Why should a Pashtun Muslim feel any sense of responsibility for the culture of Gandharan Buddhists? Dozens of times over the past 3,000 years, the plains and valleys around the foothills of the Hindu Kush have changed hands between Iranians, Greeks, Chinese, Scythians, Turks and Indians. An oft-photographed plaque outside the National Museum in Kabul reads: “A Nation Stays Alive When Its Culture Stays Alive”. No one should be taken in by the bland phrasing — this is as provocative as it gets. Which culture? Whose nation? At the heart of the exhibition is the miracle of Tillya Tepe, the “hill of gold”, a huge earthen barrow 80 miles west of Mazar-i-Sharif, between the Hindu Kush Mountains and the streams of the Amu Darya. Sometime in the mid-first century AD, this mound was chosen by a nomadic prince as his burial kurghan.The prince himself was interred at the peak of the hill, and a horse was sacrificed and buried alongside him. In a ring around the prince`s tomb were the graves of five women, probably his five wives, all of them clad in gorgeous textiles and jewellery of extraordinary splendour.-- Peter Thonemann
He was the editor of the Ajkal, the mothly literary magazine of the government of India and also the advisor of All India Radio. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his remarkable contribution to society and literature. The first Prime Minister of India was a great admirer of Josh but they fell apart after the partition. He was not happy with some of Nehru’s policies. Secondly, after partition, Urdu was sidelined making Hindi the national and official language of India. This was a cause for great disappointment for him and of his disillusionment with India. A sense of insecurity about the future of Urdu compelled him to decide to leave India and settle in Pakistan, a decision he regretted in his later life as he felt suffocated in his adopted country because of the treatment he got in Pakistan. -- Sohail Arshad
Photo: Josh Mallihabadi
The inclusion of this important Uyghur cultural practice as well as the former inclusion of the Uyghur muqam in 2008´s list underscore the imminent danger of extinction that Uyghur traditions and Uyghur culture are facing in today’s China. The meshrep is a traditional Uyghur social gathering which may include women, men, young people or a mixed group. One person leads the group and gives turns to attendees to speak, play music, sing songs, or recite poems.
Although the WUC welcomes the inclusion of the meshrep on the list, the WUC is concerned about the Chinese authorities’ intentions in nominating the meshrep. Given that the Chinese authorities have banned the meshrep throughout East Turkestan (also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China), the authorities’ nomination of the meshrep is rather ironic. -- World Uyghur Congress
Poland, like many other European countries, is trying to find ways of integrating, or co-existing with, its immigrant population. The country has a growing Muslim community, fed by immigrants from Syria, Iraq and Libya, who are attracted by Poland's membership of the European Union. Polish authorities have begun granting permission to construct several mosques in the country.
In Warsaw, a project to build a cultural centre initially proved controversial, and was opposed by traditional Roman Catholic groups. But others were more supportive. Liberal Christian, Jewish and lay groups expressed solidarity for the rights of Muslims to practice their religion. -- Rafal Kiepuszewski
Recently london’s Asia House hosted a literary event called “Pakistan: A Corona Burst of Talent” – a panel discussion with Pakistani writers followed by a celebration of the Fall issue of Granta, which focuses exclusively on writing, including fiction, reportage, memoir, travelogue and poetry, from and about Pakistan.
“Pakistan is one of the most dynamic places in the world. It is also at the forefront of a cultural renaissance” ran the description of the event. Many others agree, and in India, publishing houses are courting Pakistani authors as never before, eager to pick up the new voices from next door and then pass them on to international audiences. -- Bina Shah
Urdu's uplift, as a language of courtesy and tehzeeb (cultural heritage), is not possible unless it's introduced in the schools of the country as part of tri-lingual formula and promoted in the world of media. Umpteen Urdu-language newspapers and magazines - Qaumi Awaz, Aljamiat, Shama Khilauna, Bano, Toffee, Jannat ka Phool - got discontinued for want of attention. The sad plight of Urdu will continue unless Urdu medium schools are taken care of by the community itself.
There is this unfortunate discrepancy and double-speak when the so-called champions of Urdu's cause cry hoarse about it but don't send their kids to Urdu medium schools. In my own life as an Urdu lover for around forty years, I've been seeing the same Urdu professors taking to stages and lamenting about the language's decline. But they do nothing to promote it at the grassroots level. They must stop hogging the limelight at public platforms and do something concrete to save the language. -- Firoz Bakht Ahmed
I have been coming to Istanbul for nearly half a century, and on each visit, I find the city bigger, richer and busier than ever before. The traffic jams on this trip were getting really serious. When I first came here in the early Sixties, one could only cross the Bosporus by ferry; now there are two long bridges, and even they are no longer enough to cope with the growing traffic. Mercifully, a tunnel under the historic waterway is being planned.....
Another change I noticed is the increasing number of headscarves in the more fashionable parts of the city. Earlier, a conservatively dressed woman would be the object of suppressed amusement among Westernised Istanbul gentry. No longer. Now, scarves – often fashion accessories rather than religious symbols – are taken for granted. And yet, women wearing them are still the battleground between modernity and religious conservatism. -- Irfan Husain
Thirty years ago , when posted at Dakar, capital of Senegal in West Africa, I was going up in the lift to my office when a young lady joined me . After some hesitation she asked if I worked at the Indian Embassy. On my saying yes, she enquired if Mohamed Rafi was dead. I said I had heard so . Her face lost color and she started sobbing .When I enquired if I could do anything, through tears she replied that she had come only to confirm if the tragic news was true. There were many messages of condolences. -- Gajendra Singh
The Turkish public is enthusiastic and ensures that the cost of a film is quickly recouped. Hollywood films are well-known and popular, but the public is so keen on domestic films that the 2009 top ten included six local productions: Levent Sekerci's "Nefes: Vatan Sagolsun" ("The Breath") took third place with 2.4 million ticket sales. That was the very first film to deal directly with the Kurdish conflict in Eastern Anatolia in which 45,000 people died during the nineties. – Amin Farzanefar
Before Junaid Jamshed radically changed his life to pursue a more spiritual existence, he was a pioneer of Pakistan's pop music scene.
"When I came back from a religious tour in 1997, I realized that there was so much more to life than just singing and jumping around" – an insight that eventually prompted his transformation from pop icon to devout Muslim. Junaid Jamshed explains: "When I decided to give up singing, a lot of people were shocked. But I was sure that it was the right decision because Allah forbids the kind of singing that I was doing, and it's my duty to follow His command."
Since then, Junaid Jamshed has been widely criticized. Many fans can't accept his sudden departure from the pop music scene. How does Jamshed deal with this criticism?....Editor
Now one and-a-half-century since the first Hindi prose book Prem Sagar (1805) published by Daisy Rockwell & Co. for Fort William College, appeared in order to promote Devanagari or “Hindi” script, it has succeeded in opening a Pandora’s box of controversies, hatred and divide amongst the masses. In this consciously or unconsciously created divide amongst Hindu and Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent I see a ray of hope of peace emanating from this controversy because this language is the strongest, closest and most unbreakable bond amongst the people of the subcontinent.
In this age of information and communication technologies this dream can come true—rather, it is just a click away. Since the phonology of Hindi and Urdu is cent per cent the same, both can be transliterated (not translated) perfectly from one to other. If we are able to develop a free open-source software which can convert by one click all or anything written in Hindi into Urdu, and vice versa, then this simple IT tool or software will magically enhance the words of wisdom and knowledge manifold on either side of the Wagah boarder. -- Dr Syed Mohammed Anwer
The motivating force behind all of this is university principal, Prof. Ahmed Akgündüz. The 55-year-old who has taught in both Turkish and American universities in the field of Islamic law is an influential figure whose views carry considerable weight.
The IUR is intended to be a university that is run by Muslims and for Muslims. It currently has around 200 students. The courses include Islamic Theology, Islamic Arts, Muslim Spiritual Counselling, Arabic, Law, History of Islam and Comparative Religion. Teaching languages are Dutch and Arabic.
In addition to a library, which includes an extensive collection of classical works on Islamic theology and Islamic law, the university also contains a small studio where calligraphy and ebru, the Turkish art of paper marbling, are taught. -- Jan Felix Engelhardt
FOR ANYONE who has grown up in India on a diet comprising regular doses of Hindi films — which is practically the entire population — the term tawaif is almost a taboo, a stigma, denoting a woman who is not in the mainstream of society. Delhi based independent documentary filmmaker Saba Dewan too must have had certain notions about a tawaif. But given her field of work — making films focused on gender, sexuality and culture — these ideas were set to be catalysed with reality sooner than later.
With her two- hour long documentary film, The Other Song , Dewan’s notions about a tawaif not just metamorphosed into a more real entity but were “ jolted,” as says the director. “ All the stereotypes that I may have had in my sub- conscience were broken in the course of making this film,” says the 46- year- old filmmaker.
The Other Song (2009) recreates the enigmatic figure of a tawaif, a courtesan, her lifestyle and culture, and unravels the sociopolitical transformations of the late 19th century- early 20th century that changed the status of a tawaif from a cultured entertainer sought after by the high society to a stigma in present times. “A tawaif has always elicited strong emotions — right from a victim to a demonic housebreaker, almost a non- woman,” says Dewan. -- Archana
Two huge speakers were blaring what sounded like a rap song. But it was all in Bangla. This was something new and original. The artiste happened to be someone called Fokir Lal Miah. He was good. Mushfiq said that Bangla rap/hip hop was an emerging music genre in Bangladesh with a handful of dedicated artistes and admirers. But this wasn’t usual rap/hip hop or the variety that is generally associated with American rap/ hip hop artistes. This was something deeper. For example, the song Beshi Kotha on Lal Miah’s album Chhoy Nong Bipod Shongket (No 6 Danger Warning) is a fantastic social commentary on how flippant and judgemental people can be. Similarly, the track Bichar Chai (Justice Needed), though not part of the album but available on the Internet, is Lal Miah’s brilliant commentary on more than three decades of Bangladeshi politics and the present socio-economic condition of that country. -- Rudroneel Ghosh
In an evening filled with nazms, ghazals, verses in lighter vein and peace as the buzzword, Delhiites were feted with a full range of style and thought by 22 poets -some visiting from Pakistan, Dubai, England, Canada, besides Indian poets like Javed Akhtar, Shahryar, Munnawar Rana, Khushbir Singh Shadd, Shakeel Azmi and others.
"Many say Urdu is a dying language," Kamna Prasad, founder of the Jashn-e-bahar Trust, said. "But this language, such an integral part of Hindustan's Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, is all about soulfulness.
Mushairas come from a time when there was no mass media. This international mushaira presents the latest in contemporary thought to thousands of lovers of Urdu poetry." -- Suanshu Khurana
In her lifetime, Gauhar attained a celebrity status that few women of her era could even dream of. For someone whose photograph appeared on picture postcards and matchboxes during her time, sadly today Gauhar is almost forgotten and largely unacknowledged even by the world of Hindustani music. This is what made researching her life for her biography an immensely challenging, yet enjoyable task. In a culture where the art is always perceived to be bigger than the artiste, and where documenting their personal lives is seldom considered important, it was quite an exercise to exhume this marvellous artiste from her grave and place her in a historical perspective, bringing her memory and contributions to Hindustani music in the public discourse. -- Vikram Sampath
Bangla speakers in Bangladesh and in places in many other countries which are home to Bangladeshi expatriates celebrate Pahela Baishakh (Poila Boishakh, in Bengali) the first day of the Bangla year, with much fanfare and enthusiasm. -- New Age report
Redefining hope on Pahela Baishakh we have forgotten what Pahela Baishakh really stands for and that we have failed to define our hopes in line with its spirit. Hence, as we celebrate Pahela Baishakh this year, it is perhaps in the order of things that we define our hope in the light of the day. - Editorial in New Age, Dhaka
Pahela Baishakh must herald a change in outlook
WHILE the political and economic promises of the liberation war largely remained unfulfilled, the cultural sphere did show the resurgence expected of a liberated country. A distinctive and self-assertive theatre movement, the plethora of cultural organisations, periodicals and publications, cultural institutions and academies, literary meets and events, the different kinds of cultural innovations and improvisations, derivation of cultural impetus from the national days, broad-based institutionalization of the Ekushey observance and, most of all, a vibrant cultural activism – all these, to a great extent, acquired a new verve and vivacity after the liberation war and the country’s liberation from alien rule. -- Zakeria Shirazi
Photo: Poila Baishakh cards
Behind the Dubai palace in Karachi, near the seashore, there lives a merry old man. He holds a treasure which is unparalleled in this world. A treasure which is most likely to be destroyed… The reason being, most of us still questions the validity of the argument that it is indeed a treasure.
In his house, under specially built cabinets are rows and rows of audio tapes. When played they tell you the history of Indo Pakistan music, literature and poetry. You can find Ustad Bundo Khan playing his Sarangi, Pathanay Khan singing his tunes, Chotay Bukhari and Baray Bokhari reciting their essays in the earlier days of Radio Pakistan, Maulana Thanvi and Rasheed Turrabi reciting Quran or giving sermons or Faiz Ahmed recording his entire Nushka Hai Wafa in a span of 20 years in his studio. -- Ayaz Abdal
Photo: Lutfullah Khan
The quality of commercial films in Bangladesh has always been a bone of contention. In 2003, film producers and artists went on strike accusing each other of bringing obscenity to movies. But the last few years have seen a tremendous change, says, Mahbub Hassan Saleh, counselor, Bangladesh High Commission. There has been an improvement in the thematic and technical making of movies, he says. The films being screened in the festival, he says, not only showcase the history of the country but also reflect the contemporary social fabric of Bangladesh. -- Insiya Amir
“What is Sufi music? Singing a prayer to God and making an illclad girl gyrate to the rhythm? Positively not,” says Mohammad Idris Qutubi, the younger of the two Qutubi brothers who have been the traditional Sufi singers attached to the oldest dargah of Delhi, that of Khwaja Syed Muhammad Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki in Mehrauli, popularly known as the Qutub dargah. “As a family, we’ve been singing for the Khwaja Sahab for the past 825 years,” informs the elder brother, Mohammad Ilyas Qutubi...
“Anybody singing a song in praise of God classifies himself as a Sufi singer these days, which is not correct,” implores Mohammed Idris. The indignation of the traditional singers becomes heightened due to the money and fame that the ‘other’ singers end up making, in the name of Sufi singing/ qawwali. “Most of these Bollywood composers visit a dargah, copy our songs and make millions through their albums or films,” adds the elder brother. -- Archana
A new translation introduces the master of Urdu romantic poetry to 21st century readers
… Ghalib’s romantic verses are globetrotting with the subcontinental diaspora. ‘Ghalib nites’ are held from Delhi to Dubai to Detroit. Ghalib is studied in universities around the world. And new translations, new insights into his works continue to emerge.
The latest entrant is ‘Wine of Passion: The Urdu Ghazals of Ghalib’, a compilation of his love poems translated into English by US-based Pakistani professor Sarfaraz K. Niazi. The book seeks to open “a window to the mind and heart of Ghalib for English readers” by making him available in their language. – Saif Shahin
Photo: Mirza Ghalib
For Knight, punk's rebellious ethos echoes the rebellious spirit of Islam, which, when it began in 7th century Arabia, directly challenged everything from the Meccan economic power structures of the day to the prevailing tribal views on women. Knight's novel opens with a poem, which Poursalehi set to music and which has become an anthem of sorts for the scene: "Muhammed was a punk rocker/ You know he tore s___ up/ Muhammed was a punk rocker/ Rancid sticker on his pickup truck." For Knight, now a graduate student in Islamic studies at Harvard University, the richness and elasticity of Islam has allowed a Muslim punk scene to develop and now flourish. "The energy of punk is about tearing down," he says. "But I don't want to just be tearing something down. I want to build, to do something positive."
Photo: Basim Usmani of the Kominas rocks out in Chicago, in a scene from the documentary Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam
China - Manas - The Kirgiz ethnic minority in China, concentrated in the Xinjiang region in the west, pride themselves on their descent from the hero Manas, whose life and progeny are celebrated in one of the best-known elements of their oral tradition: the Manas epic. Traditionally sung by a Manaschi without musical accompaniment, epic performances takes place at social gatherings, community celebrations, ceremonies such as weddings and funerals and dedicated concerts. China - The Mazu belief and customs - As the most influential goddess of the sea in China, Mazu is at the centre of a host of beliefs and customs, including oral traditions, religious ceremonies and folk practices, throughout the country's coastal areas. China - Mongolian art of singing: Khoomei - The Mongolian art of singing: Khoomei, or Hooliin Chor (throat harmony'), is a style of singing in which a single performer produces a diversified harmony of multiple voice parts, including a continued bass element produced in the throat. -- Mahmoud Sulaiman
The Arabs do well in Islamic calligraphy, and while many Arab countries produce good work, Syria is simply outstanding in this art. Over the past six or seven years, the Syrians have been winning at all of the major calligraphy competitions. I’ve noticed that for the past three or four years, the Arabs have been trying their best to compete with the Turks to regain their lost glory in Islamic calligraphy. To some extent they have succeeded, and the Syrians have played a major role. Most of the great calligraphers are now from Syria, like Farooq Al Haddad, Hassam Shoukat Matti, and Ahmed Amin Shimta. However, there are some good ones from Egypt and Iraq as well. -- Gul Jammas Hussain
As a result of the meeting, the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey was founded, bringing together an international team of experts working under the sponsorship of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Dr King was made its academic director and Peter Hellyer the executive director. Dr King has documented the latest study, the fruit of more than a decade of fieldwork with his colleagues, in The Historical Mosque Tradition of the Coasts of Abu Dhabi, a book published by the National Centre for Documentation and Research, the organisation charged with acting as “the nation’s memory”. In all, the book records 45 mosques, some of which are documented for the first time, ranging from simple stone outlines to complete buildings, on 14 islands. -- Jonathan Gornall