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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Can Muslims drink Alcohol according to Qur'an?

Quite often I am puzzled by the Muslims who drink saying that the Qur'an does not state that Drinking is Haraam. I am not sure if the word Haraam describes the highest form of bad things, and I am no scholar of Arabic. So I just go back to my usual arguments … and I see no way one can get out of them.

There are three major verses in the Qur'an about Drinking on Earth. Yes, there are verses, too, about Drinking in Heaven (where it will be allowed - but in a different form) but we won't get into those. Let us look at them:

1. Praying while Drunk:
"O you who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when you are drunken, till you know that which you utter …" (4. An-Nisa: 43).
The most important part of a Muslim rule - praying 5 times in a day - is ordered to be given up, if the Muslim is drunk. I'd assume that the majority of Muslims I know would rather not drink than give up their prayers.

2. Strong Drink being Satan’s Handiwork:
"O you who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan's handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed." (5. Al Ma' edah: 90).
Even here, apart from it being a work of the worst of God's Creation, Satan, the "Leave it aside” part is not just a recommendation … if you want to succeed. And who doesn’t?

But let's get to the important verse about Drinking and Gambling. It's Verse 219 of the 2nd Surah, Al-Baqarah. This is the verse we must use when we discuss the Drinking of Alcohol.
In Pakistan (and India) one argument one hears from believing Muslims - (who drink, and read the Qur'an translation in Urdu) - is that the verse says 

O Prophet, people ask you about laws on (Alcoholic) Drinks and Gambling.
Tell them that there is a huge disadvantage and some advantage. 
But the disadvantages are much greater than the advantages.

Such a ‘bad' translation from the Arabic!
Someone tried to ‘oppose' the word
فائدہ (=advantage) with
نقصانات (=disadvantage).
Nüqsaanaat or Nüqsaan is not in the verse at all.

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ

وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ الْعَفْو

 كَذَلِكَ يُبيِّنُ اللّهُ لَكُمُ الآيَاتِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَفَكَّرُونَ

 Yes. The words actually are:
إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ 
إِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ
(= Günaahé Kabeerah)
Meaning: A Grave Sin.

Take a look at the English Translations from several people.

002:219 Khan 
They ask you (O Muhammad SAW) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: "In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit." 
002:219 Maulana 

They ask thee about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them is a great sin and (some) advantage for men, and their sin is greater than their advantage. 
002:219 Pickthal 

They question thee about strong drink and games of chance. Say: In both is great sin, and (some) utility for men; but the sin of them is greater than their usefulness. 
002:219 Rashad 

They ask you about intoxicants and gambling: say, "In them there is a gross sin, and some benefits for the people. But their sinfulness far outweighs their benefit." 
002:219 Sarwar 

(Muhammad), they ask you about wine and gambling. Tell them that there is great sin in them. Although they have benefits for men, the sin therein is far greater than the benefit. 
002:219 Shakir 

They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit. 
002:219 Sherali 

They ask thee concerning wine and games of chance. Say 'In both there is great sin and harm and also some advantages for men, but their sin and harm are greater than their advantage,' 
002:219 Yusuf Ali 

They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: "In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit."


Shall we Drink to that?



It seems that Muslims generally take the word Haraam as the final warning. But Haraam can be forgiven by God. After all, He knows why you performed that act.

Here is Qur'an  002:173:

إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةَ وَالدَّمَ وَلَحْمَ الْخِنزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ بِهِ لِغَيْرِ اللّهِ

 فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ غَيْرَ بَاغٍ وَلاَ عَادٍ فَلا إِثْمَ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ 

Translated by Pickthal:

He hath forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and swineflesh, and that which hath been immolated to (the name of) any other than Allah. But he who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali:

He hath only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of Allah. But if one is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience - nor transgressing due limits - then is he guiltless. For Allah is Oft-forgiving Most Merciful.

However,  let's not forget that a grave or greater SIN is one that God does not forgive. Read the following verse and you'll understand what a grave sin can be:

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Moving backwards …

When we had a little quarrel among people in our offices, Sab, you and I would call the two persons and ask them to talk to each other, discuss the problems, and go away as friends. It always worked.


When you put up T2F you decided that everyone should talk. No violence. No gaali-galoch. No lies that harmed others. People should become friends even if they retain their views. Many of them became friends. Even the ones who disliked you, once, discussed their views with you and also became your friends.

See. It worked again. 

People came. Listened. Accepted or argued. They left, not always as friends but, at least, willing to hear the other points of view. Some even changed a small amount. 


Now you've gone.


Some people say they want to do things the way you did. And yet they are not talking, not allowing people to discuss, not being straight forward, lying, pretending to do things but actually doing something else, moving friends apart, being hypocritical - all of the things you hated.


What a pity! 

I'll miss you forever.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sab: See what a friend says. Twice.

Jawwad Farid wrote these lovely pieces

The first was written following Sab's assassination

Karachi is an insane city. A true Karachiite can never live anywhere else. A visitor can never understand why that is so.  The fascination is irrational and does not compute. Some think it is an asylum gone wild, others feel that the patients have taken over the administration.

Sabeen Mahmud was the head of our administration, the chair person of our union, the flag bearer of our mental asylum. In a crazy city designed for crazy people, Sabeen was our wildest flame. If she captured you in her orbit, it wouldn't be long before you would be wearing that crazy gleam in your eyes. 

When the city went mad in 2007, Sabeen and Zaheer Kidvai came up with The Second Floor (T2F). When you had more than your daily dose of work, family, neighbors, KESC, traffic and Karachi, you could escape to T2F to listen to Tee-M sing Suji Ka Halwa or play Jazz, expose your musical ear to some exotic qawali or equally exotic drinks. T2F was the only drinking hole in town where you could hear Muhammad Hanif read a case of exploding mangoes, in a cozy, intimate, friends only evening. It was a space for Karachi's citizens. An oasis of sanity in a city filled with angry men and women, bearded, mustached and otherwise.

I had heard of Sabeen, we had met a few times but it was only when I saw T2F in 2007, that I realized that Sabeen was just as crazy as the rest of us. Only a certifiably insane person would try and feed a dose of culture to these wild Karachiites or put up a reading library next to a kitchen. 

Boy, did we lap it up. T2F became the place you would go to when you had some time to kill, when you were thirsty for a green apple chiller or a corned beef sandwich, when you wanted to feel normal; the normal one can only feel when surrounded by like minded fools and fruit cakes. And because of Sabeen and T2F's magic, because of her orbit, because of the mad gleam in the eyes, there was never any shortage of fruit cakes.

T2F was my space, our space, Sabeen's space.  A corner where you went for a bit of quiet and a dose of hope.

But T2F and feeding Karachi culture was the sanest of Sabeen's idea. She had quite a few that were really out there.  From taking back the city and the country from angry bearded men who favor burqahs on fashionable occasions and photo opportunities;  to giving voice to those who would never be heard otherwise. Her most remarkable contribution was testing the thesis that a politician can only be born and associated with a political party and a lineage going all the way back to the British, the CIA, our feudal lords or the Army.

She joined hands with a young lawyer from Karachi who became a test case for proving the established political thesis wrong.  He lost the local elections in May 2013 but gave us hope that a quite young man can change our city; one day perhaps even our country.

Mohammad Jibran Nasir was certainly a big step for Karachiites but the real payoff for Sabeen's many friends were her Facebook conversations.  To say that Sabeen was politically active is an understatement.  She was self professed anarchist and experience junkie and she really believed in spreading and sharing that message. Her recent experiences side by side with Jibran made for entertaining, sometimes scary reading.  From taking on the Lal Masjid gang in Islamabad to getting arrested in Karachi; from organizing events, protesting at rallies and dharnas, attending jalsas and commentating on both organizational abilities and content of parties irrespective of their ideology. Boldly going with Amma, to places, locations and events where I wouldn't dare to go without four double cabins.  From death threats that were not funny to distasteful verbal abuse that was shrugged off and turned into Facebook posts and jokes; most memorably her running commentary on one exceedingly handsome heartbroken police javaan, off do-talwar; and of things that could have been, but will never be. 

I didn't consider myself a friend of Sabeen, because I didn't do anything to earn that title. I loved her work, her intellect, her curiosity and her stance. I admired her wicked sense of humor and her desire to question overzealous authority and self righteousness. We had great conversations on political king makers in the city.   To me she was a symbol of what this city could be if my fellow fruit cakes took it over.  In a town where everyone talks in double speak, where empty grand expressions use cheap lyrics from Bollywood songs, where we invoke the depth of oceans and the height of mountains at every opportunity we get, Sabeen spoke plainly and simply.   

6 years ago, post a conference that we both spoke at, Sabeen said, "You made me cry two days in a row Jawwad Farid."

Right back at you, Sabeen Mahmud.

Ps. Don't give Steve a hard time about Cook's follies. 

The second was written after Sab's funeral

I think she had the most fun today, she had had in a while.
Sabeen Mahmud, a fluent speaker of colloquial French in many languages, would have had a field day with words today.  Starting off with "the bastards never showed up in such large numbers when I was alive".

The second floor was an amazing sight this afternoon. As soon as Zaheer Kidvai posted that Sabeen would come one last time to T2F to say farewell at half past three, a crowd started gathering outside.  

There was no way to describe the mix at 5th Sunset Lane this afternoon. In attendance were beards and wild hair, lefties and righties, two little girls with small handmade placards, three babies carried by their dads, young men and women; guests from Lahore; clean shaved teenagers, sons and daughters; silver grandmothers dressed in white; grayed grandfathers with their walking sticks; founding members of the original men and women student congress that ran the first civil resistance campaign in our history in the fifties and the sixties.

Sabeen bound all of us together.  That was her magic. We were her lost cause.

Also flowers, tears and silence.

We parked without getting in each other's way; we left in a procession of cars aligned in a single file. 

When she finally came to Sunset Lane on her way to the Masjid, we walked with her to T2F and back one last time.  

Sabeen was buried in a tree line graveyard by her family and her friends, this evening. We stood still, row upon rows of men and women, underneath neem trees with our silent goodbyes. 

Shahjahan said it, "I am not crying for her."

I brought my son with me. Told him I want you to remember this day, this crowd standing around, alive yet still; I want you to remember the grief, your father crying in the open in front of a thousand men.  Don't you forget that silence has a price that we have already paid.  

"Ulloo ke pathon kee tarha itnay saal se hum sarkon par nikaltay rahay haen. For every marginalized, oppressed group. And for years, people have mocked us and laughed at us for our small numbers. You doubted our motives. You questioned our agendas. You bastards. If you had joined us, we wouldn't have been so pitiable. We would have had a movement by now. We would have had strength in numbers. But no, you sat behind the comfort of your monitors and made fun of us on Twitter and Facebook and in your newsrooms. You said, give us something new. Give us something different. Theater karnay thoree nikaltay haen hum aap logon ko khush karnay ke liye. Maana ke Press Club ke baahar kharay honay se kucch naheen badalta laykin jo aek se aek aqlmand haen aap log, jo tanqeed karnay mayn itnay tez haen, yaar aap log kahaan they? Sind Club se fursat ho tau kabhee aa jaen aap log bhee, koee innovative soch le kar jo shaed aap ke Harvard aur Columbia ke professors ne sikhaee ho aap ko. Ya kiya aap ke mummy daddy aap ko nikalnay naheen dayn ge?"  

Sabeen Mahmud, March 2014.

— a Translation —
For years, like idiots we have been protesting on the streets. For every marginalized, oppressed group. And for years, people have mocked us and laughed at us for our small numbers. You doubted our motives. You questioned our agendas. You bastards. If you had joined us, we wouldn't have been so pitiable. We would have had a movement by now. We would have had strength in numbers. But no, you sat behind the comfort of your monitors and made fun of us on Twitter and Facebook and in your newsrooms. You said, give us something new. Give us something different. We are not in it to put on a show for your benefit or pleasure. Understood that protesting outside Press Club in Karachi is not going to change anything but where were you when we needed you; the intelligent ones, the so quick to criticize crowd. If you could find some time from your busy schedule at Sind Club, please join us, with your innovative ideas, ideas that your Harvard and Columbia professors may have taught you. Or is that your mummy daddy won't let you come outside and play.  

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Sab … again!

There's still nothing I can say …
… and it would never be as well written as
Shahjahan Chaudhry's message on her assassination.


Dear Friends of Sabeen,

Sabeen was a fearless spirit - perhaps the bravest woman I have met in my life. If there was a cause that deserved a champion, if there was a group that needed a hero, if there was a person with a story that needed a voice - Sabeen would not just raise her hand but also stand in the sun, walk a dangerous mile and push the cause or group or person beyond what they ever imagined.

But she was not ordinary in her approach. She was defiant, original and artistic - she would protest with taste and eloquence. With passion and perseverance. With commitment and focus.

So one wonders, with such originality and passion and commitment and unconditional service - how is it that instead of hundreds of thousands of people coming together to celebrate her as she leaves us, why were we just a few hundred? Instead of every TV channel running stories on her life, why do we see a negligible mention of her in the news?

She deserved a million people to see her off, she deserved front page stories in every newspaper, she deserved 24 hour coverage on every channel - but it didn't happen. It didn't happen because we as a nation don't deserve people like Sabeen. Because she was too good for us.

While you might look at her art exhibit - Dil Phaink - or at her Valentines Day campaign - Fasla na rakhein, pyaar honey dein - or the discussions she would host about Salman Taseer and the Blasphemy Law, or her interest in Science and Qawwali, or her struggle against discrimination of all sorts - whether against Christians or Ahmedis or Baluchis - or her belief in protesting instead of sitting at home; or her love of art and music and culture and freedom - you might conclude that all this is unfocused chaos of an artistic mind; a renaissance woman maybe, but definitely confused.
I see something different. I see an uncelebrated saviour of a nation - a spark in a sea of darkness. She pinpointed every wrong, every mistake, every injustice that we continue to perpetrate in this country. She did what she could to fix things - and when she couldn't change something, she made it a point to take a stand. She might have felt alone at times, she might have felt scared - but she believed what she believed and she was willing to die for it.

Pakistan is a mess, and everyone has their take on the situation. From the Army to the politicians, from wise old generals to patriotic journalists - but Sabeen is someone who instinctively got it right.
We need more science, more music, more poetry and more art in our life. We need to take a stand when anyone - especially the weakest among us - are persecuted and oppressed. We must give our voice to every just cause, every fair demand and every true story. And we must do it consistently, repeatedly, passionately. Failure is when we give up. Success is when we keep trying.

Sabeen was my friend - she would get passionately angry at a 'wrong' being committed against anyone anywhere. But in the last 1 or 2 years, her anger became more gentle. She was still as passionate about her causes, but her anger did not perturb her as much. She had found a new inner strength that allowed her to smile while fighting for what she believed in. She had come to accept things as they were, while struggling to make them better.

As a friend said, she must be laughing her heart out while watching us. After all, she left us with a bang and not a whimper. The artist in me appreciates her final act: its defiance, its timing, its beauty. But what can I do, I am also her friend so I can't but have tears in my eyes as I write this.
She also left a lot undone. I can imagine myself looking back thirty years from now and wondering what else she would have done. I am already missing all of that.

So if you want to keep her legacy alive, if you want to experience the spirit of Sabeen here and now, and if you love her - be more like her. Be defiant, artistic, original, authentic, crazy, funny, kind, brave and honest - and take up her causes.

She is my hero and I hope yours too. In a different Pakistan, in a better and more beautiful nation - she would be our national hero and a giant inspiration for future generations.

I wish Sabeen a beautiful journey home.
With gratitude,
Her friend,
Shahjahan Chaudhary


See, Sab. How much your friends love you!

You will be in our hearts forever!

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