Category Archives: The Middle East

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

‘To describe the Rubaiyat’s quatrains as the epigrams of an epicurean is to misunderstand Khayyam’ explains Dr Reeza Hameed.

As rendered by Fitzgerald, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam has remained an enduring favourite among poetry lovers all over the world. Khayyam is a poet for all seasons. Khayyam was undoubtedly one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers to come out of the Islamic world of the middle ages. He was a contemporary of Ali ibn Sina, known to the West as Avicenna. Khayyam was a polymath in an era which produced polymaths by the dozens, many of whom are known to the West only by their Latinised names, but Khayyam’s name survives in the Arabic original. Khayyam had mastered many disciplines. In addition to mathematics and astronomy, he was fluent in philosophy, medicine, geography, physics, and music. Ibn Sina taught him philosophy for many years. He also learnt medicine and physics from that great man. Another contemporary was Al-Zamakshari, well-known for his commentary of the Quran. Since Khayyam was one of the greatest astronomers of the Middle Ages, in recognition of his contributions a crater on the Moon was named after him. 

In mathematics, he virtually invented the field of geometric algebra. His treatise on Algebra was used in Europe as a standard text even as late as the nineteenth century. He was not known for his poetry, until he was reborn as a poet in the second half of the nineteenth century in Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of his Rubaiyat, which catapulted him to poetic stardom. Had it not been for Fitzgerald, Khayyam’s fame might have rested on his contributions to astronomy, mathematics or the development of the Jalali calendar to replace the Julian calendar. He alludes to his involvement in the calendar in one of his verses.

 Ah, by my Computations, People say,
Reduce the Year to better reckoning?

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‘The Dynamics of Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and US Relations’: A Talk by Javed Jabbar

No crisis today remains regional. There is no such thing as isolated or insulated regions … watch video

The fragmentation of the Middle East into a collection of interest groups has become a defining feature of the region’s political economy. “Palestine is essentially an Arab country, and must remain so,” was the uncompromising response given by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 to requests made by Albert Einstein, at the behest of Zionist leaders, to support the creation of the state of Israel. Seven decades later the atmosphere is rather different and Modi has comprehensively cemented ties with Israel by becoming the first Indian prime minister to make an official visit to Israel, a premier supplier of arms and military technology to New Delhi. The passage of seventy years has resulted in the rise of new power brokers such as the Saudis who are accused of being the primary supporters of state sponsored terrorism in an official report, the publication of which is deliberately being withheld by the British government as it does not want to damage booming arms sales to Riyadh: bombs used to kill innocent civilians in Yemen. All this squares up poorly with Trump’s claim that Iran is the foremost pariah state.

The ongoing ostracism of Qatar shows that the Saudis want to call the shots on everything on their terms. In a session chaired by Dr Masuma Hasan, Javed Jabbar gave an insightful talk on the mechanics underpinning Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s relations with the US. The event was widely reported in the media and extracts of the reportage are available below. Jabbar bemoaned Saudi hegemony and recalled that the 13 sweeping demands that Saudi Arabia had made of Qatar sounded frightfully similar to a power point presentation conjured up by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company – a favourite of King Salman bin Abdulaziz. According to Jabbar, one cannot ignore the fact that only six years ago, Saudi Arabia and Qatar jointly invested in an Israeli company called IDA Holdings. Continue reading

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Muslim Law: The Need For Reform

‘There is nothing in the Quran which says that a man should marry a young girl … It is not in the best interests of a girl to be married off early. Early marriage robs a girl of her childhood,’ argues Dr Reeza Hameed.

The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) is opposed to making any changes to the existing Muslim family law. Mufti Rizwi, who is a member of the Saleem Marsoof Committee appointed to look into reforms to the Muslims Marriages and Divorces Act (MMDA) of 1951, has made the oracular pronouncement that the law is ‘perfect in its present state’ and required no reform. Mufti Rizwi also presides over the ACJU. Regrettably, the views expressed by the Mufti and his outfit are anachronistic and obscurantist. Matters relating to Islam and Muslim law ought not to be the sole concern of the ulema. In this comment I have touched upon some issues in the hope that it will contribute to the debate on the need for reform. In Muslim law marriage is not a sacrament but a civil contract. Neither religious ritual nor having it done in a mosque is essential to confer validity to a marriage. A Muslim marriage is contract like any other in Islamic law. Parties to a marriage should have legal capacity to enter into the contract.

There has to be an offer and an acceptance of that offer with the intention of establishing a marital relationship. There must be consideration given to the wife known as mehr. All the schools of law recognise that a person has freedom of choice to enter into a marriage and that he or she cannot be forced into one. The age at which a young Muslim acquires legal capacity to marry has been a contentious issue. The traditionalist view adumbrated by classical jurists is that a person acquires the legal capacity to marry on attaining puberty. In the Hedaya, the manual on Hanafi law, the earliest age at which puberty is attained by a girl is 9 and by a boy at 12. A similar view is adopted by the Shafi School, which is followed by a majority of Sri Lankan Muslims. The presumption of Muslim law as applied in India and Sri Lanka is that a person attained puberty at 15. Continue reading

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‘The Legacy of Barack Obama’: A Talk by Ambassador Karamatullah Ghori

Obama was a man of consensus … Trump is Obama’s antithesis and is like a bull in a China shop – watch video

His blackness and Muhammad Ali antics and punchy talk endeared him to poor non-white folks everywhere. Many whites loved him equally. But the black president who set out to do so much achieved alarmingly little. His administration conducted more drone attacks than his predecessor George Bush and he deported more immigrants than any other president. He was spineless on Syria and failed to close down Guantánamo Bay. A very ugly aspect of Obama’s legacy is that his failing administration ultimately came to be replaced by Trump’s extremists who are determined to erase all signs of his blackness from the White House. But at least he did not make personal attacks on journalists. For historian Simon Schama, Trump’s America points to Kennedy’s nation of migrants being afflicted by a “split personality”. Yet Schama also stresses “the moral stench of xenophobia is nothing new in US history.” Novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Refugees and the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Sympathizer, says “the refugee embodies fear, failure and flight”. Despite opposing Trump, he argues with some vehemence “it is un-American to be a refugee”.

Margaret Thatcher’s biographer Charles Moore, a leading proponent of Brexit and an influential right-wing pundit, called Trump a “cruel jester” not long ago. More recently he wrote: “Trump’s style makes other politicians feel that he is almost as dangerous a friend as an enemy”. Moore said May was “embarrassed in Ankara” while meeting Erdoğan as she knew nothing of the Muslim ban affecting dual British nationals but weirdly claimed a “special relationship” with America. But now John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, has embarrassed her by stating that Trump is “unfit” to address MPs. Continue reading

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Filed under Brexit, Discussion, Drones, Europe, Human Rights, Iran, Islamophobia, PIIA, Politics, Russia, Syria, The Middle East, UK, United States

Trump Card: Mastermind of America

Donald Trump means many things to many people. In this post Tehmina Mahmood offers her views on his rise to the White House.

The election of Donald Trump surprised the whole world as it went against the perception of American society where the characteristics of a president matter a lot. However, this time people ignored all the allegations levelled against Trump and it also gave rise to suspicions about the US electoral system and non-acceptance of a woman as a head of the country. ‘What went wrong’ was the question raised by the Clinton team itself. Many people came up with different narratives in this connection. However, an intriguing aspect of this debate was the role of FBI which was pinned down by the top aides of Hillary Clinton who blamed the Director of FBI James Comey for her defeat in the election. Just 11 days before the election, James Comey revealed that the FBI had discovered new emails related to the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state and then his statement to absolve her, actually helped to bolster Trump’s turnout.

The American mastermind seems to have preferred Trump over Hillary for certain reasons. There has been a general perception worldwide that America has lost the control over the world affairs once it had possessed. Even, people do not hesitate to term it as a declining power. Some people believe that instead of resolving problems, the Americans have multiplied them and, therefore, lost the confidence even of its allies. Some examples that can be cited, in this regard, are the following hot spots where the US failed to change the course in its favour. Continue reading

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Why Hillary Clinton Lost

‘Hillary’s rise to fame as a presidential candidate was paved by the struggle of many women before her’ argues Dr Masuma Hasan.

Hillary Clinton lost the US presidential election on 8 November against the prediction of so many experienced political pundits. She said all the right things and raised all the right issues during her campaign: unity in diversity, inclusiveness for all races and communities, building bridges instead of walls, health care and social security, equal opportunities for women, tolerance for all faiths, especially for the endangered Muslim community, reaching out for the marginalized and the poor, protection for women’s reproductive rights and the rights of gay and lesbian groups. Donald Trump, her adversary, scandalized with his crude references to women, his attacks on Muslims whom he promised to debar from entering the United States, on Mexicans to prevent whose entry he would build a wall along the Mexico-US border, calling them rapists, his determination to dismantle Barack Obama’s health care scheme, cut taxes for the rich, which would lead to more investment and jobs, protect ownership of weapons, and thereby make America great again.

Trump became the subject of disgust as one woman after another came forward to accuse him of sexual assault. He had no experience whatever of public office or governance, he had never been a member of either house of Congress. He surprised his fellow Americans by lack of knowledge of world affairs, and by praising Vladimir Putin. On the campaign trail his vocabulary was so limited that he could not string three consecutive sentences coherently. Continue reading

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Pakistan’s Place in Iran’s Strategic Thinking: A Talk by Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister

‘The concept of the nation state is in turmoil’ … ‘Iran and Pakistan can reshape the region’ – Watch Video

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the events that unfolded in its aftermath transformed Iran from a “rogue” state once part of the so-called “Axis of Evil” to one which is now vastly influential in the volatile affairs of the region. The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq and last summer’s JCPOA have meant that the once menacing image of frowning mullahs burning American, British and Israeli flags has now been replaced by Mohammad Javad Zarif’s famous “smile diplomacy”. The upshot is that the Iranians are no longer considered to be the pariahs of the international community that they once used to be. These days everyone is looking for economic opportunities in Iran and western businesses and banks are keen to interact with its vast markets which were disconnected from the mainstream world economy because of sanctions subsequent to the 1979 Revolution.

During his talk entitled Pakistan’s Place in Iran’s Strategic Thinking at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on 12 August 2016, Iran’s deputy foreign minister Dr Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour said that Iran has more than a dozen neighbours but he remained unequivocal in his stance that Pakistan was a special country in the eyes of the Iranians. Dr Sajjadpour argued that Pakistan and Iran’s destinies are inextricably linked and that the two large neighbouring countries need to work together to combat security problems in order to neutralise the threat posed by terrorism. Detailed media coverage of our event with the Iranian dignitary can found below (see our earlier posts on Iran here and here and see further coverage here. Continue reading

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