Saturday, August 29, 2009

Joseph: diction, recitation and "embellishment"

The surah begins as God’s address to the reader:

  1. A. L. R. These are the verses of the perspicuous Book.
  2. We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran, in order that you may learn wisdom.
  3. We do relate to you the most beautiful of stories, in that We reveal to you this Quran: before this, you too were among those who knew it not.
One possible implication of being “the best of the stories” can be that each generation should be able to see this surah as the finest model of any genre best-known to them. We are just coming out of an age where screenplay was the dominant form of literature, and are probably entering an era when blog, website and interactive workshop may become accepted as forms of literatures. As such, we are likely to appreciate this surah by such analogies – just as our ancestors may have decoded it as the celestial prototype of epic poem, dastan and history.

Like them, we must also remember that despite being so many different things to so many different people, it essentially remains what it really is: a surah of “an Arabic Quran.” Neither poetry, nor fiction, it is a sign of God, which begins with three cryptic letters whose meaning is known only to God – just like those dreams and visions which Joseph encounters in the story.

A dignity befitting this relationship between the Divine narrator and a most special listener is retained despite all twists and turns. The narrative does not become fragmented into different “voices”. Only within a well-guarded unity of theme and plot is each character allowed the opportunity to speak out his or her mind. Hence Potiphar says, “Behold! It is a snare of you women! Truly, mighty is your snare,” and we get the impression of an honest but busy bureaucrat who is given to generalization for the sake of reaching quick decisions and preserving order at the cost of original thinking.

Hence, the surah has a form of its own which may not be completely paralleled anywhere else in the world – and hence the famous claim of the Quran, “And if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a surah like thereunto, and call your witnesses or helpers besides Allah, if yours are true” (Chapter 2, ‘The Cow’, Verse 23).

The originality of this Quranic form may not be fully appreciated until we listen to the original text (even without knowing Arabic), and imbibe its resonation not with the critical left brain but the more holistic right brain. It could be a singularly enriching experience to encounter the powerful musical element in the diction of this surah, for instance in a “creative” recitation by someone like Mishary Rashid (highly recommended: you can listen to him in the Quran Explorer or on his personal website).

Moving across such spectacular locations as stars and moon, deserts and oases, caravans, the Nile Rive Valley, and markets and palaces of ancient Egypt, this narrative is singularly lacking in that vivid imagery which characterizes some other passages in the Quran. The reason is obvious: the power of this surah can be felt apart from “representation and appearances” and its most important embellishment comes from the soul of its real protagonist, the reader.

As mentioned before, the “framing action” of the surah is dialogue between God and the reader, with which the surah begins. The subsequent story of Joseph, however interesting it may be, is just a kind of mise en abyme – a design within design – in this, and the “framing action” is resumed as soon as the subplot of Joseph finishes. “Such is one of the stories of what happened unseen, which We reveal by inspiration to you,” says God in Verse 102, and ends His epilogue on a spectacularly high note, nine verses later, declaring the surah to be “a detailed exposition of all things, and a guide and a mercy to any such as believe.”

A detailed exposition of “all things” in only a hundred and eleven verses may also be an acknowledgement of the inexhaustible depth of the reader’s own soul. Theme, action, characters, diction, music and embellishment became an indivisible unity in this narrative so that the reader could write on her or his soul the greater Unity of God, which was the key with which Joseph decoded mysteries and foretold destinies of individuals and nations. For that, the readers have to recollect their own energies – the Josephs of their souls must also outwit the scheming stepbrothers of fear, desire and flawed reasoning in order to become one unified whole. To quote from Iqbal: “What is the nation, you who declare ‘No god but God’? With thousands of eyes, to be one in vision! …Do not look slightingly on oneness of vision; this is a true epiphany of the Unity…Are you dead? Become living through oneness of vision; cease to be centre-less, become stable. Create unity of thought and action, that you may possess authority in the world” (‘Beyond the Spheres’ in Javidnama).

For this reason, no Sufi poet may ever have mentioned Joseph without insisting that the reader, too, is a Joseph. In The Conference of the Birds, Attar goes to the extent of introducing a fictitious anecdote which cannot be fitted into the Quranic version of this story but which drives home the analogy between Joseph and the readers of Attar’s book at the end of their journeys.

The Age of Openness (Since 1747)

As stated in my recent publication, Iqbal – Tashkeeli Daur, 1905-13, I divide history after the early days of Islam into the following phases:
  • Persian Revival, 750-1258
  • Chinese Revival, 1258-1747
  • Afghan Revival, Since 1747
The present phase, which started with the birth of Afghan nation-state in 1747, may also be called ‘the Age of Openness’ (with reference to the famous poem of Iqbal, ‘March 1907’). Unlike before, no conqueror in this age seems to be able to retain the fruits of aggression: Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler and so on.

The present times have given us some "guarantees" which were never available before. Nature itself (or Destiny, if you want to call it that), seems to be on the side of moral correctness, and brute force becomes helpless when challenged on the basis of a correct principle. On the flip side, there seems to be a greater need for people to be aware of their rights not only individually but also collectively, because they can still lose freedom if due to some moral flaw they allow themselves to be outwitted by a cunning usurper.

Hence, we need to think:

What are the challenges of these times, and what opportunities do we have now which were never available before?

Workshop in Nawabshah

I conducted a five-hour workshop on Javidnama on behalf of Iqbal Academy Pakistan at Teachers’ Resource Centre, Shaheed Benazirabad (Nawabshah) on Thursday, August 20, 2009. It was attended by teachers from various schools in the nearby region. Details follow for those who may be interested:
  1. General questions elicited at the beginning of the sessions turned out to be mostly about whether Iqbal was a poet or philosopher, and whether the intuition of a poet could be trusted to guide in matters such as the life of a nation, its future and its identity. I refrained from answering these questions directly: usually by the end of these workshops, participants arrive at answers on their own, and the same happened here.
  2. Javidnama was introduced: blurb, introductory prayer and the two preludes which define the framing action of the epic.
  3. Participants were divided into seven groups and each group was asked to study a chapter of Javidnama with the purpose of presenting a summary before the whole class later. They were given 20-30 minutes for the purpose.
  4. Each group was given approximately 5 minutes for presenting the summaries (in the order of chapters). After each presentation, I added any important point of the story if had been left out (which wasn’t often).
  5. I then invited the participants to see that there was a natural progression through the seven chapters of the story, as if each chapter developed from the outcome of the previous one. Participants were also invited to explore parallels between these and the seven verses of Surah Fatiha.
  6. The participants were then invited to explore parallels between Javidnama and the “Seven heroines” of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. The outcome was mind-boggling, to say the least.

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Dare and Live": Jinnah's views about Iqbal

“He was the greatest interpreter of Islam in modern times," Quaid-i-Azam said about Iqbal on March 3, 1941. I am now beginning to realize how profound was his understanding of Iqbal.

In the ‘Quaid-i-Azam Corner’ of the Republic of Rumi, I have added eleven statements of Quaid about Iqbal. In one of these, he says, "DARE AND LIVE is Iqbal's message." What a wonderful motto coming from the founder of the nation on the authority of Iqbal himself!

Also included there is the foreword written by him to Letters of Iqbal to Jinnah (1943). It is a must-read for anyone desiring to understand the thought-processes that went into the making of Pakistan.

In the foreword, Jinnah calls Iqbal "the sage, philosopher and national poet of Islam," explains his contribution in making Muslim League popular in Muslim majority provinces, sheds light on the background of Iqbal's correspondence with him, and then goes on to say:
“I think these letters are of very great historical importance, particularly those which explain his views in clear and unambiguous terms on the political future of Muslim India. His views were substantially in consonance with my own and had finally led me to the same conclusions…”

Ibne Safi: issues for advanced research

Now with the revival of Ibne Safi, there is once again some talk about doctoral research on him. In my opinion, there are thee are some underlying issues which need to be resolved first:
  • What is Pakistan? How does the creation of this state questions previous notions in the domain of social and political sciences?
  • What is a nation? How does it regulate the society which becomes it?
  • What are the components of a society and how does their "hidden" working become "apparent" in the creation of Pakistan?
  • What is/was the Muslim community of the sub-continent, how is it redefined through the creation of Pakistan, and what is the continuation of its literary and political history?
Once these questions are answered "through" Ibne Safi (rather than "for" him), then other questions can be taken up, for instance the evolution of Dastan (prose epic) into "Sirri Adab" through him, and how his "sirri novel" being so much shorter than Dastan is also comparable with "hikayat" (parable). In other words, how dastan and hikayat converge in his "sirri novel" and how it alters the modern European novel in order to conform to the whims, tastes and aspirations of that amazing generation who had worked out the miracle of Pakistan (on both sides of the border).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Joseph: theme, plot and characters

The theme of this surah is a gift bestowed upon Joseph by God. Implications of the gift are insight into destiny through interpretation of visions, events and stories. Its corollaries are incorruptible moral character, patience, hope and forgiveness. The purpose is to bring together a scattered “family,” be it the house of Jacob or the family of God (i.e. the entire human race).

In this chapter, described by the Quran as “the best of the stories”, the pace of action is fast: in Verse 5, Joseph is advised not to mention his vision to stepbrothers but as early as Verse 8, they are already discussing that vision. The narrative shifts at least between six “scenes” in as few as seventeen initial verses:
  • 1-3: Prelude
  • 4-6: Joseph shares his dream with father
  • 7-10: Brothers plot against Joseph
  • 11-14: Brothers persuade father to send Joseph with them
  • 15: Brothers throw Joseph in the well, and he receives revelation
  • 16-17: Brothers return to father and give false report
Verisimilitude is avoided and even certain details found in other sources, such as the Old Testament, are skipped. This gives us a terse and compact narrative in which every single item is a metaphor that may never run out of applications in the lives of individuals, nations and humanity.

With the exception of Joseph, active characters are not called by proper names but mentioned either by their relationship with him or their positions. Even “the father of Joseph”, named in the Quran on several other occasions, is not called Jacob in this surah, except once where he is being listed among Joseph’s predecessors along with Abraham and Isaac, and hence not in his active role in the plot.

Characters are well-rounded. Even among careful commentators we find many who approach the character of Joseph with a frankness which they may not dare towards any other prophet mentioned in the Quran. Personally, I do not admire this but at least it is a testimony to the naturalism of this particular surah that even some otherwise staunch and orthodox mufassirin get carried away in this manner. Even the mischievous wife of Potiphar doesn’t fail to gain sympathy with the reader and, by her proper name Zulaykha (not mentioned in the Quran), she becomes an extremely popular character in Sufi literature inspired by this surah.

The terseness of narrative adds to the psychological depth of characters: Jacob says in Verse 5 that Satan is an open enemy, and in Verse 9, Joseph's stepbrothers are saying, “Slay Joseph or cast him out to some other land, that so the favor of your father may be given to you alone, for you to be righteous after that.” Layers of hypocrisy can be seen in this idea of attaining a spiritual station by committing murder, and hoping that later piety would make up for it. Since Satan has been mentioned in the previous “scene” itself, the dialogue also becomes a study in the psychology of diabolically inspired thinking.

This particular error will be exposed through the action of the plot itself. In the second half, we shall see that the brothers have indeed become “honest” but just when they will be serious about protecting the other favorite child of their father (the precious “Benjamin”), he will be taken away. Again, they will stand before their father, offering excuses, and the shame of failing to protect a brother will be theirs once more. Hence, the unity of this narrative is such that it becomes difficult to separate theme, action and plot.

Incidentally, two new characters introduced by the Quran who are not so active in other versions, and who are as integral to this unity of theme, action and plot here, are God Himself and “you”, i.e. the reader. The surah begins as dialogue between these two characters and that’s how it ends. The relationship between these two major “characters” resonates in the diction and music of this surah, and provides it the necessary embellishment, as shall be seen in the next installment of these observations.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An Introduction to Ancient Greece

Under this title, I am presenting the following writings of mine, originally published in The Review, the midweek supplement of Dawn in the early 2000s and written from a perspective which I now call "the Valley of Wonderment":

  1. Helen of Troy
  2. Herodotus
  3. Socrates
  4. Aristotle
  5. Alexander the Great
  6. Cleopatra

The religion of ancient Greece appears to be derived from various pagan traditions. Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war may have been one of the idols smashed by Abraham in the famous anecdote mentioned in the Quran. In Greece, she matured into the consummation of Venus and Mars, devoutly to be sought. Aristotle stands out as a rare visionary who showed that a deeper analysis of Greek drama depicted the universe to be ruled by a single master. If studied carefully, his Poetics may be one of the two most beautiful tributes to the Unity of God outside Abraham’s direct following (the other being Bhagavad Gita).

In his famous expedition, Aristotle’s great pupil Alexander discarded the legacy of Pharaoh for the path of Cyrus, who may have been the mysterious Zulqarnayn praised in the Quran. In any case, the original message of the Persian prophet Zarathustra was Unity, and Alexander adopted the statecraft, etiquettes and even the dress of Zoroastrians. In becoming a second Cyrus he also became another Zulqarnayn (something that didn’t escape the notice of Persian Sufi masters like Ferdowsi and Nezami Ganjavi).

After Alexander, the fall of Greece coincided with a revival of Plato, especially in the land of the Pharaoh where hypocrisy watched over the birth of Roman imperialism as Cleopatra relinquished her paradise to the serpent of the Nile.

Note on the background of these writings: I call the twenty years from 1987 to 2006 the Valley of Wonderment in the history of Pakistan because Sheikh Fariduddin Attar has described the valley in The Conference of the Birds as a place where the Unity previously written on the souls is gone. Travelers do not know whether they are dead or live, awake or asleep, and all they can tell is that they are in love but they do not know with whom. There cannot be a more apt description for this phase of our collective life, and it resonated in my writings too. Read more...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jaswant Singh on Jinnah

Muhammad Ali Jauhar (1878-1931) believed that an idea introduced in the field of education in India seeps into politics roughly thirty year later. This time, it has taken twenty-five, so Jauhar may not be wide off the mark.

In 1984, two apologies appeared for Jinnah. Pakistani-American scholar Ayesha Jalal suggested in The Sole Spokesman that Quaid-i-Azam (“the Great Leader”) may not have intended Pakistan, using it only as a bargaining chip, while the partition may have occurred due to some mistakes by Nehru and other Hindu leaders. American Orientalist Stanley Wolpert gave roughly the same impression in Jinnah of Pakistan.

Jaswant Singh, formerly of BJP (extremist Hindu political party in India), has now presented the same case, replacing the caution of academics with the forecefullness of a politician. This may not be a change of heart: he has retained his view that Pakistan was a mistake, only shifting the blame from Jinnah to Congress (incidentally the arch-rival of BJP).

This is where he contradicts Jinnah and the people of Pakistan, according to whom the country was created by the vote of the Muslim community of the entire sub-continet in the election of 1945-46. If somebody made a mistake, it were the Muslim masses of the sub-continet, almost unanimously, and not some political leader alone, whether Jinnah or Nehru.

Singh is unlikely to contribute towards good relations between India and Pakistan, which depend mainly on India’s acceptance of its neighboring state. This book doesn’t provide any solid basis for that. On the other hand, it gives an edge to extremist Hindu parties by showing the more egalitarian and secular Congress to be traitor. Singh may have actually prevented the Congress from taking a pro-peace stance in the near future.

Note: The following links to reviews and interviews are being added on an on-going basis. Please feel free to suggest.
  1. Jaswant Singh: Jinnah was a great man
  2. The Times of India: Jaswant's view on Jinnah has scholarly backing
  3. C M Naim: Jaswant - not so original
  4. Beena Sarwar: Jinnah Revisited - thank you Jaswant Singh
  5. Vinod Sharma: Jaswant Isn't Jinnah's Sole Spokesman
  6. Mani Shankar Aiyar: Who Dunit? Not Nehru
  7. C M Naim: Pseudo-scholarship
  8. Pakistan Historian: Jaswant Singh Liked Jinnah's Cabinet Mission Plan

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rashid Minhas: 38th Anniversary

Tomorrow, August 20, is the 38th anniversary of the martyrdom of Rashid Minhas Shaheed, N.H. Following is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to younger brothers at the age of eighteen.
Why can’t we be like animals? You must be knowing already that it is just because man wants to know the truth, the truth about himself, about the world, about everything. This is what they call the eternal quest for truth or truth through knowledge. Of course religion gives it all to you in a concise form but it does not stop you from finding out for yourself and strengthening your belief. That is how it must be with you. YOU MUST FIND OUT THE TRUTH YOURSELF.

What is literature?

According to Iqbal, the rise and fall of nations depend on literary ideals even more than politics, economics and other circumstances which, although important, are subservient to ideals embraced by a nation through literature. In some cases, even the human understanding of a divinely revealed religion may be moderated by the effects of such ideals.

From this point of view, Iqbal distinguishes between two kinds of literature. The first is entertaining, uplifting and portrays beauty (in my researches, I propose the term “consensus literature” for this school, because its writers seek to unite diverse segments of their societies). When nations are strong, they respect this type of literature and when they grow weak, they start looking down upon it (See One Heart for Peace for an excerpt from Iqbal’s own writing on this subject).

The second kind of literature is depressing and portrays ugliness. Its writers claim that common people are incapable of finding attraction in “the best of what has been thought and said”. Thus these writers create dichotomy between “high literature” and “popular literature,” splitting the soul of a society between the elite and the unschooled. When nations grow weak and societies cannot hold themselves together they embrace such theories, as was the case with various European nations after 1857 (see my monograph The Beast and the Lion). For a refreshing post on this subject, check the Blog of Faraz Haider.

How old is this contention between consensus-seeking and dichotomy-making? That’s what we shall see next: Mesopotamia, the birth of literature.

Photograph is taken from the blog One Heart for Peace

Mesopotamia: the birth of literature

Earliest civilizations emerged on the banks of great rivers. Mesopotamia, on Tigris and Euphrates in modern Iraq, was among them. One of the greatest souls is supposed to have walked in its cities around 2000 BC. His name has been given to us as Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic).

Is there an eye-witness account of him? To me, the Quran is the Word of God, and God was there when Abraham entered into argument with a king.

Have you not turned your vision to one who disputed with Abraham about his Lord, because Allah had granted him power?” Says God in Chapter 2, Verse 258. Abraham said, ‘My Lord is He Who gives life and death.’ He said, ‘I give life and death.’ Abraham said, ‘But Allah causes the sun to rise from the east. Do thou then cause it to rise from the West!’ Thus was he confounded who rejected faith – Allah does not give guidance to a people unjust.

The king failed to distinguish between his limited power of granting pardons and commanding executions, and the power of God over the entire universe. Abraham offered him intimations of immortality: the sun had been rising from the East, and so it would in future because a certain pattern existed in Nature.

The king was looking at the sun as a golden disc. Abraham turned it into a symbol. The books revealed to his successors were destined to be the highest selling titles forever: the Bible and the Quran.
Next: the literature of Nimrod (“the king” who opposed Abraham)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A book I don't like

Mother of the Faithful by Kamran Pasha is a book which I would not read for obvious reasons.

It's a "historical fiction" about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birth of Islam, written as an "autobiographical novel" in the voice of Bibi Ayesha. Here are the opening lines:

"What is faith? It is a question I have asked myself over the years, dear nephew, and I am no closer to the answer now then I was when my hair was still crimson like the rising dawn, not the pale silver of moonlight as it is today."

In the novel, this is Bibi Ayesha speaking! I didn't read beyond this. You can find out about the book at the website of Pasha, especially the following pages:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My book in the library of Shakespeare Birthplace

I have received an email from Iqbal Academy UK informing me of something which I consider an honor. My book, Iqbal: an Illustrated Biography (2006), has been presented for inclusion in the Birthplace Library at Stratford-upon-Avon. The director of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust received it from a delegation which included chairperson of the Academy and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham.

The love which I feel for Shakespeare is beyond words, therefore I feel a special joy at receiving this news. Following are relevant portions of the email sent to me by Dr. Saeed Akhtar Durrani, Chairman, Iqbal Academy UK, whose contribution towards retrieving the documents related to Iqbal from various places in Europe is especially noteworthy.

From: Saeed Akhtar Durrani
Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Subject: Re: Fw: [RR] Iqbal's views about Shakespeare

Dear Khurram Shafique,

On 5th June 09, a delegation led by me as the Chairman, Iqbal Academy (UK) and including the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, visited Dr Diana Owen, Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at Stratford upon Avon. We presented a copy of your illustrated book to her for the Birthplace Library.

We also proposed that a suitable plaque, containing Iqbal's Ode to the Bard be installed at a suitable place. The Director graciously agreed to our proposal.

I have now asked the noted calligrapher, Mr Rasheed Butt, to prepare a suitable metal plaque - but still await his answer...

I gave the Trust my own translation of Iqbal's poem - which has been placed in their Library. I'll keep you informed of progress…

With best wishes.

Saeed Durrani, Chairman, Iqbal Academy (UK)

Cinema of politics

Nahin Abhi Nahin (1980), directed by the progressive filmmaker Nazrul Islam and released during the period of strict Islamic laws of General Ziaul Haque was not perceived as anything more than a coming of age romance, but was it just that?

Beginning as an Aligarh desire of a peasant couple wanting their son to receive high education, the story follows the son, Armaan (literally meaning aspiration) to a hostel in the city.

1. Kuchh bhi karo yeh rokien: Armaan, the innocent boy from village is advised by his street-smart roommate Bobby to pluck flowers if he likes (prohibited by authorities in the public park). "These excessive prohibitions are conspiracy hatched against us by a few fanatics," says Bobby. An old gentleman interrupts compassionately, "No, my son. This is how we, who are your elders, are offering you guidance." When Armaan takes sides with the oldman, Bobby responds by singing this song - symbolic criticism of General Zia's version of "Islamization"?

2. Samaan woh khwab sa: Adolescent Armaan is searching for the older woman Shabnam on whom he has a crush - or is it about a teenager in the days of General Zia regretting to have missed the more liberal 1970s because he was too young at that time ('samaan woh "khwab sa" samaan')?

3. Uss nay dekha: Armaan meets his older crush, Shabnam, who kisses him on the forehead just as he had seen in a Hollywood film earlier - is he misinterpreting her gesture because his head is filled with imported fantasies? He narrates the incident to his buddy Bobby, imagining a romantic future: "We'll have a little courtyard, and a life like flowers; she'll live for me and I'll live for her". In those days, students were getting carried away with political activism, aspiring to bring back the liberal democratic setup of the bygone days (just a little later they were going to hijack a PIA plane and demand release of political prisoners).

4. Ban jao tum filmstar: in the days of the Hudood Ordinance, a schoolgirl could do such things on a beach only in her fantasy. In this dream sequence, Aarzoo (whose name is almost synonymous to Armaan) advises the boy of her dreams to become a filmstar and imagines his later years filled with showbiz fame along with related problems: alcohol, women and loss of true love. Similar to what occured soon after the end of Zia period, with mushroom growth of private channels and liberal policies of the rulers?

5. Climax: Shabnam gets upset when Armaan proposes to her: she had been seeing in him a reflection of her young brother who died in an accident. Armaan attempts suicide, is rescued, and gets reformed: when offered an apple by Arzoo, who had been loving him without getting any response so far, he replies, "Our elders are right. Flowers which bloom before their time also die premature. I shall eat this fruit but no, not now (nahin abhi nahin)." Students should concentrate on studies because they cannot bring back the older democracy of the past through agitation, but will find a new one of their own in due time?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beyond Secularism

The Wikipedia article on secularism (a must-read) describes it as the idea of liberating the governments from the interference of religion. On occasions it has also protected religion from invasion of the “secular” segments in the West.

Does this also give a greater chance for equality between various religious groups living in a society? The question did not become relevant until after the Second World War because until then, most secular societies were either composed of just one religion, or religious minorities did not even except to be treated equally.

Today, many educated people look towards secularism as an ideology which may ensure equality between religious groups just as it ensured some civil liberties in the past. However, historical evidence for this presumption doesn't exist. Even as recently as the election campaign of Barrack Obama, the candidate had to assure his voters so many times that he was not Muslim. Likewise it is unlikely that a Muslim could be elected Prime Minister in India in the foreseeable future.

The modern world may be justified in looking beyond secularism, theocracy and socialism. The writings and speeches of Iqbal, Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, as well as their practical contribution may be valuable assets for such a task, whenever started seriously.

Jinnah may have been pointing in the direction of seeking fresh solutions when he said, in the beginning of the same August 11 speech, that the birth of Pakistan was without any precedent in modern history:
As it is, it has been unprecedented; there is no parallel in the history of the world. This mighty sub-continent with all kinds of inhabitants has been brought under a plan which is titanic, unknown, unparalleled. And what is very important with regard to it is that we have achieved it peacefully and by means of an evolution of the greatest possible character.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The final combination

Today is August 11, and the speech which Jinnah delivered on this day in 1947 was a landmark in a long process towards spiritual democracy which started with the birth of Islam. While presenting the concept of Pakistan in 1930, Iqbal had stated:
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 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. (Read complete text of the Allahabad Address)
Hence, according to Iqbal, Pakistan was supposed to be a step towards “a universal social reconstruction” where people from different faiths could combine without losing their respective beliefs and, together, they may evolve “a new Adam and a new world for him to live in.”

Jinnah’s 11 August Speech comes as a natural sequel to this: “Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

Next: we shall see why this may not be possible through secularism.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Did Jinnah want secular Pakistan?

Tomorrow is August 11. On that day in 1947, the founder of Pakistan inaugurated the Constituent Assembly with a long speech, which also included the following lines:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State…

Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

Followers of Jinnah have always believed that these ideals are consistent with Islam as understood in the conception of Pakistan and endorsed by the consensus of Muslim masses in the sub-continent (See, for instance, p.10 of the discussion paper recently produced by Shahid Hamid for Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency with the help of Friedrich Eburt Stiftung).

Opponents, at home and abroad, often interpret these words to mean that Jinnah was going secular. On this basis, religiously-identified opponents argue that Jinnah’s vision was not consistent with Islam and should be modified, while liberals and progressives suggest that since these words betray secular thought, therefore the concept of Pakistan as defined by the founding fathers elsewhere should be thrown out of the window and replaced with Western secularism.

What did Jinnah really mean? A few key documents shall be presented in the next few posts (and the popular strand of Rumi, Goethe, etc shall resume after that).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Goethe and Rumi

In 1917, Iqbal wrote in a newspaper:
Our soul discovers itself when we come into contact with a great mind. It is not until I had realised the infinitude of Goethe’s mind that I discovered the narrow breadth of my own.
In one of the poems of Iqbal, Goethe meets Rumi in heaven and reads his play Faust. Rumi offers feedback. Following is a translation by Mustansir Mir (slightly modified by me).
Jalal and Goethe
In paradise that perceptive German
Happened upon the Master of the East.
Where is a poet of such stature!—
Though not a prophet, he is possessed of scripture!
To the one who knew divine secrets
He read about the pact of the Devil and the doctor.
Rumi said, “You who bring words to life,
And hunt angels—and God—
Your thought has made its home
In the inner recesses of the heart,
And created this old world anew.
At one and the same time in the body’s frame,
You have seen the tranquillity and the restlessness of the soul,
You have been a witness to the birth of the pearl in the shell.
Not everyone knows the secret of love;
Or is fit to reach these portals.
He who is blest, and a confidant, knows
That cunning comes from the Devil and love from Adam.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Iqbal's views about Shakespeare

In 1916 was the 300th death anniversary of William Shakespeare. Book of Homage to Shakespeare was being compiled on this occasion with tributes from all over the world. Iqbal’s tribute was also included: a poem which he apparently started some six years ago but didn’t finish until then. It had fourteen lines, just like Shakespeare’s sonnets.

It is usually considered to be one of the best tributes to the Bard. Following is a translation by Mustansir Mir (slightly modified by me).

The flowing river mirrors the red glow of dawn,
The quiet of the evening mirrors the evening song,
The rose‑leaf mirrors spring’s beautiful cheek;
The chamber of the cup mirrors the beauty of the wine;
Beauty mirrors Truth, the heart mirrors Beauty;
The beauty of your speech mirrors the heart of human being.
Life finds perfection in your sky‑soaring thought;
Was your luminous nature the goal of existence?

When the eye wished to see you, and looked,
It saw the sun hidden in its own brilliance.
You were hidden from the eyes of the world,
But with your own eyes you saw the world exposed and bare.
Nature guards its mysteries so jealously,
It will never again create one who knows so many secrets.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Iqbal's relationship with Rumi

A frequently asked question is why Iqbal chose Rumi as mentor. Iqbal's own answer would be that he didn't. Rumi chose him. "The candle rushed onto the moth," he says in the prelude of his first book of poetry. Some biographical evidence explains this (and has been brought to light in my recently published Iqbal - Tashkeely Daur).

Even then, the question remains valid when reworded: In what manner is the thought of Iqbal connected with the thought of Rumi?

When studied in the light of guidance from Iqbal, the central message of Rumi turns out to be that idea can become reality. That happens to be the gist of Iqbal's message as well (and incidentally he is the only poet whose imagination gave birth to a real country on the map of the world).

Hopefully, this may also explain why this blog is called The Republic of Rumi while so much of it deals with Iqbal and related concepts - and why there is a symbolic tomb of Iqbal in the family graveyard of Mevlana Rumi in Konya (dust from Iqbal's real grave in Lahore was taken and buried just outside the entrance to Mevlana's own mausoleum, with Iqbal's name written on the tombstone).