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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Note: This page has moved to a new address. Please click on the following URL to get there: http://chanad.weblogs.us/index.php?s=Mullahs in verse. Sorry for the trouble.

Mullahs in verse

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Some of you might recall an incident in Bahrain back in 1994 in which some youths reportedly threw stones at bare-legged women running in the annual charity marathon. Thankfully, nothing of the sort has ever happened here again. However, the story repeated itself on a much grander scale in the Pakistani city of Gujranwala a couple days ago. The BBC reports:

Pakistani police have clashed with demonstrators protesting against the participation of women in a 10km road race in eastern Pakistan.


The clashes erupted after supporters of the Islamic religious parties alliance (MMA) attacked the men and women contesting the race with batons and stones, police said.

The protesters blocked the race course and chased competitors away as they approached the sports stadium where they were expected to finish race.

A spokesman for the MMA told the Associated Press news agency that the alliance had warned organisers against holding the race "because it is against Islam".

"They want to undress the entire nation," Riaz Durrani said.

"It is indecent for women to run in the streets. They want the sisters and sisters-in-law of the nation to wear knickers and T-shirts." (Continued)

The pictures that were being shown on Pakistani television showed a huge mob of bearded and turbanned mullahs running around with great big sticks in their hands. It's interesting though that this image of mullahs has existed for hundreds of years, and criticism of them has existed since. In Waris Shah's poetic rendition of the epic Punjabi tale "Heer" (written in 1766), the main protagonist, Ranjha encounters a mullah in a mosque. The mullah doesn't like the way Ranja looks and tells him in caricature fashion (translated by Najam Hussain Syed):

A mosque is the house of God. Those not in line with the Sharia cannot be allowed to enter here. Dogs and dirty fakirs are to be bound and punished with lashes by us. We tear off the trousers if they fall lower than the ankles. And we singe the hair that grow around the lips. The enemies of God we shun like dogs from a distance.

And of course, Ranjha responded to the Mullah in kind:

News of death brings the odour of Halwa to your nostrils, you pray for the living to shorten their stay on this earth. The Sharia is the cover for the dishes of your desire. Your concern for sinning is boundless. To the homeless seeking shelter for a while your doors are always closed.

By no means was Waris Shah the only poet to characterize and criticize the mullahs in this manner. Another famous Punjabi poet of 1700s, Bulleh Shah, was quite prolific in his scathing comments about them. Here's something that many of today's sufi musicians quite like to include in their songs (translation from here):

[He] Read a lot and became a scholar
But [he] never read himself
[He] goes enters into the temple & mosque
But [he] never entered into his own heart

He fights with the devil every day for nothing
He never wrestled with his own ego
Bulleh Shah, he grabs for heavenly flying things
But doesn't grasp the one who's sitting at home

Religious scholars stay awake at night
But dogs stay awake at night, higher than you
They don't cease from barking at night
Then they go sleep in yards, higher than you

They [dogs] don't leave the beloved's doorstep
Even if they're beaten hundreds of times, higher than you
Bulleh Shah get up and make up with the beloved
Otherwise dogs will win the contest, better than you

And the translation of a famous couplet by Bulleh Shah:

The mullah and the torch-bearer
Hail from the same stock;
They give light to others,
And themselves are in the dark.

A more recent example can be found in the works of the Indian poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, who wrote around the turn of the twentieth century. It is ironic that many mullahs today go around spouting verses of Iqbal to support their positions, yet his poetry is filled with open criticism of them. In a poem of his called "The Mullah and Paradise" he writes (translated by Naeem Siddiqui):

When in a vision I saw
A mullah ordered to paradise,
Unable to hold my tongue,
I said something in this wise:

‘Pardon me, O Lord,
For these bold words of mine,
But he will not be pleased
With the houris and the wine.

He loves to dispute and fight,
And furiously wrangle,
But paradise is no place
For this kind of jangle.

His task is to disunite
And leave people in the lurch,
But paradise has no temple,
No mosque and no church.’

There are countless other writings from within the South Asian Muslim poetic tradition that characterize and criticize the mullahs in this way. But I'm wondering, does anything similar exist in Muslim traditions from other parts of the world (particularly in Arabic writings)? It would be interesting to compare.

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5 Responses to 'Mullahs in verse'

Blogger Evil Odd says:

There is a banned Iranian movie about a thief who disguises himself as a Mullah to escape jail. He later goes to his local town and starts preaching in the mosque. The whole movie is a big stab at the mullah culture in Iran.

I've heard reports that the movie is hilarious. It's called (I think) - "Marmoolak".    

Blogger Chanad says:

I still haven't got around to watching Marmoulak, but the reviews are excellent.

But I was more thinking about writings in historical texts,... I've read some stuff in Persian poetry,... but I'm particularly interested in how mullahs were perceived by Arabs back in the day.    

Blogger arafat says:

Ahh, yeah there was a screening of Marmoolak here a couple months ago... too bad I missed it.

It's interesting that you refer to Iqbal as the Indian poet-philosopher (which I guess he technically was!). I think many Pakistanis may find that disturbing, since they consider their nation as the brainchild of Iqbal (and a few others).

BTW, I just learned something interesting from the wiki link: apparently, Iqbal's acclaimed "Reformation of Religious Thought in Islam" is banned in Saudi Arabia!    

Anonymous sepoy says:
4/11/2005 03:36:00 pm

Chanad: The trope of the silly/evil mullah comes to us from Persian literature. Most easily accessible in English would be Rumi but other such as Farukhi, Nizami, Attar and, yes, Hafiz all wrote about Mullahs and their ill-breed.    

Blogger Chanad says:
4/12/2005 03:33:00 am

Thanks Sepoy... I was going to ask you about this since you are the expert.

I agree that the Mullah caricature in Indo-Muslim literature is an extension of the Persian tradition. But the Punjabis really developed the caricature a step further ahead of the Persians.

The Persians wrote about how blind the mullahs are... but (from what little I have read) they werent as damning as the Punjabis were, who were willing to even compare the mullahs to dogs. In Punjabi literature the Mullah seems to be far more evil and greedy (represented by his obesity and love of food) than his counterpart in Persian literature.

Also, do you have any idea what the Arabs or the Turks had to say about mullahs in their literature?    

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