Arabic Lingo

By Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

Lots of our problems today are due to the fact that we are not conversant with the language governing our religion. The question whether we should learn Arabic or seek more translators, is an age old discussion with no right side in the contest. In the past, we have dealt with the issue of whether Majlises should be recited in English or Urdu. Here is an opportunity to discuss the third dimension.

What do you think? How do we solve this problem? It all starts when we are told that our wrong understanding of the Quran and even salaat is simply because the language used is foreign  to most of us. Is that a fact? Do we have those learned people in the community who can speak Arabic around? If there are, can we hear of their experiences as to whether knowing the language has helped their understanding of the religion better?

Many of us, however, try very hard and on one of our ziyarat trips do attempt the usage of one or two isolated words and phrases to communicate with their hosts. But the fact remains that if a language is not in use, it is not very practical to expect knowledge of the language let alone fluency, for in order for one to speak a language in contemporary fashion, one would have to know the slang and the connotations, the contexts and the newly coined words to escape the plight of sounding obsoletely Victorian in English.

A few years ago, when the Husayni Madressa had Arabic as a compulsory subject in senior sections, there was great enthusiasm on the part of students to use newly learned words and phrases in daily friendly conversations. But again, a Madressa can hardly be expected to train individuals intensively due to the multiple constraints of time, availability of teachers and mostly the innate attitude problem that the community at large holds about such institutions.

Then of course, our community can be accused of not being clear on policy regarding language, in any case. Thus it would be fallacious for us to presume that Arabic can be taught continuously whereas our own mother tongue is endangered.

While the Community on Friday awaits the views of readers, let us take a look at Engr Sayyid Khadim Husayn Naqavi in the book ”Dictionary of Islamic Terms”, in which he attempts to explain the English equivalents of oft-used Islamic (Arabic-Persian, you may say) terms. Here is a selected assortment:





Aranj; ELBOW

Azar; The name of Prophet Ibrahim’s maternal grandfather or, according to others, his uncle




Asiya; ASIA





Asif bin Bakhiya; Prime Minister of Prophet Sulayman

Afaridah; CREATURE




Ale Imran; Family of Imran

Ale Muhammad; Family of Muhammad


Aalyazh; ALLOY




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In the name of Education…

by Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)

Much has been said about the importance of acquiring education, and what various things have been said by our leaders on the subject.  Action, they say, not words, speak louder.  The New Millennium is for the well informed, the saying goes.  So the question we must ask ourselves is whether we want to belong to the new millennium, the new era.  Expectedly, our answer will be a resounding “yes”.

So far, we have engaged in the commendable establishment of schools, both secular and religious.  This is a positive direction of thought, but much work needs to be done, and lessons require to be learnt.  For once, management must be professional, and non partisan.  Most of our educational ventures indicate that because the community directly ran the school, chances of failure were always a threat.  The only plausible reasons for success were the shortage of good schools, which eventually became our competitive edge.  Professionally run schools stand better chances of imparting the right balance of education and on a long term basis.

But in order for us to achieve that, funding plans must be put in place.  The school has to be run as a commercial venture rather than anything else, of course with the objective of dispensing education.  But if community-dependance is the basis of the institution, then this would be a short term and problem-plagued project.

Assuming that the the above are put in place, we must now focus on creating some sort of coordination aimed at synchronising our schools within, say the East African region.  One school would learn from the experiences of another.  There could be educational and extra curricular exchange programs.  The availability of scholarships would also be an added advantage with the expansion of the small circle.

Of course, while we draft this master plan, some of our schools are already success stories in their own right, but what we now need is to rewrite our overall success collectively.

And as you would predict, nursery, primary or secondary schools do not end our role.  There is higher education that needs to be taken care of.  Again, the Education Boards are doing enormous work in this area in conjunction with the AF’s own Board in dispensing scholarships, etc.  And till such a time whereby it is not an economically viable idea, or till such a time when we do not feel entirely capable of venturing into building our own Universities one day, we should continue facilitating higher education outside the region.  But a proper (read commercial) plan needs to be installed.  We can barely finance the multitude of other essential projects let alone this bigger issue of education.  And in any case, a lot of the deserving cases are sometimes turned down due to the non availability of funds.

In short, this community needs new, practical ideas that would adequately take care of the community as a more organised unit.  Instead of the community relying entirely on the Islamic tax and generous donations, there should be an additional dimension of income-generation.  Again, it could be argued that some of the Jamaats are already self-sufficient, but this would apply to a rare minority.  The bigger picture remains that we still have to globe-trot to appeal for funds.

What we are forgetting is that, as times become tougher, most hands are no longer going to be able to dig deeper into their pockets.  Before this situation catches up on us, we have to work harder in establishing a sustainable growth path, and in so doing, we would be guaranteeing the long life to our socio-cultural unit.  It is not of any meaning for us to rejoice that we have witnessed another millennium; we must first characterise this spectacle with a demonstration of our collective ability to respond to changing times and newer challenges.  We have said it before that but for a rebel Ismaili dissent group, the Ithansheri group may not have been formed.  These forefathers rose up to the need of their time – that of a religion of reasoning, can we live up to ours?

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Marsia Play With Emotions…Is That Right

Concencus shows, from the various written as well as verbal comments we have received after last issue’s discussion on Marsias, that Marsias are to a large extent leading towards singing. In fact, a letter that we received from the Dar es Salaam Jamaat Tabligh Sub Committee even pledged to supply us with a list of Marsias that have been positively identified with such affiliation.

What is acrimonious is not that these Marsias and Nauhas are in fact underscoring the importance of rhyme and rhythm, but that we refuse to accept the fact. If these Marsias are not inappropriate, than why should Hindi songs? Oh, for the music? But isn’t there a new finding now that certain types of music are no longer outlawed? So, the question returns – where do we draw the line?

Taking a peep inside the life of an ordinary Indian and by extension of a Pakistani (The Indian Sub Continent), we will invariable discover that music and films are life and blood of each person. Many reason have been established, and for once, the lack of another entertainment and leisure outlet in these countries due to years of restrictions as well as large population. In India, for example, where most of these Marsias are born, every person identifies himself with a certain movie character that either rationalizes his own status or gives impetus to his actions. So profitable is this line of business, that if career guidance was to be conducted that naturally acting and entertainment would yield a greater percentage of candidates.

The lyricists who pen those emotionally crushing words (in great part to offer comfort an solace to the poor Indian who is struggling in life), are not seperated from those talented authors of Marsias. The bottom line is whether we can choose to be a market for such outlets or not.

But as humans, and in spite of our innate grief for the sacrifices our Aimmah (AS), we sometimes need that additional shot in the heart to move us, that uniquely poetic expression of Imam’s grief or distress. And so the question remains on where do we draw the line reemerges.

Many times even the Zakireen have been found to flaunt with their audience’s emotions by reciting narrations that have powerful and heart piercing effects, but whose authenticity remains questionable. And amidst all this , we run the risk of passing on some false education to the budding youth. After all, it is perhaps very okay for the newer generation to see and hear all of this, because they have grown to see only such things. So, who will take the responsibility? An English proverb seems to offer the audacious answer. ”The responsibility rests with the Government”, in our case an obvious pointer to our Jamaat leadership and resident Aalims. If these two classes of people can avoid playing populists, then there will be sufficient room for our communities to move away from this obvious and imminent amalgamation of Marsias and songs. But of course, we must first ascertain if this is wrong in the first place.

Those of us who have read a bit of psychology know that the first step in resolving a conflict – whether internal or external, is to accept the existence of a problem (the step that follows rejection, withdrawal and resignation). Once we can collectively agree that there is a problem, it will be easier to identify the cause of the problem. At the moment it does appear as though we are terribly divided…in thought as well as action.

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Marsias – Where Do We Draw The Line

By Mohamedarif Suleman (Nairobi, Kenya)


Ten or fifteen years ago, I vividly remember how an informal reformist group of our community in East Africa rose against a very strange trend taking root in our midst.

The movement was against the use of a Hindi film song tunes to recite Marsias. It was alleged that it was hypocritical on our part to firstly criticize listening to music or rather ban it, and then mimic the same tones in the form of reciting marsias and nauhas. The reaction that such a movement spurred was immense. People who raised their voices were shunned, and some were even labeled as infidels.

That not being very surprising since it has been a tradition in our community that whenever certain deep rooted norms are questioned, the initial reaction is that of blasphemy. Most people at the time were not able to comprehend that these marsias and nauhas originated from the home of Indian and Pakistani film industries, in actual fact it had to be as we were using their language in the first place.

Nowadays, such discussions though not totally free of implications may be entertained in the name of intellectual and scholastic pursuit. Just recently, members attending a sufro majlis were treated to a fine qasida that was an exact copy of a Hindi Film song of 1992/3. We are either too naive or simply ignorant. The very lyricists of Hindi films (most of them, Muslims by the way) who sell their rhyme and rhythm to Bollywood may also be responsible of selling their work to composers of Marsias. Or it could well be that these composers decide to incorporate a favoured tone into a marsia, etc. because it carries an in-built  emotional power. Do we ever research into the origins of a certain nauha etc., or do we just deliver without regards to the same?

In such a case we are no different from the smokers who are trying to beat their hazardous habit by utilizing nicotine-compensating methods. People who want to give up songs, listen to loud marsias and nauhas in their cars because they are so used to the beating woofers that they cannot bear without it. It is called legitimiazing one’s action. Perhaps not all, but a lot of the sounds emanating from the Indian Sub Continent in the form of religious recitals are in fact a direct copy of a classical Hindi song. At the end, who will bell the cat is the question as everyone shudders to point a finger. Why? Because if one does assert in this manner, he or she will openly be known as a music listener. Paradoxical, is it not?

The strategy that musicians use is not different from the one the composers of Marsias use. The aim is to emote. The best way to do it is by combining the power of music and lyric. The tears shed are the results of a resonance that successfully strikes one’s ears and heart, and shakes the person.

Where does one draw the line? Should we consider this a parallel industry to the mainstream music industry? How do you adjudge one from the other? Recently, we had a storm of audio/video stars from Pakistan who produced their own ”albums” and made something, one would presume. At that time, it was common to hear someone say ”Do you have (reciter’s name)…?”. This was familiar to what goes on in a video library when you ask ”’do you have Michael Bolton?”

Of course this subject is another one of our long list of self-imposed taboos, but as we move on to the next century, reason not emotion will prevail. For every action, we want a plausible explanation, and an opportunity to question rites and rituals. Can the community tolerate that?

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The Agenda of Nyaz

Mohamedarif Suleman – Nairobi, Kenya

Originally, what was the purpose of Nyaz? In establishing a true and objective to this question and many other such as its use today, one would have to formulate an unprejudiced list of pros and cons of Nyaz.

Science has shown us that most normal things in life are characterized or constituted by a parabolic curve. This is fondly called a normal curve. A normal curve, graphically represented, starts off numerically low at both ends, and rises gradually at the center. The explanation of the behavior of tis curve is that the extremes (in this case, yes to Nyaz and no to Nyaz) are few in numbers. The majority of the population is made up of the middle-way adherents. That is to say, that for most of their lives they move on steadily, remaining largely uninfluenced by either poles. The case of Nyaz is no different.

So what is the purpose of Nyaz? Firstly, in many Jamaats across the world, Nyaz serves to bring various members closer. Through the ritual of eating collectively, a stronger bond amongst the followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS) develops. Having said that, Nyaz also allows people the opportunity to sit and discuss issues related to the Muslim ummah, and jointly remember the ideals and virtues of the Holy Progeny.

What are the downsides to hosting of Nyaz? (Please bear that these are objective and pragmatic considerations, which do not take count of any emotional or irrational belief. And in any case, a Muslim must be able to justify his actions and reason them out.)

The drain on the community, financially, is astronomical. Of course, there are donors who stand up even before the plea is made.

Now, let’s look at what is happening in reality. Many years ago, a sociologist by the name of Asimov Pavlov postulated that creatures usually condition themselves to repeating occurrences. He showed that when a dog was continuously fed after ringing a bell at a given time, the dog would after a while show up for food, even though the bell was not rung or that there was no food. Conversely, the sound of the bell would make him believe that food was in the offing. Tis has been effectively applied on humans, who are also known to be creatures of conditioning.

Now it would appear that a large chunk of the membership has now forged a conditioned response whereby attendance is greatest when Nyaz is announced and lowest when there is Tabarruk only. In addition, already existing informal groups means that there is little meaningful exchange between new people each day.

And the worst part, despite years of appeal by leaders and preachers, like Pavlov’s experimental dog, some of us wait for the bell to ring before we set foot inside the Imambargha. And let us not forget the donors, who pose numerous conditions, both directly and indirectly, to announce that they are indeed the donors. Do these actions meet with the benefits attached to the noble practice of Nyaz?

But even today, anyone who raises a question is considered outrageous and blasphemous. And until the natural course of remedy surfaces, it does look clear now that the community has adopted a parabolic approach to many issues, including Nyaz. Let the Nyaz lovers fight the Nyaz opposers (two poles), while the centrally located will continue to lurk in the middle, except that in this case, there is growing concern that the original significance is not lost, amongst our heavy purses and lofty voices.

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