Thursday, April 28, 2005

Sufism, Urdu poetry, and related topics

Finally starting to do something I have been meaning to do for a while; publishing thoughts and translations on Sufism, Urdu poetry, and related topics. For now, it will be mainly on the following page:

The blog's not really "mine", but a collaboration with some folks (see this and this) who are mainly in Hyderabad (India), one of the traditional homes of the Urdu language.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

ثنم - The Sufi Poet's Object of Devotion

I was just saying, on the Urdu-ke-naam blog, that the word (or trope, or concept) of Sanam (ثنم) is often used in Urdu and Persian poetry and is some times translated to "idol". In the humble opinion of this فقیر (Faqeer, if you will), just by itself and with no elaboration, that is a rather basic translation of the concept.

"Object of complete and utter devotion and allegiance" comes much closer. The poetry of Sufism, of course, in its inimitably paradigm-subverting way, keeps the question of whether the Sanam being addressed is made of flesh, stone, or is a Higher Being open--and often fluidly shifting in the mind of the reader/listener. If you keep that in your mind (that the Sanam could be the Ultimate Cosmic Force, or an idol of stone, or your ... fleshy...beloved) you start to scratch the surface of the worlds Sufi poetry opens up to your mind...

PS: I have also posted a translation or two from Urdu poetry there. Take a look.

Monday, April 25, 2005



  • Al-Mizaan
    Ongoing. Last column March 15, 2005 (online only)

Literary Review/Critique

  • Article for souvenir at launch of Aankh joe kuch dhaik-hthee hai, 1988



  • Article in FPGA Magazine by Ali Zulfiqar

Coverage (by others)


iFaqeer (Sabahat Ashraf) Speaking at Yaum-e-Sahir in Milpitas California



Social Causes (Activism)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Can America Dicate the Direction of Islam?

Some one posted an article on a list I am on that starts:
Muslim reformists reject Western view of change

A key issue of our time is the relationship between Islam and the West. But, tired of Islam-bashing, Muslims have largely tuned out the West.

Rest at (Toronto Star; requires registration)
That introduction actually elicited an "Ain't that the truth!!" from me. And I haven't been able to read the rest of the article, but the conclusion jumped out at me also:
It is self-delusion to think that the West, America in particular, can dictate the terms of this debate, let alone pick Muslim thinkers in our own image.
Yes. But it is an even greater and more dangerous delusion to think that the West, America or even one or other "internal" Muslim groups can't get into the mix and have a large influence; directly or indirectly. In fact, especially in the latter case, they already have, haven't they?

Just my first knee-jerk reaction. More later, if I can.

A Conversation with an American Muslim Perspective...

A very robust conversation ensued in response to the post yesterday which (among other things) took up Mr. Abdul Sattar Ghazali, Editor of American Muslim Perspective, on his piece titled "Pragmatic Muslims of North America". Kudos to Ghazali Saahab for documenting it on his website. Here's the trail:

First the piece on AMPerspective:

Then the post on this blog:

Ghazali Saahab's reply and my exchange with him:

and the reaction of Reshma Yunus, an American Muslim activist with a long record of working on political and human rights issues (particularly with victims of domestic violence) within the American Muslim community and in the wider American context:

Another response to his piece came from Khalid Saeed, another active American Muslim:

Monday, April 18, 2005

Neo-Con Muslims? But which ones?

There seems to be a slow, steadily-building rumble of response from the mainstream American Muslim community to the Progressive Muslims, both the leaders of the Progressive Muslim Union and just the identity of "Progressive Muslim".

And most, distressing is that people I have always had great respect for as elders are, in my very humble opinion, going to a place that is akin to ... let me not go too far and say it seems to me that they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

In one case, I have seen a respected member of the community call the Progressive Muslims "Neo-Con Muslims". That bears some analysis. At one level, it almost seems like a pre-emptive strike—against people like me, who have been known to refer to the mainstream of American Muslims, dominated as it is by the 20th century innovations of Syed Koteb and Maududi, as people who follow "a new way of being conservative" or, in other words, the Muslim equivalent of "neo-cons".

The other, more literal angle, of course, is to see which Muslims fit the definition of "neo-con" as it is usually used in mainstream American politics. The "neo-cons" are usually former liberals who have since come to support a very muscular foreign policy and found a home in the Republican party. Which brings us to Irshad Manji, a liberal (on the issues--homosexuality, etc.--she's a flaming liberal, right?) who seems to have thrown her lot in with a muscular (US) foreign policy and support for the Likudnik view of the world. [See:]

I, at least, have not seen ANY of the Progressive Muslim crowd go anywhere near close to that point of view. (The PMUNA did flirt with inviting Fareed Zakaria and the "Muslims for Bush" crowd to the organization, but I don't think it was because of any agreement on the Iraq issue or anything else—in fact, it might have been exactly for the same reasons some folks are taking on the Progressives—a wish to develop and maintain unity of the community under all circumstances.)

Another critique of the American Muslim point of view comes from the editor of the American Muslim Perspective. See:

As someone who really does not come out of the progressive, leftist, socialist, or secular tradition, but from a traditional Muslim background, and in all respect and affection, for I consider these folks my elders, my question is this:

Forget the progressives, for a second. If we, people like me, are genuinely uncomfortable with about 80-98% of the ideological, political and theological content that dominates the mosques of Muslim America (and I would gladly list chapter and verse), what do we do? Do I bite the bullet and send my 5-year old to a Sunday School that will teach him 6 pillars of Islam (by counting Jihad) when I was brought up with a Hadith that lists 5?

Please, I would love an answer to that question. Again, I am not a socialist, progressive, leftist, secularist, or atheist. I come from a religious sunni tradition, but one that is not Maududist.


فی سبیل اﷲ and جزاک اﷲ in advance.

[That translates, in American, to approximately "Please, for the sake of God" and "Thank you, God bless you for that".]

Sunday, April 10, 2005

An Outrage Above All Others (or Close)

A Christan priest is murdered in Pakistan:

From Africa, a Child's Prayer

And a wonderful round-up of the Giant of Africa, besides:
The first 10 messages that Father Kukah received in commiseration on the death of the Pope were from Muslim leaders.
Nigeria! What else can I say?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

New York NPR Show Covers Lollywood...and Human Rights in Pakistan

Excuse me while I pick myself off the floor. Leonard Lopate has a segment today that covers human rights and the Pakistani film industry:
Focusing on Change
Independent filmmaker Sabiha Sumar and Mallika Dutt from Breakthrough discuss women’s rights and filmmaking in Pakistan. Ms. Sumar's film "Silent Waters" looks at fundamentalism and Islamic nationalism in Pakistan in 1979, and is screening at the 3rd Annual South Asian Human Rights Film Festival.

» View pictures from the film
» More on the 3rd Annual South Asian Human Rights Film Festival
» More on Sabiha Sumar
You can listen to the segment directly. The web page for that program is at:

  • Sabiha S does stay real about Musharraf; in terms of his government's reaction to the movie.
  • She gives a good round-up of the peace process between the countries.
  • It is a rather good representation, nuanced and descriptive; frankly better than I expected.
  • There is a very awkward moment about 14 minutes in when Leonard mentions the recent incident of stoning women running a marathon outside Islamabad and the two guests don't have a clue. Though Mallika Dutt's feedback after he read the news report to her was very interesting.
  • Sabiha S's next project is a documentary about Gen. Musharraf and his vision of a moderate nation...hmmm.
Over-all, refreshingly real in its depiction of not just Pakistan, but South Asia and modern Muslims, too.

From India, News of A Global Milestone

Even those of us who are not communist or even dyed-in-the-wool socialist/progressive would be well-served to pay attention. I remember having this thought on EMS Namboodiripad's death; he was the first communist anywhere on the planet to be elected to executive office. And this is a similar milestone not just in Indian, but in global political development: the retiring of a generation of communist leaders from about the only real group of communists anywhere on the planet--or at least the first--to have real electoral achievements:

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Muslim Tantrika

There's been a bit of a tizzy in a few circles in reaction to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Asra Q. Nomani. On the Ladies of the Reformation (or the Babes of the Anti-Jihad, if you will; Nomani, Irshad Manji and Asma Gull Hasan), well, I need to get my thoughts together and will post/publish something on it as soon as I can. But my "Cultural Analysis" instructor in grad school always said "examine the margins"; they help you understand the outlines/borders/definition of a community/construct/what-have-you that you want to understand. And Manji and Nomani are definitely on the margins—but that's the point.

Follow-Up on John Paul II

Sunday, April 03, 2005

John Paul II, RIP

The first thought that goes through my mind is that, love him or hate him; respect him or loathe him, John Paul II was proof that one can have great influence and effect even on a global level, and even in this day and age, without any muscular power. That's a contribution worth noting.

Secondly, John Paul II was very closely tied with anti-communism and was definitely a conservative leader. As such, thoughts going through my own mind are similar to the thoughts that arose at the time of Ronald Reagan's death. On that incident, I found the best comment came from a gay radio host in LA. From an earlier post (
One of the most tempered reactions I have seen to Ronald Reagan came from a gay journalist in Los Angeles. From Yahoo! News:

Jon Beaupre, a gay journalist and Los Angeles radio talk show host who is HIV (news - web sites)-positive, said Reagan's death "brought mixed feelings."

"The fact that he reflected the values of a lot of people was unmistakable. Clearly, Ronald Reagan was a man of principle and integrity," the 51-year old said. [Full article at]
And here's a thought I'd like to leave you with:

Is the world ready for an African Pope? A Nigerian?

I say this because, being born in Africa, I have great respect for the African penchant for directness and speaking one's mind--remember when Mandela, standing a few feet from the President of the United States, said that those who would want us to forsake "our friends" (referring to Muammar Gaddafi) "can quite literally go and throw themselves in a pool." Pushed to the wall, even Kofi Annan recently said "Hell, no!" And of course, Francis Arinze, the Nigerian in question has been the previous Pope's point man on relations with other faiths...

My apologies if the speculation on successors is in bad taste so early.