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Who would kill Jaun Elia?

An honest and outspoken person, he spoke the truth even at the cost of offending others

Who would kill Jaun Elia?

“My dear Mir Zafar Hasan, you’re one lucky person.”

“Why do you say that, Jaun sahib?”

“You are an exceptionally good poet and at the same time you’re extremely fortunate. You are Mir, but you can be Zafar, and you can also be Hasan whenever you feel the need for it. You can be a Sunni, and you can turn into a Shia if you desire. But I, Jaun Elia, despite being an agnostic, will always be a Syed. Isn’t it sad?”

Jaun Elia, arguably the finest Urdu poet of the latter half of the 20th century, was a non-believer, an incorrigible skeptic. Jaun had studied at the Deoband school in India. Deoband used to be a different place at that time. It hadn’t yet transformed into a fatwa-giving factory. In 2002, Jaun died peacefully at Allama Ali Karar’s house in Federal B Area, Karachi; otherwise I’m sure he would have been cold-bloodedly murdered today by some religious fanatic – most probably a Deoband follower.

But let’s pause here for a second. Haven’t we, the liberals, made it a habit to curse the maulvis and blame them for all our problems, all our woes? The maulvis used to be very different people before the start of the first Afghan War. They used to be simple, self-effacing people with everyday, ordinary needs, before they were corrupted them by millions of dollars donated to their madrassas, by dragging them into the world of global capital and petrodollars. But we, the liberals, detest only the mullah (the term was first coined by Heidelberg-educated Muhammad Iqbal to demean Indian clerics). We never feel bothered to analyse the system which turned these simpletons into monsters. Bomb Waziristan, we demand. Kill the Taliban, we say. We relish bloodshed.

Jaun Elia was mentored by the maulvis. In those days they were a learned lot. They would debate with agnostics like Jaun. Sunni maulvis revered Shia zakirs and vice-versa. No one would call anyone an infidel or kaafir. At present, you don’t need allamas and ayotullahs to declare someone a heretic; a common Pakistani considers himself qualified enough to do that. And he might even kill you for ‘insulting’ his belief.

If Jaun had not died a natural death in 2002, he would have been shot by a mob of crazy extremists today. His murderers would have been both Sunnis and Shias. In Pakistan, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between a Sunni and a Shia, a fundamentalist and a liberal. The lines are getting blurred. Jaun was a product of a society that believed in reasoning. Today, in Pakistan you can’t reason with people. It’s blasphemous.

I am surprised though that Jaun Elia is still read in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and his poetry is getting popular by the day. And we are not talking about Iqbal who pleased all groups and lobbies; we’re discussing a poet who has this to say about religion:

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[Religion? What is it that you hurl at me
What’s the hullabaloo, the cacophony about?]

Whose views on religious extremists were:

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[Jaun, don’t argue with Islamists
The Samud and Aad of our time can’t be persuaded]

And who described his relation to God like this:

Shamil Shams

[We denied the existence of God, all along
And you find us, the sufferers, at fault?]

It means that Pakistan hasn’t lost everything yet. There is still hope. There are people who understand and appreciate Jaun, Mir and Ghalib.

Jaun was only Jaun. He was only a poet — every inch a poet. He could not change his identity and become Zafar or Hasan whenever he felt like doing it. He was not a hypocrite. He was an honest and outspoken person. He spoke truth till he breathed his last, even at the cost of offending others.

The Islamists cannot harm Jaun Elia, but ignorance will. The Taliban cannot destroy Pakistan, but our hypocrisy will. Let us admit that we, the Pakistanis, are collectively responsible for our crimes and failures. We can’t just blame the Islamists.

Shamil Shams

Shamil Shams
The author works for Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle's Asia-English and Urdu services in Bonn.


  • Interesting article Sir.
    Two of the great minds of the era that we can relate to when it comes to Urdu poetry are Jaun Elia and Noon Meem Rashid. While Jaun is enjoying popularity and has already become an icon due to his dramatic performances in Mushaira’s and his mesmerizing collection of books, Rashid still has to be discovered who rebelled against the prevalent norms, be they religion, politics or language, in his poetry.
    He brought blank verse in Urdu poetry and lavished it with an elegance of its own. Anyone reading the Preface of Shayad by Jaun and the Preface of Mavra, the first collection of both of the poets, will realize he is not reading mediocre, shallow and pseudo-intellectuals. They both were genuine poets yet they were more than poets! I see a host of people adhering to their works on FaceBook pages!
    Rahid might have met with his fate no less different than Jaun’s had he not died his natural death in 1975 in England. His poetry had already attracted charges of being obscure, obscene, lewd, escapist and of course atheistic! He calls God ‘Saahir-e-BayNishaaN in his poem ‘Pehli Kiran’.
    ‘Khuda ka janaza liye ja rahay hain farishtay
    Usi saahir-e-baynishaan ka …’

    • mir abdul latif

      very nice

  • Interesting use of the term ISLAMIST from someone sitting in Germany…understandable..

    • He knows exactly what the term Islamist means. He writes every day about what is happening in Pakistan in a way that many who live there cannot. Living in another country doesn’t mean that you suffer a lobotomy or you cannot have a pertinent understanding and approach of the issues. Your education doesn’t end when you live the country. This is a very well written article. Good job, Shamil.

  • mir abdul latif

    whether a liberal or non liberal, it needs to have a lot of right kind of education to be able to understand what is right or what is wrong. if you have a clear understanding of life, you reach at the same conclusion irrespective that you subscribe to which school of thought. i would not like to label jaun elia because to me he was universal and eternal. labels are attached to the ppl to perceive them different and to castigate, discriminate and finally punish them.

  • Well written article on a great poet. Who was also a scholar and according to Molvi Abdul Haq he was an Alim who had command on Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew.

  • Intolerance of others opinion of literally anything, be it religion, ideas or beliefs has and will animalise and destroy societies.

  • jaun elia aik big poet thay jin ki poetry ka aik alug mizaj thah alug style thah

  • Boht achi sharing ki ha ap na jaun elia jaisay poet sadion ma paida hota hain

  • well written about Jaun Elia.i have learned a lot about Jaun Elia.I am one of the fan of Jaun Elia.i have read alot of his poetry.it was unique.i have learned alot from his poetry.

  • jaun elia ek bhut achche poet the jin ki poetry mujhe to bahut hi Pasand Thi

  • Great poet of Era…I really respect such poets, it doesn’t matter from which corner of world they are. I like his sayaris.

  • عظیم آثم

    شعر درست کر لیجے۔

    ہم نے خدا کا رد لکھا، نفی بہ نفی، لا بہ لا
    ہم ہی خدا گزیدگاں، تم پہ گراں گذر گئے

  • Yes he was liberal and very much educated but I think he never found enough time to study Real Islam what a waste of life,God forgive his soul and he Rest In Peace.

    • Extreme suffering in one’s life creates Agonistic behavior. Looks like he was in extreme depression. He found himself helpless. He tried to blame everyone including God for his state of mind. During reading poems etc., frequently he will speak something unrelated, irrelevant. May Allah forgive him.

  • well written about Jaun Elia.i have learned a lot about Jaun Elia.I am one of the fan of Jaun Elia.i have read alot of his poetry.it was unique.i have learned alot from his poetry

  • Very good article that you have shared on your blog post. I would like to share it on my facebook wall

  • Seem to be you are unaware of the Dark side of Iqbal what he said about Karl Mark?jaun was what he was inside but not hypocrite.Love you jaun ❤

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