290-mosque-anwar-iqbalIt is said that those who migrate, live in a time warp. They see their past in their present and use it to define their future as well. This distortion allows them to continue to live with the people they left behind and to bring into their lives events from another period.

Although illusionary, living in a time warp can also be a blessing. This is how we felt on the evening we gathered at the tavern to celebrate Eid-e-Milad.

We decided we will do it the old-fashioned way, the way it was when we were young. So we spread a white sheet on the floor, placed cushions along the walls and requested people to wear traditional dresses for the occasion.

We even had agar-battis and gulab-pash, a little container used for sprinkling scented water on the audience.

Near the entrance, we placed little bottles of traditional perfumes, extracts of flowers we left behind, champa, chambeli, gulab. No, we did not call them jasmine or roses, not that evening.

In the middle, we placed a red, hand-woven carpet with more cushions and a rahal, which we used in the maktab while learning to recite the Holy Quran.

There were no supersize cakes, no motorised devices, no sticks, no swords and no shooting in the air.

After recitals from the holy book by a sister-brother duo, we invited some older kids to recite na’at. And here too, we stuck to the tradition. Instead of going for modern poems composed on popular tunes, we selected three, one each by poets Hali, Zafar Ali Khan and Allama Iqbal.

Then we asked one of our members, who is associated with a local Sufi circle and is widely respected in the community for his moderate views, to “read the milad.”

He started with a tale that we often heard at milads in our days, which now seem like another age.

“God, where are you? I want to become your servant. Mend your battered shoes. Comb your hair. Wash your clothes. Kill the lice and fleas. I would bring you fresh milk,” said the shepherd.

“I wish to kiss your hand. Rub your feet. I would sweep your bedroom clean and keep it neat. And prepare your bed when you are sleepy. I’d sacrifice my herd of goats for you. Give away my life for you and those of my sons.

“If you get sick, I will look after you, better than I look after myself.”

Prophet Moses, who was walking by, heard the shepherd’s supplication, and asked him: “What’s that I hear you say?”

“I am speaking to my Creator,” said the shepherd.

“You’ve truly lost your mind,” said Moses. “You’ve given up the faith and gone astray.”

Then Moses explained that God does not have feet, so he needs no shoes. He does not have hair, so needs no combing. He does not dress up like people, so there are no clothes to wash. He does not sleep, so has no bed.

“Stop your mad babbling and go seek His forgiveness,” said Moses.

“Your words have struck me dumb. Regret now burns my soul,” replied the shepherd, breathed a heavy sigh, ripped his cloak and wandered away into the desert, sobbing.

As the shepherd disappeared, God spoke to Moses: “You have just turned a slave away from me. I sent you to bring people to me, not to do otherwise.”

God said: “I’ve given each one a special way and a unique expression. This is how I intended the shepherd to pray. I don’t look at words and tongues. I look into hearts and moods. I know when a man’s heart has humility. I’m tired of fancy terms and metaphors. I seek a soul which burns with my love.”

When Moses received this message, he went to the desert, looking for the shepherd and found him, still sobbing.

Moses said to the shepherd: “I bring you God’s decree. Don’t bother with good manners and rites. What you say from the core of your heart is dearer to God. So, pray as you will.”

Since it was very cold and snowing outside, we deviated a little from the tradition. As the speaker paused, we served tea. And then we invited the four dervishes of our tavern (named after a 13th century book, “The Tale of the Four Dervishes”) to discuss the story.

“I came across this tale many years ago while learning to read Maulana Rumi’s masnavi in Farsi,” said the senior dervish.

“It brought tears to my eyes but other mundane stories pushed it away from my memory. Now, I always keep it with me, see,” he said, showing a copy of the masnavi with Urdu translation. “It reminds me that religion is about love and mercy, and not violence and hate as we see today.”

Then he also showed us the print of a recent newspaper story about Pakistan’s ambassador in the United States being tried for an alleged act of blasphemy that she says she never committed.

“But it is not just Ambassador Sherry Rehman that I am worried about. She is a powerful woman and has many sympathisers. I am more concerned about other helpless victims,” said the dervish.

“The man in Dadu, Sindh, who was burned alive by a mob, another in Gujranwala who also was killed by a mob and his body dragged through the streets, the poor Christian girl forced to leave the country, and countless others languishing in jails for a crime they did not commit,” said the dervish.

“Imagine, Rumi writing this story now,” said the second dervish. “A mob would raid his home and set him on fire along with his books even before the poem is published.”

“Don’t you remember what they did to Iqbal when he wrote his famous poem, Shikwah (Complaint)?” asked the third dervish. “They burned his books in the streets of Lahore and declared him a kafir.”

“And the violence we witness today is done in the name of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who is described in the Holy Quran as a “mercy to the worlds,” who forgave even those who did physical harm to him and his companions,” said the fourth dervish.

When we resumed, the speaker explained to us the concept of Rahmatul Lil Aalameen or “the mercy to the world.”

“This is how the Sufis elucidate the inner meanings of this title for the Holy Prophet (pbuh),” he said.

“One day, angel Jibraeel visited the holy Prophet and found him in a state of sadness. When the angel asked why, the Prophet said he was grieved at the violence and falsehood of infidels.

“Shall I show you how the God Almighty has subjected all things to you? Do you wish to know in what estimation the Most High holds you?

“Then Jibraeel and other angels explained to the Prophet how they can punish the infidels if he desired so and cause them to disappear from the face of the earth.

“The Messenger of Allah raised his blessed face towards heaven and said: ‘I am not sent to inflict judgment but enjoined to be the Mercy of the Universe.’ And he forgave all, even those who had caused him physical harm’”

The speaker told several other stories to elucidate his point.

“One of the Prophet’s enemies was a woman who lived above a street he used to pass daily. She would litter the streets with garbage as he walked past.

“One morning, the Prophet (pbuh) did not find the woman on the roof with her basket. This worried him. So he knocked at the door and asked if he could come in.

“When permitted, Muhammad (pbuh) entered the house and told the woman that not finding her on the roof had worried him. So he came to inquire about her health. On finding out how ill she was, he gently asked if she needed any help.

“This made her feel guilty and she apologised for her mean behaviour. He forgave her and came to her house every day to clean it, to feed her and to pray for her, till she was on her feet again.

“The prisoners captured at the battle of Badr included some of his bitterest enemies. Still, the Prophet made sure that they were given the best of treatment.

“Among them was Suhayl bin ‘Amr who was still denouncing the Prophet (pbuh). Hazrat Umar suggested that two of his lower teeth be pulled out to silence him. The Prophet (pbuh) replied: “Were I to do this, Allah would disfigure me on the Day of Judgement, despite the fact that I am His messenger.”

“The stories of the prophet praying for his enemies and responding to insults and provocations with love and grace, need to be repeated again and again,” said the speaker.

“Every generation should know them by heart so that they are not misled,” he added and ended his lecture.

We then distributed sweets among the participants, as was done back home in our days. And we were happy that we lived in a time warp.

80x80-Anwar-IqbalThe author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

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Comments (26)

January 28, 2013 4:49 pm
Clearly there is so much the Muslim umma can learn from the life and times of our beloved prophet Mohammed (pbuh). And ONLY IF people listened, applied and practiced in all honesty they would be endowed with humanity in every sphere of life and there after!
January 28, 2013 4:54 pm
January 28, 2013 4:58 pm
" Don’t bother with good manners and rites. What you say from the core of your heart is dearer to God. So, pray as you will" - So why are people bend on defining who is true muslim and who is not. Why should other non-muslims be killed for simple things that they think is offence to religion.
Varinder Abrol
January 29, 2013 11:31 am
Relegion is the single largest event that divides people. I wonder who invented this WORD. Every person thinks his God or Prophet is better than others. In this computer age, may be some one can take all the good things from all relegions and pulish a book. as all the relegions only teach good things, any person who reads this book will see his relegion in it.
January 29, 2013 9:31 am
muslims never follow what they preach, they say is a religion of peace, well u can see around u prophet mohamed said he was not here to judge or harm infidel, see around what his followeres are up to in pakistan and around the world
January 29, 2013 9:32 am
yes really
dr makraja
January 29, 2013 1:49 am
good! yes some times time warp can be a blessing for the likes of us
January 29, 2013 3:06 am
Beautifully written......But the sad part is people like you are in minority and are dwindling by each day. Religion is being used mostly to discriminate against others, get political power etc. It is seen as a tool to get a hold on masses and control them to achieve what men in power want to do.
Ishfaq khan
January 29, 2013 4:54 am
January 29, 2013 5:17 am
Asalamo Alykum, this article holds a very beautiful message (if not misused) but, with due respect, is this Prophet Musa AS story authentic? Can u give a reference (its not in the Quran for sure) from the Hadith or even the Biblical scriptures? Yes, Islam is a religion of Peace, but to complete the picture, Islam is a religion of Peace and Police. You cannot have peace in the society without policing. Yes, Prophet Muhammed Pbuh forgave many of his bitterest enemies and offenders but he punished many too, depending upon the circumstances and tendency of the culprit. He forgave if forgiveness would reap better results and punished if forgiveness would pave the way for more corruption. A couple of names in this league would be the order to kill Ka’ab bin Ashraf and Abu Rafi, the detailed episodes of whom can be read from Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Hadith 369 and 372. Can any Muslim deny Sahih Bukhari? Wsalam.
January 29, 2013 6:14 am
Excellent write up Sir, as always.
January 29, 2013 6:58 am
A very nice depiction of peace and love of Islam through Meelad. Hats off to revive traditions of old, good, peaceful time.
January 29, 2013 8:41 am
Beautifully written. Kudos to the writer!
January 29, 2013 1:03 pm
I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
Urooj Jamil Ahmad
January 29, 2013 1:26 pm
January 29, 2013 2:30 pm
With the due respect, I have to say that we, the non-Muslims, have heard some completely different stories about Prophet Muhammad life.The story of Banu Qurayza massacre or that of the harsh siege of Kaibar Jewish fortress, don't tell us of a loving Prophet who " was praying for his enemies " or "was responding to insults and provocations with love and grace". The Hadith tell us the story of a man who did all what was need to attain a scope. But love and grace are not representative of his way toward this scope.
Tabinda Naeem
January 29, 2013 2:49 pm
Very touching piece Anwar Sahab!....And if this is being discussed today, it happened somewhere in our own, short, life time. Not so alien, not so far, not so distant. We saw and experienced it in the same Pakistan we grew up in......Only our children will never know that.... Nor will they carry any sweet memories associated with Eid e Milad and the true meaning of Rehmatul -lil- Alameen or Islam so to speak. It is so very sad to see that Pakistan going extinct, getting evaporated, dooming to dark ages, in front of our very own eyes. I fear that the time is not far when we'll not be able to recognize our own kins whom we left behind. Time warp, it is!
January 29, 2013 4:40 pm
Good writeup. But it does not explain why or how muslims became more interested in defining others as Kafirs and less interested in defining themselves as good, more inclined to decry the other religions and less inclined to introspect; more inclined to convert others and less inclined to comprehend their actions. Clearly, their actions are sanctioned, according to them, by the Quran. Clearly there is a race to become a better muslim than the other guy, and show more piety - sort of a competition. This is part of the religion too, isn't it?
Shahryar Shirazi
January 29, 2013 7:15 pm
When I was growing up in Karachi, in the 80s, these things were extremely secondary. Looks like this event is now as important as the Eid after Ramzan. What a change in the nation in last 20 years .... If the Prophet were alive today, he won't be happy with the state of the country. I think that is what we should focus on. Fixing the country.
Saleem Raja
January 28, 2013 3:29 pm
Sad it is but true also...that we have lost the real spirit... of relegion... of humanity...of forgiveness...of tolerance and... of love. Something has gone worng some where down the line, that the followers of "Rematul- Aalameen" have become the pretending followers of rituals alone busy in show offs and calling themsleves " Haaji Saahibs" while continuing with corruption ad hypocracy. I think there is nothing wrong with the message but the way it was delivered to our geneartion...the emphasis were at the wrong place.I am not sure but the more learned ones would further ellobrate.......
indian hindu
January 30, 2013 9:59 am
Dear friend don't blemish the name of any religion by labeling everyone who identifies himself as a follower of that religion to be belonging to that religion.He who adopts violence as an instrument to succeed in their selfish objectives can never be a human, forget being a Muslim,a Sikh or even a Jew.So putting the blame of violence,injustice and tyranny perpetrated by some human veiled beasts on Muslims or averring that muslims don't follow what they preach stands null and void.
January 30, 2013 10:13 am
The competition is for good deeds, not for hypocrisy.
January 30, 2013 11:23 am
You pick two incidents that were are very much debated interms of the 'massacre' yet you choose to ignore hundreds of hadiths that show a prophet of love and grace! This confirms that you are looking for stories(be they lacking in number and historical authenticity) to back up your own beliefs!
Hira Naeem
January 30, 2013 5:25 am
Beautiful piece of writing!
Salman Ahmed
January 30, 2013 2:44 am
History is written by the victor in general depicts events of glory of the victor. Religious writings too extends same idea. There is no yardstick to measure & evaluate the authenticity of the events in history. Ultimately faith only safe the believers of this enigma.
January 29, 2013 11:31 pm
Yes, I am a muslim & I can deny Sahih Bukhari. Not only myself, but there is a huge argument on the validity of Sahih Bukhari along with Muslim. Even within the Ahle-Sunnah, there is a huge debate between the accuracy of Sahih Bukhari and Muslim. Some tend to perceive Sahih Bukhari with a higher valditiy than Muslim, while others believe in vice-versa. When those that give preference to Muslim, tend to go to the point of denouncing Sahih Bukhari. May Allah (S.W.T) guide all of us in the right path
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