From the La La Land (December 2012)


From the La La Land (December 2012)


The December 23 issue of Munsif (Hyderabad) carried two items concerning Christmas. One described how the Ulama Council in Indonesia had declared participation by Muslims in Christmas activities to be un-Islamic, and urged Indonesian Muslims not even to greet Christians with a cheery “Merry Christmas.” The same report also detailed similar actions by “major” Muftis and scholars in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They too, apparently, have declared it as harām for any Muslim to participate or use expressions of joy at Christmas time. According to them, Muslims should not go to any church service if invited, for that is when “Allah casts down his particular displeasure upon Christians.”

The other item was datelined Medak (AP). Apparently the place is a favorite with holidayers at this time of the year. And local Muslims too have long enjoyed the various events that take place at Christmas. Now a Maulana Muhammad Javed Ali Hussami, President of the Muslim Welfare Society, has taken umbrage. He has issued a call to all Muslims not to participate in any non-Muslim festival, though his immediate target were the celebrations at the Church of India at Medak.


 Another Conspiracy

The same issue of Munsif also carried a boxed item on the front page, with the headline: “The Massacre of Children in the American School was a Jewish Terrorist Attack.” Here is the initial part of this long item:

A sensational disclosure has been made that Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence agency, was involved in the incident at the Newtown School. The disclosure was made by none other than the future Defense Secretary of the USA. His statement has been reported by the Iranian Press TV. [The report] says that the Jewish agents committed the massacre at the school to teach a lesson to Americans, and to warn them against giving any support to the Palestinians. It should be evident that the Israeli Prime Minister and the Jewish lobby in the America are enraged at the recognition given by the U.N. to the Palestinian state.…

The former Governor of Arizona (sic), Michael Harris, has openly said at an international level (sic) on a TV channel that the incident in Connecticut was a terrorist act of revenge on the part of Israel.

The rest of the boxed space contains more similar claims by Mr. Michael Harris, including: “The Jews of Hollywood have encouraged the culture of violence in America;” and “The killings on the Norwegian island were also a similar vengeful Israeli act.”

Please note, Press Council of India:

  • The only source of this most reprehensible piece of reporting is a small Iranian news agency, PressTV, which has an office in Washington, D.C. No other news agency located in Washington sent out anything remotely like it. (Claiming it to come from “Agencies” is a blatant lie.)
  • Former senator Chuck Hagel, now nominated by President Obama for the post of the Secretary of Defense, never issued any such statement. (Another blatant lie.)
  • In fact, even the Iranian news agency did not make such a libelous claim concerning Mr. Hagel. Munsif made it up entirely on its own.  Was it intentional or due to poor command of English, I cannot say. (Worse than a blatant lie.)
  • The only person who brought up Mr. Hagel’s name in any fashion was Mr. Michael Harris, who publicly claimed that since Senator Hagel had a reputation to be fair minded concerning the Palestinians, his nomination had enraged Israel and it supporters in the United States, and that both had launched attacks on him.
  • So who is this Michael Harris? A search on the Internet with his name and Arizona will suffice. He is NOT a former governor—either of Arizona or any other state. He is NOT even a former Republican nominee in an gubernatorial race. His claim to fame is that he ran in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary in Arizona, and received 18000 votes.


The Rape in New Delhi

 Mr. S. A. Sagar is a regular columnist in the daily Sahāfat, published from Delhi, Lucknow, and Mumbai. On December 24, 2012, under the heading “Why Such Violence Against Ladies?” he wrote about the demonstrations protesting the horrific rape of a young woman in New Delhi. After describing the demonstrations, Mr. Sagar makes his major point: immodest dress of women causes men to behave like animals.

We may have heard that before, but Mr. Sagar is different.

Original to him is his “scientific” explanantion, based on an article he found in the Tarjumān-al-Quran, the monthly journal of the Jamaat-e Islami, which, according to Mr. Sagar, was a translation of an article published in 2008 in Pravda. It seems that a Russian doctor—I failed to recover the original name from its Urdu transcription—believes that the high incidence of prostate cancer among European and American men, as compared to the very low incidence of the same in the “Muslim” lands, is due to the sexual agitation and frustration European and American males suffer, surrounded as they are by scantily-clad women. This “scientific” proof then leads Mr. Sagar to rhapsodize about the “balanced inequality” between sexes in Islam, and condemn what he considers “unbalanced equality” championed under the slogan of “Women’s Freedom.”

The note struck by S. A. Sagar was also sounded by a few other writers in Sahāfat, who similarly found in the Western ways, as imitated by South Asian women, the chief cause for the rising incidence of rape. Needless to say, they show no awareness of the rapes that occur in villages and towns where women do not go around in jeans, or the rapes in Kashmir now, and in Bangladesh in 1972, that were not perpetrated upon scantily clad women, nor of course the rapes that immigrant women have suffered in “Islamic” Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

One intriguing piece was written by a very young-looking Muhammad Asif Iqbal, in the Sahāfat of December 26, under the bold heading: “Behind the Cry for Women’s Freedom.”  Actually, he was far more sensible than the older contributors, and was concerned with many more issues plaguing the Indian urban society. What intrigued me was the incident he cited when he too turned to the theme of the accursed West and its more accursed Feminism. Allegedly, five girls at some unnamed university in Arizona climbed into the room of a Yemeni student, took of their clothes and invited him to make love to them. He, naturally refused—“My religion does not allow it”—leaped out of the window, and rushed to the campus police, who promptly arrested the five girls. What happened next, we are not told. But Mr. Iqbal assured his readers that nasty things would not happen if more people showed the strength of character that the Yemeni student did.

I failed to find any story of that description in the Arizonian press. It could be there, but hard to find at this late date. I, however, found the same story repeated on any number of websites in English, in more or less the same words.

A Yemeni student got sexually harassed by the Americans five female students in Arizona. They went to his private apartment near the campus, and take off their clothes, after closing the apartment door to prevent him from escaping but the student opened the bedroom window and jumped to the street. Essam Sharabi immediately inform the police attended the area and the girls arrested. After investigation, one of the students acknowledged that they believe that the student in question is suffering from a psychological issues as they asked him to go out with them on dates more than once, but he refused claiming that religious young man and his religion prevents him from exercising any intimate relationships with other than his wife. And by virtue of the state law prohibits all forms of harassment unless one of the two parties agree to establish a relationship with the other party.

Since the English text sounded very much like a bad translation from Arabic, I expanded my search, and was not surprised to find an Arabic text on a site named “Yasater.” It seemed to have been the source for the English, and what was on “Yasater” was itself derived from an item published in “Al-‘Arabia” in May 2012. The latter, luckily, concluded its report with a reference to the number of clothes the wild co-eds at the unnamed university shed off at an annual event. I could then easily find what inspired Al-‘Arabiya: an event in April 2012 at the Arizona State University at Tempe. One report:

Arizona State University students pose for photos as they celebrate the last day of classes by taking off their clothes and donating them to charity during the ASU Undie Run 2012 in Tempe, Arizona April 24, 2012. Over 15 thousand students participated in the end of the year tradition, with over 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) of clothes and 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of food donated to local charities.

Shedding clothes and running in underclothes may not be the ideal way to raise funds for charity, but must it be reported with prurient intentions? That is what the so-called Muslim sites did, when they deliberately left out the charitable purpose. Needless to say, the annual semi-nudity has never caused anyone to assault a man or a woman.







Discussing Books at the end of 2012

Usually year-end discussions or surveys are a bore, but the following in Dawn (Pakistan) serves up more than some good titles to seek and read; it informs us much  about the reading public in Pakistan. The participants are significant writers themselves, and their enthusiasm for the books they read and enjoyed is evident.


As 2012 comes to an end, Books&Authors takes a look at what the year meant for literature in Pakistan. The good books and the not so good ones, fiction’s ability to help us make sense of our world, the evolving nature of censorship, the challenges of accessibility and what’s in store for readers in 2013 are just some of the questions that were raised when writer Mohammed Hanif, Sindhi-language poet Amar Sindhu, writer and critic Asif Farrukhi, writer, translator and publisher Musharraf Farooqi and writer, translator and critic Bilal Tanweer sat down to take a look at contemporary literature in Pakistan.

While Sindhu and Farrukhi expressed disappointment at the dearth of good prose writers in Sindhi and Urdu, respectively, Tanweer said that he has hopes from upcoming English writers. Meanwhile, Farooqi questioned the belief that Pakistanis don’t read and said that quality books need to be made available more easily.

The following pages contain excerpts from the discussion:

“Be crazy with God. . . .”

C. M. Naim


Be Crazy with God . . .



            Bā Khudā Dīwāna Bāsh o Bā Muhammad Hoshiyār

            Be crazy with God, and be careful with Muhammad


I have long known this Persian hemistich. Recently, while thinking about this essay, I discovered it had variants, with Mustafā (lit. Chosen; an epithet of the Prophet) or Payambar (Prophet) instead of Muhammad. In one form or another, the saying is several centuries old, perhaps a millennium. The earliest reference two kind Iranian scholars provided goes back to the book Tamhīdāt by ‘Ainul Quzat Hamadani, one of the martyrs of Sufism who was executed at Baghdad in 1132 and whose writings, according to the late Prof. Annemarie Schimmel, were very popular with the Chishti sufis of India. I have, however, no knowledge of the origins of this binary. The hemistich I have known most likely originated as a piece of prose, and only later someone altered into a line of verse. Was there ever a companion line? I don’t know. Only this one line was what I infrequently heard as I was growing up.


Most likely it was our Uncle Fareed who brought it up. He was the most well-read among the male elders in our extended family; he also had a gift of gab. I loved his visits and his winding comments on whatever took his fancy that day. He was wont to quote the above verse whenever the subject of the Ahmadis came up in his digressions. “Bā Muhammad Hoshiyār,” he would reiterate, underscoring his displeasure at the Ahmadi belief that there were several kinds of “prophets,” including the lesser kind that could come to mankind even after Muhammad, “the Final Prophet.”


Frequently I also came across the verse in books or articles relating the aftermath of the Khilafat Movement. Many would mention the notorious book Rangīlā Rasūl (The Libertine Prophet) and the assassination of its publisher Rajpal at the hands of a Muslim who couldn’t bear any insult to someone he so revered. The authors would quote the line as an admonition to remember: “Be careful with Muhammad.”


Needless to say, the verse made an appearance again in the months after Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, hit the news. It was repeatedly quoted in Urdu columns and editorials that condemned the author and the book and supported the edict issued by Imam Khomeini. It made an appearance in English too. Shabbir Akhtar used its second half for the title of his book on the scandal, calling it Be Careful with Muhammed (1989).


What never came up in those writings or in Uncle Fareed’s digressions was the fact that the emphatic admonition in the second half, “Be careful with Muhammad,” was preceded by an equally forceful command: “Be crazy with God.” In fact, the two statements shared a single imperative: bāsh (Be!). You might say, one balanced the other, having—as a cultural imperative—one and the same force.



The idea of “being crazy with God” has been around for a long time, particularly among Sufis and poets in Muslims lands. South Asia is no exception. Here is an example of such “craziness” as narrated—admiringly—by the poet Mir Muhammad Taqi “Mir” (d. 1810) in his autobiography, Zikr-e Mīr:


[Once there was a severe drought in Moses’ time.] When people began to die, they came to him and said, “Moses, please tell God that it has not rained and that no creature alive can bear such extreme hardship.” … Moses went up Mt. Sinai and made the petition. The divine response was: “There is a destitute man of confused speech lying in the ashes at a certain bath—his crazy words used to give me much pleasure. But for some days now he has not raised his head skyward and uttered those words. The coming down of rains depends on his loosening his tongue again.”


Moses immediately hurried to the bath, where he found the man—that Bearer of Love’s Burden—lying in the ashes, wrapped in a dark blanket. … When their eyes met, the man asked, “What brings you, Moses, to this dunghill?” … “There has been no rain,” Moses replied, “And no prayer seems to have any effect. All life is threatened. When I petitioned God, I was told that it was your falling silent that had caused the drought. Now winds wouldn’t bring clouds, nor would clouds shed any rain, until you speak again in the manner you did before.” . . . The man replied, “Moses, you don’t know that trickster. You have not given him your heart the way I have. … His smallest gesture can totally confuse you. I never let him lead me down that path. On the other hand, I now risk becoming an infidel if I do not obey his prophet. For it is said: ‘Be crazy with God, but be careful with a prophet.’”


Then that Prisoner of Absolute Love … turned his face heavenward, and spoke in his special manner: “O Embodiment of deceit! O Enemy of my heart’s peace! Till yesterday, the clouds, winds, and rain obeyed your command—now suddenly they have become my slaves? And it is I now who orders the clouds to gather, and the rain to fall? But then, you are always right, aren’t you? … Come, come—stop your tricks. Take pity on your creatures.” He continued in that manner only a few moments when suddenly a strong wind brought piles of dark clouds, and a torrential rain started.


Another, more well-known story of that nature comes from Rumi (d. 1273), several centuries before Mir, in his great Mathnawi. It too involves Moses, the first lawgiver in the Abrahamic tradition of religions. Here is an abbreviated version:


Once, in his wanderings, Moses came upon a shepherd, and heard him saying: “Where are you God? I cry to be your servant so that I may mend your shoes and comb your hair. So that I may clean your clothes, rid them of lice, and bring you a bowl of milk to drink. So that I may press your tired feet when you lie down to rest, and look after you if you ever fall ill. If I only knew where you reside I would bring you milk and butter mornings and evenings, together with some cheese and bread.” …


Hearing these words, Moses was horrified. “What blasphemy!” he thundered, “Is it any way to address God? Stuff your mouth with cotton. You think you are talking to one of your uncles? God is beyond any need, and no place or corporeal body bounds him. Do you realize your blasphemy could have enraged him? A woman might be pleased if you called her ‘Fatima,’ but address a man in that manner and you might get stabbed.”


The shepherd was devastated. “Moses,” he cried out, “you have sewed up my erring mouth. I now burn in shame.” Then, tearing off his clothes, he fled into the wilderness.


Immediately a revelation came to Moses: “Why did you separate my servant from me? I sent you to bring my creatures closer to me, not to distance them further. Do not create distances. I gave each creature its own nature, and its own way to communicate. What sounded evil to your ears was praiseworthy coming from his lips. You thought it was poison, but to me it was the sweetest honey.”


So what do the two stories teach? For one, they direct one’s attention to a God who created all creatures great and small, and whose favors were not exclusive to any particular cohort of human beings. But much more importantly, they instruct us to appreciate the mystery—the mystery of profound paradoxes, even contradictions—that perforce must surround any human conception of God. Remove that mystery, and there would not be ample scope for the incalculably diverse humanity to find its place and express its diversity in any scheme of things involving God. And if in the process of discovering his or her place the greater scheme of things, an individual human being appears to be imprudent—nay, impudent—vis-à-vis God, so be it.


Consider the story narrated about Rabi’ah of Basra (d.801), the first and foremost woman Sufi, who was one day seen in the streets carrying a burning brand in one hand and a jug of water in the other. When asked what she was up to, she replied, “I shall set fire to the delights of Paradise and pour water on the fires of Hell, so that human beings may love God for his sake, and not out of fear or greed.” More than a thousand years later, Ghalib (d. 1869) repeated the same sentiment to improve God’s scheme of things as found in the prevalent faith:


Tā’at meñ tā rahe na May-o-Angbīñ kī Lāg

Dozakh meñ le ke āl do ko’ī Bihisht ko

Will someone please throw Paradise into Hell?

Obedience shouldn’t be for wine and honey.


He also boldly corrected us about the meaning of Faith:

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

mare butkhāne meñ to ka’be meñ gāo birahman ko

Consistent fidelity is the core of Faith, and so

If a Brahmin breathes his last in a temple, bury him at Ka’ba.


Altaf Husain Hali (d. 1914) lovingly tells a delightful anecdote concerning Ghalib. “One night the Mirza was lying on his cot in the open, looking up at a sky full of stars. Noticing their apparent disarray, he remarked, “Anything done willfully (khudrā’ī se) is often ungainly. Just look at the stars. They are scattered haphazardly. There is no design or pattern. But who can object? The King is His own Authority (khudmukhtār).” A century or more later, Jaun Eliya (d. 2002) echoed the same, but more bitterly:


Haasil-i-Kun hai ye Jahān-i-Kharāb

            Yahī mumkin thā itnī ‘Ujlat meñ

You said “Be!” and the Wasteworld appeared.

What else could such haste produce?


It is little recognized but among all Urdu poets, Iqbal (d. 1938) was the perhaps the most avid practitioner of the “Be crazy with God” sentiment. Apart from his famous “Shikwa” (Complaint)—it brought him severe denunciations when it was first published in 1909; available in a fine translation by Khushwant Singh (Oxford, 1981)—Iqbal has many other remarkable poems where he seemingly takes liberties with God, and acts, in his own words, like an “impudent slave” (banda-i-gustākh). Consider the many poems in which Satan appears as the major protagonist. The most elegant and eloquent of these is titled, “Gabriel and Satan” (Jibrīl-o-Iblīs), in which Satan, cast out from the heavens, still claims superiority over angels. Iqbal’s Satan makes the claim by declaring that it was his blood that added color to Adam’s otherwise monochromatic tale, and that it was he who set in motion the chain of events we now call History. Satan concludes by declaring that he continues to prick in God’s side like a thorn, while Gabriel and other angels do nothing except endlessly repeat: “He is God. God is He.”


Maiñ khaaktā huñ dil-i-Yazdāñ meñ Kāñe kī tarah

Tū faqat Allāh Hū, Allāh Hū, Allāh Hū


In another Urdu poem titled “The Mullah and the Paradise” (Mullā aur Bihisht), Iqbal opens, “I was there and couldn’t restrain myself // when God ordered the Mullah to Paradise;” he then goes on to point out how Paradise could not possibly suit the Mullah, for it was a place free of conflict and argumentation while the Mullah relished only discord and strife. The poem does not tell us God’s final decision, but we can guess what Iqbal had in mind. Then there is a short Persian poem, conceived as an exchange between God and Man, which lays out in no uncertain terms the almost coequal creative role Iqbal conceives Man to play in God’s world. He also gives Man the last word.


I made the world from one dust and water;

You turned it into endless separate nations.

I gave dirt the strength of the purest steel;

You forged it into swords, guns, and spears.

You took your axe to the tree in the garden,

And constructed a cage for the singing bird.



You created night; I made the lamp.

You created clay, but I the bowl.

You made deserts, mountains, and wild spaces;

I filled them with gardens, orchards, and parks.

It was I, who ground rocks into mirrors,

And converted poisons into sweet elixirs.


Perhaps the most audacious of Iqbal’s poems of that nature is a three-poem sequence, in which Vladimir Ilyich Lenin arrives, posthumously, before God. After briefly acknowledging the error of his disbelief while still alive and the truth of what he was finally faced with, Lenin asks God a question that had always bothered him on earth:[1]


Oh, of what mortal race art Thou the God?

Those creatures formed of dust beneath these heavens?


He then explains his dilemma:


Europe’s pale cheeks are Asia’s pantheon,

And Europe’s pantheon her glittering metals.

In high-reared grace, in glory and grandeur,

The towering Bank out-tops the cathedral roof.

What they call commerce is a game of dice:

For one, profit, for millions swooping death.


After more in the same vein, Lenin concludes:

Omnipotent, righteous, Thou; but bitter the hours,

Bitter the labourer’s chained hours in Thy world!

When shall this galley of gold’s dominion founder?

Thy world Thy day of wrath, Lord, stands and waits.


Apparently God had not been aware of all that had happened to His creation. But the angels had been, for they immediately sing out, unasked, and basically confirm Lenin’s observations. At which, God commands them into action:


Rise, and from their slumber wake the poor ones of My world!

Shake the walls and windows of the mansions of the great!

Kindle with the fire of faith the slow blood of the slaves!

Make the fearful sparrow bold to meet the falcon’s hate!

Find the field whose harvest is no peasant’s daily bread—

Garner in the furnace every ripening ear of wheat.

Banish from the house of God the mumbling priest whose prayers

Like a veil creation from Creator separate!


God concludes by describing the new world as a place of deceptions (kārgah-i-shīsha-garāñ, lit. a glassmakers’ workshop), for which the angels must prepare the Eastern poet—they must teach him the “Protocols of Madness” (ādāb-i-junūñ).


These poems by Iqbal are now seldom included in prescribed textbooks. Nor do his votaries among the Urdu journalists of Pakistan and India quote from these poems in their columns, not even when they enshrine Iqbal as “the Poet of the East.” To my mind, these poems are now anathema not so much because they mention Lenin or Satan but because they assert that one could imagine a relationship with God that could be playful, soulful, or just plain confused—as long as it led to an ethical realization of the individual self vis-à-vis God and the Society.


A strange time has now come not only upon Iqbal’s poetry but also on “Allah,” who is now contested over the way brand names are disputed by business corporations. Not too long ago, some Muslims in Malaysia claimed an exclusive right over “Allah,” and would not allow their Christian compatriots to use the word in their religious texts—even though the name predates Islam, and has long been used by Arabic-speaking Christians. Other Muslims in South Asia have demanded that the Almighty must be invoked by one name alone: “Allah.” They consider it un-Islamic for any Muslim to place a loved-one in God’s protection by bidding him or her, “Khudā Hāfiz.” For them, only “Allah Hāfiz” would do. (We don’t know what they might say to “Rahmān Hāfiz.”) Some, one hears, denounce the use of the expression Allah Miyān by Urdu-speaking women and children, though the habit of adding Miyān—lit. Master, but also a term of endearment—developed over a few centuries only out of a sincere desire to use the “polite” verbal forms of Urdu with reference to God. According to these champions of God’s singularity, even grammatically required linguistic plurality can amount to blasphemy. To them, Allah dekhtā hai (Allah sees) is Islamic, but Allah Miyāñ dekhte haiñ a grave sin.  And then there are those votaries of “Allah” who cannot even wait for Him to act in His wisdom, who have usurped to themselves all powers to judge and punish, and whose ruthless self-righteousness brings horrific death to so many so frequently.


In this din it may be hard to remember that not too long ago Allah had 99 names, and of them only two invoked fear. The rest reminded humankind of its own better aspirations, such as Mercy, Justice, Generosity, and Kindness. In that time, it was also possible for many to follow the old dictum in its fullest sense: be “careful” with the Prophet, and be, or at least let others be, “crazy” with God—to engage with Him in all His mystery—each in his or her separate, though ultimately meager, way. Even so, human imagination could soar and cast its net over God, ignoring angels as unworthy prey.


dar dasht-i-junūn-i-man jibrīil zubūñ saide

            yazdāñ ba-kamand āwur ai himmat-i-mardāna

            In my crazy realm Gabriel is not worth the bother.

Rise, Manly ambition; cast your net on God.             (Iqbal)


Iqbal. Ghalib. Rumi. Are we not the richer for their managing to soar so high? Should we not make sure that others are able to do the same?


(December 21, 2012)

Published in

[1] All excerpts from this particular series of poems are from V. G. Kiernan’s, Poems from Iqbal (Oxford, 1999), pp. 114–121. Kiernan, sadly, left out the “Angels’ Song.”

Thinking About Manto

Muhammad Umar Memon has published an important essay on Manto in the Books section of Dawn today.

An excerpt:

It is about time that we discarded the myth about Manto tacitly following some Progressive-Socialist-Reformist agenda in his fiction; if anything, he was following his own agenda as a writer true to his calling.

Lest the above sound too partisan, I am only arguing for the self-sufficiency and autonomy of fiction. No writer lives outside of his time and place. Something of his environment and its peculiar aura will inevitably find its way into his writing. Moreover, unlike poetry, the linear structure of prose makes it impossible to transcend time and place. To read fiction merely as a social or political document is a fundamental outrage against its nature. We cannot judge it by extraneous criteria. Its success or failure will be determined by whether it has lived up to its own promise.

Read the full essay.

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.

“The Treason of the Intellectuals” in Pakistan

Summer of 1970. Rochester, N.Y. I was teaching in the Summer School on South Asia at the University of Rochester. Noticing an announcement concerning a conference on Pakistan’s economy being held on the campus, I decided to attend it. Until that moment I was totally ignorant of the realities of the politics of Pakistan. The sessions at the conference were eye-openers. All the big names were there, the Harvard gang led by Gustav Papaneck and his ilk, the big names from what was then West Pakistan—the guys who went on to live a good life off World Bank and the post-1972 Pakistan, and the big guns from what was still East Pakistan. Rahman Subhan is a name that jumps into memory. As I said, the sessions opened my eyes, and made me realize for the first time what had been happening in Pakistan in the name of Development. Consequently I was not surprised when the big break up happened the following year. I’m sure there is some record somewhere of the papers read at that historical meeting.

Unfortunately, i.e. for the new Pakistan, the MBAs with World Bank and IMF aspirations continued to hold their own in the new country. They were the ones who were also favored by the dictators and autocrats who followed Yahya Khan in the President House, for both sets were keen to make good off the United States. But their acts, mostly of commission, are hardly ever mentioned in the Pakistani media. Thus it was a pleasure to come across the essay, “Providing intellectual cover to General Zia’s sectarian policiesby Murtaza Haider at

One hopes he will write more, taking into account those who preceded Mr. Burki. Needless to say, the role of the “intellectuals” in the PPP, particularly during the days of Mr. Z. A. Bhutto, is a story that still has not been told.

Limits of Naipaul’s antipathies

Concerning V.S. Naipaul — my apologies to those in India who can only call him Sir Vidia — it may be useful to remember the old Sherlock Holmesian insight about the dog that didn’t bark at night. Certainly when it comes to championing his insightful antipathies, I well know how he feels about India, Africa and the Caribbean islands — or rather the relatively darker people in those lands — and have long benefited from his antipathetic insights concerning them. I have had trouble, however, of benefiting from the same when it comes to the fairer skinned folks, in particular those in his preferred domicile. Nor have I seen him lumbering up to wag a finger at those who misunderstand his antipathies and use them for their own not-so-helpful purposes.

In Indian Express.


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.