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No, Javed Akhtar, I will not celebrate Faiz Ahmad Faiz

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Prasenjeet Kumar
Prasenjeet Kumar
An author who has written thirty books, six of which centre around Kashmir — You Can’t Kill My Love: A Kashmir Holocaust Love Story, Still Missing…, Kashmir is Free and Kashmir Thinks It’s Free and Kashmir is Free Finally (co-authored with his father Dr. Arun Kumar (IAS) Retd.), the Outsider’s Tales and a non-fiction memoir Unmasking Kashmir/The Outsider’s Curse (co-authored with his mother Sonali Kumar (IAS) Retd.) You can contact him at: [email protected]

Of all the opinions expressed for and against poet Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge, the one by Javed Akhtar in Hindustan Times on January 5, 2020 stood out for its double-speak. The article was titled ‘Celebrating Faiz Ahmad Faiz and the Spirit of Hum Dekhenge in Today’s Times,’ and can be read here.

It’s interesting the way Javed Akhtar begins his piece. As a noted film lyricist and screenwriter, he appears to be a great fan of sub-text (as am I). But before we proceed any further, let me reproduce his opening paragraph:

‘The ignorance shown by some people, even in a prestigious institution like Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, over Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry surprises me. It’s quite obvious that they don’t know Urdu, the language in which Faiz composed his poetry; they don’t know the tradition of poetry; they don’t know anything about the poet, and they have no idea of the circumstances under which he wrote Hum Dekhenge …’

Shri Akhtar is obviously reacting to Dr Vashi Sharma’s views which are worth a read in any case. But let me focus on the inescapable, condescending, subtext in Shri Akhtar’s para which is: Hindus are fools. They don’t know Urdu. They don’t understand the tradition of Poetry, and they have no idea about Islam. Hence, I can paint a rosy picture of the poetry et al and fool them.

Obviously, and very interestingly, Shri Akhtar is unleashing his secret weapon of Taqiyya, which is a term every Hindu (Kafir or disbeliever) should now get familiar with. Loosely translated, Taqiyya means to lie, and believe it or not, Muslims have the ‘divine sanction’ to lie to unbelievers to defeat them or to protect themselves. Ask any honest Maulvi, and he should admit this.

For a full discussion on taqiyya, you may want to view this article.

Readers may also like to appreciate this quote from ‘Ali:

‘Whenever I tell you a narration from Allah’s Apostle, by Allah, I would rather fall down from the sky than ascribe a false statement to him, but if I tell you something between me and you (not a Hadith) then it was indeed a trick (i.e., I may say things just to cheat my enemy).’ Hadith; Volume 9, Book 84, Number 64.

So, it is clear that a Muslim can lie to cheat his enemy. And who is the enemy, prey? ‘… Verily, the disbelievers are ever unto you open enemies.’ (Quran 4:101)

Alright, but aren’t we deviating? Why should we bother whether a Muslim is permitted to lie about his religion or not? And what has that got to do with Javed Akhtar and Faiz Ahmed Faiz?

So, please see Shri Akhtar’s article, and you will be astounded by the intellectual gymnastics, denial of facts, and distortion of the obvious meaning of sentences. When readers point out the intolerance and the bigotry in Faiz’s poetry-in-question, the response you get is that you’ve misunderstood. The sentences do not mean X (the obvious meaning), but actually Y. Something radically different.

So, let’s look at some controversial portions of the poem.

Jab arz-e-Khuda ke Kaabe se, sab butt uthwaye jayenge.
Bas naam rahega Allah Ka.

Prima facie, these lines don’t prove that Faiz was an atheist/secular/communist especially when you read the last line. Javed Akhtar argues otherwise by quoting these other lines:

Ham jinhen soz-e-mohabbat ke siva
Koi buut koi khuda yaad nahin

So, please study these lines too. First of all, yaad nahin is not the same as something doesn’t exist. It simply means I don’t remember. I may say, ‘My grandfather died years ago. I do not remember him.’ That does not mean my grandfather never existed. It just means I don’t remember. Or yaad nahin. Whereas Bas naam rahega Allah Ka, proves what it is meant to, i.e. that Faiz believed in Allah and his supremacy over other (presumably false) gods.

Let me go back one last time to those ‘objectionable lines’:

Jab arz-e-Khuda ke Kaabe se, sab buut uthwaye jayenge.
Bas naam rahega Allah Ka.

Javed Akhtar claims these lines have been misunderstood. Kaaba does not refer to Kaaba in Saudi Arabia. And Buut does not mean idols (even though that is the obvious meaning), but ‘dictators who are acting like they are gods.’ Interestingly, earlier Javed Akhtar claimed Koi Buut koi khuda yaad nahin as a proof of Faiz’s atheism. So, does it mean you don’t remember dictators because Javed Akhtar sees Buut as a reference to dictators? Then how is this song a protest against dictators (when dictators do not exist)?

That’s why, I can’t understand how Buut can mean dictators and Bas naam rahega Allah ka can become a cry for restoring democracy. Tell me, if any Indian wishes to protest against dictatorial regimes, should he quote any confused Pakistani, or our own really revolutionary and unambiguous Ramdhari Singh Dinkar when he thunders, ‘Singhasan Khali Karo Ki Janta Aati Hai?

But if you want to understand the historical context of Faiz’s poem, here is a quotation from the Hadith describing how Prophet Muhammad smashed the idols of Kaaba when he entered Mecca.

Narrated `Abdullah:

When the Prophet entered Mecca on the day of the Conquest, there were 360 idols around the Ka`ba. The Prophet started striking them with a stick he had in his hand and was saying, “Truth has come and Falsehood will neither start nor will it reappear.‏’’’

Reference: Sahih al-Bukhari 4287; In-book reference: Book 64, Hadith 320; USC-MSA web (English) reference: Vol. 5, Book 59, Hadith 583.

Doesn’t Faiz’s poetry sound similar to this quotation from the Hadith than some vague reference to dictators? Isn’t this what all Muslim bigots have been doing for centuries: from Mahmud of Ghazni, to Tamerlane to Mohammad Ghori, Babur, Aurangzeb, and Tipu Sultan? And in modern times when the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan? Or, when those ISIS goons smashed priceless artefacts from museums and historical sites in Syria and Iraq? And who is the dictator here? The idol-destroyers or the idol-installers?

That’s why Faiz’s use of such Islamic imagery sounds so offensive to any sensitive heritage-loving mind today. Be it the native Americans, aboriginal Australians, or animist tribals of the Indian North-East, we don’t believe anyone has any right to smash anyone’s idols or insult anyone’s gods. But who is listening? And so, the juggernaut of the same religious bigotry continues even today, destroying thousands of temples in Pakistan and in Kashmir, and abducting, raping, killing, and displacing countless Hindus.

So, yes Javed Akhtar, you’re right. We Hindus are ignorant. We can’t appreciate the beautiful Islamic imagery that Faiz’s poem invokes. And of course, his symbolism, which we ignoramuses just can’t understand.

Now, to Shri Akhtar’s second point that the poem also contains expressions like anal-haq which is a Sufi expression borrowed from the Vedic Aham Brahmasmi. My response: Why don’t we read that expression too in the context of annihilation of idolatry (meaning all non-Muslim religions) so that only the religion of Allah remains?

And why not? Did the great Faiz endorse Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his concept of Pakistan, or not? Did he himself, lock stock and barrel, move to Pakistan or not? Did he remain silent on the mass murder of Hindus or not?

Fine. Mabye he didn’t like Zia-ul-Haq. Or, the Pakistan that he helped create. Big deal. But how does that prove he was an atheist? Just because he or Javed saheb say so?

And finally, even if we accept that Faiz’s poem was in the context of a protest against a Pakistani dictator, why sing it in India against a democratically elected government and a democratically passed law (CAA)?

Now Javed Akhtar can say, ‘Why berate me, because I too am an atheist. And you dare not accuse me of taqiyya.’ Ah well, I forgot. Shri Akhtar may indeed be an atheist. But then why does his defence sound like that coming from a typical Muslim apologist? His defence of Buut hatwaye jayenge as a call to remove dictators sounds exactly like the defence Muslim apologists put out for the controversial ‘beat your wife’ verse (Quran 4:34). They (apologists) claim that beating your wife shouldn’t be taken literally but as a symbolic gesture. Huh???

And the word Qatl, in the context of apostates and unbelievers, does not mean to kill, but to show the wrongdoers the correct path or … whatever. Just as Buut does not mean idols but dictators. And Kaaba does not mean Kaaba. And … perhaps Allah does not mean the Islamic God but the rule of democracy.

Am I challenging that Javed Akhtar is an atheist? No, not all. That only Allah knows best.

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Prasenjeet Kumar
Prasenjeet Kumar
An author who has written thirty books, six of which centre around Kashmir — You Can’t Kill My Love: A Kashmir Holocaust Love Story, Still Missing…, Kashmir is Free and Kashmir Thinks It’s Free and Kashmir is Free Finally (co-authored with his father Dr. Arun Kumar (IAS) Retd.), the Outsider’s Tales and a non-fiction memoir Unmasking Kashmir/The Outsider’s Curse (co-authored with his mother Sonali Kumar (IAS) Retd.) You can contact him at: [email protected]
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