III. The “Street Fighting Man” in Oakland

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Santa Rosa–Your raconteur finishes his narration on Tariq Ali’s visit to San Francisco Bay on the Prophet Issa (PBUH’s) birthday (Dec. 25th) in this overgrown farm town – like San Jose a hundred miles to its south with a burgeoning high tech concentration with the possibility of tremendous population growth, too – also, fifty miles north of San Francisco and gritty Oakland where the Anglo-Pakistani Tariq Ali spewed forth his vision on Palestine and so much more two months ago. 

“What do you say when the system stops working in the West?”

The Arab Revolution is similar to the French.  It is essentially about equality, but it will, further, create the space for future uprisings.  (Ali perceives the regime changes in the Maghreb and the rest of North Africa plus the Middle East as part of a political radicalization.  Your commentator believes his subject slights his human objects by missing their religious yearning expressed by the disenfranchised Arabs before the “Spring.”  Succinctly, Ali’s vision is an overly secular one.)

Ali deems a new Western Imperialism has arisen simultaneous with (the Israeli War) of 1967.  His perception is that of a weakened Washington.  Further, he predicts that the American Empire Will collapse from within.  (Seeing the Occupy Wall Street Movement so vehemently fought out on the streets of Oakland at that end of last October, and of the Christmastide of this writing, it is still in battle [Occupy Berkeley was just cleared out December 22nd], must have re-enforced his analysis of a crumbling Metropole.)   

Regarding a possible Chinese Imperium, it will be one based on trade like the current Anglo-American “Empire.”

Of the changes arising in North America, Europe and the Arabic realms, “The most important force are [and will be] the citizens” of their land themselves.

Tariq Ali is the man of the moment, but he only sees the political people power.  Yet he fails to acknowledge the spiritual craving of the Fellaheen (i.e., فَلَّاح فَلَّاح) themselves.  The Palestinian struggle and the larger Arab “Spring” go further than territory (the Koranic concept of the Ummah (أمة)). It supersedes this, but it goes to the very souls of the lands’ residents!

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Negotiating with the Taliban?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

“Sleeping” with the Enemy”

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Differences Between the U.S., Afghani and Indian Governments

Point Isabel, Point Richmond (Calif.)–Your author is taking his subtitle from a less than notable American film of several years ago to finish up his report on the recent Indian Ambassador to Kabul’s comments , Gautam Mukhopadhaya.

At the moment your reporter finds himself at a lovely promontory pointing into San Francisco Bay, and it seems strange to be considering so many matters so far away that I begun two weeks ago from Berkeley.  At that time I decided to divide the presentation into two parts because of its length.

Mukhopadhaya continued on how the political position amongst the American voters regarding Afghanistan was shifting away from support to criticism of official military policy in the Hindu Kush.  Therefore, the District of Columbia had to change its tactics in response.

Pakistan operates in this War as it perceives to its own interests.  Thus, the Ambassador deems that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s) allies in the Hindu Kush consider Rawalpindi to be unreliable — which is far from the truth in your writer’s opinion. 

Both the U.S. and Pakistan are targeting the Taliban, (but Islamabad only considers one branch of the Taliban to be hostile to their interests.  The other four branches – which are within their territory, too – they do not consider a threat, and all these parties are comparatively accommodating to the other – including Pakistan.  Up to 80% of the Pakistani Taliban resides in the federally administered Northwest Provinces.)

The Americans and Pakistani Armies mutually oppose one “clan” of Taliban, and they are fully within Islamabad’s Federally Administered Territories.  Thus, Peshawar sees no threat to their survival from the Afghani Taliban. 

Further, Washington sees no alternative to the Karzai government that the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives as militarily undependable.  At the same time, the U.S. Administration comprehends Kazai’s Presidency to be a corruptible one – an uneasy alliance to say the least! 

In the London Conference on the Afghani conflict last January (2010), the European and Canadian allies supported the “Afghanization” of the War and the “regularization” (normalization) of our relations with the Taliban!  This, hopefully, would lead to meaningful discussions and, eventually, peace within the Mountains!  These talks should be mutually respectful between each party – including the Taliban.

At same time, the Indian representative from New Delhi’s Department of External Affairs had to take a dig at their traditional competitors:  “We need leadership from the Pakistanis!”  (This struggle beyond the Khyber is an opportunity to bring these two South Asian nuclear neighbors closer together instead of tearing them further apart to the dangerous detriment to all!)  His Excellency accused D.C. of a failure of leadership during this international crisis.  To settle the military security, he urged U.S.-Pakistan operations.  (Of course, the loss of Islamabad’s national sovereignty would be totally unacceptable to its Muslim citizenry, and put the security of Pakistan’s topography under question for its Western and regional allies!)  Simultaneously, the Saudis close allies to both, are working with Islamabad and Washington to bring their policies closer together.

On the other hand, the Taliban itself is fed-up.  The London Conference approved the Taliban’s grasp of the countryside while NATO and the Afghani government would occupy the cities.  This is not the battle plan of these “Students.”  They wish to hold the total fasces within the dry, cold hills, and their mindset is far from compromise at this time.

Yet the Americans presume that they have an upper hand, and, correspondingly, are in the position of strength to negotiate with their adversaries.  Actually, it is the Pakistanis who are central for negotiating with the problem some Quetta branch of the Talibani. The Pakistani Army has already begun to begin dialogue in Baluchistan.  Rawalpindi considers it has made some progress, and the Generals at their Military Headquarters are encouraged by their discourse with the irregular tribesmen.

The U.S.A. has been following a contradictory policy in the Af-Pak itself.  While D.C. has been throwing development funds in Southern Afghanistan, it has been shoring up the military on the frontlines in Pakistan.

Ultimately, though, Ambassador Maukapadya does not discern a desire by the Taliban to parley.  In the late 1990s, the Taliban regime in Kabul led the U.S. on their intentions.  (Your essayist has some questions about this, and that is His Excellency is not separating the goals of a Nationalist Taliban and an Internationalist Al’Quaeda.)  Would the Taliban be willing to form a coalition government with Karzai or whoever may succeed him (them)?  (Whatever, a re-establishment of the regime of the 1990s is totally unacceptable to International Civil Society without the checks and balances of the partnership of all Afghani peoples and tribes!)  The Ambassador is “…not optimistic.” 

There is preparation for a major NATO assault upon the Taliban stronghold around the southern city of Kandahar, the center of Talibani power.  Maukapadya  does not feel the battle will turn the War around.

Concurrently, Europe and North America and their regional associates are employing dual strategies against the Taliban who are replying in kind.  This War is far from coming to a mutually acceptable denouement.

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Sir Syed Day 2009 in the San Francisco Bay Area

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ras Hafiz Siddiqui

SIRSYED

The annual Sir Syed Day 2009 gathering in the San Francisco Bay Area once again brought together south-Asian Alumni of this esteemed university and a rainbow of enthusiasts of the Urdu language at the India Community Center in the city of Milpitas on Saturday November 14th. And once again great pains were taken during this two part educational and literary gala to keep the legacy of a great man alive and to highlight the efforts of the Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California (AMUAA-CA) in raising funds to offer educational opportunities to several disadvantaged students to enable them to attend AMU.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817 to 1898), the founder of the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College which became a full-fledged university in 1920 was a remarkable individual who defied the odds and was able to provide an avenue for Indian Muslims to get a scientific-modern education at a time when the community was shunning progressive ideas. And because of him and the institution he founded this event became possible because Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) is recognized today for its academic and not to forget artistic contributions (e.g. Indian Actor Naseeruddin Shah).

The evening started with fine food from Chandni and some valuable networking opportunities as both the “Old Boys” and now “Old Girls” who have had the privilege of attending this unique institution located in Aligarh, India caught up on their current lives, the past, and speculated on the future. AMU, which started off as a somewhat exclusive Muslim university has now acquired a more religiously diverse student population whose its ethnic diversity has remained legendary. Scions of families from Peshawar to Dacca (Dhaka of the old) and from Kashmir to Hyderabad Deccan all have attended AMU from the early 1900’s onwards and some graduates have gone on to lead countries, states and other educational institutions. Today, the university population is global and they including over two hundred in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sitting at the table with Prof. Munibur Rahman and Prof. Steven Poulos was indeed an honor. We will revisit Prof. Rahman later in the report. His friend Dr. Poulos who has been Director of the South Asia Language Resource Center at UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago and did research at AMU in the late 1960’s also shared his feelings on his visit there and where things stand today. The program at the University of Chicago has been instrumental in creating the first online Pashto dictionary and has created a Pashto proficiency test and also offers online courses in elementary Sindhi and intermediate Urdu.

The formal evening proceedings started off with an invocation and Ms. Huma Abidi made the necessary introductions, welcoming back Aligarians to Sir Syed Day and reminiscing about her own past experiences at the historic campus. She then invited AMUAA President Nihal Khan to present his thoughts. Khan Sahib highlighted facts on how the Sir Syed’s memory and the Aligarh tradition has been kept alive for the past decade in the San Francisco Bay area but also reminded everyone that there was a dual purpose for the evening which is to raise funds to provide students in need to get an education, making the purpose of this Mushaira (Poetry Recital) broader. He also thanked a list of sponsors for making this gathering possible.

Next, Keynote Speaker Dr. Aslam Abdullah who wears many hats including that of leading both American and Indian Muslims in thought, started by stating that in cities all over the world Aligarh Alumni pay tribute to that giant of a man (Sir Syed). Quoting from poet Allama Iqbal looking through Sir Syed’s eyes, Dr. Abdullah explained how Sir Syed’s efforts started when the Muslims of India were at their lowest self-defeating point. Modern scientific education was negated by the religious leadership of the time to the point when they defined the poor Muslim conditions post 1857 as a divine scheme to be accepted. “Sir Syed challenged that view,” said Dr. Abdullah. He gave the example of how at one time England was debating how many teeth a chicken had. The debate went on and on till Francis Bacon simply asked why don’t you open the chicken’s mouth and find out?  He said that Similarly, Sir Syed promoted analytical thought. “He wanted to inspire the younger generation,” he added. He wanted his community in India, especially the young to understand both the Holy Quran and modern thinking. . “He did not want to build an ordinary university,” said Dr. Abdullah. This was a revolutionary movement inclusive of others but people mistakenly made it a minority issue, which is not correct. “Today, we need to re-awaken that dream,” he said.

After a brief ceremony for a local Aligarh Cricket League where the “Man of the Tournament” and the winning team was presented awards, everyone was reminded of the fundraiser (www.aeef.net) and the first part of the event came to its conclusion with the traditional singing of the university anthem the “Tarana-e-Aligarh” in which many in the audience participated.

The second part of this program was once again the Urdu poetry recital or “Mushaira” which draws on the essence of a culture, which is associated with the Urdu language. Dr. Nausha Asrar from Houston, Texas conducted the proceedings and introduced all the poets and invited Prof. Munibur Rahman to preside as the most senior person present. And from that point started a literary journey of wit, humor, reason, wisdom and in the end emotion moved many listeners.

Starting with local San Francisco resident Engineer Vasmi Abidi who questioned why neighbors who share walls here don’t know each other, to India ’s Tahir Faraz asking why trees of friendship have little support from even a gentle wind while the trees of hate today are so full of fruit? And then Abbas Tabish from Lahore, Pakistan explained how his own condition has started to reflect the condition of his house and the lament of those who sell their village land and soul to big cities for a song. Nausha Asrar next added both his wisdom and humor while Khalid Irfan from New York was at his satirical best about donkeys in public places and the government and why one more mule would not make a big difference. He was also for the exchange of female Indian Bollywood dancers with extremists from across the border for better Pakistan India ties (We don’t believe that the Indians would agree).

Senior poet Meraj Faizabadi from India next brought the audience back down to earth speaking of glass houses and dashed hopes amidst betrayals. On Aligarh he asked what is a flame without its spreading light? On India-Pakistan friendship he explained that he was all ready to reach across the gap that divides the two people, but strangely he was still trying to find where that gap really was?

The other senior poet, Waseem Barelvi also from India requested that other avenues of expressing sadness be found, since his tears are now too old to express his feelings anymore. He spoke about the human relationship with God and the uniqueness of the Aligarh culture or “Tehzeeb”. He said that one should try to give up on expecting generosity from others to protect one from painful disappointment but on the other hand, one should be ready to hit a wall if the cause is just. And yes on the topic of love without which the language of Urdu poetry would remain incomplete, if you have lost in love, your loss is painful but in that loss it is still a gain, he said.

Last but not least the President of this Mushaira, Michigan resident Prof. Munibur Rahman, who holds two Masters Degrees from Aligarh, in History (1942) and Persian (1944) and a contemporary of this writer’s father, shared his thoughts. Prof. Steven Poulos was quite accurate in describing him earlier as he turned out to be an amazing presenter. Someone who can think in English, Urdu and Farsi simultaneously, he moved us all to an emotional level seldom reached. The pain of old age, the parting of his beloved wife, visiting a relative with Alzheimer’s disease, all this reporter can say is “Maan Gayay Sahib” (We knew that we were in the presence of excellence). Several people were moved to tears with his Nazm “Guftugu” (Conversation) written for his late wife in which he tries to bridge a gap between his current life and her death. Down to her “Chabi Ka Guccha” (Key Ring) a stark reminder of her, we found out what true love was. Prof. Rahman also highlighted his trials and tribulations on aging, trying to reach out to busy children and losing one’s old friends in a unique and beautiful manner. His standing ovation was certainly well deserved. All this writer can add is that I was humbled in his presence and Prof. Munibur Rahman is one fine example of some of the people who graduated from and taught at Aligarh.

In conclusion, this was possibly one of the finest evenings that the local AMUAA has put together in the past decade or so. Our congratulations to all the local volunteers who put this event together and a word of thanks to Nihal Khan, Dr. Shaheer Khan and their team for continuing to keep us in mind when Sir Syed Day comes around every year. It was almost surreal but this time “Mehfil Ka Mahol Bahot Khoobsoorti Say Ban Giya” (the environment of the event came to a beautiful medium naturally). Bahot Khoob!

Readers are encouraged to contact the AMUAA at http://www.amualumni.org/

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Sufism in South Asia

December 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

hadithSan Francisco–I am in the midst of the insanity of moving, but I am trying to keep up with my basic compilations early in the morning or late into the night.

I would like to discuss three presentations made last year (Summer of 2007) –in the Asian Art Museum — as part of the bi-annual meeting of the American Council of Southern Asian art in this City here on the Western shores of San Francisco Bay.  I found the talks to be slight in news content; thus, I have previously refrained from composing on them, but because of circumstances, they have become a practicable article, and make an acceptable historical feature on an ancient vital Islamic tradition.  An article on this form of piety stated that Sufism “…is a…mystical dimension of Islam” where meditation plays an integral part.

People talking about Islam usually mention Sunnis and Shi’a; among Sunnis are also Sufis – there is mutual tension between Sufis and Wahhabi/Salafis.  Salafis accuse the Sufis, saying “…[Sufism] has never played a part in normative Islam.” 

A position with which your author extremely disagrees!

First, your journalist acknowledges that his main sources for his background on the Sufis in an historical and contemporary context are an excellent unsigned, thorough yet concise article on the Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  My second source is a review essay I wrote on a book that is considered the main Western source on Sufism. Unfortunately, I do not have the piece at my fingertips; therefore, I am paraphrasing it ex aqua.

Sufism has gained much of its doctrine through accretion from the mystic environ of religious clusters that Islam absorbed in its Eastward expansion.  Accordingly, to several Western scholars, Sufism arose initially in the Western Mahgreb in a region of present-day Morocco where Christianity had been repressed three hundred years before.  There was a yearning for the type of mysticism found in monasteries of the old religion, but in the Qur`an there is a strong injunction to marry and procreate!  The early “Order” solved this “problem” by creating brotherhoods of married men who followed Muslim law carefully.  As their Society traveled into new lands, they met new converts.  For instance, the Sufic poet, Rumi, who has had a considerable influence over contemporary thought here in the West’s, name derives from the word “Roman” (i.e., the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Byzantine) in the local language of Anatolia at that time.  The Turks had held that province from which Rumi wrote for a comparatively short time.  Thus, his family must have been fairly recent converts.  Sufic thought gained much when it crossed into India.  The great poet Kabir, who some scholars claim was a Sufi was not fully Islamized, even though he did accomplished the hajj, for he referred to God both in the Hindu terminology as Ram and, also, as Allah interchangeably in his poetry! Traditionally, in the Sufi-dominated Districts of India, the Hindus revere the Islamic Saints as much as their own.

Yet the traditional Islamic scholarship on the Sufis view their development in quite a different manner.  The Sufic thinkers trace their origins through the Prophet (Blessed be his Name!) himself.  To quote an early Sufi, their teaching “…is a science through which one can know how to travel in the presence of the Divine…”
Their beliefs and persons have been persecuted by more fundamental (and, thereby, less mystically inclined) individuals.  Consequently, their writings and practices took on an esoteric, secretive tone.

In the early centuries, Iman Al Ghazali answered that Sufic doctrine was compatible with Islamic law conclusively.  In fact, “Sufism…is the central organizing principle of many…[other] Islamic groupings.”

With the rise of more strident forms of Islam, Sufism is currently under duress.  In many regions the repression made them illegal, and forced them underground.  For instance, the Turkish government compelled the whirling dervishes into a mere entertainment.  Yet there are areas in the Muslim world where they are still strong.  To understand the attitude for an inquirer, a Sufi master was quoted as saying, “…the seeker must not self-diagnose” the situation.

The Islanicists have no sympathy for the Sufi reverence for saints, and their pilgrimages to the holy tombs for religious merit.  In my following comments, these pilgrimages and the places of devotion and worship will be placed in context.

Persianate culture had a dominant position in the old Hindustan even before the rise of the Mughal Empire.  An Indo-Persian culture dominated from western Persia well into the Subcontinent after the Muslim Empires in India, and Sufism had dominated Persian thinking before it crossed from Southwest into South Asia.  Now, Sindh (presently in Pakistan) had been Islamic since the Ninth Century of the Common Era (i.e., A.D.). Sufism came forward with the Islamic conquest, but not from the top to the bottom.  It burst through at the “grassroots” level (i.e., bottom up), and was greatly embedded in the evolving Indo-Persian Islam.  The “Missionaries” were the humble, holy Pirs, a type of holy men with which the Medieval Indians could easily culturally identify.  Soon, converted Indians adapted Islam and the Persian Worldview of Islam – even though they may not have chosen Shi’a religious views.

An Afshan Bokari pointed out that female devotees upheld the high ideals of religiosity within the Timurid Empire, and were the mainstay of the Mosques during this period which not only included India, but Iran into Mesopotamia – even into Syria — and a good extent of Central Asia.  The Empire, founded by the Sunni military genius Emir Timur (Shakespeare’s Tamerlane) was comparatively short-lived.  Most of the acquisition of territory occurred during the late Fourteenth into the early Fifteenth Centuries (C.E.). This brief Imperial sway not only spread S.W. Asian ideas, but mystical Islam. as well.  This can be termed a Timurid “ideology.”  Mystical Islam centered on feminine participation, also.  This is markedly at odds with the modern Islamicists’ dogma.  A site was shaped into the sacred by an association with a saint or a sacred act, etc.  This confine almost became a “…second Mecca!”

The major contemporary art historian, Catherine Asher, from Minnesota spoke on the “Sufic Shrines of Shahul Hamid in India and Southeast Asia.”  The basic style of the Sufic shrines spread into Peninsular and Insular S.E. Asia forming a consistent Southern Asian approach to sacred space.  On the emigration of the righteous Pirs, it is hard to determine fact from legend.  The Enlightened man often died in his travels.  South Indian Islam, from which Southeast Asian cultural religiousness derived, assumed many traits of traditional Hinduism – in this case the veneration of exceptionally piously devout men, and this practice advanced ever eastward.  Males were encouraged to go to the tombs, besides, for a sort of “darshan,” or, in the Islamic cognizance, a type of religious merit.  Basically, the Sufis’ influence flowed over three different faiths because the Pirs exhibited extraordinary powers to do miracles in their lifetime, and to bequest assistance from the tomb to his devoted believers – whatever the saint’s follower’s religiosity!

Kishwar Rizvi talked about a shrine in the present Pakistani Punjab that was built around circa 1300 (C.E.).   Most of the devoted came from the minority Shia community there.  Further, there are many Sufic elements in the shrine, for it revolves around the casket of a Saint endowing the building as sared space.  Women still retain a great responsibility in sustaining the shrine’s sacredness.  On the other hand, sexual degenerates are attracted to the location because of the laissez faire attitudes of the worshippers which may detract from the great postiveness of the greater Movement to more mainstream Muslims.

In this essay, your scribe has tried to describe a living tradition in Islam in historical and conteporary terms that has been repressed by the main thrust of the religion today, but is still strong among the common people in particular localities all over the World, and, furthermore, has brought many Westerners to the Qur`an, for its mystical saving methodologies.

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