Salman Haider Kafir Translated

“Kafir” Poem by Salman Haider


“Kafir” is one of the most stunning pieces of poetry, penned by Salman Haider. Kafir is a provocative and controversial term in Islam, meaning someone who knows the truth but rejects it; someone who covers up the truth. It is also a widely used term exploited to create division between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Haider was one of the missing dissident journalists abducted in Pakistan in early 2017 and returned three weeks later. The abductions are often acts of intimidation to silence these Muslim free thinkers.

Haider’s poem is translated into English below, unfortunately losing much of its impact in the translation. Powerfully, the poem invites a beautiful question: what is kafir?


I’m a kafir,  you too are a kafir

The scent of flowers is also kafir

The majic of words is kafir

This here kafir, that there kafir

Faiz1 as well as Manto2 kafir

The song of Noor Jahan3 kafir

The food from McDonald kafir

Burgers kafir, as is Coca Cola kafir

Laughter, blasphemy, jesting kafir

The tabla4 kafir, the dhol5 too kafir

The spoken words of desire kafir

The rythm and beat of music kafir

Bhangra6, Atan7 and Dhamaal8 all kafir

Dhadra9, Thumri10 and Bhel11 kafir

Sufi poetry and reflection kafir

The ‘Heer’12 of Waris Shah13  kafir

The chains of devotion kafir

The living and dead Peers14 kafir

The kheer15 of nazar niaz16 kafir

A little boy’s schoolbag is kafir

A little girl’s doll also kafir

Laughing, weeping all acts of sin

Melancholy kafir, joy too is kafir

Your jeans and your guitar are kafir

And if the length is wrong then this shalwar17 of ours is kafir

All the arts and artists are kafir

For not printing my warnings

All those newspapers are kafir

Within the universities all are kafir

Our buddy Darwin’s ape a kafir

Those that teach Freud are kafir

The supporters of Marxism kafir

Fairs and carnivals trades of sin

Music and play like a noose of the neck

And whilst the temple has a graven image

The mosque is not so moral either

Some kafirs outside the mosque

Some kafirs within the mosque

There’s plenty kafirs in Muslim lands

Kafir kafir, I’m a kafir

Kafir kafir, you too are a kafir



1Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a revolutionary Urdu poet nominated for the Nobel Prize 4 times and was a Marxist, later sentenced to prison but remains influential.

2Saadat Hasan Manto was an Urdu novelist and playwright tried many times for obscenity but never convicted

3Noor Jehan was a very accomplished Indian/Pakistani singer also known as “the queen of melody”

4&5Types of traditional drums

6,7&8Types of traditional and celebratory dances typically performed at weddings specific to Punjabis, Pathans and Sufis respectively

9,10&11Forms of classical music specific to various regions of Pakistan

12&13Heer Ranjha is a tragic romantic tale originating in Southeast Asia and Waris Shah, a Punjabi Sufi poet is known to have authored Heer’s tale most eloquently.

14A Sufi master or spiritual guide. They were revered to the point of followers going to their tomb to cover with rose petals and pray for their deepest wishes. With the advent of Wahhabiism this was considered shirk (assigning power to one other than Allah)

15&16 Kheer is a form of rice pudding. Nazar and Niaz are meals that are blessed in the name of peers and thus considered unholy since food only ought to be blessed in Allah’s name. These meals were then distributed to the poor, family and friends but again with the rise of Wahhabiism the practice is frowned upon and slowly dying away.

17Shalwar is the loose baggy pants worn under the knee length shirt. Pious men (only) are supposed to have their shalwar fall above their ankles.

Muslim Reformer Shireen Qudosi

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