Art and Us

Over the last few years, I have come to dread the social media in the aftermath of a violent attack. This fear has eclipsed the fear of the violent attack itself. While violence erupts, and in some cases is caused to erupt, almost everywhere in the world, my social media circles tend to go into overdrive in one of two cases. First is the violence that happens in Pakistan. This violence is very encompassing- it could be a bomb attack, a political fistfight, an armed student militia encounter or anything else. However, even within such an inclusive category, there are exclusions. The violence against sub-nationalists groups is, for the large part, often ignored by the social media. This has, of course, changed in the last few years. Second is the violence that happens elsewhere in the world but is linked to Islam. This is violence under the cover, and through the use of, religion. This can also be violence where all the involved parties claim membership to one sect or the other of Islam, as well as violence where only one side makes such a claim. Even though these are broad categories that I have constructed based on the manifestation of violence, I think that a rigorous elucidation of categories of violence must focus not on the manifestation of violence but on the motivation behind it. The reason that I only focus on the manifestation here is because it allows me to succinctly provide the casual reader with a general idea of a topic that is mentioned frequently in this piece. In what follows, I will focus on the reactions to the first type of violence that I have identified above- that in Pakistan.

The unfortunate death of Amjad Sabri serves as a recent example for such analysis. Amjad Sabri was a popular singer of devotional music and a recognizable face for a large number of Pakistanis. His father was one of the two Sabri brothers who, together, form a duet that is undoubtedly one of the best to have ever come out of Pakistan. While it would be hard for anyone to live up to such a prestigious status, whether Amjad would have done so will now forever remain a matter of debate. Death came for him, as it does for everyone else, with little regard for his family, his career, his art or anything else. The unfairness with which death comes begs the age old question of how could a fair god be so unfair to its creatures? As news filtered through of Amjad’s assassination, social media gradually started responding in a manner that we have all become so accustomed to.

Amjad Sabri was first claimed by the Twelver Shi’ites, even though he himself does not come from such a family. Posts and images began to circulate in these spheres that highlighted Amjad’s affection for historical figures that the Twelver Shi’ite cosmology revolves around. These posts highlighted Amjad’s devotion to these figures. It was significantly above the regular veneration that an average Sunni would be expected to hold. This, of course, was endearing to the Twelver Shi’ites since their religion is predicated on a perennial struggle for recognition of (what they claim to be) a historical wrong done fourteen hundred years ago. If Amjad, as a member of the same Other that the Twelver Shi’ites define themselves in opposition to, could have affection for the dearly beloved of the Twelver Shi’ite imagination, then it serves, for the Twelver Shi’ite, to reinforce their own truth claims. These posts also claimed that Amjad was killed for his pro-Shi’ite leanings, especially because such veneration invites the scorn of religious fundamentalists like the Taliban etc. So, in claiming Amjad as one of their own, the Twelver Shi’ites were not just validating, through the Other, their own understanding of themselves and their history, but also highlighting the ever-present persecution and targeting that continues in present day Pakistan.

Of course, such a claim by the Twelver Shi’ites could not possibly go unchallenged by the Sunni majority. In what I would wager was a direct response to the actions of the Twelver Shi’ite activities on social media, posts began emerging that highlighted Amjad’s contributions to the genre of Qawwali (this, I think, ought to have been the popular Qawwali that I have talked about elsewhere) and the pluralism that the Qawwali represented. These posts claimed that the attack on Amjad was an attack on the pluralism intrinsic to Pakistan and/or Islam and was done by fundamentalists who do not wish to let this pluralism flourish. Thus, these types of posts promoted a distinct conception of society and religion and one that is under threat. In adhering to a principle of pluralism, however, such a conception does not so much as ignore, but rather whitewash completely, the claims of the persecuted minorities present in the same society. So, it responds to the allegations of violence against minorities not by saying that the violence is wrong, but by saying that the violence is not what this society does and that it comes from elements external to the society. Such a response, in turn, is criticized by the minorities as being inaccurate to the facts on the ground. This eventually turns into a back and forth with parties talking past each other rather than with each other.

Of course, given that this specific incident happened in Karachi, other political factors also come into play. For some, the responsibility lay squarely on the failure of the rangers that have been stationed in Karachi for just over two decades. For some, the responsibility lay solely on the provincial government that is formed by a party which enshrined into the constitution the non-Muslim status of the Ahmadis. As further news filtered through of the Taliban claiming the responsibility for the attack, many other came forwards and blamed the establishment that gave rise to these factions. As has been the case for much of Pakistan’s history, religion is intrinsic to the politics. Thus, as these political posts increased in number, brief commentaries on the role of religion also tagged along. Do the many incidents like this indicate the necessity of a separation between the religion and the state? Or do these incidents indicate instead a religion that has been twisted by the state and thus needs to be brought back to its original form? Of course, these questions and more, by virtue of their timing are predicated on adrenaline rather than reason. Similarly, the medium of social media that they emerge in is not necessarily conducive to a detailed and structured analysis of the issue on hand. The worst, however, is that the attention span of the social media is too short in duration. So, before one can even take stock of the right questions or figure out how, exactly, to word a question, the conversation has moved on. There is always something new to talk about and those that make the mistake of persisting on an old topic run the risk of being left behind.

Yet, this is not a new topic. Pakistan has been at this juncture- losing a committed individual to violence- before and is likely to be back here many times in the future.  The conversations following such an incident do not change- they remain static and inflexible. It seems that those that engage in these conversations already have fixed notions of what to say- it is just that every new incident is simply a new opportunity to flaunt one’s opinion. This can range from sponsored hyper-nationalism to radical anarchy. It is almost irrelevant who has been targeted where, when, why and how? Indeed, it could be anyone but as long as they are someone half-recognizable, the social media will take the issue up, regurgitate the same old euphemisms and analogies, and then spit it out.

Since yesterday, I have seen the attack on Amjad heralded from an attack on Pakistan’s cultural values (to which I ask the questions that many have before me- have we defined Pakistan already that we can define its cultural values?) to an attack on specific religious point of views to an attack on art that will inevitably end it. Of course, similar proclamations have been made for many decades now. I think that such statements betray a superficial analysis of the situation at hand. Indeed, the latter is disrespectful to both the artist and the art to make such an analogy. Though art lives on because of what the artist has given it, it does not just die when the artist is taken away from it. Further, as crude as it may sound, I do not think that an artist being shot in cold blood amounts to the end of a genre. The real threat to art comes not from the violence that I described in the opening paragraph but from the ideological attitudes to art that have gradually become more prominent in our societal consciousness.

Amjad was an artist who came from an artist family. However, there are not many artists who come from non-artist families. Similarly, there are also many non-artists who leave their artist familial professions. Because of the movement of our society to a capitalistic economy, the type of individuals who pursue arts has been restricted to three. First, there is the socio-economically privileged individual who can afford to pursue arts without the pressure of having to succeed or having to worry about economic survival etc. This type of individual is thus able to focus solely on their art. Second, there is the talented individual who is peerless. This individual can be found across different social classes, including the socio-economically privileged one. The talent of this individual almost makes it irrelevant what class they come from. However, this is a rare type of talent and one that succeeds even in the face of institutional and social barriers. Third, there is the devoted individual. This individual eats and breathes art. This individual can also be found in any class. What distinguishes this individual from everyone else who claims to be devoted to art is that it is willing to be consumed by his passion for art. The commitment is independent of the class this individual hails from. It should be clear that the latter two can types can be found merged into the first one, or with each other, while also being able to stand on their own. But the theoretical refinement is a topic for another time.

Beyond these rare ideal-types, however, it is rare to find individuals who pursue arts. Thus, a kid whose talent falls just short of the rare type talent discussed above would never actually pursue arts because of the lack of encouragement (or, indeed, active discouragement) that it receives from those around it. The kid is instead diverted into the more acceptable professions of medicine, finance, law, etc. and forced to spend a life that does not quite do justice to his talents. Thus, the talent that could have been honed and sharpened and transformed into great art instead becomes a slave to the society around it. In doing so, it does not simply conform to and maintain these norms, but through its actions it reproduces them for the future generations. This is the case in not just my immediate and extended family, but also the rest of the Pakistan. My family would like to think it is educated because it can list the following, among many others, as titles that the members occupy- a doctor, a teacher, a corporate banker, an engineer, etc. Yet, what good is education if it is merely instrumental to the goal of breaking free of the class boundary? It is useless and ought not be considered education. Members of my family will die in middle-class mediocrity, having lived unfulfilled lives, and always having been too scared of committing fully and wholly to anything- whether an idea, or a love, or an art. Yet, their consciousness is shaped by the society around them and thus they are not, unfortunately, an isolated example. The entire society can said to be one that discourages breaking free of these structures- including pursuing arts. Thus, even as these members of the society wage an invisible, ideological war on arts by heralding it as being a useless  pursuit, they are the first ones to throw their arms in the air and proclaim an attack on Amjad as an attack on arts. The physical attacks, like those on Amjad, do not have the power to threaten art for art is bigger than the perpetrators of this violence. The extremists will die with time, then rise again, then die again but art is permanent. It does not ebb and flow. It exists despite the attempts to eradicate it. Art will outlive this country, this society, and this religion and its god. Art is the domain of ideas and ideas cannot be fought with physically- they must be combated against on an ideological level alone. So, art can deal with guns and bombs, but it cannot deal with a consciousness that seeks to defeat it. The war against art is not the one waged by the extremists, but the one waged by this society. Every person who forces a child to give up a crayon for a stethoscope, a guitar for a calculator, and a sport for a grade is complicit in this war. It may be convenient now to simply shrug and say that scenarios do not permit us allowing our children to pursue arts, but history will show that it was only because we willingly made ourselves subservient to the scenarios that we ourselves had created.

Sex and Sadness in Khurshidul Islam’s poetry

Today I want to talk about the relationship between sex and sadness in Khurshidul Islam’s poetry. Islam is a very peculiar author. He was trained as a scholar of Urdu literature and poetry and his work is monumental within literary criticism in Urdu literature. We know that the greatest of Urdu poets, of course, are aware of the corpus of work behind them and this surfaces in their explicit references to the poets from the past generation that they perceive to have been great. Islam, however, is not just aware of the body of work but he is able to critically approach it with a variety of methodologies. Whereas a poet might only approach the work before his time from within a certain methodological framework (romanticism, formalism, post-modernism) etc, Islam was well versed in different epistemologies and made no secret of his rigid belief that a Marxist approach to literature and poetry was the best one possible.

Substantial shifts were happening within Urdu poetry as Islam was wrapping up his doctoral studies. The most vocal of these shifts was the progressive writers who want to use poetry to motivate social action. A more quieter shift (at least at the time) was the modernist breakaway from the structure of the ghazal. Islam only published three books of poetry but these books engage significantly with the themes mentioned above. Noticeably, his first two books (the second of which includes a large overlap with the first one) followed the traditional ghazal parameters with some emergence of free verse towards the end of the book. The third book was a complete breakaway and only included free verse. Remarkably, his work does not quite call for social justice. It merely confirms his own personal views of state and societal relationships. However, there is a constant theme of moral existentialism within his poetry. The closest parable from the pantheon of well-known philosophers would be that of a hybrid between Camus and Sartre. Islam laments the absurdity of human existence while also holding the human responsible for its action. For Islam, much like Sartre, the question of the existence or lack thereof of a divine being is not important. What is important is the “condemned freedom” of the humans and the repercussions it entails.

Islam’s poetry is provocative. Indeed, it is meant to be provocative much like N. M. Rashid’s is. Whereas Rashid delves deeply into a psychoanalytic examination of the self, Islam restricts himself to much simpler observations. So while Rashid talks about sex as an action with a remarkable variety of motivations (in his Intiqam, for example, the primary motivation for sex is avenging the colonial domination of the subcontinent!!!), Islam talks about the same desires from a more relatable perspective. Consider the following verse where Islam posits loneliness as the most basic, and common, motivation of desiring sex.

یہاں تو کوئی نہیں، دل تک اکیلا ہے

 قبا کے بند تو کھولو، ہمارے پاس تو آو

There is no one here, even my heart is lonely,

Come near me, open the knots of your robe

Islam here deploys the traditional idioms of loneliness and a sad heart. It is not clear who he is speaking to- is it the beloved or a mere stranger? Perhaps it doesn’t even matter. While the first line shows Islam as lonely, the second depicts him as active about seeking an end to this loneliness. For Islam, the solution to this loneliness does not lie in being content with imagining the beloved as many of the earlier poets preferred to. He also does not want to stay aloof from a stranger if that is indeed who he is addressing. Islam is also not interested in cultivating an ethic of forlornness as many poets might have instead ended up doing in such a situation. He is upfront about nudity and sex as a viable, practical solution. So sex, in such a situation, is merely instrumental to ending Islam’s loneliness. It is not a form of intimacy at all- merely the means by which Islam wants to address his own lonely state.

Many questions emerge from such a reading. What kind of a sadness is Islam talking about? Is it existential sadness as he alludes elsewhere in his work or is it heartbreak? Is sex only ever a means of addressing one’s sadness and not a primal instinct? Or is it perhaps a primal instinct and one that best addresses a state of sadness? These are some of the lines of inquiry that I will try to develop over the summer as I return to his body of work. For now, I will continue with a brief summary of how his conceptualization of sex progresses through his work.

As Islam shifts to free verse, he is able to express more of what he is thinking. At this point, the loneliness he feels as well as the prevalence of sex as a means of fighting this loneliness is constructed as a wider, societal phenomenon. Consider the following poems (I apologize for the horrible translation and would thank you if you can provide a better version).

اُس گیت کی دھن ابھی تک میرے

بستر میں ہے

جو کل رات کو

کسی رنڈی نے میرے پڑوس میں

گایا تھا

The tune of the song is still in my bed

That was sung last night

By some prostitute in my neighbourhood

Here, Islam talks about the presence of a prostitute in his neighbourhood. Given what we know about Islam as a scholar, it is safe to assume that a neighbourhood like his would likely morally disapprove of prostitution. Yet, Islam insists on not just acknowledging the existence of prostitution but also the public revelation that it is a more regular occurrence than what one might concede. Alternatively, we can also say that perhaps we have no idea of the type of the neighbourhood that Islam lives in. Indeed, the only thing that the verse tells us is that it’s a neighbourhood frequented by vocal prostitutes! (If it was only the single prostitute, then Islam (or other neighbours) would have recognized who it was. The use of کسی shows that it is but one from many). This verse, in distinction to the first, posits the instrumental use of sex as a pervasive phenomenon and one that is not limited to Islam himself. In doing so, Islam is not providing excuses for his own behavior, but instead highlighting how such behavior is actually very common. What also jumps out is Islam’s own loneliness that remains unaddressed in this verse. Thus, in his loneliness, he is able to be attentive to what’s going on around him. Does this signal an acceptance, on Islam’s part, that on some nights he is consigned to loneliness because others in the vicinity are making use of the same remedy?

The last verse I want to mention is also the lengthiest.

مانا کہ تو فاحشہ ہے

مگر تو سب کو راحت

کا سامان بہم پہنچاتی

ہے، میں تیرا

احترام کرتا ہوں

تو آج مجھے بھی اپنے پاس

سلا لے، میں

تنہائی میں مرنا نہیں چاہتا

میں تیرے حق

میں دعا کروں گا

I acknowledge that you are a promiscuous woman

But you provide comfort, one without parallel, to all

For that, I respect you

Will you, today, let me sleep next to you?

I do not wish to die alone

I will say a prayer for you

Here, Islam continues with the theme of sex as instrumental to getting rid of sadness but changes how he approaches it. Instead of talking about the motivation for the act itself, he talks about the admiration he has for the person providing this service. The term فاحشہ is not how Islam views the woman in this poem- it is only the label given to her by the society that Islam is a part of. Islam makes clear his respect both in expressing his admiration for her as well as asking her to allow him to sleep with her. He is impressed by her ability to provide comfort to all with no discrimination. This equality, Islam laments elsewhere, is sorely missing from the world. The insistence by Islam that he would pray in favor of this woman is intriguing. He does not say he would advocate for her in this world likely because Islam knows that the society is unforgiving (He says elsewhere that ‘It is a pity that the society forgives the weak, but never forgives the brave’) towards those brave enough to upset it. Islam also does not concern himself with whether there is a divine or not so instead of arguing one way or the other, he agrees to pray knowing that should there be a divine, the prayer will carry some support for the woman but that if there is no divine, the act of praying would suffice as a gesture of his admiration for this woman. However, much like the earlier verses, not much is revealed about the type of sadness that Islam is undergoing. Though, for this verse, it could be because the focus is on the فاحشہ and not on the poet himself.

This has been an informal blog post- a skeleton really. I have sought to connect and link some of Islam’s work from across this three published works. I find the consistency and continuity of this thoughts remarkable. A lot of what I wrote above has been in my mind for a few months and there is lots more. I think another theme I want to explore in his work is the idea of a man squaring up to a diving being. As always, if you have any thoughts or critiques of what I wrote above, please comment or drop me an email and we can continue the discussion.

A Sudanese rendition of Ibn Al-Farid’s قصیدۃ الخمریة (The Wine-Song)

On Monday, June 27th, I encountered my first experience with Arabic music. It was Fairuz’s حبیتک بالصیف (I loved you in the summer) and it blew me away.

For a new student of Arabic who was already spending 4-5 hours everyday outside of class in learning the language, this was a song simple enough for me to understand (with some struggle!) and to fall in love with. Since then, I’ve listened to Fairuz’s beautiful voice everyday when I wake up, at work after class, and before I fall asleep. My listening skills have come to appreciate her words and every time I listen to her I recognize just a bit more of what I have already studied. Of course, after the initial euphoria that her music brought me, I have returned to the original purpose which led me to pursue the study of Arabic- that of early and medieval Arabic poetry.

I was lucky enough to stumble across a beautiful Sudanese rendition of the Ibn Al-Farid’s قصیدۃ الخمریة (The Wine-Song). My searches on YouTube for the same did not lead anywhere, so I sat down and transcribed the verses that appear in this rendition and uploaded them on to YouTube. I recommend using the Matheson Trust website (linked in the sentence prior to the last one) to access the English translation. I am grateful that they had this online, and I hope that through my upload on YouTube more people will have the chance to appreciate the beautiful poetry of Ibn Al-Farid.

Yeh he mehkadah yahan rind hain lyrics

(A note: I am transliterating ے as ‘e’ so words like ہے are transliterated as ‘he’, کے as ‘ke’, etc. I am doing this to standardize the lyrics going forward. The next step is to incorporate ‘v’ for و instead of ‘w’…)


Badakharon ke darmiyan saqi

Kuch masail ulajh gaye honge

Jab teri zulf khul gayi hogi

Sab yaqeenan sulajh gaye honge


Yeh he mehkada yahan rind hain

Yahan sab ka saqi imam he


Gham-i zamana bohat ihteram karta he


Mehkadah he yahan sukoon se baith

Koi aafat idhar nahi aati


Yeh saqi ki karamat he

Ke faiz-i mehparasti he

Ghata ke bhais mein mehkhane pe

Rehmat barasti he


Jise pee ke bazm-i rindan sar-i arsh jhoomti he

Woh sharaab aaj saqi tere ghar baras rahi he


Aray kayi bar doobe, kayi bar ubhre

Kayi bar tufan main chakkar lagaye

Tumhare takhayul nay aisa duboya

Bohat koshishen magar ubharne na paye

Kayi bar tufan se takrai kashti

Kayi bar takra ke sahil pe aye

Talash-e-talab mein woh lazzat mili he

Dua kar raha hoon ke manzil na aye

Yeh kis ki nigahon ne saghar pilaye

Khudi par meri bekhudi ban ke chaye

Khabardar aye dil, maqam-e-adab he

Kahin bada noshi pe dhabba na aye


Kuch is ada se karishme dekhaye jate hain

Ada shanas bhi dhoke mein aye jate hain

Hamara haal toh dekha, hamara zarf bhi dekh

Nigah uthti nahi, gham uthaye jate hain

Yeh mehkada he tera madrasa nahi waiz

Yahan sharaab se insan banaye jate hain


Pehle toh shaikh ne zara dekha idhar udhar

Phir sar jhuka ke dakhil-i mehkhana hogaya


Kuch soch ke shama pe parwana jala hoga

Shayad isi jalne mein jeene ka maza hoga

Jis waqt yeh meh tu ne botal mein bhari hogi

Saqi tera masti se kiya haal hua hoga

Mehkhane se masjid tak paye gaye naqsh-i pa

Ya shaikh gaya hoga ya rind gaya hoga


Are jhoom jhoom ke la, muskara ke la

Phoolon ke rasm-e chaand ki kirnein mila ke la

Kehte hain umr-e rafta kabhi laut ti nahi

Ja mehkade se meri jawani utha ke la


Saqi ki har nigah pe bal kha ke peegaya

Maujon se khailta hua lehra ke peegaya

Aur peeta baghair izn yeh kab thi meri majal

Dar pardah chashm-i yaar ki sheh pa ke peegaya

Aye rehmat-i tamam, meri har khata ma’af

Mein inteha-i shauq mein ghabra ke peegaya


Tauba ko tor tar ke ghabra ke peegaya

Yeh sab samjhane wale mujhe samjha ke rehgaye

Laikin mein aik aik ko samjha ke peegaya


Sheesha bhi bohat wasf o hunar rakhta he

Asraar-i nehufta ki khabar rakhta he

Rindon mein bhi milte hain allah wale

Nasha bhi bari tez nazar rakhta he


He mehkade ka khaas maqamat mein shumar

Jo rind bhi mila woh humein parsa mila


Khula na hota agar mehkade ka darwaza

Toh roshni ke liye hum kidhar gaye hotay


Yeh ghalat he sharaab ki tarif

Is ka zehnon pe raj hota hai

Sirf hiddat sharab deti hai

Are baqi apna mizaj hota hai


Har ranj ko khafif tabassum se taal de

Nazil ho koi barq toh saghar uchal de

Tu jam mein sharaab ko mat daal saqiya

Is ko bara-i rast mere dil mein daal de


Are bol meethe, nazar nashili he

Mein ne to mehkadon se pee li he

Mein ne thori se paish ki thi magar

Sheikh ne behisab pee li hai


Yahan sab ka saqi imam he


Jari hein roshni mein do sarmadi lakirein

Aik jaam ja raha he, aik jaam aa raha he


Bari haseen he zulfon ki shaam pee lijiye

Hamare haath se do char jam pee lijiye

Aur pilaye jab koi mashooq apne hathon se

Sharab phir nahi rehti haram pee lijiye


Aks-i jamal-i yaar bhi kiya tha ke deyr tak

Aine umrion ki tarah bolte rahe

Kal mehkade mein rind tawazun na rakh sake

Khat-i subooh pe kon-o-makan dolte rahe

Hum muttaqi-i shehr-i kharabat raat bhar

Tasbih-i zulf-i seen tana rolte rahe


Agarcheh banda nawazi ki tujh mein boo hoja

Kasam khuda ki khudai mein tu hi tu hoja

Agar baghair tere mehkashi karoon saqi

Sharaab jaam mein ate hi bas lahu hoja

Aur wuzoo sharab se kar ke sharaab khane mein

Namaaz jab parhon saqi imam tu hoja


Yeh he mehkadah yahan rind hain

Yeh haram nahi aye shaikh ji

Yahan parsai haram he


<Persian phrase, cannot make it out>


Peena haram he na pilana haram he

Peene ke baad hosh mein ana haram he

Likha hua he pir-i mughan ki dukan par

Kamzarf ko pilana haram he

Jo zara si pee ke behak gaya

Use mehkade se nikal do

Are yahan kamnazar ka guzar nahi

Yahan ahl-e zarf ka kaam he


Sharab ka koi apna sarhi rang nahin

Sharab tajziya o ihtesaab karti he

Jo ahl-e dil hain barhati he abru on ki

Jo beshaoor hain unko kharab karti he


Yeh janab-i shaikh ka falsafa

Jo samajh mein meri na aa saka

Jo wahan piyo to halal he

Jo yahan piyo to haram he


Are patti patti gulab hojati

Har kali mehv-i khawab ho jati

Tum ne dali na mehfashan nazrein

Warna shabnam sharab hojati


Yeh janab-i shaikh ka falsafa

Jo samajh mein meri na aa saka

Jo wahan piyo to halal he

Jo yahan piyo to haram he

Some excerpts from N. M. Rashid and Khurshidul Islam

It’s been a long and busy school year. Between work and school, I have rarely had time to work on Aziz Mian at all. However, most of the ideas that first sprang on this blog have now been subsequently developed more substantively. I have also had the chance to expand beyond Aziz Mian and into the works of N. M. Rashid and Khurshidul Islam. These are two poets who I’ve mentioned previously on here as poets who inspire me as not just a poet but also as a person. Below are some pictures of works by them that I have found myself unable to stop thinking about over the last few months. I will return to these over the summer to comment. For now, I present them as they are.

N. M. Rashid

2016-04-15 17.21.03

2016-04-15 17.20.45

2016-04-14 17.40.44

2016-04-14 17.41.00

2016-04-14 17.41.05

2016-04-14 17.41.14

2016-04-14 17.41.24

Khurshidul Islam

2016-04-08 01.39.38

2016-04-08 01.41.59

2016-04-08 01.58.31

2016-04-16 23.50.10

2016-04-16 23.50.37

2016-04-16 23.51.23

The Nauha Battles- Is every day Ashura (or not)?

The above nauha, recited by the Imamia Students’ Organization a few years ago, is titled after a slogan (translated as ‘Every day is Ashura, Every place is Karbala’) which some scholars have claimed was first articulated in the lead-up to the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Given ISO’s open affiliation with the Office of the Supreme Leader in Iran, then, it is not surprising that ISO subscribes to this symbol as worldview. This is not to say that only affiliation with the Iranian-centric view of Twelver Shi’ism leads to a slogan like this- Tambar’s study of Alevi ritual commemoration in Turkey in 2006, for example, documents this slogan as one of the many appearing up in popular spaces dedicated for mourning. He writes, “The phrase expresses the promise of believers not only to maintain Husayn’s memory in the present day but also to seize on that memory at any and every opportunity.” So the slogan, in and of itself, has also spread far and wide from where it originated and certainly resonates with Shi’as at a popular level across geographically and culturally differentiated regions.

ISO’s nauha calls upon Twelver Shi’ites to treat every day as Ashura and every place as Karbala. It is not the only one to do so. In recent memory, Nadeem Sarwar recited a similarly titled nauha back in the 1990’s and there was a nauha released this year only by Qurban Jafri albiet it is not in Urdu.

Another nauha released this year, however, gives voice to an opposing point of view. Recited by Wajih Hasan Zaidi, it is titled La Youma Ka Youmik and it narrates a saying attributed to Hasan (second of the Twelver Shi’ite leaders and the elder brother of Husain) which says that the sacredness of Ashura and Karbala is unrivaled and that no time or place can ever meet that.

This sets up an interesting binary. One the one hand you have a reading of Karbala as a revolution and a way of life. Because of the inherent radicalness of the event, and because of more holistic cosmology in which the event is situated, Karbala is considered a momentous occasion. For a group like the ISO, Karbala represents the aspiration that all Twelver Shi’ites must actively work towards (but ultimately fall short of) achieving in their daily lives. However, the hierarchy integral to the structures Twelver Shi’ism is predicated on makes it impossible to transcend from a ‘being’ to a ‘maʿsūm’ and so despite a constant struggle, the aspirant will eventually be unsuccessful in reliving Karbala. It is fair to say, then, that this group argues vehemently for Karbala to be manifest in the actions of a Twelver Shi’ite by decimating the boundaries between sacred and profane until all that remains is Karbala and nothing else (even though such a goal may never be possible).

The other group uses the latter half of the above, or the implied argument as it is never explicitly stated, from groups like the ISO and argues that precisely because of the uniqueness of an event like Karbala, the Twelver Shi’ites must, at all times, remain cognizant of just how prestigious Karbala was. For this group, then, Karbala becomes a revered memory, a constant reminder of not just the imperfection of humanity, but also of the evil it creates, and how both of these must be combated with constant reference to Karbala. This daily struggle is internalized, however, and the rituals of piety seek inspiration from, but are not actively shaped by, the events of Karbala. Karbala, for this group, retains the ultimate sacredness within the universe. It represents a rupture that cannot be undone, and the closest a Twelver Shi’ite can come to experiencing it is through the ritual commemoration which is temporally finite and spatially restricting. The sacred for this group will remain eternally differentiated from the profane as, the group argues, it ought to.

Two groups, then, that self-identify as fitting within an identical overarching Twelver Shi’ite system draw differently on the same historical event. They evoke, from within the tradition, the same signifiers but interpret them in opposition to each other. They do not stop at avoiding an erroneous reading (by staying away from what they believe to be incorrect) but actively seek to achieve truth (by asserting their own worldviews above those that they disagree with). This articulates itself as a constant tension in forms like the nauha which, as I have argued elsewhere, provides us a fertile ground for investigation into this fascinating phenomenon. This, I believe, is good grounds to build an argument that religion is simply what people do…and nothing more.

Na jao ghar lyrics

Ay abr-e-karam, zara thum kay baras,

Itna na baras kay woh aa na sakein

Jab aa jayein toh jum kay baras

Aur itna baras kay woh ja na sakein


Na jao ghar, abhi to raat hay, badal bhi kalay hain


Kijiye ghar ki na zid, barsat hai

Aap kamsin hein, andheri raat hai


Na jao ghar, abhi to raat hay, badal bhi kalay hain


Din ginay jatay thay is din kay liyay


Muddat kay baad aaj mily hai shab-e-wisal

Do char soo baras meri ya rab sahar na ho


Lipat jaatay hain who bijli kay daar say

Ya ilahi yeh ghata do din toh barsay


Bikhray bikhray hain baal, suljha lo


Mujhay kuch nahi, mujh ko teri sharam hai

Tum he soch lo kiya kahay ga zamana


Jaao na waqt e shaam zamana kharab hai


Keh toh raha hoon dair say, unko kay jaan-e-jaan

Karlo yaheen qayyam, zamana kharab hai


Qamar kis kadhar unko jaldi thi ghar ki

Woh ghar chal diyey chandni dhaltay dhaltay


Kaheen pani na parh jaye

tumhare ahd-o-paiman par


Na jao ghar, abhi to raat hay, badal bhi kalay hain

Azaan samjhay ho tum jis ko kisi baykas kay naalay hain


Phir na kehna yeh kay naalon say pareshani hui

Khawaab mein samjha gayey mian jo baat samjhani hui


Meray pehlo mein na pair o dil e naushad aaya

Woh mera bhoolnay wala jo mujhay yaad aya
Leejeiyey suniyey ga afsana-e-furqat mujhsay

Tum nay jo yaad dilaya, toh mujhay yaad aya

Di mue’zzin nay shab-e-wasl azaan pichli raat

Haye kambakht ko kis waqt khuda yaad aya


Bas ab chupnay ko hain taaray agar aatay to aajatay

Agar woh darmian walay na behkatay toh ajatay

Mian basr hoti hain unki aish mein raatein woh kiyon aain?

Agar furqat kay sannaton say ghabratay toh ajatay

Kaha jab mein nay unsay woh kahan hain aap ki qasmein?

Toh farmaya agar sachi qasam khatay to ajaaty

Hazaron waada-e-shab us nay, is soorat say taalay hain

Kabhi mehdi lagayi hai, kabhi geysoo sanwaray hain


Mareez e soz e gham ay charagar kab bachnay walay hain?

Keh har aanso ki rangat keh rahi hai kay dil may chalay hain


Rotay rotay teri furqat mein jigar baith gaya

Jis meh reta tha tera dir woh ghar baith gaya

Mashgala khoob hai furqat mein behlnay kay liyay

Sar hai chunnay kay liyay, haath masalnay kay liyay

Gham ki deewar khari rehti hai dil kay andar

Meray armaan taraptay hain nikalnay kay liyay

Teer say seena mera chaid kar yoonh kehnay lagay

Raha kardi teray arman nikalnay kay liyay!


Rotay rotay teri furqat mein jigar baith gaya

Jis meh reta tha tera dir woh ghar baith gaya

Mian dil kay do goshay hain, har goshay mein rozan lakhon

Kia bataon tera pir kidhar baith gaya?


Daikh kar kehta hai furqat mein meri nabz tabeeb

Nabz ko hath lagaoon ka toh jal jaoon ga


Aye hain woh mareez-e-mohabbat ko daikh kay

Aansoo bata rahay hain koi baat ho gayi


Mareezon ka dum aankhon mein hai, woh hain mehv-e-araish

Wahan honton pay laali hai, yahan jaanon kay laalay hai


Udhar woh zulf suljhatay hain, un ka kham nikalta hai

Idhar rug rug say khich khich kay humara dum nikalta hai


Shab-e-waada qamar kar kay woh jab sola singhar aaye


Hamara karavan ab tak toh manzil par pohanch jata

Magar yeh raastay mein paich toh rahbar nay dalay hain


Baal un kay ariz-e-purnoor par aanay lagay

Chashma-e-khurshid par bhi saanp lehranay lagay

Jab maseeha dushman-e-jaan ho to kiyonkar ho ilaj

Kaun rahbar ho mera jab khizr behkanay lagay?


Hasrat yehi rahi kay koi charagar milay

Laiken teri gali mein bohat kamnazar milay

Shayad ishe liyay hamay manzil na mil saki

Jitnay bhi log humko milay rahbar milay


Hamay aye baghban tu bagh ka malik nahi kehta

Saron ko baich kar qeemat ada ki hai gulistan ki


Kay humsay karavan manzil pay lutwayey nahi jaatay


Baharon ki khabar sun kar qafas mein roh to deta hoon

Kisi say yeh nahi kehta meray pur kaat dalay hain


Kabhi shaakh o sabza or burg pur

Kabhi ghuncha-e-gul-o-khar pur

Mein chaman mein chahay jahan rahoon

Mera haq hai fasl-e-bahar pur

Mujhay dein na waiz ki dhamkian

Girein laakh bar yeh bijlian

Meri saltanat yehi aashiyan

Meri milkiat yehi char pur


Nahi khuda kis qasam tab-e-intezar mujhay

Kiyay huay hai teri yaad beqarar mujhay

Chalo hoon tham kay dil, zindagi hai bar mujhay

Nahi hai ab rawish-e-gham pay ikhtiar mujhay

Zara sambhal kay lay chal khayal-e-yaar mujhay

Nazar mein ghair ki jaanib uthaon na mumkin

Faraib mein kisi jalway kay aaon na mumkin

Khayal-e-yaar ko bhool jaaon na mumkin

Bhula sakay toh bhula dey khayal-e-yaar mujhay

Na burq-o-gul ki kisi pais o pash mein betha hoon

Hazar dard liyay apnay bus mein betha hoon

Paron say moon ko chupayay qafas mein betha hoon

Yeh sharm hai kay na pehchan lay bahar mujhay

Hujoom-e-hashr ko ghabra kay mujhsay poochtay kia ho

Sataya hai jinhay tum nay yeh who faryad waalay hain


Chup rahay hum adab say mehshar mein

Warna kis baat ka jawab na tha


Woh dunya thi jahan tum band kartay thay zaban meri

Yeh mehshar hai yahan sunni paray gi dastan meri


Kaisay anjaan ban rahay hain aap

Jaisay jaan goya kisi ki li he nahi