Fatwa No More

An essay by Professor Emeritus C.M. Naim, University of Chicago.

A messenger brought me some news. It began:

Darul Uloom Deoband, the self-appointed guardian for Indian Muslims, in a Talibanesque fatwa that reeked of tribal patriarchy, has decreed that it is “haram” and illegal according to the Sharia for a family to accept a woman’s earnings. Clerics at the largest Sunni Muslim seminary after Cairo’s Al-Azhar said the decree flowed from the fact that the Sharia prohibited proximity of men and women in the workplace.

“It is unlawful (under the Sharia law) for Muslim women to work in the government or private sector where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without a veil,” said the fatwa issued by a bench of three clerics. The decree was issued over the weekend, but became public late on Monday, seminary sources said.1

One should not shoot the messenger if one does not like the message. True. But, allow me at least to discover what was being “messaged.” Strictly speaking, it was the following exchange on the website of the Darul Ifta (‘fatwa office’) of the Deoband seminary. No changes in language and punctuation have been made in all the quotations below.)
Continue reading “Fatwa No More”

  1. News report in the Times of India of May 12, written by Pervez Iqbal Siddiqui. []

Around the Khyber Pass

David Bordwell, John Ford, silent man

One headliner is the early Ford series: all his surviving silents, plus a selection of rarely-seen talkies. The first one screened, The Black Watch (1929), concentrates on the Khyber Pass incident of 1914. Captain King is assigned to India while the rest of his Scots regiment is sent to Europe. In India, King masterminds the defeat of the forces of Yasmani, a woman who has been taken as sort of a goddess by her followers. The central section, involving Yasmani’s passion for King and his betrayal of her, seems to me sketchy and rushed; Ford’s real interest, not surprisingly, is in the rites of comradeship among the Black Watch. Twenty-two of the film’s 91 minutes is taken up with the opening dinner celebrating the regiment, conducted while King gets his secret mission; for reasons he can’t disclose, he abandons his comrades and suffers their opprobrium. A bookended sequence at the close shows him returning to the Watch as, in the trenches of war, they hold another dinner, complete with ruffles and flourishes.

Some of the central portion was directed by Lumsden Hare, but it too has some striking moments, perhaps most memorably the display of Yasmani’s powers when she conjures up an eerie vision of the European battlefield in a glowing crystal ball. The war sequences have the dank Expressionist look that Murnau brought to Fox and that Ford exploited in Four Sons (1928). There are as well touching train-station farewells between brothers and between father and daughter that seem very Fordian. Overall, Ford finds ways to avoid the multiple-camera shooting common to early talkies, often using offscreen dialogue during reaction shots.

Needless to say, I have never seen/heard of this movie but now I cannot wait to find it.

Long before John Ford, Khyber Pass entered into American imagination courtesy not only of the Anglo-Afghan wars, but also Rudyard Kipling and Josiah Harlan – Harlan’s memoir1 was released in 1842 in Philadelphia and Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King came out in 1888. The Anglo-Afghan Wars were front page news in New York Times since the late 1860s (the Sepoy Rebellion had stuck a nerve).

As I noted in an earlier post, the “Indian Question” lay heavy on the brows in New York and Washington. “The Khyber Pass is no longer a hindrance to movement” was the declaration in Feb, 1894 [pdf]. Here, for example, is the NYT in 1897, giving the geo-political consequences of a war going heavily wrong for the British. Change is nothing to believe in. England Facing, a Grave Situation: [pdf]

All eyes here are on the Khyber Pass and beyond. Whether the torrent of Afridis be stemmed as quickly as the Swat Valley troubles were stilled is a question of minor importance compared to the larger issues, which, one after an other, these at present isolated religious revolts are suggesting. There is as yet no proved coalition or combination among the insurgent tribes, but the lesson in each case is the same. Sooner or later, England, that greatest of Mohammedan powers, must suffer for this her latest crusade, into which she was driven by a wave of sentiment of which no English speaking men are ashamed, though many question the prudence of the aggressively quixotic policy when backed by such feebleness in execution. England could not stand by while the helpless Armenians and the too hopeful Greeks were in more or less real danger of life and liberty. So she sided with these people against the threatening Turk – that one Mohammedan soldier power with whom an English Machiavelli would have found wise to make friends, tempering friendship, as in the old days, with just sufficient bullying to keep up the illusion that the feeble sick man, Turkey, was being bolstered up by the unassailable power of Christian England.

In 1898, Kipling got to San Francisco from India and quickly came to embody the spirit of joint British-US expansionist project (He had sent his poem The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands straight to Teddy Roosevelt in 1898 who promptly forwarded it to Henry Cabot Lodge. Further aside, if you have not read Christopher Hitchens’ “Burdens and Songs: The Anglo-American Rudyard Kipling”, Grand Street {1990}, I urge you to run, not walk to JSTOR. )

Where was I? Oh, back to Khyber Pass/John Ford in 1929. Another tid-bit: I am shamefully ignorant of the history of early cinema and its engagement with India/Orient but I did pick up a reference once to a ethno-documentary In the Heart of India; As Seen by Dr. Dorsey (1916) which I have never seen nor been able to trace elsewhere but was reported to me that contains footage of Khyber Pass/Peshawer. It seems that the genealogy of Ford’s Khyber Pass is just as much Kipling and Dorsey as the German Murnau.

Resume normal transmission.

  1. A Memoir of India and Avghanistaun; with observations on the Present Exciting and Critical State and Future Prospects of those Countries. Comprising Remarks on the massacre of the British Army in Cabul, British policy in India, A detailed descriptive character of Dost Mohamed and his court, etc. With an Appendix on the fulfilment of a text of Daniel, in reference to the Present Prophetic condition of Mahomedan nations throughout the World, and the speedy dissolution of the Ottoman Empire []

The Daughter of Islam

Faisal Shahzad Email

Pakistan’s originary myth is tied to a spectacular episode – I have written about this here and here but, let me quote from a Social Studies Textbook for the sixth grade, used nationally in Pakistan:

Before the dawn of Islam, the trade relations had been setup between India and the Arabs. The Muslims invaded the subcontinent in 712 A.D. Prior to this the Arabs used to visit this land for the sale & purchase of their goods. The Arab traders were staunch Muslims and therefore they taught Islam to the people of India. The Arab traders used to carry merchandise from the Indian ports to the other countries of the world. A number of Arab traders had also settled in Sri Lanka and due to trade they had good relations with the people.

With the passage of time some of the traders died. The Raja of Sri Lanka who was kind hearted, he sent the widows and their children and belongings on eight ships along with gifts for the Muslim caliph. When these ships reached near the port of Debal the pirates plundered these ships. The Arab women and children were made captives. Some of the Muslims managed to escape and they made aware of Hajjaj bin Yousaf of the entire incident. Conflict between the Arabs and ruler of Sind started due to this incident.((Social Studies for Class 6. (Lahore: Punjab Textbook Board, 2004), 93-4.))

Here is another account from a popular Heroes of Islam series intended for children and young adults:

The king of Yaqoot Island dispatched a vessel, laden with gifts and Muslim women, born in his country and their fathers died doing trade, to Hajjaj, in order to be closer by them to Muslim world, but the current of air dredged vessels to beaches, nearby to southern valley of Sind regions, and they arrived the port, known in history as Debaal, where the pirates gathered the spoils, killed men, captured women, and children of both sexes were retained in bondage.

There was a woman from “Yarboa” tribe among people, who were wronged and aggressed, and she called “Ya Hajjaj”. When this accident’s news arrived to Hajjaj, he reposed her call by saying “Labbaik”, then he sent a message to king of Sind Dahir requesting him to release Muslim women, captured by pirates, but the king replied on his appeal that those, who arrested them are thieves, and I don’t have any control on them. Therefore this campaign sent by Hajjaj to Sind.

You can see this narrative explicated in a popular TV serial from 2002, Labaik (watch from 5:00 [sorry, no subtitles]):

You can also see a more translated vision put forth by some enterprising youtuber:

The TV-serial is a fascinating reversal, where the scene shifts from Khaldunian time to Ayodha time to finally a frame where the Hindu woman saves a Muslim man’s life by reminding the Hindu mob that they dared sully a Muslim woman centuries before, thus igniting the passion of the Muslim armies to conquer this infidel land. Gripping.

Terror Mom by Lapata

This narrative is woven into the fabric of the Pakistani state and I don’t really have the time, nor the space, to tell you more (you can read my dissertation, I guess) but I do want to quote from it:

The political memory of Muhammad b. Qasim seemed to have retreated from public space – even the Sindhi challenge apparently routinized. However, during this summer of 2008, a new public manifestation of Muhammad b. Qasim emerged. Dr Aafia Siddiqi, a Pakistani woman, accused by the U.S. state of being an al-Qaeda operative was apprehended in Afghanistan, and shipped to New York to stand trial.

Her arrest and deportation has caused immense public scrutiny in Pakistani media and it remains an on-going saga. What caught my attention were the public pleas – by columnists and editorials – for a Muhammad b. Qasim to rescue her, “I wish that this nation had a Muhammad b. Qasim who could hear the screams of Aafia Siddiqui, and help her. We need him and his army.”

Another columnist raised the specter of “Muhammad b. Qasim of the pen”:

In that NY jail, a daughter of my nation, is also calling for a Muhammad b. Qasim or a Mahmud Ghaznavi. She must be re- membering the justice of Umar Farooq. But my dear sister, our leaders cannot break their internal and external agreements with New York and Washington. Because after giving you away, along with 600 others, those agreements are even stronger. And we also got millions of dollars. Now only the American clouds are rain- ing dollars on our thoughts and emotions. But my sister, do not despair, the Muhammad b. Qasims of ”Pen” are coming to your rescue.

Other commentators drew explicit comparisons to the Muslim women kid- napped by pirates in the eighth century

The torch-bearer for this “Aafiya Siddiqa is the Original Daughter of Islam” meme was a columnist from the Daily Jang Ishtiaq Baig whose original column, Prisoner Number 650 Aafiya Siddiqui became the rallying cry of the various religious parties and conspiracy theorists. Two years later, Siddiqui is the cause of the nation, debated in Senate, with the Lahore High Court ordering the government to foot her defense bills. Here is a report, published today, citing the sister of Aafiya Siddiqa, Fauzia, saying we are waiting for a Muhammad bin Qasim to come and rescue Aafiya.

This particular brand of national machismo projected onto a woman’s body is neither new nor unique, yet it is a potent mixture in the oppressive, patriarchal Pakistani middle class. The mullahs can safely rage about the nation’s daughter, and the street urchins can eagerly vow to invade Manhattan.

Yet, until we dismantle the whole edifice underpinning this construction, there is little one can do to fight the narrative. Aafiya Siddiqui may well have caught the nation’s attention without the literary linkage to Pakistan’s originary past – her story is fabulous enough. But it is that very link which sustains it now, gives it immediate historical resonance and, most importantly, predicts the future – an armed struggle to free Aafiya. Such is the power of historical memory, such is the reach of state-sanctioned hegemonic accounts. And this is exactly why we need new histories of Pakistan.

We Are All Ahmadi XI: Petition

I urge every reader to sign your name, begin at the beginning.

To: Government of Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani
Senate Chairman Farooq Hamid Naek
Speaker Fehmida Mirza
Ambassador Hussain Haqqani

Your Excellencies,

The May 28th massacre of Ahmadis in Lahore is a tragic reminder of the state of siege that Pakistan’s persecuted sects and minorities constantly live in. Given the institutionalized discrimination and hateful rhetoric against persecuted sects and religious minorities, this latest attack should not surprise us. After all, this venomous bigotry and its prevalence at all levels of our society is precisely the reason why violence against Muslims who are not Sunni as well as non-Muslims has been so exponentially on the rise in Pakistan over the past few years.

Far from being an isolated incident, this latest attack is in fact part of a pattern of increasingly organized violence against persecuted sects and religious minorities in Pakistan that seems to be intensifying at a frightening rate. In addition to death threats, damage to homes, businesses, places of worship, the settling of scores through the use of blasphemy laws, we are also seeing increasingly organized pogroms. In September 2008, at least two Ahmadis were killed in cold blood after a popular televangelist Aamir Liaquat Hussain declared that Islam sanctioned the killing of Ahmadis for calling themselves Muslims. In July 2009, eight Christians were killed and over 50 homes burned in the town of Gojra. Recently in Rawalpindi, a woman of Christian faith was allegedly raped and her husband burned for refusing to convert to Islam. And three days after the horrific massacre of Ahmadi namazis in Lahore, a man in Narowal who swore that he would not leave any Ahmadi alive broke into the home of an Ahmadi family, stabbing the 55-year old husband and father and wounding the son.

This pattern of violence against persecuted sects and religious minorities in Pakistan is in part the result of discriminatory and shameful laws such as the Second Amendment and Article 26 (3) of the Constitution of Pakistan which declare Ahmadis as non-Muslims, and the infamous Blasphemy Law [Section 295(C) of the Pakistan Penal Code]. We decry these discriminatory and unjust laws and the state’s refusal to go after the perpetrators of such violence, the carte blanche given to religious groups which openly target persecuted sects and religious minorities, the media platform given to hate-mongers such as Aamir Liaquat Hussain and the silent complicity of the (Sunni) majority. Politicians are increasingly involved in such incidents of organized violence against persecuted sects and religious minorities: in the case of Gojra, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s fact-finding mission established that members of the PML(N) were involved in the demagogic rally which preceded the violence. A PML-N member of the Punjab Assembly was also a vocal participant in a recent shameful conference called by 13 religious parties in Lahore which bizarrely claimed that the horrific attack on the Ahmadi mosques on Black Friday was part of an Ahmadi conspiracy to have the laws against them repealed. All these factors have combined to creating a climate of terror for persecuted sects and religious minorities in Pakistan today, a climate in which the threat of violence is ever-present and there is no hope of redress.

THIS MUST NOT GO ON. Pakistan cannot continue to treat its Muslim citizens who are not Sunni as well as its non-Muslim citizens as subhuman. Pakistan’s regime of legal discrimination against its non-Sunni and non-Muslim citizens is not only immoral, it is in direct and indirect violation of almost every article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – especially Articles 1, 2, 3, 7, 18, 19, 21, 22 – of which Pakistan is a signatory. If Pakistan is to take its rightful place in the comity of nations, it needs to take prompt and decisive action against the perpetrators of such violence and rid itself of the toxic laws and policies which enable it.

As citizens of Pakistan and people of conscience, we demand that the state of Pakistan take responsibility for extending the rights and protections of citizenship equally to all Pakistanis – REGARDLESS OF RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION. The state has no right to determine who is a legitimate Muslim and must repeal all anti-Ahmadi laws. Nor can the state cede its responsibility to provide equal protection to its non-Muslim minorities. We call for a Pakistan grounded in principles of justice and fairness which includes respect for the rights of persecuted sects and religious minorities as equal citizens of the state. All legal, administrative and social discrimination on the basis of sect or religion must end, and a separation between religion and state must be instituted immediately.



-The state ensure the rights of all persecuted sects and religious minorities, including their right to openly and freely practice their religion.

-The state provide protection to all its citizens, and the perpetrators of violence against persecuted sects and minorities be brought to justice speedily and transparently.


-The 2nd Amendment and all other anti-Ahmadi laws be removed from the Constitution.

-All Blasphemy laws be repealed.

-Religious identity be removed from National ID Cards and Passports.

-Eligibility criteria for the offices of President and Prime Minister make no reference to religion.

-Pakistan’s official name be changed back to ‘The Republic of Pakistan’.



Sunday Reading for Weltmeisterschaft Zuschauer

The World Cup, whenever it comes, becomes such a part of my everyday that I feel like I have always been watching it, that there is no time when I don’t have another contest to look towards or examine after. I walked down the street, and in a shop window, they had a tv. A be-jeweled, track-suited, be-gelled gentleman was standing watching the game, green pitch covered in moving dots. I instinctively stopped. We watched it together for a solid 10 minutes, appreciating our mutual audience, exchanging non-verbal cues at the Italian flopping. This is what I love, and respect, about the WM – it makes us all instant co-spectators. (Btw, If you haven’t been reading Zunguzungu’s posts on the WM – please go now and make amends.)

  • As usual, The Big Picture has amazing photos of the global spectator – including this projection on the Wall.
  • In the LRB, Bernard Porter reviews Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s “well-researched, readable and (I think) balanced book”, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.
  • David Shulman continues to be an inspiration – his essay on the Flotilla in NYRB is an example of clear-sighted moral activisim.
  • Also in review-land is William Dalrymple’s re-take on Basharat Peer’s memoir Curfewed Night . I say “re-take” because the opening is almost identical to Dalrymple’s earlier essay on Kashmir which anticipated Peer’s memoir.
  • Also in the memoir world is an interview with G. Willow Wilson, comic book writer and traveller – on occasion of her The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam. God I hate all “___ the Veil” headlines.
  • Michael Scott Moore‘s Sweetness and Blood: How Surfing Spread From Hawaii and California to the Rest of the World, With Some Unexpected Results, gets reviewed, and is on my pile of things to read for the summer.
  • For the record, All About H. Hatterr is insane – but Happy (late) Bloomsday.
  • The end of the Obama Dream is covered in two thoroughly depressing essays: Scott Horton in the Harper’s, The Justice Department and the Torture of Maher Arar, June 16 2010 and Tariq Ali’s lecture, Obama’s War.
  • Depressed? Yeah, me too. The Oil Spill, the Ahmadi massacres, LIFE – it has been a rough entrance to summer but the comments on this post made me realize that there always will be sunshine.


When: Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 5:00pm
Where: 5 Holden St., North Adams, MA 01247-2423

Three Generations of Rockwell Creators:

For the first time ever, the artwork of three generations of Rockwells will be displayed in the Berkshires, as the work of Jarvis and Daisy Rockwell is exhibited in North Adams as part of DownStreet Art, a public art project of MCLA’s Berkshire Cultural Resource Center.
Their work will join the art of their father and grandfather, 20th-century American painter and Illustrator Norman Rockwell, which can be viewed at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
From June 24 to July 25, Daisy Rockwell’s “Rasgulla,” a display of Rasa paintings, will be in the Galerie Inqilab at 5 Holden St.

I really, really, really wish I was there. Please attend in my stead and see Lapata’s latest show.