Tabarakat of Muharram
Whereas haleem is cooked on the day of Ashura, the tradition of giving away niaz continues for the entire mourning period
It takes a
motley assortment of vegetables, rice, chicken, spices, etc. and one
complete night of cooking to make haleem, one of the most popular dishes
of Pakistan. Traditionally, the Shiia community breaks its fast of the
10th of Muharram, also known as the day of Ashura, at around 4pm.
According to the tradition, on this day Hazrat Imaam Hussain, along with
his comrades and members of his family, was martyred at the hands of
Yazid’s army, who had claimed to be the Caliph of the Muslim community.
The battle came to be
known as the battle of Karbala, named after the field. The army of the
Yazid had surrounded the camps of Imaam Hussain since the first of
Muharram and they had run short of their supplies. On the 9th of Muharram,
all of them gathered and asked each other to bring forth whatever supplies
they had, which would then be cooked together. Some people brought
lentils, some vegetables, some rice, etc. which was combined and put on
fire to be cooked all night on the 9th of Muharram.
Early on the 10th, the
battle began, resulting in an utter defeat. Finally when the women and
children returned after mourning and burying the remains, they had their
first proper meal in 10 days at about 4pm in the afternoon, which is why
the fast is broken at that time.
“The motley of all the
ingredients and the product of cooking all night was haleem,” says 60
year old Maryam Ijaz, a devout Shiia by birth, who has been attending
majalis all her life. “This is why on the Ashura day haleem is cooked
and served.” There isn’t much historical credence behind the story,
but one accepts it as part of the culture and tradition. Shiias in
different regions of the world all cook different items on the day of
Ashura. For example, in Morocco a dish called krishlat is prepared in the
evening, using special raisin and nut sweets. In Iran, a dish called
shollezard is prepared, all of which would be somehow linked symbolically
to the day of Ashura.
Whereas haleem is cooked
on the day of Ashura, the tradition of giving away niaz continues for the
whole two months and eight days, which is the full length of the mourning.
Niaz is food prepared
and then distributed in honour of some person. The majalis recalling the
events of Karbala and the days around it continue for the whole period,
however the intensity continues primarily for the first 10 days. There is
a Majlis every day which is then concluded by food, called tabarak. There
cannot be a majlis without tabarak.
Usually some devotees
combine to arrange for food for everyone. “What is served as tabarak
usually varies from devotee to devotee,” says 26 year old Asad Murtaza,
who is responsible for organising the majlis at the Jain Mandar stop.
“Some people serve some lentil, while others bring naan and potato,”
he adds. He explains that most of the majalis in the city are being
organised for many years now. The oldest one is the one held at Haveli
Moti Darwaza, the walled city. “This would be its 258th year,” he
Some of these majalis
have tradition of a particular dish for the past many years, which they
continue. For example some only serve lentils, while others halwa naan and
some haleem. It varies from majlis to majlis.
Maryam identifies a
peculiar tradition that is followed in some circles of the Shiias. This is
the niaz of the 14 masoom or the 14 infallible spirits. These are the 12
Shiite Imaams, Prophet (PBUH) and his daughter Hazrat Fatima. This is
given on the night of the 9th Muharram. 14 moti choor ladoo along with 14
bangles are distributed by various people at a majlis. Devotees who are
looking for some wish to be fulfilled pick up one of the ladoo along with
one bangle. After having the ladoo he/she is supposed to wear the bangle
for one whole year. If their wish comes true, then in Muharram next year
they are expected to distribute the 14 ladoos along with the bangles. A
similar tradition is associated with the cradle of Hazrat Ali Asghar, in
which 14 baby kurtas are placed near the cradle and those who want
children pick up one.
The niaz of the 6th
Muharram is in the honour of Hazrat Ali Asghar, the youngest martyr of the
battlefield. He was the son of Hazrat Hussain. His cradle is decorated at
every majlis and milk is distributed among the devotees. Maryam Ijaz
distributes milk with almonds mixed in them every year.
On the 7th of Muharram,
supply of water from River Euphrates was stopped. According to the
tradition, Hazrat Ali Abbas, half brother of Hazrat Hussain was sent to
collect water from the river. While on his way back, he was killed by the
arrows of the enemy. However, his horse carried the water back to the camp
and the children could drink. Following this tradition, on the 7th of
Muharram, water is distributed to the devotees in a mushk, a leather bag
meant to carry water, to the devotees, in memory of Hazrat Ali Abbas.
Food for any religious
group and gathering plays an important role. Prasad in Hindu temples and
Sikh Gurdwaras is an integral part of the religious ceremonies. Similarly,
the holy water and wafer are to be consumed by all at a congregation in
Church during the Sunday Easter ceremony. The niaz at a Shiia majlis
serves a similar purpose. Whereas there is no religious compulsion to
partake this langar, it is considered disrespectful to say no to niaz.
His life was a
constant fight against ills, both personal and social. He was used to
pushing limits. My relationship with him contributed a lot to my becoming.
Now that he is no more, in retrospect, I see him more clearly than I
possibly could while he was alive. May be, distance puts things in the
It was 9:15 am,
September, 2005. We were told a day before that new teacher was to take
our Political Philosophy class. We were also instructed not to get late
for the first class, as was our wont. As expected, we could not manage it
at nine sharp! The moment we (my classmate Mazahir and I) reached the
Bokhari Auditorium stairs in Government College, we saw a young scholarly
young man, walking to and fro restlessly. We guessed it was Bilal Sahab.
While puffing at his cigarette, he looked at us and then at his wrist
watch. Without a word, we followed him into the classroom.
A short-statured man
with big sparkling eyes and a cigarette in the mouth, this was our first
encounter with Sir Bilal Ahmed who looked like an oxymoronic
refined-hippie. With no formal introduction, he started talking. Without
any conscious effort, we were smoothly drawn into a discussion. At the end
of the class, he had established his authority as a teacher, despite his
obvious frankness and treating us as his equals (friends).
Having been brought up
in a traditional academic set-up, it took me a while to get used to his
method of teaching. He would let us speak as much as he would himself. The
air of non-conformity around him put us on guard.
It was the second or
third day that he took us to the university café to teach his class. Over
sips of tea, we learned more than we did in the classroom. In no time, he
completely won us over. He commanded respect as an ideal teacher and was
dear as a fun-loving friend. The classes were anything but boring. Talking
philosophy was a luxury now; the mental energy-sapping objectivity and
dryness went away.
His way of
unconventional teaching broke our inhibitions and we shared both academic
and ‘not so academic’ issues with him. He was as accessible as a very
frank friend, yet as far away as necessary to make us understand the
delicate points. His subtlety smoothed the rough edges of our personality.
At the end of the
session, he invited us to his home for dinner. It was a different person
— more caring than he was at the university. He served us with delicious
food and elevating liquids. This set in a new level of relationship and
understanding with him.
I don’t know if I
pulled myself up or he usually jumped his level, his was a thoroughly
enjoyable company – intellectually stimulating and socially refining.
In four or five years
that followed, we met now and then, mostly at the varsity. During this
time, I discovered the other sides of his personality — his
anti-authoritarianism, his love for art and literature and his other
personals issues which turned him into a wonderful human being. All his
scathing criticism he garbed in a rare sense of humour. If other’s
criticism of my teacher-novelist’s writing often made me angry, his
terming my favourite Urdu novel “a voluminous piece which has added to
the pollution” did not hit me so hard.
All these years, what
was a constant ‘news’ about him was his ill health. If he was
intellectually and mentally strong, his bodily health was equally fragile.
When asked, “Why don’t you ever get well?” he would smile and say,
“Hussain, Ye Haseenain Mujhe Ley Bethi Hein.”
Last year, he taught us
a semester. Though his health had gotten worse, he would still come as the
campus made him alive. My MPhil class fellows’ perception that I would
get good marks in his paper despite my short attendance proved wrong when
I was among the students getting a poor score. He tried his best not to
let his personal matters defy the values he cherished.
Since the last couple of
months, he was not coming to the department. He was conspicuous through
his prolonged absence. We came to know that he was so ill that he had to
be admitted to the ICU. He was only clinically alive for about a month.
Our apprehension proved
true this time. An SMS from an unknown number came, “Sir Bilal is no
more.” After all, he was relieved of the pain he had been going through
for so long! A very beautiful, loving being was no more among us; this
society lost another voice of reason.
His body was lying
there, wrapped in coffin. Everyone was talking about what he had been to
them. There were also voices, whispers echoing fears about the possible
fallout of the ‘memo issue’, and whether Imran Khan was supported by
the establishment or not. If my teacher, my friend, was there, he would
have loved to reply in his considered, objective and low, sweet tone.
*Sufism An Alive
Tradition: Syed Nazim Ali Nizami, one of the caretakers of the Nizamuddin
Auliya shrine and an eminent peace activist, will talk on the subject at
Institute for Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) today at 5:30 pm.
*Vijay Prashad will be
be delivering a lecture on the history of the Non-Alignment Movement. The
lecture will be delivered via skype at Cafe Bol on Wednesday, Dec 7 at
Haus Lahore in collaboration with the Alliance Franciase de Lahore is
organising the annual Christmas Bazaar at the premises of the cultural
on Dec 9 at 4:30 pm.
Margin by Vasl Artists’ Collective Lahore in collaboration with Rohtas
2. Today is the last day of the exhibition.
*Works by Graduating
class of Fatima Jinnah Women University curated by Aasim Akhtar.
Exhibition continues till Dec 6.
*Weekend Cycle Ride to
start from Zakir Tikka restaurant at 10:30 am today. The group wants to
head out this week to Jallo Park side.
First up was the rather
small landa in Anarkali. Stalls lined the street, with rows upon rows of
sweaters and bulky jackets on display. The large sweaters were selling for
around Rs.400. Here was one for an adult man, and here one for a newborn
baby. In fact, the variety of stripes, and the different colours of
sweaters and jackets at one stall was downright overwhelming. The labels
Adidas, Puma, Dolce & Gabbana and Levi’s were begging to be read.
One stall was packed with jeans of all kinds — ripped, glazed and acid
washed, bearing the labels ‘Levi’s Skinny’, ‘Levi’s Slim fit’,
‘Levi’s Snug’ etc. Suddenly, ‘affordable brands’ wasn’t just
All of the stall-keepers
there carried large wooden sticks. When you inquired about something high
up, they would use the hook at the stick’s end to ensnare the hanger and
bring it down.
The landa bazaar next to
Mayo Hospital was rather similar: rehris lined the street, while medical
supplies’ shops were at the other end. There was a shaving booth cramped
between two hard-at-work salesmen’s territory. The atmosphere here,
though, was rowdier as a salesman shouted out ‘Wee, wee, wee rupey’ (Rs.
20) as he held up a child’s sweater with a cartoon on it.
The heaps on the rehris
were just that — heaps — and, at first glance, seemed quite
unappealing. It was only when I saw a man holding a cute little purple
skirt and small shirts, presumably for his children, that I realised that
one would need the knack of picking well here to truly have a successful
shopping spree: he had bought 6 shirts, 2 jeans and a skirt within Rs.
I spotted a few men
striding quickly, and balancing heaps of jeans and sweaters on their
shoulders — it was new stock.
undergarments hanging out in the open was surprising, if not shocking,
considering our conservative country. A satin camisole was selling for
Rs.80 and the shopkeeper wasn’t having any bargaining: “Eighty bata
raha hoon, forty nahin” (“I’m saying 80, would not make it 40”).
I was told the prices
would rise as we would go further into the bazaar; now there were small
shops on both sides, with names written in Urdu. I stood in ‘Ali Variety
Shop’ that sold women’s sweaters. The shopkeeper assured me, while
announcing the ‘Next’ label, that the brown sweater was new, and then
explained “Ziada nahin pehna giya.” It would be mine for Rs. 700.
Dressed mannequins hung on the walls. One was clothed in a purple velvet
dress with spaghetti straps. Such dresses aren’t worn here — no wonder
then that stories abound of people buying things in landa cheaply only to
reopen them and make something else of the cloth. It’s as good as new,
There were more shops on
the right. About fifty ties hung on a hanger — a silk one had the label
‘Burton,’ and it was for a mere Rs.20. A table had uncountable socks
of all colours. At a closer glance, they seemed quite worn out. Further
ahead, shoes were being sold. Most of their soles had been removed,
though, on one, the name of a foreign brand was half visible.
Not more than a yard
further, men were washing shoes in a large tub full of soapy water.
Nearby, hoping to take advantage of the ladies tired from shopping, a
chanae wala stood. His cart was emitting smoke which quickly filled the
The last landa bazaar
was the one next to the railway station. Walking on a paan-stained street
crowded with rickshaws, again one comes across hanging sweaters, jackets,
shirts, sweat pants, ponchos, socks and ties of all kinds. A shop was
filled with rows of men’s suits in black, various shades of grey,
I followed a motorcycle
down a sloping lane and, after going down a steep stone staircase, came to
a large whitewashed shop, which was one of many. On the floor were mounds
of laces. A woman sat on one such pile, holding a piece, and remonstrating
with the shopkeeper about the price. He soon told her that he: ‘took it
off the curtain, and threw the rest.’ Net laces were spilling gracefully
out of jute bags. Some had hundreds of pieces of the same lace stuffed in
them, while others were jumbled, forming a beautiful colourful mess. There
were also neck design pieces of all kinds and sizes, which the shopkeeper
told me were bought by boutiques. One seemed tiny enough to go on a
Another shopkeeper was
selling red frocks from Japan with very fine flower designs embroidered on
it for Rs.100. There was a delicate brown scarf in his hand, which he told
me he had just bought; now he was looking for cloth to make a matching
Eventually, I reached a
shop selling white wedding gowns — some had intricate netting while
others were beaded. I climbed the rickety step, and noticed that one of
them had yellow stains on the bodice. On the far end, red and blue green
wedding lehngas were on display. The former was for Rs.2500.
Now I was outside, and, as night was fast approaching, the whole crowd was moving towards the main road. I joined the human tsunami, hoping that everyone surrounding me would look back at the day’s buying and selling with satisfaction.
percent of the population lives in cities where unplanned expansion is
creating many kinds of problems. This trend of rapid urbanisation has been
accompanied by environmental problems such as air pollution, heavy burden
on waste management, congestion, and the destruction of fragile
Breathing is the first
requirement of life and polluted air is certainly detrimental to health.
Issue of air pollution in most mega cities is worsening day by day due to
ever increasing sources of pollutants like vehicular exhaust emitting
poisonous gases in air and domestic and industrial waste. Everybody who
has a car or motorbike, uses his own transport which seems irreplaceable.
Only an efficient and decent public transport system which saves
people’s time and does not transport them like cattle can reduce the
rush on road.
The density of motor
vehicles is directly proportional to the concentration of motor exhaust,
worsening at the time of traffic jams. All these emissions are causing
severe damage to the environment. Clear blue sky is never seen above
cities. Smoke causes common visibility problems in urban areas. The
pollutants once released in the air are inhaled by humans. They enter in
the blood stream and reach all parts of the body. They can cause variety
of negative health effects like headache, fatigue, respiratory tract
disorders, eye irritation, hearing impairment, mental stress and
According to Economic
Survey of Pakistan one of the main cause of air pollution includes
increasing number of vehicles with inefficient and out dated automotive
technology, dirty fuels and absence of effective public transport system.
Motorcycles and rickshaws, due to their two stroke engines, are most
inefficient in burning fuel and contribute most to emissions. Two stroke
vehicles are responsible for emission of very fine particles that settle
in lungs and cause respiratory diseases. The 2-stroke vehicles industry is
expanding fast in Pakistan and has increased by 142.6 percent in 2010-11
as compared to 2000-01. Rickshaws have grown by 24 percent while
motorcycles and scooters have more than doubled since 2000-01.
Unplanned and rapid
urbanisation in these cities have increased the demand of motor vehicles
manifold, particularly at school and office timings. The concentration of
motor vehicular exhaust touches its peaks during these hours. Till June
2009 registered number of vehicles was 6.47 lakh. Punjab has 4.37 lakh
motorcycles and 154,901 auto rickshaws.
To control air pollution
the government adopted Legislative control Euro-II motor vehicles
emissions standards in July 2009 for petrol run vehicles and these
standards shall be applicable to all including diesel run vehicles
effective from July 2012. Ministry of Environment has made first pilot
project to examine vehicular emission at a cost of Rs. 294 million. Motor
vehicles centres will be established later with the help of public private
partnerships throughout the country.
While there are 3329 CNG
stations operating nationwide fueling 2.50 million vehicles, the three day
CNG holiday poses much inconvenience and raises many questions. The
government banned production of old two stroke rickshaws and introduced 4
stroke engine rickshaws but again the CNG holidays have hit them hard.
Ministry of Petroleum
and Natural Resources has been given a task to improve fuel quality to
international standards like diesel with 0.05-0.5% sulphur content instead
of 0.2 to 0.6% till January 2012.
As CNG availability is a
big issue in the country, setting up motor vehicles examination
laboratories according to Euro-II standards on district level is not the
answer. When the government can’t provide the vehicles clean fuel (CNG)
how can it expect them to be fit.
Only in Lahore over
80,000 rickshaws are running on roads but what would be the use of
converting them into 4-stroke engine when government can’t provide CNG.
A good system of metro
buses and urban rails can minimise public reliance on personal transport
sources. For goods transportation nationwide rail network needs to be
re-engineered as heavy loads can be transported efficiently and
economically using locomotives.
There is need to build
lanes for cyclists and paths for pedestrians along urban roads to
encourage people to use cycles and walk where possible.
Keeping in view all
circumstances there is dire need to set targets of lowest emissions not
only to cut levels to lowest but to eliminate polluting sources. Zero
emission concept need to be applied in big metropolitan cities where
pollution is a silent killer. That will not only save environment, health
but high foreign exchange incurred to procure fuel.
Wide roads filled end to
end by ever-increasing vehicles in the city.