcate “civility” could become counterproductive if it exclusively used Islam or any other religion. More precisely, no institutional effort should use any religion in a manner that would belittle or uproot the true source of “civility” in praxis, i.e. the individual’s own reasoning and conscience. The latter, in the past, could devise ways to express itself using the above-mentioned binary of the word and the spirit (or the external and the internal). That, now, has become more fraught in many Muslim societies. The threat comes not only from sectarian literalists, it also comes from many secular rationalists. Most Muslims have not quite given up on that binary, and readily draw upon it to make sense of some mundane joy and disappointment of life, but they might under all the forces ranged against them. And that would be a very sad day.

Two more observations, though they may appear even more tangential to the topic.

Recently, thinking about Adab in the Indo-Muslim culture of North India, I asked myself: isn’t it possible that some perfectly civil people might see Adab as a kind of unacceptable conformity? Or, to put it differently, what could an individual do to be a nonconformist of some sort while remaining a worthy member of his Adab-bound society? I found that something called waz’dārī, which was essentially a matter of personal consistency, was one such acceptable individualism that was much practiced in the Adab-bound Islamicate elite society of North India in the 19th century, and is still cherished in some ways. I learned that minor breaches in the observance of the prevalent Adab were not only considered acceptable but were found admirable if they were committed with elaborate consistency, instead of randomly or at whim. In other words, consistency in non-conformity was also a kind of Adab. In the heydays of its popularity, such consistency was celebrated resoundingly, as in this couplet by Ghalib:

wafādārī ba-shart-i ustawārī asl-i īmāñ hai

mare butkhāne meñ to ka’be meñ gāo birahman ko

Fidelity is the core of True Faith, but only if it is consistent;

If a Brahmin breathes his last in a temple, make his grave in the Ka’ba.

What marginalized waz’dārī, though not made it completely meaningless, was the great surge for change and reform that came after 1857 and whose proponents felt that giving undue importance to “consistency” in praxis would be contrary to what they were proposing to their coreligionists in the newly emergent Colonial India: “Progress” through steady adaptation and change. I have discussed waz’dārī and related issues in fair detail elsewhere.[2] I mention them here to draw attention to the constrictive aspect inherent to any protocol or Adab. Some perfectly civil elements in the society will always find in any codified “Civility” a threat of conformity that they must somehow challenge.

My second observation relates to what I have been tinkering with for a long time, with no success. Many years back, when I read the 11th century savant Ibn Hazm’s treatise on Love, translated by A. J. Arberry as The Ring of the Dove, and other Medieval books that delineated how a perfect ‘āshiq or Lover was to behave in Love, I wondered if anyone had also laid down a protocol that an ideal Beloved could or should follow. Was there, in other words, an Adab manual for the countless beloveds or ma’shūq in the Islamicate world? To my surprise, I found there was none. I then tried to write a brief essay on the subject, but so far it has been an impossible task. Why? To put the issue at heart most succinctly: while every manual of Love allows that a Lover could be in love with “Love” itself, and thus, theoretically, can be independent of any “Beloved,” it is impossible to think of a “Beloved” without first implying a “Lover.” It appears that “loving”—or being a “Lover”—is essentially the act of a subject person, while to be loved—or being a “Beloved”—is nothing more than to be the object of someone else’s will. It made me wonder: is it the case that an Adab can be constructed only for those who either already possess the power to act as subjects, or are empowered by the proposed Adab to act in that manner? And if that is true, can we really separate Adab or “Civility” from Politics and Justice?

C. M. Naim (December 20, 2012)

* Presented at a workshop at Islamabad on “Being Muslim in the World: Everyday Ethics and Cultures of Adab.” organized in May 2012 by Professors Yasmin Saikia and Chad Haines of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict of Arizona State University, Tempe, and co-hosted by the Iqbal Institute for International Research and Dialogue and the Islamic Research Institute at Islamic International University, Islamabad.

[1] Ali bin Uthman al-Hujwiri, The Kashf Al-Mahjub, translated by Reynold A. Nicholson (Delhi: Taj Company, 1989 reprint), pp. 7–8.

[2] See “Individualism within Conformity: A brief history of Waz’dari in Delhi and Lucknow,” in Indian Economic and Social History Review, 48:1 (March 2011), pp. 35–53.

Bad News

The Indian Express
Thu Nov 15 2012, 16:48 hrs

A Pakistani court has given the death sentence to a man from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province who was convicted for blasphemy for allegedly insulting the Prophet.

Additional District and Sessions Judge Azhar Ali Khan of Chitral district yesterday awarded capital punishment to Hazrat Ali Shah, who was booked under the controversial blasphemy law on March 10 last year for allegedly making sacrilegious remarks against the Prophet, according to a media report today.

The people of Shah’s village had filed a complaint against him. Scores of villagers appeared in the court as witnesses, the Dawn reported.

Shah’s relatives, including his mother and brother, have announced that they have dissociated themselves from him over his remarks against the Prophet.

The judge also directed Shah to pay a fine of Rs 100,000 and gave him a 10-year prison term.

Officials said this was the first time a person was booked and punished for blasphemy in Chitral


In Dawn today

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has  carried out its first execution in four years, sparking criticism from human rights activists.  

Jail official Abdullah Khan Niazi says authorities hanged Mohammed Hussain early on Thursday morning in Mianwali city in central Punjab province.

Hussain was an army soldier and a resident of Langarwala Pul of Sahiwal Tehsil Sargodha District, was sentenced to death in 2009 because he had killed his senior officer Havaldar Khadim Hussain in 2008 when they were on leave.

It was the first execution since the current government came to power in 2008. President Asif Ali Zardari placed an unofficial moratorium on executions after he was elected. Every three months the presidency issued a letter through respective home departments, staying all executions.

But Niazi said that the president and the head of the army, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, rejected Hussain’s mercy petition.

Zaman Khan, an official at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, criticized the execution, saying it indicates the government has changed its policy.

Farooq Nazeer, chief of prisons in the central province of Punjab, said the hanging was not a civilian execution and the government did not intervene in military cases.

He said the last execution in Pakistan was in November 2008, soon after the end of military rule.