Role of Islam in Rumi’s Influence on March of Civilization
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA

Thank you for publishing the article “The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi” by the distinguished author Rozina Ali in Feb 24 issue of your august weekly.
It should not surprise us to see that everything is presented out of context in the “Post Truth” world of today. If Maulana Rumi is being delinked with Islam and Qur’an now, Islam was successfully delinked from all Monotheistic religion centuries ago. The followers of earlier prophets are now recognized by a different name under a “different religion”. Those who have done this do not want to unite mankind on bases of One God, but divide it on bases of different gods and different religions for their own benefit. We want a religion that does not put restraint on freedoms. We want a religion or spirituality that supports us to face the consequences of our bad choices in exercising our freedoms and give us some solace in hour of despair and the courage to continue on our journey without correcting our course.
Chris Martin, Madonna and Swinton need the one liners of Rumi like: “If you are irritated by every rub how will you ever get polished” or “Every moment I shape my destiny with a chisel I am the carpenter of my own soul”. People like Coleman Barks are doing this job for them by interpreting the early translators of Rumi like Nicholson and Arberry in their work without taking their readers into the painful metaphysical details of scriptures or practice of the orphic monks. Without understanding the process which led Rumi to come to the conclusions which these one liners represent, and without following the procedure to make these one liners transform our lives for better, these one liners can only act as any other psychedelic to give us a sense of euphoria. We want a kick, not a cure.
We should be thankful to the good nature of man that he has kept the aphorism “Rob Peter to pay Paul” still alive and popular to understand our liberties with Rumi and all such original thinkers and reformers. If Rumi is being robbed to pay Barks and Deepak Chopra for a good reason to give intellectual or spiritual support to people like Chris Martin we should not complain. We should promote the work of Jawid Mujaddedi who is trying to introduce real Rumi to the Western World by releasing his poetry from the cage of old idioms and symbols of language and culture without sacrificing the originality of Rumi’s poetry as he is translating it into Modern English. Effort of Jawid may or may not influence the mindset of English-speaking people about Rumi but it will certainly enrich the English language and make the consciousness of the past accessible to modern generation of English speakers which hitherto is not available to them.
Rumi was born in Afghanistan at a time when Baghdad was on decline and the Abbasids were on the verge of annihilation and the Greater Middle East was to be rejuvenated by the fresh blood and spirit of Mongols and their armies. The hands of destiny transplanted this illustrious son of an illustrious father, a recognized name in the religious and ruling circles, from Afghanistan to Konya. Konya in Asia Minor was the place where the chapters of future of Islamic and Muslim history were to be made and written. The traditional religious education in which Rumi excelled was the beaten track that was of no use to this new land and its people.
Destiny brought a less known man, Shams Tabrizi RA, who was adept in the spirit of religion to Rumi who was the master of its script so that the edifice of religion could be resuscitated. This resuscitation was essential to the march of civilization under Mongols who later established the dynasties of Ottomans in Turkey, Safavis in Iran and Mughals in South Asia. A brief but intense interaction between Rumi and Shams Tabrizi changed Rumi from the position of a flamboyant preacher and a jurist to a poet of great intensity. Shams Tabrizi washed the pride and prejudice of knowledge from the heart and mind of Rumi using the Elixir of Love. Rumi left the popularity and position of pulpit and the bench from which he was giving edicts that dictated the people’s life and became a poet touching their hearts and their lives.
This changed Rumi was the need of the land of Konya in Asia Minor which had no dearth of practitioner of Orphic faith, sophists, jurists, theologians and brilliant orators. They were all yearning to understand the reality behind their abandonment and their indulgence, their joys and their sufferings. Their actions and their thoughts were confounded by the words and verbiage. Destiny prepared and planted Rumi amidst them to clear this confusion. The politics of the tribe of Marwan and Militarism of the tribe of Hajjaj and the religion of the Mullahs of the Royal Courts that was practiced in Muslim world for the past six centuries was not suitable for the people of the region to understand the spirit of the scripture which they had lost and were struggling to find.
Rumi emphasized that we all have our ways. What we need is to strive for is goodness rather than bloat and be blown by the euphoria of self-righteousness (Ch2 V148). Rumi wants us to leave the decision of who is right and who is wrong to God who alone has the capacity and authority to decide and before Him we are all going to stand one day. This thought is expressed in Qur’an at several places (Ch42 V15, Ch17 V84). “Out beyond ideas of Wrongdoing and Rightdoing, there is a field, I will meet you there” is only a liberal interpretation of the spirit of the above verses of Qur’an in Rumi’s couplet. Mr Barks has released Rumi’s couplet from the cage of religion as advised by his friend Mr Bly.
The one message which I get from my understanding of Rumi’s poetry is that Rumi can’t be correctly understood, utilized or enjoyed by the one liner. We need to work hard and understand the real sprit of religion to enjoy and benefit from Rumi. The following couplet of Rumi exemplifies it:
Jur’Aa- ye Khak Aameez yun Majnoon Kunad
Saaf Gar Bashud Na Danam Chi Kunad
Meaning: When a sip of the polluted drink can make you ecstatic, imagine what if it was pure.
A scholar of Maulana Rumi, Shah Hakeem Muhammad Akhtar RA has explained this couplet thus: In old times when there was no electrically powered bore to drill wells, the wells had to be dug by pick axe. The person who is digging the well is so tired that he can’t avoid drinking the first gush of water which comes from the hole and which is mixed with mud. This dirty water gives him immense happiness and satisfaction. Imagine how much he will enjoy when he allows the mud to settle and drinks the pure water after a little wait. If the liberal interpreters of Rumi interpret this couplet to promote seasoned wine we should not be surprised.
Rumi has alluded to how we abuse religion in this verse. We think that our first imperfect understanding of religion is “The Religion”. We have no patience to wait, read, observe, analyze and sit in company of knowledgeable people to understand, assimilate and benefit from true religion. The result is that the zealots who have discovered the religion new are easily misled by the flamboyant speakers in the name of religion. There is a great need to revive Rumi to establish its relevance and correct the distortion of his genius by the geniuses of our time.
My respected elder, my teacher, and my friend Syed Ahmed Isar who has already published all the Persian poetry of Sir Muhammad Iqbal after translating it into Urdu poetry, and which has received accolade in the literary circles has translated the entire Masnavi of Rumi into Urdu and is looking for someone to publish it. If it is done, then it will be a great resource for the bilingual diaspora in the West which is adept in Urdu and English to present Rumi afresh to the world in its true spirit.
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Despite Challenges, Pakistan's E-Commerce Sector Powers ahead
By Uzair M. Younus
Washington DC
If you look beyond the usual sectors fueling the current economic recovery in Pakistan, you will find an exciting trend in the country’s e-commerce sector. By 2020, the country’s e-commerce sector is set to be valued at over $1 billion. Despite high levels of growth and attractive valuations, this sector has not been touted as a contributor to the country’s economic resurgence.
This is mainly due to the fact that the e-commerce ecosystem in Pakistan is still in its nascent stage where it is difficult to get access to information about ongoing trends. A report by an organization that has accelerated over 25 start-ups in Pakistan, and to which this writer contributed, has attempted to fill in some of the gaps.
Research has shown that Pakistan’s consumer economy is growing rapidly along with the country’s middle class, which is already the size of the entire population of Turkey. According to the World Bank data, final consumption expenditure amounted to almost 90 per cent of the country’s GDP, one of the highest in the region.
The introduction of 3G/4G services in the country means that internet penetration has risen rapidly, with internet subscriber growth averaging over 10pc per year and total subscribers crossing the 30 million mark in 2016. Cheap smartphones, low cost of 3G/4G services and a consumer-goods obsessed middle class has meant that Pakistan’s e-commerce sector is ‘mobile first’: a number of e-commerce start-ups interviewed said that over 75pc of their total order volume was through mobile devices.
Over the last few years, India’s ecosystem has cast a long shadow over other regional economies’ start-ups. Given its vast market size and the raw ability of companies to achieve scale, India made a whole lot of sense for international investors: the country saw over $13bn of risk capital being deployed in 2015 and 2016 alone! Skyrocketing valuations across the border, however, present Pakistan’s e-commerce sector with a unique opportunity.
Pakistan has three things going for it in terms of attracting foreign capital into the e-commerce sector: the country’s rising middle class is more densely populated in urban areas that are well-connected; a homogenous taxation and regulatory environment; and low valuations in the e-commerce sector. The combination of these factors means that investors can acquire strategic stakes in high-growth e-commerce start-ups at a bargain.
Despite these positives, the sector faces a number of headwinds that need to be addressed, both by market participants and by the government. Given that e-commerce is a fairly new phenomenon in Pakistan, there is a trust deficit among consumers when it comes to buying their products online. This deficit is not wholly unjustified either: a number of start-ups interviewed for the report said that a key challenge for them was to ensure that their vendors had the right quantity, and more importantly quality, of products in their inventory.
Issues with quality control further widen consumers’ trust deficit, leading to a slower rate of adoption across the sector. While e-commerce companies are beginning to get a better grasp on vendor management, a lot of work still needs to be done, including technologically integrating vendors into e-commerce platforms and developing robust quality management processes and trainings for vendors across the country.
Another complicating factor is price: much like in the rest of the world, consumers in Pakistan look for bargains when they shop online. However, the e-commerce sector in Pakistan has not yet achieved the scale at which, say, the Amazons of the world operate, leading to an inability to draw attractive prices from their suppliers.
As the sector has grown, traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses have realized the transformation potential of e-commerce to their businesses. This is leading to an increasing number of traditional companies offering attractive prices to e-commerce companies. One may expect this trend to gain momentum in the coming months as the sector increases its market share and builds a loyal customer base.
Digital payments represent another key hurdle for Pakistan’s e-commerce sector. While a number of products like EasyPaisa, EasyPay, etc. are available today, none of them have high market penetration. This, coupled with the fact that only 16pc of the country’s population has a bank account, tremendously raises the cost of doing business for e-commerce companies.
Interviewed for the report companies said that at times they have to fulfil over 95pc of their orders using the cash-on-delivery model. This increases the liquidity requirements for e-commerce companies and also forces them to have dedicated teams that manage cash receipts for the company, thereby raising operational costs. The larger players in the e-commerce space have started to crack the code around digital payments, and are optimistic that the industry will come together to coax consumers into moving away from cash-on-delivery.
Outside Pakistan’s traditional economy, the country’s e-commerce sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. It has achieved this growth not because of, but in spite of, government policies. While both the federal and provincial governments, especially in Punjab, have focused on start-up incubators and accelerators, there is no e-commerce policy framework in the country. The government has constituted an e-commerce policy board and directed the commerce ministry to develop an e-commerce policy framework, but no major breakthrough has yet been achieved.
This lack of policy direction, however, was not brought up by any of the companies that were interviewed for the report, highlighting the fact that the entrepreneurial talent in the country is successfully pushing ahead on its own. Given that the sector is in its early stages, a regulatory and policy framework pushed onto it may do more harm than good. The lesson learned is that while the government can create the enabling environment for e-commerce by, say, incentivizing adoption of digital payments, it need not do anything else.
(The writer is a South Asia analyst at Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington DC. Dawn)

 

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