A remarkable piece on a much ignored Islamic past, taking us through the cultural development during Muslim rule in India
Before you mistake this book as just another travelogue and that too of supposedly Pakistan’s biggest enemy, take a minute to sit down and read through this review. Raza Rumi has delivered a remarkable piece on a much ignored Islamic past, taking us through the cultural development during Muslim rule in India while discussing its sharp contrast to the state of affairs we have today.
Yes, there was a time when the Hindus and Muslims were one nation and an atmosphere of inclusiveness prevailed. Rumi discusses how Islam spread in the subcontinent largely through the Sufis and their message of love for everyone, regardless of their belief.
The Sufis gained deep admirers from not only the Muslims, but also the Hindus. The Sufis did not concentrate on converting people to Islam; those that did convert did so primarily out of love for the Divine, and not out of fear. And yet it is so difficult today to make the evangelists understand today that faith is a matter of conviction and you can convert more people by having a good character than by verbally teaching them about the message.
Rumi discusses how Islam spread in the subcontinent largely through the Sufis and their message of love for everyone, regardless of their belief.
While many would disregard Muslim women as playing any better a role in Islamic civilization than producing heirs, Rumi shows how two prominent women had stood up against their brothers and fathers who in fact happened to be Mughal emperors. Zebunnisa, the eldest daughter of Aurangzeb, was famous for her poetry and did not agree with the strict interpretations of Islamic law that her father ascribed to. In the words of Rumi, she was the antithesis to her father’s personality and politics.
Jehanara Begum, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and the sister of Aurangzeb, was initiated into the Qadiriya Sufi order. She commissioned the building of many mosques, and sponsored the construction of Jaame Masjid in 1648. She was a great patron of Sufi literature, unlike her brother Aurangzeb who was bent upon enforcing his puritan version of Shari’a in the land.
Razia Sultana on the other hand was born during the time of the Delhi Sultanate, and succeeded her father Shamsuddin Iltutmish as the empress. She believed that the spirit of religion was more important than anything else and was against over-burdening of the non-Muslims. She established many schools, public libraries and centers of research during her reign.
Dara Shikoh was extremely upset about the ‘emptiness of rituals and the surface understanding of spirituality’. A verse from his poetry reads: May the world be free from the noise of the mulla; And none should pay any heed to their fatwas.
But perhaps the most shocking narration in the book is that of Dara Shikoh and his sharp contrast in terms of views to his brother, Aurangzeb. Dara Shikoh was extremely upset about the ‘emptiness of rituals and the surface understanding of spirituality’. A verse from his poetry reads: “May the world be free from the noise of the mulla; And none should pay any heed to their fatwas.” While some may take his creed to be absolutely heretical, it is only but a rejection of the monopoly of Islam by the clergy and not a rejection of Islam itself.
This book has countless anecdotes from history for those who like to understand how Islam spread in the Indian subcontinent, along with its cultural dimensions of language, architecture, food and music. It serves as a sharp reminder for all of us who still see the Indians as enemies, not a part of a common tradition dating more than a thousand years back.
‘Countless Sufi establishments or khanqahs dotting the Indian spiritual landscape with deeply entrenched pilgrimage networks were the major means that brought the masses into the fold of Islam. The khanqahs blended local tradition with Islamic values and provided caste-less, monotheistic version of spirituality where the charisma and wisdom of the pir of his descendants served as powerful elements to attract the local population.’
‘Centuries of coexistence were destroyed overnight by new definitions of ‘we’ the harmless and ‘they’ the harmful; hence ‘they’ should be attacked, raped and killed. Over time, violence lives on, sometimes in wars, at other in the form of India’s communalism and Pakistan’s sectarian bloodbaths.’
‘The curious mélange of music fusion in North India started with Arab and Mongol incursions into India. However, it was the arrival of the Sufis and their accompanying musicians that served as a catalyst to the emergence of contemporary Hindustani classical music as we know of today…The famous music composer A.R. Rahman’s devotion to the Chishti saints and the naming of his music conservatory in southern India after Khwaja Moinuddin of Ajmer, is a continuation of this vibrant, ongoing and, very possibly, endless process.’
‘At its zenith, Chandi Chowk was a fabled area frequented by local elites, Armenian and Turkish adventurers, Persian poets and Italian merchants. Just a little distance away, stood one of the world’s richest courts. Rumour had it that it required fourteen full years to evaluate Shah Jahan’s riches! There were bustling tree-lined boulevards with coffee houses for the rich, wafting aromas of the imported bean from Persia, and shops selling Chinese eye-glasses, jewellery, cheetahs and even eunuchs!’
‘Dara Shikoh was the eldest son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal… He constantly chided the ignorance of these self-appointed guardians of faith who were not unlike the fundamentalists of today. Dara wrote that in every age, every prophet and saint had undergone afflictions and torments because of the rigid bigotry of clerics, the mullahs.’
‘High literature in Urdu grew in three different centres – the Deccan, Delhi and Lucknow. The Deccan emerged as the earliest centre for the Urdu ghazal, due to the linguistic interactive between the local people and Muslim conquerors from Central Asia who settled there in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.’
‘Mughal pre-Mutiny pageantry was best represented by grand festivals that were a matter of public excitement. The emperor would ‘parade the streets on his elephant, the ministers, the heir-apparent and the Mirzas in their places. A straggle of foot soldiers went in front and behind; musicians sounded trumpets and rhapsodists recited the imperial praises – a slightly tarnished and tawdry assembly perhaps, and raucous to the ear, but cheerful and colorful and much appreciated.’
Delhi by Heart
Author: Raza Rumi
Pages: 322; Price: Rs. 995