يُعدّ الكتاب كليلة و دمنة لعبد الله بن المقفع من أجمل و أروع الأمثلة للنثر العربي، و لا يزال الأدباء يقترحونه لتلاميذهم و يختارونه في مختاراتهم الأدبية لجزالة مفرداته و سلاسة تعبيراته و هو الجدير، بل الأجدر، أن يتّخذ نموذجًا للكتابة و الإنشاء ليقتفي الدارسُ بأثره الممتع و يذهب مذهبه الساحر. و هذه المقدّمة تحتوي على التعرّف على الكتاب و المترجم.Continue reading →
الأدب العربي لماذا؟
أعشق الأدب. لا أقصد الأدب العربي فقط بل إنّ قلبي قد شُغِفَ حبّاً بأدب اللغة العربية و الإنكليزية و الأردية جميعاً. منذ نعومة أظفاري كنتُ أحبّ أن أقرأ القصص و الحكايات بهذه اللغات الثلاثة و كلّما ترقَّيت في العمر كنتُ أغُوطُ غوطاً عميقاً أكثر تعمّقاً من الماضي في بحار أدب اللغات الثلاثة، حتّى أصبحتْ هوايتي الخاصة قراءة الكتب أو اشتراء الكتب على الرغم من كوني في الأربعينيات من عمري، و على الرغم من المسؤوليات التي نِيطَت بي. هل هذه حماقة؟ لو سألتَ زوجتي الكريمة لأجابتْ بدون أي تأمّل: “إي والله إنها لَحماقة!”. لكنّ قولَها هذا يتعلّق بالعلاقة التي بيننا كزوجٍ و زوجةٍ ، و لا يتعلّق بالجنون الذي جُنِنتُ به.Continue reading →
The Quran speaks of two great worlds: the unseen and the visible (Q, 59:22); the world of matter and the world of spirit. We often refer to them as things visible and invisible – putting are sight as the main criterion for differentiating between the two great worlds. Yet, this is far from the truth. Indeed, the world of matter is all things made known to us by all our senses – the air we breathe, the sounds we hear, the things we touch, the food we taste; by the world of spirit we mean all those things our bodily senses cannot sense, perceive, feel, or make known to us.
Just as senses put us into connection with the material world, so to does our Faith put us into connection with the spiritual world. Faith is to the spiritual world what sense perception is to the material. Thus, Faith is often called the eye of the soul. But this is only partially true: Faith is not only the eye by which the soul can see, it is also the ear by which it can hear, the hand by which it can touch, the nose by which it can smell and the tongue by which it can taste that which the body cannot. Our senses realise the world of matter by making it real, substantial and evident. The work of Faith is to realise the world of spirit; to make it real, substantial and evident. This work of Faith is plainly described in the words, “This is the Book, wherein is no doubt; a guide to the God-fearing, who have Faith in the Unseen” (Q, 2:2-3). Its task is to draw us out of the physical and material and place us before the presence of the unseen, invisible and spiritual.Continue reading →
The golden age of Islam, insofar as the intensity of the religious and spiritual life and the realization of its ideals are concerned, must be identified with the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad- Allah bless him and give him peace- and the first Muslim community at Medina. But just as the seed sown in the ground grows into a tree and finally bears fruit only after the passage of time and the gaining of nourishment from a suitable soil, so did the tree of Islamic civilization bear its intellectual and artistic fruits several centuries after its inception, during which it was nourished by the legacy of the previous civilizations to which Islam became the heir. The arts and sciences, as well as philosophy and metaphysics, reached their zenith of formal perfection and became fully articulated only after Muslim society had become completely consolidated, and only after the tenets of the Islamic revelation had been realized in concrete and tangible forms so as to make the new civilization distinctly Islamic, even when elements of non-Islamic origin had been incorporated into it.Continue reading →
‘There will thus remain only one feasible option for broadening one’s horizons and mind, and becoming more objective and tolerant. It is this: that people should put down their mobile phones, and turn off the net and the TV, and spend at least an hour every day in silent, solitary, and systematic reading. Reading—that which is worth reading, of course—takes people out of the confines of their natural myopia and parochialism and enriches them immeasurably. It can transport people to past times, distant places, wondrous experiences and unexpected emotions. It can stimulate the imagination, sharpen the mind, strengthen the memory, induce contemplation and inculcate noble sympathies. It allows people to sit and listen to the most brilliant minds, teachers, ideas and speeches that have ever existed, no matter what languages they—or we—actually spoke or speak. It can take people to necessary escapes, relaxing fantasies, to imaginary worlds or, by contrast bring them face-to-face with bitter truth and make them mindful of the inexorable, eternal present moment. In short, it can teach people priceless knowledge about themselves, about the world and about reality itself.Continue reading →
What is all the fuss about Shakespeare? Why do pupils have to endure the drudgery of toilsome lessons on the Bard? Surely more recent writers would perhaps have an endearing charm that resonates with students and teachers? These are questions that are often asked. My aim here is to offer some answers to these perennial questions to not only illustrate the importance of Shakespeare, but more importantly, why.Continue reading →
‘The good die first, and they whose hearts are dry as summer dust, burn to the socket.’ (Wordsworth)
Dressed in a Saharanpuri kurta pajama, clad in an Aligarh style sherwani, topped by a five-pointed long hat of an earlier Thana Bawan style, a young man in his mid-thirties, with a scholarly face and spectacles on nose sat on the raised cushion. Two students were sitting on the floor facing him. It was 1994. The teacher was Mufti Abu Zafar, and I was one of the students. Before him was Ibn Hājib’s al-Kāfiya fi al-Naḥw.
He began his explanation of the opening words:
الكلمة لفظ وضع لمعنى مفردًا…
He examined the words in the sentence sufficiently enough to break it down into its various clauses. Then, taking the clauses one at a time, he broke down each clause, and examined more closely the individual words in it and, in the case of nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs, their word forms. He explained alternate grammatical possibilities and the implication this had on the various purport of the meanings. All this was done faithfully, efficiently and speedily, coupled with a humorous interaction with the students. This was my first lesson.Continue reading →
Lush greenery and blooms of the brightest colour. One of the most poignant signs of the majesty of Allah is His creation. The intricacies with which He has created these self-subsisting systems cannot but leave one in awe of His perfect wisdom. In these isolating times of a global pandemic, one of the greatest reminders of His majesty for many has been the respite provided by nature. As we stroll amidst this greenery and examine it in further detail we come towards the realisation that we are not much different from this flora that surrounds us; just as they display a certain vulnerability, so too do we. Just as they require a specific environment to facilitate their growth, so too do we.Continue reading →
“All that is on earth will perish; But will abide (forever) the Face of thy Lord full of Majesty Bounty and Honor.” (Quran, 55:26-27)
In the hour of death, after this life’s whim
When the heart beats low, and the eyes grow dim,
And pain has exhausted every limb-
The lover of the Lord shall trust in Him.
When the will has forgotten the lifelong aim,
When the mind can only disgrace its fame,
And a man is uncertain of his own name-
The Power of the Lord shall fill this frame.
When the last sigh is heaved, and the last tear shed,
And the coffin is lying beside the bed,
And the widow and child forsake the dead-
The angel of the Lord shall lift this head.
For even the purest delight may pall,
And power must fail, and the pride must fall,
And the love of dearest friends grow small-
But the Glory of the Lord is all in all.
There are people we meet in life by whom we are uplifted, others by whom we get motivated, but few are those that leave an imprint on our souls. Barbara Smethurst, or as I called her, Mrs Smethurst, was of that rare pedigree that left a deep imprint on my soul.
She was a beautiful elderly woman: fair skinned with silver white hair, of medium height, impeccably dressed in a knee length skirt and a long-sleeve blouse of an earlier time in England; courteous and well-mannered with a strength of character that marked all women of her age. This, coupled with her radiant smile, always left all who came in her presence to throw off all pretence. Or this is how it was for me. And I’m sure it was for many others too.
She instilled within me a love of the English language: its prose, its poetry, its literature, its style, its lyric and its ambience. We read together in the 1990’s, in our small class of GCSE English: Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Russell’s Educating Rita, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Burke’s Almswomen and much more which I can’t remember.
That first immersion into the rich literary history of English was love at first sight. I love reading, I love writing, but most of all, I love reading style manuals. Ever since reading Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, writing guides have been among my favourite literary genres. It’s not just that I welcome advice on the lifelong challenge of perfecting the art of writing. It’s also because style guides are perfect exemplars of their own advice; towering paragons for all to look up to and despair. Strunk’s gem of a book is rich with brief commandments: ‘Write with verbs and nouns’; ‘Put the emphatic words of a sentence at the end’; and my personal favourite: ‘omit needless words’. Although written for an American audience, the difference for a British audience is negligible, given its usefulness.
Mrs Smethurst embodied this classic style of writing that is taut, clear and concise. In the days when I was in her class, she omitted many needless words, and omitted them forcibly. She marked and corrected our work with the eagerness of a general commanding his forces on the battlefield. She would stoop over our A4 sized papers with her glasses half-way over her aquiline nose, and with great rigour and precision, the battle began. Superfluous verbs, extraneous phrases and run-on sentences were all crossed off with scarlet ink; some survived with mere battle wounds which only needed rephrasing; but others were not dealt with so lightly, they were completely decapitated. Thus, cutting off the cackle, and bringing the cart to the horses.
I like to read style guides for another reason. I am by profession an English teacher, or more correctly an English for Academic Purposes lecturer/teacher. It’s the same reason that sends botanists to the garden and scientists to the laboratory. It’s a practical application of my science. This professional acquaintance with language is all thanks to Mrs Smethurst.
I used to write to her every so often and the last letter she wrote to me was dated 5th February 2021. She relayed her illness to me and how she was limited to what she could do, but she was ever eager to know about how my family and I were getting on with life. She signed off the letter with her distinct cursive handwriting:
‘Once again, thank you and God bless you and your family,
She was a remarkable woman and now that she is no longer with us, its only her memories that we have.
‘Oh Memory! Save me from the world’s poor strife,
And grant these memories thine Everlasting Life.’