Naureen Aqueel

Archive for March 2008

Published in The Shelf (class newsletter), March 2008.

While there are many grievances among publishers and other elements within the publishing and books sector of Pakistan about the perceived government indifference towards publishing and readership in the country, an impartial look into the issue reveals that there is more to it than just meets the eye.

With very few resources to meet its ever-increasing needs on account of being a developing state, the Government of Pakistan still manages to undertake some commendable initiatives in the interests of the publishing and book industry. Although it appears that there is very little that the government is doing to encourage publishing and readership in the country, a survey of some government organisations operating in the books sector helped uncover some praiseworthy steps that most often go unnoticed. The organisations surveyed included National Book Foundation (NBF), Anjuman-e-Taraqiy-e-Urdu Pakistan, National Academy of Letters, Mahmud Hussain Library—University of Karachi, Liaquat Memorial Library, Taimuria Library and State Bank Library.

Among these, the greatest amount of effort to encourage readership and provide low-priced books to students, researchers and general readers is made by the National Book Foundation. NBF holds book fairs regularly in different parts of the country such as the Karachi International Book Fair organised in collaboration with Pakistan Publishers and Book Sellers Association. NBF also participates in book fairs abroad like Frankfurt International Book Fair. Another interesting initiative of NBF in this regard is the Readers Club Scheme whereby members are able to purchase books at half price from a panel of booksellers who are collaborating with NBF in this scheme. The remaining balance on the price of a book is paid by NBF.

In addition to this, NBF is popular for providing low-priced additions of foreign books that may not be affordable at their original rates. Such low priced editions of textbooks are most helpful to students. They also supply books to different libraries and publish and distribute Braille publications for free to the visually handicapped.

The NBF also takes a number of steps to encourage authorship and publishing in the country by holding activities like Children’s Writers Conference which was held in September 2007; Writers Competition where writers have the chance of winning cash prizes as well as the opportunity to have their books published; Authors Resource Centre which was inaugurated in August 2007 providing authors with state-of-the-art facilities and a comfortable atmosphere to aid them in their creative works; National Textbook and Learning Materials Policy Plan of Action providing a level playing field and competitive environment for private sector publishers to produce quality textbooks.

Furthermore, contrary to many publishers’ complaints that the government is doing nothing to combat piracy and protect copyrights, the NBF has recently initiated a Copyrights Campaign jointly with Intellectual Property Organisation of Pakistan and Pakistan National Commission for UNESCO to spread awareness of intellectual property rights.

And government efforts also extend to those steps taken to encourage research publishing and publishing particularly in Urdu and in regional languages as well. Anjuman-e-Taraqiy-e-Urdu is one such organisation working to promote publishing in the Urdu language. It publishes research related books on the Urdu language for free without charging authors. University PhD and M.Phil papers that come up to a certain standard are also published by this organisation at its own expense. It also translates various works in regional languages to Urdu. Anjuman-e-Taraqiy-e-Urdu which comes under the Government of Sindh and the City District Government of Karachi, has a well-maintained library which was originally established by Maulvi Abdul Haq in pre-partitioned India, the contents of which were later brought to Pakistan after Independence.

Organisations like the National Academy of Letters also take a number of steps to promote readership and publishing by holding book fairs and publishing books of renowned Pakistani writers.

Government funded libraries like Liaquat Memorial Library, State Bank Library, Taimuria Library and Mahmud Hussain Library provide a great service to the reading population of the city by providing membership and consequent access to books at little or no membership fee. In a country where the price of good books is skyrocketing and is out of the reach of the common man, such libraries serve an indispensable function of quenching the thirst of a knowledge-thirsty population.

However, the situation is far from perfect. There is much more that needs to be done by the government before Pakistan can even try and compete on the international level. “To improve the publishing industry, the government must firstly remove or lower import duty on paper, books and printing material,” says Mr. Mazhar Hussain of Oxford University Press. The high import duty on paper raises the prices of books making them unaffordable to the common man.

The government must also develop a system to make sure that funds allocated to government organisations are put to proper use. “The government has allocated sufficient funds to organisations such as Anjuman-e-Taraqiy-e-Urdu and National Academy of Letters,” says Mr. Mairaj Janu of Bazm-e-Takhliq-e-Adab. “However, these funds are not utilised correctly.”

Moreover, the government must increase the budget it allocates to the publishing and book sector. “The government should increase funds,” proposes Mrs. Irshad Abbasi Resident Director of NBF. “The budget is very low. It is not even enough to fulfill the needs of publication.”

The government must set up institutions to examine and provide solutions to the problems of the publishing industry and facilitate more production by subsidizing production. It must also formulate such policies that attract private entrepreneurs to the publishing industry, improve the services of provincial textbook boards and improve and increase libraries providing membership for free or at a minimal fee.

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An edited version of this article was published in The News, Iqra page, March 21, 2008.

Love is a potent emotion and it is one of the most vulnerable avenues by which the Shaitan attacks and misleads people. When limits are crossed in love, we often fall into the most despised sin in the sight of Allah, and that is the sin of Shirk (associating partners with Allah). We have the example of the people of Nuh (a.s) who, because of  their great reverence and love for their pious elders, ended up making idols of them which later generations began to worship.

Whenever the expression of love deviates from the method taught to us by the Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) and His Messenger (sallallahu alayhe wa sallam) it opens doors to shirk and innovation and we fall into sin while thinking we are involved in worship.

Love for the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, is an essential part of our Iman. A Muslim’s Iman (faith) cannot be complete unless he/she loves the Prophet more than all other creation. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, said: “None of you believes until I am dearer to him than his father, his child, and all of mankind.”  (Bukhari and Muslim)

And the Muslim must hold the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, dearer than his/her own self. This is made clear by the following hadith. Narrated ‘Abd Allah bin Hisham: ‘We were with the Prophet (s.a.w) and he was holding the hand of ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (r.a).  ‘Umar said to him, “O Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w)! You are dearer to me than everything except my own self.” Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w) said: “No, by Him in Whose Hand my soul is, (you will not have complete Faith) until I am dearer to you than your own self.”  Then ‘Umar (r.a) said: “However, now, by Allah, you are dearer to me than my own self.”  He (s.a.w) then said: “Now, O ‘Umar, (now you are a believer).” (Bukhari)

We see nowadays, that it has become fashionable to claim to love the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, and to sing elaborate praises to him and make exaggerated claims of all that we could do for him. Sadly, these claims stand void when it comes to practicing what we say. Allah (s.w.t) says in the Quran:

“O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? Most hateful it is with Allah that you say that which you do not do.” (Surah As-Saff 61:2-3)

The best way to express our love for the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) is to follow his teachings and his Sunnah. The companions who greatly loved the Prophet (s.a.w.) expressed this love by following him in every deed to the extent that even if he had his upper button open they would follow him. Urwah Ibn Masood speaking about this to the Quraish, once said:

“O people, I swear by Allah that I have visited kings. I went to Caesar, Chasroes and the Negus, but I swear by Allah that I never saw a king whose companions venerated him as much as the companions of Muhammad venerated Muhammad. By Allah, whenever he spat it never fell to the ground, it fell into the hand of one his companions, then they would wipe their faces and skins with it. If he instructed them to do something, they would hasten to do as he commanded. When he did wudoo´, they would almost fight over his water. When he spoke they would lower their voices in his presence; and they did not stare at him out of respect for him.” (Bukhari)

The Prophet (s.a.w) said: “All of my ummah will enter Paradise except those who refuse.” They said: “O Messenger of Allah, who would refuse?” He said: “Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise and whoever disobeys me has refused.” (Bukhari)

Thus, we see that the true way of expressing our love for the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) is to obey him and follow his Sunnah. This sincere advice of the Prophet (s.a.w) is particularly pertinent here: “I urge you to follow my Sunnah and the way of the rightly-guided khaleefahs after me; adhere to it and cling to it firmly. Beware of newly-invented things, for every newly-invented thing is an innovation (Bid‘ah) and every innovation is a going-astray.” (Ahmad & Tirmidhi)

A paradox of ours is that we can spend thousands of rupees on a gathering the Prophet (s.a.w) never held, but we cannot feed seventy needy people or build one school for the poor. We can take out time to listen to people singing elaborate praises to the Prophet (s.a.w), but we cannot take out time to learn the Sunnah way of Salah. We can illuminate our homes and streets with lights commemorating the birth of the Prophet (s.a.w), but we cannot illuminate our lives with the two things he brought—the Quran and the Sunnah.

We sing excessive praises to the Prophet (s.a.w), but we forget that he taught us: “Do not extol me as the Christians extolled the son of Maryam. For I am just His slave, so call me the slave of Allaah and His Messenger” (Bukhari). We claim to sacrifice our lives for him, but we cannot sacrifice one un-islamic festival that has become a part of out weddings and which goes against the teachings he brought. What kind of love is this?

If the Prophet (s.a.w) were to come today to spend time with us, would we feel happy or restricted? Would we keep living our day-to-day life the way we do, or would we have to change or ways significantly? Would he be proud to see how our homes are decorated and how we spend our time or would we have to do a quick but temporary makeover only to please him?

I believe this provides enough food for thought.

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An edited versioon of this was published in The News, Educationzine, March 1, 2008.

Childhood is one of the most innocent periods of an individual’s life. For those who are already raising their eyebrows at reading the word ‘innocent’ associated with children, it should suffice to say that the children whom they call ‘little devils’ are in fact at a crucial stage of their lives when consistent planning and effort can help mould them into ‘little angels’.

But the difference is indeed of that consistent planning and effort. What kind of approach is adopted has a major effect on what the turnout is. Teachers, in addition to parents, play a very important role here. They can either build a child’s life or ruin it. It is obvious then that being a teacher is no piece of cake. This role carries with it immense responsibility. Teachers not only have to teach their subjects, they also have to master the art of dealing with children, and that includes controlling their anger and not succumbing to emotions of frustration, desperation or hopelessness.

Knowing how to deal with children, how to react to misbehaviour and knowing when to be stern and when to be soft requires considerable wisdom and understanding. Teachers must know that a soft approach is, in most cases, the best method to adopt. In the few cases that require being stern, it must be clear that that does not involve inflicting physical pain on the child.

Our schools are replete with examples of corporal punishment. One case in point is the recent alarming death of 14-year-old Mudassar Aslam after physical beating by his teacher. Such examples indeed point to a very dark side of the educational system.

Corporal punishment is in no way the answer to misconduct. Students’ behaviour cannot be moulded by harsh penalties meted out to them by teachers. Such measures usually produce fear due to which certain behaviours maybe repressed for sometime but find an outlet some other time. In some cases, this practice also produces rebellion. Research has shown that corporal punishment is associated with an increase in violence and other crimes, depression, alienation and lowered achievement. It also lowers the self-esteem of the child and severely disrupts the learning process.

An interesting analogy can help make clear which approach to teaching and influencing student behaviour is better. When a freshly moulded clay pot is wet and soft, how does one handle it? Surely, anyone that touches it and does not want to ruin the intricate way in which it is moulded handles it with extreme care. They may touch it delicately on the areas needing improvement, being extremely careful not to disturb the other areas. Children too are in this moulding stage. They need to be handled with extreme care. It is their experiences at this stage of life that will shape their personalities in the future. And it is teachers who hold this in their hands.

Love and gentleness have always been more effective than harshness and aggression. Children can learn a lot more if a soft approach is adopted. However, it must be clear that this soft approach must also be principled, since being gentle does not mean compromising on rules and principles. Teachers can be firm in matters of discipline. But then, being firm does not mean being harsh. Inflicting physical pain on the student is thus not acceptable.

A wise man once said: “We can achieve through gentleness much more than with severity. Can’t we see that water grinds away hard rocks?”

Inflicting physical pain on the child is indeed a very negative method of influencing behaviour, which may not even be effective. It is thus very important that teachers realise the impact their actions can have on children and that they adopt a soft, but principled, approach that helps influence the child’s behaviour in a positive and constructive way.


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