Paper Towns: The young and mysterious journey of self-discovery

John Green’s second book, Paper Towns, gets a movie adaptation by the same name with Nat Wolff playing the role of Quentin Jacobsen and Cara Delevingne appearing as Margo Roth Spiegelman.

The movie explores the relationship of Quentin and Margo who remain best friends throughout childhood but drift away during high school. Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, who jointly wrote the screenplay for The Fault in Our Stars, have written the screenplay for Paper Towns as well. Perhaps this is why viewers who have watched The Fault in Our Stars will find similarities in the philosophical issues discussed in Paper Towns. Although they are not the same, the tone of voice the characters use and their inclination towards finding deeper meaning to life indicate so.

Photo: IMDb

A twist occurs in the movie when Margo, who hasn’t been in touch with Quentin in a long time, asks him to accompany her on a road trip. However, what Quentin wants to accomplish through the road trip is for viewers to know, as it is through this adventure that the two characters go on a journey of self-discovery and get a glimpse of each other’s inner self.

Photo: IMDb

On a personal level, I like the way director Jake Schreier uses a natural environment for most of the scenes to increase the production value of the movie, along with the cast’s decent performance which gives viewers positive vibes. Though Schreier hasn’t directed many full-length movies, he does a good job with Paper Towns. Furthermore, there is simple yet energetic high school fun and the atmosphere brings the movie and its characters to life. The story does get a boost with Margo and Quentin’s relationship, as it is Margo who explains to him the meaning of ‘Paper Towns’.

Photo: IMDb

Moreover, viewers will even get a hint of the romantic chemistry between Quentin and Margo. However, before Quentin can openly express his feelings, Margo disappears. This creates another plot in the movie, where Quentin becomes the point of view by replacing Margo, and begins his adventurous hunt with a group of friends to find her.

Photo: IMDb

Even with Margo out of the picture after her disappearance, she remains a part of the plot as much as Quentin. This is because of the clues that Margo leaves behind. Though Paper Towns is a coming-of-age movie, developed on the lines of philosophy and mystery, the latter part of the movie shows Quentin developing into a person having a broader mental level after he fumbles on the deeper truth of life while finding Margo. Moreover, Wolff, who plays Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars, will surprise viewers with his acting skills.

Photo: IMDb

The opening parts of the movie, until the two characters are children, show how they remain best friends but social differences drift them apart as they grow up. However, their differences, highlighted in a subtle manner, show Margo growing up as a beauty queen at high school while Quentin becoming an introvert. For Quentin, Margo is nothing short of a fantasy, because he sees her as tough and courageous, the qualities which Quentin cannot experience because of his shy attitude.

However, Quentin and Margo’s relationship becomes stronger half way through the movie when they meet again in high school – the time when they are unaware of what waits for them beyond high school, therefore, every issue holds a deeper meaning for them.

Photo: IMDb

Though Paper Towns has a nice story, mystery builds up after Margo disappears and Quentin begins to hear rumours about her disappearance. The movie remains catchy until Margo’s character stays on screen. However, with Margo’s disappearance, the plot’s appeal slightly loses its grip but Wolff does hold the story together with, what the critics have been saying, his heartthrob looks.

Viewers will also find some melodrama in the movie, especially during the time when the two characters are minding their own lives during the high school era before Margo re-enters Quentin’s life, partly because the story does not highlight in detail the reasons for Margo and Quentin not remaining in touch for a long time. However, the characters seem realistic and keep the story moving forward while maintaining viewer’s interest.

Photo: IMDb

The ending parts of the movie show the feelings of a teenage soul, which is confused yet knows which path to take to find life’s answers. Moreover, the characters need someone to hold on to, yet they can journey alone if they are compelled to. At the end, the viewer’s get to see that their identities are hidden behind their personalities and during the time when Quentin is finding Margo, he is also discovering himself. However, viewers will be amazed to see what Quentin really finds in the end.

from The Express Tribune Blog


Five ways Dr Palmer can even the score after murdering Cecil the lion

As news reports of the cruel and savage murder of Cecil spread across the internet like wildfire, my feelings of sadness were slowly replaced by disbelief. I couldn’t fathom how this noble (and apparently friendly) lion could be so remorselessly slain in a torturous ‘hunt’ which lasted several days.

I say ‘hunt’ because Cecil was said to be so comfortable with human beings, that hunting him was like shooting an unsuspecting animal at the zoo.

Cecil’s cubs. Photo: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

The details are blood curling.

At first, Cecil was lured out of the protected National Park in Zimbabwe with some bait, and then shot with an arrow.

Photo: Screenshot (Youtube)

Yes, an arrow.

And it did not kill him.

Photo: Reuters

The incompetent hunter who bribed two locals at least $50,000 could not even minimise Cecil’s pain. For 40 hours, the injured Cecil evaded the hunter, all the while bleeding. Eventually he was found, and decapitated, his head a trophy for a miserable excuse of a man, a man certainly worse than a beast, for most beasts hunt merely for food.

Cecil was a popular attraction among visitors to the Hwange National Park. Photo: AFP

This man, as it turns out, is Dr Walter Palmer, an American dentist from Minnesota.

It is difficult to say why Cecil’s death has earned the fury of people worldwide. After all, appalling reports of poaching have gone viral across social media for years. Meanwhile, our meat industry is both remorseless and corrupt.

Humanity has now overgrown to such proportions that our planet is losing its forests, its jungles, and its wild animals. To sustain our bloat, domesticated beasts are raised in cost effective environments. Emotionally intelligent animals such as cows, goats and pigs are driven mad in disgusting conditions, living out unnatural lives in tiny spaces, and bred only for mankind’s hunger for inexpensive meat.

Perhaps Cecil’s murder was the tipping point.

Photo: Reuters

We are used to man being cruel to man, but do we not have a bigger responsibility towards animals? If we can’t take care of our own species, can we at least not harm other beings?

Cecil and one of the lionesses in the Linkwasha Camp. Photo: Brent Stapelkamp

Dr Palmer has gone into hiding after experiencing unimaginable fury. Those mourning Cecil are demanding he be punished. He says that he thought he was doing everything by the book. Yes, he allegedly paid enormous bribes because he thought his act was legal.

Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

This is not Dr Palmer’s first indiscretion. According to, the dentist has a history of killing wild animals.

Endangered: Palmer shows off his kill, a Nevada Bighorn sheep, on a hunting trip. The species is under threat.
Photo: Trophy Hunt America

Bare-chested Walter Palmer with a 175lb leopard he killed in Zimbabwe.
Photo: Trophy Hunt America

Palmer poses here with a dead elk, another of the trophy kills he has celebrated during his time hunting.
Photo: Trophy Hunt America

In 2008, he faced legal trouble after being investigated for illegally hunting a bear. Around this time, he also faced an accusation of sexual harassment by a woman who claimed that,

“She was subjected to ongoing and unwelcome sexual harassment by (Palmer) including, but not limited to, verbal comments and physical conduct involving her breasts, buttocks, and genitalia.”

Here are five ways Dr Palmer can pay for what he’s done to Cecil. We’ll be happy if he just picks one.


1. The Hunger Games

Dr Palmer obviously enjoys hunting lions, so let’s let him hunt a lion.

In the African Savanna, with cameras televising the event for pay-per-view*, Dr Palmer shall take on Cecil’s brother Jericho. Considering how Dr Palmer has already hunted several big cats, experience should tilt the hunt in his favour. So to balance the scales, both Jericho and Dr Palmer will only be armed with what God gave them.

Brent Stapelkamp, who took the most recent photo of Cecil and ally lion Jericho, told the Telegraph, “Cecil was the most confident lion you ever met. He knew he was the biggest on the block”. Photo: Brent Stapelkamp

To keep things interesting, we won’t feed the lion for a day before the event. Don’t worry Dr Palmer, in the interest of fairness, we won’t feed you either.

Considering that Dr Palmer lured Cecil out with bait, it is only just that he be allowed to do so again. This is why a goat’s carcass will be permanently tied to Dr Palmer’s back during the hunt. Now run Dr Palmer, run.

*All profits from this event will go towards animal conservation charities. (We predict more buys for Jericho versus Dr Palmer than Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather.)

2. Save Cecil’s family

Cecil has left behind at least ten cubs, and they are now in danger from Cecil’s brother Jericho. Although they are safe so far, with some sources claiming that Jericho is protecting them, experts warn that he may kill them at any time out of instinct.

Photo: David Macdonald/Wildlife Conservation Unit

Dr Palmer, you have been hunting defenceless animals with big guns all of your life out of some deep pathetic insecurity. What better way to prove your manhood than taking Cecil’s place? Live as a lion, protect the cubs, and raise them as your own. Though please don’t go so far as to attempt to ‘satisfy’ the many insatiable lionesses. Lionesses don’t sleep with pigs.

Of course, Jericho may grow jealous and attack you. This would only mean our second PPV event: Jericho versus Dr Palmer II (Rumble in the Jungle).

3. Donate professional services to charity

Nothing would be nobler than doing free dental work for the rest of your life to make up for your heinous acts. Needless to say, your redemption must involve lions somehow, so we propose you work on aging lions to fix their aching teeth. Of course, these old lions won’t be sedated, otherwise someone may take advantage and kill them.

Here is @midnight’s vision of this process:

Photo: Midnight

4. The Walk of Shame

In the Song of Ice and Fire series, Cersei Lannister is punished for her crimes by being sent on a naked walk across town where she is humiliated by the residents. Dr Palmer, you need to take several such walks through Minnesota where you will be welcomed by your adoring public, the same public which forced you to take an extended vacation.  A dentist must always pay his debts.

5. Join the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)

A white tiger stands on a car during a protest organised by political party Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) in Lahore on March 31, 2012. Photo: AFP

Dr Palmer, the most popular political party in Pakistan is called the PML-N, and their symbol is the tiger. Unfortunately, like you, they have as little respect for these creatures. During political rallies, they will often carry live lions and tigers across town in the unbearable heat without any water to drink.

In 2013, one poor beast died due to PML-N’s cruelty, when the heat, noise, and humidity proved too much for it.

Dr Palmer, obviously you and PML-N are made for each other, and the party will welcome you with open arms. But you are not to join them as a member. Oh no. You can be their new mascot. Instead of parading lions and tigers, in the future, PML-N can use you instead.  Now, put on that cute lion outfit and have a good time.

Author’s note: We do not condone any violence. This blog was for entertainment purposes only. In reality, we hope the United States extradites Dr Palmer to Zimbabwe where he can be tried on bribery charges.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Anwar Ali and Shoaib Malik, the unsung heroes of Pakistan’s ODI revival

Not long ago, Pakistan, a sport loving nation who looked towards cricket as a uniting force, was down and dejected when they were thrashed by none other than Bangladesh, the team for whom we always took pride in playing an instrumental part in allowing them to become a Test-playing nation.

Photo: AFP

It was heartbreaking really. I never thought such a day would come, but it did. During that time, many thought that a touring Zimbabwe would also be a difficult side to beat, and that the chances of Pakistan playing in the Champion’s Trophy would definitely slip out of our hands, because the only way we would qualify for the league would be by beating Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, and that even on their home ground.

Photo: AFP

But you can’t just write Pakistan off, not yet. We came out from nowhere during the Sri Lankan tour, and apart from the last five-match ODI series in Sri Lanka, Pakistan dominated each and every single aspect of the ODI series.

Even in the second ODI, where Pakistan was beaten narrowly by two wickets, it was the individual brilliance of Kusal Perera that snatched the game completely away from us by scoring 60 odd runs on 20 odd deliveries. Even then, we fought back, and at one stage, we even had a slight advantage when Sri Lanka was down to 156 for five. But we could not stop them since Perera came in and delivered his blitzing innings.

Photo: AFP

Our victory may cover up all the problems our team has, but the question remains, what has transformed Pakistan from a demotivated and disgruntled unit into a unit that is unwilling to accept defeat?

For me, apart from the fielding and better batting performance, the real answer is the balance in the team.

Pakistan under Misbahul Haq’s captaincy always looked like a team short of a batsman or two, and with Shahid Afridi coming in at number seven, we were constantly playing with six batsmen, which put extra pressure on the bowling unit, resulting in total chaos in the ODI format.

After the 2011 World Cup, for the first time as far as I can recall, we have six bowlers and a pretty decent batting line -up until number eight and that is due to the fact that the selectors finally turned their attention to young Anwar Ali and, as Ramiz Raja said, a “veteran” Shoaib Malik. I feel they are the two unsung heroes important for the revival of the Pakistani cricket team in the ODI format.

Anwar, the man from Karachi, along with Mohammad Rizwan, is a breath of fresh air in the Pakistan team’s fielding department and it’s probably the best since a long time. Anwar probably took two of the best catches in the series and was also a part of the brilliant solo run-out effort in the follow up. He also bowled deathly overs in the fourth ODI and has been instrumental in saving crucial runs for the Pakistani team.

Photo: AFP

As a bowler, Anwar’s role was a difficult one, which he completed with utmost honesty and hard work, producing some great results. For a bowler new at international cricket and for someone who does not possess an extremely great set of skills, finishing the series as the joint second highest wicket-taker along with Mohammad Hafeez with an economy rate of under six runs while bowling at the start is a great achievement.

His batting in the second ODI with Rizwan once again assured the management, as well as the player’s sitting in the dressing room, that we finally don’t have to worry about our batting order thinning out towards the end as he is more than a decent batsmen coming in at number eight.

For the veteran Malik, it’s been a more than happy comeback. For once, he is being reinstated into a team where his batting order is what it should have been all these years. Under Misbah’s captaincy, Malik played 22 innings, out of which 15 he batted at number six and number seven.

Malik was never the big hitter you needed at the end of an innings, instead he was the player who can provide you with the platform to finish big. Fortunately, under Azhar Ali’s captaincy, Malik was given a settled role, a role that he seems to like. Batting at number five, Malik is seen flourishing as the man who links the upper order to the lower order in order provide that bit of stability in the batting department.

Photo: Reuters

His calmness on the pitch was instrumental for Pakistan in the first ODI victory chase, where he guided the team, first with Hafeez and then with Rizwan. Another reason for his success is the amount of confidence young Azhar showed in his bowling, which eases the pressure on his batting as well.

Under Misbah, Malik hardly ever got the chance to bowl, which meant that he had to play as a batsman only, and that too at a position that never synchronised with the kind of player he is. To understand how a batting position can affect a player’s utility, one would have to understand that Virat Kohli won’t have the same kind of effect while batting at number seven as compared to what he produces batting at number three. Similarly, MS Dhoni might not be the same Dhoni batting at number three, as compared to batting on number seven.

As far as his bowling is concerned in the series, even though Malik did not pick up a wicket, he was one of the most economical bowlers for Pakistan in the series, where he bowled five overs a match and was not easy to get away with in terms of scoring runs. His fielding has always been a plus point and that too helped Pakistan in their fielding department.

All in all, Pakistan finally has a balance in their ODI team, a balance they’ve desperately been looking for. The Champions Trophy qualification is not over and done with yet, but it is up for grabs as Pakistan now holds the initiative, come the September 30th deadline.

Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed have gone back to their basic ODI format that Pakistan always had, where we never depended on a specialist to take us forward. It was always two or three all-rounders that set us apart from the rest of cricketing world, the one’s that remain unnoticed, yet contribute to the teams’ success.

Even though Hafeez cannot bowl for a year due to the ban, but in Anwar and Malik, Pakistan now has two all-rounders who can bat, bowl and are brilliant fielders, which sets Pakistan off on their rightful journey towards a glorious future in ODI cricket.

from The Express Tribune Blog

The question remains, why was Yakub Memon hanged?

The Supreme Court is an institution of the state. An independent Supreme Court does not mean that judges would not be cognisant of the political implications of their decisions. As the products of the society they live in, it would be unrealistic to expect the judges to make decisions devoid of any political, religious, or social influences.

The Judicial Commission in Pakistan must have factored in the political ramifications of their decision, and the Supreme Court of India must have factored in the political ramifications of their decision while deciding Yakub Memon was to be hanged.

Memon was pronounced guilty on September 12h, 2006 for his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai blasts by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) court. As the verdict was handed out to him, Memon proclaimed,

“Innocent people are being called terrorists.”

After any terrorist activity takes place, the lust for blood resonates amongst the population and the people want vengeance. Terrorism is the perfect antidote of democracy. It brings out the worst in us, and the worst is simply amplified when the majority is vying for blood.

Weak governments cave in to this pressure and channelise the hate of the masses towards the ‘others’. It was the Arabs for America after 9/11, Pakhtuns for Pakistan after the Army Public School (APS) tragedy and it was the Muslims for Mumbai after 1993.

However, the state does not deal with revenge and retribution. The state does not act out of vengeance. The vanguard of a state is justice, the state ensures justice. This is why I cringe anytime a politician or security official in Pakistan vows to take revenge after a tragedy. It simply perpetuates the circle of violence we are all caught up in.

Echoing this sentiment, Shashi Tharoor, two-time member of Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram, and the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs in India, argues that the hanging of Memon turns the entire nation into murderers as well. Tharoor makes an impassioned plea against death penalty when he writes,

“Innocent, reformed and reformable people have been given the death penalty even though they no longer pose any serious danger to society.”

Whereas there was little criticism of the numerous hangings and extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists after the APS tragedy in Pakistan, some salient voices have come out against the death penalty in India. Yesterday, the editorial in The Hindu on July 30thcalled it ‘inhuman and unconscionable’.

How much of the decision was influenced by Shiv Shena’s aggressive campaign to call for the hanging?  The emotions felt by the people during the Mumbai attacks were conveniently used to sway the public opinion against Memon.

Memon was in jail for 21 years, he was hardly a danger to the Indian society. Which brings us to the crucial question, why was Yakub Memon hanged?

The Supreme Court heard a mercy petition from Yakub at 3am, seemingly heralding itself as the vanguard of justice, but in the end, it all turned out to be a facade as the court caved in to the political pressure and rejected the mercy petition.

If we are to factor in the human element of the judgment and the political factors, it could be because he was Muslim. The outspoken Muslim politician Asaduddin Owaisi and Hurriyat Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani certainly seem to think so.

Even if we are to dismiss their statements on the basis of their political affiliations, the fact is that nobody has been hanged over the Babri Masjid riots. The recent editorial in The Nation on summarises it perfectly,

“The crux of the issue is this: while Indian authorities steam forward with this execution, cases of terrorist attacks against Muslim targets – such as Melagaon, Modassa, Samjhauta Express and Ajmer Sharif – all languish.”

The same Supreme Court has taken a much more lenient approach in dealing with Hindu extremists. For a Supreme Court to be truly independent, it has to factor in all of its political influences and offset them by being cognisant of their decisions. No judge can truly decide under a veil of ignorance but every effort should be made to do so.

If a majority is keen to hang a Muslim rather than a Hindu then the Supreme Court should not let that factor into their own decision. If the Indian Supreme Court has been reluctant to belt out death penalties for extremists of a different faith then the same standard should be applied to a person of a different faith.

Many of you reading this in Pakistan might find this blog post easy to agree with because of its criticism towards the Indian Supreme Court and pro-Muslim stance. However, I do recommend reading this again and switching India with Pakistan.

The principle remains the same, courts in Pakistan are reluctant to punish Muslim extremists and afraid to rule in favour of the accused in blasphemy cases. Many judges have been personally targeted for being lenient in blasphemy cases.

If our Supreme Court is also to be truly independent, the faith of the victim should not be an influential factor in the decision making process. It is about time the people of India and Pakistan move beyond the Hindu-Muslim differences and see terrorists as terrorists rather than Muslim terrorists or Hindu terrorists.

from The Express Tribune Blog

When Indians are denied entry into a nightclub for being ‘Indians’ in India

The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote in his book ‘The Discovery of India’ in 1946:

“In India, every European, be he German, or Pole or Rumanian, is automatically a member of the ruling race. Railway carriages, station retiring rooms, benches in parks, etc. are marked ‘For Europeans Only’. This is bad enough in South Africa or elsewhere, but to have to put up with it in one’s own country is a humiliating and exasperating reminder of one’s enslaved condition.”

Indians deserve to be treated with respect in their own country and one would think that things would change after we got our freedom in 1947.

But have they?

On July 26, 2015, a Bandra couple was allegedly denied entry into a nightclub in Juhu, Mumbai for simply being ‘Indians’. The couple was laconically told by the Portuguese PR manager that Indians were “undesirable and unfit” for the club which is “Mumbai’s most alluring nightspot”, according to reports.

Trilogy Club Mumbai.

What ensued after their visit to the club brings back memories of the colonial rule when ‘dogs and Indians not allowed’ was the common refrain. The couple was denied entry into the club and when they protested, Natasha D’sa, the PR manager, was called outside to deal with them.This is what transpired on that night. Jennifer Chavan, an event management company employee, went to the Triology nightclub in Hotel Sea Princess in Juhu, Mumbai at around 2:30am on Sunday to celebrate her boyfriend Shanu Mallik’s birthday. Chavan had visited the place several times in the past.

“Chavan and her boyfriend were stopped by Natasha saying Indians were undesirable and unfit for that club. They had gone to celebrate a birthday, but when they tried to enter, they were stopped and told that Indians were not allowed,” an official from the Santacruz police station said.

“When they said Indians are not allowed, I was flabbergasted. For a moment, I actually began to wonder whether I was in India or in some other country. That sentence hurt us a lot. If they did not want to give us entry, they could have said something else. Why did they have to say that? This was not the first time we were going to the club. We had celebrated my birthday there as well,” Chavan told a leading newspaper.

The police were at once called by the club’s management when the couple protested this discrimination against the Indians. Finally, taking cognisance of Chavan’s complaint, an FIR was registered against Natasha and the senior manager of Trilogy, Cedrick Dickson, under relevant sections of the IPC and the Civil Rights Protection Act, 1955.

The club’s management have, however, termed the couple’s allegations as false and clarified that they were denied entry to club as they came very late and thus could not be accommodated. The couple’s name was also not in the guest list, Dickson said.

History of discrimination against Indians in India

The Royal Bombay Yacht Club, which barred Indians from entering, even if they happened to be Maharajas. Photo: Indian Tales of the Raj – By Zareer Masani)

Such incidents, unfortunately, are not rare in Mumbai. For, till the 60s, the Breach Candy Swimming Pool in Bombay (Mumbai), denied entry to Indians. The Royal Bombay Yacht Club barred Indians from entering, even if they happened to be Maharajas.

Verily, most Indians who came in contacts with the British were subjected to such racial humiliation on a daily basis. The ‘Europeans Only’ or ‘Indians and Dogs Not Allowed’ in first-class railway carriages were the most visible symbols of white supremacy during the British Raj.

According to noted author Zareer Masani,

“Whites-only places like the Delhi Club remained a symbolic reminder of the alien and humiliating side of foreign rule. The last of them, like the Breach Candy Swimming Pool in Bombay (Mumbai), excluded Indians till the 60s and continues to operate discriminatory entry rules for visitors.

“The vast majority of Indians, of course, had no desire to enter European society. And the notion of segregation was by no means new in a caste-ridden society. What made Anglo-Indian racism unacceptable was that it was practiced by foreign rulers and affected precisely those Indians who were most westernised and had the strongest aspirations to equality.”

The big question is if we are not even allowed a chance to live free and instead treated like squatters and second-class citizens in our own country, what was the point of all those struggles for the independence movement?

Where should the Indians go to live a life of dignity, if not their motherland?

This post originally appeared here.

from The Express Tribune Blog

To Fakhra Yunus and Noman – With love, from Tehmina Durrani

Strange are the ways of God,

Strange is the help He provides,

I love you to the moon and beyond,

There aren’t many places to hide!

The sky above heads be a witness,

When helpless were helped by a helpless,

The amount of effort that it took me,

How shall I put in words? I feel restless!

The shadow over Napier road, Karachi,

Of a once-scarred moon needing justice,

Will bring back the grace and enlighten,

This painful dichotomy of success!

This too shall pass and so quickly

I recall, I took you to Italy,

Five years young and your mother,

Recovering from hell and so swiftly.

In 12 years with 39 surgeries,

A breadwinner with burnt-flesh hungry,

By lack of equality in our system,

Then gave up on life and her country!

For graduating from a school in Rome,

To being a brand ambassador back home

Your late mother and a secret benefactor,

Are happy that so neatly you’ve grown!

So settle dust and try leaving footprints,

At junior soccer team and take your chances,

But never leave your roots; God will help you,

In all walks of life and circumstances!

For strange are the ways of God,

And strange is the help He provides

I love you to the moon and beyond

There aren’t many places to hide!

from The Express Tribune Blog

What a newly dated early Quran tells us about Islam

For the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the idea that the Holy Quran is a seventh-century text disseminated by Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), is neither new nor particularly controversial.

But in academia, the history of this holy text is much more opaque. For researchers in Islamic studies, historical evidence dating the Holy Quran back to Islam’s foundational era has proved elusive. This has led to hotly contested academic debates about the early or late canonisation of the Holy Quran, with a small handful of scholars claiming that the book is a product of a much later (mid-eighth century and after) age of compilation or even confabulation, when Abbasid-era scholars rationalised and expanded the Muslim religious corpus.

Recent scholarly work on early manuscript fragments of the Holy Quran such as those discovered in Sanaa, Yemen in 1972, gave us portions of Quranic text carbon-dated to a few years after the Holy Quran was officially standardised by one of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) early successors, the caliph, Hazrat Usman (RA), in around 650 CE. But there has been little clinching evidence to settle the debate about the dating of the text from a scholarly rather than a devotional perspective.

A new discovery

But this picture seems to have changed overnight. Two Quran fragments unknowingly held since 1936 in the University of Birmingham’s manuscript collection have been definitively dated to the era of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life or a little later.

The writing of the two folios (with text corresponding to chapters 18-20 in the modern Holy Quran) has been placed somewhere between 568 and 645 CE, which is very close to the conventional dating offered for the Prophet’s (PBUH) ministry, 610-632 CE.

Given the more than 95 per cent accuracy of the carbon dating involved, carried out at the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, this discovery indicates that these fragments are in all probability contemporary with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself.

No wonder that the University of Birmingham, and the city as a whole, has welcomed the news with excitement and pride. There seems some poetic justice in the fact that a city that is home to one of the most multicultural communities in the world (described without irony on Fox News as a “no-go area” for non-Muslims) should now, as it surely will, become a veritable Makkah for both non-Muslims and Muslims eager to examine for themselves these almost 1,400-year-old pages, which are offered in a clear, legible, even beautiful hand.

Handwriting hesitation

Certainly, the discovery will have its detractors, and no doubt these will be of two kinds. First, from those historians who are cautious, even sceptical about carbon dating as a tool of evidence.

On the whole, palaeography (the study of handwriting) and carbon dating have worked side-by-side to offer a clearer picture than ever of the date-range of various textual materials for ancient and medieval history. But historians schooled in palaeography or philology (the study of historical language) can often find the evidence furnished by carbon dating to be unfeasibly early. There have been clear instances of carbon dating specifying a timeframe which is undermined by a study of language (such as dialect or idiom), of script and of what I will call circumstantial evidence, namely what is known from written histories or from archaeological remains about the spread of texts and of ideas.

French scholar François Déroche, for example, argued in 2014 that carbon dating seems to offer too early a time period for the Umayyad-era (661-750 CE) Holy Qurans that he has examined. Such discrepancies can usually be attributed to the fact that carbon dating provides a reasonably accurate assessment of the date of the medium of writing — for example, the death date of an animal whose skin is used for writing on — rather than the date of the writing itself. Yet, the widespread use of the method for dating ancient and medieval texts and artefacts bears witness to its importance as a powerful tool for establishing a reasonable range of dates for any given object.

Hardwired sceptics

The other group who may find fault with this discovery are those writers for whom Islam is a collection of ideas and strictures developed in a much later (post-conquest) era and projected back on to the seventh century. For such hardwired sceptics, it may be that no historical evidence carries the power to shift their convictions. This new discovery may be dismissed by such voices as part of the global conspiracy to give Islam’s self-created narrative more credence than it deserves.

But for academic historians of early Islam, the early stabilisation of Quranic text is one of the few areas which a broad spectrum of scholars agrees on. In the words of the recently departed historian Patricia Crone, a widely acknowledged expert on early and medieval Islam,

“We can be reasonably sure that the Quran is a collection of utterances that [Muhammad (PBUH)] made in the belief that they had been revealed to him by God. [He] is not responsible for the arrangement in which we have them. They were collected after his death — how long after is controversial.”

It is this last point of controversy that the Birmingham discovery illuminates. Clearly, Quranic verses with a very close match to the version we have today were being transcribed during or soon after the Prophet’s (PBUH) lifetime. So historians of early Islam have good reason to feel excited, if not gratified, by this discovery.

This post originally appeared here.

from The Express Tribune Blog