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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Reform, Reprogram, Reset: Islam's Fifth Stage?

this is worth reproducing in its entirety t

Reform, Reprogram, Reset: Islam's Fifth Stage? by tbs

In my last fiq'h class the professor explained the development and evolvement of Muslim thoughts with regard to fiq'h and arriving at a useful and workable methodology to be used. He identified 4 stages which are as follows:

Stage 1 - The time of the four rightful Caliphs when the sahaba (companions) mainly practiced shura (consultation)

Stage 2 - Afterwards by the end of the first century of Hijra, different schools were established in various cities, which also used shura to arrive at a local ijma (consensus)

Stage 3 - Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafie (or in short Imam Shafie)(767 – 820), who distinguished between what was agreed upon in various local schools and that which was agreed upon by all schools unanimously, i.e. between local and universal/uniform ijma (consensus) and he placed more importance on universal ijma, which was evidently much more restrictive.

Stage 4 - At the turn of the twentieth century with the emergence of reformers such as Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-1897), Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) and Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) who refused blind taqleed (imitation of and adherence to what was established before) and called for reopening the doors of ijtihad (independent interpretation or personal reasoning.)

With that I received a shock to my system. For an entire millennia nothing happened? All the thinkers, scholars and intellectuals were doing nothing much but reinventing the wheel? It seemed like they were just busy coming to the same conclusions again and again no matter how they phrased or rephrased any question. It was as if there was one and only one way to proceed - as if there was simply no choice. They seemed to have imposed some sort of a self-censorship on thoughts and in turn progress in any direction.

I kept going back to the word taqleed in my mind. The literal meaning is defined as: Taqleed is a verbal noun of the root ‘Qa' 'la' 'da’ in the second form. The verb Qalada means to place, to gird or to adorn with a necklace. When used in conjunction with human beings, it refers to the wearing of a necklace, pendant or any other such similar ornament. And technically it means: the acceptance of a statement of another without demanding proof or evidence on the belief that the statement is being made in accordance with fact and proof. And I kept thinking that what was placed on our collective ummah's neck was not a necklace but rather a yoke. This yoke did not only affect the intellectuals and thinkers, but it seems to have had an influence on everything else as well.

In 935 the Qur'an was regarded as being in its final written form. Ja'far Muhammad al-Tabari (838-923) was for Qur'anic exegesis what Imam Shafie was for fiq'h. At that time the unity of the Ummah was completely disintegrating, with three different Caliphs focusing more on rivalry than anything else, the Mutazilites (Rationalists) had given up to the Traditionalists and (too) many scholars began to consider the "gates of ijtihad" as closed. And that also was the end of what has been known in history as the Golden Age of Islam (which lasted roughly 750-950).

I keep wondering if there was a relationship between the decline of sciences and achievements and the stagnation of thought and intellectual discourse. There must be. In those last two hundred years the Muslims followed the instruction of the Prophet "to seek learning as far as China", which eventually they did. They published books thanks to the introduction of paper and the establishment of a paper mill. They translated and kept Greek scientific and philosophical manuscripts at Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) and later on many other manuscripts. They focused on mathematics, contributed to geometry and initiated algebra. They worked on medicine, gynaecology and ophthalmology. Engineers perfected the waterwheel and constructed elaborate underground water channels. And travellers contributed heavily to geography. Between Baghdad and al-Andalus it was a time of great achievements in all sorts of different avenues including literature, poetry and music. And then not only a decline in all sorts of different discourse and output happened, but seemingly a total standstill.

Until the turn of the twentieth century, there appears to be a deep hibernation up to Mohammed Abduh and his colleagues Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, along with Syed Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Iqbal, who all rejected blind adherence to tradition (taqleed) and independently called for reopening of the "doors of ijtihad" as the chief way to modernise Islam.

Syed Ahmad Khan is quoted to have said: “Acquisition knowledge of science and technology is the only solution for the problems of Muslims.” And: “Look forward, learn modern knowledge, do not waste time in studies of old subjects of no value.”

Muhammad Abduh aimed at moderniing Islam and bringing it into line with rational thought. Together with al-Afghani he founded the Salafiyyah movement (from the phrase, salaf as-salihiin, 'the pious ancestors'), a reform movement calling for modernisation based on Islamic principles. Included in its ranks were the Islamic world's first feminists, prominent among them was Qasim Amin, who wrote the then two very controversial books, 'The Emancipation of Women' and 'The New Woman'.

Qasim Amin is often credited for having been the first to address the question of women's role in society. He accused the religious luminaries and conservative political leader of resisting any attempt to change the old and by now outmoded social norms. He urged his fellow men to understand that certain traditions had served their purpose and had been established to cater to the interests of their predecessors but must now be seen as incompatible with the 1900s. He insisted that Sharia was based on social and human praxis; and very much capable of accommodating new conditions without violating the fundamentals of Islam. He believed that the line between "Islamic" and "un-Islamic" was obviously drawn by the then dominant Islamic orthodoxy, and not by Islam itself and argued strongly for the equal treatment of women as mandated by the spirit of egalitarianism and equality in Islam. Muhammad Abduh in turn called for reinterpreting the Sharia in favour of women to conform with the spirit of Islam which he perceived as a liberating force for women not a means of repressing them.

Muhammad Iqbal has been called: "the best articulated Muslim response to Modernity that the Islamic world has produced in the 20th century.". While he is primary noted for being a poet, he has also been called "the most serious Muslim philosophical thinker of modem times." His book: "Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam" consists of seven lectures on religion and philosophy originally held in English in 1928 at the universities of Madras, Hyderabad and Mysore. The book is characterised by outstanding lucidity, accuracy and passionate thought, reconstruction of religious deliberation. He wrote: "The task before the modern Muslim is, therefore, immense. He has to re-think the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past". And one of the most important requirements for this re-thinking process he defined as a critical reception of modern knowledge: "The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge."

These revered reformers tried to reawaken Islam and at the same time prove that it was compatible with modern times. That was a century ago. What happened since? Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Sayyid Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi! And not to forget Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab! With them, the small step forward changed radically into a u-turn.

What amazes me the most is, that Al-Shafie was considered then as having his own revival movement. He urged people to follow the Sunnah after a lot of confusion had spread among them. He wrote his famous book, Al-Rissalah towards establishing the fundamentals of jurisprudence and was committed to relying on evidence, and rejected blind imitation. He said: "If you see that my words contradict the hadith, then apply the hadith and disregard my words." He was the first to distinguish and separate between the application of istihsan (equity/discretion in legal matters), and qiyas (juristic reasoning by analogy). But then his revival movement became the yoke that strangled every new thought or reform attempts after him. His rejection of local ijma as insufficient and his insistence on universal ijma turned out to be more of a problem than a solution.

We need stage 5 now. We require it desperately. We need tools that are more useful than historically rooted. We should not merely accept any thought as dogma or doctrine, but ask how this was developed and whether this was the best possible method and the only achievable result. We should consider whether this still fits our time or whether it can be developed further and made compatible with the 21st century. Al-Shafi'I was trying to build something that was fit for his time, but his time has passed and now is our time, which is so very different from his. We are now able to operate on embryos in the womb, walk on the moon and photograph the surface of mars and we are still stuck in medieval thoughts. Instead of living in the past (in more ways than one) and eternally moaning and whining about the lost glory of the golden age of Islam, we should start working at least towards a lead age and then move on to aluminum then copper, then tin and perhaps one day we will again reach silver or even gold or regain some of the lost splendour and sparks.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

barriers / deewar

with walls
frighten not
the dispossessed
they're possessed
no everest can block
their vision of the vale

deewarON ki baataiN
deewaNON say mut karO

deewanON ki nazrON maiN
naqsh pahaRON kay paar
ki haiN sar'sab'z waadiaaN the end of the day

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at the end of the day:
and how about another cliche
when all is said and done...

it's only a matter of time
when we turn to dust or ashes
don't ask me what if
the body is put to sea

pick up some dust, some ashes
tell me its religion, nationality

baat lamhouN ki hay
phir hum tum phir
khaakh ya raakh hoNgay
phir hum tum phir
such kay samund maiN
sada ghar'q rahaiNgay


we continue to paint
the other in shades of hatred
am sure it is ordained
--written on some tablet
oh! words have such longevity


those who seek love, understanding
samjhota, prem, pyar
would be shunted, called names
and condemned to the fringes
this is life too where
cliches reign supreme
like un-ordained prophets
dancing in desert's rain-storms


i will go for green tea
wait!... it is called green tea
not because......

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

little mosque poems - mohja kahf

Little Mosque Poems

By Mohja Kahf

In my little mosque
there is no room for me
to pray. I am
turned away faithfully
times a day

My little mosque:
so meager
in resources, yet
so eager
to turn away
a woman
or a stranger

My little mosque
is penniless, behind on rent
Yet it is rich in anger
every Friday, coins of hate
are generously spent

My little mosque is poor yet
every week we are asked to give
to buy another curtain
to partition off the women,
or to pave another parking space

I go to the Mosque of the Righteous
I have been going there all my life
I have been the Cheerleader of the Righteous Team
I have mocked the visiting teams cruelly
I am the worst of those I complain about:
I am a former Miss Mosque Banality

I would like to build
a little mosque
without a dome
or minaret
I'd hang a sign
over the door:
Bad Muslims
welcome here
Come in, listen
to some music,
the soul's longing,
have a cigarette

I went to the mosque
when no one was there
and startled two angels
coming out of a broom closet
"Are they gone now?" one said
They looked relieved

My great big mosque
has a chandelier
big as a Christmas tree
and a jealously guarded
lock and key
I wonder why
everyone in it
looks just like me

My little mosque
has a bouncer at the door
You have to look pious
to get in

My little mosque
has a big sense of humor

I went to the mosque
when no one was there
The prayer space was soft and serene
I heard a sound like lonely singing
or quiet sobbing. I heard a leafy rustling
I looked around
A little Quran
on a low shelf
was reciting itself

My little mosque has a Persian carpet
depicting trees of paradise
in the men's section, which you enter
through a lovely classical arch
The women's section features
well, nothing

Piety dictates that men enter
my little mosque through magnificent columns
Piety dictates
that women enter
my little mosque
through the back alley,
just past the crack junkie here
and over these fallen garbage cans

My little mosque used to be democratic
with a rotating imam
we chose from among us every month
Now my little mosque has an appointed imam
trained abroad
No one can dispute his superior knowledge

We used to use our minds
to understand Quran
My little mosque discourages
that sort of thing these days
We have official salaried translators
for God

I used to carry around a little mosque
in the chambers of my heart
but it is closed indefinitely pending
extensive structural repairs

I miss having a mosque,
driving by and seeing cars lining the streets,
people double-parking, desperate
to catch the prayer in time
I miss noticing, as they dodge across traffic
toward the mosque entrance between
buses and trucks,
their long chemises fluttering,
that trail of gorgeous fabrics Muslims leave,
gossamer, the colors of hot lava, fantastic shades
from the glorious places of the earth
I miss the stiff, uncomfortable men
looking anywhere but at me when they meet me,
and the double-faced women
full of judgment, and their beautiful
children shining
with my children. I do

I don't dream of a perfect mosque
I just want roomfuls of people to kiss every week
with the kisses of Prayer and Serenity,
and a fat, multi-trunked tree
collecting us loosely for a minute under
its alive and quivering canopy

Once, God applied
for a janitor position at our mosque,
but the board turned him down
because he wasn't a practicing

Once a woman entered
my little mosque
with a broken arm,
a broken heart,
and a very short skirt
Everyone rushed over to her
to make sure
she was going to cover her legs

Marshmallows are banned
from my little mosque
because they might
contain gelatin derived from pork enzymes
but banality is not banned,
and yet verily,
banality is worse than marshmallows

Music is banned
at my little mosque
because it is played on
the devil's stringed instruments,
although a little music
softens the soul
and lo, a hardened soul
is the devil's taut drumskin

Once an ignorant Bedouin
got up and started to pee against a wall
in the Prophet's Mosque in Medina
The pious protective Companions leapt
to beat him
The Prophet bade them stop
A man is entitled to finish a piss
even if he is an uncouth idiot,
and there are things
more important in a mosque than ritual purity

My little mosque thinks
the story I just narrated
cannot possibly be true
and a poet like me cannot possibly
have studied Sahih al-Bukhari

My little mosque
thinks a poem like this must be
written by the Devil
in cahoots with the Zionists,
NATO, and the current U.S. administration,
as part of the Worldwide Orientalist Plot
to Discredit Islam
Don't they know
at my little mosque
that this is a poem
written in the mirror
by a lover?

My little mosque
is fearful to protect itself
from the bricks of bigots
through its window
Doesn't my little mosque know
the way to protect its windows
is to open its doors?

I know the bricks of bigots
are real
I wish I could protect my little mosque
with my body as a shield

I love my dysfunctional little mosque
even though I can't stand it

My little mosque loves Arab men
with pure accents and beards
Everyone else is welcome
as long as
they understand that Real Islam
has to come from an Arab man

My little mosque loves Indian
and Pakistani men with Maududi in their pockets
Everyone else is welcome because as we all know
there is no discrimination in Islam

My little mosque loves women
who know that Islam liberated them
fourteen hundred years ago and so
they should live like seventh-century Arabian women
or at least dress
like pre-industrial pre-colonial women
men can adjust with the times

My little mosque loves converts
especially white men and women
who give "Why I embraced Islam" lectures
to be trotted out as trophies
by the Muslim pom-pom squad
of Religious One-up-man-ship

My little mosque faints at the sight
of pale Bosnian women suffering
across the sea
Black women suffering
across the street
do not move
my little mosque much

I would like to find a little mosque
where my Christian grandmother
and my Jewish great-uncle the rebbe
and my Buddhist cousin
and my Hindu neighbor
would be as welcome
as my staunchly Muslim mom and dad

My little mosque has young men and women
who have nice cars, nice homes, expensive educations,
and think they are the righteous rageful
Victims of the World Persecution

My little mosque offers courses on
the Basics of Islamic Cognitive Dissonance
"There is no racism in Islam" means
we won't talk about it
"Islam is unity" means
There's so much to learn
Class is free and meets every week

I don't dream of a perfect mosque, only
a few square inches of ground
that will welcome my forehead,
no questions asked

My little mosque is as decrepit
as my little heart. Its narrowness
is the narrowness in me. Its windows
are boarded up like the part of me that prays

I went to the mosque
when no one was there
No One was sweeping up
She said: This place is just a place
Light is everywhere. Go, live in it
The Mosque is under your feet,
wherever you walk each day

Parts of this poem have been published in Azizah Magazine.

Mohja Kahf's first book of poetry is E-Mails from Scheherazad (University Press of Florida, 2003). She was born in Syria and came to the United States in 1971 with her parents. Now a sedate professor of literature at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Kahf used to be one of the baton-twirling sisters in her college alma mater's MSA chapter.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Another Bid For Peace in the Middle East: An Enemy of My Enemy...

Israel 'holds secret Saudi talks'
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has held an unprecedented meeting with a senior member of the Saudi royal family, Israeli officials say.

"I did not meet the Saudi king and I did not meet with any element that should have caused a media sensation," said Ehud Olmert according to a statement published by Yediot's website.

Like most things that occur in the secrecy shrouded Middle East, the news of a meeting between Ehud Olmert and Saudi officials began in denial.

So he did meet someone. When? And what transpired?

About twelve days ago, Haaretz reported that Olmert met Prince Bander. The prince has positioned himself as Secretary General of the Saudi National Security Council. Until last year Prince Bander was one of the longest serving Saudi Ambassador in Washington D.C. He was a beltway insider for close to twenty two years, a confidante of Presidents, Senators and Congressmen.

The only other person King Abdullah could have trusted with this task would have been Prince Faisal al Saud, the Kingdom's Foreign Minister. Then the ironic twist of history would come have come full circle. The other Prince Faisal got along famously with Chaim Weizmann in 1919. Both shared a disdain for the Palestinians.

Why this sudden re-emergence of the Abdullah Peace Plan, first promoted in 2002?

One word answer, Lebanon!

The Lebanese excursion has wounded Ehud Olmert badly. His credibility took a big hit. The Hezbollah resistance has made the Saudis uncomfortable too. They do not like Iran's increasing influence in the region. There are other factors at play here as well.

The Arab Peace Initiative

At the Beirut Summit of the Arab League on March 28, 2002, the then Crown Prince, now King Abdullah, published this peace plan with the unanimous consent of all members of the League.

It called for the recognition of State of Israel and establishment of cordial relations with it by all Arab States. In return, the State of Israel would withdraw its forces to pre-1967 borders and recognize the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The turbulence in the Middle East overtook the good intents of this Plan. While this was the first step in the direction of a comprehensive and long term peace in this region, it purposefully left out issues to be settled later.

Some of the major issues it did not address:

  • The role of the United States, the United Nations and other world Agencies as guarantors

  • The border and militarization of the State of Palestine

  • Return of the Jewish and Palestinian Diaspora

  • Prisoner exchange

  • Distribution of water resources


By guaranteeing recognition and peaceful coexistence, this Peace Initiative went a long way in addressing modern Israel's perennial insecurity: that of her lack of strategic depth. Abdullah rightly regarded this as an initiative. Comprehensive peace would follow.

With the amount of hostility and suspicion generated between Israel and her neighbors since 1948, it is not illogical to understand if Israeli politicians would extract airtight guarantees from the rest of the world also. Enter the US, the UN, NATO perhaps, Japan, Russia, India.

One big obstacle to peace in the region would be big business. If there is peace, Ike's 'military-industrial-complex' would lose. Also, not to be overlooked are people who do not want peace. And this includes hard liners, both Israeli and Palestinian, as well as those in neighboring Arab countries and Iran.

jaan, ja na, janay, anajanay

a light-hearted take-off on jaan, ja na, janay, anajanay

meri khud-fareebi ki inteha
jaan e munn kay her inkaar ko hum nay
anjanay maiN khamosh iqrar ja na
aur jaan kay janay ko bhi na ja na

Saturday, September 23, 2006

delusional insanity*: montreal september 13, 2006

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kuch to kaho
kuch to kaho kay log kehtay haiN
yeh ho kya raha hay duniya maiN


the first umbilical cord is cut at birth
parents gush, fawn and coddle
then at some point interests diverge

there is another cord, not visible
of communication, love and bonding
when rusted, things start going wrong

was kimveer** a neglected child?
a spurned lover? undiagnosed?
storms must have raged, undetected

what made him let go?
why do innocent get caught?
fate or destiny?

so what do i do as i drink my coffee
write this and push the queries away
how can his parents, the victims parents
ever make sense? are they doomed
to live on for ever in torment?
why are so many queries
brewing in my morning coffee?

* Kimveer Gill the Montreal shooter

** Kimveer Gill's web site

unfit to drive: on barely missing an immovable object

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wordpeckers get away with murder
not that they are above the law
many in the past have drunk poison
been hanged, persecuted, driven to drinks
for perceived hurts, blasphemy or worse silence.....even married off
their pondered word-disassembly
fitting square words in round premises
would send passions soaring and
lead the air out of legends-in-mind

hurt so much - the victims laugh with them
can see from the peak of everest
to the tip of kunya kumari and places
in between, sunderbans, jaisalmer

write of darkness in searching eyes
predict things that come true without rhyme
can peek into souls that sends shivers

but by mixing thinking with driving
these stargazers are a menace
let us keep the world safe
from their innocent hurt
tattoo their forehead - unfit to drive!

Friday, September 22, 2006

some more names ii

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So many names,
there is barely room
on the walls of the heart,
from a poem, The Names, by Billy Collins

in some more names, billy i wrote:
am moved
you have a way with words
why is your world so confined
to the US, and some countries
across the big pond?


five years since
the exclamations came down
and the survivors made peace

the innocent continue
to suffer from ripple lashes

the evil twins throw barbs
milk the towers, we survive, pay
pray and whine - lucky we are
removing shoes, emptying pockets

millions fare worse
death, poverty - living misery
while culprits debate for ever
surveys, polls support
six billion views

our world has changed
...there is more suspicion
fear, mistrust - phobias rule
killings and bombings galore
in the name of righteousness
and we're ever more suspicious
of neighbours, the unabated legacy
of the exclamation's dissolution

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

dream sculpture

dream sculpture
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i froze my dreams solid
as whims and doubts
then chiseled from the top
a face with high cheekbones
smiling eyes, framed by
yaar-wrinkles, full lips
to break into a smile
at slight flutter

slicing, i move to the base
cutting a pedestal with motifs

as the dream sculpture
is unveiled later that evening
amidst exultations and praises
i summon modest smiles

long after the reception is over
my dreams begin to deliquesce
i erase a tear or two
and leave to gather more dreams

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Monday, September 18, 2006

where does amor vincit omni fit in?

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a high wire act over elated dust
prayer poles, oars of wistful murmurs
negotiate life's tightrope - crossed
with bravado, faith laced lunacy,
and skepticism tinged fear
gingerly afloat over the ground
beneath the wire

today, blindness shrouds and not much
remains discernible - the end of the rope
ground, net, hope - all distant sighs

they walk in trepidawe laced with hazy hope
unsure of what beckons and yet happily
the simpletons tread the trapeze
stunned blissfully in their make-believe world

when our time is up, we go down

and despite nurtured beliefs, misgivings, delusions, wishful thinking, conditioning, prayers without wings, they're individual fables of mirth, joy, sadness, melancholy and bravado - alive for others - dead within -- a speck of dust on the vast shoreline of this universe...ignorant, unawares and un-recognizant of sun's spread nor moon's carpet...floating and the whim of currents

hay insaaN ki qudrat maiN na insaaN hona!
fiq't sahil-e-alam ka zarra hona

what of purpose, goal, religion, life, living
and arrogance - amor vincit omni...
but tell me love, where does love fit in
in a beached rudder-less boat?

serpent flames

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over the grave
of some unknown soldier
who obeyed orders, (perhaps
not of his conscience, or
he may be weak, dare not disobey)

over the torch
heralding an event
flickering a path in lifeless dark
so we know how, where, we stumbled
(how'd it help a swollen knee
an aching bone, you tell me)

of mirth and joy
in child's eyes, mother's pride
in beloved's dazzle,
in eye's red cobwebs
of a mourner
(or of hangover's angst)


in serpent's smiling eyes
those flames sans soul
chill the bones

pass me the blanket

Saturday, September 16, 2006


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as the scent of Queen of Night*1 carried softly by the breeze
whirling, dancing, pirouetting, the discret nomad carries
his home within his heart and mind, a home that has no walls, no roof
a home that cannot be bulldozed, a roof that cannot be brought down
by any righteous tyrant

from the shores of Kanya Kumari to Thar desert across the divide
the endless dunes of Rub al-Khali, the thatched straw huts in Jaisalmer
pseudo- replica homes in Defence, the pink sands of Harbour Island
wilderness of La Romana, the volcano of St. Lucia
the nomad is at home - within, no walls, no roof - euphoria
validating, embracing long as the muscles, in trust throb

dur, na nashaimun*2, na talab oonki
shaheen*3 bhi nahiN, Khuda*4 bhi juda
kaisay mismaar hO, kaun mismaar karay
basayra junooni mun mOji ka

cascading laughters and tears, rough seas and inclement weather
broken and mended relationships, waves upon waves of sunrises
tempt him to newer frontiers long as the muscles, in trust throb

1: Cestrum nocturnum - raat ki rani
2 & 3: Iqbal's couplet-
NahiN tera nashaimun qasr e sultani kay goonmbud per
tu Shaheen hay ker basayra pahaRON ki chatanON per
4: Sunnis killing Shias...Muslims blowing up other believers/non-believers in the name of a God that is not my Merciful Allah

Monday, September 11, 2006

parliament and king*

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in the spine-shiver chill of snowy day's darkness
flame-drowsy sun filtered by smoke prodded
with inebriated bravado re-ignites
inklings of cognition

under the masonry arch at noon, oblivious
the pauper and the panhandler hold court all day
seeking, demanding change, swigging from paper bags
passing somber verdicts on each passersby

the pauper in patented discards confessed
to the panhandler of loves lost, women conquered
in gap-toothed slurps

fortified, the panhandler boasted of his days
in faraway sai-ho-minh, in pre-syndrome days
how he would kill the natives for not smiling

as dusk fell they'd walk over to the scott mission
to slump in dazed stupor until the sun returns
when they will drink, harass and brag anew

* parliament and king - a city intersection

Friday, September 08, 2006

the other finger **

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in (com)motion the finger
weaves, wriggles, writhes, waivers
bristles with indignation

probes pioneering paths
deft touch, amorous quiver
thundering sighs inaudible

deny the poet* a pen
fingers in blood he'll use

an artist tactile i know
paints his heart with fingers

know a language sans grammar
it does more than writhe or quit

but thanks anyways, OK**


*: Faiz:
Mataa e lOh o qal'm chinh gaee tO kya ghum hay
kay khoon e dil maiN dubo lee haiN oongliaN maiN nay

** this should be very obvious

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: A Saint With Warts

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Porbander, October 2, 1869 - New Delhi, January 30, 1948) may qualify as the most visible invisible Indian in India. The journey has been an eclectic one, from a founding father to an icon on the currency notes to a figure relegated to the dusty bookshelves. He is remembered officially a few times a year, his portrait adorns government buildings and his face on the bills surreptitiously exchanged in payola daily.

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Other than that Bapu's three principles of satyagraha, ahimsa and tapasiya are lost in the maze of hazy fog of an undisturbed past.

Rama Luxmi wrote about the "frail, half-naked ascetic" who is the main attraction at an interactive multi-media museum in New Delhi.

This is the same exhibition Desicritic Kim had written a photo essay about earlier.

Sacred World Foundation the creators of this interactive museum have this to say about the exhibits:

A language...derived from classical symbols of the spinning wheel, turning of the prayer wheels, touching symbolic pillars, the act of hands touching sacred objects...the touching and rotating of prayer beads. These tradition-based interactions inspire a rich panorama...that allow people to access the multimedia imagery and multidimensional mind of Gandhiji.

Gandhi's statues adorn London, Toronto, Winnipeg, San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Washington, DC, Pietermaritzburg, Moscow, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, Canberra, Santiago de Chile, Mexico City, Port of Spain and San Fernando.

"Gandhiji's image has definitely changed since when I was growing up. Then he was a symbol of all that was good and pure, reflected in the oft-heard plaintive wail, Bapu kya ho gayaa tere desh ka (roughly- what have they done to your country, oh father?). No doubt, this holier-than-thou image was attributable to decades of Congress rule and the accompanying whitewashing of history books.

But some things endure- his commitment to the truth at all costs, his brutal honesty, his devotion to his principles and his undoubted contribution in securing the nation's independence. At the end of the day, despite the barbs and the derision heaped on him by no end of detractors, he remains a real man, the greatest to emerge from India and one of the world's most influential people. That, along with his face on every currency note printed in India, is his enduring legacy," wrote a writer friend from Bangalore.

Another friend echoed, "The world changed before he could achieve his goals. He allowed his personal feelings to cloud his better judgement, and used emotional appeal like few politicians to get his way, but he had the country's best interests at heart."

Ironically, a man so revered world over is relegated to ceremonial platitudes in his own country. While some still hate him bitterly, the majority is ambivalent.

One Indian mother says, "I read somewhere that Gandhi was irrelevant to today's India because today's India is very different from the India of fifty to hundred years ago. I would argue that historical figures never become irrelevant. Obviously his way of life, his thoughts and ideas, and the way he fashioned his revolt against British oppression had a positive impact on India's Independence Movement."

Gandhi was a saint with blemishes and warts. That his legacy survives his eccentricities and human frailties is a tribute to his greatness. He has inspired an array of world leaders including the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

His dream of eradication of caste discrimination remains largely unfulfilled. One can scan the matrimonial ads in Indian newspapers and web sites for this manifestation. Gandhi's other dream, freedom from the colonial yoke is a reality. His India is racing to claim its rightful place as the First Nations of this world before the end of this century.

The Washington Post article quoting Savita Singh, director of the Eternal Gandhi museum and memorial. concludes: "Gandhi can be discovered in many ways, this is just one," she says. "What makes his message eternal are not these computers anyway."

What the world needs today is more Gandhis and Mandelas. I hope this Museum tours North America. And I hope it is opened by Nelson Mandela.

Bugti Checkmated In Balochistan

In the dangerous game being played between the Baloch tribals and the Pakistan Army, Nawab Akbar Bugti, 79, was reported killed by an Air Force missile.

Bugti, as he was generally known, was a tribal chieftain of the Bugti tribe in Balochistan.

Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan bordering Iran and Afghanistan, is sparsely populated and has major gas and mineral resources. Pakistan has also developed a strategic warm water port at Gwadar with the help of Chinese that sits atop the Straits of Hormuz.

Bugti was reputed to be a backer of and a spokesperson for the banned Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). It is reported that BLA chief Balach Marri was also killed with Bugti.

At its web site, the BLA speaks of the inequality and sufferings at the hands of "Pakistan and its tyrant Punjabi institutions." The same sentiments are echoed by another site, BalochWana, representing the Baloch Youth, which goes on to call Balochistan "Pakistan occupied country."

BLA and other guerrilla groups seeking justice in Balochistan have been actively involved in blowing up natural gas pipelines, refineries, train lines, electricity grids, service facilities and government installations not only in Balochistan but increasingly in other provinces of Pakistan to press for their demands.

The Pakistani Army is strained and stretched in fighting terrorists and talibaan supporters in the North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan and in trying to curb ethnic and religious violence in its major cities of Karachi, Sind and Lahore, Punjab. And with India it has a festering dispute in Kashmir.


Nawab Bugti belonged to one of the three main tribes of Balochistan. Educated at Acheson College, Lahore and at Oxford, he was once a part of the Pakistan Administration in the 50s and 60s. In the 90s he was in the vanguard confronting the Pakistam Administration and the Army, both as an eloquent elder statesman and as a warlord with his own missile equipped army.

Along with Khair Bux Marri and Ataullah Mengal, the other two prominent and powerful Baloch Sardars, he was a constant thorn in the Pakistan Army's designs.

According to journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, the manner in which Bugti was killed would not serve the Pakistani Government. It was portraying Bugti as an "anti-government renegade" and warlord. Instead Nawab Bugti will end up as a "martyred hero" not only for Baloch Nationalists but also other minority groups and nationalists who complain of the Pakistan Army's high handedness.

Following the announcement of Bugti's death the government moved quickly to impose a 24 hour curfew in Quetta, Balochistan's main city. Thousands ignored the curfew and demonstrated against the government as reported in the Washington Post today.

There are reports of widespread rioting that have also spread to Karachi, Pakistan's main city.


Since independence in 1947, the federal government has been hampered in its efforts to impose federal laws over extended areas of its border in the west and north-west of the country. In the provinces where it had ostensibly more support it tended to neglect popular opinion and showed a readiness to accommodate the powerful zamindars (landlords with vast holdings lording over peasants) and regional power lords such as Jamiat e Ulema e Islam (JUI) a fundamentalist group in Balochistan and NWFP and Muttahida Quomi Movement (MQM), ruled by Altaf Hussain from self imposed exile in London. The leaders of the two main opposition political parties in Pakistan the Muslim League and the People's Party also live in exile. (Both face corruption and abuse of power charges while in power in the 90s.)

It belies President Musharraf's much publicized stand of enlightened moderation.

The Bush Administration considers Pakistan as a front line ally in the fight against terrorism. But historically, despite all the talks about democracy and reforms, almost all the previous Administrations have shown a preference to deal with dictators and autocrats rather than democratic leadership in the the third world. Bush Administration is no exceptions to this.

President Musharraf's term as President expires next year. He is reported to have indicated a willingness to stand for another term. And to be successful, he needs the support of the same religious parties that are an anathema to the Bush Administration.

The President walks a tight rope. Internationally he has succeeded in playing a secular moderate leader. But nationally, he needs the support of the fundamentalist parties. This dichotomy is overlooked by the Bush Administration much to the chagrin of political parties in Pakistan and by her neighbor India. The Indians allege that the Army is not doing enough to curb terrorism and its breeding grounds.

With this killing, President Musharraf may have been sending signals to nationalist movements within Pakistan and to neighbouring India and Afghanistan whom it holds responsible for funding, arming and training Baloch guerrillas.

It should be noted here that India and Afghanistan in turn accuse Pakistan, and its notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of fomenting and supporting rebels in their countries.

All countries named here deny these charges.

The moderate majority thinks President Musharraf's flip-flops over major problems and issues facing the country and appeases the fundamentalist parties. They cite his indecisiveness over Hudood Ordinance as an indicator of his lack of resolve to right a wrong and accuse him of giving in to the fundamentalists.

The ex-commando is known to lead his country into and out of messes of his and his army's creation. Time will tell if and how he will extricate them both this time.