Friday, December 26, 2014

The legacy of Kufa

A’lamu Kufa, (Masters of Kufa), an encyclopedic work by Iraqi historian Sayyid Mudar Al Hulw, covers a long sweep of history from early seventh century, when the city became a bustling encampment town under the sway of the burgeoning Islamic Caliphate to its more recent history under the Ottoman Empire in early 20th century 

“Those who haven’t been to Kufa nor tasted the water of Euphrates, have not essentially read the Quran,” famously said Ayub bin al-Mutawakkil, an eighth- century Iraqi scholar, illustrating the preeminence of the old Iraqi city as the cradle of Islamic civilization and scholarship. Once, the city had positioned itself as the undisputed seat of learning and the abode of culture in the Arab and Islamic world, with scholars and researchers of every stripe pouring in from all over the world, unleashing a new wave of discoveries and debates that marked the birth of an era of enlightenment and renaissance in the region, centuries before they sprouted in the European soil.   

Ever since a caravan of 370 followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) set foot in Kufa in late seventh century, the city witnessed a massive influx of visitors, including scholars, lawmakers, historians, strategists and poets who were going to set the region on a new upward trajectory. Since then Kufa occupied a prominent place in the evolution of Arabic language, including its morphology and grammar; Islamic jurisprudence and Ideology; poetry and philosophy; culture and arts; medicine and chemistry.

Apart from being a city of culture, Kufa came to be known as a school of thought with scholars in almost all streams of thought and disciplines of knowledge affiliating themselves with it from time to time.   Hardly any syntactical or morphological discussion in classical Arabic grammar works goes without a reference to the dispute between Kufans and Basarans, the archrivals in linguistics.  The Kufans had a point of view in all disciplines and it was sought after and held in high esteem by all other scholars.  But the most important thing about this impressive tradition of knowledge was that it was impervious to all sorts of ideological and authoritarian control.

Scholarship enjoyed a freewheeling ride, despite occasional attempts at favouritism by some rulers. Testifying to this was the sprouting of different ideological and jurisprudential denominations within Islam including the Mu’tazilats who advocated for a pure rationalistic interpretation of the scriptures, and various Christian, Jewish and even agnostic scholars who made it to the frontline of Kufan intelligentsia from time to time.  That is why even when Kufa’s political clout and its cultural predominance faded and it was replaced from time to time by newly built cities or emerging centers of power in the Islamic world like Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova and Constantinople, the radiance of its robust and dynamic scholarly tradition refused to die down.  

A’lamu Kufa, (Masters of Kufa), an encyclopedic work by Iraqi historian Sayyid Mudar Al Hulw, delves deep into this impressive legacy that Kufa left behind, by paying rich tribute to its vibrant scholarly heritage. Published in nine volumes, A’lamu Kufa traces the entire history of Kufa by exploring the minds that enriched its culture and were instrumental in its ascendance as the cultural capital of the region. The book covers a long sweep of history lasting over 13 centuries from early seventh century (during the reign of Caliph Umar or 17 years after the migration of the prophet to Medina, to be exact) when the city was brought up under the sway of the burgeoning Islamic empire and became an encampment town and emerging strategic location, to its more recent history under the Ottoman empire in early 20th century.  Unlike other historical works, A’lamu Kufa does not restrict  itself to a brief period when Kufa was a political capital of the empire, just over 100 years from circa 656 AD when Ali, the fourth Caliph, moved his seat to there from Medina, through the subsequent era of Amawi dynasty, till the Abbasid Caliphs moved their capital to Baghdad.

Although there is no dearth of books chronicling the history of Kufa as an erstwhile capital of Islamic empire, only a few writers, such as Abu Abdullah Mohamad bin Ali Alawi, Mohammed Said Al Tarihi and Abbas bin Bakkar Al Dhabi’, did justice to the stature of the city which remained for centuries as the citadel of knowledge and culture.

A’lamu Kufa  is divided into two broad-based parts- Political and Intellectual, which helps to chronicle the city’s intellectual turn of mind (with its vibrant tradition of culture, literature, arts, science etc.) in isolation from its turbulent political history marred by recurrent insurgencies, feuds and overthrow of rulers.  

Historically, Kufa was the name of the vast swathes of land which encompassed Najaf, Karbala and Al Hirah, before they split into independent governorates. As the author explains A’lamu Kufa features personalities who were related to what was historically known as Kufa, but does not take into account these neighboring provinces once they were separated from Kufa.  

Pithiness as well as comprehensiveness is the hallmarks of this voluminous work, making it an authoritative research material for those who want to study what Kufa stands for in the history of Islamic and Arab civilization. Individual profiles are so exhaustive and discursive that they help the reader understand and study each individual from multiple angles, including their ideological and denominational affiliations and their standpoints on important issues and controversies of the time.  

Another striking aspects of the book is that it does not exclude non-Muslim figures such as Abi Zabid Al Taei, a prominent Christian poet and noted women personalities who made it to the higher echelon of Kufa’s intellectual and political realm.  The mindboggling list of personalities featured in this exclusive Kufan encyclopedia  includes 70 Imams, 462 followers of the prophet, 997 immediate disciples of the followers (Tabi’s), 6734 traditional scholars, 11 Quran interpreters, 11 historians, 852 authors, 3840 poets and litterateurs,  80 linguists and grammarians,  125 reciters, five physicians, 27 musicians and composers, 1671 Caliphs and rulers, and 750 judges.   

Published by Interactive

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Soul's Music

If there is a universal expression of awe and wonder, common to the animate and inanimate world alike and manifest in the intrinsic rhythm of everything, that is Subhanallah…

Photo: By  Febina  (Salalah Beach)
It throbs 72 times per minute inside your heart, meanders along the switchbacks of your blood vessels and shines in each vibe of your brain.

It designs the cosmos in multiple patterns and hues, come rain, come shine; roars in the thunder, flashes in the lightening, pours out in rain, rides in the crest of the wind.

It blossoms in the smile of a flower, undulates in the swaying of the boughs, hides a thousand springs inside the womb of a seed.

It is uttered in the tiniest fraction of each second, resonated in the wild density of the forest and reverberates in the ripples of each wave…

It paints the evening sky red, and casts a web of primordial silence around craggy mountains overlooking the sky as the sun retreats and the dusk falls.

Now, be all ears, to hear an explosion of Tasbeeh in the impenetrable silence of this desert night…

Children of Heaven

Every child has a pristine birth as an angel in the Paradise, but it’s we parents who convert them to our religions.

Does the Paradise have anything to do with childhood? Being a place where you will be pampered up to the hilt- without being denied anything you ask for; where you will be devoid of all sorts of responsibilities; where there will be neither the craze for competition nor the worries about future; where you will be lost in a playful world without bothering about who will pay the bills and where there is no burden of arrogance, malice or envy, Paradise allures you as a distant childhood dream world where you can take everything for granted.

Everybody starts his/her life at this Paradise-like ethereal world that we call childhood. But since Adam and Eve were created as grownups, or without a father or mother to take care of, they were straightaway sent to the Paradise to celebrate their childhood. Once they lost the sheen of their childlike innocence, or when they proved that they had grown up, they were asked to get out and live in the earth as responsible adults. When they recognized that they were no longer children, Adam and Eve felt for the leaves of the trees in the Paradise to cover up their nudity.

Every child has a pristine birth as an angel in the Paradise, but it’s we parents who convert them to our religions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The legacy of reading

Why did Gabriel ask the Messenger to read, instead of asking him to listen, though they communicated orally and apparently the angel had not produced any written document to recite from?

Andaleeb replied: “The final version of Revelation was not meant to be spread by oral transmission, unlike the previous versions which were not jotted down in their pristine format immediately after they were revealed, and mostly lacked unique authentic scripts as they were orally handed down from one generation to the next, subjecting themselves to a lot of alterations in the process. The final version was going to be preserved in a written format for the posterity to read and reflect. Iqra’ marked the superiority of text over speech, of reflection over emotion, of convictions over conjectures, of history over myths, of scientific ethos over subjective judgments. Iqra’ also marked the dawn of a new era of recorded knowledge and objective analyses where a piece of information can be traced to its authentic sources and sliced and diced to prove its validity and credibility. Even the sayings of the Messenger were not exempted from the whole rigmarole of this litmus test to prove their authenticity.

I quipped: “So it sought to discourage imagination and banish poetry from its Platonic republic?

Andaleeb averred: “Never. It raised the bar for poetry, elevating its stature as a serious form of art, and making imagination an equal partner of reason in the pursuit of truth. It made reason and imagination complement each other in the exploration of knowledge, with reason propelling and streamlining imagination and the latter fueling and embellishing findings of the former.”

Monday, April 21, 2014

On Hudhud

In all your narratives, Hudhud was introduced as a minion of Solomon, made for obeying his orders. But it’s a typical case of your Homo sapiens chauvinism and arrogance. Actually Hudhud was a brave and rebellious bird who dared to transgress the bounds of his master’s kingdom. When his master vaingloriously stated that he would punish him severely or even slaughter him if he does not produce a valid reason for his absence, the smart bird replied with a nonchalant shrug: “I have understood what you have not understood and I am coming from Saba’ with a solid news.”

Look how cleverly a small bird caught the great expansionist king off his guard.

As a bird, I am proud of Hudhud’s valour to challenge arguably one of the most powerful kings the world had ever seen. Do never underestimate our intellectual capabilities and, please, understand that there are more to our feeble and delicate physical structure than meet your eyes.

Do not forget that however great you are, you need a feather in your cap and a bird’s eye view!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Life and Death

After the birth,
the snow-drenched baby was laid on the sun to dry off.

Thanks to God! Our entreaties for a smooth delivery were accepted

After the death,
the twilight-clad corpse was laid to rest in the darkness.

We prayed over the dead just before the burial.

(واذكر ربك في نفسك تضرعا وخيفة و دون الجهر من القول بالغدو والاصال)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Andaleeb's Aphorisms 2

When we met this morning it was snowing heavily in the valley. Andaleeb’s songs yesternight seemed to be still reverberating in the air. Perched on a slightly slanting bough of a cedar tree, my feathered companion was anxiously waiting for me. We always meet either in the early morning hours before the daybreak or in the evening just before the sunset when the entire valley, clad in Tasbeeh, will be displaying her pristine beauty and charm. I did never see a better ambience to reflect on the Quranic verse,

....واذكر ربك في نفسك تضرعا وخيفة ودون الجهر من القول بالغدو والآصال

(And remember your Lord within yourself in humility and in fear without being apparent in speech - in the mornings and the evenings...).

Andaleeb's Aphorisms

When we met for the first time at the crack of dawn, Andaleeb wore a weary look as if he had been singing all through the previous night. I saw him flutter his wings annoyingly as he flew to a nearby tree, on seeing a stranger intruding into his Tasbeeh valley. The valley was at its meditative peak with leaves dancing to the tune of a gentle breeze, feathery snowflakes landing on the meadow, birds chirping their pious melodies, flowers standing quiet looking heavenward, and water gurgling through the rocks to the tiny rivulet down the savannah. Even the small scrubs joined the congregation by swaying to and fro.


When we first exchanged glances at each other, Andaleeb’s eyes got stuck in mine for a while. I stood motionless, my lips still uttering invocations, thinking that this is the best way to convince him the purpose of my visit. He could read out from my expression that I came to his habitat not to break the peace and tranquility of the place but seeking to live in harmony with them. Before we departed that day, I had convinced my intention to seek his company.


Andaleeb initially hesitated to accept me as a trusted confidant primarily because indelibly imprinted in his mind was the impression that humans are poachers and hunters. Furthermore, he grew skeptic about the practical aspects of such an inter species relationship. However, in a few a minutes, we made inroads into each other’s heart, transcending all boundaries of speciesism and gradually developed a cordial relationship. But as the conversation went on, he still had some misgivings as to the mutual benefit of such a relationship. At one point of time, while weighing up the pros and cons of it, he reminded me about how Khadhir and Mosses had to part ways as they could no longer come into terms with each other’s ways. He asked how we can coexist as long as each of us holds diametrically opposite world views and sticks to a different sense of right and wrong. But a casual reference in my talk to a few Quranic verses was enough to move him to tears. How can our interests differ as we are all bound to glorify Him? “Exalting Him are the seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them. Everything exalts him by praising Him; but you do not understand their Tasbeeh.”


As I said good bye to Andaleeb just before the sunrays shone through the boughs of trees in the valley, we had decided to embark on a new expedition to explore the eternal resonance of Tasbeeh in all animate and inanimate beings, the perpetual beauty of Tahmeed, the magnitude of Takbeer and the omnipresence of Tahleel in the rhythm of nature. 

As he sang out beautifully at his rich melodious voice, I too joined the chorus, albeit in my coarse voice:
سبحان الله وبحمده سبحان الله العظيم

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lost in dream

They say sleep is a shorter version (if not a dry run) of death. Therefore, when you have a good dream, you might be having a vision of the paradise, just like a Mumin experiencing in his grave the fragrance of paradise. (روضة من رياض الجنة)

Death is similar to getting stuck in a dream (or a nightmare, may God forbid). When you die you are getting permission to enjoy your favourite dream for an infinitely extended period of time.

Imagine, you are not able to come back from a dream one night and your soul is free to fly wherever it wants.

Is our entire life a craving for a fantastic dreamworld, from where we will never come back and in the ecstasy of which we would revel umpteen times? Can we dream a better place than the Paradise?

The amount of imagination a believer needs to apply to make her faith a creative experience is much higher than what an atheist may require to embellish her skepticism. The very appellation ‘those who believe in the unseen’ ( الذين يؤمنون بالغيب ) refers to the potential of imagination in making Eaman a fruitful experience. The lesser we use our imagination, the farther our God will be. Devoid of imagination, prayer becomes a tedious exercise, just like Ibadats sans meditation get stratified to monotonous rituals.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Embracing the eternity

“We birds don’t get bored with life because we know how to make each second of our life chirpy,” Andaleeb started off in his inimitable style when I met him this morning after a few days.

I wondered how correctly he could study my mind which, after a short trip, is yet to come to terms with the monotony of daily routine. 

He furthered, “We do not get disappointed nor do we get hyper excited about anything. Unlike you humans, we do not have any baggage of civilization. We don’t bother about how we can help the world hum through difficult times. We do not mix up our responsibility with our destiny.”

“It is state of mind between complacency and pessimism. If you are in good terms with the Creator and Cherisher of this world, who looks after you and controls each and every breath of you, why on earth do you get fretted if something goes amiss? You are asked to try your best and offer prayers. Let the rest turn out as it is supposed to turn out. Come on, chap, if you are not in control of the millions of microscopic changes inside your own body, why you get upset about how others behave? You know, at this moment when I talk to you, millions of creatures are entering this world and an equal number of them departing it." (وما أنتم له بخازنين.......)

“A glance from Him is enough to soothe your mind and relieve your boredom. Prepare your mind for an embrace of His blessings by whispering aloud:
(حسبنا الله ونعم الوكيل, نعم المولى ونعم النصير)

My feathered companion concluded on a quizzical note, “I still wonder why you humans dared to take up ‘Amanat’ when the celestial heaven and the mighty earth decline to accept it.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Ghazzali might have forsaken his scholarly past to embrace a more austere and otherworldly life. But he had to completely go through the first phase, inch by inch and exploring it to the last lees, before he understood its triviality. He had contributed his best to the first phase before he turned to the second phase. But you idiots glorify his second phase only, without really understanding the real worth of his first phase. For you lazy and laid-back people, the second phase is more favourable as it offers you an easy cakewalk to your 'Wilayatdom' and a means to shirk your responsibilities.

There was more weight to the NO of Ghazzali because he was not just jumping to a conclusion like you. Yours denial of material life is so weak that it reflects your incompetence and inefficiency and your lack of preparedness to challenge the world head on as Ghazali did.

In other words, it looks almost like the duality of day and night; adulthood and old age; winter and summer; rain and drought; satiety and appetite; health and disease; and prosperity and adversity. You fail to understand the real value and sweetness of the former, and to recognise its transience, until you taste the latter. Without this diversity of cycles, life on the earth would have been meaninglessly monotonous.

“You give power to which you please, and take away it from whom you please, and you exalt whom you please and abase whom you please. In your hand is the good.”

It is not followed by…. “In your hand is the bad too”…..because nothing is bad at the end of the day.

The real charm of life lies in the fact we believe that it’s ephemeral while we all have to work as if it were going on and on. Nothing has so succinctly suggested a solution to this conundrum as
اعمل لدنياك كأنك تعيش أبداً ، و اعمل لآخرتك كأنك تموت غدا

Monday, April 14, 2014

Eloquent Silence

“While you speak, don’t let your tongue loose lavishly,” Andaleeb was teaching me how to be eloquently silent. “Don’t break the silence fully as you need it to embellish your words. Silence adds to the beauty of your uttering just like space lends meaning to your written words. Therefore, while you speak choose your words carefully so that they would chisel into the silence to carve out beautiful and meaningful expressions.”

He went on saying, “Get rid of your empty boasts about the most complex language and sophisticated communication system you possess. Despite all your advanced language and communication apparatuses, you could not express as simply and beautifully as we birds, flowers, leaves, fruits, rivers, rain etc.”

“Our valley remains calm and quiet, except for some occasional bursts of thunder, lightning or gusty wind. But you, the so-called inheritors of complex language, rant and rave at will, frothing at your mouth; you fill your words with venom and spit them out at others’ faces; you cover up poisoned daggers with your sweet words; you vomit words piled upon words, but least bothered about what they mean; you sharpen them to sting others and you use your words to fork into your mouth their raw flesh.”

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In Rhythm with Nature

How can we cherish in our dreams something more beautiful than nature when we imagine the Paradise as a place of marvelous natural beauty?  The beautiful description of the Paradise recurring in the Quran as a place of pristine and beautiful garden tucked away in an idyllic site, downstream small rivulets, speaks volumes about our ‘undying’ passion for nature and its beauty 

If chapter names are any indicator of the overall message a book drives home, the Holy Quran might appear to be a work dealing with a disparate list of topics that do not seemingly have anything in common--a higgledy-piggledy compendium touching such diverse topics as, say, zoology and eschatology; politics and natural science; history and astronomy; law and literature and so on and so forth.  This peculiar nomenclature is evident in the way its lengthiest chapter, the first one after the introductory chapter Fatiha, is named after cow, while the final and one of the shortest one is titled ‘man’. Some of them are given the names of prophets, prominent historical figures or important terminologies and concepts in Islam, while some others have livestock, honeybee, ant, elephant, spider etc. on the title.

This diversity in naming also chimes in with the Quran’s inimitable narrative style embellished with all sorts of figures of speech. The final version of the Revelation calls to play a wide assortment of symbols, metaphors and imageries drawn from human history and natural environment. In one of the initial verses, it categorically states that God does not hesitate to coin the similitude even of a gnat. The symbiosis of history and nature is a fertile ground on which Quran builds its grand narrative of human destiny. However it has developed an unconventional approach to deal with both history and nature, marking a break with the convention of linear narrative and normal chronology and of descriptive storytelling method.  Instead of reducing history to a chronicle of past events, Quran considers it as a vast repository of dormant imageries and symbols which can be used as effective tools for reproducing the past for building future. 
To serve this purpose, it retells history in small anecdotes and parables, by relating them to the overall mission of human life on earth. This reinvention and demystification of history is effected through a string of powerfully crafted historical metaphors - the creation of Adam and Eve followed by their expulsion from heaven; the crow which emerged to teach man a lesson on how to bury the dead; the cow which helped Banu Israel to trace a murderer; the camel killed by Thamud which eventually wrought disaster on them; the hoopoe which served as an emissary of Solomon; the dog which mounted guard over the seven sleepers; or the donkey which was resurrected to show his master the reality of life after death.

Striking a chord with nature
The Quran is also replete with metaphors related to natural environment.  Almost all natural phenomena related to the diurnal and seasonal cycles recur in the Holy Book, relating them to the cycle of man’s life. It encompasses the duality of day and night; adulthood and old age; winter and summer; rain and drought; satiety and appetite; health and disease; and prosperity and adversity.  There are several instances when the reader feels that the rhythm of the nature-with its entire flora and fauna- is juxtaposed against the rhythm of human heart. Let us look at some of the verses which bring this harmony into sharp focus:

“And He it is who spread out the earth and placed therein firm hills and flowing streams, and of all fruits He placed therein two spouses (male and female). He covers the night with the day. Lo! Herein verily are portents for people who take thought. And in the Earth are neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands, and date-palms, like and unlike, which are watered with the same water. And we have made some of them to excel others in fruit. Lo! Herein verily are portents for people who have sense.” (Surah Thunder, verses 3 &4)

The ephemerality and vicissitude of life is nicely portrayed by using the metaphor of greenery in a parched land after it was blessed with rain which is again followed by a period of drought and barrenness.  Fertility of the earth is often compared to the productivity of a believer’s mind while the sterility of an unbeliever’s heart is equaled to the desolateness of a rocky and mountainous terrain.  In a scathing remark, hearts devoid of insights are likened to hard rocks. But the tone becomes harsher when it adds that unlike those hearts some rocks are to be split asunder or shaken to the core by the fear of God. 

Even prayers or worshipping God, which the Qura’n defines as the one and only reason for the creation of man, has been associated with the overall rhythm of the nature.  A verse in the chapter Nur goes to the extent of saying that God is exalted by everything within the heavens and the earth and [by] the birds with wings spread [in flight]. “Seest thou not that it is Allah whose praises all beings in the heavens and on earth do celebrate, and the birds (of the air) with wings outspread? Each one knows its own (mode of) prayer and praise. And Allah knows well all that they do.”  (Verse : 41)

Another frequently used symbol is that of rain. There is not better simile than rain to describe the transience of worldly life. It is a harbinger of pleasure and prosperity not only for men but for many other creatures.  But this occasional visitor is never at our beck and call. We are never in a position to dictate terms for the rain.  It is a blessing of God, indeed.  But it is also a reminder of the importance of striking a balance in everything we do. We cannot do without rain, but we cannot also do with too much rain.  The Qura’n itself talks about a couple of events in the history when incessant rain or water was instrumental to wipe some people and civilizations off the face of the earth.  In another instance the Qura’n employs the symbol of dark rain followed by thunder to mention the state of people devoid of spiritual light. Although they take occasional flash lighting for a way-out from this pall of darkness encircling them, the darkness got denser and thicker and they were left reeling desperately.

In another verse, the deeds of those who disbelieve are likened to a mirage in lowland which a thirsty man takes for water. In the subsequent verse, it mutates to a tragic metaphor of darkness within an unfathomable sea which is covered by waves upon waves, with dark clouds hanging over it. The darkness gets thicker to such a level that when one puts out his hand, he can hardly see it.  

But one of the most striking similes in the Quran is the comparison of God to the light permeating the heavens and the earth. This simile has multiple layers of meaning.  The vastness of the heaven and earth in the first layer gives way to the beauty of a niche, with a lamp inside it and kept in a glass.  At the next level, by comparing it to a star and tracing its light to an olive tree neither of the east nor of the west, the light of God outshines all other sources of lights in the earth and the heavens.  This simile indirectly suggests that even the sun, arguably the largest source of energy in the world, is incapable of lighting the entire world alike. When it reaches its extreme level of brightness at one pole of the earth, its power comes down on the other end. 

Allegories galore
The allegorical portrayal of the tale of the People of Cave in the Quran gives us fascinating insights into the real meaning of freedom and confinement in this world. Paralleling the tale of Seven Sleepers of Ephesus in the Christian tradition, the story demands a radical overhaul of our concept of power, supremacy and freedom. Unflinching was the commitment to truth, and the quest for freedom of the young heroes in the story who fled the persecution of a tyrannous king and his oppressive regime, seeking refuge in a cave. They preferred freedom offered by a narrow cave to the confinement in their geographically vast country.

In the parable of the first murder, Cain looked dejected and was desperately trying to cover it up. Contrary to his expectations, the homicide brought more problems than it solved.  He was too horrified to deal with its consequences, let alone enjoy its fruits.  Eventually it was a poor crow which turned up to his rescue by showing him how to bury the dead. The first challenge Cain faced after his fratricide was how to bury the corpse.  But beyond the simple question of interment, it was a big crisis of managing the sin. Killing his brother was rather easy, but getting away from his remnants was not.

In the story of Joseph, spread over one of the aesthetically beautiful chapters in the Quran, it develops to the stage of narrative fiction where the father and his eleven sons are compared to the sun and stars.  Beginning from the tale of a small boy sharing with his father an extraordinary dream he had the previous night, it expands to a full-fledged story touching the multiple aspects of human life such as affection, greed,  sibling rivalry, envy, hatred, murder, lie, deceit, love, lust, revenge,  treachery, imprisonment,  victimhood, vicissitudes  of prosperity and penury etc. Towards the end of the story, the boy who was once abandoned by his own brothers in a deserted well in the middle of a jungle emerges as the King and extends unconditional and unqualified pardon to his erstwhile enemies.  The story comes to a dramatic end with his father and eleven brothers bowing down before him, marking an emotional fulfilment of his childhood dream.
It all started from a few words  
Man’s relationship with nature plays a predominant role in the evolution of his culture and civilization.  The genesis and development of almost all streams of human knowledge, with the sole exception of revelation, relates in one way or the other to man’s struggle against and coexistence with nature where he/she was sent to live through the trajectories of this precarious existence. A cursory look at the nomenclature of all disciplines of human knowledge will give credence to this theory as most of them were the results of man’s ardent pursuit to explore the nature. 

The evolution of human civilisation itself is the evolution of human knowledge and the multiplicity of its application in its myriad forms and manifestations.  The first moment when the first man in the universe was endowed with knowledge is beautifully portrayed in the Quran.  After creating man and before exhibiting him in front of the Angels, the Almighty taught him some names/ words. This was the occasion when man was equipped with some potential skills and faculties which are essential for his upcoming mission in the Earth.  This was followed by a dazzling performance by the first man in front of Angels who were mesmerised by his mastery of words. This has also forced them to rectify their misapprehensions about man’s creation.  It was also the occasion when man successfully demonstrated the superiority of his knowledge in front of the Angels. This knowledge ably supported by intellect was also an instrument gifted to man to prove the distinctiveness and pre-eminence of his existence in the earth.  Despite being physically weak compared to a number of species, man, driven by the sharpness of his wit and the power of his wisdom, managed to outmanoeuvre and conquer all others and emerge as the architect of an advanced civilisation. It all begins from a few words his first father was taught soon after the creation. The system of language that man developed over a period is deemed to be the most complicated means of communication across all species.  The words Adam was first taught constituted the springboard for humanity to develop its advanced system of communication which has now undergone unprecedented transformation in this fast paced digital age.

Nature as a workshop civilisation
The relentless urge to discover the hidden or go beyond the limits of the known is intrinsic in the nature of every human being, as exemplified by the way the first man and woman reacted when they were mysteriously denied the permission to relish the fruits of a lone tree in the paradise.  But that act of rebellion against what looked like the one and only enigmatic thing in the Paradise opened the floodgate of a lot of unsolved questions in front of them.  In the Paradise there was only one thing to be known, that is how that forbidden fruit tastes like; but in the earth there were a lot of things to be explored and sought after, and unlike the Paradise they had to sweat blood to earn a living.

They came into this world with the potential and capabilities to explore these mysteries because the names they were taught soon after their creation carried the keys to all these secrets.  The history of human Civilization from its infancy to the current stage of its celebrated maturity, if we go by the Darwinian ladder, was an evolution of human understanding of the nature. Honeybees collect nectar and build their apiaries in the same old way, animals and birds still employ the grand old techniques to search for food, communicate and build their nests; but man has gone a long way by rebuilding and innovating his fiefdom from time to time while most of the other creatures around them in the earth celebrated their seemingly monotonous existence.

When our civilisation developed and our culture assumed an urban facelift, we tried to change our surroundings to suit our new requirements. We continue to explore the full potential of nature either utilising it more constructively or exploiting it rampantly. But the nature did not undergo any change on its own, except that it remained supple enough to undergo our domination at considerable risk to its old and genuine rhythm. At a time when we understood the limitation of nature in rendering what we really aspire for, we expanded our scope by creating our own virtual worlds where we explored the scope of living away from nature. The whole process of urbanisation, mechanisation and digitalisation also involved the process of our gradual progression towards denaturalisation. The virtual world we are creating through automation and digitalisation will definitely accelerate the pace of this denaturalisation.

But despite this propensity to grow beyond nature, our existence is inherently rooted in the nature.  The more we tend to stay away from nature, the more enchanting it will become; the farther we try to go away from it, the closer to it we reach.  The beauty of nature continues to beckon us; in order to relieve the boredom of our mechanical life we turn to the sky, the moon, the sunrise and sunset, the sea, rivers, mountains, deserts, greenery, waterfalls, woods, birds, and animals etc. And even in the virtual world we desperately try to reinvent the elements of nature that we miss in our real life. It means that nature is inseparably connected to how we relate ourselves to this world, for all our pretensions to prove otherwise.    

How can we cherish in our dreams something more beautiful than nature when we imagine the Paradise as a place of marvelous natural beauty?  The beautiful description of the Paradise recurring in the Quran as a place of pristine and beautiful garden tucked away in an idyllic site, downstream small rivulets, speaks volumes about our ‘undying’ passion for nature and its beauty. 

(Published by Interactive)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Shifting Cultivation

While burying the dead
you are not laying the body for eternal rest,
but carefully interring a seed inside the womb
to sprout, grow, bloom and fruit
after a brief period of gestation

That is why you beseech before each burial
for washing it with water, dew and hail
so that it can grow in any clime
braving any adverse season

For life to sprout
the seeds need to be buried
in the seclusion of a womb

The whole life is an exercise
in designing yourself as a potential seed
to be buried in the womb-like seclusion of the grave

You can never read the riot of springs
nor the fertility of eons to come
-with the birds flying in to taste the fruits,
the bees drawing the nectar of flowers
and the water gurgling in the stream nearby-
all programmed inside a tiny seed

Each seed carries within billions of gigabytes
divided into variegated files and folders
of the texts, images, videos and what not
all supporting the episodes of a big show
to be staged in multiple cycles
either in the paradise or in the hell

Thanks to the plants and trees
for showing me beforehand  
how a tiny seed or a bough planted
inside  the womb of the earth
can  be pregnant with
years of spring and seasons of harvest

Monday, June 17, 2013


In a congregation hall
your prayers are no longer yours.
Your mutterings, silence, movements and stillness 
do no more belong to you. 

The pupa of your piety is getting mutated into 
a 24-coloured beautiful butterfly. 
It breaks free from the cocoon of seclusion 
and gets submerged in a multitude of heterogeneous devotions 

Each of your litanies will become tiny droplets
gushing forth from a small stream
forming the tributary of a river
and flows on and on past the estuaries
but to be eventually immersed in the ocean

Let your tiny drops take the meandering way to the stream
and then the riverine path to the sea
instead of stagnating and getting muddier at its fountainhead.

Once plunged into the sea,
the white foams of the waves
will wash you off all the dirt

The sea shows no trace of any river
although it carries within the water of all the rivers

As the sea imbibes within it the memories and pangs
of all rivers that flow onto it,
the utterings, devotions and tears of the pious
fill the congregation hall with a celestial aroma
which ascends heavenward carried on the wings of angels
like pollen of flowers on the lips of butterflies.

A prayer said alone is like a lonely flower
while in the congregation it is part of a garden in full bloom
All flowers in a single tree will be of the same fragrance
while in a garden you will have a plethora of them to pick up from

The dull monochrome of your lonely prayers
turns into a marvelous rainbow experience in a congregation hall

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Want to be the fire, wish for the wind

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Antifragile may test your patience, especially if you have already read Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, as the author unnecessarily draws on his bombastic knowledge of philosophy to hammer home almost the same theory of "domesticating, dominating and conquering the uncertain"  

How instrumental were randomness and uncertainty in the evolution of human civilisation as we see it today? Most of the phenomenal changes in human history were not born out of our planned and meticulous pursuit of a premeditated goal, nor were they the results of our domain expertise and knowledge. In fact we don’t know much about how the future is going to unfold and it has been this ignorance and uncertainty, rather than our certitude and firm conviction, that prompt us to brace ourselves to meet any eventuality head on. Had it not been for the challenges and uncertainties, our latent talent and intellectual acumen could never have been tapped effectively.

In his voluminous Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose previous title Black Swan was celebrated for its eponymous metaphor, presents his exceptional theory of ‘domesticating, dominating and conquering the opaque and the uncertain’. The book which may occasionally test your patience, especially if you have already read Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, as the author unnecessarily draws on his bombastic knowledge of philosophy to drive home almost the same theory. Taleb reiterates that in order to be successful one has to make use of randomness and uncertainty, instead of hiding from them. He argues that one really shows one’s mettle under pressure therefore if we want to be the fire, we have to wish for the wind. Taleb observes that a lot of thing benefit from shocks as they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility and randomness. He coins the word antifragile which he says is beyond resilience or robustness.

The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; while the antifragile gets better. Antifragile goes to the extent of stating that absence of political instability, even war, let explosive material and tendencies accumulate under the surface. Absence of fire lets highly inflammable material accumulate. Therefore peace-some kind of forced, constrained, non-natural peace- may be costly in lives. Citing an example for this seemingly nonsensical theory he examines how a century of relative peace in Europe, coupled with the rise of the heavily armed nation-state, triggered the great world wars in the 20th century. However, he believes that war is not a good thing, because as the victim of a brutal civil war in Lebanon, he can attest to its horrors.

The book also examines how the idea that systems may need some stress and agitation has been missed by those who grasp it in one area and not in another. Human somehow fails to recognise situations outside the contexts in which they usually learn about them. He reminisces the story of a banker whom he met in the driveway of a hotel in Dubai (described as a pseudo city, maybe because it failed Taleb’s antifragility test) who made a porter carry his luggage and after 25 minutes, lifted free weights at the gym, trying to replicate natural exercise as if he were swinging a suitcase.

In short, in 500 plus pages, Antifragile waxes eloquent about the importance of ‘nopredictive’ decision making to counter the uncertainties in business, politics, medicine, and life in general.

Catching them young

Khalil Gibran once said that children’s soul dwelled in the house of tomorrow which we could not visit, even in our dreams. Since their language is as primitive and pristine as the nature, in order to communicate with them we need to shed all the stylistic flourishes of our polished tongues. They communicate in the universal language of colours, images and music and therefore we grown-ups cannot converse with them straightaway in our sophisticated lingua franca. The more pictures and sounds we employ and the lesser words we use, the better can we get our message across to them. 

Kevin Graal, who extensively travelled in the Middle East and Europe and interacted with children as part of Kids Read programme by British Council and HSBC Bank Middle East, feels that children everywhere in the world are incredibly similar. “Children here in Oman and elsewhere react in almost exactly the same way as children in the UK,” he says. “They laugh for the same thing and cry for the same; and we very often tell them the same story about the same thing. A programme like Kids Read brings us together; it makes the world a little smaller and makes us feel that our differences are not as great as our similarities.” 

A storyteller and educator with an extensive repertoire of traditional stories, riddles, songs and games from around the world, Graal recently visited Muscat to attend various story reading sessions, workshops, interactive sessions with children and teachers and storytelling volunteers from HSBC. With a unique and effective blend of games, music, pictures, mental games, songs, coupled with his dynamic and electrifying body language, Graal steals to the heart of children everywhere in the world. 

The Kids Read programme offers an incredible opportunity to enable children to communicate and express themselves. “It is such a simple idea that you can select a number of books and with the help of the HSBC you will be able to reach them to so many schools in the region,” says Graal who also visited Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia as part of the programme. “This partnership makes an amazing amount of work possible and it is actually changing the perception of children and teachers about stories here in Oman and all over the gulf region. Hundreds and hundreds of schools are being influenced by this programme. The partnership of the Ministry of Education in Oman really puts a seal of approval on this programme.” 

He feels that the most important thing about story telling is that it makes the bond between the children and the grown-up- including the parents and teachers- strong. Asked about how technology rendering irrelevant the traditional way of storytelling of which Graal is a strong advocate, the master storyteller replies by narrating another story, “This is the story about a small village where the story teller used to tell stories by a fire and one day they brought television to the village, pushing all the children to watch the TV. But after a while, they went back to the story teller; and the people asked why they go back to the storyteller while they can watch so many stories on the television. The children replied, ‘but the storyteller knows us and we can talk to the storyteller’. May be in the future the new technology will find a way to interact with the children where children can change the story ending, in the way they interact with me when I tell stories.” He says in the future books and technology can work together to present the stories in more interactive ways. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An extended dream

Last night, I was talking to a friend of mine who was sick at heart and was desperately pestering me to spend a few hours with him in order that he can give vent to some of his frustrations. Sitting on the bank of a dry wadi bed near my house, he bombarded me with a volley of queries about how to make life more fruitful, words more sincere, deeds more meaningful and soul more 'Taqwa-ridden' or 'Godward' and so on and so forth. 

He had some doubts about the life after death, instigated by some of his atheist friends. Here are the excerpts from our conversation…

 “Do you sleep well, Ha….?”

  “Yea! Nothing could make me awake at night!” 

“ Do you have dreams, very often?”

“Plenty of them. Why are you so curious about my dreams, Nafi?”   

“Are they good dreams or only nightmares?”

“I have both of them. Some days I have some interesting dreams which I wished I could never have woken up from, while some other days I had some horrible nightmares which would send shivers down my spine for the next couple of days.”

“Good. I have an old friend who used to have a lot of good dreams. Some eight years back, he did not come back from his dreams at all. That night he dreamt about a beautiful garden, surrounded by gorgeous streams, resplendent with a riot of colours and fragrances, a lot of virgin nymphs to serve him and energetic lads to chauffeur him around. Someone asked him whether he wanted to stay back. He nodded in affirmative. Then he asked him to stay there and he did never come back from that dream.”

“And he did never come back from that dream?”

“Yes, he did never wake up from that beautiful dream! That dream became his reality from that moment onwards. He is still enjoying that dream, eight years on and will do so for years and eons to come. Think of losing yourself in your dreams for ever. Each one of us will have our own respective D-days when we will be taken to our dream world from where we will never come back. The death is an extended version of sleep and life after death is the big-screen representation of your dreams. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to have a prolonged nightmare (hell) or a gala dream like my friend….”     

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

True Love

My Love,
each Al Hamdulillah is my beatitude’s kiss on Your eternal face

Who can kiss the beloved sweeter than this?

For, the ecstasy of osculation will never die down

and after each kiss you are electrified

to repeat it with a more violent passion.

How can I stop when each one prompts me to repeat it more ardently?

Lost in this endless chain of love exchanges,

I leave myself to be overwhelmed by You

submitting all I was, have been and will be to You.

Like a trapeze player throwing himself in the air

in the thick of swinging

as if he would never come back to the ground

or like a yo-yo bouncing up and down

always refusing to reach the consummation.

I kiss You when the sky is all set for a downpour

because I know the rain is but a manifestation of our Love.

The wind caresses the strings of my mind

To sing amorously in praise of You.

I kiss You with a fervent passion

when the day is unveiled from the sheath of night

because daylight is the most delightful presentation of our love;

everything is captured in the big canvas of light,

from the dew in the early dawn

to the breeze adorning the eve;

from the uproar of the waves

to the meditative stillness of leaves;

from the play of a grasshopper

to the fluttering of military aircrafts.

I kiss You when the sun recedes to make way for night

So that I closet with You in soothing seclusion.

I kiss You in the midnight hours

as You alone wait for me wholeheartedly

when all my so-called beloved people

do not even remember me, let alone give an appointment.

As my lips tremble on Your eternal face

my craving for Your love soars high above the infinity

My Love,

Each Al Hamdulillah is my beatitude’s kiss on Your eternal face.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The tryst with Ramadan

The ethereal fragrance of Ramadan has started to waft in the atmosphere even before the crescent moon appears on the horizon. The excitement has been in the air well in advance prompting us to go halfway to embrace the holy month. 

Yes, it has always fascinated us from a distance. Its magnetic power and majestic appeal have been pervasive enough to encompass two of its immediate preceding months- Rajab and Sha’ban. Both the months heralded the arrival of Ramadan in two different ways. While the former, in which five-time prayer became mandatory after Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him)’s nocturnal ascent to the Heavens, marked the beginning of a festive season of Ibadat, the latter, in which the Prophet used to fast voluntarily more days than in any other month, exhorted us to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically to welcome the King of all months.  

The very thought of Ramadan fills our hearts with joy. We have waited for it as if it were a dear family member coming home once in a year; and adorned our waiting with prayers. We have grown a passion for it and believed that even our waiting itself is part of a blessed mission. Just like we cheer up our stressed mind, racked by the customariness of life, with the pleasant dreams about a forthcoming holiday trip with the beloved, we visualise Ramadan as an occasion to recharge our soul’s batteries, retrieve our stolen verve and dynamism and reorient ourselves to the true objective of life.  We dream about fasting, special night prayers, Quran recitations, iftars and pre-dawn meal and what not.   Hardly did anything related to Ramadan creep into mind than we grow more and more excited about this great opportunity for redemption.  When Ramdan knocks at our heart’s door with its healing caress, we hug it to the heart as if we were receiving a much expected guest and usher it to the reception room of our mind. But why is such a guest paying an annual visit and staying with us for one month?  What purpose does this visit serve with regards to the objectives of our life? What kind of relation do we have with this visitor? And how are we supposed to treat it?  

The Noble Quran introduces Ramadan as the month of its Revelation. All other characteristics we attribute to this month are of lesser importance and effect, compared to this finest attribute attached to it by the Almighty.  Therefore, Ramadan marks the anniversary of Revelation (wahy) and its significance lies in its being the occasion when we are reminded of the significance of Revelation in deciding the direction and objective of our life. Each Ramadan comes with this serious reminder: how successful has been each of us in basing the priorities of our life on the message of Revelation?  

Since the Revelation of the Quran is a great phenomenon in the history of human civilisation, we were told to reminisce it every year and observe it in a way that it will make our body and mind and the ethos of our culture more adapted and customised to suit the real requirements of our life, as envisaged by the Revelation.  Ramadan exhorts us to come to terms with the underlying reality of existence and break away from all illusion and misconceptions about the purpose of our life in this world. It comes to straighten the curves in our thoughts, rectify the disorientation of   our priorities and to liberate ourselves from all delusions that mislead us from the reason for which we are created and given sustenance in this world.   Though the Quran categorically described worship of God (Ibadat) as the one and only purpose behind human creation, Ramadan is the only period of the year when we dedicate more time of our mundane life to work for materialising the real purpose of our existence.  It is a bonanza month offered for us to dedicate for Ibadat so that we may rectify our faults and inaccuracies in adhering to the real spirit of Revelation.  

When the angels cast aspersion on man’s capability to become a dedicated and sincere servant of God, the Almighty justified His creation of man saying He knows better.  It was the Creator Himself who protected man from the attack against his existence. But humans were not like angels as they constituted a synthesis of both the corporal and the spiritual. The spiritual turn of their existence had always been in a struggle with their biological requirements, making to maintain a delicate balance between them a very difficult task. The significance of man’s existence lies in this struggle to preserve the spiritual from being triumphed over by the temporal.  In this struggle, man is evidently aided by the Almighty through a lot of offers which include among many others His repentance.  When the leader of angels was denied a chance to repent even for the first sin he committed, it was offered to man as many times as he commits a sin.   

Ramadan is such an auspicious occasion offered by the Almighty to help man in this struggle. As a month replete with a lot of opportunities helping man to ensure the success and domination of the spiritual turn of his existence over the temporal one, Ramadan is a time for redeeming the decrepitude of our existence.  If man’s inability to worship God was cited by the angels to question human existence, the Almighty has stood by us by providing golden opportunities like Ramadan to prove our mettle as dedicated servants.  Unlike other months, the fabric of Ramadan is interwoven in such a way that we spend most of the time worshipping Him than doing anything else. He has made fasting, the most inconspicuous form of worship, mandatory for us in this month to endear ourselves to Him.   

Thus our tryst with Ramadan every year is an opportunity to defend our existence, reclaim our entitlement to the servanthood of the Almighty and remould ourselves in accordance with the spirit of Revelation.


The cradle where my infantile thoughts started to stretch their wings...