Patriotic Music in India and the Muslim Contribution

AS we celebrate our 63rd Republic Day, let’s take a look at some Muslim contribution to patriotic songs in India over the years. The list is not exhaustive and considers only the more popular ones.

1 ‘Watan ki raah mein watan ke naujawaan shaheed hon’ from the Dilip Kumar starrer Shaheed (1948). Qamar Jalalabadi lyrics, sung by Mohd Rafi, to Ghulam Haider’s tune is popular even after 64 years of the film’s release.

2 ‘Ye desh hai veer jawano ka’ from the movie Naya Daur (1957). Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics sung by Rafi.

3 ‘Desh ka pyara’ from the lesser known movie Masoom (1960). Raja Mehdi Ali Khan wrote the lyrics of this lovable children song.

4 ‘Sare jahan se achha’ by Allama Iqbal. The immortal Urdu poem has been sung by many singers over the years, including a duet by Rafi and Asha Bhosle for Dharamputra (1961).

5 ‘Insaaf ki dagar pe’ from the movie Ganga Jamuna. The 1961 classic had this gem penned by Shakeel Badayuni with music by Naushad.

6 ‘Nanha munna rahi hoon’ from Mehboob’s Son of India (1962). The duo of  Naushad and Shakeel again behind this endearing effort.

7 ‘Ab tumhare hawale watan sathiyon’ from the National Award winning movie Haqeeqat (1964), which remains the most definite account of war portrayal on the Indian screen. The moving lyrics by Kaifi Azmi were given a soulful rendition by Mohd Rafi. A timeless classic.

8 ‘Apni aazaadi ko hum’ from the movie Leader (1964). Rafi, Shakeel and Naushad teams up for this winner. Dilip Kumar adds his aura to the on screen portrayal.

9 ‘Aye watan aye watan’ from the Manoj Kumar starrer Shaheed (1965). A brilliant song by the inimitable Rafi. A personal favourite.

10 ‘Sandese aate hain’ from Border (1997). Anu Malik provided the music for the song written by Javed Akhtar.

11 ‘Maa tujhe salam’ from the 1997 studio album Vande Mataram by A.R. Rahman. Rahman composed the tune for Mehboob’s lyrics, and then sang it with passion. It remains the most influential patriotic song of the modern era. The album sold 1.5 million copies in the releasing year in India alone. Till date it’s the largest selling non-film album in India.

12 ‘Zindagi maut na ban jaaye’ from Sarfarosh (1999). The immensely popular number from the critically acclaimed Amir Khan starrer was written by Israr Ansari.

13 ‘Ye jo des hai tera’ from the Shahrukh Khan starrer Swades (2004). A beautifully sung and composed number by Rahman with lyrics from Javed Akhtar.

14 ‘Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna’ by the freedom fighter Ram Prasad Bismil. The revolutionary Urdu masterpiece was brought to life by Rafi, Dey and Rajendra Mehta in Shaheed (1965). A.R. Rahman gave his touch to the lyrics, first in The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) and backed it with a powerful rendition by Amir Khan in the cult classic Rang De Basanti (2006).

15 ‘Rang de basanti’ from the movie Rang De Basanti. A peppy and relevant number for the youth of today. Naturally it was Rahman’s music.

Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz – A Journey of Love, Hope and Nationalism

Postage stamp on Majaz issued by the Govt of India

THE year was 1935. The union hall of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was brimming with students and the atmosphere was electric. A young man in sherwani stands up. He runs his hand through his long locks, and recites his poem ‘Inquilab’ in his own inimitable style –

“KohsaaroN ki taraf se surkh aandhi aayegi
Ja-baja aabaadiyoN meiN aag si lag jaayegi
Aur is rang-e-shafaq meiN ba-hazaraaN aab-o taab
Jagmagaaega watan ki hurriyat ka aaftaab”

[A red storm is approaching from over the mountains
Sparking a fire in the settlements
And on this horizon, amidst a thousand tumults
Shall shine the sun of our land’s freedom] (1)

The hall reverberates with a thunderous applause. Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz was destined for greatness!

The poetic journey

Majaz’s poetry first made its mark in the culturally alive AMU during the early 1930s. His poems ‘Noora’ and ‘Nazr-e-Aligarh’ established him as a popular poet. The girls just loved him.

“NahiN jaanti hai, mera naam tak woh
Magar bhej deti hai paighaam tak woh
Ye paighaam aate hii rahte haiN aksar
Ki kis roz aaoge biimaar hokar”

[She doesn’t even know my name
But still she writes to me
Her letters keep coming to me
“When will you fall sick and visit again?” she asks]

AMU had other great poets, like Ali Sardar Jafri, Jaan Nisar Akhtar and Jazbi, during this period, but Majaz’s popularity overshadowed all his contemporaries.

Majaz finished his graduation at AMU in 1936. The same year Professor Ahmed Shah Bukhari, popularly known as ‘Pitras’ Bukhari, calls Majaz to Delhi. Bukhari made him join the then newly formed All India Radio as the editor of a journal. Majaz named it ‘Awaaz’ and managed it for a while.

Their relationship soured for some reasons and Majaz left the station.

This was also the time when the door of the married woman Majaz loved, closed on him. She was the only woman he ever loved. It left a permanent scar on his psyche. He became a compulsive drinker.

His personal grief merged with his rebel ideas. The result was ‘Awara’ – a masterpiece of the era.

“Shahar ki raat aur maiN naashaad-o-nakaara phiruuN
Jagmagaati jaagti saDkon pe awara phiruuN
Ghair ki basti hai kab tak dar badar maara phiruuN
Aye gham-e-dil kya karoon aye wehshat-e-dil kya karuuN”

[This nightfall in the city, and I wander aimless and sad
On the awake and glittering roads, my aimless wandering, O
How long in the alien city from door to door I go
What do I do, O sad heart, my mad heart] (2)

The poem became an anthem for the revolutionary youth of the time. The word Awara suddenly meant more than just troubled and jobless-

“Le ke ek changez ke haathon se khanjar toD duuN
Taaj par us ke damakta hai jo patthar toD duuN
Koi tode ya na toDe maiN hii baDhkar toD duuN
Ai gham-e-dil kya karoon aye wehshat-e-dil kya karuuN”

[I shall snatch the sword from Changez’s hand and break it apart
The glittering stone in his crown I must hit
Some body else may or may not, but I should break it–
What do I do, O sad heart, my mad heart] (2)

Heartbroken, Majaz came back to Lucknow.

A nationalist to the core, Majaz along with his friends Ali Sardar Jafri and Sibtey Hasan, took out the progressive journal ‘Naya Adab’ from Lucknow . It was established with funds from the CPI in 1939 under the auspices of UPWA (Urdu Progressive Writers’ Association). The journal was the most influential progressive literary monthly of the period, so much that its first three issues actually laid the theoretical foundations of the UPWA movement. (2)

Naya Adab ran for a decade. After its closure, Majaz joined the Harding Library at Delhi as Assistant Librarian. There he collaborated with Fasihuddin Ahmed in editing the literary journal ‘Adeeb’. (3)
 

Knowing the man

Majaz was a fragile soul, one who could be easily hurt. Being the nice guy he was, Majaz kept quiet even when friends misbehaved with him.

“Awara-va-majnu.N hii pe maukuuf nahiN kuuchh
Milne haiN abhi muujh ko Khitaab aur zyaadaa”

[They have not stopped at vagabond and rogue
More praises are on their way for me]

Majaz had a great sense of humour. Once somebody’s poetry didn’t go down well with him. He had this to say – “Don’t worry, when your poems are translated in Urdu then people would recognise your talent.” (4)

Majaz was a rebel poet. His anger against the capitalist system provided the basis for Awara and his hope for a better tomorrow, born out of the socialist ideology of the Soviet Russia, is expressed in the poem ‘Khwab-e-Sehar’-

“Yeh musalsal aafaten, yeh yorishen, yeh qatal-e-aam
Aadmi kab tak rahe ohaam-e-baatil ka ghulaam
Zehn-e-insaani ne ab ohaam ke zulmaat meiN
Zindagi ki sakht toofani andheri raat meiN
Kuch nahin tau kam se kam khawab-e-sehar dekha tau hai
Jis taraf dekha na tha ab tak udhar dekha tau hai”

[Such struggle, such suffering, such heinour carnage
How long has man been to superstition a slave
Human mind has at last awakened from its heavy sleep
In the stormy night of life, in the superstitious deep
Has at last dreamt a dream of the golden dawn
Looked at last towards the East, where none before had glanced] (5)

The woman in Majaz’s poetry was more than an object of beauty. He wished to see them as crusaders who could revolt against exploitation and injustice.

“Teri neechi nazar khud teri ismat ki muhafiz hai
Tu is nashtar ki tezi aazma leti to achha thaa
Teri maathe pe ye aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin
Tu is aaNchal se ik parcham bana leti to achha thaa”

[Your lowered gaze is itself a protector of your purity,
If you now raise your eyes and test the sharpness of it, it would be good.
The cloth covering your head is no doubt a good thing,
But if you make a flag out of it, it would be good] (6)

Majaz was also faint of heart. In the 1946 sectarian riots, Majaz saw a man being killed in Bombay and couldn’t eat for three days. He ran out of the science class the first time he saw a frog on the table. The poet left science altogether after the episode.

His drinking and poetry provided him the vent to his heartbreak. Once Jigar Moradabadi asked him to quit drinking, to which Majaz replied – “You left it just once, I left it several times.” (4)

Josh Malihabadi once said about Majaz, “He wants to capture the entire beauty of the world in one single glance and to drink all wine of the world in one gulp.” (4)

“Is mahfil-e-kaif-o-masti me, is anjuman-e-irfaani me
Sab jaam-bakaf baithe hi rahe, hum pee bhi gaye chahlka bhi gaye”

[This gathering of fun and frolic, the erudites all around
All merely sat with the goblets, but I drank to the full]

But who could know the man more than he himself. Majaz the poet summarises the man in his poem ‘Ta’arruf ‘ –

“Khoob pehchaan lo, asraar huuN maiN
Jins-e-ulfat kaa talabgaar huuN maiN
Ishq hee ishq hai, duniya meri
Fitna-e-aql se bezaar huuN maiN”

[Look at me, recognise me well, for I am Asrar
I seek love and longing
My world comprises love and just love
I know not the devil of the intellect] (7)
 

Path to self-destruction

By the early 1950s Majaz’s mental faculties started deteriorating. His drinking further compounded his misery. It was sheer genius that he still managed to pen poems like, Khawab-e-Sehar, ‘Shaher Nigaar’, and ‘Andheri Raat ka Musafir,’ which reflects on his last ditch attempt to turnaround his messed up life.

His poem ‘Aitraaf’ was his swan song. Majaz lost hope and accepted defeat-

“Wo gudaaz-e-dil-e-marhoom kahaaN se laauN
Ab maiN wo jazba-e-maasoom kahaaN se laauN”

[That tender heart, long dead, beats no more
That innocent passion, long gone, excites no more]

In 1952 Majaz went to Calcutta with Doctor Saifuddin Kichlu to attend the All India Cultural Conference. He was just a shadow of his old self. Sardar Jafri gave him five Rupees every evening for a drink. The rest of his drinking sessions were sponsored by visitors at the bar. One day he asked for ten Rupees. When Jafri tried to reason with him he said, “Sardar you’ve a family, a house, and you do poetry. What do I’ve? Now you don’t even allow me to drink!” (4)

Majaz landed in Ranchi’s mental asylum the same year. The poet who never wrote a weak couplet now struggled with verses. This verse recovered from his belongings tells a lot about his mental state – “Woh regzaar-e-khayal me hai kabhi kabhi humkharaam meri.” [That wasteland of thoughts is walking alongside me] (7)

The end

Jafri recalls seeing him last in the December of 1955 when he arrived in Lucknow from Bombay to attend a Student Cultural Conference. Majaz met him at Hazratganj and showered the same love and affection on his old buddy-

“Humdum yahi hai, rahguzar-e-yaar-e-khushkhiraam
Guzre haiN laakh baar isi kahkashaN se hum” *

[This slow pace, this path of bliss has been my companion
I have passed this galaxy a million times]

They then went to the conference at Baradari in Qaisarbagh together. Majaz the poet, and person, seems to come alive that night during the mushaira. He recited the following couplet several times to an eager and appreciative audience-

“Bahut mushkil hai duniya ka savarna, teri zulfoN ka pech-o-kham nahi hai
Ba-ise-sayle-ghamo-sayle-hawadis, mera sir hai ki ab bhi kham nahi hai”

[I wonder if my life gets sorted out, the way your entangled locks do
A sea of sadness surrounds me, somehow I’m standing tall]

The next day it was 4th of December. Majaz stayed with Jafri and Sahir Ludhyanvi at the hotel. Sahir bought a bottle of fine quality whisky for Majaz. He was made to promise that he won’t drink in the day and won’t go out with his friends. They even locked the bottle inside the almirah on Majaz’s own suggestion. As if he had a premonition of things to come, Majaz told Jafri twice to spend more time with him as he seems not so sure of the future.

Jafri and Sahir reached the hotel late as they had to attend a tea party after the conference. Majaz left during their absence. They searched for him in vain.

Majaz didn’t turn up for the conference on the 5th of December. At five in the evening the fears proved real. Somebody broke the news of Majaz lying faint in the Balrampur Hospital. The conference was postponed. Everybody rushed to the hospital. Majaz had an oxygen mask on him. Doctors showed little hope.

It was the result of a wild night. Majaz’s friends took him to a tavern in Lalbagh where they all drank on the rooftop. One by one they all left. Majaz stayed back into the cold winter night. The next morning the owner informed the police about Majaz. He was taken to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed a brain hemorrhage and pneumonia. He was just 44.

A female fan sharing the name of his beloved sat next to him when Majaz passed away that night. The poet was at peace finally.

Majaz often reached home late or not at all. Aware of this habit his old mother used to leave his food, a packet of cigarettes, and fifty paisa, next to his bed. The rickshaw-pullers of the city, who knew Majaz well, dropped him home and took the fifty paisa coin.

That night everything changed. Majaz’s mother was waiting on the floor next to his bed. Her son was coming back never to leave again.

“Ab iske baad subah hai aur subah-e-nau majaz
Hum par khatm shaam-e-ghareeban-e-Lucknow”

[Tomorrow awaits a new dawn
With me ends the darkness of Lucknow]

Like a shooting star, Majaz, in his self-destruction left behind a trail of brilliant compositions that forever illuminates the firmament of urdu poetry. Every time the students and alumni of AMU, like me, sing the university song, at their campus and elsewhere in the world, Majaz comes to life.

“Ye meraa chaman hai meraa chaman, maiN apne chaman kaa bulbul huuN
Sarshaar-e-nigaah-e-nargis huuN, paa-bastaa-e-gesuu-sumbul huuN”

(chaman: garden; bulbul: nightingale; sarshaar: overflowing, soaked; nigaah: sight; nargis: flower, Narcissus; paa-bastaa: embedded; gesuu: tresses; sumbul: a plant of sweet odour)

And so the great poet lives on, the way he always did – as the cynosure of all eyes!

* Ali Sardar Jafri used this couplet as the title song of his famous television series, Kahkashan, broadcasted on Doordarshan during the early 90s.

(Based on Ali Sardar Jafri’s account in ‘Lucknow ki Paanch Raatein’.)

NOTES

1 Kuldip Sahil, A Treasury of Urdu Poetry From Mir to Faiz: Ghazals with English Renderings (Delhi: Rajpal & Sons, 2009), 114-119.
2 Geeta Patel, Lyrical Movements, Historical Hauntings: On Gender, Colonialism, and Desire in Miraji’s Urdu Poetry (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 111
3 Abida Samiuddin, Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Urdu Literature (New Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House, 2007), 387
4 Ali Sardar Jafri, Lucknow ki Paanch Raatein (New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2010), 25-58
5 K. C. Kanda, Masterpieces of Patriotic Urdu poetry (Delhi: Sterlings Publishers Private Limited, 2009), 323-339
6 “Ghazal as a form of Urdu poetry in the Asian subcontinent”, accessed December 5, 2011, http://www.ghazalpage.net/prose/notes/ghazal_urdu.html
7 Rakhshanda Jalil, email message to the author, December 8, 2011.

A Journey to the Heart of Islam

THE first view of the area outside the holy mosque. A giant clock tower (second tallest building in the world) overshadows everything in its vicinity, sadly, even the house of God. Did Mecca really need it? That too so very close to the mosque. The towering hotels challenge the very principles of the pilgrimage. People with money can have the best view of the holy mosque. What about the white ‘Ihraam’, which stands for unity in simplicity!

As a Muslim you grow up prostrating in the direction of the Kaaba, five times a day. You hear stories about prayers being realised on its first sight. Naturally, you long to visit it one day. So when your plane touches Saudi Arabia, it’s this very moment you are looking forward to. When you do see it, you are speechless! You feel the closest to God and that’s when he answers your prayers.

Technology and spirituality merge at the Prophet’s [PBUH] mosque in Medina. The beautiful pillars double as umbrellas during the day. You feel trasported to another world altogether.

The mountain of Uhud in Medina is a grim reminder of hypocrites in Islam. They fled the battlefield while the Prophet [PBUH] was alive, what to talk about the state of affairs 1400 years after him.

A mosque established by a prominent follower (Salman Farsi) of the Prophet [PBUH] in Medina is one of the last few old structures holding ground.

Heritage has given way to grandness. Is this our legacy to the generations to follow!

Jannat-ul-Baqi, Medina – the final resting place of many members of the Prophet’s [PBUH] family, some of his prominent followers and other Prophets [PBUT] of Islam.

Although the Saudi government is doing a fine job in safely handling millions of pilgrims every year but they need to strike a balance between modernity and care for Islamic heritage.

The Spirit of Independence

I WISH I could go back in time to the dawn of 15th August 1947, and feel the first rays in an independent India. Sixty four years later we seem to have taken our independence for granted. Heroes of the freedom struggle have given way to corrupt politicians. Security has never been worse. Rising prices of commodities have affected almost every Indian. The country has produced more billionaires during the last decade than all the previous put together, but the poverty ratio has not changed. This is surely not the vision of our founding fathers!

The vibrant democracy, inspite of its shortcomings, seems to be our only saving grace. As for the rest, we need to do a little more ourselves. If Anna Hazare can take a stand against corruption, why can’t we stand up to corrupt practices.

As an Indian Muslim I’ve had my share of highs and lows. My disappointments over the years have been few and temporary, but my hope in the country is permanent.

These voices of some of my fellow countrymen, from across the globe, strengthen my faith in this great nation.

August 15th is a very important day not only for the history of India but also as a day of freedom. There is nothing better than the feeling of being free.

To me both Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose were equally important as freedom fighters. Gandhi ‘s policy was centred around peaceful ways whereas Bose never shied away from using force. For a complete victory we need both.

India has many states and languages, but barring a few conflicts and issues, there is so much harmony. Illiteracy seems to be the root of all evils. If we can eradicate illiteracy it would help reduce corruption, racism and poverty in our country.

If we consider the year in the context of the Independence Day then in my opinion our year should start with 15th of August. As a poet I would like to say-

‘Ab ke naya saal aisa nazar aaye
Pichhle sab salon se badla sa nazar aaye

Ham ka jazba ho baaham ham sab ke
Na ho koi hadca ayodhya-o-gujarat ke jaise
Rishton ko joda jaaye sakht zanjeer se aise
Ke phir se tootkar kadi koi na bikhar jaaye’

Abrar Ulhaq, property consultant, Dubai (originally from Etah, UP)

To me August 15th is an emotional and significant day as an indian. I still remember the pride with which we re-ran the special assembly back home (after school) to keep the celebrations going. I cherished winning the elocution competition on ‘the’ occasion — the once in a year event. Nothing was bigger than that!

My favourite freedom fighter is the Mahatma. The man who started it all, and the man revered by us all as ‘bapu’. He is perhaps the greatest icon of leadership in this imperfect world. He took the definition of inclusive leadership closest to perfection.

As a kid I never felt any discrimination, perhaps chastity of thoughts reigned supreme. It feels strange now when people smile at you sheepishly every time India beats Pakistan. The same people get embarassed while criticising Pakistan in front of me, as if I am not an Indian. Sadly, Indian independence is more about Pakistan and less about India or the British imperialism. It appears funny though, half the country would love to migrate to London if given a chance! If only there was no partition, Muslims would have been treated as more Indian (or more patriotic).

Having said it all, the very fact that I can level criticism through any medium, albeit constructive, without fear is what india is all about.

Ahmad Mehdi, works for Ricoh India, New Delhi

The word ‘freedom’ is very significant to me and therefore the date. There is a lot of sarcasm around as to what we’ve achieved in the last 64 yrs but I would still prefer where we are than being ruled by the British.

I remember visiting Abba’s office (district courts) on this day and the ‘Jai Hind’ salutes all around.

Mahatma Gandhi as a freedom fighter stands out for me. His fight always started with his inner self and was built on the philosophy of attaining will power or controlling your ‘Nafs’.

My work gave me the opportunity to live and explore different parts of India. Its so colorful. To discover and enjoy India you need many lives. Although my religion doesn’t allow me to say this, but if I had to be reborn I prefer to be born again in some part of India.

I think Indian muslims should open their doors more and intermingle with other communities. The Ghettoization is not helping them in any way!

Amir Naqvi, works for Honeywell, Dubai (originally from Safipur, UP)

In many aspects India is still struggling with slavery, only the masters have changed. August 15th seems to be just about organising parades and distributing sweets. This day must be a guiding light for a brighter India.

Our school celebrated Independence Day by organising a parade and distributing sweets among the students. I was entrusted to not only sing a patriotic song but also to lead the parade with full police uniform.

Bhagat Singh is one name which left a deep impact on me. It could be because I’ve heard so much about him since childhood. But, his role in the freedom struggle indeed needs much appreciation.

I studied at ‘Saraswati Sishu Mandir’, an RSS backed school, so there was naturally some discrimination especially during the parades and exam marking. Beyond school it was business as usual.

I feel our culture and food stands out compared to other countries. It’s only corruption which fails us. If we can remove that then there’s no denying that India is great.

Dr. Mohammad Vaseem, post doctoral fellow, South Korea (originally from Mankapur, UP)

If you consider the magnitude of the achievement, August 15th is a very significant day. The relevance seems to have been lost in recent times.

I think the turning point in our freedom struggle was the Indian Mutiny of 1857. It gave hope to Indians that the Britishers could be overthrown. Revolutionaries like Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, and Ashfaqullah Khan instilled fear in the hearts of the Britishers. By the time Gandhi came, the Britishers were already in the process of moving out plagued by their domestic problems.

I love the unity in diversity of this country. If you are in pain, the first person who comes to your help could be of any religion.

If given a chance I would remove all the current politicians, especially those above 45 years of age. We still are not fully independent! We seem to be ruled by corrupt politicians whose actions are alarmingly similar to the Britishers. The Britishers looted India and sent the loot abroad our politicians are doing the same. They stash their black money outside India.

I have personally seen the kind of talent we are losing to corruption. The day we can wipe it out would be the day we will truly be independent. One Anna Hazare cannot do it, we have to change our mindset first.

Fasih Ahmad, works for Ozonebarter, Hongkong (originally from Lucknow)

August 15th means a lot to me being an Indian and knowing the country’s history.

I don’t have any favourites when it comes to our freedom fighters, quite simply because I don’t know what exactly each stood for.

I don’t know about the rest of India but Bangalore has always been this migrant town, and now a city. I have been lucky not to have any discriminatory experience that may have left a mark.

I think democracy is the best thing about this country and poverty the worst.

Fiza Ishaq, independent researcher, Bangalore

August 15th holds a big significance in my life as it symbolizes our freedom from the suppressive British rule. One feels very proud to be an Indian, especially on this particular day.

I’ve fond memories of people lining up on street pavements to watch the Independance Day parade. The section displaying Indian weaponary from the parade broadcasted by Doordarshan fascinated me.

Subhash Chandra Bose is the freedom fighter I admire the most as I do not believe in Gandhian philosophy.

I like the harmony that exists between people of different religions and cultures in India. It’s only the poverty, and to a certain extent, the hatred against the Muslims which saddens me.

Irfan Kazmi, works for Alhamrani Universal Co. Ltd., Saudi Arabia (originally from Lucknow)

Even though Muslims face some discrimination in India, I would want to believe this is a global phenomenon. It’s quite human for one to discriminate on the basis of class, caste, religion or colour. I do feel things would have been far different under the British rule.

Subhash Chandra Bose was the real freedom fighter. Gandhi to me as a national hero was more to do with politics. The Britishers didn’t leave India because of Gandhi and his Satyagrah. They were already on their knees because of the second World War. Also, India was not a viable option for them anymore. They were concentrating on the gulf more at that point of time. Even if we do credit Gandhi for our Independence, how long would have we survived without a competent national army.

If I am not living in places like, Kashmir, the North East and Naxal affected area, I think India is one of the best places to live anywhere in the world. I only wish I could remove the ‘chalta hai’ attitude of our people.

Sabir Khan, accountant, Pune

I remember enjoying the extra holiday we used to get in school on this day. As a kid, August 15th looked important and I used to feel proud with the small flag in my hand and a laddoo in my mouth.

In my opinion Subhash Chandra Bose was the most impressive among the long list of people who fought for India. If he had been around, India would have been a different place.

As a Muslim I’ve never felt discriminated in India. But I do feel, given a demanding situation my Muslim identity may limit my chances of fighting back effectively.

The never say die attitude of the common man who works on the Indian streets, fighting daily challenges, amazes me. Inspite of their hardships they smile and dance to Bollywood tunes.

Poverty remains our biggest stumbling block. We can still fight it, though. If every MLA is entrusted with the task to move just five families out of poverty in his constituency every year, it can make a big change. He can do so by helping them find employment within their area. If society starts supporting the underprivileged, India would change for better.

If every MP is entrusted with the task to improve the living conditions of any one town/locality during his tenure by ensuring proper supply of essential amenities, it would make a big difference.

Shahnawaz Mehdi, works for Nissan Middle-East, Dubai (originally from Lucknow)

August 15th to me is freedom, some patriotic songs and a day off.

I admire Bhagat Singh the most. His idea of freedom was very original. He was the one who highlighted the difference between violence and self defense.

Glorious history of India is a matter or pride. It’s the poverty which saddens me no end.”

Shah Zaman Rizvi, works for Pure Gold Jewellers, Dubai (originally from Lucknow)

August 15th is important for the very fact that we achieved complete authority over our own country on the day. But it also makes me sad that we did not utilise this power appropriately. India would’ve been a super power had it not been the dirty politics that now runs in it’s bloodstream. I hate the fact that it has spread it’s tentacles to defense, health and other areas. Even the kids now know that bribery works wonders.

As a Muslim we did face issues while searching for a rental place, but I respect the wishes of the people. They have a right to rent out their house to whom they please. It’s not a big deal to me.

I love our culture and the brotherhood that still exists, no matter what people say or do. I’m also in awe of the religious tolerance we are melted into. It’s a perfect example of how a true human should be.

Sukaina Merchant, event planner, Dubai (originally from Mumbai)

August 15th seems to have lost its significance. Like all businesses I close my office on this day but in my view we should work more than usual instead, and help India grow.

The memories of the day are mostly from the school days. When I was in the Government college we used to get four laddoos in a pink envelope.

I feel there is nothing in India which other countries do’nt have. I just like India because I was born here. It’s my motherland!

I only wish to remove corruption from the country.

Tariq Mumtaz, IT consultant, Meerut, UP

August 15th is like the birthday of a person who is very close to heart. I remember going out for parades and flag raising ceremonies on this day.

Subhash Chandra Bose to me was a true freedom fighter.

As a Muslim I did face discrimination a few times but that didn’t stop me from admiring the Indian culture.

I like the music which we are mixing up with the west. Our big problem seems to be only corruption. Take that out and India is a heaven.

Taskeen Jamali, works for Ford Motor Company, Ontario, Canada (originally from Moradabad, UP)

Being our Independence Day, August 15th automatically becomes significant.

For me Subhash Chandra Bose was a real fighter.

I think discrimination does exists in India. During the last semester of my MBA, I was told to opt out of the interview with a leading employer, which had come for the campus recruitment, as they don’t hire muslims. The institue’s director didn’t want me to waste my time.

I like the simplicity and diversity of my country, and wish I could wipe out communalism from this land.

Toufique Khan, works for Mashreq Bank, Abu Dhabi (originally from Bahraich, UP)

Honestly August 15th is like any other day for me except getting a public holiday. May be the true meaning of the day has been lost.

I remember the essay writing competitions we had in school and the patriotic songs and movies being played on Doordarshan that day.

Bhagat Singh and his team tops my list of freedom fighters. He carried the spirit of a great warrior. A fearless soul, an inspiration for the youth of India.

Barring a stray incident at the IGI Airport, Delhi, my Muslim identity has never been a problem for me in India.

I cherish the bond of culture and friendship between Muslims and Hindus. If I could, I would remove corruption and hate killings in India.

Urooj Ikram, homemaker, Ankara, Turkey (originally from Aligarh)

As an indian I am proud of what our fellow Indians did 64 years ago, but when I see today’s leaders celebrating 15th of August ( with smug faces in crisp kurtas ), it looks like a slap in the face of this day’s spirit. There is hardly any difference between them and the ones we fought against to gain our freedom.

I remember as a kid we used to bunk classes to practice the National Anthem and march past drills. Today no sweet tastes as good as those four laddoos on the morning of 15th of August.

Rani of Jhansi appeals to me as a freedom fighter. Girl power maybe!

On a personal level, I’ve never faced any problem in India being a Muslim. In fact, the way we are discriminated here in USA, India feels like “apni gali” (next lane).

I love the simplicity of Indians. It makes us vulnerable and gullible at times, but its priceless!

I wish I could change our system, they way it works. Corruption is not an individual’s practice, it’s a tree which branches out.

‘Hum pe mushtarka hain ehsaan gham-e-ulfat ke (read it ‘gham-e-siyaasat ke’)
Itne ehsaan ki ginwaaon to ginwaa na sakoon’

Zainab Khan, homemaker, Louisiana, US (originally from Aligarh)

The significance of August 15th cannot be expressed in words. The feeling of being the citizen of a free country is enormous.

I remember celebrating it with lots of fun in school. I used to prepare a speech to be delivered during the school assembly. We looked forward to the parades, and scout and guide camps associated with the day.

To me all freedom fighter contributed towards one cause, so can’t really differentiate between them. But I do admire the trio of Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah khan and Thakur Roshan Singh.

I like the famous Indian jugaad, which simplifies so many things. The talent, so readily available in every nook and corner of India and selfless love of the people amazes me.

Beaurocracy is a bane in this country. The paper work need to be abolished to at least check some corruption.

Zartab Jafri, works for IAP HR Solutions, Mumbai

I’m signing of with this couplet of the revolutionary poet Akbar Allahabadi which beautifully expresses the feelings of an Indian Muslim-

“Paamal hain magar hain sabit qadam wafa main
Hum misle-e-sang-e-dar ke is aastaan par hain”

[Though crushed, we are firm in our loyalty
We are like a rock at the threshold of our country]

Jai Hind!

India After Gandhi

THE word ‘Gandhi’ in a google search results in some 40 million pages. He is a world figure and undoubtedly the best known Indian. Any study of India is incomplete without him. Ramachandra Guha acknowledges the fact by naming his book on the history of the country as “India after Gandhi: The history of the world’s largest democracy”. Continue reading India After Gandhi

The Last Emperor

The Last EmperorDILIP Kumar has acted in just 60 films but he is arguably the greatest Indian actor of any generation. His method acting skills added a whole new dimension to the craft.

Dilip Kumar’s life, like his performances, is equally fascinating.

Sanjit Narwekar’s biography of this actor par excellence, is aptly titled, “Dilip Kumar – The Last Emperor.” A still of the actor from Mughal-e-Azam adorns the cover of the book. So much for the first impression!

The author knows his subject well for Narwekar has written and lectured on Indian cinema since 1970. He introduces Dilip Kumar through his films. The book is neatly organised on the basis of major milestones in the life of the actor.

Narwekar has beautifully captured the essence of Peshawar in the growing up years of a young Yusuf Khan, all in just six pages.

Born on the 11th of December, 1922 in Peshawar, Yusuf was the third son and fifth child of fruit merchant Sarwar Khan and Ayesha Begum. Theirs was a deeply relious family. The author tells us about the violence in the city during Khan’s growing up years. This may have provided the element of authenticity to the intense roles he would go on to play.

A tragedy at home brought the family to Bombay. It was at the Wilson College of the city that his future started taking shape. He became a voracious reader and watched mostly Hollywood films. Football was one sports he excelled in. He was also an extremely shy lad.

Yusuf Khan had to drop out of college owing to a collapse in his father’s business, and a sharp decline in the fortunes of the family as an outcome. He worked as an assistant manager with a military contractor in Poona for a while before joining his father in fruit trading.

It was during one of his usual business trips to Nanital that he was introduced to Devika Rani. She was on the look out for a fresh face and Khan impressed her. She gave him a three-year contract and her studio writer gave him a screen name on her suggestion. And thus was born the legend of Dilip Kumar!

The book has numerous interesting stories about the actor, such as the one where he steals cigarattes for his mentor Ashok Kumar, and once how Maulana Azad intervened on his behalf.

From the savage criticism for his role in Jwar Bhata to getting the title of ‘Tragedy King’ for his performance in Andaz, Narwekar chronologically builds the story of Dilip Kumar – the actor who became a major star. The author also talks about the sensitive issue of some people questioning Yusuf Khan’s patriotism and the controversy over his acceptance of Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian award. He briefly touches on the actor’s social and charitable work. The author could have shed more light on this.

The Last Emperor is a sincere effort and Narwekar has done justice to the story. Although it looks more of a homage to Dilip Kumar but then his life and his films are nothing short of awe-inspiring.

What Makes the Muslims Angry: Analysing the Causes that Foster Fundamentalism

Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
—Barack Obama, 44th President of USA

THE year 1979 holds special importance. It was the year that saw two significant happenings in the Muslim world. The events occurred in two states holding contrasting views on Islam but triggered by a common enemy, the US. One was the hostage crisis in the Shiite ruled Iran, which was covered quite extensively by the press, the other being the lesser known and reported uprising at Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca, the city under the control of Sunni Muslims.

There was a fundamental difference though between the two events. The embassy takeover in Tehran was a student initiative against the US for its meddling in the country’s politics. The siege of Mecca was the rebellion of a Muslim group against the policies of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia which were influenced by the US.

The rebellion in Mecca combined with the events in neighboring Iran forever changed the equation of Muslims with the US, and the west in general.

Act I, Tehran

On November 4, 1979, some 400 Iranian students decided to stage a sit-in at the American embassy in Tehran. It was a demonstration both against the Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan’s meeting in Algiers with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, to discuss common security issues and the Shah’s admission to America for his cancer treatment.

The protest soon turned into a takeover of the embassy and its staff as more radical elements took over. The captives were paraded blindfolded before the world’s media.

Ayatollah Khomeni at first wanted the students to be taken out by force, but later changed his mind riding on the popular mood and supported their cause. He even denounced the embassy as a ‘nest of spies’. Con Coughlin writes how it influenced the Islamic revolution in Iran, “The American embassy siege proved to be a defining moment both for Khomeini and the Islamic revolution. Whereas previously he had sought to control the wilder excesses of the revolution, such as limiting the number of executions, now he fully embraced the concept of revolutionary action, and gave the student revolutionaries free rein to confront the negative influences of imperialism, liberalism and democracy.”[1]

The move was also initially opposed by two prominent student activists – one of them (surprisingly) was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from Tarbiat Modarres University. Both eventually joined ranks with the majority.

Although the hostage crisis was a student initiative, it found mass support in Iran because of the role US played in the past politics of the country. America helped depose the elected and popular government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. Iranians never really forgave the US for it.

The embassy staff of 52 Americans was held hostage for a total of 444 days. It damaged relations between Washington and Tehran permanently.

Act II, Mecca

The Mecca uprising was the revolt of a group of Muslim extremists against their own rulers.

Juhayman ibn Saif al Uteybi, a retired corporal in the Saudi National Guard, was the chief architect of the events that unfolded in Mecca on November 20, 1979.

His role in the uprising was an outcome of the anger that has been building inside him for some time. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that his name itself means ‘Angry Face’ in Arabic.

During the mid 1970s Juhayman lived in Medina trying to model his life on the ways of the Prophet 14 centuries earlier. He was not alone.

Robert Lacey sheds light on such individuals, “Those who opted for back-to-basics called themselves Salafi, because they sought to behave as salaf, literally the pious ancestors of one of those three early generations that were mentioned with such approval by the Prophet. A group calling itself Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-Muhtasiba, “the Salafi Group That Commands Right and Forbids Wrong,” had been active in Medina for some time, and Juhayman joined it when he came to town, plugging himself into some of the Kingdom’s strongest and most ancient traditions of piety.”[2]

Medina’s Salafi Group was created around 1965.

For Juhayman, wherever he looked he could detect bida’h (any Islamic innovation). By now his rejectionist thinking found a few takers. They started referring to themselves as Al-Ikhwan (the Brothers). The word itself had a dangerous resonance with the Saudi past. It was also Juhayman’s legacy.

A confrontation with Sheikhs though resulted in the security forces running after the Ikhwan for interrogation. Juhayman was on the run.

Unable to meet his followers, Juhayman turned to the written and spoken words. His printed words (“The Letters of Juhayman”) survived and have long influenced Muslim extremists over the years.

His grievance was that al-Saud had exploited Islam to guarantee their worldly interests, and have brought evil and corruption upon the Muslims by paying allegiance to the Americans.

It was in late 1978 that Juhayman started having dreams about the Islamic Messiah – the Mahdi or rightly-guided one – who would come down to earth to correct the problems of mankind. His dreams even revealed the identity of the Mahdi as one of his own followers, Muhammad Abdullah Al-Qahtani. Juhayman soon married his sister.

This was also the time when Juhayman was ready to confront the rulers by violent means. His armed men took control of the Grand Mosque on the First day of Muharram (first Islamic month) in the Islamic year 1400, which translates to November 20, 1979.

The siege finally ended on December 4 as the last of the remaining rebels were captured by the government forces.

The bitter struggle saw 127 government soldiers perish and 450 injured. Some 117 rebels including Muhammad Abdullah were killed. Twenty six worshippers also lost their lives.

The outcome surprised even Juhayman. Yaroslav Trofimov in his definitive account of the events says, “As Juhayman was led away, one of the officers asked him again why he had desecrated the holiest shrine. The reality of utter defeat began to sink in. “If I had known it would turn out this way, I wouldn’t have done it,” Juhayman muttered in response.”[3]

It would take several months to undo the physical damage to the Grand Mosque.

The Brothers in Islam

The founder of modern Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud was ably supported by warriors from the Bedouin tribes who called themselves Al-Ikhwan. For them to support the Saudi cause was to engage in Jihad and that made them ferocious warriors.

As the empire got established the Ikhwan were told to settle down peacefully. But being the Bedouin warriors, they continued their raids suspecting their former leader to have made peace with the British.

Abdul Aziz spent more than a year in vain to strike a deal with the Ikhwan. The showdown finally came in March 1929 in the open plain of Sibillah, north of Riyadh. The Ikhwan were given one last chance to surrender but they ignored and attacked. In response Aziz’s men opened fire. Hundreds of men and their camels perished that day.

Among those who survived the onslaught was Muhammad ibn Saif al-Uteybi, father to Juhayman.

Birth of Political Islam

The siege of Mecca was the first major challenge to the ruling group in Saudi Arabia since the Ikhwan rebellion. It brought into open the rising tension between the state and its own religion.

Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “It was vital to devise a formula for reconciling the state’s immense wealth with the austerity of Wahhabi* Islam. The incompatibility between religious dogma and royal pomp and the vulnerability of the royal family to attacks from within the ranks of the most loyal supporters (the religious establishment) shocked inside and outside observers who considered Saudi Arabia one of the most stable states in the Middle East. The constant search of the Saudi state for ways to accommodate the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ crumbled with the siege of the mosque.”[5]

It also forced the rulers to grant more powers to the ulama (Islamic scholars) and Islamic activities more political space in the early 1980s. The ulama seized the opportunity to reinforce the strict Wahhabi rules on ritual observance and moral behaviour.

It was also the beginning of a new era where the banner of Islam was unfurled for political means. Thomas Hegghammer talks about its ramifications, “However, the ‘Wahhabism’ and the ‘pan-Islamisation’ of 1980 Saudi Arabia represented two distinct processes with different causes and results. While the first was a purely domestic process promoted by the Najdi Wahhabi ulama and resulting in social conservatism, the latter had international ramifications, was promoted by the Hijaz-based organisations such as the Muslim World League (MWL) and produced political radicalism. Nevertheless, both processes left more political space for Islamist activism of all kinds. The political opportunity structure for Islamist activists – especially those seeking to mobilise people for the jihad in Afghanistan – thus became highly beneficial.”[6]

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 prompted several Islamic organisations to issue calls for jihad against the occupiers. This gave the conflict a whole new religious dimension.

Saudi involvement in Afghanistan was unprecedented and it exceeded even the assistance for the Palestinians. It also saw the Kingdom graduate from a passive and financial to an active and military approach to pan-Islamism. This was made possible by US approval, the access to Pakistani territory, and the willingness of the Afghans.

Iran, sharing its border with Afghanistan, saw this as an opportunity to increase its influence in the area. It backed the Afghan Northern Alliance, which included the Shiite Hizb-l Vahdat representing the Hazaras (a local minority Shia tribe).

The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein forces gave another opportunity to the fundamentalists. Fearing a possible Iraqi attack on its own soil, Saudi Arabia welcomed foreign forces in 1990 to help defend the country. This was also the time when some sahwa** members began to speak out against the monarchy. Under pressure the government looked out for ways to compensate the lost credibility.

The opportunity came in the form of the Bosnian war of 1992.

Saudi was not alone in making the most of it. Iran and Sudan, too, tried to exploit the Bosnian crisis to gain regional control.

In fact Iran made good use of its long-standing links with Bosnian political leaders to provide substantial material support for the war ravaged country.

The roots of Political Islam were firmly established by now.

The Role of Wahhabism

The rigid views of Wahhabism and the patronising it received from the Saudi rulers in the past, fostered Muslim fundamentalism. The doctrine considers Muslim sects like the Shiites and the Sufis as heretics. It even inspired people like Juhayman to take up arms against the royal family.

Although Juhayman was beheaded soon after the uprising, his ideals and vision survived long after. The baton was passed on to another misguided flag-bearer of Islam, Osama Bin Laden. Like Juhayman, Osama too, had issues with Saudi ties to the US.

It came as no surprise to many that 15 of the 19 al-Qaida jihadists involved in the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia. The sad news was followed by a discovery of a huge arms cache in Riyadh and subsequent attacks on residential compounds in 2003. The terror continued in the country so much that by the December of 2004, some 176 policemen and civilians (mostly foreigners) had lost their lives.

The events showed a scary trend. The home-grown fundamentalists were turning into terrorists. The rulers of the state had to take swift and strict measures.

Dr. Sherifa Zuhur gets the point across, “Saudi Arabian officials decried al-Qa’ida’s actions in the United States, and have captured and killed operatives, arrested more than 600 suspects, forced key clerical figures to recant their radical views on television, recalled more than 1400 imams who were counselled on their divergent opinions, and took a variety of measures to diminish the financial support of terrorist organisations. The government also announced modest political reforms that began with voter registration from 2004-05, and municipal elections in 2005 which will enhance political participation.” [7]

The tentacles of the Osama factory are now reaching Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia, among others. It misses no opportunity to unleash terror on countries and people in the name of God.

The Israeli Angle

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the stumbling block in the stability of Middle-East and a cause for Arabs to take up arms. For years now it has been the driving force behind Muslim fundamentalism across the globe.

The difficulty in resolving the issue has only frustrated the parties involved.

The sad part is those who were once the land owners are now refugees in their own land. More than 300,000 Jews immigrated to the then British Mandated Palestine between 1923 and 1938. Now compare this with the 3.5 million Palestinians displaced because of the 1948 and 1967 upheavals (500,000 alone during the Six-Day War in 1967).

Millions of Palestinians refugees are today dispersed throughout the Middle-East, many in camps in neighboring countries. They are still searching for a way to coexist with the nation that is responsible for the mess.

According to Amnesty International 2011 Report, in 2010, Israeli authorities demolished 431 structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a 59 per cent increase over 2009. At least 594 Palestinians – half of them children – were displaced, while more than 14,000 Palestinians were affected by demolitions of water cisterns, wells and structures relating to their livelihoods.

The Israeli military killed 1,510 Palestinians in 2006-09. Of these, 617, including 104 children aged under 18, were not taking part in any hostilities when they were killed.[16]

The Arab and Muslim worlds remain split between rejectionist forces and those willing to recognise Israel in the name of peace.

As for Israel it continues to enjoy strong support from both the Democrats and Republicans in the US. No US president ever questions the country’s so-called security needs.

Both Clinton and Bush failed to strongly take up the case of settlement expansion and certain occupation practices, which have nothing to do with security, with Israel.

Barack Obama generated so much hope in the Muslim world with his landmark speeches, but, he too couldn’t do much to help resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Flawed US policies in the past gave ample opportunities to other state actors with their own agendas. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia attempted to broker a Palestinian unity government without Washington’s help. Iran responded by strengthening its ties to Syria and Hamas, thereby increasing its influence in the region.

The Gaza blockade and the Israeli West Bank barrier have only added to the woes of Palestine. Indirectly it has fuelled the strong sentiments of the Arabs and Muslims elsewhere against the state of Israel.

Engaging the Extremists

The West over the years has followed a flawed policy of “engaging the moderates and shunning the extremists.” You ignore a person and you ignore his cause. By ignoring such individuals we harden their stand. It makes them look out for alternate ways to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, violence is one such means which makes maximum impact.

We need to condemn violence in any form. No second thoughts there! We also have to understand that killing one Osama Bin Laden would not help. Osama has become more of a symbol of resistance to the so called jihadists. You kill Osama and there are hundreds ready to take his place and promote the cause.

Occupying lands in the name of security threats will offer only temporary solutions and would strengthen the resolve of the jihadists. Incidentally it is also this angle which extremists, like Osama, relish.

In an interview given to CNN in 1997 Osama said, “If there is a message that I may send through you, then it is a message I address to the mothers of the American troops who came here with their military uniform walking proudly up and down our land while the scholars of our country are thrown in prisons. I say that this represents a blatant provocation to 1250 million Muslims. To these mothers I say if they are concerned for their sons, then let them object to the American government’s policy and to the American president. Do not let themselves be cheated by his standing before the bodies of the killed soldiers describing the freedom fighters in Saudi Arabia as terrorists. It is he who is a terrorist who pushed their sons into this for the sake of the Israeli interest.”[9]

The best way to approach them is to find their ideological mentors and engage them. A dialogue on any given day is a much better start.

This in itself is no mean task and a definite policy shift has to be exercised in the name of peace by the West.

Bridging Divides

The Muslims today are angry more than ever. But we need to separate anger from madness (of a few). Wherever the anger is justified it needs corrective measures.

1979 is history, but it could very well repeat itself. And with the power of the electronic media today the situation could be worse.

The West for its part needs to engage the Muslims more than ever before. Most importantly dialogues should be insulated from any act of violence. As we have seen in the past, the rise of Islamophobia only helps the extremists!

The US needs to rethink its policy of dictating other countries’ affairs in the name of national security. Afghanistan and Iraq are in a mess but the terror threat continues, not to mention the millions who lost their lives and the million others rendered homeless.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah echoes the sentiments of fellow Muslims in the region, “And if the West considers September 11 as an affront to civil security in the West, then we can share with it that feeling and even the stance of rejecting attacks against civil security throughout the world. But it is important for the West to realize that civil security in the Islamic World has not seen stability for decades and a lot of the impediments to civil security have come about under the umbrella of Western policy and quite possibly due the direct actions of the West.” [10]

The once mighty British Empire also collapsed under the pressure of putting foot at too many places. You can’t win people over by occupying their lands!

The Palestine-Israel conflict is one issue that will influence any peace initiative between the Muslims and the West. For long it has been a stumbling block in the stability of the Middle East. You resolve that and half the work is done.

The US handling of this crisis also is faulty and needs serious rework. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky stress this point, “The United States also has tried mistakenly to cherry-pick Palestinian negotiating partners, sometimes seeking to bypass more senior figures whom Washington perceives as intransigent. This approach tends to backfire; when we try to pick our winners, our diplomacy often loses.”[11]

Israel has also to be pressured into an inspection of its nuclear arsenal.

The two main players in the Middle-East, Iran and Saudi Arabia, influence most of the Muslim world today. The tension between them is a direct outcome of the desire to control the region and their different religious beliefs. This is also a sad reflection of the divide between the Muslims in general.

Saudi Arabia needs to promote more tolerance in its society. An outright rejection of beliefs not conforming to the majority is the first step in promoting hatred. Qur’an itself speaks against it. In verse 118, chapter 11, the books says, “If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one People: but they will not cease to dispute.”

There is also no denying the fact that the Saudi society is gradually changing and the new rulers must be credited for it.

The difficulty the rulers face is in striking a healthy balance between admonishing the violent opposition and co-opting those with similar views. Religious sensibilities have to be taken into due consideration before making any policy shift.

This is not an easy task as Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “Saudi Arabia’s specific Islamic tradition, namely Wahhabi teachings, did not encourage an easy immersion in modernity in the twentieth century. From the very beginning, the ruling group stumbled across several obstacles when they introduced the most simple of technologies (for example cars, the telegraph and television among other innovations). Objections from conservative religious circles were overcome as a result of a combination of force and negotiations. Social and political change proved more problematic and could not be easily implemented without generating debates that threatened the internal stability of the country and alienated important and influential sections of society.”[5]

How successful would they be in the long run only time will tell!

The Saudis need the US support to guard themselves against a powerful neighbour in the form of Iran, something that has not gone down well with many in the Kingdom.

Iran needs to engage in dialogues rather than raising tempers with the now familiar diatribe of Ahmadinejad.

There are unsubstantiated claims by certain countries in the Middle East of Iran’s role in their internal affairs. The country needs to put more confidence building measures in the wake of its nuclear program.

Iran is also facing some problems internally. Post election, as the events at home show, there is a growing dissatisfaction of the young population with the power the clergy enjoys. The Shah’s toppling was not possible without the student uprising. Those in charge should never forget this simple fact.

The US needs to respect the regime in Iran (whosoever) and sit with it. Surely the lessons of the past have not been learned. Stephen Kinzer endorses the view, “Today, as anti-Iran rhetoric in Washington becomes steadily more strident, it is urgent that Americans understand how disastrous the last US attack on Iran turned out to be. They might also ponder the question of what moral responsibility the United States has to Iran in the wake of this painful history.”[12]

The answer to that has the potential to change US-Iranian relations.

Barack Obama talked about a new beginning in his landmark speech given at the Cairo University in 2009, “We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek — a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.”

The average Muslim, too, is sick and tired of seeing his faith questioned every time some extremist blow himself to pieces in the name of Allah. They also seek a new start where they are free in their lands and are judged by their own actions.

The world has seen enough violence in the name of religion and security. Let’s give peace a chance!

(Revised and updated: Oct 29, 2011)

Notes

*Members of the Wahhabi movement prefer to call themselves Muslims, or muwahhidun (those who insist on the unification of the worship of Allah) or Ahl (community of) At-Tawhid (Monotheism). The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi (“following the forefathers of Islam.”)

**Sahwa movement emerged in Saudi Arabia during the late 1960s. It was a well organised political movement that pride itself on religious orthodoxy.

1. Con Coughlin, Khomeini’s Ghost (London: Pan Macmillan, 2010), 177.

2. Robert Lacey, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Terrorists, Modernists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia (New York: Viking Penguin, 2009), 18.

3. The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine by Yaroslav Trofimov (New York: Anchor Books, 2008), 214.

4. As’ad AbuKhalil, The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004).

5. Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 11.

6. Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism Since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 24.

7. Sherifa Zuhur, “Saudi Arabia: Islamic Threat, Political reform, and the Global War on Terror,” Strategic Studies Institute (2005), 13, accessed October 28, 2011, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?PubID=598.

8. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (London: Pluto Press, Updated Edition, 1999).

9. “Osama bin Laden Interview – CNN,” FindLaw, accessed October 28, 2011, news.findlaw.com/cnn/docs/binladen/binladenintvw-cnn.pdf.

10. Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, “How We Can Coexist”, Islam Today, Jan 01, 2002  , accessed October 28, 2011, http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-417-2952.htm.

11. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, (Washington: United States Institue of Peace, 2008), 38.

12. Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons), xxiii.

13. “A History of Conflict”, BBC,  accessed October 28, 2011, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/03/v3_ip_timeline/html.

14. Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood (USA: Duke University Press, 2002, Revised and Updated).

15. Mark Bowden, Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam (New York: Grove Press, 2006).

16. “Amnesty International Annual Report 2011: The state of the world’s human rights,” Amnesty International, accessed October 28, 2011, http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/israel-occupied-palestinian-territories/report-2011#section-67-5.

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

BHOPAL Gas Tragedy
Fact File: Dec 3, 1984. Some 500,000 people are exposed to poisonous gases in the state capital of Madhya Pradesh, India. Between 5000-8000 people died immediately and thousands over the years from long term illness. More than 100,00 remain chronically ill in Bhopal today. The water and soil of the area is still contaminated.

Where’s the justice for innocents who still suffer?

Ruchika Molestation Case
Fact File: Aug 12, 1990. A promising 14 years old tennis player, Ruchika Girhotra, is molested by the then Director General of Police Shambhu Pratap Singh Rathore in Chandigarh, Haryana. The case drags on as the molestor moves freely. Ruchika on the other hand is expelled from school (maybe because Rathore’s own daughter was Ruchika’s classmate), false cases filed against her father and brother Ashu, the brother goes to the the prison and is tortured, her father is suspended from his job on false charges of corruption, Ashu is released a day after her suicide, the sole witness (Ruchika’s friend Aradhana) gets harassed with threatening calls, false cases filed against Aradhana’s parents, her father too suspended and demoted and eventually given premature retirement.

After 19 years, 40 adjournments, more than 400 hearings, and a promotion for Rathore, the court did find him guilty but could only sentenced him to six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1000. Within 10 minutes he got the bail and was smiling. What about the innocent smile that was lost forever?

Babri Masjid Demolition
Fact File: Dec 6, 1992. A mosque in the city Ayodhya of Uttar Pradesh, India, is destroyed by a strong crowd of 150,000 people. The police stood a mute spectator! More than 2000 people die across India in the riots that follow.

The Justice Liberhan Commission set up by the Government of India to investigate the demolition, took 48 extensions and 17 years to submit its report. The report itself has nothing new to offer. What a waste of public money and time.

Godhra Massacre
Fact File: February, 27 2002. 58 Hindu passengers are burnt alive in a coach of Sabarmati Express in Godhra, Gujarat, by a alleged Muslim mob. In the resulting riots more than 1000 (by official estimates and 2000 by independent sources) people, mostly Muslims, are butchered. The violence is covered extensively by the Indian media.

The cases are still being probed. Only a handful of the large numbers of accused have been found guilty and punished.

No wonder there are some 30 million unresolved legal cases in India. The police-politician nexus has to be broken for the court to work freely. And until that happens the unresolved cases would only add up.

Sir Syed Day – A Retrospection

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan - Founder of Aligarh Muslim University
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan - Founder of Aligarh Muslim University

I FEEL sad to say that my first attendance at ‘Sir Syed Day’ (in UAE) after leaving AMU was an utter disappointment. For me it’s a day to remember the great soul and find ways to fulfill his dream of Muslim upliftment.

I absolutely adore Azharuddin for what he achieved on the cricket pitch, but where is the need to invite celebrities when there are some very senior and highly influential Aligs already working in UAE.

We desperately need to change this image of ‘Sir Syed Day’ as a ‘Sir Syed Dinner.’ Also, where is the need to host dinner in a 5 star hotel! I think the whole purpose is killed by this dinner.

If my voice can reach anywhere I’ve the following humble suggestions-

  1. Sir Syed Day should have a Q&A with a senior working representative from AMU on the ways to improve the working of the university.
  2. There should be a small form for the people attending where they should give their suggestions and the ways they can contribute to the university.
  3. The representative should share important figures like the number of campus selections and the students making it to the civil services.
  4. The platform should also serve as a means to help our brothers and sisters looking for a job or accomodation. I know some people may laugh but it’s a serious issue for an expat anywhere.
  5. I know the event is very well organised and covered by the press in Saudi Arabia but it isn’t in UAE. There should be a press release. At least those who are unable to make it know what all they missed. Indirectly it would serve to build the AMU brand which has been hit hard.
  6. People should be felicitated on the basis of their contributions (beyond money, although money is important too) to the alma mater. Those providing books to the library or supporting poor students deserve equally.
  7. Every year there should be a mention of some prominent Aligs who made the university proud with their achievements. A brief about their life and if possible a video message from them. This should be the common factor in all the different chapters of the event across the globe.
  8. There are better fillers than the archaic jokes cracked during the recent event in UAE.

That’s all I can think as of now. The bottom line is, it has to be a serious business if we want to restore the high standards of this great university.

I love my university and feel sad when I see the current state of affairs.

Guzishta Lucknow

THE first name that comes up whenever a book reference is needed on the city of Lucknow is “Guzishta Lucknow.” The book is a detailed historical account of the Lucknow society during the Nawabi rule by Maulana Abdul Halim Sharar. Maulana Sharar took out several magazines during his lifetime, his most famous being ‘Dilgudaaz Lucknow’ [ENG: Beloved Lucknow.] In that magazine Sharar wrote a series on Lucknow by the name of “Hindostan me mashriqi tamaddun ka akhri namoona” [Lucknow : The Last Phase Of An Oriental Culture]. It ran for years and was warmly received. The same was later turned into ‘Guzishta Lucknow’ the book.

Sharar’s Urdu is reminiscent of a glorious past. A past where city of Lucknow reached its zenith in terms of its rich traditions and culture. To read Guzishta Lucknow is like walking through a city which slowly but surely outshined its elder brother – Delhi. The Nawabi patronage to arts and the difficult affairs at the Moghul Capital, Delhi, brought Lucknow into prominence. This was also the time when Persian reigned supreme at the court of Awadh. Not surprising as the Nawabs came from Iran.

The book gives you an insight into the daily lives of the Nawabs and the commoners of the city. The author has managed to capture even minor details like how the paan (beetle leaf served as a breath freshener) was served during social gatherings in his account of history.

Guzishta Lucknow is filled with countless lesser known facts and fascinating stories about yesteryear’s Lucknow. The author tells us that it was actually Faizabad (a city close to Lucknow) where the Nawabi rule originated and initially flourished. Most of today’s so called old city areas came up during the period of Nawab Asafi-ud-daulah. His son’s Wazir Ali Khan’s wedding had 1200 elephants, and the bridegroom dress was studded with Rupees 2 million worth of precious stones. Nawab Sa’adat Ali Khan was responsible for the establishment of many old markets such as Sa’adatganj, Rakaabganj, Maulviganj, Golaganj and Rastogi mohalla. He also built Motimahal. Nawab Ghayasuddin Haider started the practice of animal fighting in Lucknow. His wife on the other hand pioneered numerous new and controversial Shia practices. A cook named Muhamdoo in the period of Nawab Nasir-ud-din Haider invented the sheermaal (a popular orange coloured local bread). Nawab Amjad Ali Shah established Hazratganj and connected Lucknow and Kanpur with a road link. During his tenure, his minister Amin-ud-daulah inhabited Aminabad. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah never danced in his life as many believe.

The book is a slow read specially through the end and lacks continuity. This could have been avoided if the magazine articles were better edited and adopted. Also, the author’s uninhibited love for Lucknow makes him a little biased towards Delhi in his account.

If you are from Lucknow or if history interests you then Guzishta Lucknow would be an enjoyable read. Lucknow has rarely been portrayed this lovingly.