On Ahmadiyyas and Jains

By London Observer 33 Comments

One of my favourite examples to demonstrate why Hindus and Muslims are like chalk and cheese (or cheese and chalk- no value judgment implied by the metaphor!) is their respective treatment of Jains and Ahmadiyyas.

We all know about the plight of Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan. Not a week goes by when there isn’t a story in the media on Ahmadiyya persecution. To Indian eyes, this can be quite baffling. The Ahmadiyyas reserve a highly exalted position for Prophet Muhammad. By all socio-cultural markers: naming and dressing conventions, eating habits, praying patterns etc., they appear “Muslim”. Yet certain theological red lines are crossed- including the recognition of Indic icons such as Buddha and Krishna as prophets, but most importantly the perceived violation of the doctrine of Khatam-un-Nabiyeen: the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood. A clear case of orthodoxy trumping orthopraxy. This hostility towards the Ahmadiyyas is not a recent phenomenon and can be traced back to the views of the founding fathers of Pakistan, such as Allama Iqbal.

From a Hindu perspective, this can appear bizarre- ethnic Punjabi “Muslims” who share so much in common in both cultural and kinship terms are so hostile towards each other due to some theological disputes. There are more consequential theological disputes within sects of Hinduism. For example, within Vaishnavism, there is the Dvaita Vedanta school founded by the 13th century scholar-saint Madhavacharya which believes that the Divine (i.e. Vishnu or the supreme being) is distinct from the individual. The better known Advaita Vedanta school founded by Adi Shankaracharya is Monistic (i.e. believes in the essential unity of the Divine or Vishnu and the individual). From a theological perspective, these ruptures are perhaps as radical as those between Sunni Muslims and Ahmadiyyas. Yet, the average modern Hindu, even someone who self-identifies strongly as a Vaishnavite, would find the notion of being hostile to other Vaishnavites on the basis of doctrinal differences to be bizarre and laughable.

Continue reading “On Ahmadiyyas and Jains”

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Book Review: Islamic Empires- Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization

By London Observer 11 Comments

Justin Marozzi: Islamic Empires: Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization 

One of the starkest contrasts between the Indic and the Islamic civilizations is the relative importance accorded to the urban. Dharmic philosophies place special emphasis on solitude- going off to the forest to meditate (vanaprasthashrama) and then eventually renouncing the material world (sanyasashrama) are considered important virtues. Dharmic iconography is replete with non-urban landscapes and settings: Lord Shiva meditating in the Himalayas, Lord Krishna feeling most at home in the bucolic settings of Vrindavan, and Lord Buddha renouncing urban life to find the truth. The Monistic underpinnings of some dominant schools of Indic philosophy- the belief that the Divine exists (and can be found) everywhere- further reduces the appeal of urbanism. The final element at play here is geography: Dharmic philosophies flourished in a land of abundance- the sapta sindhu or the land of the seven rivers- a highly fertile landscape. There was little need to create the metaphorical oasis in the desert.

By contrast, Islamic civilization has always been defined by urbanism. The Prophet Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca. He spent much of his life in the cities that define Islam to this day- Mecca and Medina. While there are elements of the spiritual associated with his life- the time spent in solitude in the caves of Mount Hira, for example- the dominant strands of his life were temporal. The building of the empire beginning with the conquests of Mecca and Medina, the dispensing of justice and organising the Ummah. The concept of Jannah or paradise in Islam- a place replete with gardens- also drove the move towards the urban. In a desert region, the quest was to conquer (or build) cities: oasis where the faithful could congregate, protected from the harshness of the surrounding landscape.

Justin Marozzi, an Anglo-Italian journalist who has spent much of his life in the Islamic world, gives this twinning of Islam and urbanism an innovative twist. He seeks to tease out strands of Islamic history by examining fifteen cities across fifteen centuries- one for each century of Islam’s existence. He largely succeeds in his quest to provide a bird’s eye view of a complex and sophisticated civilization, across the arc of its history.

Continue reading “Book Review: Islamic Empires- Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization”

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Why do Muslims React More to France Than to China?

By Omar Ali 71 Comments

The last few days have seen two separate terrorist incidents in France, both involving Muslim youth (both refugees, not French-born Muslims) beheading (or trying to behead) French civilians because of perceived outrage over blasphemy. In the first shocking incident a teacher named Samuel Paty tried to do what good teachers do; he was teaching about freedom of expression and wanted to show the cartoons that led to the murderous assaults on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. He told his Muslim students that if they felt uncomfortable seeing those cartoons, they could step outside the class. There is no indication that he himself said anything that could be construed as an attack on the prophet. But the very fact that he showed the famous cartoons in his class was enough to rile up at least one of the Muslim student’s parents, who started to outrage on social media, which led a Chechen youth named Abdullah to travel a 100 km, find the teacher by paying his students to point him out and then beheaded him on a public road before being shot dead himself.

France teacher attack: Seven charged over Samuel Paty's killing - BBC News

If this was not bad enough, today another “refugee” (this one from Tunisia) went on a stabbing/beheading spree at the basilica of Notre Dame in Nice and killed 2 women and a 55 year old sexton. Another person, this time in Saudi Arabia, stabbed a guard at the French consulate before being arrested. At the same time there have been massive protests in Bangladesh, a mock beheading at a girl’s school in Pakistan, official protests from Pakistan and Turkey and boycotts of French products all across the Muslim world. Continue reading “Why do Muslims React More to France Than to China?”

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NCERT Books – Early Muslim invaders

By GauravL 8 Comments

 

Even though the comment thread on my previous blog post – Playing with Fire was the immediate trigger for me writing this post, but I have been meaning to wade into this topic for some time. History writing in India has been a controversial topic especially since the ascendency of Hindutva. NCERT books on history are often blamed for preventing the “Truth and Reconciliation” between the Hindus and Muslims. While these criticisms have some merit, I often feel they’re overstated and straw-manned. Left-Liberal historians – Messrs Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Satish Chandra has been the favorite punching bag of Hindutvavadis in general. A lot of times people get carried away in hubris while punching these histories. Generalizations and misrepresentation of writings of these historians are rife in the Hindutvavadis.

I will go through Medieval India by Satish Chandra (class 11 history), Romila Thapar’s Medieval India (class 7), and Medieval history book by Nios (by multiple authors).

This piece focuses on the treatment given to Pre-Delhi Sultanate Muslim Invaders – the famous Ghazis of Islam. My recollection of textbooks is that the Mughals (except Babur and Aurangzeb) are glorified to a certain extent – especially Akbar, but none of the previous Muslim rulers are. I may be wrong – I am yet to read those chapters and will be posting about them later.

Mohammad Bin Qassim :

The Ummayad General doesn’t get much mention in these texts as by most accounts the Arab conquests of Sindh were at most localized events and did not have lasting consequences beyond Indus. Yet the one mention he gets in the Medieval history NCERT book isn’t something which appears positive.

  1. NIOS book – Module 2 – Page 134 History Module 2:  “Arabs were also attracted by the wealth of India. Arab merchants and sailors had brought back stories of great wealth of India. However, the reason for the invasion of Sindh was to avenge the plunder of Arab Ships by pirates of Debol. King Dahir refused to punish the pirates. Hajjaj the governor of Iraq despatched an army under Muhammad Bin Qasim. He arrived in Sind in AD 712, and besieged Debol which was situated on the sea coast. After crossing the Indus he marched forward. At Rawar, Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Dahir who was defeated. Arabs killed a large number of fleeing soldiers. Dahir was also caught and killed. Muhammad Bin Qasim now proceeded forward and within a short span he conquered various important places in Sind including Brahmanabad”

Mahmud of Ghazni:

  1. In Satish Chandra’s Medieval history, the period from 1000-1200 is called the Age of Conflict. The intra-Turkic conflict between Muslim and Non-Muslim Turks before the consolidation of Turkic sultanates also finds mention in the chapter. Additionally, he notes “The Islamized Turkish tribes were to emerge as the greatest defenders and crusaders of Islam. The love of plunder went side by side with the defense of Islam. About Mahmud – Mahmud is considered as a hero of Islam & the ghazi spirit further increased during his time. In India his memory is only of a plunderer and destroyer of temples. Mahmud also posed as the great But-shikan or destroyer of images. Mahmud also broke the Shivlingam and ordered parts brought back to his capital.”
  2. In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history, Mahmud doesn’t get a positive treatment. Thapar says “One of the attacks which is frequently mentioned was the destruction of the Somnath temple. Destroying temples had another advantage – he could claim as he did that he had obtained religious merit by destroying images. In 1030 Mahmud died and people of North India felt relieved“. After this Thapar does state his achievements for his capital and state along with his patronage of scholars like Firdausi and Al-Birauni.
  3. NIOS book – Module 2- gives a slightly more neutral characterization of Mahmud “Mahmud enriched his treasury by looting the temples of Nagarkot, Thanesar, Mathura and Kanauj. The attack against Nagarkot in AD 1008 has been described as his first great triumph. In AD 1025, Mahmud embarked on the most ambitious Indian campaign, the attack on the Somnath temple in Saurashtra. Mahmud captured the city after grim struggle in which more than 50,000 defenders lost their lives. His attacks on India were an attempt to fulfil his ambition to make Ghazni the formidable power in the politics of Central Asia. Mahmud’s raids into India were only to acquire the famous wealth of India.

Mohammad Ghori: 

  1. In Satish Chandra’s book – The Ghurid invasions and Mohammad’s legendary battle against Prithviraj Chauhan finds considerable space given to it. The analysis is neutral and doesn’t get into speculations beyond a point. The other exploits of Mohammad and Qutubuddin Aibak are explained in some detail. The author makes no claims of iconoclasm except in the case of Bakhtiyar Khalji in Bihar and Bengal. About Khalji he writes “he destroyed some of the great Buddhist monasteries at Nalanda and Vikramshila“. Additionally, he notes “Neither was really concerned with Islam, though neither scrupled over the use of Islam to justify their plunder of Indian cities and temples
  2. In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history – she also focusses on the Battle of Tarrain and appears neutral towards Mohammad Ghori and the Ghurids in general.
  3. NIOS book also gives a neutral and brief analysis of Ghurid invasions and capture of North India.

    Romila Thapar’s Medieval History is meant for 7th standard and hence doesn’t have the details seen in Satish Chandra’s 11th standard history book. Satish Chandra’s book captured a lot of facets of these invasions including religious.  Reading these chapters, it is fair to conclude that none of these books glorify these early Muslim Ghazis. It can be fairly argued from Hindutva point of view, that Islam’s role in these conquests is understated (especially in Thapar’s Medieval History). But that book is meant for 12-year-old kids.

    On the broader reading of history, I guess Islam is necessary but not sufficient in explaining the Turko-Afghan invasions of India in the 11th and 12 centuries.

    Treatment of Delhi Sultans next.

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Playing with fire ?

By GauravL 55 Comments

Unless you are living under a rock, you will have noticed the Babri demolition conspiracy verdict. All 32 accused including the firebrand Ashok Singhal and Uma Bharti were acquitted of the conspiracy charge. A conspiracy charge is notoriously difficult to prove in Indian court even with Political will, in this case from an objective perspective, the charge was unlikely to stick owing the excessive burden of proof required to prove conspiracy.

I came across this interview of Advani with Prannoy Roy from 2000.

After six years of Modi Shah, Advani appears like a fresh of breath air (to my liberal ears). Notwithstanding his role as the prime mover of the Ram Janmabhooni movement which left trails of blood across the country, Advani appears significantly liberal to my eyes in 2020. The willingness to talk to the enemy (as seen in a range of interviews given to aggressive media), comparatively more respect to democratic ethos and institutions, and an overall soft spoken-ness.

However, the interview leaves us with the question – Is Advani telling the truth?

There seem to be three potential chain of events which led to the culmination of the demolition of Babri Masjid.

  1. The aim of the Rath Yatra by Advani was always to demolish the mosque and the previous years were spent in raising support for the demolition of the mosque. This was the narrative the most far left and far right in India believe.  In other words, the whole movement was a conspiracy under a facade of Rath Yatra.
  2. The leadership of the movement – namely Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and to a lesser extent Vajpayee under the umbrella of RSS (this included the current Prime minister) never really planned to break the mosque. Their aim was to mobilize the Hindu over and above their caste boundaries. The mobilization has political benefits as well as social benefits in response to Islam. However, during the movement, a small group actually conspired to break the mosque. That means if there was a conspiracy, either the top leadership was kept in dark or the top leadership turned a blind eye towards it. This seems to the claim made by Advani and Vajpayee where both of them on record called the demolition of the mosque as the saddest day of their life.
  3. The mass movement got carried away in hubris. After years of chest thumbing, for the karsevaks – this was the moment to go down in the history and they did.

If either of 2 and 3 is true, it is fair to say the BJP and Sangha Parivar leaders were playing with fire and when the fire got out of control it burned every one to a certain extent. Though today even if the fire was unintended, the fruits of the fire continue to be reaped.

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The Ambition of the Emirates

By The Emissary 6 Comments

 

For a large part of history, the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula were on the fringe in the rise and fall of empires. They alternated raiding and trading as this wheel of fire rolled on across the dunes. But eventually, the Arabian caravan would be equipped with both sword and word to make haste across the Old World in a relentless raid that would change both history and humanity.

Yet just as quickly as the prized Arabian horses would gallop into newly conquered lands, the Arabs would soon scatter leaving their language, faith, and the prestige of their roots behind in strange lands. Tribalism trumped their newfound unity and the Arabs would once again retreat into their wildernesses and pilgrimages.

That is until wealth erupted from its wastelands. The old elites of the Middle East would now return from their desert exile to begin another round of a game of thrones.

Continue reading “The Ambition of the Emirates”

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Browncast – Cliff Smith and Sam Westrop: The Origins of South Asian Islamism

By The Emissary 3 Comments

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

This episode features Akshar and Mukunda talking to Cliff Smith and Sam Westrop of the Middle East Forum. We get into topics surrounding the relevance of the Deobandi movement, how Islamism percolates between South Asia and the West, and the political ramifications of Islamism in the US and the UK.

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The anxieties behind narrative of “Love Jihad”

By GauravL 42 Comments

I finally completed Dr Ambedkar’s fascinating book on Pakistan after reading it on and off for years. Though he comes across as an essentialist in some of his arguments, many fault-lines Dr. Ambedkar points out hold true even 70 years after the publication of the book.

(I plan to write about that book sometime later – but especially for those who don’t identify with Hindutva I will highly recommend that book)

Dr. Ambedkar says the following in this book PAKISTAN OR THE PARTITION OF INDIA during his polemic against Purdah.

The evil consequences of purdah are not confined to the Muslim community only. It is responsible for the social segregation of Hindus from Muslims which is the bane of public life in India. This argument may appear far fetched and one is inclined to attribute this segregation to the unsociability of the Hindus rather than to purdah among the Muslims. But the Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other

This is the core motivation that has lead to the popularization of term Love-Jihad. The anxieties of Hindus are not motivated largely by the fear that “Muslims will abduct their daughters and sisters and forcibly convert them”. That exists largely in the straw-man.

Their anxieties stem from the following

Continue reading “The anxieties behind narrative of “Love Jihad””

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The Middle Path: Towards a Liberal Conservatism in India (Part 3)

By London Observer 7 Comments

In my previous two posts, I traced the roots of India as a civilization state and proposed a framework which would seek to retain modern India’s classical Anglo-liberal framework but embellish it with Dharmic values. In this third and final post, I will seek to demonstrate how these seemingly contradictory systems could be reconciled in a coherent Anglo-Dharmic liberal conservative framework. I will also analyse Indian domestic and foreign policy from a liberal conservative perspective. Before doing that, it is worth examining how liberal conservatism would deal with the third great tradition that has influenced Indian history: Islam.

The Muslim Question

The ledger of the Nehruvian state’s interactions with and treatment of Indian Muslims is decidedly a mixed bag. On the positive side, it is to the Nehruvian state’s credit that Indian Muslims were able to see themselves as full and equal participants and stakeholders in the Indian Republic. It is easy to underestimate today how difficult and challenging this would have been in the immediate aftermath of the partition and vivisection of India in 1947. It would have been easy to let hatred and vengeance take over in the aftermath of a bloody division. The Congress party under the stewardship of Pandit Nehru ensured that the better angels of our nature prevailed and the Muslims who remained in India were treated with tolerance and compassion. The basic framework of the Indian Constitution, in particular the golden triangle of equality, freedom and liberty, ensured full and equal citizenship and freedom of worship for Indian Muslims. The wisdom and sagacity of the founding fathers of the modern Indian Republic who were the architects of this framework must be applauded.

Continue reading “The Middle Path: Towards a Liberal Conservatism in India (Part 3)”

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Islam on the fringes

By Razib Khan 15 Comments

Decided to start reading India in the Persianate Age: 1000–1765. It’s a fast and easy read (and, it’s an affordable book for a nonspecialist like me who only spends $100 or more on genetics texts). I jumped ahead in a few passages, which seem to be adaptations from papers I’ve read from the author before.

In relation to discussions on this weblog and comments I’ve made:

1) The author describes islands and pockets of wholly Muslim peasants in eastern Bengal observed by the Mughals in the 16th century. These Mughals indicate that these people are not truly Hindu or Muslim, at least initially. This is line the common thesis that Islamicization is a function of the weak to nonexistent integration of these frontier peasants into Indian culture. Mughal observers also note the physical appearance of these people: small, dark-skinned, and beardless. This seems entirely accurate (I cannot grow a beard!).

The author observes that tax receipts over several decades in Bengal exhibited a pattern that is suggestive of a massive population increase in the east and stability in the west. In fact, there were two-fold increases in the east at the same time that districts in the west declined by 10%.

The thesis by the author, which seems broadly creditable, though not proven, is that the transition to high-intensity rice agriculture in the plains of the eastern delta, and in particular east of the Padma, arrived after the Mughal expansion into the reason. As such, the transition to a “higher religion” occurred under Islam, and therefore these people became Muslim (at least nominally). The analogy that is obvious here would be the Christianization of the Montagnards and other Southeast Asian “hill people” during the colonial period, as they had been detached from Theravada Buddhist civilization.

2) The author deploys a similar model, with modifications, for western Punjab. The model here is that Jat who moved up from Sindh abandoned obligate pastoralism and engaged in agriculture, and fixated upon the tombs and shrines of Islamic eminences. Due to the emphasis on paternal lineage, the author observes that the Islamicization of names occurred quantitatively over 300 years, from the 15th to the 18th century (initiation to completion).

The main qualm I have with this model is this: the Jats/people of Punjab do not look to be from Sindh if modern Sindhis are representative of ancient Sindhis. In the language familiar to readers of this weblog Sindhis are enriched for “Iranian-related ancestry” vis-a-vis Punjabis, who are enriched for “steppe.” The Jats in particular are highly enriched for “steppe” ancestry. Going by genetics alone this model is difficult to accept, though as noted in this space it does seem that caste-like stratification has ancient roots in this region, and so that may serve as some explanation.

Note: The model in Bengal implies that Islamicization and Hinduicization occurred in East Bengal simultaneously. That is, most of the sponsors of agricultural reform and intensification happened to be Muslim, but some were Hindu, and in the case of Hindu sponsored developments the regions became Hindu. Further investigation though would be warranted for Bengali Brahmins in the eastern regions, who would then presumably be migrants from the western zone, because it is hard to credit animistic tribes needing the services of literate priestly elites.

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