Shaban / Ramadan 1423 H
Volume 15-11 No : 191
Camps \ Workshops
Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Hindu and Muslim identities are not all about textual Islam or vedic Hinduism. They emerge entwined with power structure and political philosophy prevailing at a particular stage of history. Often, the reading of history nullifies the set fixations about identities in as much as all conventional notions about a community get altogether altered.
Beyond Hindu and Turk is a set of essays by eminent historians of South Asia who interpret the varied aspects of Hindu-Muslim relations by separating the strands of identity from complex skein of politics, regional ethos, popular movements and military campaigns during the last 1000 years in the Indian sub-continent.
The book is a timely analysis of Hindu-Muslim ties in the medieval period during which Muslims set foot on the soil of South Asia, established their rule and left deep imprint on Indian philosophy, literature, architecture, and overall life and times of the people. The book forcefully challenges stereotypes like Muslims being iconoclasts, beef-eaters, temple demolishers, or tormentors of Hindus. Conversely, the rich synthesis between Muslims and the natives flowered into syncretic movements, marvellous monuments, and literary masterpieces. The essays attempt to interpret identity in relation to the operation of power. Identities gained meanings by the structure of the state and its network of patronages. Secondly, identity formation has been a continuous process. Identities were defined not merely through analysis or juxtaposition of differences or by framing commonalities between religious groups. But tensions that arose out of the larger political order, also played a significant part in identity formation.
Take for instance the issue of desecration of Hindu temples during the Muslim rule. Richard M. Eaton’s essay takes a profound look at the phenomenon and finds that idol-smashing activity, currently being attributed to Muslims, does not find support from the history. Muslims were neither iconoclast (idol-breakers) by nature or training. Nor was this behaviour rooted in the Islamic faith as is being selectively deduced by Hindutva zealots from the writings of Elliot and Dowson. Though Eaton documents 80 instances of temple desecration or demolition between 1193 and 1729, he juxtaposes them with the similar destruction of temples by Hindu kings during raids on or conquest of rival Hindu kingdoms between 642 and 1192 AD. It then gets crystallised that temple desecration were not rooted in religious bigotry. But the attack on religious structure gained significance in a world where the construction and maintenance of religious edifices were central to political legitimacy for Muslim and Hindu rulers alike. Temples were mainly attacked for their being symbols of Hindu royal authority and not as attacks on the cult.
Far from being idol-smashers, as the current politico-religious discourse in the country would have us believe, Muslim historians such as Rafiuddin Shirazi and Ghulam Yazdani were effulgent in praise of the caves of Ajanta and Ellora for their exquisite ancient paintings and carvings. But then one can question as to why the mosques were prominent in cities built in Muslim period such as Jaipur or Shahjehanabad (today’s Old Delhi ) while Hindu or Jain temples were obscure and invisible. Was it because Islam in its heydays subsumed Hindu and other identities? Catherine B. Asher, a keen researcher of Hindu and Muslim architecture, says Islam manifested itself boldly in the urban settings since the construction of the Dome of the Rock while even in pre-Muslim India, Hindu temples were built among trees, hills and bodies of water.
Question of identities thus went beyond Hindu and Turk in medieval India. Hindus and Muslims adored Satya Pir in Bengal alike endorsing the common Islamic and Vaisnavite values such as humility and benevolence, not persecution, greed or exclusion. Down south, the Muslim Tamil poet Umer Pulaver composed Seerahpuranam (the holy Prophet’s biography in folkloric Tamil). It, in one broad sweep provides a location for the Tamil Muslim identity. On one hand, it connects the Tamil devotees of the Prophet to a wider generic world of Islam while on the other, it manipulates a Tamil devotional idiom as defined by a puranam.
Prof. Muzaffar Alam in his essay ‘Sharia and Governance in the Indo-Islamic Context’ argues that state building in medieval India drew strength from the appropriation of different cultural strands, not all of which were compatible with textual or juristic Islam. Interaction with non-Islamic cultures strongly influenced the development of the Sharia which in course of time came to acquire more than one meaning. If for Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi, the rule of Sharia meant not only total subjugation of infidels, for Chishti and the Mughals, the most important task of the Sharia was to ensure the balance of conflicting interests of communities, with no interference in their personal beliefs. The Mughal interpretation of Sharia was more informed by the Nasirean Akhlaq than the Sharia in its juristic meaning.
Beyond Turk and Hindu rises above the petty divisions of history on Hindu and Muslim lines and delves deep into the pre-colonial times to etch to relief the cultural interactions and encounters that made India a repository of wildly diverse influences. It forcefully repulses the seductive trap of raging controversies which limit the interpretation of history to political interests. It also provides a wide base for future rewriting of history where identities need not be prisoners of divisive political discourse.
The Muslim Rishis of Kashmir: Harbingers of Love and Justice [pp.100]: [Available in Urdu and English]
Hindu-Muslim Syncretic Shrines in Karnataka [pp.60]: [English]
Voices from the Valley: Contemporary Kashmiri Sufi Perspectives [pp.64]: [English]
Crossing the Border: Shared Hindu-Muslim Traditions [pp.52]: [English]
The Chishti Sufis of India [pp.48]: [Available in English, Urdu and Hindi]
The Islamic Movement and the Political Challenge [pp: 31]. [English]
The Role of Women in Kashmiri Muslim Rishism [English]
Dargah Baba Budhan Giri Par Tazad [Urdu]
All booklets are priced at Rs. 10 each, including postage within India. Payment by MO or in the form of unused postage stamps.
Contact: Yoginder Sikand4304 Oakwood Apts., 8th Main, 1st Cross, Koramangala-III, Bangalore-34
Do also have a look at our monthly web-magazine devoted to discussion of issues related to Islam and Inter-Faith Relations in South Asia, on www.islaminterfaith.org
As American plans for an all-out assault on Iraq rapidly unfold, opposition to the imperialist ‘war against the people’ is mounting. The attack on the World Trade Centre last year seems to have provided the Americans the perfect excuse they needed to seek to impose their will on the rest of the world, in the name of combating the new menace of ‘Islamic terrorism’, in whose creation they themselves have had a central role. As this very insightful book clearly shows, behind American rhetoric of defending human rights and civilised mores lurks a murky and sinister plot to dominate the entire world.
In a series of short essays, Thomas Sebastian, senior lecturer in Economics, St. Xavier’s college, Mumbai, marshals an impressive array of facts and figures to suggest that the attacks of September 11, 2001, may indeed have been perpetrated with the full knowledge of the American intelligence. He writes that although several of the hijackers had been known for their connections with militant movements, and in the case of some, with even the Al-Qaeda, they were allowed by the American authorities to enter the United States and to enroll in flying courses there. Further, despite advance warnings by Russian, German and Israeli authorities of possible hijackings of American airliners and crashing them into major American buildings, the American authorities chose not to take heed. Hence, Sebastian argues, the attack took place not because, as the Americans would like us to believe, of a massive failure of intelligence, but, rather, precisely because high-level American officials in the CIA and the FBI intervened to protect the hijackers. Sebastian suggests that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, America has been desperately seeking to conjure up a new enemy, which it can portray as the new threat to civilization, in order to justify a massive arms build-up and military intervention and interference all over the globe. Radical Islamism has now taken the place in American demonology, that godless communism once occupied. The events of September last year, Sebastian suggests, might actually have been engineered with the complicity and connivance of high-level American intelligence agencies in league with Islamist groups, with whom they had already established a close support network during the Afghan jihad. Allowing Osama’s operatives to hijack the planes and crash them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre provided the American establishment the excuse it needed to justify its self-appointed role of global policeman against ‘Islamic fundamentalism’.
In his essay, ‘Terrorism, War and Imperialism’, social activist Ram Puniyani writes that the decline of the socialist camp has brought in its wake the rapid growth of fascist and fundamentalist movements operating in the garb of religious authenticity, and simultaneously, the rise of globalisation led by Western multi-national corporations which is playing havoc in the lives of millions of the poor in the Third World. S.M. Daud, retired justice of the Mumbai High Court, in his piece titled ‘The Bogey of Islamic Terrorism’, exposes the fallaciousness of the argument of the clash of civilizations, equally dear to the Samuel Huntingtons and the Osama bin Ladens of the world. He traces this theory to the times of the Crusades, where it was used to bless Christian forces who swept through Palestine on a supposedly holy mission. He remarks how the fear of Islamist terror, which while not unreal in itself, is being used by both Western imperialist countries as well as their client regimes in the Muslim world, to rally the public around them and bolster their tottering legitimacy.
The fear of ‘Islamic terror’ is being actively used by the Indian establishment to justify a massive military build-up. In his short, yet incisive piece, Admiral Vishnu Bhagavat, former chief of the Indian Navy, writes that the sharp increase in India’s defence budget has been matched by an almost stagnant budget allocation for poverty alleviation and social welfare. He raises the embarrassing question of how the country’s security can be enhanced if people’s own basic economic and social needs are ignored. As a warning of things to come, this book provides an incisive analysis of the forces at work that threaten to unleash the deadly prospect of a Third World War. The contributors are unanimous in arguing that both American imperialism as well as terrorism in the name of Islam, or any other religion for that matter, pose a grave danger to the lives and interests of millions of people in the ‘Third World’.