Tuesday, February 08, 2011

V for Veena and Vastanvi

An abbreviated edit of this post appeared in this week's Tehelka mag. Here's the online version. Print also available, I believe. [Can someone hold a copy for me, please? :) I'll collect it when back.]
So here it is.

What a fascinating start to the new year. As a young, relatively serious Muslim, I am naturally interested in news stories and opinions pertaining to Islam. More so in today's climate where Islam is, shall we say, not exactly subject to much praise, or even authentic, objective appraisal.
Which is why it is more than a little disheartening to see two recent big news stories doing the rounds in the subcontinent in this regard, that are so inane and yet reflect so well what is wrong with:
  1. the Islamic ummah [community] itself, and
  2. the perception of Islam as bandied about by mainstream media and lapped up by everyone.
I speak of the chart-topping story centred around Pakistan's Veena Malik, her Bigg Boss stint and the subsequent outrage it unleashed. [But of course we all know this already.] The second case I refer to is that of Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi and the controversy surrounding his statements. Exactly. A lot of you are probably thinking, “Who? What?”, and to save you the trouble of Googling said gentleman, let me introduce Vastanvi saheb as the recently appointed 'Mohtamim' or Rector of the Darul Uloom, Deoband, who has now resigned after a fair bit of noise by 'the good Muslims of India'.
[What is ironic here, from a Muslim P.O.V. is that most regular Muslims don't know and certainly don't care who the rector of the Darul Uloom is – it does not affect our daily lives. On the other hand, all of us are pretty much up to speed on Veena Malik and the sordid details of her private life; she would have been the subject of much discussion in most Muslim households. And therein lies the problem.]

Vaaii? Just because I'm a womaan!!?
Let us take the curious case of Veena Malik first. We all know of the 'slut-shaming' hue and cry Pakistan's media and masses are directing at Veena. We also know of bright, sane voices in Pakistan speaking out against this [MUST READ: Sana Saleem, Shyema Sajjad, Raza Rumi, Urooj Zia etc.] but that's unfortunately not too many in comparison. Here's the thing. The outrage is not limited only to Pakistan. Muslims across the region are taking Veena's behaviour as a personal affront. I can cite examples from my own moderate, well-educated Muslim family and community.
How does Veena Malik's private participation in an entertainment show make her a representative of either her country or her religion? Why are people going hysterical over her actions when it has nothing to do with them? Where does this intrusive, and frankly, very ridiculous Islamic moral policing get off? One's faith is a very personal thing and in the context of Islam specifically, you will never be held responsible for something someone else did, so please back off. 'Nafsi-nafsi' as the saying goes. [Or, to use the vernacular: 'Whose father what goes?'] Veena, in a teary-fiery confrontation with a Mufti Abdul on a recent news show in Pakistan, was spot on when she said what she did is between her God and her. [The same channel called her back for more public bashing the next day, with Pak veteran actor/director Syed Noor and Atiqa Odho - and again Veena stood tall. w00t!] Who is anyone else to butt in and stand on judgement? There are far bigger problems with Islam as practised today than what a starlet/cricketer/actor/politician/academic did in his or her personal life. Unfortunately the point is, that for some reason, Muslims mostly tend to get rubbed the wrong way on all inanities. [This happens with other communities and groups as well, but I am speaking of the Muslim ummah.] First things first. Veena Malik is not an aberration or a shocker, hence need not be made a loud example of. I may not approve of Veena Malik personally but that's my opinion and I cannot foist my judgement on her – more so using the tag of Islam to browbeat her with. I will say this: I now respect her for her courage, for facing up to a most vicious and unfair attack by an unthinking people and for standing up for herself publicly. I thumb my nose at mullahs and all other self-righteous thekedaars of Islam and really, more people need to do so. My simple request to today's Muslim everywhere: look to yourself, mind your own business and do jihad the best way – that is, struggle against your own self. [Before everyone starts panicking, please note: jihad simply means 'struggle' not 'holy war', in the same way that fatwa simply means 'opinion' and not 'death sentence'.]

Abeyaar, WTF did I do?
And now, on to the next segment: Maulana Vastanvi's predicament. In short, all the Maulana really said was that yes, Guajarat 2002 happened, it is now 2011 and since the state as a whole is doing so bloody well economically, it stands to reason that Muslims in the state are also doing okay, there is development and we should take this positive and move ahead. Nothing wrong as far as I can see. No particular eulogy or praises for Narendra Modi or any reference to his being faultless in the riots and general horror of the time. But no! Offence must be taken, outrage must be had. Hot-headed loonies decided that the Gujarat card was being undermined. “Muslims are the victims! Always the victims!” and how dare this forward-thinking, sensible educationist talk about anything else?
Now. Frankly speaking, the Darul Uloom and its administration or opinions don't really figure in a common Muslim's day-to-day life. One does not look to the Darul Uloom for daily guidance or direction. It may be India's most historic and renowned seat of Islamic learning - but is more popularly only known as 'that Muslim joint where they hand out unsavoury fatwas from time to time' [a whole different kettle of fish we can leave for later] by the general populace. Which is to say, that unless Vastanvi's tepid remarks in some interview with, who else, the TOI *insert applause* was not played up and given its current tabloidy-political-communal-controversial tint, none of us could have cared less. There is so much outrage because fragmented and choppy edits and reporting can cause such things. Again, the outrage is only on the part of a few people, and possible has some shady political angle to it which I do not care to go into. That's my point. I don't care what some administrator of some religious body said – especially since it was so neutral and non-news- worthy. Somewhere I see ridiculous media shenanigans in raking up another controversy surrounding Islam-Gujarat-mullahs-Modi. Sure the Deobandis are now screaming bloody murder [not really, but you know], Vastanvi has had to step down as Mohtamim and the issue is still getting acreage in publications when it is all such a big yawn. Here's the thing: was all this necessary? Does it affect the common Muslim in any way if Vastanvi says Gujarat HAS developed under Modi? [Well, hasn't it?] Can we all please stop feeling that Mulsims are still being crushed underfoot when in fact they may be not, and that the events of 2002 were a terribly unique occurrence and not the norm? Muslims – please stop playing the victims when not needed, media- stop your silly news-byte worthy shenanigans. The resulting noise is a bit much.

A closing thought. I am sure there is a significant number of Muslims today who think along reasonable lines, do not fall for every old provocation in the book, know their religion for what it is and do not need to nod along to everything certain clerics and scholars say just because they appear to know better. It is time to stop being a 'silent majority' [as I hope you are] and come out of your shells.

All I can say is, the outrage is outrageous.
Bas, khallaas.

On a seriously light note, please turn up the volume and watch this hilarious remix tribute video to Veena Malik, created bye DJ Shahrukh. Phrases that we can take away from Veena's epic interview and laugh forever over: Agar-magar?!, jazbaati, bos-o-kinaar, husn-o-jamaal, fohosh, and the epic cultness of “Mufti Sahab! Yeh kya baat hui?!!” 
Which phrase I and many others have already started using with relish in appropriate situations.


Serenity said...

Yeah, really, who cares to know about the Darul Uloom? Oooh, speaking of them ... did you know that they have declared our most beloved Zakir Naik a kafir? :O I knoooow! They've issued several fatwas against him. Like, whoa.

And about, Veena - seriously, world, let it go. I thought all Pakistani actresses/singers/etc. were like this, and they all behaved similarly, if not exactly the same, in public and in private. What's so new about Veena?

I think it's just because we are SO insecure these days - what with the murder of a Muslim who called the blasphemy laws black and all, you know.

k, there go my brilliant thoughts on the matter. Praise me later. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sabbah,

I read your recent article in Tehelka. I must bluntly say that you are being very naive, at least about Modi. why does the 'gujarat card' as you so casually put it, exist? because justice has been completely subverted, the victims punished and the perpetrators rewarded. this is why it is important not to 'move on'. second, gujarat's development - cant you not see that this development - if you can call the selling of an entire state to corporate interests that- is an attempt by modi to wash off the stains of 2002, and to win over liberals [like you] as he prepares to capture delhi? did you ever hear any of the development rhetoric before the 2002 carnage? What of the countless fake encounters, the murder of bjp dissidents like haren pandya [Modi's ex home minister]? Now this is not to say Vastanvi said anything wrong. his comments were obviously twisted. and to call the 2002 a 'unique occurrence and not the norm' is again to wilfuly close your eyes to what it was - an event that was long time in the making, carefully planned, and achieved all of its objectives.[it got bjp a permanent place in power in gujarat, made modi the single most popular leader in the state and among bjp sup[porters elsewhere, and turned muslims permanently into second class citizens in the state - never mind the tokenism]. Of course, this is nothing new. In India. no major communal outrage has gone unrewarded. Whether perpetrated by jyoti basu [marichjhapi, 79], jagdish tytler, kamal nath etc [delhi 84] Advani etc [rath yatra] thackeray [mumbai] or modi [guj 2002]. what that means, in other words, is that victims of the worst crimes in independent india have not got justice, and worse, the criminals themselves have been rewarded. and all of this is well documented. almost all of them went on to become chief ministers, central ministers or kingmakers. Modi is only the latest in a long list of illustrious criminals. And that perhaps offers us a clue as to why these 'incidents' keep happening. I can understand your irritation at a hyper-sensitive muslim reaction and sense of perpetual victimhood. but can you honestly say it has no basis in facts? and pls. remember, you have no right to say 'lets move on' as long as the victims of these atrocities themselves dont say it - not under pressure, but out of a spirit of genuine forgiveness. do you think they are in any frame of mind to do it when all they have met with is intimidation and scare tactics? And why should Muslims alone 'forgive', and 'move on' - isn't there a legal system in this country? What is most disturbing about your piece is how it buys into the propaganda - about modi, gujarat and development itself. If what you expressed is the sentiment of your social group and perhaps your generation - which I think it is - it is very worrying indeed. If you think ive got it wrong, feel free to counter me. By the way, Im neither a muslim nor a leftist [although that shouldn't change anything]. I didn't want to post it here, as this is addressed specifically to you. But couldn't help it. wish you the best.


longblackveil said...

Dear Q, thanks much, O praiseworthy childe. About Z Naik's fatwa, really? LOL, that's sort of very hilarious.

And now... *drumroll*...
Dear S Anonymous, thank you first of all for being nameless. I LOVE that in comments.

Did you get what my article was saying? At all? It is exactly about the sort of unnecessary outrage that you have displayed. Neither I nor Vastanvi have praised that Modi creature or deemed him innocent of his many sins in the Gujarat riot. I can wax eloquent on my feelings of anger and injustice at what has gone down there. As a Muslim, your outrage in this matter cannot exceed mine. [t actually does matter, believe it or not.] That is not the point. The point is, that there is nothing but hot air in the Vastanvi episode. A lot of nonsense generated mostly by the media, and my point mainly is that most Muslims would lap up hearsay and take that as a basis for ranting and seething against their terrible plight. Enter victimisation /self-pity card. How many people have actually seen the footage of Vastanvi's original interview? Or read a complete unedited transcript? This is a well-educated, practical sort of guy who was talking about general improvements and he's been pulled down for nothing. I see this baseless, irrational behaviour everyday in my life among the Muslim community and this case has just been a suitable specimen to harp on about it.
Are you serious about Gujarat and its development? Oh, God.
BTW your using quotes to say 'let's move on' does not make it my words. I don't see where I have asked that the actual victims of the riots forgive Modi or move on in that respect. What is up with that?
This is a little silly, I should not have wasted time on responding to things you have imagined up in my piece but are not actually there. Oh well.
Thanks for taking the time out to write though. Not everyone does that. Cheers.

junaid said...

There are some things which I just fail to comprehend.

a. The need to go out and associate yourself with an organization or some critical mass.[which is insignificant in the larger scheme of things]

Instead, Do some introspection, develop some compassion and then try to help. Unless you dont seek the 'Truth' there can be no 'Justice'.

b. The thin line between caring for the general good of people [your community in particular] and forcing your opinions on them.

The best way to resolve this I guess is:

One should inspire rather than teach.

Junaid Y.

longblackveil said...

Junaid: Thanks for stopping by. Though I don't know WHAT you're talking about.

junaid said...

I was talking about the same issue albeit in a vague intangible sense.

The first point reflects a mindset of a common Indian Muslim to blindly listen to what Mullahs at Deoband have to say. Why dont they find their own intellect.

The second point refers to the self-proclaimed torchbearers of Islam and their apparent dilemma.

yogi said...

Nice post. I knew what Jihad meant but did not know the meaning of Fatwa. Given that the media focuses only on the "Fatwas" of the Darul Ulooms and not on the "Fatwas" of the rest, some of us without muslim friends are totally clueless about what the majority thinks.

The question of "moving on" is something that is quite complicated. I do not condone any of the communal riots. The media projecting Muslims as victims always plays right into Hindutva hands. Hindutva groups have been whipping up a feeling of victimisation within Hindus by pointing out to Mughal atrocities and so on. So where do we start ? Each one blames the other for starting it. So who is really responsible ? We can waste the rest of our lives on fighting over the origins which can never be established clearly.

We need to "move on". This is not to say to leave the perpetrators alone. But random riots do not punish the perpetrators but only innocent people. This only creates more people mongering revenge. By "moving on", i mean only a loss of the revenge feeling.

Normally, if X kills my friend, would i think of killing X's friend, son or relative ? Clearly no. But why is this justified in the case when X is seen as a representative of a religious or caste or any other community ?

Asad said...

Good post ! I agree with what you say to a large extent. But I also believe that the 'victim card' is not merely the end product of an eternally cribbing community. It is a reality. However the bigger reality perhaps, is that discrimination is doled out to many communities/castes in India in many different forms. They are victims too. But those stories are not 'juicy' enough to whip up media frenzy ! The victimization of many groups are taken for granted, but when a Muslim is involved, the media takes it to a different socio-political plane. But then, that's subjective. Well-written post anyway.

Maverick said...

Good one Sabbah, Sane voices like you are so rare these days...kudos

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Bilal said...


I do not know much about the Veena story but I certainly agree that the Ummah these days pays a disproportionate amount of attention to such matters than they ought to receive :/

I would, though, like to respectfully disagree with your view when you say "One's faith is a very personal thing and in the context of Islam specifically, you will never be held responsible for something someone else did....."

In my view nothing could be far off from Islam's teachings. Whether it is the Quran, the hadith, or any of the four imams interpretation in main stream islam, there is absolutely no difference of opinion that muslims will be held responsible for something that someone else did - if they do not fullfil their duty as muslims. And I can explain that with many many quotes from the Quran, Hadith, Sunnah of the Prophet and Sahaba - all uncontroversial and unanimously accepted by major schools of islamic jurisprudence.

The concept of 'ones faith being a personal thing', as it is being advocated today, is an un-islamic concept, maybe welcome in Christianity, Bhuddism, Hindusim and other religion.

Kindest regards

longblackveil said...

Thank you all: Junaid, Yogi, Asad, Maverick and Bilal.
Bilal: Let's do this. Bring me a quote from the Qur'an. A line that says you will be responsible for my sins. Then we'll go on from there. :) Deal?

Bilal said...

Deal accepted. Thank you :)

First things. The way it comes across in your post, I already give in. I am not responsible for your sins. What a muslim is responsible for is what she/he has to do as a muslim. The question is how much ? Is this 'doing' restricted to one's own self or does this extend beyond it. In other words, is it a personal thing only or are there wider obligations i.e. on others, the society etc. ?

The deal is I quote the Quran only. So here goes. Unfortunately, I consider myself a window-shopper in matters of religion and I certainly cannot quote all or the most relevant. I apologize if I do not get this right.

3:104 PICKTHAL: And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful.

3:110 PICKTHAL: Ye are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and ye believe in Allah. And if the People of the Scripture had believed it had been better for them. Some of them are believers; but most of them are evil-livers.

3:114 PICKTHAL: They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency, and vie one with another in good works. These are of the righteous.

5: 78-79 PICKTHAL: Those of the Children of Israel who went astray were cursed by the tongue of David, and of Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they rebelled and used to transgress. They restrained not one another from the wickedness they did. Verily evil was that they used to do!

9:71 PICKTHAL: And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah and His messenger. As for these, Allah will have mercy on them. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise.

9:112 PICKTHAL: (Triumphant) are those who turn repentant (to Allah), those who serve (Him), those who praise (Him), those who fast, those who bow down, those who fall prostrate (in worship), those who enjoin the right and who forbid the wrong and those who keep the limits (ordained) of Allah - And give glad tidings to believers!

11:116 YUSUFALI: Why were there not, among the generations before you, persons possessed of balanced good sense, prohibiting (men) from mischief in the earth - except a few among them whom We saved (from harm)? But the wrong-doers pursued the enjoyment of the good things of life which were given them, and persisted in sin.

11:116 PICKTHAL: If only there had been among the generations before you men possessing a remnant (of good sense) to warn (their people) from corruption in the earth, as did a few of those whom We saved from them! The wrong-doers followed that by which they were made sapless, and were guilty.

22:41 PICKTHAL: Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship and pay the poor-due and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity. And Allah's is the sequel of events.

31:17 PICKTHAL: O my dear son! Establish worship and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity, and persevere whatever may befall thee. Lo! that is of the steadfast heart of things.

If we read these verses in context, (i.e. the verses before and after), they make for better understanding and become even clearer. Hadith, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the Sahabah corroborates the verses.

Kindest regards,

zain said...

Im surprised how can a kashmiri an indian kashmiri write anything related to pakistan, im sorry but i thought your sympathy lies within the butchery beheaded upon you from your beloved indians :) WHAT surprises me more is - still some pakistanis empathize with you when your feelings, honor, dignity lies within indian bloody!
My heart goes out with innocent kashmiri girls gang-raped by indians army and murdered then and this has been ongoing from the past 6 decades and still there are some kashmiris - WHO HAVE THEIR SYMPATHIES WITH INDIA! i hate india for what they've done to kashmir but i hate those kashmiris more who mock a pakistani over an indian - just like the blogger here herself

yogi said...

All i can say is that The Kashmiri Times has lost a valuable opportunity to gain some serious respect. A sorry to a reader would have only won them more respect and goodwill. In these days of news gathering from second-hand sources, errors are bound to occur and apologising only builds more trust on the newspaper. Removal of your article if only a pyrrhic victory to KT.

Yasar said...

Time and Time everyone comes up with one answer prove it from Quran. Sabbah just asked the same thing prove it from Quran where is it written that one person will have to bear the sins of others.
"Lakum Deenukum Waliyadin" This one simple aayath is what stuck in the minds of the liberalist or so called Qadianis Ahmedis for argument against the conservatives.I agree with her fully she is correct, but then Allah praises the ummah for only one thing and that is this ummah does good deeds and spreads the message of good deeds to others restrains oneself from bad deeds and also help others to restrain from bad deeds. I am sorry if i couldnt translate it in proper english.But a clear translation in Urdu would sound like this "Tum Behtarin Ummath ho Jo dusro k Nafe rasani k liye Nikali gayi ho Jo khud nek amal karthe hai aur dusro ko neki ki daawath dethe ho khud bure kaamo se bachte ho aur dusro ko unse rokte ho". I mean now if one muslim is doing a wrong deed then its the right of another muslim to help him stop those sins. I mean neither you nor me we are not among those muslims who are on a very righteous path that we can talk about her but there are certainly good people alive in this world who have this duty upon them who have the right to talk about it as being a muslim. I mean but you are very good with words so you will again ask me the same question that i didnt explained anything where it is written in quran that its written that one is responsible for others sins. But then as per Quran Alcohol is not forbidden so will you drink Alcohol. There is a thing called as Hadith when you look into hadith for the explaination of Quran you will find the correct answer for your questions. Our Prophets Hadith says that in Khayamath people will be questioned for things other than their prayers people will be asked what you were doing when your neighbor or relative was not praying,offering zakat,performing hajj and committing sins.

I just called you a liberalist may be you are not and may be you are not a qadiani or Ahmedi. Or Perhaps you know better than Allah.

Its my perception that 90% of muslims in media or journalism or social work are either liberals,shias or Qadianis.

And yes my English is very bad so I apologise for any mistakes or any headaches i give you with confusing sentences.