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Friday, October 28, 2011

Oaf Tobark …

Can hardly put this down!

[Get it from Liberty Books]

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bertrand Russell

(Written for Ragni)
Here is a picture of Bertrand Russell, taken by Dame Lotte Meitner-Graf. It hangs in the Captain's Dayroom (although many people call it a 'library') in our house.

Bertie | Captain s Dayroom WM

Lotte was a lovely old photographer. She took several portraits of Russell on his birthdays and other days. She also told me how she had a lot of difficulty in photographing 'a young Princess Elizabeth, who was very sober and not a bit like her sister'.

There is a print of this picture as a frontispiece in Bertrand Russell's autobiography. I always thought it would look great on the cover instead of the picture she had used. I went to see her in London, having once been told by my father that she was a wonderful photographer — and, soon, I was heralded in by a beautiful little deaf girl who'd been with Lotte for years.

Lotte started discussing London's weather (it was raining like crazy) and then moved on to loads of other things, including the fact that my father had met her in London. She remembered "... that Indian doctor. He had a lovely sense of humour ...". She spoke of Pandit Nehru, whom she had taken many pictures of and found him to be a wonderful talker.

I had a great time and had a piece of fresh fluffy chocolate cake her girl had made. I then said to her, showing the book that I was carrying, that this was a lovely picture and I'd like it framed as a large one. About 1.5'x2' was what she thought would be OK and the print would cost me £150 - something that I did not have. But I said go ahead. I'll get the picture the next trip. She said that I should reconsider taking the other picture that was on the cover. "It is so much better", she insisted. I said: No -  this was what I wanted! She told me that it wasn't quite as good, but she'd do it.

Two days later I went back to her and gave her £10 in advance. She smiled at me and said I should look out of the window in the next room as Bertie was coming to her house for a set of pictures. I could not meet him at her house since he wanted to come privately, always. I looked outside and, eventually, saw Bertrand Russell - the greatest philosopher of our time - walking down the road, with an ice-cream cone in one hand and another one in the other hand. I believe he was often seen that way. That was really wonderful. (I did see Russell earlier, in a garden near his house, when he walked past in the mornings to read. I also saw him at one of his last meetings in London.)

Next trip, when I reached London, I had no money with me, though I did have about £100 in a bank … but I wasn't sure if I should borrow the money from someone and get the picture or not. Maybe I'll phone her the following trip, I thought.

The next day we heard that Russell had died.

I just had to get the picture. I told Nuzhat, borrowed the money from someone, and phoned Lotte. She said I should come over. When I got there, she said the picture was much "brillianter, if I can use a word children use these days. Much more than I thought it would be". She was really thrilled to see it and said to me that she'd let me have it for just £50, because I was right in choosing a good picture.

(Ragni: The picture hangs in the room where I spend most of my time. Under it is a collection of his books. You can have both when I am no longer here, but I certainly hope you'll have to wait a bit … I promised you that I'd try and be around until I am at least 80 years old!)

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Mustafa Zaidi

He was born 81 years ago in Allahabad. He wrote poetry (first as Tegh Allahabadi and, later, as Mustafa Zaidi) and several of his books of poems were published. We now even have a proper Kulliaat, so those of you who have not read most of his work should go out and get it. Now!
(This is unlike the various forms of Kulliaat of Faraz published, with incremental verses, while he was alive … and, recently, Fahmida Riaz's Kulliaat, although I hope to see her writing many more verses).
My first reaction to seeing his work was of utter amazement. Published in 1949, I read Zanjeerayñ about 3 years later - when I was just 12 - and could not stop. Since then I bought every book he published: Roshni; Shehré Azar; Mauj Meri Sadaf Sadaf; Garaybaan; Qabaaé Saaz — and, of course, his posthumously published Kohé Nida.

Through all my love of Urdu poetry, something that had happened almost as far as I can think back — with regular mushaeraas in our own house and among relatives and Abi's friends — I did read a lot of poems. In spite of being a great Josh Maleehabaadi fan, a Sahir Ludhianvi devotee, and a lover of Faiz, Mustafa Zaidi's works were always my favourites. This man's works were remarkably different. I still read his collected works after a few days. His poetry had truth, beauty, love, and honesty.

Mustafa Zaidi was a great follower of Josh

and the old poet looked upon him like a son. 

Mustafa's poems contain some of his finest ghazals, too, but his nazms were even better. His response to Faiz and Sibté Hasan for refusing to print his work (because of the government's ideas!) had him write a lovely poem. It became the talk of the town. Even the poem that didn't get published became a household kalaam and everyone of us recited it. His poem about a possible war with India is remarkable. Whether it's his small poem on Vietnam or a major work, like his amazing travel tale, they are works that I find impossible to see in any collection of other poets. (Why do I not name the poems? I want you to go out and get his collected works and find them!) 

Sadly, Mustafa was murdered in 1970 (just 4 days before his 40th birthday). Part of the blame fell on his 'girlfriend' of the time, Shahnaz Gul. She was caught and tried, but the police — for reasons the intimate parties know well but won't tell —  cleared her and decided that Mustafa had committed suicide. Shahnaz probably was in the know of what really happened, though she did not actually kill him. She went back to her husband, who had actually found Mustafa's body (and Shahnaz Gul, in a stupor, lying next to him). Yes, she was an absolutely amazing woman and had loads of strange and madly-in-love 'friends'. None, I imagine, could have loved her as much as Mustafa Zaidi. His last five poems about her will tell you the kind of love he had for her. Here is one beautiful shayr he wrote for her:

اترا تھا جس پہ  باب حیا کا ورق ورق 
بستر کی ایک ایک شکن کی شریک تھی

The government (I really wouldn't know who else to blame!) went to town on him. The entire period after the trial we heard nothing in the papers other than a 'second murder' of Mustafa by the press. Jang, the paper with the highest readership in Pakistan — and something that went into millions of homes — carried images, stories, discussions, even interviews with prostitutes, about how 'evil' Mustafa was. The public 'swallowed' all of this, decided that the murder of such a man was something that needed no tears, moved his books either out of the house or locked them up. Children were not to read about him. Youngsters were never to be given his writings. Soon, we lost his works and his popularity — and, for many younger people, Mustafa did not exist.

It is fortunate that Mustafa is now 'back' and many young people are beginning to read him again today.

There are many things to read about him, including Laurel Steele's beautiful English work (which includes some of his poems, translated by her, and an elegy by Salaam Machli-Shahri). There is a remarkable piece by Raza Rumi on his blog. I was a bit perturbed at the piece's early statement (has it now been slightly modified?) that Mustafa had committed suicide. I knew that was not the truth and many people also felt that way. But that's what the government and the police had people believe — and Raza is much younger than I am so I won't begrudge him writing that way. He writes well, and the piece is beautiful.

However, Saba Zaidi (a niece of Mustafa) wrote two lovely remarks on Raza's piece so do read those, too. It'll help you, perhaps, change your mind a bit.

I would have liked to write a lot more about Mustafa Zaidi ... but I decided that this should be enough. I'll hold a session at T2F soon and you'll be able to come and hear his voice reading his poems and also hear other people who knew him better talk about him.

In the meanwhile, here is a piece by him that should keep you thrilled. It contains a shayr by Mustafa Zaidi — and one that I know still holds good:

ہر ایک شخص طلبگار تھا کہ شام و سحر 
اسی کا نام  لیا جاۓ  اور  اذاں  کی طرح

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Apostasy in Islam

Apostasy (ارتداد, irtidād) is commonly defined in Islam as the rejection — in word or deed — of one's former religion by a person who was previously a follower of Islam.
The Qur'an itself does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy (to be given by Muslims).
Islamic scholarship differs on its punishment: It can range from Execution - on an interpretation of certain ahaadees— to no punishment at all as long as Atheists do not work against the Muslim society or nation.
While Maududi and Al-Qaradawi assert that Execution is the standard answer, they do not take into account the differences of an Apostate & a Treasonous Act — as can be seen in their writings. Treason does have Execution in many parts of the world, Islamic or not.
Apostasy has no such answer in any part of the world … except in a 'super-Religious' Muslim world.
Dr. Irfan Khan, a scholar and Qur'anic exegete, says: "Freedom of faith and religion is meaningless without the freedom to change one's faith." In fact there are hundreds of writers, from old to new, who have argued against Execution as the Islamic response to Apostasy.
Dr. Ahmed Shafaat, a regular writer on this and other religious subjects, has the folowing to say:
It is a significant fact that the Book of God does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy. Many Muslims would immediately say, The Qur`an does not tell us everything. We need to go to the Hadith to find guidance on matters not touched by the Qur`an. But while this is true of matters of detail, this is not true of fundamental issues. God knew that while the Qur`an would be preserved faithfully, the authenticity of ahadith will remain subject to doubts in most cases. Therefore, he would make sure that all the basic teachings would be included in the Qur`an while leaving some details to ahadith so that the size of the Qur`anic text remains manageable for memorization. Looked in this way the absence in the Qur`an of any punishment for apostasy becomes very significant.The punishment for apostasy is not a detail that we can expect God to leave for ahadith, especially if that punishment is death, since taking the life of a person, if done without a just cause, is regarded by the Qur`an as tantamount to killing all human beings (5:32). Even lesser penalties for theft (cutting of hands, 5:38), illicit sexual intercourse (100 lashes, 24:2), and unsubstantiated accusation of adultery (80 lashes, 24.4) were not considered by God as matters of details to be left to the ahadith. Therefore there is no reason why God would consider the more serious penalty of death for a more serious sin of apostasy as a matter of detail to be left to ahadith.It is also significant that the Qur`an refers to apostasy several times (2:217, 3:86-90, 4:137, 9:66, 9:74, 16:106-109, 4:88-91, 47:25-27) and yet does not prescribe any punishment for it. Had the Qur`an not mentioned apostasy at all, we could have perhaps argued that there was no occasion for the Qur`anic revelation to deal with this subject and it was therefore left for the Holy Prophet to deal with.
Dr. Javed Ghamidi, a scholar of Islam (but considered unorthodox by many in Pakistan — he now lives outside the country, having been threatened by death), says " … punishment for apostasy was part of Divine punishment for only those who denied the truth even after clarification in its ultimate form by Muhammad …". He considers it a time-bound command and no longer punishable.
In his book, Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, S. A. Rahman - once the Chief Justice in Pakistan - declares the verse [Quran 2:256] which contains the explicit language, "Let there be no compulsion in religion ...", to be "one of the most important verses of the Qur'an, containing a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind …". He argues that there is "no indication of the death penalty for apostasy in the Qur'an".
Give such a spate of evidence among the Muslims, we still have a large number of Muslim 'scholars' — including the JI that opposed Pakistan as a state and has now become a group that claims it made Pakistan — that would like to see Execution as Pakistan's legal response.
Of course, in an insanely religious world, today, things have gotten much worse outside the Muslim countries (as far as Muslims are concerned). Apostates have been threatened with death by family and friends … and some of the threateners are outsiders who don't even know the person who has decided to change his religion from Islam to another religion (or non-religious ways).
Many of these threatening behaviours even gather support from religious leaders, despite the fact that it is illegal to kill anyone and the killers would have life imprisonment or worse.
A series of bus ads that asked Apostates from Islam to call them up — so that they could provide safe places for them to stay — was 'banned' after a couple of weeks because it could 'hurt Islam or Muslims' in the USA. This ban was made possible by a call from a group that had ads on buses that showed that the real way of life of all prophets (some were named) was what Muslims believed in. That ad, of course, was not bannable — though it may have hurt Jews and Christians. It stayed on the buses.Take a look at the first few minutes of this video:

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Feb. 24, 1955 — Oct. 5, 2011

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