Zulfiqar (Mirza) a double-edged sword?

Published: September 13, 2011
The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore

The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

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.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • M Ali Khan
    Sep 13, 2011 - 10:04PM

    I am at a loss for words here…


  • Ahsan
    Sep 13, 2011 - 10:09PM
  • Sep 13, 2011 - 10:49PM

    It is very interesting how you started with Zulfikar Mriza and went to the etymology of the words….
    But we will not appreciate it because we are Zaid Hamid ..and we do not appreciate anything un-islamic…


  • Sep 14, 2011 - 2:05AM

    Sorry i didn’t get what the writer intended to convay….


  • natasha
    Sep 14, 2011 - 2:26AM

    Am I missing smt here ??


  • Truth Seeker
    Sep 14, 2011 - 5:29AM

    The write intends to convey as to how the words and languages are linked and dependent on one another.
    Like languages, humans need one another as we are dependent on one another.


  • Balma
    Sep 14, 2011 - 6:48AM

    Dear writer,
    Thank you yet another interesting article on the roots of Urdu words. Migration of Arabic words to India has been happening since before Muhammad Bin Qasim nay sindh may pehla qadam rakhaa! Of coruse, Allah Hafiz crowd will love to disagree with me.
    I have always been fasicnated with roots of Urdu words…especially the connection between its Sanskirit words and English. There are some words in Urdu from Persian too, but I believe many of these Persian words are originally from Sanskirit to begin with.

    What I can’t understand is that why do we have khyaban-e-this and khyaban-e-that in Karachi’s DHA? Were we going through some Persian phase in the 50’s like what is being enforced in Pakistan by the Arab hathoRah group these days?

    Why not just Itehad Road – or perhaps Itehad Path (like Rajpath) in Dehli.
    PAth is common in enlgish and Saskirit…in my humble opinion. Another word used for road in India is Marg, which I believe is similar to Mark – and it makes sense….may be?

    And, dear writer, please ignore dou-kauRee kay burgers on this website who have no interest in Urdu. I believe lots of menial jobs are waiting for them in Canada! Ignore their comments.


  • Khadim Husain
    Sep 14, 2011 - 7:50AM

    I don’t clearly understand this “Jalaibi” like article, Zulfiqar was not sword, read the history carefully, it was like “Toka”,smaller then sword and had unsharpened teeth on it, usually used to cut woods. There are all type of unconfirmed tales in history books.

    Quran clearly used word, parents, nearer relatives, needy (Ibn us sabeel), Yateem, Masakeen, Musafir and prisnors, another classification for persons in addition to above that Quran says “the persons that may ask for Charity” mean Saileen.


  • Abbas
    Sep 14, 2011 - 1:05PM

    @ Khadim Hussain: Please revisit the history books, Zulfiqar was the sword given to Hazrat Ali(AS) by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the author is very right that it was not double edged rather having double head. I haven’t read your version of TOKA in any of the history books, except you may read it in for some self-crafted literature…

    Shah-e-Mardan Sher-e-Yazdan Quwat-e-Parwardegar,
    La fata Ila Ali wa la Saifa Illa Zulfiqar!

    Allah ne taigh dee, Nabi ne dukhtar
    Rutba ye idher se, wo udher se paya!!!


  • Khawaja Faraz
    Sep 14, 2011 - 2:21PM

    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.

    Zulfiqar Mirza Has double edged sword named Al-Zulfiqar…is that what Hafiz Hussain Meant?


  • Asad
    Sep 14, 2011 - 3:07PM

    Nice article. Hazrat Ali (RA) was indeed one of the greatest warriors in Islamic History. We must also Remember Hazrat Khalid Bin Waleed (RA) when remembering the greatest warriors of Islam.

    However I fail to understand why the writer hints that the sword was from he temple of the idol mannat. The idol mannat had no power whatsoever not did the sword in itself have any power. The victories were due to Hazrat Ali’s firm Iman in Allah (SWT) and Allah’s Messenger (Saw). Yes the fact that the sword was a present from Prophet (saw) made it special because it was a gift from Prophet (saw) and every gift from Prophet (saw) had a special status.


  • Irshad Khan
    Sep 14, 2011 - 6:31PM

    Another article is needed to explain the use of words such as yateem ,miskeen, faqir and bhikari Recommend

  • Khadim Husain
    Sep 15, 2011 - 4:50AM

    I am worried that some peoples are dragging toward religion, It is better to stick with subject of Zulfiqar, There are many accounts for this sword. It is said that owner was Aas bin Maniah, when he was killed in Jang e Badar, this sword had grooves or engraved like teeth, it remained in use of prophet till jang e Uhad. Later Hazrat Ali took its possession and after that Bani Abbas owned it. (Blazari-Ansab ul Ashraf).
    The lot of fictions about sword are self made and nothing to do with Islamic history.
    Mr. Khalid Ahmad has floated a theory about Mannat, I am afraid that if I will discuss, it could be painful for some peoples.
    Remember that those idols had lot of powers, and a maternity home was also there, where in those days Mushrik women give births around Kaaba and in front of statues.


  • Asad
    Sep 15, 2011 - 3:00PM

    @Khadim Husain

    “Remember that those idols had lot of powers, and a maternity home was also there, where in those days Mushrik women give births around Kaaba and in front of statues”

    As a muslim you are not supposed to make that comment. There may be all sorts of activities going on at the temple of the idol mannat- maternity home or whatever. But the fact remains that this idol had no power whatsoever…as it was itself created by the Mushriks who worshipped it after creating it themselves!

    In the Quran Kareem, Allah mentions in several places that there is no other God except Allah and all power belongs to Allah the All Mighty, All Knowing….So every muslim should worship only and only Allah (Tauheed)

    These idols of Lat, Uzza and Mannat had no power whatsoever…they were just structures of stone made up by the people.


  • Balma
    Sep 15, 2011 - 6:20PM

    Please do the khidmat of people by going into details about Mannat.
    I am all ears.
    Don’t you worry about the Allah-hafiz crowd!


  • Khadim Husain
    Sep 16, 2011 - 8:47AM

    I would explain general details carefully by not hurting sentiments of any one.
    According to Arabs idols were stairs between God and them. Word Allah is pre-Islamic and fundamental of Islam preached by Prophet was that there is no stair or link between God and men. There were 360 idols at that time, each was assigned some duty on behalf of God. Statue of Habal was inserted on Kaaba, other tribes had their own idols, like Laat belonged to Saqeef tribe, Uzza belonged to Quresh, Manat to Ous and Khizraj, Yaghus to Ghateefa, Yaooq to Southern Arabs, Swaa to Bani Hazail and some were defense idols.

    Manat was assistant to God or a channel used to change “Fate” of a person, or maker of Taqdeer, the statue of Manat was installed on the hills of Makkah towards Madinah.
    After Fatah e Makkah, this statue was broken in to pieces by Abu Safian, Ibn e Saad and Saad bin Zaid (RUA).
    Arab’s had faith that child born in front of Habal woud bring luck, so many peoples in history were given birth in front of idols, their names are available in history. Please read from history books that prior to Islam nudity and superstitions badly haunted that society.
    Why Quresh were against Prophet? so if you want to know truth, please read conversation between Hinda, the wife of Abu Safian, soon after embracing Islam. That says that how it was difficult for those peoples to set aside statues or idols, or think about veneering without any link. However when all of those accepted true Islam without using any channel in between men and God, so those have to deny previous idols. It is fundamental of Islam to worship directly to Allah without any channel or stair.


  • Arzoo
    Sep 16, 2011 - 10:26AM

    Very informative and interesting article to say the least. But the beginning was confusing, which is why so many commenters seems to be confused. By the time you reach the middle of the article you realize that the article has nothing to do with Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, rather the author has just used “Zulfiqar” as a pretext to start his article on the origins of certain words in Urdu and their etymology.


  • Balma
    Sep 19, 2011 - 6:30PM

    thank you Khadim Hussain.


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