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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The Leadership Paradox

Mohamedarif Suleman – Nairobi, Kenya

Since time immemorial, the prospect of serving the community for any individual, let alone leading it, has been a subject of great aversion. Needless to say that the kick that comes with the association of a member with leadership is enormous.

It may not be a strange phenomenon to readers – most of us have heard and seen people who rationalize superbly how prudent it is for them to keep their distance from community. Yet, without leaders, amongst whom we have a great number of shining examples from the annals of history, the community would be stuck in its being as an organizational entity. So, what is the problem?

As youths pass through the stage of adolescence, they witness (quite openly these days) how cutthroat the exchange of words is in a general meeting. The recent debacle between the AF and WF were classical examples of how frustrated leaders can themselves become of the punitive treatment meted out to them or their constituents by members of another. In this case, it did appear that both parties were aggrieved and this may not be the right place to adjudicate the issue, not when harmony has taken center-stage once again. But suffice it to say that such incidences do promote the feeling that leadership or community service is not all that rosy after all.

Hard liners or community stalwarts will always remind the youths to base their expectation of reward from the Almighty (SWT) and not from the people they lead or serve. This is a service to Allah, they say, and as such does not accommodate feeble hearts or emotional persons. In answer, the new generation, while confessing that their own lives do not allow them to enter into any further commitments that would in any case yield bitterness between disagreeing parties, inevitably it is human to expect if not reward, at least an iota of appreciation.

Some people come to leadership with robust zeal, but fade away with mounting pressure from “dissidents” tp go the other way. Veterans will once again preach that “you can never make everyone happy”, and in response, one could yet again rebuke as to where does one draw the line.

To make matters worse, certain members having come to the chair, it is contended, form close groupings amongst the king makers and philanthropists that does not allow any active role from young and fresh ideas. How many times does it happen that certain leaders make up their minds outside the confines of their Managing Committees? But if someone were to look at the issue from their own perspective, it would appear sane and responsible after all. This is because, it is firmly believed that any member who ascends to the position of leadership does so out of his personal and surrounding capacity to decide for and on behalf of the community.

But looking at it all from the youthful eyes of a teenager, it all appears like one big facade. And so they live their young hood with adversity and animosity towards the role of their leaders, if not the leaders themselves. They wish there were more room for participative politics rather than competitive and authoritative ones. In their bid to conserve the future generations’ faith in them, many leaders have been known to make special commitments to the youths to show that they too matter. But what does that amount to? Both are right and none is wrong. The paradox is born, bred and lived each day of our lives and it may only be a stroke of sheer coincidence that we (Indian Khojas) were conceived out of a good natured rebellion and that became a part and parcel of our long-term thinking – whichever side you are on, that is!

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What of the Visionaries and Thinkers?

Mohamedarif Suleman – Nairobi, Kenya

Here comes the 21st century, and with it arrives further bombardment of education and the need to secure an education for each child. Only now, unlike the 80s and 90s, here is more talk about Information Technology. In the midst of all of this, what has the Khoja Shia Ithnasheri envisioned for himself?

It is true to say that some things will never change. For instance, with the advent of an IT age, we will not prefer being fitted to batteries and accumulators in lieau of the life-giving habit of feeding (a la pilau and biryani!). Similarly, IT has come only to assist us in furthering the levels to which humankind can reach. The oncoming era is no different in terms of euphoria and excitement than the industrial revolution of the 19th century.

In the same token, we must admit that there are some things that should not change. For instance, respect for elders, rights of minors and orphans, etc. all these that we believe belong to all ages regardless. What will change, in the final analysis is the pace of our lives. And this is what we are concwerned about (just as doctors will be concerned about increased cases of constipation and other excretory troubles as a result of faster fast foods!). What do we as a community feel touched by at the dawn of this all-important centenarian twist?

Alhamdulillah, in the last five or so years, East African Jamaats can confidently say that there has been a significant rise in the number of boys and girls going for higher education. At the grassroots level, all major Jamaats now have their own schools and academies, where the striving for excellence continues. This could not have come at a more opportune moment as these national economies merge into the international scenario where true marker forces are now into direct play. Indirectly, what this means is that, we no longer need to produce O ’Level, dropouts to run family-bred businesses, because the IT revolution has created newer entry levels for new entrepreneurs.

But exporting our blood fortune – our children to Western counties or to foreign lands should not be the goal. It should rather be the means to a greater goal. After all, the community may not be deeply interested in fluently speaking American products because there would be no benefit out of such individuals. The community and as such the parents would rather invest in youths who will bring substantial benefit to the community at large.

Unfortunately, perhaps out of lack of foresight or sheer ill of fortune and circumstance, when business was boom in East Africa, no visionary came forth and presented a plan for the sustainability of education, or for shelter for that matter. Twenty years ago, when the first computers started trickling in with those mega 5.25” floppies, the community was found giving out loans to students, as it was found yearning for donations. And two decades later, when the world is at the threshold of an IT revolution, the same sight is still visible. There is only one change. Today, the resources are not enough to meet the demand.

Where are the visionaries of this community? Or are there any? And could this be one reason why the newer generation finds this institution to be incompatible? An answer is ended fast, and faster is the need to redress the situation. As a community, we should stand up in respect for all our leaders because we are what we are today because of their selflessness. But we need more. We need direction. We need visionaries. We need thinkers.

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