Thursday, October 23, 2008

Are two women equal to one man?

Once again the question is in the air: Does the evidence of two women equal to that of one man in Islam? This time it started with a careless remark by parliamentarian Ishaq Dar belittling the Information Minister Sherry Rehman on October 17 (reported in Dawn).

We know where the debate is eventually going to lead: Verse 282 from Chapter 2 of the Quran. Like any other legal or religious text, that verse is also liable to interpretation and therefore the important question is who should decide which interpretation is to be adopted?

In Pakistan, the authority to decide in matters of religious interpretation (ijtehad) got delegated to the elected parliament on August 15, 1947. This is what I understand from the foundational documents of Pakistan. Though the point got obliterated after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, it can still be supported with substantial evidence. In other words, it is the people of Pakistan together (including non-Muslims) whose majority vote (or in some matters, consensus) decides which religious interpretation ought to be adopted.

On the particular issue of female witness the people gave their verdict when they elected Benazir Bhutto in Elections 1988. It is up to the intelligentsia and academics to articulate this discourse, if they choose.
Photo Credit: Pictures of Benazir Bhutto and Sherry Rehman are details from work by Sindhi32s and Ahsan respectively.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Remembering Liaquat Ali Khan

"Pakistan stands firm," said the first premiere of Pakistan in 1950, during his visit to the United States. "It stands firm because the Muslims who form the majority of its eighty million people have an ideology of their own which we call the Islamic way of life."

He went on to say:
"This is not a new ideology. It is a body of faith, tradition and belief, which has been a part of man’s heritage for over thirteen hundred years. We believe that this ideology when applied to statecraft and the conduct of human affairs is bound to promote human welfare. Let me tell you in a few simple and clear words what it is.

"There is first the belief in God and His supreme sovereignty. This does not mean either theocracy or medievalism. We do not believe in priesthood or in the caste system. We consider the first to be unnecessary, for God is as close to one human being as to another. We consider the second to be an abomination, for all men are equal.

"Individual effort and enterprise is the law of life with us as well as the belief that each man or woman is entitled to the fruits of his or her honest endeavor. The pivot of our economic doctrine is the right of private ownership but our laws and institutions have behind them the aim of reducing inequalities of wealth.

"We believe in democracy, that is to say in the right of people to be governed by their own chosen representatives; in social and economic justice and in equal opportunities for all citizens of whatever race or creed they may be.

"We do not have to present this ideology to our people as a new manifesto. The principles I have stated are part and parcel of Islam and when we say that we want to follow the Islamic way of life what we mean is that we could not possibly do otherwise."
I have scanned through writings of authors and leaders of Pakistan Movement but am yet to come across a passage which describes so comprehensively in so few words what Pakistan really meant to its founding generation. This is what it means to the masses even today but perhaps the problem is that some of us don’t know that this is the case.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

3. Unity of nation

In the preface of the Reconstruction, Iqbal mentions the need for a modern method through which we could have “a living experience” of the kind of biological unity embodied in the following verse of the Quran:
“Your creation and resurrection are like the creation and resurrection of a single soul.”
Iqbal specifies the following characteristics of such a method:

  1. It will give us a living experience of the kind of biological unity embodied in this verse
  2. It will be comparable to the work of the “more genuine schools of Sufism” with two differences (#3 and #4)
  3. It will be physiologically less violent
  4. It will be psychologically more suited to a concrete type of mind
  5. Demand for scientific form of religious knowledge may become redundant in the presence of such method
Despite giving these hints, he doesn't specify the method but in the next document which he wrote after this, i.e. the Allahabad Address (in which was offered the concept of Pakistan), he says:
“One of the profoundest verses in the Holy Quran teaches us that the birth and rebirth of the whole of humanity is like the birth and rebirth of a single individual.”
Obviously he is referring to the same verse which was quoted in the preface of the Reconstruction but he doesn’t repeat the verse itself, as if he would like the reader to consult the other passage together with this. He goes on to say:
“Why cannot you who, as a people, can well claim to be the first practical exponent of this superb conception of humanity, live and move and have your being as a single individual?”
It seems obvious that the method through which this “superb conception of humanity” can be experienced is this: an entire nation should “live and move and have your being as a single individual.”

The unity of nation in this sense is organic, is related to the unity of humanity and is ultimately derived from the Oneness of God. Nation in this sense cannot be forged by color, race, territory or culture. These factors may also play some role but the unity does not depend on them. Rather, it regulates them in the forward march of history towards “a final combination of humanity.”

This is a follow up on issues discussed in previous posts: 1. Unity of life; and 2. Unity of humankind 
Picture is a detail from illustration by Tabassum Khalid for Secrets and Mysteries by Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Word from Sohail Rana

My previous post 'Choral Symphony in Miniature' appraising a Sohail Rana composition was forwarded to Mr. Rana by Moosa Reza, who runs the official fansite. Glad tidings, a comment was received the same day:

08 October'2008
Dear Moosa mian, AoA.
Further to my earlier response to you with reference to Mr. Khurram's article on me and his recent appraisal of my composition Akele na Jaana from Arman (female version), here are some points that I wish to communicate to you and through you to Mr. Khurram and all my fans and well-wishers: 
1) When I started composing and arranging "Akele na Jaana" in 1965-66, I certainly had the symphonic structure in my mind because the film, at that time, did not allow me to go beyond 3 to 4 minutes per song. Subsequently, I had to restrict myself to that length of Intro, Interludes and the Finale. I feel elated that my work, though it was appreciated by the masses and the connoisseurs, it was also understood and appreciated by persons such as Mr. Khurram. I was also honoured by music Composer Rafiq Ghaznavi sahab, ustaad Salamat Ali Khan sahab and many of my contemporaries by their appreciative comments.

2) Inspired by Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Rimsky Korsakoff, I also wrote, arranged and performed one Ballet "Heer Ranjha" in 1973 during my tenure as Resident Composer with PIA Arts Academy. Mr. Zia Mohiuddin and I discussed this and we instead of calling it a Ballet, called it "A Poetry in four movements". The first performance was at Intercontinental Hotel Karachi, before the then President of Pakistan Mr. Z.A. Bhutto and a group of scientists from Canada. It was well applauded. This was then performed almost all over the world where we had toured particularly in China, Korea, Russia, France, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, USA and Canada.

3) I also wrote a Symphonietta "Anar Kali" which I recorded with not a huge orchestra in Pakistan (as this was not possible). I released this in the audio channels of PIA's In-flight music. I have been wishing and hopefully may be able to record this with a proper Symphony Orchestra in this part of the world. Other than this I have been working on "Tariq Bin Ziad", "Umar Khayyam" and "Rumi". I hope I am able to accomplish this as soon as it is possible.

4) Recently in May' 2006 here in Toronto at the Living Arts Centre, I composed, arranged and conducted yet another Symphonietta "Bhairveen in C# Minor" performed by my trained team of boys and girls, which also was well acclaimed. This was during my programme "Sohail Rana Night 2006".



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Choral Symphony in Miniature?

When I interviewed him in 1993, the great Pakistani composer Sohail Rana said that among his dream projects were symphonies about great Persian masters such as Omar Khayyam.

Now I wonder if his 'Akele Na Jana' (female version) could also be interpreted as a miniature choral symphony dedicated to Nizami Ganjavi, the great Persian poet from the 13th Century.

Originally the song was featured in the trendsetting movie Armaan (1966), written and produced by Waheed Murad apparently as an update on Nizami's Layla Majnun in the context of modern day Pakistan.

The song has all the grandeur and feel of a symphony (the orchestra included 45 musicians) although it is less than three and a half minute, and it is actually divided into four "movements" of varying lengths:
  1. Intro
  2. First Interlude
  3. Second Interlude
  4. Finale
Each of the first three movements is followed by a few lines of poetry from Masroor Anwar interpreting the meaning of that movement (the lyrics were written after the composition, and the signature couplet was suggested by Rana himself). The interpretation of the last movement is offered before it, so that no words should be needed after the grand finale.

The poetry, incidentally, is based on Layla's love letter to Majnun in Nizami's epic, and Masroor Anwar seems to have done a superb job capturing the essence of the original poem.

Find out more about Sohail Rana at his official fansite (you can listen to 'Akele na jana' on the Film Songs page under Armaan, or directly in your player)
Read Sohail Rana's comments on this post.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The unity of humankind

Iqbal's concept of ideal state seems to be based on three unities:
  1. The unity of life
  2. The unity of humankind
  3. The unity of nation
The second of these is mentioned in the Allahabad Address in the following words:

Indeed the first practical step that Islam took towards the realization of a final combination of humanity was to call upon peoples possessing practically the same ethical ideal to come forward and combine. The Quran declares, “O people of the Book! Come let us join together on the ‘word’ (Unity of God), that is common to us all.”
The verse which has been quoted here is 64 of the third chapter. Iqbal perceives it as an ideal and a goal: "a final combination of humanity” is going to be the destination where the humanity will arrive at last, and perhaps it's too early right now for us to fully comprehend this far-off goal lying in a distant future when all nations will acquire a unity of vision despite religious and cultural diversity. “The wars of Islam and Christianity, and, later, European aggression in its various forms, could not allow the infinite meaning of this verse to work itself out in the world of Islam,” Iqbal goes on to say. “Today it is being gradually realized in the countries of Islam in the shape of what is called Muslim Nationalism.”

Hence this “final combination” seems to be an inevitable destination which cannot be avoided. Humanity seems to be moving towards it through good and bad experiences – just as Joseph moved towards the fulfillment of his dream. By forgetting this ideal we increase misery. By recognizing it we bring “peace within and peace without” (to borrow a phrase from Jinnah).

Even if we can't completely comprehend this unity in the present state of chaos, can we at least have some direct experience of it now? The answer, according to Iqbal, is yes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pakistan, the next 20 years

In view of the history of Pakistan, five trends seem likely to occur in the next twenty years:
2008-10: Disenchantment with the West
Disenchantment with the West, having acquired a new hype in July, is likely to escalate relentlessly because there is a regrettable lack of quality communication between West and the people of Pakistan, especially the unschooled masses who have been the true balancing factor in the life of this country.
2010-16: Isolation
Once the phase of disenchantment reaches its peak, an increasing number of Pakistanis including the educated segment are likely to become culturally and mentally isolated from the West.
Possible Conflict
Conflict of interests easily explodes into its actual equivalent when negotiations fail. The absence of quality dialogue between West and the masses of Pakistan also can lead to an actual conflict if disenchantment and isolation are not addressed in the earlier stages.
2017-26: Crisis of federation
Pakistan was all about discovering new possibilities but the various theories about forms of government tried out here, and the existing perception about federation, have been West-defined to various extents. These may get affected as a consequence. In that case, for a decade beginning around 2017, it may seem as if the idea of Pakistan as conceived in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 has become irrelevant in some ways if not all.
2026-27: Emergence of inherent unity
The units which now constitute the federation of Pakistan have been interdependent since the earliest known period of civilization. This inherent unity of the region can easily surprise the onlookers by discovering a new channel for its continuation.
It may be seen that at each stage there are possibilities for preventing conflict and facilitating healthy growth. They require vision and where there is no vision, people perish.