A Sufi Veiled

Shrine of Hazrat Syed Nizamuddin Allah Diya Khairabadi alias Chhote Makhdoom Sahab

By Faisal Hassan

And if you ask about heaven’s ground and its soil, it is of musk and saffron.

Ibn Al Qayyum

Awadh is considered the goldmine of culture and heritage, spanning across the plains of Uttar Pradesh, its glorious past and heritage tantamount to major portion of medieval Indian history and among everything else are the Sufi courtyards of Awadh which have been the centers of spirituality and universality. This goldmine is synonymous with the spiritual and religious syncretism that has been instrumental in holding the composite culture of India together standing all the tests of time. What could be precisely said about it geographically is that, Awadh is a triangulated hinterland that encapsulates Khairabad Awadh in the Himalayan foothills, runs through Mahmudabad Awadh and gets consummated the banks of Ghaghra in Faizabad Awadh. The best way to communicate is through language and there is no denying that Awadhi remains the most favourite language across the world, therefore people of Awadh always have had an edge in winning the conversations. Khairabad Awadh is home to Makhdooms or Makhdums meaning a teacher of Sunnah, the ornate and enchanting shrines of Hazrat Makhdoom Shaikh Saduddin Chishti alias Bade Makhdoom and Hazrat Makhdoom Syed Nizamuddin Allah Diya Khairabadi alias Chhote Makhdoom adorn the skyline of this sleepy dusty town nestling away from the chaos of metropoles. The genealogy of Bade Makhdoom Sahab could be traced to Prophet Moses (A.S.) and the family tree of Chhote Makhdoom Sahab meets Hazrat Usman Harwani (R.A.). Needless to say that missionary of all faiths have lived in Khairabad and contributed towards the social welfare without discrimination. This very town holds the honour of being the first schools for two of the nine gems of Akbar’s court. 

From the descendants and spiritual heirs of Chhote Makhdoom Sahab emerged a very pious Sufi saint of 16th century, Hazrat Syed Mushtaque Ahmad alias Chheda Miyan who was ordered by Chhote Makhdoom Sahab to migrate towards the woods of Kheri, another small town of Awadh. Hazrat Mushtaque Ahmad is known for performing Hajj pilgrimage on foot twice in his life, he has been revered highly by the people around the region for his love and piety towards the blessed Prophet of Islam, Hazrat Mohammed (SAWW). The shrine of Chheda Miyan is situated in Kheri Town of Lakhimpur Kheri district, the Urs of Chheda Miyan was a public holiday in calendars during the days of British Raj. Four centuries on, the baton of Chishti legacy in Kheri was passed onto Syed Meraj Ahmad alias Bhai Sahab by his uncle Syed Matin Ahmad (R.A.) and this passing of light goes to Chheda Miyan, who happens to be the forefather of Syed Meraj Ahmad in the genealogical order of ascension. While performing one of his hajj journeys, due to his fame and reverence, Chheda Miyan had made many disciples in Afghanistan and has several followers and spiritual heirs there. Syed Meraj Ahmad received the permission from his uncle Syed Matin Ahmad, as well as from the Sajjadanasheens  of his forefather Chheda Miyan. Syed Meraj Ahmad was born to Syed Moin Ahmad in the year 1962, after receiving his early education in Kheri, he attended school in Lakhimhpur and moved to Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh for his higher education. Having graduated in economics, he went to Delhi University and continued his education, following which he joined as Finance Officer in Uttar Pradesh Minorities Financial Development Corporation under the aegis of Minorities Welfare Department of the Government of Uttar Pradesh.

Syed Meraj Ahmad held various ranks as an expert of finances and with his indomitable zeal and passion to serve humanity he worked tirelessly. One could ascertain his admiration for knowledge and love for his Alma Mater that when he was transferred to Aligarh in 2015, he got himself enrolled at the K.A.Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies, AMU Aligarh for a certificate course in Tajweed. He has been actively involved in the social causes and serving the needy, living a life strictly to the values of Sufi saints. He always wore a smile in worst of the times and never seemed worn out by the stressors which could destroy sanity of a person. While he was admitted to the Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College at AMU Aligarh for his cardiac issues, he never allowed anyone who visited him leaving without having meals. An Alig to the core, he was popularly known as Meraj Bhai as per the traditions of Aligarh, a towering personality back home, he led a humble life in Aligarh. He envisioned the free of cost civil services coaching program for underprivileged students at Aligarh in collaboration with Muslim Education Conference, reliving the mission of Sir Syed. He also established Mansha Educational Society which works for the education of girl students from weaker sections of the society. He established Raza Montessori School in the compound of Dargah Chheda Miyan in Kheri and was working upon the plan to establish another college which could provide quality education to the students of Kheri as well as Lakhimpur. 

Meraj Miyan alias Bhai Sahab or simply Meraj Bhai had a very positive aura and anybody who ever met him would leave bedazzled by his wit and wisdom. An elder brother for all the coveted seniors of Aligarh, a true companion for people of all ages, a son for all the elderly, Meraj Bhai wore many hats. His was a charm which is rare. He always said that the duty of a Sufi is to connect people to other people, and when all the people would get connected, they would eventually find god together. The sacredness in his conduct, affection in his words and guardianship in his advice would always be unmatchable. He became the Honourary Secretary of the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association, Lucknow in the year 2009 and had completed a fruitful term in 2012. During his tenure he united the Aligs in Lucknow and brought several groups on same page, putting a closure to independent SS Days in Lucknow and reorganizing them to hold a united SS Day in the city of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. He also developed a proposal to bring up a Sir Syed Bhawan in Lucknow which could function as a cultural centre for people of Lucknow in general and Aligs in particular.

On the morning of an unfortunate day, Meraj Bhai left his home for Agra, where he was recently transferred as Field Officer of Wakf Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh, and never came back home. He was admitted to S.N. Medical College and Hospital in Agra on 11th February 2020 only to return asleep eternally. Rumi says that, “our death is our marriage with eternity”, and he is right in saying so, as one who breaks the shackles of life and transcends this mortal world, he finds immortality in the other. At least that is what the faith of Sufis is, an afterlife that would last eternities, a sleep that comforts the body which is tired of the life’s unending chaos. Meraj Bhai left for his heavenly abode, leaving behind a trail of memories that would only last till eternity. A people’s favorite he was Aligarh’s apple of eye and well as the guardian of Kheri. He was brought to his own place and his mortal remains were laid to rest in the courtyards of Dargah Chheda Miyan on 13th February 2020. A Chishti lamp got extinguished by the orders of Almighty, having enlightened hearts and minds for half a century and touching thousands of lives wherever it went. His funeral prayers saw flood of people going berserk over catching a glimpse of their beloved Bhai Sahab. The writer of this ode to a true saint tried hard to get a last sight to keep in eyes forever but the Sufi had veiled himself by then.

As the deer thirsts for flowing brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God.
-Psalm 42:1

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Barchhi Bahadur: The Saint With The Spear, Hazrat Sayyid Tahabbul Husain

by Faisal Hassan

Aligarh is mentioned as Sabzabad in the travelogues of 14th century traveller Ibn Batuta, sabz means green and abad refers to habitat place. It was later known as Koilduring the 16th century India when emperor Akbar ruled the subcontinent and beyond.

Subsequently popularised by the name, Allygurh in the 18th century, when the French inhabitants of this mango grove colonnade ploughed its terrains. Once upon a time, the home to indigo planters from France and Britain, Aligarh rose to eminence during the 19th century on world’s map.

From becoming the dreamland of Scindias, to the garrison of Perron and fortress of pride of the British, the story of Aligarh’s becoming has been imprinted on the casket of times, times which would never return but always remembered, lest we forget.

Aligarh has been a citadel of Sufism ever since it stepped in India during 12th century, the doting shrines in the city confirms this premise, throwing their gates open to everyone. Sufism or the popular Islam in India has been welcoming followers of all religions and faith on the pedestal of humanity for it believes in a higher plane of consciousness where entire humanity is one.

Photo: Faisal Hassan

By the rails in this sleepy town, sleeps a saint who saw it all and became an enclosure into the unseen but ecstatic past of a modern day smart city of north India. Hazrat Sayyid Tahabbul Husain, popularly known as Barchhi Bahadur, a 12th century Sufi saint, who was initiated into the Chishti order by Hazrat Sayyid Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki of Mehrauli, Delhi which had him into the company of Faridudduin Ganjshakar, the master of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

Chishti Sufi order has been the most popular Sufi school of thought across all the orders in India because of the phenomenal philanthropy done by its founder Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Chishti doctrine has many spiritual practices through which a solace seeker attempts to build a bridge between him and the supreme lord, qawwali is the most enigmatic experience amongst all those practices.

Photo: Faisal Hassan

It has a celestial attraction which takes aback the listener to a state of trance and realise the ultimate truth and meaning of life, passing through the labyrinths of ecstasy and mysticism. Sufis are believed to be the persons who can experience something more complete, to whom death is a festival of annihilation into the eternal illume of the supreme. The Urs festival held at Sufi shrines supports the conviction that death is an occasion of rejoicing and being lost into the creator’s aurora forever.

Barchhi Bahadur used to carry a spear with him which gave him the name by which he has been popularly known to the present day. The erstwhile town of Koil wasn’t densely populated until the French made this town an important garrison for multiplying their arsenal, eventually British took over this town during the siege of Allygurh and began the developmental work in and around the town.

Photo: Faisal Hassan

It was the time when they were laying down the rail track that they encountered a situation that was incomprehensible, the track laying process had partially damaged the shrine of Barchhi Bahadur. It was then believed to have angered the saint, tired with their efforts they consulted the elderly and the clergy, who advised them to not to do any damage to the shrine and get the repairs done immediately.

The British engineers followed the advice and got the shrine repaired, following which the track was successfully laid. The city then began swarming around the saint’s courtyard and in early 19th century, Hazrat Zorar Husain alias Zorar Shah, a noble from Aligarh visited the shrine and meditated therein.

During the much asserted spiritual dialogue between him and the Saint, he found a talisman which transformed the shrine on the outskirts of the city into an ever evolving centre stage of spiritual retreat. The Urs of Barchhi Bahadur is an annual event observed with great zeal and festive fervour and the ambience of the shrine is inexplicably divine.

With years passing by the popularity of Barchhi Bahadur has grown many folds and intrigues every passerby with its enchanting and enigmatic pull.

Legend has it that when the master of Barchhi Bahadur, Hazrat Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki was nearing his annihilation into the supreme master, so he made a will which had some conditions, it  was then read publicly after Khwaja passed away.

Photo: Faisal Hassan

The will emphasised that the Janazah prayers would only be performed by the person who has done no haraam in his life and has never left the sunnah of asr prayers. The teary eyed sultan of Delhi, Iltutmish came out of the congregation, saying that,  “I never wanted to reveal myself to anybody but the will of Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki wants so”. Barchhi Bahadur was favourite disciple of Khwaja, so he was made the prime spiritual guide for the Mamluk Sultanate of Delhi.

Iltutmish and Barchhi Bahadur epitaphed their affection onto the times by spearheading the construction of Qutub Minar in Delhi, honouring their spiritual master by naming it after him.

So it could be correctly said about the saint that he once ruled India, though this reign was not political but spiritual. The reason that his story must be told is that amidst changing lifestyles of modern civilisation, religiosity is fading and spirituality is blooming. The shrine of Barchhi Bahadur is the perfect example of India’s composite culture as evident from the multicultural attendance of solace seekers from near and far.

Two of my personal experiences have inspired me to pen down this ode to yet another star of Chishti constellation. The first being a close friend whose father stopped his mother from paying homage to the saint as they came from another sect, following by his father’s  illness which wasn’t treatable and then his mother asked his father for repentance. My friend’s father went to the shrine and offered apologetically repentance and with that he walked home healthy.

Another memoir is from a college senior whose non-Muslim family living in Punjab asked him to visit Barchhi Bahadur without a miss to convey their Salaam, while he was visiting me in Aligarh. Dotted extravagantly by spiritual pilgrims on Thursdays, this Chishti shrine serves as a refuge from the chaos of everyday life, and in the quiet of a person’s singularity enlightens him to a new dimensions of being and not being

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Lenin Khuda ke Huzoor mein: A simplified commentary


In this section of his highly-acclaimed “Baal-e-Jibreel(Wing of Gabriel), Iqbal imagines Vladimir Lenin , the influential communist leader of Russia (died 1924), defending his atheism in front of God, and complaining about rampant injustice in a world created by such a Just Being.

(Its recommended that the reader go through the entire poem once before trying to explore the meaning, so that they may get a sense of the poem’s “flow” first)

Iqbal (left) and Lenin (right)


ऐ अन्फ़ुस-ओ-आफ़ाक़ में पैदा तिरी आयात
हक़ ये है कि है ज़िंदा-ओ-पाइंदा तिरी ज़ात
(Ae anfus-o-aafaaq mein paida teri aayaat
haq ye hai ki hai zinda-o-pa-inda teri zaat)

  • अन्फ़ुस/anfus: plural of “nafs“, meaning soul or conscience
  • आफ़ाक़/aafaaq: plural of “ufuq“, meaning horizon
  • पैदा/paida: unlike its usual Urdu meaning of “born”, Iqbal uses the word in its Persian sense of “revealed” or “made manifest
  • आयात/aayaat: plural of “aayah“, meaning sign. A single Quranic verse is also called “aayah/aayat“, since its believed that each of them is a sign from God.
  • हक़/haq: truth
  • पाइंदा/pa-inda: literally means, “having a leg (pa)“. Metaphorically, it means “stable” or “everlasting“. Same as “payedar” (we also use the word “pa” in “pay-jaama” i.e. “leg garment“, and in the phrase “kursi ka paaya toot gaya“)

Interpretation: “O God, the signs of your existence are clearly visible in our own bodies and in the natural world that you’ve created. The truth is that you’re both very much alive and existent, as well as eternal”

[Lenin’s insistence on God being alive, is in the context of a common notion at that time – that God had ceased to be relevant to humans, or (as those with flair liked to say) – “God is dead”]

मैं कैसे समझता कि तू है या कि नहीं है
हर दम मुतग़य्यर थे ख़िरद के नज़रियात
(main kaise samajhta ki tu hai ya ki naheen hai
har dam mutaghayyar the khirad ke nazariyaat)

  • मुतग़य्यर/mutaghayyar: changed, transformed
  • ख़िरद/khirad: intelligence. In the above context, it refers to intelligentsia
  • नज़रियात/nazariyaat: plural of “nazariya“, meaning opinion

Interpretation: “How could I have known, O God, that You exist, when the consensus among the people of wisdom – among our philosophers and scientists, keeps alternating between affirming Your existence, and denying it? What’s a working class person, who is far too busy to investigate their arguments in depth, supposed to do?”

महरम नहीं फ़ितरत के सरोद-ए-अज़ली से
बीना-ए-कवाकिब हो कि दाना-ए-नबातात
(mahram naheen fitrat ke sarod-e-azli se
beena-e-kawaakib ho ki daanaa-e-nabaataat)

  • महरम/mahram: acquainted with/familiar with
  • फ़ितरत/fitrat: nature
  • सरोद/sarod: music
  • अज़ली/azli: eternal
  • बीना/beena: one who sees (“beenayi” means sight)
  • कवाकिब/kawakib: stars (plural of “kaukab“, meaning star)
  • दाना/daana: one who knows/wise person
  • नबातात/nabaataat: plants (plural of “nabaat“, meaning plant)

Interpretation: “The astronomers who gaze into stars and the botanists who study the plant kingdom, are unaware of the eternal music that permeates the fabric of the universe – the divine tune that stands testimony to the unity of it all, and to Your Existence, O God”

आज आँख ने देखा तो वो आलम हुआ साबित
मैं जिस को समझता था कलीसा के ख़ुराफ़ात
(aaj aankh ne dekha to wo aalam hua saabit
main jisko samajhta tha kaleesa ke khuraafaat)

  • आलम/aalam: world
  • कलीसा/kaleesa: Church
  • ख़ुराफ़ात/khuraafaat: means myths and stories here (used in Urdu mostly to mean “stupid talk”, though in Arabic, the primary meaning is “myths”)

Interpretation: “Only now when I see this world of afterlife with my own eyes, does its truth dawn on me – the same truth that I used to dismiss earlier as myths and fables concocted by the Church”

हम बंद-ए-शब-ओ-रोज़ में जकड़े हुए बंदे
तू ख़ालिक़-ए-आसार-ओ-निगारंदा-ए-आनात
(ham band-e-shab-o-roz mein jakde hue bande
tu khaaliq-e-aasaar-o-nigaaranda-e-aanaat)

  • बंद/band: something that prevents you from moving freely, like chains or shackles (used here as a noun, not a verb)
  • शब-ओ-रोज़/shab-o-roz: night and day
  • बंदे/bande: slaves
  • ख़ालिक़/khaaliq: creator
  • आसार/aasaar: times, “zamaane
  • निगारंदा/nigaaranda: writer, sculptor
  • आनात/aanaat: moments

Interpretation: “Humans are stuck inside the perpetual cycle of day and night; we cannot think beyond the confines of time. In contrast, You, O God, are the very creator of time – the One who deliberately fashions every moment into existence. How could we have perceived your Exalted Existence from our limited perspective?”

इक बात अगर मुझ को इजाज़त हो तो पूछूँ
हल कर न सके जिस को हकीमों के मक़ालात
(ek baat agar mujhko ijaazat ho to poochoon
hal kar na sake jisko hakeemon ke maqaalaat)

  • मक़ालात/maqaalaat: articles or written opinions on a topic
  • हकीम/hakeem: a wise person (used in Urdu more in the sense of a doctor, who be default, is considered to be wise)

Interpretation: “By the permission of your Grace, may I ask a question – a question which the wisest of men have not been able to answer in all their lengthy expositions and elaborate articles?

जब तक मैं जिया ख़ेमा-ए-अफ़्लाक के नीचे
काँटे की तरह दिल में खटकती रही ये बात
(jab tak main jiya khema-e-aflaak ke neeche
kaante ki tarah dil mein khatakti rahi ye baat)

  • ख़ेमा/khema: tent
  • अफ़्लाक/aflaak: plural of “falak” which means sky

Interpretation: “In all the time I spent on Earth (“underneath the tent-like protection of the sky”), this question remained a thorn in my side”

गुफ़्तार के उस्लूब पे क़ाबू नहीं रहता
जब रूह के अंदर मुतलातिम हों ख़यालात
(guftaar ke usloob pe qaaboo naheen rehta
jab rooh ke andar mutalaatim hon khayaalaat)

  • गुफ़्तार/guftaar: speech
  • उस्लूब/usloob: rules or manners to be observed
  • मुतलातिम/mutalaatim: dashing against each other (usually used in the context of violent waves in oceans)
  • ख़यालात/khayaalaat: plural of “khayaal“, meaning thought

Interpretation: “Please forgive my audacity and the bluntness with which I present this question. When the mind is agitated and troubled by disturbing thoughts, it’s difficult to maintain the etiquettes of speech”

वो कौन सा आदम है कि तू जिस का है माबूद
वो आदम-ए-ख़ाकी कि जो है ज़ेर-ए-समावात
(wo kaun sa aadam hai ki tu jiska hai maabood
wo aadam-e-khaaki ki jo hai zer-e-samaavaat?)

  • आदम/aadam: Man, first human
  • माबूद/maabood: someone who is worthy of worship; God
  • ख़ाकी/khaaki: (of) dust
  • ज़ेर/zer: below
  • समावात/samaavaat: plural of “samaa“, meaning sky

Interpretation: “This is my question to you: Who is the Adam whose God You claim to be? Is it the same Adam who was created from dust and lives here on Earth (‘underneath the heavens’)?”

मशरिक़ के ख़ुदावंद सफ़ेदान-ए-फरंगी
मग़रिब के ख़ुदावंद दरख़शिंदा फ़िलिज़्ज़ात
(mashriq ke khudaa-vand safedaan-e-firangi
maghrib ke khudaa-vand darakhshinda filizzat)

  • मशरिक़/mashriq: East
  • ख़ुदावंद/khuda-vand: God, Lord
  • सफ़ेदान/safedaan: plural of “safed“, meaning white
  • फरंगी/farangi/firangi: Persianized pronounciation of Franks (a European collection of tribes that gave its name to the country of France) used in the sense of Europeans.
  • मग़रिब/maghrib: West
  • दरख़शिंदा/darakh-shindaa: luminous, shining
  • फ़िलिज़्ज़ात/filizzaat: plural of “filiz” meaning metal; here it signifies machines

Interpretation: “If you’re really the God of us Earthly humans, then why is it that nowhere on Earth can I find you being worshipped? In the East, it’s the Europeans (on account of their superior technology and science) that people worship. In the West, the dazzling glint of metallic machinery has been anointed as deos novos – the New Gods. Forgive me for saying this, but whose God then are You?”

यूरोप में बहुत रौशनी-ए-इल्म-ओ-हुनर है
हक़ ये है कि बे-चश्मा-ए-हैवाँ है ये ज़ुल्मात
(Europe mein bohot roshni-e-ilm-o-hunar hai
haq ye hai ki be-chashma-e-haivaaN hai ye zulmaat)

  • इल्म/ilm: knowledge
  • हुनर/hunar: skill
  • हक़/haq: truth
  • चश्म/chashm: eye
  • हैवाँ/haivaaN: animal
  • ज़ुल्मात/zulmaat: plural of “zulmat” meaning “darkness”

Interpretation: “Europe is considered to be the leading light in terms of knowledge and sundry forms of art, but this appearance of “enlightenment” is merely the result of viewing reality through a mechanistic and materialistic lens. From the perspective of living, breathing humans, the state of affairs is quite bleak.”

रानाई-ए-तामीर में रौनक़ में सफ़ा में
गिरजों से कहीं बढ़ के हैं बैंकों की इमारात
(raanaai-e-taameer mein raunaq mein safaa mein
girjoN se kaheen badh ke hain bankon ki imaaraat)

  • रानाई/raanaai: splendour, beauty
  • तामीर/taameer: construction
  • रौनक़/raunaq: brilliance, brightness
  • सफ़ा/safaa: cleanliness
  • बैंकों/bankoN: plural of the English word “bank”
  • इमारात/imaaraat: plural of “imaarat” (building)
  • गिरजों/girjoN: churches (singular: girja, as in girja-ghar). Derived from the Portuguese word for church, “igreja

Interpretation: Bank buildings today are much more beautiful, radiant, and clean than most Churches in Europe. It’s a reflection of the spiritual rot in Western civilization, and an example of how money and materialism is the new God of the West

ज़ाहिर में तिजारत है हक़ीक़त में जुआ है
सूद एक का लाखों के लिए मर्ग-ए-मुफ़ाजात
(zaahir mein tijaarat hai haqeeqat mein jua hai
sood ek ka laakhon ke liye marg-e-mufaajaat)

  • ज़ाहिर में/zaahir mein: apparently
  • तिजारत/tijaarat: business
  • जुआ/jua: gambling
  • सूद/sood: interest (on money) – forbidden in Islam
  • मर्ग-ए-मुफ़ाजात /marg-e-mufaajaat: sudden death. “Marg” is the Persian word for death.

Interpretation: Interest is the backbone of modern economy, and this makes people believe that charging interest is simply part of everyday business. In reality, it’s nothing more than a gamble where you speculate on the other person’s capacity to return your money with a substantial surplus.

While being a bonanza for money lenders, interest burdens lakhs of poor people with unpayable debts, causing so many to suffer sudden untimely deaths via heart attacks, hyperanxiety and suicide. In this entire scheme, only a few at the top get rich while millions slide further into poverty

ये इल्म ये हिकमत ये तदब्बुर ये हुकूमत
पीते हैं लहू देते हैं तालीम-ए-मुसावात
(ye ilm ye hikmat ye tadabbur ye hukoomat
peete hain lahu dete hain taaleem-e-musaavaat)

  • इल्म/ilm: knowledge
  • हिकमत/hikmat: wisdom
  • तदब्बुर/tadabbur: ponder, carefully reflect upon something
  • तालीम/taaleem: education
  • मुसावात/musaavaat: equality

Interpretation: “All these claims of knowledge, wisdom, deliberation and superiority are just pretensions and egotistical vanities of these Westerners. In truth, they are hypocrites who suck the blood of subject nations while pretending to be paragons of fairness and equality”

बेकारी ओ उर्यानी ओ मय-ख़्वारी ओ इफलास
क्या कम हैं फ़रंगी मदनियत के फ़ुतूहात
kya kam hain farangi madaniyyat ke futoohaat)

  • उर्यानी/uryani: nakedness
  • मय-ख़्वारी/mai-khwaari: “mai” (alcohol), “khwari‘ (consumption)
  • इफ़्लास/iflaas: poverty
  • फ़रंगी/farangi: (explained above)
  • मदनियत/madaniyyat: culture, civilization
  • फ़ुतूहात/futoohaat: plural of “fatah” (victory)

Interpretation: “Europe is besotted with unemployment and poverty. Being piss-drunk is a social custom in those lands. And their women.. well, they strut down the streets half-naked and without shame.

The firangis are right. The ‘conquests’ of Western civilization are quite remarkable indeed!”

वो क़ौम कि फ़ैज़ान-ए-समावी से हो महरूम
हद उस के कमालात की है बर्क़ ओ बुख़ारात
(wo qaum ki faizaan-e-samaavi se ho mahroom
hadd uske kamaalaat ki hai barq-o-bukhaaraat)

  • क़ौम/qaum: people who consider themselves as a single whole
  • फ़ैज़ान/faizaan: blessings, favour
  • समावी/samaavi: of the Heavens (“samaa” means sky)
  • महरूम/mehroom: deprived
  • हद/hadd: limit
  • कमालात/kamaalaat: plural of “kamaal” (achievement)
  • बर्क़/barq: lightning (here, denoting electricity)
  • बुख़ारात/bukhaaraat: plural of “bukhaar”, meaning steam (here, denoting the technology behind steam-powered machinery)

Interpretation: “A civilization that is deprived of God’s blessings can never achieve the true heights of human potential. They are limited in their imagination, and can’t think beyond mere steam and electricity. These material technologies represent the zenith of their achievements”

है दिल के लिए मौत मशीनों की हुकूमत
एहसास-ए-मुरव्वत को कुचल देते हैं आलात
(hai dil ke liye maut mashinoN ki hukuumat
ehsaas-e-muravvat ko kuchal dete hain aalaat)

  • मुरव्वत/muravvat: take others’ misfortune into consideration while making a decision, leniency
  • आलात/aalaat: plural of “aala” (instrument), as in “doctor sahab ka aala

Interpretation: “This reign of machines and their replacement of human labour has engendered a certain coldness in people’s hearts. Interacting everyday with these lifeless automata has made them impervious to the plight of their fellow beings. It’s impossible to develop empathy when your only companions are gadgets and mind-numbing machines”

आसार तो कुछ कुछ नज़र आते हैं कि आख़िर
तदबीर को तक़दीर के शातिर ने किया मात
(aasaar to kuch kuch nazar aate hain ki aakhir
tadbeer ko taqdeer ke shaatir ne kiya maat)

  • तदबीर/tadbeer: planning
  • शातिर/shaatir: expert
  • मात/maat: defeat

Interpretation: “Despite the near-total domination of Europeans, there are hints that the winds are gradually changing direction. All the grand machinations and trickeries of Europeans (“tadbeer”) are finally losing steam in front of the inexorable force of destiny (“taqdeer”) – a destiny preordained by God in which His true message will ultimately reign supreme”

चेहरों पे जो सुर्ख़ी नज़र आती है सर-ए-शाम
या ग़ाज़ा है या साग़र-ओ-मीना की करामात
(chehroN pe jo surkhi nazar aati hai sar-e-shaam
ya ghaaza hai ya saaghar-o-meena ki karaamaat)

  • सुर्ख़ी/surkhi: redness
  • सर-ए-शाम/sar-e-shaam: start of evening
  • ग़ाज़ा/ghaaza: paint applied to the face as make-up
  • साग़र/saaghar: goblet in which wine is drunk
  • मीना/meena: wine bottle
  • करामात/karaamaat: plural of “karaamat”, meaning “miracle” or “benevolence”

Interpretation: “Don’t mistake the redness that you see on European faces for vitality or vigour. It’s more like an artificial red paint they’ve applied in order to hide the signs of decay. Or, maybe it’s just the red flush from a night of binge drinking”

तू क़ादिर-ओ-आदिल है मगर तेरे जहाँ में
हैं तल्ख़ बहुत बंदा-ए-मज़दूर के औक़ात
(tu qaadir-o-aadil hai magar tere jahaaN mein
hain talkh bohot banda-e-mazdoor ke auqaat)

  • क़ादिर/qaadir: having power over everything
  • आदिल/aadil: someone who is just
  • तल्ख़/talkh: bitter
  • बंदा-ए-मज़दूर/banda-e-mazdoor: labourers, who are the servants
    (bande) of God
  • औक़ात/auqaat: plural of “waqt“. It literally means “times“, but is generally used in the sense of the “conditions/circumstances” of a person or group

Interpretation: “You have power over everything O Lord, and you’re also undoubtedly fair and just. Why is it then that the conditions of the working class people are so horrible and abject? Why don’t You intervene and help them fight against injustice?

[Remember that Lenin’s Marxist ideology laid special emphasis on the working class]”

कब डूबेगा सरमाया-परस्ती का सफ़ीना
दुनिया है तिरी मुंतज़िर-ए-रोज़-ए-मुकाफ़ात
(kab doobega sarmaaya-parasti ka safeena
duniya hai teri muntazir-e-roz-e-mukaafaat)

  • सरमाया/sarmaaya: wealth (used here in the sense of “capital” of “capitalism“)
  • परस्ती/parasti: worship
  • सफ़ीना/safeena: ship
  • मुंतज़िर/muntazir: awaiting
  • रोज़-ए-मुकाफ़ात/roz-e-mukaafaat: day of retribution

Interpretation: “When will this evil system of capitalism come to an end – a system in which money is worshipped above all else? The world is waiting My Lord, for You to take vengeance upon those who have exploited the poor so shamelessly for wealth and power, and for so long”

(Author: Daud Khan – https://m.facebook.com/whysocrious)

Image source: here and here

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To the grammar bullies of the world…

Source: https://makeameme.org/meme/youre-wrong-believe-5b7e4f

Bad pronounciation and wrong grammar are the engines by which new languages are created. If people didn’t mispronounce Latin, we wouldn’t have such beautiful languages like German, French and Italian.

The same goes for Hindu/Urdu, Sanskrit, Kannada, modern Persian and Arabic. All are “distorted” versions of one ancient language or the other.

So, the next time someone corrects you on your grammar or pronunciation, tell him you’re actually contributing to a future language 🙂

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Jibreel o Iblees – a simplified commentary


In this section of his highly-acclaimed “Baal-e-Jibreel” (Wing of Gabriel), Iqbal presents a fictional dialogue between the angel Gabriel (Jibraeel) and Satan (Iblees)

An angel depicted in Persian literature (via Wikipedia)


हम-दम-ए-देरीना कैसा है जहान-ए-रंग-ओ-बू ?
(Hamdam-e-derina, kaisa hai jahaan-e-rang-o-bu ?)

  • हम-दम-ए-देरीना/hamdam-e-derina: “hamdam” means close companion/friend. “Derina” (derived from the word देर) means ancient. So, “hamdam-e-derina” means “ancient friend”
  • जहान-ए-रंग-ओ-बू/jahaan-e-rang-o-bu: the material world, which can be perceived by humans through the properties of its constituent objects (colour/rang and smell/bu), unlike the divine realm which Satan and Gabriel have access to.

Interpretation: (Gabriel says:) “O old friend, how’s the physical world nowadays?”


  • ओ/o: and
  • सोज़/soz – burning intensity (like in love or pain)
  • साज़/saaz – musical instrument
  • जुस्तुजू/justuju – striving hard to achieve something

Interpretation: (Satan replies: ) (The world continues to consist of) intense burning and melody, pain and blemish, of people striving incessantly and of uncontrollable desire”

हर घड़ी अफ़्लाक पर रहती है तेरी गुफ़्तुगू 
क्या नहीं मुमकिन कि तेरा चाक दामन हो रफ़ू

(har ghadi aflaak pe rehti hai teri guftugoo
kya nahi mumkin ki tera chaak daaman ho rafu?)

  • अफ़्लाक/aflaak: heavens/skies, plural of falak (sky)
  • गुफ़्तुगू/guftugoo: discussion
  • रफ़ू/rafu – to mend a torn cloth

Interpretation: (Gabriel says:) “O Satan, you’re an evergreen topic of discussion in the Heavens (because of your evil tricks and efforts to mislead humans). Is it not possible that you redeem yourself in the eyes of God, and return to His good graces?”

आह, ऐ जिबरील तू वाक़िफ़ नहीं इस राज़ से 
कर गया सरमस्त मुझ को टूट कर मेरा सुबू
(aah, ae jibreel, tu waaqif nahi is raaz se
kar gaya sarmast mujhko toot kar mera suboo)

  • सरमस्त/sar-mast: the state of head-spinning, intoxicated
  • सुबू/subu: wine-cup

Interpretation: (Satan says:) “O Gabriel, you have no idea of the real reason I’m not coming back. You think that there’s still time for me to stop drinking the wine of this world’s sins and pleasures. But mate, I’ve already drained my pitcher; even the glass is long since empty and broken. I am now fully intoxicated with the passions of this material world. There is no coming back for me”

अब यहाँ मेरी गुज़र मुमकिन नहीं मुमकिन नहीं 
किस क़दर ख़ामोश है ये आलम-ए-बे-काख़-ओ-कू
(ab yahaan meri guzar mumkin nahi mumkin nahi
kis qadar khamosh hai ye aalam-e-be-kaakh-o-ku)

  • गुज़र/guzar: walk (through life)
  • आलम-ए-बे-काख़-ओ-कू/aalam-e-be-kaakh-o-ku : aalam (world), kaakh (palace), ku (street). So, the phrase means, “a world deprived of luxury and pleasure”

Interpretation: (Satan says:) “Returning to the divine realm isn’t possible for me now, as it appears uttely boring compared to the richness of the material realm, with all its sights and sounds, and luxury and sensuousness”

जिस की नौमीदी से हो सोज़-ए-दरून-ए-काएनात 
उस के हक़ में तक़्नतू अच्छा है या ला-तक़्नतू
(jis ki naumeedi se ho soz-e-daroon-e-kaaynat
us ke haq mein “taqnatu” accha hai ya “la taqnatu”)

  • नौमीदी/naumeedi: another form of “na-ummeedi”/ना-उम्मीदी (a condition without hope)
  • सोज़-ए-दरून-ए-काएनात /soz-e-daroon-e-kaaynat: soz (fire, intensity), daroon (interior, related to the word अंदर), kaaynat (universe) . As such, the entire phrase means, “the fire/passion burning inside the universe”
  • ला-तक़्नतू/la taqnatu: a Quranic phrase meaning “don’t lose hope!” (“la” means no, or in this context, “don’t”). “taqnatu” without “la” means, “lose hope!”

Interpretation: (Satan says:) “All the fire and passion in this universe is because of me, O Gabriel. Its my tricks that lead people to break the rules, and make the world an interesting place. The alternative would be a plain and boring existence, where everyone lives in accordance with rigid rules. Now tell me, wouldn’t it be better that I lose all hope of returning to God’s good graces (and continue inciting passion in human hearts), rather than (as you want), stop doing my work in the hope that God forgives me?”

खो दिए इंकार से तू ने मक़ामात-ए-बुलंद 
चश्म-ए-यज़्दाँ में फ़रिश्तों की रही क्या आबरू
(kho diye inkaar se tune maqaamaat-e-buland
chashm-e-yazdaaN mein farishton ki rahi kya aabru)

  • मक़ामात-ए-बुलंद/maqaamaat-e-buland: high places/positions (“maqaamaat” is the plural of “maqaam”)
  • चश्म-ए-यज़्दाँ /chashm-e-yazdaaN: “chashm” means eye. So, the phrase means, “sight of God”

Interpretation: (Gabriel says:) “By refusing to obey God (and prostrating in front of Adam), you gave up your elevated position. Your despicable act has disreputed all angels in God’s eyes” (Iqbal, like many others, regarded Satan to be a fallen angel)

है मिरी जुरअत से मुश्त-ए-ख़ाक में ज़ौक़-ए-नुमू 
मेरे फ़ित्ने जामा-ए-अक़्ल-ओ-ख़िरद का तार-ओ-पू
(hai meri jur’at se musht-e-khaak mein zauq-e-namu
mere fitne jaama-e-aql-o-khirad ka taar-o-pu)

  • जुरअत/jur’at: audacity (colloquially, the word is pronounced as “jurrat”)
  • मुश्त-ए-ख़ाक /musht-e-khaak: handful of dust (the phrase denotes humans, as they are said to be created from dust)
  • ज़ौक़-ए-नुमू/zauq-e-namu: “zauq” means taste or talent for something. “namu” means to grow. So, the term means, “impetus/ability for development”
  • फ़ित्ने/fitne: discords, unrests, but here, “devious tricks that corrupt people” (singular: fitnah)
  • जामा-ए-अक़्ल-ओ-ख़िरद/jaama-e-aql-o-khirad: “jaama” means garment, and “khirad”, intelligence. So, the phrase means “garb/cover of rationality and intelligence”
  • तार-ओ-पू/tar-o-pu: technical terms related to weaving patterns

Interpretation: (Satan speaks:) “I dared (jur’at ki) to question God’s command (to bow unto Adam), and promised Him that in return for my banishment, I’ll forever try to lead astray His beloved humans. I made Adam eat the forbidden fruit, so that they may be cast out from Heaven, thus paving the way for mankind to realise it’s true potential, and evolve in a way that would’ve been impossible in the static environment of Paradise.

What you pejoratively term as my “fitne” (devious tricks to mislead humans) are the very impetus that drive human cultural and philosophical evolution. The fabric of human rationality is woven from the strands of these “fitne“, and is inseparable from it”

देखता है तू फ़क़त साहिल से रज़्म-ए-ख़ैर-ओ-शर 
कौन तूफ़ाँ के तमांचे खा रहा है मैं कि तू ?
(dekhta hai tu faqat saahil se razm-e-khair-o-shar
kaun toofaaN ke tamaanche kha raha hai, main ki tu ?)

  • फ़क़त/faqat: only
  • साहिल/saahil: sea-shore
  • रज़्म-ए-ख़ैर-ओ-शर/razm-e-khair-o-shar: “razm” means battle, “khair” means good, and “shar” means bad. So, the phrase means, “battle of good and evil”

Interpretation: (Satan speaks:) “In driving man towards his destiny, I’m the one on whom God’s curse is invoked. You just sit on the sidelines, watching and decrying the battle of “good vs evil”, but it’s me who has to suffer in this grand cosmic battle”

ख़िज़्र भी बे-दस्त-ओ-पा इल्यास भी बे-दस्त-ओ-पा 
मेरे तूफ़ाँ यम-ब-यम दरिया-ब-दरिया जू-ब-जू
(Khizr bhi be-dast-o-pa, Ilyaas bhi be-dast-o-pa
mere toofaaN yam-ba-yam, dariya-ba-dariya, ju-ba-ju)

  • ख़िज़्र/Khizr: a legendary person known for his wisdom and immortality
  • इल्यास/Ilyaas: another wise person (and Prophet; Biblical Elijah), associated with semi-immortality.
  • बे-दस्त-ओ-पा/be-dast-o-pa: “dast” means hand, “pa” means leg. So, the phrase literally means “without hand or leg”. Metaphorically, it denotes helplessness
  • यम/yam: ocean
  • जू/ju: short stream

Interpretation: “(Satan says:) Even the wise Khizr and Ilyas are helpless in front of my guile and tricks. My attacks are multi-prong and irresistible like a torrent that advances ocean by ocean, river by river, stream by stream”

गर कभी ख़ल्वत मयस्सर हो तो पूछ अल्लाह से 
क़िस्सा-ए-आदम को रंगीं कर गया किस का लहू
(gar kabhi khalwat mayassar ho to pooch Allah se
qissa-e-Aadam ko rangeeN kar gaya kiska lahu)

  • गर/gar: short form of “agar” (if)
  • ख़ल्वत/khalwat: isolation/the state of being alone
  • मयस्सर/mayassar: obtaining something after difficulty

Interpretation: (Satan says:) “If you ever find yourself alone with God, ask him: who was the one that injected colour into the human story? Who sacrificed his eternity to transform God’s favorite creation from something bland and insipid, to a dynamic and unpredictable entity?”

मैं खटकता हूँ दिल-ए-यज़्दाँ में काँटे की तरह 
तू फ़क़त अल्लाह-हू अल्लाह-हू अल्लाह-हू
(main khatakta hoon dil-e-yazdaaN mein kaante ki tarah
tu faqat “Allahu Allahu Allahu”)

  • यज़्दाँ/yazdaaN: God
  • फ़क़त/faqat: only
  • अल्लाह-हू/”Allah-hu”: “hu” is the Arabic pronoun for “he”. The phrase is a common chant.

Interpretation: “(Satan says:) Its me who has the guts to challenge God and trouble His Divine Presence, whereas you spend your existence in lowly obesiance to Him, forever chanting Allahu Allahu”

(Article by: Daud Khan: https://www.facebook.com/whysocrious/)

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Braj, Awadhi and the rise of Hindi

Avadhi and Brajbhasha are no longer considered prestigious languages in North India, and their speakers are often thought of as गँवार (aided by the fact that most of their speakers today, live in villages)

This is quite ironical given that till the late 19th century, these were the most prominent languages for composing epic works in Hindi literature. Both Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas and Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat were composed in Awadhi, while Surdas’ Sursagar and Mira Bai’s verse were composed in Braj Bhasha.

What we call Modern Standard Hindi, came into its own only in the 1860s and 1870s when a brilliant young scholar by the name Bharatendu Harishchandra translated classic Sanskrit/Bengali/English plays and works into the Khadi Boli dialect, along with many original compositions.

Despite a history of monumental poetic works, neither Brajbhasha nor Awadhi had any works in prose to speak of, and with rising literacy, Harishchandra felt an acute need for a language that could serve the literary needs of the time, while at the same time, possessed a continuity with traditional Hindu thought and mythology.

He finally chose Khadi Boli in the Devanāgari script, mainly because it had already been popularized in the form of Urdu, and had gathered enough prestige (and comprehensibility) by the time. True to its purpose, this new strain of Khadi Boli borrowed vocabulary and themes more heavily from Braj, Awadhi and (especially) Sanskrit, compared to Persian.

But even till the early 1900s, Hindi authors continued preferring Braj and Awadhi for composing verse, and kept Hindi mainly for the purpose of prose. Starting from mid 1910s though, Hindi started becoming widely acceptable for composing poetry as well (and took off, in a manner of speaking)

Its an object lesson in the fact that mellifluousness and sweetness of tongue is more a function of what you’re habitual of, rather than any objective standard. Khari Boli, which was once derided as “vulgar” is now the standard prestige dialect, while the once “cultured” and “urbane” Awadhi and Brajbhasha, are now considered “abhadra” and uncouth.

P.S: The term “Hindi” was often used for many Indian languages, Urdu included, but starting from the 1860s, it began to be used more and more in the sense of today’s Hindi.

(Source: Chapter “The Progress of Hindi, Part 2“, in Literary Cultures in History – Reconstructions from South Asia”)

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Jesus and the adultress

Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Guercino, 1621 (Wikipedia)

“… Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees (priests) brought in a woman caught in adultery.

They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” ( 👉 Gospel of John 8:1-11)

P.S: This story is not found in the earliest manuscripts of the gospel, and is considered by most scholars as a later addition (“Misquoting Jesus” by the Biblical scholar, Bart Ehrman)

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The ancient tribes of Aad and Thamud – A Historical Perspective

“And We certainly sent into every nation a messenger, [saying], “Worship Allah and avoid Taghut.” And among them were those whom Allah guided, and among them were those upon whom error was [deservedly] decreed. So proceed through the earth and observe how was the end of the deniers.” (Quran 16:36)

‘Aad and Thamud are two of several communities described in the Quran as recipients of God’s chosen prophets – and being utterly destroyed for rejecting them. But unlike most of the others, these two stand out for not having any clear counterpart in the Judeo-Christian tradition – a wellspring of Middle Eastern traditions, of which Islam draws in so small measure.

To ‘Aad was sent the prophet Hud; to Thamud, Saleh, and together with another mysterious figure, Shoaib, they constitute the only three pre-Islamic prophets mentioned in the Quran that have an exclusive Arab provenance. It would be unsurprising then, to find them in the archaeological/literary records related to ancient Arabia.

And indeed we do, but with an unexpected twist!

Traditionally, both the prophets – Hud and Saleh – and by implication, their respective communities – ‘Aad and Thamud, are thought to have existed generations before Abraham, placing them well before 1300 BC (at the very least1). But as we’ll see below, archaeological and literary records place them firmly in Northern Arabia/Jordan, well after the death of Jesus (33 AD)


Long before the Roman empire, before Alexander’s conquests, even before the great Persian monarchs, there were the Assyrians – lords of much of the Middle East, and archetypes of almost every empire that came after them. Its in their records, that we find out first mention of Thamud.

Sargon II, the Assyrian king who first records Thamud

Sargon II (d. 705 BC), the Assyrian emperor boasted of his conquest of Thamud in an 8th century inscription:

“The Thamudites, the (Ibadidites), the Marsimanites and the Khapayans, distant Arab tribes, who inhabit the desert, of whom no scholar or envoy knew, and who had never brought their tribute to the kings, my fathers, I slaughtered in the service of Assur, and transported what was left of them, setting them in the city of Samaria.”

Many centuries elapse before we find Thamud again in the textual record, though their name crops up many times in (undated) inscriptions throughout North Arabia.

The earliest abundant references for Thamud in our literary sources are in relation to the Nabataean empire – a large Arab kingdom encompassing parts of modern Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia (including the Hejaz, the area containing Mecca and Medina) and even parts of Sinai. Heavy contact with Romans resulted in us having a pretty decent record of its territories and people. After several centuries of independent existence, it was finally incorporated into the Roman empire in 106 AD.

al-Hijr, the second most important centre of the Nabataean empire, is the title of the 15th chapter of the Quran. Verses 15:80-83 describe its inhabitants as carving their homes out of mountains and being decimated by a loud shriek – characteristics ascribed by the Quran elsewhere to the people of Thamud2. A report in the hadith collection of Bukhari makes this connection between Thamud and al-Hijr quite explicit.

Ruins of al-Hijr. Massive tombs were carved out of rock, outside the city

In the Nabataean period, several impressive facades were carved into the hills outside al-Hijr, between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. As Suleyman Dost observes, “The Qur’ān’s reference to rock-cut dwellings… fits the picture perfectly with the exception that these carved niches do not seem to have functioned as living areas”3

Returning to textual references, Diodorus, a Greek historian writing in the first century BC, mentions a group called Thamoudēnoi in North-Western Arabia4. A little later, Pliny, the Elder (d. 79 AD), a Roman historian, while writing his “Natural History”, mentions the Thamudaei5 – a people dominant in Hegra, adjoining the Nabataeans. Later still, we find them mentioned by Ptolemy (d. 168AD), in his Geography.6

More than a century after Jesus, in the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (d. 180 AD), we find that a part of the Thamud tribe was enrolled in the Roman army. A temple they constructed at Rawwafa, 200 miles north of Medina, mentions the following in a Greek-Nabataean bilingual inscription:

“For the wellbeing of the rulers of the whole world . . . Marcus Aurelius Anthoninus and Lucius Aurelius Verus, who are the conquerors of the Armenians. This is the temple that was built by the tribal unit of Thamud, the leaders of their unit, so that it might be established by their hands and be their place of veneration for ever”7

Further confirmation of their service under the Romans, comes via a late 4th (or early 5th century) military document Notitia Dignitatum, which clealy mentions two cavalry units of Thamud, one serving in Egypt and the other in Palestine.


“Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with ‘Aad; of Iram of the lofty pillars?” (Quran 89:6-7)

‘Aad are mentioned as another Arabian tribe destroyed by God for rejecting their Prophet Hud. Traditional Quranic commentaries assumed that they were a South Arabian people, but it turns out, they had their base in Wadi Ramm in present-day Jordan. In fact, we even know the scripts they used!

Wadi Ramm – the place identified by archaeologists as the home of ‘Aad

Ptolemy (d. 168 AD), describes a people called Oaditai8, bordered by Aramaeans to the north, and Thamud to the south, close to what is today called Wadi Ramm.

That these are the people of ‘Aad, is hinted by a Nabataean inscription in Wadi Ramm, at a temple dedicated to the goddess Allat. It mentions the elusive city of Iram (mentioned in the above Quranic verse), and reads “May Abdallâhi son of ‘Atmo be remembered for all time before Allât, the goddess of Iram.”. Several broken columns in the ruins of Wadi Ramm have been interpreted as the “lofty pillars” associated with Iram in the Quran.

Signature of a man in Safaitic script: “By Zhy son of ʿâmer of the lineage of ʿâd”

Another inscription from the same temple mentions ‘Aad by name, and reads, “by Ghawth son of Aslah son of Thokam and he constructed the temple of Allât, of the people of Ad“. Several other inscriptions bearing the names ‘Aad and Iram have been discovered in Jordan.

The scripts used in these inscriptions is mostly Hismaic and Safaitic – writing systems native to Arabia, and quite distinct from the one later adopted for writing the Quran.


The Quran mentions ‘Aad as successor to the people of Noah (Q 7:69), and Thamud, as successor to ‘Aad in turn (Q 7:74). This has led traditional Muslim historians to place the two quite early in history, much before the time of even Abraham and Moses. But as is clear from the above discussion, Thamud were thriving as late as maybe the 4th century AD, while the people of ‘Aad have left their final trails, only a few centuries before that.

In the historical and archaeological record, both were contemporaries, but by the time of the Prophet in the 7th century AD, they had become little more than a distant memory, and their ruins, places of myth and legend.

As Dost aptly observes, the “description [of ‘Aad and Thamud] in the Qur’ān is the sum of historical memory and topographical observations modeled on the familiar configuration of perished peoples”

(This is part of series on Arabia. You can find the first one here)


(Written by Daud)

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A, Alif and the Egyptian Ox

Like the alphabet rhyme A, B, C, D.. in English, there’s the equivalent Alif, Be, Te, Se.. in Urdu. Though the letters might look radically different, both these alphabets are ultimately derived from a single ancient writing system.

Both A (and the Urdu “alif“) is derived from the Egyptian hieroglyphic character (picture) for ox (called “aleph” in Egyptian).

B (and the Urdu “be“) is similarly derived from the same language’s picture for a home (called “Bet“). That’s why “bayt” is used for “house” in so many Semitic languages (including Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac and many others).

Around 1200BC, a writing system evolved out of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, which used, for the first time, one symbol for one sound.

Before this, most writing systems used one symbol to represent an action or a thing. Since there are so many possible actions and things, “writers” had to memorize a huge number of symbols.

This new innovative writing system (which we now call the Phoenician alphabet) spread like wildfire, and was adopted (with modifications) by many Middle Eastern languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and others.

But there was one problem with it. This writing system didn’t have any characters for vowels. Only consonants were represented. That’s why in Urdu and Arabic writings, short vowels (zer, zabar) are often left to the reader’s imagination (and consonants are re-purposed as vowels – see the note at the end)

Anyway, it was the Greeks who first came up with the idea of adding characters for vowels too, to the script, and their script, after centuries of modifications, gave rise to the modern English script.

Isn’t it fascinating, that students 3000 years ago, were probably singing a rhyme so similar so us.. “aleph, bet…”

P.S: Languages and scripts are totally different things. Punjabi is written in Gurmukhi script in Indian Punjab, but in the traditional Urdu script, in Pakistani Punjab.

Note: In the traditional scripts of Arabic, Urdu, and many other Semitic languages, long vowels (“eee”, “ooo”, “aaa”) are written using existing consonants. Whether these consonants are going to be read as consonants or vowels, depends upon context.

For example, و can be used as a consonant (“w”) in the word اول, or it can be used as a vowel as in اردو. This feature is technically called “mater lectionis

(Author: Daud Khan; Image via Wikipedia)

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Pre-Islamic Quranic divinites of Arabia


  al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess

“So have you considered al-Lat and al-‘Uzza? And Manat, the third – the other one?” (Q 53:19-20)

In the above verses, the Quran talks about three goddesses that were being worshipped in ancient Arabia in the 7th century AD. While their worship swiftly came to an end following Islam’s conquests, they were representative of a long series of Arabian cultures that are too often dismissed in traditional Islamic history as “jahiliyya” – the age of ignorance.

al-Lāt, Allah and the Nabataean empire

Al-Lāt was first mentioned by the Greek historian Herotodus (called the “Father of History“) around 440 BC. He counts her among the only two divinities that Arabs worshipped, and gives her name as Alilat (Incidentally, this is one of the earliest records of the Arabic language too, as it uses the characteristic definite article “al” of Arabic, equivalent to the English “the“)

Later on, al-Lāt came to be prominently featured in rock inscriptions and graffiti found throughout Arabia, but predominantly in its northern part. Around 4th century BC, an Arab kingdom called the Nabataean Empire emerged in Northern Arabia, Jordan, Palestine and the Sinai area of Egypt. It encompassed the Hejaz region (containing Mecca and Medina) and was a major military power before falling to Romans in 106 AD.

Such was the Nabatean influence and prestige that when the Quran came to be written down, the script chosen wasn’t one of the many that were native to central Arabia (or South Arabia), but a modified form of the Nabataean alphabet.

In this kingdom, al-Lāt was a major goddess (along with al-Uzza and Dushara). Heavy contact with Romans led to her identification with the Greek Goddess Athena. We know this because in a bilingual inscription, the Arabic titlewahab ul-Lāt (gift of al-Lāt) is translated into Greek as “gift of Athena“. Similarly, al Uzza (“The Mighty”) was associated with the goddess Aphrodite.

The name of the other major god Dushara, should be read as dhu-shara, with the initial “dhu” representing the common Arabic prefix meaning “having” (like, dhu-al-Qarnain in the Quran refers to a person “having two horns” – Alexander, the Great).

Of course, Allah was another major god of the Arabs mentioned in the inscription. He is sometimes mentioned as a specific god alongside others, but more often, in the sense of a general God (pre-Islamic Arab Christians also used Allah for God)

Relation between Allāh and Al-Lāt

An interesting coincidence is that the word Allah is derived from “al-ilah” meaning “the god“, while “al-Lāt” (derived from al-ilat) can be considered the female counterpart of al-ilah, as feminine nouns in Arabic are constructed by adding “t” at the end. (“Kabeer“, meaning a big man, becomes “kabeerat” (pronounced as “kabeerah“) when referring to a big woman).

Like in many Semitic religions, the original Nabataean (or Arabic) pantheon possibly (but, by no means definitely) included a male and female divine pair represented by Al-lah (“The God”) and al-Lat (“The Goddess”). After all, the ancient Semitic god El, had a wife called Elat (and/or Asherah), and the Jewish God Yahwehis also believed to have had a consort named Asherah initially.

In fact, according to certain hadiths, the original audience of the Quran was making this very claim and insisting that al-Lat is just the female version of Allah, betraying the possibility that at least some of the Arabs remembered the (possible) ancient connection. The Quran berates such people, saying: “And leave [the company of] those who practice deviation concerning His names. They will be recompensed for what they have been doing” (7:180)

(Note that since Elat is already attested as a female divinity from much earlier times and languages, al-ilat need not be derived in the context of Arabic grammar. On current evidence, its difficult to conclude whether there was an explicit connection between al-Lat and Allah)

The various names of God

Notice the following Quranic verse:

Say, “Call upon Allah or call upon the Most Merciful [al-rahman]. Whichever [name] you call – to Him belong the best names. (Q 17:110)

The word al-Rahman above, was actually a famous name for the (monotheistic) god in Southern Arabia, attested in numerous inscriptions. According to tradition, the reason this verse was revealed, was that people were confused given that al-Rahman was the title for God that Musaylama (another rival claimant to Prophethood) had been using. The above verse emphatically asserted that al Rahman is the same God as Allah.

Another interesting thing to note is that the Quran repeatedly emphasizes that “To Him [Allah] belongs the best names” (Q 17:110, 20:8, 7:180). Removed from its original context, we assume that this is just to emphasize all the qualities of God that these “best names” represent. The real import of these verses, though, might have been quite different.

“The Hearer” (al samee’), “The Patient” (al-haleem), “The Merciful” (al-Rahimand “The Mighty” (al-Aziz) – “beautiful names” of God emphasized in the Quran, were all names of separate gods in Arabia! The Quran’s repeated insistence that all of these names belong to Allah alone, was meant to subsume these gods as simply attributes of the one true god Allah, and incorporate their worshippers into Islam.


The third divinity mentioned in the divine trio at the start was Manat – the goddess related to Fate. Note that her name doesn’t start with “al” (the), unlike that of al-Lat and al-Uzza, showing that this was a proper name from the very start, and not a divine attribute that later morphed into a full-fledged god (quite a common occurence in Semitic religions).

As an interesting side note, when Mahmud Ghaznavi invaded India and ransacked the Somnath temple, his propaganda machinery insisted that Somnath housed the last remnants of this goddess Manat, which had been saved from destruction by the Prophet’s companions, and transported by her worshippers to Gujarat. The entire story was manufactured to bolster his image as a pious Muslim who gave the final touches to the Prophet’s unfinished work in destroying Arab paganism.

The gods of Noah’s people

Finally, there are the five gods (Wadd, Suwa’, Yaghuth, Ya’uq and Nasr) that, according to the Quran, were worshipped by Noah’s people before the Flood (Q 71:23). The 8th century Iraqi scholar ibn al Kalbi, in his Kitaab al Asnaam (Book of the Idols), tells us that these were, in fact, all local Arab deities, and gives us the names of specific areas and tribes where they were worshipped (the same information comes to us from certain hadiths).

This was also confirmed by the discovery of the names of some of these in inscriptions from the Arabian peninsula.

Early Muslim scholars were in a fix to explain how idols from Noah’s time (after complete destruction in the Flood) could end up being worshipped in Arabia. One of the stories narrated to explain this says that a jinn inspired a person called Amr ibn Luhayy to go and recover these idols that had been brought to Arabia by the Flood waters, and buried in the sand. He promptly did that, and introduced Arabs to Noah’s gods.

Another explanation holds that Arabs, for some reason, renamed their existing gods to correspond to Noah’s ones.


Analyzing the evidence from inscriptions and earlier texts is critical to placing the Quranic discourse in its proper context.

Ancient Arabian historiography is still very much a developing field, and there’s far more to discover, especially in the critical Hejaz area. With the discovery of new inscriptions (pretty abundant, but thoroughly under-studied), and the proper catalouging of old ones, some of the long-held assumptions about jahiliyya are bound to be overturned.


(Posted by Daud Khan)

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