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Shams-ul-Iqbal Shams: Pakistani Artist and Calligrapher

Last week was the second time in a year that I had the pleasure of visiting the old campus of International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI). On both these occasions, I was there for an academic conference, and while there was able to view the most exquisite work of Sham-ul-Islam Shams.

Originally from Saidu Sharif, Swat, Mr. Shams was born in 1958 and works as an assistant in the Swat revenue court. In his spare tome, however, he creates masterpieces of contemporary Islamic calligraphy. Mr. Shams comes from a distinguished Muslim family and his father, Fazl-ur-Rehman Faizan, was an author of over twenty-five books including Pashto translations of Sa’adi’s Gulistan and Bostan. All that I have learned is from “my father and the artist M. M. Sharif” says Mr. Shams, in his modest manner, when asked about the progression of his work.

An avid scholar himself, with an extensive collection of rare books in Pashto and other languages, Mr. Shams displays his art freely and has never sold his work for profit. He also has quite a few students in Kabul and usually bears the expenses of his exhibitions out-of-pocket.

Mr. Shams is an expert on all major Arabic scripts including Kufi, Nasta’aliq, Diwani, Shikasta and others and mostly uses natural media (leather, stone, leaves, bones etc.) to produce his works of calligraphy.

Besides his calligraphic art, Mr. Shams also writes poetry in Pashto and has  appeared in various public and televised poetry readings and poetry shows. He is influenced by the works of Rehman Baba and mostly writes Sufi poetry. His father was his firstt poetry teacher.

Mr. Shams is also teaching his art to his two children and hopes to establish a calligraphy institute in swat. “There is not a lot of work being done in this area and not many teachers are available” says Mr. Shams.

Let us hope that his work will be more widely recognized nationally and internationally and that he will be able to pass on his skills and vision to the next generation of Pakistan in general and swat valley in particular.


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Shooting Malala Yousafzai: Another Low in Taliban Politics of Death

It was not a random act of violence: it was a targeted shooting sanctioned by the higher echelons of Taliban in Swat. The target: a fourteen year old, courageous girl who chose to speak against the Taliban. That this is a new low in the list of Taliban atrocities in Pakistan is fairly obvious. But this act alone provides us yet another proof that there is nothing holy, Islamic, or honorable in the way the Taliban conduct their daily business. This act is also a reminder to us all that if we do not stand strong against the death-politics of Taliban, even our children, who otherwise should be safe in a just war, can be targets of premeditated, cold-blooded murder. That this organization, this monstrosity called Taliban, fights and kills in the name of Islam is yet another thing to seriously ponder. Do we, at the end of the day, want them to hijack what Islam means and express it in such acts of murder?

Our ulama, it seems, are still ambivalent about Taliban. Other than a few words by some fringe groups, I have not yet heard any loud condemnations of these actions by the stalwarts of major Islamic political parties in Pakistan. What does this silence mean? Are the Jamaat and Jameat busy consulting their scholarly commentaries to figure out that shooting  fourteen year old girls in cold blood is not right?

Meanwhile, it seems that this might be the turning point for the Taliban fortunes in Pakistan: not many Pakistanis can now offer any legitimizing apologetics for the actions of these so-called Muslim fighters. It has been my opinion for quite some time now that the Pakistani people need to clearly express their distaste and opposition to Taliban: this act of terrorism against an unarmed minor should, therefore, become a lightening rod in mobilizing the public sentiment against the Taliban and their apologists.

The reason given by Taliban leadership for the attempted murder of Malala is also ludicrous and would have no standing in any interpretation of Jihad or rules of engagement. The Taliban spokesman said that she had been targeted for “openly criticizing Taliban,” and we are to take that as a crime punishable by death at the hand of a masked assassin. What law, what Islamic rule, what Qura’nic verse suggests that criticizing the “mighty” Taliban, killers of children, is a capital offense?

What is Taliban vision anyway? Is it to make Pakistan “Islamic” through death and murder? And if so, does it not prove the point made by detractors of Islam that Islam is a so-called religion of the sword. What good is an Islamic nation, if Islam is  imposed by a violent minority and kept in place through acts of murder and fear of reprisals? These are the questions that we Pakistanis should be asking ourselves and of the Taliban.

Death, death, death: Is that the only way Islam can work as a political force? I hope not.

So, let us stand together steadfast and resolute. Let us tell these murderers that our children and our daughters, Malala and others, are not open targets and those who kill and hurt children are neither Muslims nor decent human beings and, I am pretty sure, there is a separate hell for people who hurt children.

And let us ask our Ulama to take a stand: condemn the killing and maiming of our children!!

Note: This where we will post any statments against this atrocity  by Pakistani religious scholars. Please post them in comments for us to collate:

1. Thank you Ulama of Sunni Ittehad Council for issuing a Fatwa against the shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

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