In this interview series where we ask few questions to people who are making a difference, it can be big, it can be small it doesn’t matter what matters is their contribution to our society. It can be anyone from any walks of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.
Rehan Qayoom is a poet of English and Urdu, editor, translator and archivist. Educated at Birkbeck College, University of London, he has featured in numerous literary publications and performed his work internationally. He is the author of 2 books of poetry and several works of prose and criticism. He lives in London.
Tell us something about yourself?
I am not one for summers.
As a writer, intellectual, muslim and a human being what would you say to those who turn to extremism?
Be humans. I would probably quote them the following extract: People who persecute in the name of religion are totally ignorant of the essence of religion. Religion is a metamorphosis of hearts. Religion is not politics and its adherents do not make up political parties. Neither is it a nationality with limited loyalties, nor a country with geographical borders. It is the transformation of hearts—transformation for the good of the soul. The home of religion is in the depths of the heart. It is beyond the sway of the sword. Mountains are not moved by the sword, nor are hearts changed by force.
God is love, God is peace!
Love can never beget hatred,
and peace can never lead to war.
Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad – Khalifatul Masih IV. Murder In the Name of Allah. (Lutterworth Press, 1989. 7, 120).
What should be the roadmap to combating terrorism in your opinion?
In the current age terrorism is often tied to the political motives of governments and the media very often has double standards and is often exploitative for the sake of the cheap thrill and spreading malicious hatred or inciting violence. Luckily social media outlets are breaking these barriers and short of blocking there is little that can be done to blot out the true facts and the various perspectives and experiences of people. That, I believe, is a positive thing.
Is Poetry losing its mass appeal? What’s its relevance in the internet age in your opinion?
It all depends on how you would define ‘mass appeal’. Poetry is certainly not unpopular but I do find less of the poetry that appeals to the heart with a lasting influence and less of those underground cliques that poeticised for wider peace, love and harmony or maybe I’m just out of touch. It’s amusing as well as disconcerting to keep seeing the same people winning prizes in competitions judged by their own friends but I think this kind of thing cannot and does not harm poetry in any way. To paraphrase Ted Hughes, the true poets continue doing what poetry tells them to do and it is in the nature of such things to make their own place in the world regardless of the odds. Having said that an advantage of knowing the works of the giants of both English and Urdu poetry is that their work is never exhausted by any means and always continues to impart new visages and as such it is always relevant. I don’t believe, as others do, that the internet has made that much of a difference to poetry for better or worse other than making it easier to access but sometimes overcrowding can also be damaging in many ways and the gems can get swept up with the flood.
Who is your favorite Urdu poet and poem?
My favourite Urdu poet is Mir Taqi Mir, the leading poet of the eighteenth-century but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to say what my all-time favorite Urdu poem is. I have numerous favourites and different poems appeal to me at different times.
What’s your ultimate goal in regards to your literary career?
To leave the literary world and the world in general that much richer not only through my own work but through the work I have done in translating and writing about other writers and poets. There is a verse by Obaiduallah Aleem:
Perhaps some others will come upon this path. So, I go on walking in the sun leaving shadows spreading
Your message for our readers?
[Bear the flight in mind
The bird must die]
Forugh Farrokhzad, [‘My Heart Grieves’]. Tr. Hasan Javadi & Susan Sallée. (Mage. 1981, 2010). 167.