Browsing "religion"
Apr 28, 2013 - PPP, PTI, Punjab, religion, terrorism    2 Comments

NOT the victims of a drone attack

This is a request to those who are free to conduct election campaign for their political parties before the country goes to poll on May 11 2013. Most of you are lamenting the drone attacks on Pakistani soil and vow to change the situation as soon as you assume power. Some of you are outright Taliban sympathizers and believe that a dialogue with them would yield desired results. A few of you have openly associated with terrorist outfits and have even sought their blessing before the elections. Even though it pains me to see you succumb to them, I wont criticize your diplomacy because a country like this indeed ask for the survival of the fittest and pragmatism demands that you maintain cordial relations with those obscurantist forces if you want to survive.

However, I would request you guys – the leaders of the political parties who are not under attack and are free to run their election campaigns – to take a few minutes out during the many jalsas and corner meetings that you address and show some empathy with the Pakistanis who are under attack from Taliban. They might not have been victims of a drone attack but they too have lost their loved ones, livelihoods and limbs in similarly gruesome acts of violence. The tragedy is that they are attacked by their countrymen hence rhetoric against their killers may not win you votes, television slot and space in international media. You might also be afraid of the Taliban and wonder that if you voice grievance against their ways, you may join these parties who are under attack. Your reluctance makes sense in the short run but what if they come after you once they get rid of these heathens? Fear that future when you may need help but there won’t be anyone left to stand beside you.

Think about your countrymen who may or may not vote for you and have an ideology which is different from yours but they are a part of this country that you call home and they contribute to its society and economy as much as you do, if not more. They need your support to survive right now, who knows they might end up voting for you in future elections if they manage to stay alive. Think about them, because if they perish, you may not even get to enjoy the election process in future.


A concerned citizen


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These children have lost their father on a bomb attack on MQM’s election office in Bufferzone Karachi. – Photo taken from Twitter TL


Another kid mourning the loss of his father after attacks on MQM election offices. Photo – AFP


A victim of bomb attack on ANP’s election office in Orangi Town, Karachi. Photo – AP

ANP Orangi AP

Another family has lost a loved one after the Orangi Town attack on ANP’s election office. Photo – AP



A young victim of terrorist attack in Abbas Town last month – Photo credit AP


Residents stand among rubble and debris at the site of April 24th bomb attack in Quetta, the blast was one of the series of attack on Hazara Community. Photo – Reuters

PS: There are far more gruesome photographs of children who have lost their eyes & limbs and dismembered torsos of men who have lost their lives. I did not post those picture because the point here is to invoke empathy for those who are fighting this war against TTP and nothing else.


Dec 17, 2012 - published work, religion, TTP    7 Comments

How to stop worrying [about tattoos] and start [allowing more people to continue] living

If Pakistanis are good at anything, it is forgetting the core of a problem and going in pursuit of the frivolous. The recent case of this inanity followed after the weekend attack on Peshawar airport and the PAF airbase adjoining it.

The attack on the airport killed around ten people, including five of the attackers, and wounded dozens. It should have forced us to rethink the possibility of coming up with the alternative counter terrorism, counter-insurgency and intelligence strategies because the ones that are at present in operation are clearly not working.

One would have thought, or rather hoped, that the politicians, policymakers and defence strategists would sit down and try to come up with a long-lasting effective solution but no tragedy in this country is big enough to make us do that. However, a tattoo on the body of one of the slain terrorists has made every politically religious-minded person come out in defence of the TTP (which has already claimed the responsibility for the attack). It clearly indicates that our priority lies not in making the country secure for its citizens but in coming up with excuses that Muslims cannot kill Muslims and in justifying that members of the TTP cannot sport tattoos of fantasy and erotica genres.

From Mufti Naeem of Karachi’s Jamia Binoria to Professor Khursheed Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami to Tahir Ashrafi of the Pakistan Ulema Council, everyone has come out and said that a practising Muslim cannot have such demonic images on his body.

Their argument is fallacious and we know that Muslims kill Muslims all the time; they did that during the Iran-Iraq War, they have been at it since the Soviets left Afghanistan and they are doing it every day in Pakistan. Muslims can and do have tattoos — and with a 97 per cent Muslim population, the tattoo business is on the rise in Pakistan’s big cities. One must ask these gentlemen about the non-practising Muslims or those who probably dabbled in Goth rock previously and then were recruited by the Taliban. We know that nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

This is not the first time we have deviated from what is important and focused on the peripheral. The current adviser to the prime minister on interior has likened attackers in the past — in the case of the PAF Mehran Base — to characters out of Star Wars. Most of us joked about Darth Vader attacking the base but let us pause and pontificate about the feelings of the families of those who perished in the attacks and had to listen to supposedly responsible officials making a mockery of their loss by giving such statements.

ANP ministers in KPK celebrate Dileep Kumar’s birthday in Peshawar and Sind Assembly passed resolutions on Michael Jackson’s death. Parliamentarians in the Punjab assembly do not care about going after the religious extremists and terrorists present in the province, instead preferring to go after tax-paying cellular companies, their customers and their late-night telephone habits. If our parliamentarians cannot discern between the importance of a few hundred thousand teenagers indulging in late-night romance and terrorists involved in heinous sectarian killings and suicide bombings, then they perhaps should not be sitting in the august assemblies lording over our fates.

Tattoos on the bodies of terrorists, late-night phone packages and Dilip Kumar’s 90th birthday are not our concerns; the security of citizens and creating an environment that encourages healthy economic activity are. It is about time we focus on the fundamentals and ignore the frivolous.

First Published in The Express Tribune 

The dead terrorist with the “demonic” tattoo – photo courtesy Reuters

Here are some examples of shariah compliant tattoos


Nov 1, 2012 - religion    5 Comments

Celestial sex bombs and Mujahideen

Those who know me know that I don’t have a life, and because I don’t have a life, I spend an inordinate amount of time trolling my friends’ FB pages looking for goofy photos that can be mocked. While I was on this holy quest, I stumbled upon this gem of a photo that my friend A shared. The photo was part of Ulma e Deoband’s facebook time line and came with the caption of ‘Islamic Art’.

The photohas a few studly mujahedeen brothers with a couplet that roughly translates to:

The world does not know us (the mujahedeen); we are not interested in the girls of this worldBut our names are inscribed on the hearts of hoors in heaven.

Now if you are living under a rock or have no familiarity with either Islam or Mujahedeen literature, you would not know what Hoor/hoors/hoorain are. According to Islam, Hoors are heavenly creatures provided as companions for pious Muslim men in the afterlife. Mujahedeen literature tries to sell them as celestial sex bombs (I swear I am not making it up, this maulana has already tried it) making the female earthling not worthy of the companionship of the pious brothers.

What this poster trying to do is show a very ‘healthy’ lack of interest among the mujahid brothers for women of this world (the implication is that they will deviate the righteous men from the virtuous path, indirectly substantiating the theory of original sin) but the celestial ones are like desperately waiting for them because the brothers are waging this holy war. Whattay an innovative way to perpetuate violence and misogyny in one little piece of Islamic art!

Hats off to Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan. 

Too young to wed

United Nations (UN) agencies are generally criticized for not doing enough but they should be commended for coming up with quality research from time to time, which can and should serve as harsh reminders to governments across the world that they need to get their acts together. The UN Population Fund recently released a report titled “Too Young to Wed” on child marriage, which should alarm all governments in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The two regions have the highest and second-highest percentage of women, respectively, who are married off before they turn 18 years of age.

International conventions declare that child marriage is a violation of human rights because it denies children the right to decide when and who to marry. A country like Pakistan, which is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), needs to align its local laws regarding child marriage, as both conventions categorically state that appropriate measures will be taken to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children, such as child marriage.

The evils of child marriage are many. For starters, it cruelly snatches the childhood away and thrusts a child into adulthood well before her time. It directly threatens the health and well being of young girls as complications from pregnancy and childbirth are cited as the main cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19. As the numbers of girls who are married as children grows, the numbers of children bearing children will increase and deaths among young girls will rise, further deteriorating the child and maternal mortality rates.

In the case of Pakistan, religion is also cited as a reason for child marriages as it is considered advisable to marry girls off soon after they reach puberty. This, however, is just an excuse. Medical science tells us that puberty only marks the beginning of a gradual transition into adulthood. Religion also asks its followers to educate their children and to follow the path of moderation and if any attention is paid to these other two recommendations, child marriage would become a distant dream.
Girls’ vulnerability to child marriage increases during humanitarian crises when family and social structures are disrupted and many parents marry off their daughters to bring the family some income or to offer the girl some sort of protection. Humanitarian workers noticed a surge in child marriages during the internally displaced persons crisis brought on by the floods of 2010 and 2011.

The child marriage issue is central to many development goals. By dealing with just the child marriage issue, governments can work towards closing the gap in the Millennium Development Goals of eradication of extreme poverty, achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality, reduction in child mortality, improvement in maternal health and better ways to combat HIV/AIDS.

Our own government needs to start a multi-pronged strategy to deal with this issue. First, all provincial governments need to be fully committed to criminalising child marriage and streamlining local laws according to the CEDAW and the CRC. They not only need to invest in female child education but also must invest in campaigns to encourage the maximum number of parents to enroll their children in schools. Contraceptives should be easily and readily available and most importantly, decent employment opportunities should be made available for both parents. A family that can feed and educate its children is less likely to marry them off.

First published in The Express Tribune

The other martyrs

Martyrs are valued anywhere in the world because of their valour, courage and bravery. In Pakistan, they are valued because they help in setting the public image right, secure votes and feed our national sadism that responds only to death, misery and destruction.

Let us start with political parties. Most political parties, barring various factions of the Muslim League, boast about their ‘shaheeds’. Everyone mourns the death of their party members but is perhaps secretly thrilled by it as well because we, as a nation, practice politics on the basis of the number of shaheeds per party. The Pakistan People’s Party, with the ‘shahadat’ of two former heads of the government, is at the top of the food chain and has won elections by asking their voters to atone for their leaders’ death by voting them into the assemblies. Others do it to lesser degrees of success. Case in point: every transgression of the ANP’s leadership is countered by tales of personal losses incurred by people like Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Mian Iftikhar’s loss of his only son and nephew to terrorism is extremely tragic but it cannot counter the irresponsible behavior of people such as Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who announced a bounty for the man behind the anti-Islam video, for short-term political gains.

The armed forces also need martyrs to feed the bogey of the ‘other’ and justify their existence as well as the huge drain they are on the country’s meager resources. Ever since the war against home-grown terrorists began, nothing worked as well for them as coffins shrouded with the national flag, images of children left behind by the fathers, mothers mourning deaths of their sons and father stoically professing that they would be happy and proud if they lose their other son for the country.

One martyr who does not get either the same amount of reverence or the same coverage in our media is the much-maligned policeman; the policeman, who gets killed every time a group of terrorist or miscreants want to play hooky with the security of the country. In the battle for Islamabad’s red zone last week, Islamabad police came out most harmed — apart from the country’s image, that is. Not only did policemen suffer injuries — 55 policemen were wounded on September 20 alone in Islamabad — but the mob also set fire to their check posts and vehicles, destroying their records and valuable public property, which was paid for by taxpayers. The religious parties and organizations that are fed on the populist rhetoric wanted blood and wanted to march all the way to the US consulate, but it was the capital police that stopped them and perhaps helped the government in averting an international crisis. One can only shudder to think what would have happened had the mob reached the consulate. The very next day, three policemen lost their lives in Karachi when a similar mob was busy looting and burning the city, while many others got injured.

Policemen form the first line of defense against terrorism and many have lost their lives or limbs fighting them with old, outdated and inadequate weapons. They are asked to fire tear gas without proper safety equipment, sent to deal with deadly opponents under prepared and paid a lot less than other security agencies with inadequate pension plans and medical insurance. On top of that, they face public ridicule every day. Though their services are generally below par and there is much to be done to improve their performance, it is time we start honoring our police force for doing what they are doing right.

First published in The Express Tribune

Sep 17, 2012 - published work, religion, women    6 Comments

A woman’s clothing is her own business

Barring random news items and a few opinion pieces, the Hijab debate has never really been part of the national narrative of Pakistan. Those who wanted to wear hijab/niqab/burqa wore it and those who preferred the traditional shalwar kameez duppatta chose that without any problem. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran or Turkey, there never was governmental coercion or pressure on women to go for particular type clothing or to ban a particular type of clothing in state institutions. A woman’s clothing was her own business as it should be anywhere in the world. However, things are changing and with the celebration of World Hijab Day which had tacit approval of the government and the patronage of the first lady Nusrat Pervaiz Ashraf who presided over the Hijab Conference organized by Jamaat-i-Islami, things are moving in the direction where state is turning partisan.

The first lady of Pakistan, during the aforementioned conference supported Muslim women to wear a hijab, saying that women could do what they wanted as long as they respect the “limits set by Islam”.

The first lady’s speech encourages women to follow the ‘limits’ set by Islam, but no one can agree on what it entails; one school of thought believes that there should be no hindrance to anyone’s education – including women – while the other believes that women should only be allowed access to education if there are segregated educational institutions for them, right up to the higher education. Another school of thought believes that women need no access to higher education as their true calling lies in maintaining a household and raising children. If the speech of the first lady is carefully viewed, she perhaps supports the third version of ‘limits set by Islam’. In her speech, the first lady urged women to strengthen the ‘family unit’, which she said was central to Islamic teachings. As if this was not all, she also regretted that “Pakistani women were starting to forget how important family and hijab were.”

For starters, there is no direct relationship between a woman’s hijab and her care giving responsibilities towards her family. Secondly, Pakistani women have not forgotten how important family is for them. If anything, family interferes with their performance at work because of the overwhelming demands of their families on their time. Thirdly, positioning hijab with better motherhood and more fulfilled family life puts the women who do not wear hijab but are just as, if not more, concerned about their families, in an uncomfortable situation in a homogenous society like ours.  If such views gain official state patronage, it can and will act against the women who do not abide by this particular view.

The first lady ended her speech by calling Fatima Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto “role models” for Pakistani women. However, she failed to point out that neither Benazir Bhutto, nor Fatima Jinnah followed those particular limits she so favoured in her speech. Both Ms. Bhutto and Ms. Jinnah were highly educated women who studied with men; they did not limit themselves to raising children or their families and had highly visible political careers. Ms Jinnah was so dedicated to her political career that she did not even marry and have a family of her own and Ms Bhutto was back in her office a fortnight after giving birth to her second child. Last but not the least, neither wore a hijab but favoured the traditional Pakistani dupatta. 

There are many issues that plague Pakistani women that can do with the attention of the first lady; it would be advisable if she focuses on them instead of the hijab/duppata debate. 
First published in The Express Tribune

PS: The comments that are posted on the Express Tribune website are priceless, there are at least two which basically say that hijab is NOT a choice. Pretty interesting, eh?
Sep 4, 2012 - religion, women    19 Comments

Women in the mosques and khutbas

We had a few relatives over during this Eid and post lunch discussion veered towards eid khutbas that my relatives attended. Someone I know was singing praises of a certain maulana sahib who delivered an awesome khutba during the Eid namaz. As a rule, I have not seen people getting this excited over a khutba so I asked my cousin what it was all about. I was quite taken aback when I heard what the topic was. 

Considering we have had that awful incident where Shiaswere taken off the bus and brutally killed just a week before the Eid, I thought the khutba must have denounced that heinous act and had something about Muslim unity and how shedding the blood of another brother would earn the killers a spot in hell. Turned out that the khutba was about women’s place in the society, how important a woman’s piety is to the fabric of society, how important it is for future generations that they are raised by stay at home moms and how important purdah is to avoid fitna and fasad (chaos) in this society. He also said that women should be kept busy (by keeping them pregnant or lactating) so that they would not stray. There was a lot more to it but I don’t want to repeat it here. I want this blog to be a misogyny free space.

Not only was I flabbergasted that my vilayat educated cousin was mesmerized by the profundity of an obviously misogynist khutba which doubted women’s ability to either earn or make any independent decisions or remain faithful to their husbands but I was also lost in the peculiarity of it all.

For starters, a khutba like this on Eid!!! It was Eid, not a bloody women’s day when men feel threatened! Secondly, it was unnecessary because I have not seen any women leaving their husbands and children and running  away with hot lovers who look like Abercrombie and Fitch models and last but most important point to be pondered  was why the maulvi was giving a khutba about women when he had none in his audience? Women are not allowed to attend prayers in the mosques and their absence makes it impossible for them question any such pearls of wisdom which basically deny their right to movement, education, employment and family planning.  Looks like misogyny is so rampant that women are not even worth preaching directly, they are given sermons indirectly through their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers about the virtues of a pious Muslim woman. There is no public space for women to speak out in any case, looks like it will soon shrink into nothing. 

PS: Everyone who is sending me threatening messages, leaving abusive comments here (I moderate them so they will never be published here, this blog is PG 13) and on twitter saying that there are some mosques in Pakistan where women are “allowed” to attend prayers, I just want to say that yes, there are exceptions to the rule but that does not mean that we stop questioning the questionable norms because of those few exceptions.

Aug 28, 2012 - published work, religion    1 Comment

Who gets to define the Muslim way?

Pakistan has many kinds of Muslims; not only there are many sects but there are also multiple factions within these sects. Though not many but some have started to question the Wahabi ideology in connection with the rise of the militant Islam, however, not many people are questioning the social impact of such an ideology and how it is affecting our collective behavior.
The past couple of decade has witnessed an increasing number of middle-class and upper class urban Pakistani women actively turning towards this brand of Islam – through schools like Al Huda – and they influence their families and their circle of friends to this particular religious framework that they work towards actively constructing a particular kind of culture in Pakistan which they say is the pure Islam – free of all the foreign influences or bida’at. The bida’at could range from wedding festivities to Sufism to co-education among other things.
The question that should become part of popular discourse in Pakistan but has not been given due attention is who gets to define what is local and organic and what is foreign and intrusive?
The Wahabi interpretation shuns something as simple as a birthday celebration as foreign concept or a mehndi function which is deemed un Islamic and bida’at and a legacy of living with Hindus.  Basant is a festival indigenous to Punjab marking the advent of spring. It dates back 3,000 years and has traditionally been celebrated by people of all the religions in Punjab. Though local and organic, it is erroneously linked with Hinduism, and disowned as both un Islamic and foreign. However, adoption of abaya, which is clearly a Saudi import, is not considered foreign at all. Sub continental women observing purdah have traditionally used a big chador, in fact women in urban Khyber Pakhtunkhwah still prefer a chador over an abaya, however an abaya never faced the same hostility as that of the festival of basant.

The curriculum has helped this discourse in Pakistan, the history books that say “when we came or ruled the subcontinent,” they provide factually incorrect information. Barring a few who are the descendents of the armies of Mohammed Bin Qasim or the Mughals, most of the people of Pakistan are descendants of those who were already living in the subcontinent. Negating centuries old civilization for an identity that is still in evolution is not only untrue, but can have catastrophic consequences for the society.  The elimination of local practices on the basis of their being un Islamic and foreign reflects the adherence to a particular interpretation of Islam and people upholding this interpretation as the truth are not only negating the religious experiences of different kinds of Muslims, but also the history of the land, creating a culture based on beliefs and practices that originate from outside the land.

Another term that needs to be academically and socially questioned is the use of the term ‘Muslim way’. Can there be just one way to be a Muslim when Muslims are as geographically diverse as they are – from Indonesia to Nigeria and beyond? Can one live with a sole primary identity? Is the primary identity of being a Muslim is so exclusionary that it leaves no space for other competing identities, be they region based or ethnicity based? Must a cultural identity be mutually exclusive with that of a religious identity?  Aren’t human beings complex beings who are supposed to have layered identities? 
Originally written for Express Tribune, though they chopped the last paragraph away. 

Ladies of iftaar, Imran Khan and vampires

A man who was bitten by a radioactive spider once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Similarly, ever year, with Ramazan come hordes of iftaar invitations. Now iftaar parties are not regular get-togethers where people eat and gossip to their heart’s desires. The iftaar invitations come with a hint of holiness that surrounds everything in Ramazan; men and women segregate because they want to offer Maghrib prayers and somehow stay segregated, which usually results in some very interesting and at times entertaining conversation.
Like every other time of the year, ladies talk about things that are discussed in the popular media. This year, they talked about the color palette of Aamir Liaquat’s kurta collection and his cooking abilities – the opinion of the ladies of iftaar was divided on his godliness and piety but they all agreed that the man can cook. One even made her husband watch the cooking segment, hoping he would take the hint. (He didn’t.)

Aamir Liaquat, running away with someone’s child

Quite a few discussed their annual Ramazan Umrah stories from the years past and those who were going for Umrah this year discussed their hotels and their proximity to Haram, flight details and shopping options, as many are coming back via Abu Dhabi or Dubai and plan to pick up a Sabyasachi sari and Dorothy Perkins heels for Eid.
Another topic that was heatedly discussed among the ladies was whether Shaukat Khanam still is a viable option for zakaat donations. The unanimous verdict was that a man as handsome as Imran Khan and one who can speak such perfect English just cannot be bad; it followed (logically, you understand) that Khwaja Asif was the devil’s spawn for trying to besmirch the good name of the good-looking Khan, and Shuakat Khanum stayed a viable zakaat option.
Imran Khan the eternal ladies man

Actually Imran Khan is a favourite topic of conversation among the ladies of iftaar. They discuss his wardrobe, his children, his political options and aspirations, his house and of course his love life. One lady was actually praying at iftaar time that her clan elders should decide to support a PTI candidate. When asked why she wanted this to happen, she said she wants Imran Khan to become the Prime Minister. Her argument was that the only two good looking men (Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi) in their fifties are in PTI and if PTI is voted into the assembly, the ladies will get to see them more often on TV. I wanted to point out that Imran Khan is turning sixty later this year but decided not to burst the lady’s bubble. I wonder how the Sharif brothers will respond to this kind of public opinion if it becomes widespread. They may not be as genetically gifted as Khan or Qureshi, but they should get full marks for making an effort and going through the painful process of hair transplants to make themselves attractive to the voting ladies.

If the mommies discussed good-looking men when they were away from the daddies for Maghrib prayers, the preteens were just as vocal in expressing their adoration for the leading men from The Hunger Games and Twilight series. I would not have believed it if I had not witnessed a 12-year old asking her cousin, a dentistry student, to make her fake fangs because she too wants to look like Edward Cullen. When I said that she would also require copious amounts of deathly white powder to look like him (much to my shame, I know exactly who Edward Cullen is, but then I have taught teenage girls in the past so that should explain it), she giggled and said that she only wanted his fangs. The dentistry student just rolled her eyes and confided in me that many young girls and boys who come to the clinic where she is interning ask for little disposable fangs as a compensation for going through painful dental procedures.

If you thought vampires were only popular among preteens, you are mistaken. During one of the iftaar parties, I sat down with two ladies after the Maghrib prayers. One even had prayer beads in her hands but both were very busy debating who is the hottest vampire on TV, whether it is Damon Salvatore or Eric Northman. Apparently they are both bad boy vampires from two different TV series (I was told one show cannot have more than one hot blue-eyed super sexy vampire) fighting for the affections of human girls. When they could not settle on who the hottest vampire is, they turned to me to cast the deciding vote. Even though I watch a lot of trash TV, I draw the line at vampire and werewolf shows, so I couldn’t help them (I googled them later of course). Discussing hotness of vampires on a prayer mat after maghrib was something I never thought I would witness but I guess life surprises you in strangest ways, especially during Ramazans. 

Ian Somerhalder as Damon Salvatore & Alexander Skarsgard as Eric Northman

First published in The Friday Times

City of whirling dervishes

I first heard about Konya from Rumi’s poetry during my teenage. I read about it a bit more when I visited Tabriz as an adult and developed a fascination for Shams Tabriz and his relationship with Rumi.
So, when my friend suggested we go to Konya during our Turkey sojourn, I said why not and we ended up in the city of whirling dervishes.  There are many stories surrounding the birth of the city. According to a Roman myth, when Perseus killed a dragon that had been wreaking havoc in the nearby area, the people set up a stone obelisk with an icon of Perseus engraved in it, which gave the city its name Iconium or Ikonyum. 
The Muslim myth is about two dervishes who were teleporting from far away. During their flight over Anatolia region, one of them asked the other, “Shall I land?” (“Konayim mi?”). The other responded, “Sure, land” (“Kon ya!”) They landed, found the city and that is how it got its name — Konya.
The archeological reality predates both the myths. The ruins of Catal Huyuk show that the region was inhabited as early as Neolithic Period — around 7000 BC making it one of the oldest sites in the world. 
Konya was the last stop on our itinerary. We took an overnight bus from Kushadasi to Konya and were pleasantly surprised on arrival — after the mind-numbing heat of Istanbul, Seljuk, Izmir and Kushadasi, Konya at the altitude of over 1000 meters above the sea level was pleasant. 
It is quite different from the other Turkish cities we had seen and the Islamic identity of its people is more visible here. Women are seen in more conservative clothing, there are mosques and public wuzu (ablution) places everywhere. The pace of life is much slower and one gets the feeling of being in a different country — perhaps also in a different era. 

Women in scarves, a sight more common in Konya
 The biggest reason for visiting Konya was to pay tribute to Rumi and attend the weekly Sama that is performed every Saturday in Konya in what can be called the world’s biggest whirling dervish hall.
We had been told by our travel agent that visitors must buy a 50 Turkish Lira ticket to attend the festival. After reaching the venue, Mevlâna Cultural Centre, we spent the entire day in anxiety, wondering how we will get the tickets or how much will it cost — but to our surprise there was no entry ticket and whosoever goes in first gets the front seat. 
The ceremony started with recitation of the Quranic verses and durood and then moved on to excerpts from Rumi’s masnavis on which the dervishes whirled. In the jam-packed hall, there were people from all the continents. It started slowly but it later picked up the pace and kept the audience captivated.  It was only when the music stopped that we realised a good 90-minutes had passed. 
The origin of Sama is credited to Maulana Rumi, who one day heard the hammering of the gold beater working in the local market and heard the zikr (Zikr of the Almighty) and kalma in the hammering of the people beating the gold. So spellbound in happiness was Maulana Rumi that he just stretched out both of his arms and started spinning in a circle and that is how the practice of Sama and the Mevlevi order were born. 
The annual Urs of Maulana Rumi, or Mevlana Festival as the Turkish people like to call it, falls in December. It runs for two weeks and ends on December 17, Rumi’s death anniversary. Those who want to attend it need to make plans much earlier as more than a million people visit Konya during the festival fortnight. They also need to be prepared for very cold winters and snowfall during that period. 
The weekly Sama ceremony in Konya
Before we attended the ceremony, we spent the day visiting the beautiful Seljuq era mosques and Maualna Rumi’s shrine. Rumi’s Shrine is distinctive with the rose gardens surrounding it and the turquoise minaret atop the mausoleum. I was quite surprised to see a ticket booth at the entrance of the shrine as shrines are considered holy places that are open to all, but found that after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish government turned mausoleum and the dargah, where dervish disciples used to live, into a museum. It is now called Mevlana Museum, hence the entry ticket. 
The main hall of the tomb with graves of Maulana Rumi, his father, his son and many other contemporary dervishes is a majestic building with high ceilings, silver calligraphy and beautiful wood carving. There is a smaller Tilavet Room next to the main hall that is home to some of the most beautiful, rare and precious examples of Quranic Ottoman calligraphy. It is said that Koran was continuously recited and chanted in the tilavat room before the shrine was turned into a museum.

Rumi’s shrine

The dervishes chambers are turned into museum, and house some of the rarest specimens of Mevlevi order. Some of the rooms display clothes and musical instruments that are used in performance of a Sama such as the mevlana dress, the cymbal, the tambourine, small hand operated drums, the rebab, and the flute, played once by Maulana Rumi himself. Then there were beautiful lamps, reading and writing desks, Maulana Rumi’s dervish clothes, and two specimens of masnavis written by Rumi. 
Besides Rumi, pilgrims to Konya also get to visit the shrine of Shams Tabriz, the shrine of Sadreduddin Konevi and the shrine of Yusuf Atesh-Baz Vali. I was quite surprised to see Shams Tabriz’s tomb inside the shrine because I have seen his tomb in Tabriz (Iran). I later found out that Shams Tabriz has multiple tombs in Tabriz, Konya, Nigde, Hoy and Multan. The one in Konya is called Shams’ post.

A model of what a dervish’s room looked like
 Food, like the rest of Turkey mostly consists of salads and meat. The local specialty of Konya is tanduri mutton and iskandar kebabs. Both dishes are served on the bed of local naans. Konya is also quite famous for Turkey’s carpet trade and locally made carpets and rugs can be purchased at much cheaper prices than in Istanbul.
Local delicacy – Iskandar Kebab

As we had to head back home the very next day, we caught an early morning flight out of Konya and could not see the ruins of the Catal Huyuk which I do regret. After all one does not get to be in the vicinity of places that are about 9000 years old. Those visiting Konya should mark at least half a day to visit the ancient ruins.

First published in The News on Sunday