Many may think that Maktaba Jamia in Mumbai is just another book-nook in a Muslim locality that houses copies of the Quran and sundry Islamic literature. But for the likes of poet Abdul Ahad Saaz, Maktaba is ''a haunt which fired their imagination".
By Staff Writer
In Mumbai, Urdu is still vibrant and alive thanks to the network of institutions and commitment of individuals to promote the language.
There are a slew of Urdu bookstalls in Mumbai having a decent turnover. Maktaba Jamia is one such. Amidst endless rows of shops and restaurants, a virtual hole-in-the-wall, is the Urdu world's familiar destination. The uninitiated may think that Maktaba Jamia is just another book-nook in a pre-dominant Muslim locality that houses copies of the Quran and sundry Islamic literature. But for the likes of poet Abdul Ahad Saaz, Maktaba is ''a haunt which fired their imagination.''
For the Urdu lover, this is not just a bookshop. It's an institution. The brainchild of eminent educationist and former President of India, Zakir Hussain, Maktaba traces its origins to the creation of Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University in the late 1940s.
When Zakir Hussain and a few friends set up Jamia Millia, they also founded the university's publishing wing and called it Maktaba Jamia. Aimed at promoting pure literary works in Urdu, Maktaba, through its branches in Delhi, Aligarh and Mumbai, has lived up to its illustrious founders' wishes.
More than half a century ago, Mumbai was on the cusp of a literary revolution. The hub of the progressive writers' movement, Mumbai attracted poets like Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Sahir Ludhianvi. Stars of Urdu fiction's firmament-Krishan Chandar, Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ismat Chugtai and K A Abbas settled here.
And Maktaba, being located in the heart of the Muslim basti, became a popular place. ''I have known this shop since my childhood days. But in the 1970s, I started visiting it regularly and met literary giants like Jafri and Kaifi here,'' reminisces 50-year-old Saaz, whose second collection of poetry Sargoshiyan Zamaanoan Ki (Whispers of the Times) was released recently.
Then a fledgling poet, Saaz would spend hours at Maktaba browsing through books. Cutting his teeth on classical poets like Ghalib, Mir, Sauda and Amir Khusro, he went on to devour the czars of Russian literature-Maxim Gorky, Chekhov, Pushkin and others.
Pointing to a pavement, now occupied by kiosks and handcarts, Saaz recalls, ''sitting there, we discussed life, literature and poetry over endless cups of tea.'' But life didn't exactly work out the way he had imagined.
The 1990s saw Maktaba lose its ''scholarly'' clients. Saaz blames the ''monster'' television for this. ''The young generation is hooked to TV and video games. The reading habit is dying,'' he moans. Also many writers who lived in the Maktaba's vicinity have now moved to the suburbs. ''They come here only once in a while now,'' says Saaz.
Picking a new literary-cum-film journal from the shelves, Saaz browses through it saying: ''its editor had intimated me months ago. It's fascinating.'' Years later, Maktaba still fires Saaz's imagination.
Sadly, religion has become a weekend thing for most Muslims where offering Friday prayers means immunity from everything that is required of a Muslim.
By MOhammed Haniff
In a random survey conducted by Islamic Voice in Mumbai, it was revealed that 76 per cent of the children in the age group of 10-14,were unable to explain the meaning of the, Kalima, the basic pillar of Faith. When these children were asked to explain the technical terms in science, geography and mathematics, 81 per cent answered correctly.
Why the poor response? We, Muslim parents absolve ourselves by engaging a Qari sahib to teach our children the holy Quran because most of us have now forgotten how to read the holy Book. The Qari comes and goes, taking his Hadia at the end of the month, while we, the Muslim parents, stand absolved of our duty to teach our children the meaning of faith.
If one wants to be an accountant, doctor, engineer or any other professional, we take the courses for four years, in addition to appearing before a State Board to be certified as an accountant, doctor, or engineer. But when it comes to Islam, we just settle with an introduction to Faith, Kalima and its translation, and then forget to revise it to appear for the final exam. What a pity!
The majority of Muslim children growing up in India have a rudimentary knowledge of their faith. They know the Kalima and what it means, a few Surahs they know by heart for an exam, and yes the basic reading skills of the holy Quran that a child has learnt while he was too young to comprehend the meaning of what was being taught to him. Then there are tidbits that the children pick up from their parents, and a few pieces of advice here and there to keep them in check. Nowhere during the developmental stages of their lives are they taught the true meaning of the Kalima, which is the key component of a Muslim's contact with his/her Creator. Yes, they are told to fold their hands in a certain way while they are praying. However, what is not taught to them is what it takes to be a Muslim.
No teacher, or parent for that matter, has ever taken the time to explain it to his or her ward what the Kalima stands for. Why is it that every Muslim is required to pray five times a day? Why do we need to fast, and what is its significance? For an ordinary Muslim child in India, these are all either exam questions or actions they are expected to emulate, whether they like it or not. And in time it all fades away, as a sound foundation was never laid for these young people to build their faith. In the end, these confused children-turned-adults crowd Friday and Eid prayer gatherings, following in the footsteps of their parents.
Religion, for most these days has become a weekend thing, where offering the Friday prayers means absolution from everything that is required of a Muslim. One only needs to drive around town on a Friday to find traffic jams on the streets housing the fashionable, mostly air-conditioned mosques, yet the same mosques witness fewer if any visitors during morning prayers.
So where do we start? By renewing our vows. We must first try to develop a clear understanding as to what is meant by: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is His messenger. Each one of us today has developed our own version of Islam. We have our own individual checks and balances that we have developed to soothe our troubled conscience. If we steal electricity, or taxes, or get our kith and kin employed out of merit, we resort to philanthropy, hoping that it will balance it all out.
Being a Muslim means more than just offering prayers; it means emulating the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and conforming to the dictates of the holy Quran, not in part or what suits us, but in its totality. And unless we understand the meaning of the Kalima, we don't stand a chance of redeeming ourselves in this world or the world hereafter.
Its high time, urgent steps are taken to build a network of the basic nurseries, which not only teach tilawat, but also explain the basic ethos and values of Islam, blending the modern techniques of teachings and latest teaching aids.
When we Muslim parents take pains to identify the best of secular educational institutions to build the future of our children, why not take similar interest to educate them about Islam on which depends their eternal success.