“Life is becoming like the World of Islam”

Good poetry sums up powerful emotions which people experience but cannot articulate. A friend in Pakistan has sent me a couplet which does open doors bringing in the light or, at least, providing relief from seemingly interminable suffocation.



Ek lamha to miley Amn-o-sukoon ka yaa Rab.

Zindagi Aalam e Islam hui jaati hai.”

(Not a moment of peace, Oh God, no serenity, no calm.

Life is beginning to resemble the world of Islam)

In other words the world of Islam, in its present condition, is to the poet Manzar Bhopali, an experience outside himself even though the poet is obviously a Muslim by birth.

The couplet under review does not for a moment suggest that the poet is giving hints of a possible defection from his faith. He has simply separated himself from “Alam-e-Islam” and placed himself at a vantage point to take a comprehensive look at it. It is then that he executes a remarkable simile.

“The weariness, the fever and the fret” was Keats’ description of “our condition” which was in dismal contrast to the full throated music of the nightingale.

Raghupati Sahai Firaq Gorakhpuri has a different simile for human suffering:

Is daur mein zindagi bashar ki

Beemar ki raat ho gaee hai.”

(Human life these days has become the endless night of a patient tossing and turning in high fever.) The fever is not the passing flu, but terminal tuberculosis common in Firaq’s youth. The image is not dissimilar to the “wariness, the fever and the fret”.

But no poet in history has over held up “Aalam-e-Islam” as the mirror to man’s existential hopelessness.

My sense is that something new has been said in very simple words and to which the silent majority in the Muslim world would respond with thunderous applause. The verse contrives an exit route from a disagreeable reality, an entrapment in forced homogenization. This has been imposed on Muslims by a lethal mixture of televised war, particularly the war on terror, possibly in unwitting implementation of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.

I have grown in the knowledge that any talk of Muslim homogeneity in India is false: the Mapillas from Malabar are different from Labbais in Tamil Nadu or Bengali Muslims. Language and local culture trump religious links.

Inder Gujral as Prime Minister invited me to Bangladesh because he felt a Muslim in his entourage would go down well in a Muslim country. Never in my life have I felt more lonesome with my Islam. The Bengalis, on both sides, led by the late Nikhil Da broke out in Tagore and Nazrul Islam, licking their fingers on Illich Maach, leaving a marginalized Muslim from Lucknow in the shadows.

Gujral and I had momentarily forgotten an elementary truth: the very emergence of Bangladesh was the triumph of linguistic regionalism over Islam.

Globally the Islamic world is even more disparate – stretching from the Maghreb to Pakistan’s borders with India, then around the Indian Ocean to South East Asia; also North Africa to the nations along the Sahel.

War and conflicts have been set up in most of these countries. I know all about colonialism, imperialism, capitalism’s greed, the do-or-die quest for mineral resources and strategic advantage. These interests cannot be defeated in the battlefield because Muslim monarchs and sundry leaders have sought shelter from their own people under the Western umbrella. Since these umbrellas are in tatters – witness Cyprus, Greece, Italy and others yet in denial, the wave of violence will get more intense.

Aalam-e-Islam is ironically Darul Harb today or ‘area of conflict’ thanks to the Muslim leaders sitting on Western laps with pacifiers in their mouths.

A fight is being imposed on you. They know that you will be provoked one day and join the fight because of the injustices heaped on the Umma. But which Umma? Who from the great Umma is there to wipe the tears from the eyes of the little Rohingya children whose shacks were burnt in a fierce land grab which has been given an ethnic colour?

As for Indian Muslim, the situation has changed radically. Before 9/11 it was our domestic quarrel, a family affair. Now the fingers on the levers of the machinery fighting what is sometimes a phantom war on terror, are not always exclusively ours. This is one more way to keep India in the global loop. Damn the internally divisive consequences!