Archive for March, 2020

Two influential poets Ghalib and Iqbal

March 30, 2020

Nasir Khan

Mirza Ghalib (1797 – 1869) and Mohammad Iqbal (1877 – 1938) are two great poets in their own ways. Iqbal is also a politician, a populist, an ideologue of Islam where he expounds Islam along mystical and unclear paths (his ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ being a clear expression of his confused thinking and lack of clarity despite his pedantic English that only few can understand or digest!). But his command of Urdu and Farsi in conveying his poetic message and ideas is impressive.

His poetry covers many areas and it can’t be labelled under any one theme. His revolutionary and progressive ideas are appreciable but his tilt towards religiosity, mysticism and Islamic nationalism in the latter part of his life was a big waste of the intellect of a good man. The Pakistani reactionary political establishment took full advantage of his shoddy Islamist ideology and transformed him into a mullah which he was not!

In contrast to Iqbal, Ghalib was only a poet and not a politician or messenger of any political revolution. In his verse, he conveyed his sublime ideas in a way unmatched in this language. His word has enriched the Urdu language by his poetic expression and his style of prose (see his letters). If we can extend the area of philosophy to general wisdom, deeper insights in human psychology and human condition then Ghalib stands far higher than Iqbal in such areas. He is a universalist, not bound by faith, creed or ideological nihilism as Iqbal seems to be. Iqbal’s origin as a Kashmiri Pandit, which, no doubt, I feel happy about as a Kashmiri myself, but that is not decisive when I assess him. I end this piece with a verse of the immortal Ghalib:

Ham kahan ke danaa the, kis hunar main yakta the
Be sababb hua Ghalib, dushman aasman apna

Religions and their Followers – a reply

March 26, 2020

— Nasir Khan

Mr. Woodward, I hope you don’t misunderstand me when I write this as a freethinking humanist. I know that religions have caused much bloodshed and misery in human history. But religions have no real content. It is the followers of a religion who give meaning or importance to what their religion is and what it is not.

Religions have been a powerful factor in human history which the rulers used for their political domination and the servility of their subjects. That role is still there and is used by present-day rulers as it suits them, except for the countries where State and Religion are separated.

The second point in this context I would like to make is that religion is an idea often based on some dogmas. Such dogmas become essential parts of a religion that people interpret and sometimes come up with varying interpretations, leading to inter-religious conflicts. Such things have been the cause of much blood-shedding in Christianity and Islam, etc. Anyone who has read the histories of these religions knows that.

Religion and its followers are not the same. That should be easy for us to see. For instance, a group of fanatic followers may misuse their religion. In fact, such things have happened in all recorded history. If they use it to justify the killing of other people for some reason by using the name and cover of religion, who can stop them? None, in my view.

Religion as a collection of ideas does not impose itself upon humans; humans do that. Vicious people will use it as they want. But humane and noble people who want to use their religion for doing some good work are also free to do that. Such conflicting uses of religion are not a secret. We have to understand that in this world there are believers of religions. As long as they do not leave their religions, no one should force them to do so.

In that case, my attitude towards these people is simply this: As long as they do not harm others and use their religions as their personal beliefs, then we should respect them. They are our fellow human beings and they use the freedom to choose and practise their religion. But as a humanist, I should not abuse and dehumanize them. Instead, we who are freethinking people should work systematically to bring information to these people in a manner that they don’t feel threatened. You know how people react when they feel their beliefs and valuable things in life are under threat. Before we can teach others, we have to learn ourselves to carry on our work.

The Sunni-Shia Division in Islam

March 7, 2020

The following brief account may help some curious readers about the Sunni-Shia divide in Islam that also affects political affairs in the Middle Eastern region.
Remarks on the Sunni-Shia division in Islam
— Nasir Khan
The division of Islam into Shia and Sunni branches from the mid-seventh century was more due to the political factors than with the fundamentals of the faith because they were the same for all people including the power elites. Obviously, two rivals engaged in a struggle to gain the upper hand in a political race cannot win unless they strike some compromise and avoid the conflict. This was possible between rival claimants, Ali bin Abi Taleb and Muwaiya bin Abi Sufyan, but did not happen in the early phase of the growing polarization that was taking place in the Muslim community.
One puritan group, the Kharijites, saw the developments with apprehension for the new faith and the Muslim community, which by now was large and was rapidly spreading in many regions of the world. The Kharijite solution to stem the tide of power-politics that was damaging the new nation was a radical one: liquidate the rival claimants to the Caliphate and save the faith and the Caliphate. Despite what they did, the problem did not vanish.
Now the Sunni and Shia forms of thought about the office of the Caliph started to diverge. Afterward, even the theological differences started to grow. Inevitably, the Sunni and Shia doctrinal differences became more pronounced and the different schools of jurisprudence put their stamp on the growing disparity between the two groups. Therefore, what started as a political factor eventually developed into two rival sects within Islam.
What sort of relationship emerged between the two branches when Islam became a world religion and Islamic Empire grew in size and power can be briefly put this way: The Sunni Islam became dominant but Shias were not victimized. The relationships were mostly cordial and one of toleration and mutual respect.
The intolerance towards Shia and the victimization of Shias in countries like Pakistan in these times is a tragic story of a faith that has been hijacked by some fanatic ignorant people in the name of their brand of ‘puritan’ theology. But these criminals and assassins are a right-wing fringe element within Pakistan. The great majority of ordinary Sunni Muslims has nothing against Shia Muslims and vice versa. Both of them look upon each other as brothers and accept each other’s right to follow Islam according to their traditions and customs.
But in Iraq under President G.W. Bush American invaders and occupiers of the land fanned the sectarian divide, resulting in the bloodshed of Iraqis. The suppression of the Shias in Saudi Arabia is also a manifestation of how the Wahabbi rulers impose their morbid religious cult in violation of the fundamental principle of the freedom of religion which is followed in the civilized world.


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