Culture and Real Islam

What is to blame? Islam or culture? Can they even be separated? Islam is what is practiced by Muslims and this varies by time, place and context.

One of the most common refrains one hears from Muslims about any bad traditions in Muslim societies is that it is a cultural fault and not a religious one. Never mind that those following such traditions (like honor killing, for example) do bring up religion, in addition to culture, to justify their actions. I have always been exasperated by people saying that this practice or that is not “real Islam.”

So Fareena Alam is refreshing (hat tip: Reformist Muslim).

For years, Muslims around me have said: “Islam must be separated from culture.” While this slogan has deep and well-meaning roots – such as the struggle to teach people that honour killing, often justified with religious excuses, is a cultural practice that is unequivocally abhorred in Islam – the clash between culture and religion is ultimately a false one. This idea of a “pure Islam, free of cultural baggage” is a false one. Religion manifests itself in the realities of life. Must we all neutralise ourselves – even the aspects that do not contravene Islam, to be accepted as “pious”? What is this “one Islam” or “one voice” people call for, and who decides what it says?

A mosque in China, with its bright red and gold interior and pagoda-like exterior blends beautifully into its surroundings as does the new mosque in Bradford, made of the same local stone as the buildings around it; they are completely different but both sacred places of worship for Muslims.

“Like a crystal clear river, Islam and sacred law are pure but colourless, until they reflect the Chinese, African, and other bedrock over which they flow,” wrote Dr Umar Faruq Abdallah, of the Nawawi Foundation in Chicago, USA, in his paper, Islam and the Cultural Imperative.

While we should not blame all the faults among Muslims on their religion, the fact is that it is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to separate culture and religion. Sometimes cultural practices arise from religion and at other times secular practices in a culture acquire religious underpinnings. These things are complex and difficult to disentangle. As someone who thinks of religion in a sociological context, there is no such thing as “real Islam” or “pure Islam.” Islam is basically what is practiced by Muslims. This can and does vary depending on time, place and context.

Pak Swiss Photos

Here are some photographs from our trip to Pakistan and the day-long stay in Zurich, Switzerland in December/January.

Finally, here are some photographs from our trip to Pakistan in December/January.

The first two photos are of Murree Road in Rawalpindi which is the main road for the city. The next one of the garbage is unfortunately a common sight in Pakistan. The building you see is actually part of a mosque. The last two show the Margalla hills from my parents’ place. On a clear day, you can see a lot of details since they are fairly close. But usually the pollution doesn’t let you do that.

Murree Road, Rawalpindi
Murree Road, Rawalpindi
View from my parents' house
Margalla Hills, Islamabad

We stayed in Zurich for only a day. And even then Michelle was tired and in a really bad mood. So we didn’t do much beyond going to the downtown. And getting lots of chocolate.

Zurich, Switzerland
Downtown Zurich
Hauptbahnhof, Zurich

I have more photographs from Pakistan which I might post later.


We saw Glory on Comcast On-Demand. It is a good movie about the first all-African-American company in the Union during the US Civil War. I rate the film 8/10.

For some time now, we have had Comcast Digital Cable. One benefit of that is that some shows and movies are available on their On-Demand service. This has come in handy as Michelle can sometimes get very demanding about watching “Elmo” i.e. Sesame Street.

We haven’t watched any for-pay movies on On-Demand, but there are some good older movies available free. The first one we watched was Glory.

Glory is about the first company (54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry) of African American soldiers in the Union army during the US Civil War.

It was definitely a good movie (of course, it is a movie and not a documentary). I would rate it 8 out of 10.

اردو اہلِ زبان کی ضرورت

یونیورسٹی آف پینسلوینیا میں ایک ریسرچ سٹڈی کے لئے انہیں اردو بولنے والوں کی ضرورت ہے۔ اگر آپ امریکہ یا کینیڈا میں رہتے ہیں تو ضرور ان کی مدد کریں۔ کچھ دیر اردو میں فون پر بات کرنے پر آپ کو اجرت بھی ملے گی۔

مجھے کچھ دن پہلے کرسٹوفر گلین کی ای‌میل آئی جو یونیورسٹی آف پینسلوینیا میں Linguistic Data Consortium میں ہوتے ہیں۔ یہ کنسورشیم لسانیات پر کافی کام کر رہا ہے اور اس نے کافی ڈیٹا بھی اکٹھا کیا ہے۔ وہ آج کل ایک ریسرچ سٹڈی کر رہے ہیں جس میں انہیں مختلف زبانیں بولنے والوں کی تلاش ہے۔ ان زبانوں میں سے ایک اردو بھی ہے۔ اگر آپ امریکہ یا کینیڈا میں رہتے ہیں تو ان کی مدد ضرور کریں۔ کام کی نوعیت یہ ہے کہ آپ کو کچھ اور لوگوں کے ساتھ کچھ دفعہ فون پر مختلف موضوعات پر گفتگو کرنی ہو گی۔ ایک دفعہ کی بات 10 منٹ ہو گی اور آپ 4 سے 15 کالوں میں حصہ لے سکتے ہیں۔ اس کام کے آپ کو تین سو ڈالر تک مل سکتے ہیں۔ تفصیلات ان کے ویب سائٹ پر۔

I recently received an email from Christopher Glenn of the Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania. His email (with the URLs changed to hyperlinks) is copied below:

We currently have a study, which seeks native speakers of 20+ languages, including Urdu. This is a paid research study in which Urdu speaking participants can earn up to $300 by simply having conversations on the telephone. Those conversations operate in much the same way as a forum or online chat: participants dial in toll free, and are then given a topic of the day to discuss with a call partner -typically someone that the caller doesn’t know. Topics range anywhere from politics to entertainment.

Because it is a telephone study, we can only recruit speakers living in the United States or Canada. Unfortunately, we are finding recruitment for Urdu speakers to be a difficult process. If your organization has any sort of mailing list or public forum, I am hoping that you can help us in our recruitment efforts by passing along our information to your members and affiliates. Our website

If you would like to know more, please email, call us at 1-800-380-7366, or simply look us up at the LDC site and UPenn Site.

If you are a native Urdu speaker, please do help.

پاکستان میں اجنبی

میں پاکستان میں پیدا ہوا اور عمر کا ایک طویل عرصہ میں نے وہیں گزارا۔ پھر آج میں پاکستان میں اجنبی کیسے بن گیا؟ اس بار جب میں پاکستان گیا تو وہاں اپنے تو تھے مگر ملک اور شہر میں میں نے خود کو غیرملکی تصور کیا۔ شاید وقت نے مجھے بدل دیا ہے اور شاید پاکستان بھی آٹھ سال پہلے والا نہیں رہا۔

جب سے امریکہ آیا ہوں پاکستان کا یہ دوسرا دورہ تھا۔ ان آٹھ سالوں میں پاکستان بھی کافی بدل گیا ہے اور شاید میں بھی۔ اسی لئے اس دفعہ خود کو وہاں اجنبی محسوس کیا۔ کئی چیزیں بری لگیں اور کئی اچھی مگر اجنبیت ہر جگہ رہی۔

پاکستان میں پرائیویٹ کمپنیاں بھی گاہک کے ساتھ کیا کرتی ہیں اس کا اندازہ اسلام‌آباد ائرپورٹ پر ہی ہو گیا جب ایوس کار رینٹل سے کار لینے کے لئے گھنٹہ لڑنا پڑا۔ اس کے برعکس جب ہم جیولر کی دکان پر گئے تو اس نے پینے کو بھی پوچھا اور ہمارے ساتھ خاصا وقت صرف کیا۔

ائرپورٹ سے نکلے تو فضا میں آلودگی نے ہمارے پھیپڑوں کو شکار کیا۔ پھر یہ احساس بھی ہوا کہ اگرچہ میں نے گاڑی چلانی پاکستان میں سیکھی اور بہت عرصہ وہاں چلائی بھی مگر اب میں پاکستان کی ٹریفک کا عادی نہیں رہا۔ لوگوں کا کہنا تھا کہ وہاں ٹریفک بہت بڑھ گئی ہے مگر ہم اٹلانٹا سے گئے تھے ہمیں تو سڑک پر کاریں نظر ہی نہیں آئیں۔ ٹریفک کے قوانین کی کوئی پابندی نہیں کرتا مگر سب انتہائی سست رفتار سے چلتے ہیں۔ سڑکوں کا حال پہلے سے برا لگا مگر ہو سکتا ہے یہ میری غلط‌فہمی ہو۔

ایک چیز جس کا مین بالکل عادی نہیں رہا تھا وہ یہ ہے کہ پاکستان میں کوئی بھی بات ہو اسلام درمیان میں ضرور آ جاتا ہے۔ پھر جو ذرا سا بھی مذہبی ہو وہ اپنے آپ کو نیک سے نیک‌تر ثابت کرنے کی کوشش میں آپ کو رگڑ دیتا ہے۔ اسلام‌آباد اور اس کے گرد و نواح میں تو میں نے اسلام کی globalization بڑھتے دیکھی۔ دوپٹے یا چادر کی بجائے کالا سکارف عام ہے۔ ہارون یحیٰی کی تحریریں پھیل رہی ہیں۔

ایک چیز جس نے بہت تنگ کیا وہ یہ ہے کہ پاکستان میں لوگ کافی گھورتے ہیں۔ خواتین کا کہنا ہے کہ یہ ہمیشہ سے ہے مگر مجھے اس دفعہ محسوس ہوا۔ معلوم نہیں اس کی وجہ میرے لمبے بال تھے یا سر پر سینگ مگر بازار وغیرہ میں لوگوں کا گھورنا ایک آنکھ نہ بھایا۔

کچھ اور تبدیلیوں میں ایک کیبل ٹی‌وی بھی تھا۔ جب میں پاکستان میں تھا تو ٹی‌وی پر صرف دو چینل آتے تھے۔ اب کیبل پر بہت سے چینل تھے۔ کچھ پاکستان کے تھے، کچھ انڈین اور کچھ امریکہ اور یورپ وغیرہ کے پروگرام دکھاتے تھے۔ پاکستانی چینل پر حالات حاضرہ کے پروگرام پہلے کی نسبت کافی جاندار تھے۔ انڈین چینلز پر میرے ٹرپ کے دوران ہی پابندی لگی اور پھر شاید وہ دوبارہ آنے لگے۔

ایک فاسٹ فوڈ ریستوران میں گیا تو دو لوگوں کو دیکھ کر کچھ حیرت ہوئی۔ ایک تو کوئی میری عمر کا جوڑا تھا۔ لباس وغیرہ سے کچھ غریب لھتا تھا۔ خاتون نے چادر لی ہوئی تھی اور اسی کو نقاب کے طور پر استعمال کر رہی تھی۔ وہ مزے سے ریستوران میں بیٹھے کھانا کھا رہے تھے اور گپیں ہانک رہے تھے۔ آج سے کچھ سال پہلے تک اس ریستوران میں شاید ایسے لوگ نظر نہ آتے۔ دوسرے دو سکول کے لڑکے تھے۔ انہوں نے جیسے بستے لٹکائے تھے اور جیسا لباس پہن رکھا تھا بالکل ایسا لگتا تھا کہ امریکہ میں اندرون شہر سے ہیں۔ یہ شاید rap کا اثر تھا۔

آخری بات یہ کہ اسلام‌آباد میں Gelato Affair کی آئس‌کریم اچھی ہے مگر اس کا اطالوی gelato سے دور کا بھی کوئی تعلق نہیں۔

Batman Begins

Batman Begins is a great movie. Highly recommended. Rated 8/10. I expect a sequel soon.

Batman begins is a great movie. It sets up the origins of Bruce Wayne turning into Batman very well.

At the end of the movie, there is a good setup for a sequel as well. Let’s see when a sequel is made.

I recommend it highly and rate it 8/10.

Blogspot Blocked in Pakistan

Pakistani bloggers are livid as blogspot has been blocked by the Pakistani government.

The Muhammad cartoon controversy has claimed another victim. But this one is not a person but rather bloggers:

Pakistan telecom authorities have blocked several websites inviting people to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, it has emerged.

Instructions were issued to internet service providers across Pakistan on 27 February to block about a dozen websites of various origins.

[…] Bloggers in Pakistan became first became aware of the ban on 28 February when they were unable to access a popular blog hosting site, Blogspot.

One of the blocked sites is hosted on Blogspot, which led to the blocking of all web journals hosted on the site.

The Pakistan bloggers found their blogs blocked, even though their blogs are not connected with the cartoons.

They say they have still been able to edit and update their blogs, but not able to read them.

BBC Urdu has a copy of the official letter banning about a dozen websites, one of which is hosted on Blogger’s free blog hosting at

Pakistani bloggers are, of course, not happy. Here is the response Moiz Khan got from his ISP.

I have got the response from our Network administrator I.e All the subdomains of the blogspot hosted on the server are blocked from the ITI on the strict instructions from the FIA because of the unathorized and anti Islamic contents so they have block the IP of the server rather then URL blocking. We are getting many other complains for the said IP and webhost. Our written complaint is already submitted to the higher authorities of ITI.

Don't block the blogTeeth Maestro has started a “Don’t block the blog!” campaign while a Google group called Action Group Against Blogspot Ban in Pakistan has also been started. Nouman has also been active and has found fame (and fortune?) by getting his post published on BBC Urdu. Danial suggests the following actions against the ban:

Via my Dad comes the news that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has gotten in the act though on the censorship side.

The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the government to block internet sites displaying sacrilegious cartoons and called explanation from authorities concerned as to why these sites had not been blocked earlier.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Faqir Mohammad Khokhar and Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan was hearing a petition of Dr Mohammad Imran Uppal.

It issued notices to Attorney General Makhdoom Ali Khan, Chairmen of the Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for March 13.

The federal government, Ministry of Telecommunication, Pemra, PTA, Yahoo Incorporation USA and I & I Co, the host of blasphemous site, have been cited as respondents in the petition.

[…] Makhdoom Ali Khan was also asked by the court to explore legal ways to block objectionable material on websites.

“We will not accept any excuse or any technical objection on this issue as it concerns sentiments of entire Muslim Ummah,” CJ observed adding all concerned authorities would have to appear in the court on next hearing with report of concrete measures for implementation of court’s order.

It seems like the court has no idea of the Internet and doesn’t know that blocking any website is not easy and it is often the case that lots of other sites are accidently blocked too (like all those blogs in this case).

Bypassing the censorship of blogspot in Pakistan is very easy. Here are some tips to defeat censors.

And finally, I don’t understand what is the point of blocking a dozen websites while the cartoons are available now on thousands of sites. If Pakistan wants to block every such site, it might have to block big names like Wikipedia, search engines like Google and Yahoo!, proxy servers and so on. In short, the whole Internet would have to be blocked.

Urdu phpBB

We are making a public release of an Urdu translation of phpBB. It is more than a translation since we made some Unicode-related modifications to the core code and have included an on-screen keyboard for users.

In case you were wondering where I was, among other things I was doing this.

As Nabeel mentioned before, we have been working on releasing a public version of Urdu phpBB.

PhpBB, for those you do not know, is described on its website thus:

phpBB is a high powered, fully scalable, and highly customizable Open Source bulletin board package. phpBB has a user-friendly interface, simple and straightforward administration panel, and helpful FAQ. Based on the powerful PHP server language and your choice of MySQL, MS-SQL, PostgreSQL or Access/ODBC database servers, phpBB is the ideal free community solution for all web sites.

phpBB also has internationalization and localization support. Hence, it has been translated into a large number of languages.

Adding Urdu support to phpBB is a lot more than simply adding an Urdu language pack to it. Some changes to the phpBB core are needed to make it work properly as a Unicode Urdu forum. Further, several changes are required in the templates for properly displaying Urdu text. The integration of Urdu WebPad makes it possible to edit Urdu text without the need of installing Urdu language support or keyboard even on windows 98 systems. Therefore we have decided to release Urdu phpbb as a pre-modded package. Later, we also plan to package the Urdu language and image files separately for those running multilingual phbBB boards. For those wanting to turn their exiting phpBB forums into Urdu forum, we will release a MOD that will detail the steps needed to perform this conversion.

The version (0.5b2) of Urdu phpBB (based on phpBB version 2.0.19) we are releasing is beta quality software. Therefore, we need beta testers to help us debug it.

Most important of all, we need people who plan to install Urdu phpBB and start a forum. It will be good if they cover a variety of operating systems, database software and PHP versions.

We have also set up a test installation where you can register and help us find bugs. We also need some of those users to take the responsibility for testing moderator and admin functions.

You can download Urdu phpBB here. Information about the package, including requirements and installation instructions are here.

If you find a bug in Urdu phpBB or want to request a new/improved feature, please open a ticket. Please do check the existing tickets before opening a new one to make sure that someone hasn’t reported the same issue before.

If you have any question about Urdu phpBB or you need any help with it, please visit the Mehfil forum for Urdu phpBB support.