Friday, June 29, 2007

Update: Poem from The East on Oppression and The Oppressed

Once upon a time, I had posted a translation of an Urdu piece by Gauhar Raza, and had been trying to get in touch with him to submit it for his attention and maybe get his okay for posting his poem here. I finally got in touch with him (and his wife Shabnam Hashmi) over the last few days and got him to comment on the translation and the poem. It was gratifying to hear that he thought well of the humble effort at translation. He added:
"Though I would like the poem to be dead and irrelevant as soon as possible but since the world is not going to be peaceful in near future therefore I suppose it has some use."
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Friday, June 22, 2007




Founding conference attracts diverse gathering resolved to create physical spaces for progressive Muslims

Bronxville, NY/Los Angeles, CA: The progressive Muslim movement in the United States took a significant step forward as a diverse collection of activists, organizers, and academics gathered at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, May 15-17, for the first conference of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV, website: Coming together in fellowship, they joined in communal devotion, shared the various personal, intellectual, and spiritual journeys that brought them there, discussed how to formulate their positions on political, social, and cultural issues and how to interact with other progressives and other Muslims. They also elected an Executive Board to lead them for the next two years.

The progressive Muslim movement in the United States has been a work in progress for a few years now. The first prominent, tangible manifestation was probably the publication of a collection of essays seeking to challenge the visions of Islam held by both xenophobic Westerners and conservative, or radical right-wing Muslims. Online communities, mailing lists and Meet-Ups also built a community of people who self-identify as progressive Muslims, or just consider themselves progressives who happen to be Muslims--or vice versa. Various organizations, including the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU), were later formed. Then, in 2006, Muslims for Progressive Values was founded by former PMU board members Pamela Taylor and Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld.

MPV's first conference brought together a diverse gathering of people from the local area and across the nation, as well as friends and allies from north of the border in Canada. From Boston to Los Angeles, and Miami to the San Francisco Bay Area, people who had developed deep friendships online met each other for the first time. The conference was themed "Finding our Voice", and its agenda ranged from the very personal--discussing participants' personal spiritual paths, views, and experiences--to passionate debates on human rights and political issues. The conference also included organization-building items such as board elections and the planning of future MPV activities.

The event kicked off with an evening zikr, a Sufi devotional ceremony, led by the Sheikha (leader) of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order based in New York. The first order of business on the following day was the discussion and adoption of a Mission Statement. MPV formally defines itself as seeking "to bring together Muslims and others who share progressive values to work for a more humane world," welcoming "all who are interested in discussing, promoting and working for the implementation of progressive values—social justice, human rights, economic opportunity, separation of church and state—as well as tolerant and inclusive understandings of Islam."

Over the next two days, the organization discussed resources, achievements, issues, activities, and plans for the future. The group resolved to expand its online and offline community building efforts
and--in collaboration with established like-minded groups--take them to the next level by creating physical spaces where the community can come together and put down roots. Los Angeles and New York were defined as the first two sites where the group will set up centers. The mandate is to provide open, welcoming, non-judgemental spaces for members of the community.

The Executive Board, elected for the 2007-2009 period, includes Pamela Taylor (Chair), Kareem Elbayar (Vice Chair), Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld (President), Noreen Dabbish (Secretary), Vanessa Karam (Interfaith Coordinator), Raquel Evita Saraswati (Human Rights Coordinator), and Sabahat Ashraf (New Media Coordinator).

MPV's plans for the coming year include activities such as creating a curriculum for religious education that is progressive in content and spirit, putting out position papers, building membership, and working to bring a tolerant and inclusive voice to the table--
both within the Muslim community, and in the progressive and wider communities.

One conference highlight was the announcement of the winners of the First Annual Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) Memorial Khutbah Writing Competition. This competition is focused on excellence in sermon writing and is held in memory of one of the strongest and most respected voices of Islam in America. This year's winning entry, titled Women's Rights in Islam, was written by Dr. Lena Al-Sarraf and submitted by the Muslim Women's League.

In the immediate future, MPV is co-sponsoring God Loves Beauty, an interfaith visual and performing arts festival in LA from June 30th to July 8th, 2007. Other planned events discussed at the conference include establishing four dates for annual nationwide female-led prayers, and a family summer camp in 2008.


Muslim for Progressive Values is based out of Los Angeles, California, and has members and supporters nationwide. Founded in 2006 by Pamela Taylor and Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld, MPV brings together progressive Muslims and others who share their values, to work for a more humane world. MPV welcomes all who are interested in discussing, promoting and working for social justice, human rights, economic opportunity, separation of religion and state, as well as tolerant and inclusive understandings of Islam.

To schedule interviews, or for other information, contact:

Ani Zonneveld
p: +1 323-842-2869


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Finding Community

Excuse the pun, but now time for a second update from me.

Personally, over the last few years, I have been, I find, drifting--others might say coming home to--the Left. You see, I grew up in South Asia where, , where, except for very radical neo-con/theo-con types--and there are an increasing number of them in this day and age--we have great reverence for historical figures like Khusrau and Kabir and a bevy of what were essentially anti-establisment figures that cared more for hearts and people; more about God than strict ritual. Data Ganj Baksh. Nizamuddin Chishti. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. And of course, figures like Rumi, Hafez, Shams, Mansoor, and on and on. And over the weekend, I found myself in a room, taking part in Sufi devotion and happened to look around the room. And it hit me. If Rumi, so often the favorite of starched, straight-laced, mosque-going, Sunday school-teaching yuppy Muslims so concerned about their Ummah, was alive today; if Shams picked his peeps; this is the crowd he'd be hanging with. I, who had been struggling, even, with the unbending conservatism of most Sufi gatherings I have found in the US, had found my community.

If I had any doubts about stepping up over the next two days to serve this aspect of the multi-blossomed whole we call humanity; about helping the less-commonly heard, more tender, more compassionate, voices of Islam find their place at the table, this realization help dispel them. If Shams bear being flayed alive for unconventional principles; if Mansoor could go the gallows for his, the least I could do was step up and be counted.

Translation? Well, read the next post.

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Dependence at Midnight...?

There are a couple of updates I need to provide.

Frist, work on has been gratifying, if not edifyinig. But that's not the surprising part. I could go on and on about the project. And I will provide more general information about the project in a minute. But here's an excerpt form a recent post that there's very little chance will not startle you. Read it and then decide whether the site, is worth a visit:

"[At the time of their independence, w]ith resources and destinies so interlinked with each other (i.e. Pakistan’s dependence on India’s goodwill for its water, and India’s dependence on Pakistan’s raw material for its factories), much was dependent upon the goodwill between the two countries. Leaders on both sides made public statements that suggested that they expected nothing short of that. Some had, in the past, even suggested the possibility of a joint-defense pact between the two countries. However, in reality the relationship that emerged, as the ashes of the partition settled, was everything but cordial. This took leaders on both sides by surprise..." They had been colleagues in a heartfelt movement, if representing different threads in it, for decades up till that point

Something that both Pakistanis and Indians (and, if you ask me, Bangladeshis) should really, really sit down and think about.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Introducing the "Understanding Pakistan" Project

I'd like to introduce an interesting web-based project that might best be described as an exercise in "public history".

Pakistanis often complain that the history of their country--or the history of the region as it relates to them and their country--is often told from either British or Western eyes, or from a point of view that is sympathetic to India, and dwells too much on a hagiography of Gandhi, and even sometimes Nehru, to the detriment of seeing our leaders as anything more than caricatures (as Jinnah was portrayed in the movie "Gandhi") and the process, or reason of Pakistan coming into existence as being driven by one man's--Mohammad Ali Jinnah's--ambition or stubbornness.

But the flip side of that, some of us feel, is that Pakistanis themselves seldom know a lot about the history leading up to the creation of their country, or the story of what has happened since. And is part of why we often don't understand the forces at play in our politics, and get situations like the author of a New York Times bestseller saying that he was amongst those who were enthusiastically rooting for the latest military rule because he "was doing good things".

But I am beginning to ramble. What I'd like to do is introduce Dr. Athar Osama, a Pakistani policy analyst with whom I have been working on starting a project that might be of interest to you.

Dr. Osama got his Ph.D. from the Rand Institute (yes, THAT Rand Institute ;-)) in Public Policy and now works out of London for a Strategic Consulting firm. (Did I get that right Athar?) He also keeps a keen eye on events, issues, and, of course, policy in Pakistan and regularly writes on these things, both in Dawn and The News and on various blogs. (There's a list in his email signature below.)

One of Athar's current interests is to try and help start a conversation about the history of Pakistan (from about 1937 to the present day). The aim is to help us Pakistanis (and Pakistani-Americans, of course) to better understand the historical background and forces that have brought us where we are and will influence where we go from here.

I am enclosing Athar's introduction of the project below.

The project is focused on being a conversation between Pakistanis. But what is being posted on that site is material that we'd all do well to read and absorb. Agreeing with all of it is completely optional. In fact, the very idea is to put on the table different narrations, and different interpretations and up a learning process for all of us.

Do stop by:

Besides readers, we're looking both for people to engage as commentators and as contributors who can bring a specific insight into each period in history as we discuss it. So drop either Athar or me a line if you have something new to say:
From: Athar Osama []
Subject: Introducing The "Understanding Pakistan" Project

My Dear Colleagues:

We are writing to introduce to you and invite you to experience and participate in a discussion aimed at trying to collectively read and write our country's history. The Understanding Pakistan Project is a collaborative exercise in learning. A blog ( has been set up act as a central meeting point and collaborative platform. Please visit us and participate in this fascinating rollar coaster of our country's history.

As you read this email, our beloved country Pakistan stands at a very precarious point in its history. With the sixtieth year of the country's independence at its end, we find ourselves, once again, in the midst of a constitutional crisis. In many ways, this struggle between personalities and institutions has been a defining feature of the country's politics. Ironically, more often than not, and much to our collective detriment, personalities have pervailed over institutions.

On the international front as well, Pakistan is often dubbed as a failed state, at best, and a haven for international terrorism, at worst. While many passionate and patriotic Pakistanis may disagree with this harsh verdict of international public opinion, they invariably feel distressed and frustrated with the rise and fall of their country's political and economic fortune. There is certainly something amiss in our ability to steer our country to the heights that we had expected from this "land of great promise ".

Pakistanis--all of us--have repeatedly demonstrated a remarkable tendency to not learn from our own history. For many of us, our school texts of Pakistan studies was our first and last encounter with the events that have shaped our country--and ourselves--over the last 200 years (Indeed, how uneducative and uninspiring an experience that was!)

It is said that "the study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through, to avoid. " . That "a country losing touch with its own history is like an old man losing his glasses, a distressing sight, at once vulerable, unsure, and easily disoriented. ". Indeed "History is a vast early warning system " and it is only through a better understanding the various events--and the causes behind those events--in our past that we can develop a perspective and the ability to learn and improve upon the state of our affairs.

Understanding Pakistan Project

The "Understanding Pakistan " Project is designed to help us look behind to see ahead. It is a collaborative effort to enable us to learn from each other and discover our fascinating past. Each week, starting from Today (June 4th) until October 13th, 2007 a panel of writers will examine and critique a certain period of Pakistan's history (1940-2007). These individuals, through their varying backgrounds in policy, media, political science, and public service, bring their varying perspectives and biases to this collective reading of the country's history. It is important to appreciate that none of these viewpoints and perspectives are true or false in their entirety, but they are merely that, perspectives, and that the first step we can take towards building a more wise, just, and tolerant society is to develop the ability to listen to, and appreciate each other's viewpoints.

Understanding Pakistan website will be a central point for this collaborative thinking and collective learning. An email list will disseminate each week's discourse to the wider audience who would then be invited to present their own ideas, thoughts, and additions on the blog. Special emphasis will be paid on developing a mechanism to promote substantive and thought provoking discussion and to encourage the collection of further evidence to develop a more comprehensive and well-rounded resource on the history of the country.

This, we sincerely hope, will elevate the dialogue to a level higher than has sometimes been the case. It will also, we hope, make us better informed citizens and provide impetus for future action.

Please join us in this collaborative effort to learn about our own country. The project is hosted on a collaborative website at: and join the email list by sending a blank message to to recieve updates on the project.

Feel free to forward this email to those you know and encourage them to do the same.

Best Regards,

Dr. Athar Osama,
Sabahat Iqbal Ashraf (iFaqeer),
Hassan Bashir,
and Other Collaborators

Athar Osama, PhD (Public Policy, RAND)
London, United Kingdom
* Pakistan Software Industry Study:
* Pakistan Inc. -- IT Industry Edition:
* Pakistan Kaha'ni -- The Life and Times of a Nation:
* Pakistan Economy Blog:
* Technology & Economic Development Portal:
* Technology-based Economic Development Journal (Blog): .
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