Latest Read: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah



Well!  Well Well! Was certainly not expecting this.  

When Trevor Noah was introduced last year as host of the Daily Show I decided to trust Jon Stewart. I watched the first few episodes. Of course I saw potential but I also knew that it had taken Jon Stewart many years to come into his own.

Then the elections came and I devoured talk shows. Trevor Noah was much more comfortable by then. I loved that he spoke about Africa on his show often; that he owned his past with pride.

I got the book last week. It is a book of stories from his childhood arranged more or less chronologically; it is honest, down to earth and made me fall in love with his mother. 

It is also a familiar book in many respects for people coming from a third world country. As he describes the ghettos I see glimpses of my home country in that. When his stepfather is worried about what people will say and lets that completely destroy himself and his family, I find myself nodding in understanding. I have seen the Black Tax his mother warns him about.

Due to this book, I now understand about why a fishing rod is as necessary as lessons on fishing and have gained a better understanding of how blurry the line is between civilian and criminal when circumstances are hard.

I would recommend this book. 

Latest Read: The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam


Nadeem Aslam, hum aap pay waray jaain.

I think Nadeem Aslam is one of the most important writers of our time. He writes about what plagues people, giving a reason for the madness while neither justifying nor blaming anyone for it. 

This story is set in the fictional city of Zamana in Pakistan. Zamana is an Urdu word meaning era or these times. In the story, Helen, a poor Christian girl is educated by her parents' Muslim employers: a husband and wife architect couple with big hearts and a wondrous house. There is also a beautiful Kashmiri boy who plays the santoor and falls in love with Helen. The character I bonded with the most is Lily, Helen's father; a man who wants to do more for himself and his family. 

I think The Wasted Vigil was brilliant. This book is better. 

Latest Read: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid


I had not liked his previous book too much; had been put off by the style mostly. This book I liked very much. It is about two young adults who fall in love and then have to leave their city as refugees. 
Some people did not like the doors in the book - I loved the doors. They helped put emphasis on the couple and their relationship rather than on the journeys refugees have to undertake. Hamid, I think, wanted to focus on what a person becomes when they are forced to leave their life behind.
I would recommend this book. It is a bit long winded at times but I did not mind that and appreciated his style quite a bit.

Reaching Milestones

After much practice I am getting to the point where I consider others' perspective and understanding almost as valid as mine.
I am less interesting but nicer I think.

Saying No to Shariah is Not a Sin

I am against imposing Shariah. Any version of Shariah. Even though I belong to the majority sect and was a Zia-era child, when I put my Muslim hat on, I do not think I am making God angry by saying no to Shariah. And this is why:

There is only one revealed book in Islam. Only one. Every other religious book – every hadith book, every fiqh book, and every religious history book is written by men. Some of these men did the best they could, some did what they thought would be best for them – whatever the case – none of these books have any power over me. They are thoughts, interpretations and stories written down by men. They hold no religious authority. The Quran says that it is complete. I think it is safe to take that at face value.

Secondly, there is no clergy in Islam. This is important to internalize because this means that my interpretation is as valid as anyone else’s. I have been brainwashed to believe that unless I have an Islamic education and have mastery over the religious books I am not able to understand my religion. This is wrong. There IS NO clergy in Islam. None. Therefore, the maulvis and the religious scholars and the fatwa givers also have no authority over me.

Given the fact that there is only one book and that book encourages everyone to interpret it – there is no concept of a divine Shariah. The Quran does not have laws concerning the minutia of running a country. One can only interpret and extrapolate from it. And that is what the Shariah is. An interpretation and an extrapolation of what some people thought the Quran and Sunnah and Hadiths meant. Apart from the problem that the Hadiths were also used to come up with the Shariah, the main problem is that it is someone’s interpretation that is now given full religious authority.

Let me give you an example about interpretation. The Quran says to cut off the hands of those who steal. That is all that it says. Valid interpretations are:
  • Anyone who steals should have his hands cut off
  • This only applies to adults of sound mind and only to those who steal while not under duress
  • The cutting of hands is metaphorical. Thus the thief should be made incapable of stealing and locking him up will be following the Quran.
My interpretation will be different from yours. But if we both agree that it is an interpretation we can talk about it and change it if we think it should be changed. However, with the current Shariah, there is no room for argument unless, maybe, if one has that Islamic education and that mastery over the so called religious texts. So, for all intents and purposes there is no room for argument in the Shariah.

Some people may say that the current Shariah is old and it needs to be updated and that ideally there is always room for argument and change. I understand this argument. I adhered to this argument for many years. But I do not accept it now. Ignoring the fact that all modern Islamic states have done poorly and that the golden age of Muslims was less about Islam and more about conquest and science, the point is that once a law is assumed to be divine, logic and discussion and proofs cease to matter.

And so, I am against imposing the Shariah; totally and completely and unapologetically.

Latest Read: No God but God by Reza Aslan

I am so glad Reza Aslan gave that hilarious interview to Fox News on that wonderful wonderful day. I did not know of him till then.

I have thoroughly enjoyed No God but God. Learned many new things and unlearned many more. In the beginning of the book, Reza describes pre-Islamic Mecca; how it was an economic hub dependent on the annual pilgrimage with powerful families jealously maintaining the status quo. Reza is unusually adept at painting vivid pictures of times and places. Just like he did to Jerusalem in Zealot, here he has made pre-Islamic Mecca a real place for me.

The book narrates the history of Islam. Having read a sanitized and glorified version of this history in school this book is very refreshing. The squabbles between the companions right after the death of the prophet and the thinly veiled hunger for power make those giants of Islam seem very human. Reza describes the Muslim dynasties and their rise and fall. He explains the various interpretations of Islam. I especially liked the chapter on Sufism.

I LOVED his treatment of the clerics. Here is a paragraph:

Throughout Islamic history, as Muslim dynasties tumbled over one another, Muslim Kings were crowned and dethroned, and Islamic parliaments elected and dissolved, only the Ulama, in their capacity as the link to the traditions of the past, have managed to retain their self-imposed role as the leaders of Muslim society. As a result, over the past fourteen centuries, Islam as we know it has been almost exclusively defined by an extremely small, rigid, and often profoundly traditionalist group of men who, for better or worse, consider themselves to be the unyielding pillars upon which the religious, social, and political foundations of the religion rest. How they gained this authority, and what they have done with it, is perhaps the most important chapter in the story of Islam.

It is an optimistic book. Reza acknowledges that Muslims are going through a dark period but he expects this diversity of views and this stirring up of the Muslim thought-pot to bring tolerance and a wiser outlook .

Remembering

At about this time every year, for the past many years, I have bought the latest anthology of American short stories. In the past, I would greedily and carefully read it and then put it in my suitcase.

Papa loved short stories. He had many short story collections in the house  - from Tolstoy to Asimov. He taught me how difficult they are to write and how beautiful they are sometimes. 

Papa and I would discuss some of the American stories after he read them. Some he thought were just plain silly. Some we would discuss at length. He appreciated honesty in writers and writing free of gimmicks. 

I got my copy of this year’s anthology yesterday. I feel sad reading it. This year I will put it on the bookshelf.