Can Savitri be a Muslim name?
Is the Ummah Listening
CERTAINLY not in India. But Muslim Indonesians have plenty of Savitris, Gayathris, Leelas, Pushpas and even Seetas among themselves. Last time I met a young Indonesian couple at Madinah airport. Husband was a teacher and wife Savitri a designer. They were in Ihram (sacramental clothes) and were heading for Umrah. A chat revealed that Indonesian women have several names common to Hindus in India.
Indonesia adopted Islam as a faith but continued to hold on to the vestiges of Hindu culture. So you have Sukarnoputri for the current vice president. Bhasa Indonesia has umpteen number of Sanskrit words. Cultural aspects of Diwali and Holi are still observed by Indonesians. Some forms of dances too survive in Bali island.
All those who plead for discarding national cultural traits or symbols do a disservice to Islam. Islam is opposed to shirk (making partners with God) but does not intend putting its followers into a uniform cultural mould. Native cultures, arts, craft and sciences continued to flourish under Islamic lands which kept expanding till a millennium after the birth of Prophet Muhammad. As a result Muslim Iranians still celebrate Navroze as the first day of the Persian calendar which continues alongside the Hijri calendar. Pakistani Punjabis celebrate Basant Panchami and Lori. Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei have festivals and traditions with local flavour. Bangladeshi women still sport bindi and sindoor and wear saris. Turkey retained much of its pre-Islamic Turkish culture intact inasmuch as they hardly appear to be Muslims by names.
Even in South India we have names like Allah Pitchai, Sithi Fathimah, Nainar Mohammad or Thangal Kunju Musaliyar. Kali poth is Muslim equivalent for Hindu manglasutra. It symbolises suhaag, a word that I failed to translate into English. Islam’s synthesis with local cultures led to evolution of Arab-Tamil and Arab-Malayalam script. It also spawned Tamil epics such as Seerah Puranam (versified biography of the holy Prophet in Tamil ) by 16th century poet Umar Pulavar. All South Indian languages have a fair sprinkling of Islamic ideas, symbols and terms and draw heavily upon Arabic words. This enabled closer cultural identification and bonhomie with local non-Muslim masses.
This unfortunately was not the case in North India where Muslims first foisted their own language i.e., Persian and then brought out Urdu in Persian script as the lingua franca. The contribution to native Hindi was made in the initial period and later declined. Now that Urdu is on decline, Muslim culture is facing a threat. They feel swamped by the daily onslaught of Hindi media, cinema, literature and folklore.
Islam neither foists Arab culture or language nor supports elimination of alien cultural influences unless they are in direct conflict with the Islamic credo. But unfortunately a push towards Arabisation of culture is in evidence. So Allah Hafiz (May Allah protect you) is replacing the traditional Khuda Hafiz. Khuda, they allege, is Persian and is not equivalent of Allah. Pakistani newscasters now conclude the programmes with Allah Hafiz. Demands are rising in Pakistan to dislodge word Khuda from the national anthem. Will this be done with Ghalib and Iqbal’s poetry too? Imagine what messy literary fare we are going to hand over to our successors?
To say the least this is undesirable. History and cultural past cannot be disowned. Cultural pluralism broadens the vision, fosters creativity, increases tolerance and builds bridges with others. All those who confined Muslim societies into cultural cocoons have smothered the Muslim genius. Look at the Muslim countries, Arab ones in particular. They are cultural deserts as well. Genius among Muslims springs from societies where Muslims share the civic space with non-Muslims. India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom and the South East Asia are bright examples.
Those among Muslims who sell the ‘hate other cultures’ campaign invoke Hadith of Tashabbuh bil Kuffar or the Prophet’s exhortation to avoid likeness to disbelievers. What they forget is, if at all, it means adopting Arab culture why should there be Arabs, Iranians, Afghans, Berbers, Pashtoons, Baluchs, Punjabis and Tamilians and Malayalis among Muslims. Why concept of hijab be seen in forms like burqa, scarf, chador or jalabiya? Why there be so many variations in rites and rituals?
The very many Muslim countries we see in the so called Middle East are in fact recognition of our diverse cultures. The borders that run between them reinforce cultural faultlines within Islam. It is therefore time Muslims learnt to keep away from such narrow interpretations and envision pluralism, something they expect societies like India or the US or the UK to recognise. Cultural fundamentalism will ruin us in modern nation-states and turn us strangers.
THE Organisation of Islamic Conference(OIC) will be headed by a new Secretary General from the new millennium. He is Abdelouhed Belkziz, former foreign minister of Morocco. We, at Islamic Voice have been hunting for a detailed resume and photograph of Belkziz ever since he was elected in Kuala Lumpur last July. The latest OIC summit in Doha did not yield a word about the new incumbent. As for his photograph, our search has been futile. No one in the OIC seems to have bothered about this media necessity. Even the present incumbent Azzeddin Larakai, also from Morocco, is least visually recognisable by Muslims. I bet if anyone of us could identify him.
We as Muslims are deft in lampooning the Western media for its bias, prejudice and partisanship. But on our own do not do anything to communicate the positive information about ourselves. We fight shy of even conveying that information which could be harmless or tolerable for our monarchies, infant democracies and dictatorial regimes. We believe in a culture of silence and dialogue of the deaf.
We are at our wits end searching the final communique of the just concluded OIC. Indian mainstream press did not carry this. It need not, going by its readers. The OIC websites provided no clue. National news agencies of Muslim countries have carried only those portions of the resolutions that interested them or had something to do with their issues, hopes and fears. Even Jeddah based International Islamic News Agency (IINA) proved unhelpful.
Given this vacuum, naturally the gap is filled by the Western agencies. They often look at the events from their own angle of interest, taint the information or even plant lies, half truths or even fraudulent pieces of information. Remember how American news agencies demonised Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Gulf War. Iraqi army was projected as the fourth largest force in the world. None bothered to question as to why the same Iraq could not inflict a decisive defeat on Iran despite an eight-year war. Then there was that mother of all lies: Iraqi occupation army removing new born babies from incubator in a Kuwait hospital causing their death. This lie took full four years to be exposed for its falsehood. By then the Americans had done their job of decimating Iraq and crippling one of the most enterprising Arab nations.
The question that comes to mind is what use the enormous oil wealth of the Gulf states when the Islamic community worldwide is being starved of the basic information so much vital for its growth and development. Muslim attitude of silence retards development as well as detrimental to their unity. Just any of the Western news networks can spread lies about the Muslims and Islam, make the two Muslim nations fight and get away with it. It also allows them to coin terms and popularise them. So what we have is Muslim fundamentalists, Afghan rebels, Chechen extremists etc. None from these agencies had the gumption to term Goldstein who sprayed bullets in the Masjid e Aqsa killing 50 Muslims as a Jewish terrorist. Even the American downing of Iranian jetliner over the Gulf killing 253 innocent Iranians was never allowed to be termed as an instance of American terrorism. So let us all accept that those who pay the piper play the tune. Investment in media and mediamen is of key importance. Is the ummah listening?