Our cleric-with-a-funny-bone, Hafiz Hussain Ahmad of the JUI says the PPP’s Dr Zulfiqar Mirza is a double-edged sword. Lest you miss the real joke, let us remember that Al Zulfiqar was the sword of Hazrat Ali (RA), and it was pretty deadly. The intended pun has certainly hit home.
The only glitch is that Ali’s sword was not double-edged — the Arab sword was single-edged and curved — it had two heads. That is how it is depicted in some of the pictures I have seen. Every Muslim knows that Hazrat Ali (RA) was the greatest warrior of Islam. He also carried a sword given to him by Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) himself. The name of this sword was Al Zulfiqar. Many Muslims name their sons Zulfiqar.
The origin of the legend of Zulfiqar is lost in the mist of history. One version says that it was a “great steel sword” forged by King David who was also a prophet. The sword had two points, like a snake’s tongue. It usually targeted the enemy’s eyes.
This version also tells us that Zulfiqar was captured from a heathen named Aas bin Munabih in the Battle of Badr. It was handed to the Holy Prophet (Pbuh) by an honest companion. The Prophet (Pbuh) handed it to his cousin, Ali.
The name Zulfiqar means the one with the spine grooves. It has other related meanings too. The sword is said to have been kept by the Abbasids for many centuries. Hazrat Ali performed miracles with it in the battles of Islam.
Lat, Manat and Uzza, the pre-Islamic deities of Arabia, scared the Arabs through their bloody cults. The Prophet (Pbuh) appropriated two sacrificial sabres from the temple of Manat and gave them to Hazrat Ali (RA), saying that one of them was Al Zulfiqar, which became the famous sword of Ali the Warrior.
‘Zulfiqar’ has a root that appears in the Holy Quran, too, and gives us many interesting words in Urdu. The root ‘fqr’ means ‘spinal vertebra’. (That accounts for the above meaning listed as grooves.) The derivative ‘faqir’ (beggar) actually means ‘a man whose spine is broken’.
Funnily ‘faqir’ may also mean, ‘the groove in which a date palm is set’. It also means ‘creating a groove in someone’s nose by piercing it’. Faqir is a camel with its nose pierced.
For the poor the Holy Quran has two words: ‘faqir’ and ‘miskeen’. ‘Faqir’ is a man in need but ‘miskeen’ is someone who is completely down and out (‘saakin’). ‘Faqir’ has less than what he needs; ‘miskeen’ has nothing. ‘Miskeen’ — from root ‘skn’ — literally means brought to a standstill in one place.
‘Faqir’ has taken on more meanings. It also means ‘someone who is contented in his need’. One important element in mysticism is ‘faqr’, the need to be in need. Although it is an antonym of ‘ghani’ (one who is free of need) it has come to mean something close to ‘ghani’.
The Holy Quran mentions categories of people that must be helped: ‘faqir’, ‘miskeen’ and orphan. For orphan the Arabic word is ‘yateem’, but its root means alone or unique. A precious stone, too, can be called ‘yateem’.
A beggar in English is the person who begs. In Urdu ‘bhikari’ means ‘one who is hungry’. The money we give him is ‘bheek’. These are apparently all cognate words. Finally through ‘bhook’ we go to the word ‘bhojan’ (food). When we are angry we equate Pakistan, as a country, to a ‘bhikari’.
‘Mangta’ is Urdu for beggar, literally ‘one who demands’. The Indo-European root of demand is the same as found in ‘mangna’ (to ask). Our ‘mang’ is cognate with Persian ‘mand’ which is close to English root of demand.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2011.