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Friday, March 27, 2009

A Holy Conundrum

In Reading the Qur’an with Dr. Michael Sells - a column that appeared, albeit briefly, on the ICJS Website which I have visited off-and-on since 2002 - I came across this:
Participants were given two different English-language translations of the same Qur’anic passages. The Gracious Qur’an of Dr. Ahmad Zaki Hammad, a scholar with credentials from both Cairo's prestigious Al-Azhar University and the University of Chicago, served as a "fairly neutral" contrast to the more blatantly ideological Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language, the work of two professors at the Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
Hammad's rendering of verses 1:6-7 -- "Guide us along the straight way -- the way of those upon whom You have bestowed grace, not those upon whom there is wrath, nor those astray" -- was more or less mirrored in the Saudi version, except for the insertion of two parenthetical clarifications: "those who have earned Your anger (such as the Jews), nor those who went astray (such as the Christians)."
Verse 2:62, which stood in Hammad as a statement of tolerance for other monotheistic religions ("whoever among them truly believes in God ... shall have their reward with their Lord"), was similarly clarified in the Saudi translation with a more stringent reading: "This Verse (and Verse 5:69) mentioned in the Qur’an should not be misinterpreted by the reader ... the provision of this verse was abrogated by the Verse 3:85: ‘And whosoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter, he will be one of the losers.’"

"The Saudi translation", Sells said, "was fairly unique in the degree to which it attempted to shape the reader's understanding of the text with insertions. But it has enjoyed great popularity over the past decades, owing to free world-wide distribution by the Saudi government."
Dr. Sells, as many of you may know, has authored among the comparatively few books about Islam and Muslims that come out of the West and are sympathetic to the topics. He is also a popular speaker and guest-writer at many fora. His book - Approaching the Quran - was at the center of a debate when it was assigned as a reading for students at the University of North Carolina.

While mentioning the book, I'd like to point readers to some excerpts from it on a Quaker website. I'd also be grateful if someone could let me have links to a similar site, by Muslims, that speaks of works considered holy by other religions in the same respectful and explanatory manner.

Ordinarily, I'd have paid no great attention to the sentence I have highlighted in red, above, except that the very next day I came across the words 'abrogation' and 'cancellation' also being used in the not-so-startling BBC: Dispatches documentaries. In these, too, they reference the same edition of the Qurãn (an Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation, but with modifications), that is distributed worldwide by the SA establishment.

The Doctrine of Abrogation applied to a 'Divine Revelation', by its own followers, seems - at least to my uneducated mind - a strange one. However, in various forms, it has been part of the Muslim view. While some reject such a concept, others quote the holy book, itself, as the source of such a belief. To this end, they cite Surah 2:106: "None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?"

Whatever the meaning of the above-quoted verse - and it has been subject to a variety of interpretations and much debate - a translation license surely does not extend to justifying the addition of brackets for adding one's own slants and biases to the meaning. I would have expected that translators and interpreters of all works, but especially when playing with such a sensitive subject or with words they believe to be of divine origin, would confine their personal comments to the margins and footnotes.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Just in case this gives you ideas ...

Be warned …

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Monday, March 23, 2009

An appeal to the Pope for Sanity and Honesty

(Pity these two qualities are lacking among religious leaders of all faiths - Z)


Dear friends,

Pope Benedict's statement last week that condoms may aggravate the AIDS epidemic could put millions of lives at risk. Sign the petition to the Pope to take care not to undermine proven AIDS prevention work!

Take Action Now!

This week, on his first visit to Africa, Pope Benedict said that "[AIDS] cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

The Pope's statement is at odds with the research on AIDS prevention, and a setback to decades of hard work on AIDS education and awareness. With powerful moral influence over more than 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, and 22 million HIV positive Africans, these words could dramatically affect the AIDS pandemic and put millions of lives at risk.

Worldwide concern is starting to show results and a willingness by the Vatican to revise the statement - Sign our urgent petition asking the Pope to take care not to undermine proven AIDS prevention strategies:

The personal and religious beliefs of Catholics and all people should be respected, and the Pope does advocate for other effective AIDS prevention methods such as abstinence and fidelity, while the Catholic Church engages in a vast amount of social service work, including the care of those living with AIDS. But the Pope's claim that condom distribution is not an effective AIDS prevention mechanism is not supported by research. It's untrue, and if it diminishes condom use, it will be deadly.

The fact is, HIV and AIDS are prevented by condom use.

There is no easy solution to the spread of this tragic disease, but condoms and education are the best known prevention combination and have not been found to increase risky sexual behaviour. That is why even priests and nuns working in Africa have questioned the Pope's statements.

We may not be able to ask the Catholic Church to change its broader position, but we are asking the Pope to stop actively speaking out against prevention strategies that work. It's important that people of all beliefs, especially Catholics, call on the Pope to exercise care in his leadership on this issue. Sign below then spread the word to your friends and family - this petition could actually save lives:

25 million people worldwide have already died of AIDS, and 12 million children have been left without parents. If enough of us join this outcry, we will win an important battle in the struggle for a world without AIDS.

With hope,

Ricken, Alice, Ben, Graziela, Iain, Brett, Paula, Pascal, Luis, Paul, Veronique, Milena and the whole Avaaz team


ABOUT AVAAZ is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.)

Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in Ottawa, London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Buenos Aires, and Geneva. Call us at: +1 888 922 8229 or +55 21 2509 0368 Click here to learn more about our largest campaigns. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Myspace and Bebo pages!

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

A treat for Karachiites & visitors

They have many fans in Pakistan and overseas. They take qavvaali festivals by storm everywhere they go - and, boy, do they go everywhere! (See the embedded video at the end of this post.) Yet, it's surprising how many people in their own country have not yet been exposed to this amazing troupé. The Qavvaali Ka Safar concert on 28th March provides yet another opportunity for the uninitiated to change this state.

All of us qavvaali lovers in Pakistan have, in our collections, loads of Sabri Brothers and tons of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan ... but of the gharana that boasts of being the direct descendants of Saamat bin Ibrahim, the ace shaagird of Amir Khusrau and the head of the Qavvaal Bachchaas that Khusrau trained in this genre, we have precious little. 

One possible reason, I am sure, is the lack of audio and video recordings released by this group locally, something that I intend to help rectify over the course of the year (specially through the release of rare private recordings of their father, the incomparable Munshi Raziuddin). I also hope to convince the families of Munshi Ji's illustrious cousins, Manzoor Niazi sahab and Bahauddin sahab to let me include some of their recordings for the planned archives and special releases. Both these cousins' parties, too, being part of the same heritage, shared a fair amount of the repertoire but delivered the individual items with their own distinct flavours and each had a title or two that became associated with them forever: Manzoor Niazi's Naseema Jaanibé Bat'haa and Bahauddin's Kaesa Naach Nachaaya come immediately to mind. Both of these are available on the Citibank-sponsored set that is now a collector's item due, in part, to the wonderful notes that accompanied it. The audios were pirated (naturally!) and are available easily in most seedy CD stores. 

While Fareed Ayaz, his brothers - the amazing Abu Mohammad, among them - and the generation coming up (keep your ears open for Moiz and Hamza!), continue to preserve the tradition of rendering qavvaali in its purest classical form - they are at their best in samaa environments - those who have heard them in concerts know that their range extends way beyond that. Because their musical heritage includes, and is greatly influenced by, the famed ustaad Taan Ras Khan sahab, court musician to Bahadur Shah Zafar, they tackle shudhh classical raags - be it dhrupad ang or the more common khayaal form - with as much ease as they do pieces from today's popular repertoire.
Once in a while they have been known to include qavvaalis popularized by some of their well-known peers, although this happens only when the audience requests it - which is, thankfully, rare. C'mon, concert attendees … you've come to hear what these guys do best, so listen to their specialities. (In any case, how can one listen to a Sabri cover, however well sung, without Ghulam Farid's booming "Alllaaaaaah", or watch it without the silent qavvaali bit that only he could get away with by accompanying it with a twinkle in his eyes and a mischievous smile?)
They delight their fans with the works of Rumi, Hafiz, Khusrau, Bulley Shah, Kabir, and the later poets - such as Jigar Muradabadi (whose Saraapa never fails to entrance the listeners, even non-believers, with the sheer beauty of its words). They glide from Arabi to Farsi, Hindi, Poorbi, Punjabi, Seraiki, and Urdu smoothly. They sing modern foot-tapping qavvaalis and the traditional haal-inducing ones, but also inject the khaanqaahi slow, langurous melodies (such as Har Shab Manam Fataadah) into the performance, some - like Teree Yaad Hae Mann Kaa Chaen, Piyaa - transporting lovers into another time and place. But it is their sazeenaa, bahlaava, payvand-kaari, and the weaving of sargams and taans seamlessly into their performances that I enjoy most of all.

If you have not heard the full range of this troupé's capabilities, come and be converted. Bring others along, too, not just for a very enjoyable evening but one which will enrich your knowledge as Fareed Ayaz, Abu Mohammad, and others - (expect the unexpected!) - trace the development and growth of this all-encompassing genre. If you are already a fan, we'll see you there, anyway, but do bring friends to introduce them to this bunch of wonder-weavers and the genre ... and to financially support T2F in its shift to the new, expanded premises. That's very important, too.

(Thank you, Fareed & Abu, and everyone else in the party, for donating the proceeds and supporting a space that has helped enliven many of our evenings).

Here's a real first!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The past IS another country!

Adil Najam & Owais Mughal never cease to amaze me for the sheer range of topics they manage to cover at any given time. It really is All Things Pakistan! I am truly delighted to see Politically Incorrect or a Funny Ad? featured immediately after Iftikhar Chaudhry Reinstated: What Now?

Since the CJ is being written about everywhere, I don't think I could add much to it, other than this: I'll be impressed by the 'true independence' of the judiciary when the reinstated CJ feels neither pressured by a khisiana president nor by the Sharifs' demand for returning favours and does not reverse the judicial order against them, if he genuinely feels that upholding it would be right.

Now to the ad and ATP post that prompted me to write. (Actually, this was also a form of of procrastination, given the pile of work that lies before me.) But do visit the ATP post first. Done? Ok.

After the flood of 'Fair & Lovely' - from its very name to all its implications and the horrifying ads - nothing seems politically incorrect. (Although political correctness, itself, often goes ridiculously far: Dwarfs are 'vertically challenged'? Gimme a break!!!)
I have mentioned this in some other post, but it's worth repeating: Fair & Lovely lists Pakistan's Armed Forces as its largest purchaser! Does the enemy have any chance after that?
My tangential objection, however, is to the Urdu[?]: Gharayloo-o-Office? Even a pageful of 'aaarghs' wouldn't express what I feel.

'Vaao' for 'and', as we dying purists will hold, should - strictly speaking - be used only to connect two Urdu words (generally, though not always, nouns) that are of Persian or Arabic origin. Vahm-o-Gumaañ and Saum-o-Salaat are fine. Chaabi-o-Taala is a no-no!

This applies to not just Hindi examples, like the one above, but also to words and phrases from other languages that have gained acceptability in Urdu: Computer-o-Monitor? Nopes! No English. Just Faarsi-o-Arabi. Which is not the same as Persian-o-Arabic! However, Gharayloo-o-Office sinks the misuse to a really low depth. It even sounds horrible!

I know, I know. Some of you are saying 'language changes' and this old man is clinging to a past with no sensible reason. Ok. So maybe it is a personal quirk. But, then, this is a personal blog. (Owais/Adil, this is why I did not comment on ATP).

Perhaps I represent a generation that still clings to some of what we thought were the niceties of the past. I am reminded of 3 Urdu lines that I always recall with delight. They'll also serve to better show you where - as they'd say in the changed language of today - 'I am coming from'. All 3 examples are quoted from memory, so they are not verbatim. All refer to the period immediately after 1947:

The first is from the famous Khwaja Mueenuddin play Laal Qilay Say Lalukhet Tak. The young hero informs his father "baagh mayñ kavvay chahchahaa rahay haeñ". The shocked Nawab saahab says, indignantly, "Chahchahaa rahay haeñ? Jab maeñ mar jaaooñ ga to 'peehooñ peehooñ' karayñ gay?"

The second is from the inimitable pen of Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi. Describing his horror after a visit to a singing girl in Karachi's Napier Road, once this city's only 'red-light' district (ab to har mo∂ par chiraaghaañ hae!), a character in his book says: "Üss kambakht ka talaffüz to üss kay kirdaar say bhi ziaadah kharaab niklaa!"

The third, perhaps less remembered, has a particular reference to Karachi's street Urdu, influenced, as it then was, by Bombay-vaalaas and the Gujratis. Majeed Lahori, who edited Namakdaan and gave us such wonderful characters as Ramzani (the Everyman), proverbial seths Tube Jee & Tyre Jee (a reference to Tayyab Ji & Taahir Ji), and Fraudsons (representing business groups that had sprung up overnight), was also a prolific humourous poet. His collection, Kaané Namak, desperately needs a re-printing. This couplet is part of one of his more popular ghazals:
Paan mayñ choona jaastee maaro
Kitnee sheereeñ zabaan haé, pyaaray
(At the Shanaakht Festival to be held at the Karachi's Arts Council in early April I hope to share some of Majeed Lahori's work , along with that of other humourous poets.)

Such reactions about language are not common only among those who cling to Urdu. When publicity posters for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" were plastered in London's Tube Stations, they claimed (in correct grammar and with an obvious reference to the popular line of the McCarthy era: The Russians Are Coming!): "The Birds is coming! The Birds is coming!". This was, obviously, too much for some (pigmentally challenged?) Englishman who scrawled across several of them: "And good English is wenting!"

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Monday, March 16, 2009

All this was not in vain ...

Lawyer with teargas shell (Photo: Time Magazine)

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Sharing my joy

It was exactly two weeks less than one year ago that I had sent this announcement out to many of my friends and family (well, the 'friendly' part of the family, to be sure):

When Ragni returned from her stint in Dhaka, Julián joined us in Karachi, too, spending a few months here, during which he worked with Human Rights Lawyer, Zia Awan, while Ragni worked with Dawn's TV arm.

It was wonderful to get to know Julián and - even more - to see them so happy together. Actually, I hadn't seen Ragni looking as happy as this in years, so I was really convinced, by the time they left for the USA (just a few days apart, leaving a house less noisy but with the added burden of three adopted dogs who will be the death of me), that they really loved each other. They seemed almost perfect for the cheesy magazine cover that I printed out for them:

While Ragni was visiting Julián's family in Austin, Julián got a job in New York and they decided to marry and move there, sooner rather than later. Nuzhat flew out at short notice to be with them and can be seen beaming here and in some of the other photographs.

The simple ceremony was performed yesterday (12th March, 2009 / 4.30PM) in a courthouse that, itself, is named after a figure who fits in with the kinds of ideals and attitudes that the young activist couple is committed to.

While Nuzhat is staying with them and has had ample opportunities to meet with Yolanda and Juan, I have only had Skype chats with them and find them both to be very sensitive, warm and affectionate. Julián and his brother, Gabriel, of whom Ragni is extremely fond, have obviously inherited these qualities from their wonderful parents.

As is customary at such weddings, some words, before and after the actual commitment vows that the couple enunciates, are read out by the Judge (who, Nuzhat informs me, was a rather gentle and soft-spoken person - the kind that probably would never make it into our judiciary).

Ragni and Julián wrote the text and chose a beautiful passage to be read. I'd like to share all that with you.


Commitment Ceremony Vows

We are mobilized here today to revel in the love and welcome the commitment Ragni Marea Kidvai & Julián Padilla have for each other. Love is a commitment and a process unto itself - a process in which this couple engaged because of mutual affection. But on this day, each has asked for recognition from their community. To this end, these two people will publicly affirm their desire, admiration, and devotion for one another.

I assert my desire for friendship and partnership with you, Julián Padilla. I assure you that through countless emotional, physical, and material abilities we shall share encouragement, struggle, and pleasure. I am not promising to be able to make your life easier, but I do commit to making it better.

I assert my desire for friendship and partnership with you, Ragni Marea Kidvai. I assure you that through countless emotional, physical, and material abilities we shall share encouragement, struggle, and pleasure. I am not promising to be able to make your life easier, but I do commit to making it better.

Julián this ring symbolizes my commitment to a bond based on forethought, communication, growth, and liberation. Rather than dreams sacrificed, this is a promise of dreams encouraged.

Ragni this ring symbolizes my commitment to a bond based on forethought, communication, growth, and liberation. Rather than dreams sacrificed, this is a promise of dreams encouraged.

May the rings exchanged today serve as a reminder of your enduring friendship and partnership.

Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another
but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea
between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup
but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread
but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each of you be alone,
Even as the strings of the lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts,
but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hands of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together,
yet not too near together.
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress
grow not in each other's shadow.
Kahlil Gibran

Companionship is not a house to sit within, it is not a chain to bind with, nor an idle means by which to find security. Companionship cannot abide disrespect, jealousy, suffocation, or being taken for granted. It is a daily performance; it is a methodology for propelling more than oneself through drudgery, it is the practice of unlearning competition and control without forgetting independence, and it is the cultivating of a friendship.


When Nuzhat returns, next week, she should be carrying video recordings of the ceremony, the fun that followed, and their short trip out of Austin to meet relatives. I am so looking forward to seeing all that. Photos, on the other hand, will keep arriving daily for the next 2-3 days, I hope. They will be added here as they come through email.

I couldn't go with Nuzhat for a number of reasons (some of which, I have been told, are insane) but felt very happy living in these times of ICT expansion that provided me with an almost minute by minute account of what was happening, through VoIP calls, Adium chats, Skype video - which is how also I had participated in Ragni's Graduation from Hampshire College.

So I wasn't really too jealous of Nuzhat being there.

Until I saw this:

My darlingest Ragni: I wish you all the joy and happiness that you have brought into my life … and more!

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

THIS is what Education CAN be ...

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