Dawn News

Missing a few notes

‘RASOOL Allah, pir nabi ke, kar do bera paar; hukum tihaaro deen duni ke, tum ho hazrat maula’ (You are the Messenger of God [PBUH], most exalted of the Prophets. Help me ford the river. Your word is supreme in the temporal world and for my spirit. Guide me, O learned one.)

It was one of those marvellous ironies last week. Irate Muslims were violently protesting in Islamabad and elsewhere against a hateful film on their religion. And in Delhi’s Chinmaya Mission auditorium a Hindu woman singer was striking serene adulation for the Prophet of Islam.

I doubt that Priyadarshini Kulkarni would have seen her rendition of the slow composition in Raag Poorvi as a counterpoint to the turmoil among incensed Muslim groups, if at all she were aware of the world outside the concert hall.

The raag she chose was composed by the 14th-century Sufi sage Hazrat Amir Khusro. It is possible he also wrote the words. The Jaipur-Atrauli school of music that Priyadarshini belongs to was founded by the legendary Alladiya Khan at the waning of the 19th century. And going by the available headcount, the ustad produced more Hindu musicians than disciples from his Muslim milieu.

His gems included Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kordekar and Mallikarjun Mansur. Priyadarshini has a long way to go to find a place in their exalted company. But when she began the afternoon raag, and as her eyes closed with devotion furrowed on her face, she was unconsciously making a point that is all too often missed. No religion can be the monopoly of its ascribed followers. And no believer can own his or her religion as a pot of gold.

For decades I have been listening to Kamla Jharia’s records. Her mastery of the Urdu language (as was the case with K.L. Saigal) is complete. She effortlessly defied the simp-listic Urdu-for-Muslims and Hindi-for-Hindus kind of silly stereotype. But listen to her two exquisite naats, celebrations of the Prophet, and you would quickly discard any lingering notions of religious monopolies.

‘Ya Shah-i-Arab Sayyed-i-Abraar tumhi ho, Makki Madani Hashemi, sarkaar tumhi ho’ is Kamla Jharia’s composition of a devotional tribute in the gentle morning melody of Raag Desi. Then there is the humbler cry for help in Raag Jogiya, another lovely morning pick-me-up. ‘Tumhre daya ki hai aas Muhammad; Aaya hoo’n tumhre paas Muhammad.’ I seek your blessings, O Muhammad, and here I stand in supplication so that you may bless me, sings the Hindu crooner.

It is said the loveable Indian poet and anti-colonial activist Hasrat Mohani would follow his annual Haj with a visit to Mathura and Benares where he saw among the Hindu devotees a reflection of his own faith.

But Gauhar Jan was a different singer from Calcutta. She had a run-in with Gandhi because he looked down upon her profession and wouldn’t let her ilk be involved with nationalist activism other than to collect funds.

She sang at least two amazing compositions that applauded the founder of Islam with Indian motifs.

In a Persian qawwali by Amir Khusro, God is assigned the role of ‘Mir-i-Majlis’, in a mehfil of raqs-i-bismil, a dance of ultimate devotion. And the Prophet is likened to a lamp in the august gathering, a symbol of enlightened presence.

Gauhar Jan’s maternal ancestors were Armenian Jews. Her father was an Englishman who deserted her mother and so a Muslim patron of music in Azamgarh gave her protection. She was the first Indian musician to cut a record with a European company.

The two naats were her way of honouring a religion whose follower, her adopted father, gave her shelter when others had all but wrecked her life. Purist Muslims would frown at this way of celebrating their faith. There are those too that would reject the use of music altogether as a means of supplication.

Others would find it disagreeable that ‘outsiders’ chant the names of their religious protagonists with what they consider to be un-Islamic idioms or phrases. The famous rivalry between the puritan Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and his eclectic brother Dara Shikoh comes to mind. Aurangzeb was tone deaf as far as music was concerned. Dara Shikoh was the quintessential patron of the arts and, perhaps that’s why, of religious accommodation.

It is this simple tenet of faith that has come under a test today. And while Muslims have picked up a large share of mindless violence, principally against each other, the tendency for bigotry is by no means their monopoly.

There was this self-styled Christian ‘visionary’ in Norway who sprayed innocent men and women with bullets. Remember the indoctrinated mob in India that spuriously claimed to represent Hindus and which burnt alive a well-meaning Australian missionary and his two young sons in a jeep in the forests of Orissa?

They are of a piece with the killer of the Punjab governor in Pakistan and the self-proclaimed Muslims who recently lynched American officials in Libya in apparent revenge for the film insulting to Islam.

This last event should not be left unchallenged because, like the Aurangzeb-Dara Shikoh dispute, it masks a more nuanced parallel narrative. I haven’t been able to fathom who decides which insult to one’s faith deserves an uprising. The Internet is crawling with sullen abuse by millions of puerile users every day. Which abuse becomes the trigger for violence?

And it isn’t that only Muslims are being abused. There is hardly a sect or cult of any religion that is spared. My own view is that the reasons for violence are being deliberately manipulated. The traditional secular struggle against colonial occupation of land and resources has been shrewdly dissipated into protests against assorted cartoons and hateful movies.

Once perverted into a religious harangue from an anti-colonial battle cry, everyone wants to enter a sanitised debate. President Obama will be thus bracing to tender advice on religious amity, dodging the trickier problem of political solutions. It’s probably just as well that Priyadarshini Kulkarni sang with her eyes closed.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Email feedback and queries to Dawn.com's editorial team, or visit our contact page

Comments (26) Closed

Pratap Singh Rana
Sep 27, 2012 07:43pm
Excellent response to a good article, agree 100%
U Gupta
Sep 27, 2012 09:16am
Quran is the best example of freedom expression. There were crtics at that time also. Many people must have opposed but still Quran came out and finally took the shape of holy book which all of us read to follow whether to be called Musalman or not.
Sep 27, 2012 07:16pm
There is little doubt that Islam is under assault from Military powers, Economic Sanctions, Discrimination against Muslims, from Media, social and others. My advise to Muslims is come closer to your faith, protect it vociferously, with determination and superior character. We should be unequivocal and unambiguous in condemning the violence that has been perpetrated upon Muslims in the guise of War on Terror and also by Muslims in the guise of protecting their faith. Faith is enhanced by good deeds, piety and compassion not by killing ambassador to Libya.
Sep 27, 2012 07:22pm
First article from Mr Jawed Naqvi, without Hindu bashing and India bashing. Most of his articles are obnoxiously "laugh riots". An unexpected article from him. Though this article is far from his usual writings. a surprise indeed.
Sep 27, 2012 08:28pm
This is a rare good piece by the writer. He's saying that religion is not one person's bastion, nor are religious symbols. Those who claim the right to defend these (by questionable means which are a separate issue by themselves) are merely putting politics above religion and above God. Get it?
Sep 27, 2012 08:08pm
An excellent article , with a lot of research too. I wish one could understand and accept the inherent point of tolerance and secularism in the post.
Sep 27, 2012 12:22pm
Vintage Naqvi! Lovely column and absolutely agree that no religion is anyone's property because the core message is always universal and eternal. It is refreshing to see a lot of Muslim writers standing up for freedom of expression and supporting the fight against hooliganism in the name of religion. Religion is all about spirituality which is PEACE and BROTHERHOOD.
Sohail Hashmi
Sep 27, 2012 09:47am
For those who refuse to see the point of tolerance, the piece would appear pointless.
Sep 27, 2012 03:29am
Greatly coherent and connecting!!! Congratulations Mr. Naqvi.
Sunil Kumar Panda
Sep 27, 2012 01:59pm
Dear Sir, Killing of the Australian missionary and his two sons in Orissa was a shameful act. PM of India has asked forgiveness. Highest honor of the land have have been awarded to the widow by the president. Has Pakistan done anything to safeguard the minority community. Every day you kill Hindus, Christians, Shias, Ahamadis, Hazara's, Balochs. I can give dates and names of the individuals of these communities being killed. Please refrain yourself writing biased articles. I am surprised that you have the habit of dragging India into you articles irrespective of its necessity. It would be nice if you write something positive of the subcontinent. Thanks, Sunil
Sep 27, 2012 11:18am
Great article Jawaid saheb, should open the eyes of the blind followers of religion.
Sep 27, 2012 03:54pm
Finally Mr Naqvi manages to catch up with time, great awakenings ? or tunning to reader's choice ?
Sep 27, 2012 04:42pm
Dear jawed, Didn't know from reading your articles for a long time that you had in you to write an article like this. Well, on this one, my hats off to you. Why not make it a habit of exposing the real ills of all of us - Indians, Paksitanis, Americans etc rather than, what I believe, an inexplicable dislike of all things Indian. I have long realized, in my humble opinion, that you have talent and intellgence. Hope you use it to spread sanity, humanity, brotherhood rather then criticising blindly for crticism's sake. You can be that voice of influence.
Sep 28, 2012 07:49pm
One of your best pieces - Jawed Naqvi -- brought tears in my eyes. I am crazy about Hindu classical devotionals and Muslim Naatiya qawwalis -- The artists and scholars of the world from different denominations treat our prophet with so much devotion and respect -- I am waiting for the day when we Muslims will treat their prophets and their holy men - the same devotion and the same respect.
Sep 27, 2012 11:48am
I have many decent Muslims,Pakistani,Jewish,protestant,catholic,Hindu,devout religious(my wife & David,& Mehmood,and Carmen) whom I love and respect,they are in a way set in their way,I neither want to change them or they want to change,who I 'M to change them?I accept them as they are,I'm doing them no favor,I'm just following"Do on to other" philosophy,of tolerance,if we just follow that simple adage,most ,if not,all,our problem would vanish in thin air,but we can not do that as we are set in our own way.It is that simple,live and let live,easier said than followed.You can get blue in face,or cows come home,it is no use.Nice day.
Sep 27, 2012 04:21pm
Enjoyable piece although I normally cannot finish reading this author's articles because of his ponderous prose.
Zalim Singh
Sep 27, 2012 06:38am
and your point is?
Sep 27, 2012 07:55am
Religion and spirituality have always been mis-understood to the point that they are now made to appear at loggerheads. The very essence of 'Islam' has been deteiorated by the very thekedaars of islam. I hope we all learn to live in peace rather than find trivial issues and make the world not so fine place to be at. Thank you Mr Jawed, this was a beautiful article.
Sep 27, 2012 01:36pm
So what does this prove? That non Muslims are more tolerant..and the moment Muslims become a majority they oppress other minorities
Sep 27, 2012 08:37am
After a long time, I see something that reflects how far we Muslims have come from the days of tolerance. We are Muslims in words but no deeds and sadly, we get to see others (non-Muslims) to be better humans while we the great Muslims continue to break our own records by falling lower than previously perceived.
Sep 27, 2012 01:15pm
NaqVi saheb,you are also product of your environment,upbringing and what you read,what made sense to you.It is of no use for me to change you,the change has to come from within,then it is of value.rational,logical reason also puts limit on folks.you are a leftist may be even hard core socialist(I do not call you communist,they no longer really exist,in real world,Utopia,YES).As a hindu,that too raised in very liberal in real sense,not seudo secular,selective,way.Hindus are told as a child,god is not external,but resides in heart(that is the main difference between Muslims & Hindu,to you Allah is real,who doles out reward and punishment),some not very evolved Hindu also believe in External Mandir Deties,no harm done,each to his/her own..What is important is not claiming a superiorty complex which allows one to classify others inferior thus commit murder by calling others sub-human worthy of QUATTAL WAJID.,it is that bothers people like me.If you just go after Ahemedias,Shias and Hajjaras,there is nothing I can do.But demanding minority rights every where,and deny your own minority where Muslim are majority is top most hypocrisy,which your Prophet condemned as great Sin.
Sep 27, 2012 11:04am
At last, at long last, a post from Mr Naqvi that at least resembles the India that most of us have grown up in, one that, in spite of its numerous imperfections and deep religiosity, realizes that religion is but a means to an end, where arts, culture, day-to-day life is steeped in religious symbolism, but is not overtaken by it, where for most of its population it doesn't matter which religion you belong to. This is a far cry from the dark, inhuman, scheming, conspiratorial, Nazi and Stalin invoking, evil parallel universe that the author's India always seems to be.
Sep 27, 2012 10:41am
good one !!! :)
Sep 27, 2012 12:31pm
The point is that nobody has monopoly on God and no mortal has been entrusted by God to act as His enforcer on the land. That the clash is Not between civilizations as a whole but between idiots inside these civilizations.
Sep 28, 2012 01:02am
So gupta ji you follow Quran,yes freedom of expression which a devout muslims follows in toto,that's what makes a good muslims,they even do not befriend jews and Christians as it commands,it also recommend nothing to do with unbelievers(so guptaji you are out),and tells believers to even look under rocks and when found,to -------------------,get rid of them.I hope you read it well.You are a great example for all of us less informed Hindus,so I thank you very much for your insight.Once again I heartly thank you,people like you are what India Pakistan need to be good neighbors.Aman ki Asha will go go great with good hearted thinkers like you.U means Universal Uplifting union,rare 3U.Bless you.Nice day.
Sep 27, 2012 11:39pm
Amen/Ameen. You stole the words from my lips, attaboy.