In any civilization, there is cultural synthesis. The usage of Urdu is by no means related to Hinduism. Even though it is indigenous to the subcontinent it remains a legacy of the Muslim period. Other aspects of this heritage include the tradition of qasidas, tazim-o-tawqir, milaad-sharief, the dua and the nikkah, all performed in Urdu. In Guyana, as in Trinidad, as well as in other countries in the Caribbean, Muslims are saying the fatiha over food, celebrating the Prophet’s birthday (milad-un-nabi) and ascension (miraj) and singing qasida, all in Urdu.(n13) However, the debate over these very rituals has created deep frictions among Guyanese Muslims. Similar traditions are prevalent in the subcontinent, as well as in Central Asia, the Caucasus region, Turkey, Iran and other Islamic lands. The different Sufi orders that were responsible for the spread of Islam in many parts of the world had patronized these traditions. Their orthodoxy or unorthodoxy has become the subject of major debates everywhere. We shall review below some of these `questionable’ traditions.
The Urdu term tazim is well known among Guyanese Muslims and it constitutes an established practice inherited from their forefathers. However, if one asks what is the meaning of the word tazim, one gets many different answers. But if one asks what is tazim, they will say it is the standing and reciting of `ya nabi salaam aleika, ya rasul salaam aleika, ya habib salaam aleika…’ However, tazim is much more than standing and reciting thanks and praises to the Prophet. It is about respect, honour and reverence.
Supporters of tazim-o-tawqir say that it is essential for every believing Muslim, to practice tazim-o-tawqir but within a frame work that it does not become an evil bida’. Tazim has all along been observed in Guyana, but today there is much controversy over this practice. The educated person who is knowledgeable of Islam sees this practice as un-Islamic. Most others see no problem with it and continue with its practice. Still others see the practice as bida’-e-hasanah or a good innovation.
Three maulanas from the subcontinent who are highly regarded in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad have all endorsed this practice. Their support of tazim carries heavy weight because of their piety, education and unselfish dedication to the upliftment of Muslims. Maulana Noorani Siddique has called upon those who oppose tazim to provide the proof why it should not be practised. He has challenged the critics that tazim is in accordance with the Sunni Hanafi madhab and is not in conflict with the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Supporters of milad-un-nabi say that the celebration is the commemoration and observance of the birth, life, achievements and favours for the Prophet. Many Sufi orders such as the Chishtiyah and Naqshbandiyah support this celebration. They say that expressions of love of the Prophet by the ummah in the form of milad-un-nabi is a humble effort by the ummah to show gratitude to Allah for His favour of blessing man with such a nabi (Prophet), and to the Nabi for bringing man out of the darkness of ignorance (jahiliyah). The essence of milad-un-nabi is to remember and observe, discuss and recite the event of the birth and the advent of the Prophet.(n14) Many argue that these practices are all in keeping with Qur’anic directives and assert that great ulema-e-haqq such as Ibn Hajar Haitami Hafiz, Ibn Hajar Asqalani, Ibn Jawzi, Imam Sakhaawi, and Imam Sayyuti have regarded milaad-un-nabi as mustahab (good deed).(n15)
Opponents of milad-un-nabi have called this practice a bida’ or an innovation. Some argue that there are two types of bida’: bida-e-hasanah and bida’-e-sayiah (good innovations and evil innovations). Proponents argue, `if the objection is to the current information [sic] that the observance of milad-un-nabi takes, and is thus regarded as an evil bida’, then there are many other bida’ which came about after the era of the tabii taabioon as well, which given the requirements of the era were necessary.(n16)
They argue that following this logic the compilation and classification of Hadith is also a bida’ which originated after the era of the sahaaba, taabioon and tabie taabioon (quroon-e-thalaatah). `The current form of Hadith is also an innovation. Books of Hadith, principles of Hadith, principles of jurisprudence, the schools of fiqh are all bida’ and innovations which originated two centuries or more later’.(n17) However, they agreed that these are good bida’ from which the ummah has benefited greatly. In discussing the survival of Islam in Guyana, Hamid says, `They were able to do this (maintain Islam) through Qur’anic and milaad functions, and other regular social interactions, in spite of distance and the demands of indentured ships’.(n18)
In arguing for the legitimacy of milad-un-nabi, M. W. Ismail refers to several Islamic scholars who have agreed that milad-un-nabi is a good bida’ or bida’ hassanah. He quotes the following from Imam Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani who in explaining Sahih Bukhari says: `Every action which was not in practice at the Prophet’s time is called or known as innovation, however, there are those which are classified as good and there are those which are contrary to that’.(n19) Ismail then made reference to Fatmid Egypt (909-1171 AD) and quoted Imam Ibn Kathir from his book, Al-Bidaya (Vol. 13, p. 136): `Sultan Muzafar used to arrange the celebration of melaad sharief with honour, glory, dignity and grandeur. In this connection he used to arrange a magnificent festival’.(n20) Imam Kathir continued, `He was a pure hearted, grave and wise aalim and a just ruler, may Allah shower his mercy upon him and grant him an exalted status’.(n21)
In trying to prove the validity of milad-un-nabi, the Sheikh quoted Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar who when asked about the celebration said, ` meelad shareef is, in fact, an innovation which was not transmitted from any pious predecessor in the first three centuries. Nevertheless, both acts of virtue as well as acts of abomination are found in it’.(n22) Opponents argue that the Prophet Muhammad (SWS) said, `Whoever brings forth an innovation into our religion which is not part of it, it is rejected’.(n23)
They further quote the Prophet: `Beware of inventive matters for every invention is an innovation and every innovation is evil’.(n24) Supporters respond that those who quote these two Hadiths and claim that all innovation is bida’ and reprehensible have in fact accused Muslim learned men, including the Caliph Umer, of committing `evil’ innovations.(n25) This would include many other `innovations’ which are widely accepted and practised by Muslims today such as the tarawih prayers, the introduction of the second adhan during Friday’s congregational prayers, the introduction of reading `bismillah al-rahman al-rahim before commencing tashahud, and sending praise and salaams upon the Prophet.
The Anjuman Hifazatul Islam and the West Demerara Muslim Youth Organization have recently been in the forefront promoting Milad-un-Nabi , Meraj-un-Nabi and Muharram programmes. The Muslim Journal, the voice of the Anjuman Hifazatul Islam and the West Demerara Muslim Youth Organization, express concern that consorted efforts have been made to eradicate Milad-un-Nabi observation in Guyana. “For over twenty years, continuos efforts have been made to destroy Milad programmes from our community, and after all these efforts and years, two thousand persons have still turned out to support qaseeda” (1999, p. 2).
The qasida (hymn of praise) has always been a part of the Arab tradition, and it spread from the heart of Arabia to the Islamic periphery. Arabic language impacted heavily on the vocabulary, the grammar and the literary prose of other languages such as Persian, Urdu, Turkish, Bosniak, Hausa and Swahili among others. Its contribution to the literature of these languages helped their revival. Today qasidas are written in Arabic but also in other languages spoken by Muslims and have become a part of the Islamic cultural expression.
There are four types of qasida, which are characterized according to their evolution. The pre-Islamic qasida, rooted in the ancient Arab tribal code; the panegyric qasida, expressing an ideal vision of a just Islamic government; the religious qasida, exhorting different types of commendable religious conduct; and the modern qasida, influenced by secular, nationalist, or humanist ideals.
These many varieties of qasida greatly influenced the development of public discourse in many Muslim countries. Guyanese Muslims have only been exposed to religious qasidas. However, in Guyana today there is no formal school of qasida teaching. What Guyanese Muslims know about qasida is what has been handed down from one generation to another. It is not a written tradition, but rather an oral one which inevitably has lost its scholarly character. No one today learns the prose and the grammar of qasida and there is no one to question nor to maintain the standard of good qasida. Madrasahs do not teach qasida, but a few Islamic organizations in Guyana do hold qasida competitions.
The question remains, who sets the standards for winning and what are the criteria for winning? This aspect of cultural Islam no doubt has been influenced by the host environment. Today in Guyana there is a movement among a handful to resurrect this tradition. However, the lack of enthusiasm from the younger generation, many of whom have studied in the Arab world, compounded with its questionable Islamic legitimacy, will soon make these traditions extinct.
In 1999 the Anjuman Hifazatul Islam, the Muslim Youth League, and the Sadr Islamic Anjuman in conjunction with the CIOG held a national qaseeda competition. County level compition was held in Berbice, Essequibo and Demerara. In its editorial, the Muslim Journal writes, “then it was announced on television that Qaseeda and Mowlood is an “Indian” something and therefore has nothing to do with Islam.” (1999, p.2). With two thousand people attending the final Qaseeda competition, the Journal writes, ” The people have spoken, and no Shaikh, Maulana, Qari, Hafiz or self proclaimed Islamic scholars can deny the voice of the people” (2).
The visits of several Maulanas to the Caribbean, notably Maulana Fazlur Rahman Ansari, Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddique and his son Maulana Ahmad Shah Noorani Siddique, provided opportunity to the Guyanese Muslims to seek clarification from these scholars of the Hanafi madhab regarding the practice of tazim, milad-un-nabi and qasida. These scholars endorsed these practices and refuted claims that these are evil innovations. They were able to convince the locals that based on the Qur’an, Hadith and the fiqh, tazim, milad-un-nabi and qasida were within the parameters of Islam, and if kept within the boundaries of Islam these practices are good bida’.