Dissecting a Conquest
Prescribing Islam for the West
Sunset at Srirangapatam
After the Death of Tipu Sultan
Orient Longman Ltd.
Pages 153, price Rs. 675
Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Sunset at Srirangapatam is both a serious effort in chronicling of the history and a coffee table compendium of relics and artifacts related to 18th century ruler of Mysore Tipu Sultan. Why should the author combine the two apparently unrelated aspects? The book is the outcome of Mohammad Moienuddin’s quest for unravelling the persona of Tipu, much reviled by the British historians. Even post colonial historians were not fair to him. At best, his struggle to keep alive the spirit of independence amid all-pervasive submissiveness among Indian principalities was ignored. Or, at worst, he became the victim of the communal historians who were averse to giving such a credit to a Muslim ruler. He was conveniently dubbed a religious bigot, a proselytizer and a fanatic, all based on the accounts left by the British historians.
Tipu’s martyrdom on May 4, 1799 at the fourth Mysore War ended the challenge for the East India Company and established the British sway over India. The author wades through a deluge of archival material, assiduously collected from dozens of museums and libraries of the world, to go into the turnaround in the British fortunes in the wake of the fall of Tipu Sultan. Crux of the book lies in the graphic description of the systematic plunder and destruction of the capital Srirangapatam on three days i.e, May 4 to May 6, 1799 which filled the coffers of the East India Company. A company that was bankrupt with its reputation at its nadir before the seizure of Srirangapatam became suddenly rich and bold in words. Johnstone’s accounts bear the testimony: “...dark and melancholy indeed, were then the prospects of the East India company at home, a declining trade, rivalled from all quarters, an exhausted treasury, unaccepted bills from the different presidencies, no confidence, no order, no arrangement, ... our reputations in arms was sunk by the loss of three armies and by the peace we had suppliantly fought from the Maratas and from the same Sultan (sic) of Mysore, whose power we have now overthrown.” Contrast this with rather pompous post-victory accounts: “the Company’s trade and shipping have increased in four fold proportion, while by a salutary relaxation of its privilege, the speculation of individuals have been increased; and from an extension of the same leberal principles... we may confidently expect an enlarged commercial intercourse, no less beneficial to Great Britain than our eastern posessions.”
Tipu’s administrative and welfare policies occupy a good space and the chapter focusses on the side of his persona eclipsed under the biased history. Tipu’s maritime policies, land reforms, social laws such as complete prohibition in his state, advances made in modern fields such sericulture, silviculture, animal husbandry, environmental protection, irrigation arrangements and production of modern arms such as rockets receive fulsome coverage. The author dredges out a fund of information on the secular ruler’s policies of not only religious tolerance but building of enduring communal camaraderie. These included expensive gifts to temples, installation of idols looted or desecrated by the marauding hordes of Maratha armies. Yet all this did not constitute any special munificence towards his Hindu subjects but motivated primarily by his zeal for ensuring popular well being. Historical accounts come punctuated with forthright references, though few, from a variety of British chroniclers. Yet Tipu’s rule was drenched deep in Islamic symbols. His government was described by him (Tipu) as sarkar e khudadad. His coins carried name of the Holy Prophet. Tiger’s stripes (bubberee) were used as the official emblem. Didn’t all these show him to be asserting his ‘divinely ordained status’? Irfan Habib’s precise foreword provides the answer: “If Islamic tradition was important for Tipu to justify his claims to be a Sultan in his own right (compare Ranjit Singh’s claims to be a Maharaja), he did not derive from this tradition any insistence on intolerance, which religiousness of any kind so easily slips into.”
The Tipu’s relics, artifacts and royal insignia displayed through colour plates usefully serve the purpose of constructing the chapter of history in proper light and to focus upon the catholic taste of the valiant ruler who fought the empire with rare messianic zeal and laid down his life at a juncture when acceptance of the vassal status, like his contemporary Hyderabad’s Nizam’s, would have brought him richer rewards. Coming after 200 years of the martyrdom of the Mysore hero, the book would surely be a very significant addition to an important chapter of history.
Islam the Alternative
Amana Publications 1999,
Reviewed by Dr. G.R. Mulla
IN the wake of the end of the cold war, the American way of life is being peddled as the model for all societies in the world. The Western man in his arrogance has convinced himself that his superb rationality would assure him the highest peaks of knowledge, power and happiness, ever achieved in the human history. This is quite amazing, looking at the unspeakable atrocities committed by this “rational man” during the 20th century including two savage World Wars and the use of atomic bomb, the Stalinism and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The man remains more convinced that his civilization deserves universal dominance. His international law, view of human rights, economic system, value-free scientific approach, his agnosticism and atheism, are regarded by him as essential ingredients of an emerging world culture - Made in USA. He expects that from Seoul to Soho future people would wear jeans, eat hamburgers, drink Coca-Cola, smoke Marlboro, speak English, watch CNN, live in a Bauhaus style house and probably be pro formo members of some Church.
In the present book, Dr. Murad Hofmann has rightly observed that Islam and its civilization is hardly ever presented by Western Media as a valid alternative that can cope with the world’s problems as it enters the 21st century. To the contrary Islam is a misinterpreted religion in the West. It is always “a backward, even irrational and aggressive religion”. Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) has been reviled. However, this hostile attitude got softened and a more sympathetic view of Islam was shown in the 20th century. It was seen as a civilizing force and its Prophet came to be viewed as a founder of a rational religion. Despite this, there is still widespread ignorance about Islam in the West. Islam’s contribution to art, culture, literature and architecture is generally unknown. Few Westerners know what exalted position Islam accords to Jesus and his virgin mother?
Islam imparts values to all that the humanity does, lest the competition become madness, tolerance develops into permissiveness, eroticism turn into sexual athletics, and flexibility leads to contempt for
Dr. Murad has isolated 20 major Western prejudices against Islam and has analyzed them tersely. He brings out major differences between the Islamic and the Western man and morals. Islam’s direct communion with God without the agency of the clergy fits democratic ethos than the mystery stricken atmosphere of Catholic churches. Prohibition of pork, alcohol and drugs serves public health. Islam approves of sex within the parameters of marriage and recognizes the natural role of gender. Islam’s concept of business is socially oriented and is based on cooperation rather than competition. Finally, the general attitude of Muslims should be one of tolerance in keeping with the final verse of “Surat Kafirun”. “I will not worship that which you have. Nor will you worship that which I worship. To you your way and to me mine”. Finally, Hofmann outlines the Quran’s stress on using reason and rational faculty instead of simply parroting God’s commandments.
Murad defines fundamentalism as an attitude to and a view of the world or a movement, which takes the legal norms, values and behavioural pattern of the earliest period of Islam as a model for the shaping of the present. Every religion is based on its foundations, which are precise, complete, unalterable and sufficient. Islam is no different. Its foundations are Quran and Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet). An attempt to return to original belief, to discover its foundations in the hope that the old religion can be revitalized, can become newly significant is made from time to time. This type of fundamentalism is found in Islam, and what is wrong with it?
In the final analysis, Dr. Murad observes that the destructive mechanism could be located in the modern society itself. It could not be denied that the material boom in the Western world, was essentially linked to a gradual break with the Christian faith. The motivating force behind the scientifically and economically successful positivism of this “Century without God” was a world-centered attitude. Belief in God is perhaps tolerated as a probability. In the 20th century even the masses carry these ideas. As a result they live a vulgar, de facto atheism whose idol is power, money, beauty, popularity and sex. This loss of belief in God, this crass materialism has led to the unbridled hedonism among people. In such societies, therefore, virtues such as diligence, discipline, patience, brotherliness and courage are perverted so as to become negative qualities or are replaced with new values which could not sustain an industrial society. Thus individualism is perverted to narcissism, brotherliness to groupies at rock concerts, self-determination to permissiveness, tolerance to value free neutrality, competition to madness, equality to leveling, eroticism to sexual athletics and flexibility to contempt for tradition. As a result, they have everything, autonomy, protection from the cradle to the grave, sex without taboos, drugs on demand, great deal of free time, lots of cash and every human right. But what they feel is an existential emptiness. And behind all this is the increasingly urgent quest for meaning to life. The situation in the West is very much ripe for Islam to be accepted as an alternative. The search for a valid religion, which has already begun in the West is bound to encounter the phenomenon of Islam which is now better understood by the Westerners.
G. R. Mulla is a social scientist and was associated with the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs in Pune and is now based in the USA.
About the Author
Murad Hofmann was born in a
German, Catholic family in 1931. A member of the German Foreign Service and a
specialist in issues of nuclear defence, he served as director offer NATO and
later as Germany’s ambassador to Algeria and Morocco. He performed Hajj in
1992. With profound study of Islam, he has authored several books on Islam.