The Bamiyan Outrage
Demolition of Buddha statues in Bamiyan by the Talibans has justifiably been condemned by the Muslims and their organizations despite the communal and fascist outfits using the incident to trigger violence against the community. Kanpur and Aurangabad have seen considerable bloodshed. Perhaps Bamiyan has come as a Godsend for these outfits to camouflage their embarrassment over being caught redhanded on the Tehelka cameras.
The question of preservation of cultural property needs to be examined from the angle of historiography and the role of the former Islamic rulers rather than merely by Islamic law pertaining to sculpture. In this context, precedents and practices of the Islamic rulers of yore could be a better guide. Viewed from this angle, we still find statues of Pharoah and Khusros surviving and dotting Giza, Aswan, Persepolis and Babylon. Muslims did not destroy them after the conquest. They escaped the iconoclasts’ axe not merely because they were obsolete, but also because the conquerors’ concern to preserve the valuable links they provided to the history and civilisation. This essentially stemmed from the Quranic exhortation to roam through the earth and see for themselves the ruined civilizations and people who perished because of divine retribution.
The plea that statues bore no sanction from the Buddhist holy scriptures and that their destruction constitutes no insult to Buddhism is a specious one. It does not address the general concern for preservation of the cultural property. One would not approve vandalizing of the famed Taj Mahal of Agra merely because it violates Islam’s injunctions against raising of mausoleums over graves.
History neither starts with the Islamic era nor does it end with it. Islamic monuments not only survive, but are protected in places like India, Spain and the Philippines from where either Muslim rule or Muslim habitations were phased out. Nor did the Muslims try to rub out the pre-Islamic monuments including idols, places of worship, statues and form of art that are anti-thetical to Islam from all the land that continue to stay with them.
Muslims and the civilized world stand to lose a lot due to the outrageous act of the Talibans who will realize that their intolerance will only help the advocates of the theory of clash of civilizations and none else.
The Andhra Pradesh Government deserves kudos for having brought out a Strategy Paper on Welfare of Minorities in pursuit of its Vision-2020, the guiding paper prepared for the development of the state. Perhaps Chandrababu Naidu’s Government is the first state administration that has taken due note of backwardness of minorities, especially Muslims who constitute a little over 10 per cent of the state’s population and has felt the need to take them along the path of progress. It had been implementing the welfare and development schemes since 1999 under the ‘Roshini’ programme. Surprisingly, the initiatives by the Government have acknowledged the need for designing programmes in line with the socio-cultural set-up of Muslims and taken appropriate measures to induct them into the mainstream. Hence the strategy paper while talking about construction of Shadikhanas, Urdu Ghars, providing housing facilities, sanction of lands for burial grounds also provides for coaching of minority students in PUC for EAMCET (for admissions into professional courses) examinations.
There are however a few areas where the state’s Muslims would need to have a re-look at their priorities. The strategy paper seems to have laid a rather heavy emphasis on Urdu. Undoubtedly, Urdu has been a vehicle of Muslim culture and heritage, but Muslim education must not ignore the need for creating proficiency in English and Telugu, the language of the state. Perhaps a few scholarships for higher degrees in Telugu exclusively set apart for minority students and special emphasis on teaching of two languages in Urdu medium schools would have helped in integrating minorities with the mainstream. Muslims being mainly in the self-employed sector, the Strategy Paper should have thought about organizing hitherto unorganized sectors such as truckers, auto-mechanics, butchers, weavers, poultry breeders and silk rearers etc.
Thirdly, Telengana’s Muslim heritage, particularly literary, has long been a victim of apathy. Noted institutions of yore such as Asafiya Library, Kutub Khana Sayeedia, Salar Jung Museum, Idara Adbiyat-e-Deccan, Dairatul Maarif Al Osmania, State Archives, Osmania University and various other libraries have awaited modern cataloguing. The books and manuscripts preserved their are getting yellow and brittle with age and are facing decay and pilferage. Perhaps the Andhra Pradesh Government can think of preparing a master catalogue of Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu books and manuscripts. With thirst for knowledge and rediscovering their past increasing in the Arab world, this heritage can again be a goldmine for the scholar-visitors from the Middle East.
Andhra Pradesh has set a bright precedent by coming out with a perspective plan for the development of minorities. If implemented sincerely, it promises to prove a boon for this important section of the population.