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Lending her voice to praise

Urooj Habib speaks about what it takes to express poetry written in the honour of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh)

By Shazia Tasneem |
PUBLISHED October 09, 2022

Urooj Habib is a renowned naat khwan from Karachi. Her naat (poetry that specifically praises Prophet Muhammad pbuh) recitations are admired beyond borders; she holds a fabulous circle of admirers all over the world. Blessed with a melodious voice, Habib has attained a unique place in the art of naat-goi across the global circles of naat lovers. She has recited naats in front of huge audiences in Pakistan and abroad, bagging honours, awards, and medals.

A graduate in Islamic studies, Habib makes regular appearances on television. What she has accomplished so far is a milestone that is enviable for many seasoned naat khwans. The female naat star has the attention of a huge televiewing audience.

Habib was blessed to have her maternal grandmother as her naat trainer. Her family lived in Saudi Arabia for a long time before moving back to Pakistan. Habib has been reciting naats since her childhood. Her melodious voice touches the heart. A frequent presence in female religious gatherings, Habib, because of her profound recitation, is one of the most sought-after naat khwans in Pakistan. Her voice is so soulful it touches the hearts of the listeners. With a lyrical voice, deep understanding of poetry, and true love for Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), Habib is honest not only with her art but also with her surroundings. Urooj loves to help people in need and distress.

In Ramazan, Muslims take a break from their tiring worldly affairs, and seek solace in prayers and praises in form of naat-e-Rasul in honour of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). But naat is not limited to Ramazan. It is the poetry of praise for Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), recited by Muslims around the world, at milad gatherings, or to mark important events like birth of a baby, a wedding or launch of a new business.

The tradition of naat is not new. It is evident from historical records that even during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Muslims used to read naats to him. He greatly appreciated the love and admiration people showered on him through their prose and poetry. Religious scholars have written about Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) gifting his shawl to Hazrat Kaab ibn Zuhair (RA) when he presented the gift of Qaseeda Burdah Sharif to him.

The Express Tribune, before meeting with Urooj Habib, reached out to Dr Noor Ahmed Shahtaj, an Islamic scholar and advisor at the Federal Shariat Court, for his views on naat. He explains: “Naat or madah in Arabic is poetry of praise said in honour of Rasool Allah Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam. It was called qasida. Many of His companions wrote qasidas, which they used to recite in his presence. In Arabic, a poem with praise of the prophet (pbuh) is called ‘madah’. In Urdu, naat is an epithetic presentation of praises attributed to the prophet (pbuh).”

Madah means praise of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and the literature was called qasida. The earliest naat or madah was written in Arabic during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). From Arabic, naat reached many world literatures, including Persian, Urdu, Turkish, Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, Seraiki. The Quran is full of praises for Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Allah (SWT) has conferred praises on His beloved Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) through many verses of the Quran. There is a long list of the companions of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) who used to recite madah in his presence. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) loved to recite the verses of praise from the Holy Quran. It is, therefore, evident that naat is deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition.

On Eid-Milad-un-Nabi or in the month of Ramazan, rendition of naat engrosses the hearts of the devotees. The special Ramazan transmissions are avidly watched.

In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, Urooj Habib, recipient of the Muhammad Ali award, talks about her life, ambitions, and her desire to be unstoppable and unchallenged in her pursuit to render praises of Allah (SWT) and His last messenger (pbuh).

STF: Please share with our readers your journey to a spiritual world.

UH: I belong to a religious family. For a long time, we lived in Saudi Arabia, and that is why all my brothers and sisters have performed Hajj and umra. We have a healthy religious environment at home. My father has performed Hajj 16 times, and my mother has been fortunate to perform the pilgrimage nine times.

At home, I had a perfect environment to learn naat-goi. From my childhood, I have seen my family regularly holding mehfil-e-milad. My maternal grandmother Hajra Khanum was an excellent naat khwan. She inspired me a lot, I used to watch her reciting naats. She was my trainer, she taught me so much. In my childhood, she used to correct my mistakes.

Along with my sisters, I used to participate in mehfils at school. But when they grew up, they stopped practising their skill. But I had a strong will to continue, and here I am!

STF: Did you experience any hurdle in continuing with naat khwani?

UH: I have been doing naat khwani since my childhood, but I have never faced any difficulties. I received a positive response from everywhere. People I came across were very encouraging and caring. What I have realized is that many people love me because they admire my passion for religious poetry recitation.

STF: What is the basic element that a naat khwan must learn?

UH: One must feel and understand a verse before trying to become a naat khwan. Understanding the verses gives the feel of love of Allah (SWT) and the prophet (pbuh). I learnt the ethics of mehfils and style of recitation for four years. These are the basic things that every naat khwan should study before starting to recite in gatherings or on TV.

STF: Have you ever tried to introduce something new in the art of naat khwani?

UH: Naat khwani is profound and should be tackled with true religious emotions. I have recited naats in almost all styles and tones, but I have also tried to introduce new ones. I have experimented with new tones, which were warmly received by the audience and other naat khwans. Introducing new tones is important to enhance the skill of naat khwani. One can recite a naat simply like any other poetry, but it sounds good when there is a special tone in presentation. At the same time, it is important to keep it free from regular song elements to maintain its religious value.

STF: How do you feel when you recite praises for Prophet Mohammad (pbuh)?

UH: I become emotional with the verses I recite. It is something unexplainable. At times, I wish to visit the holy cities of Medina and Mecca. I pray for a visit to the holy places of the prophet (pbuh) at least once in my lifetime.

STF: Name a few of your achievements

UH: I have received many awards, and all of them are important to me. I have received the great Muhmmad Ali Foundation award twice, one from Warsi International, and another from the 6th Energy. The award was presented by a former British diplomat. I have also received Noor-e-Mujassum award for my contribution towards naat khwani. I feel blessed to be the first sana khwan to hold mehfils in Japan and record albums.

STF: You have recited the work of many poets. Whose poetry do you like the most?

UH: Although I have recited the work of many poets who have written poetry of praises for Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), mostly, I have recited naats of Maulana Mohmmad Owais Raza Qadri, Behzad Lakhnavi, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, and Arif Afzal Usmani.

STF: You have released many albums, which one do you like the most?

UH: I like all the naats I recite as they take me close to Allah (SWT) and our prophet (pbuh). But a few of those are so special that I find myself unable to control my emotions. Ghul Utha Hai Char So, Phir Amad-e-Ramazan hai” and “Iss Dil Mein Bus Gaya hai Madina Rasool ka” are the best of my soul.

STF: Any unfulfilled dream or a regret?

UH: I have a complete life, full of happiness and accomplishments. If you talk about regret, I have only one regret of not performing Hajj. All my brothers and sisters have performed Hajj, but unfortunately, I could not. If you ask about a dream, I dream of performing Hajj as soon as possible, at least once in life.