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Modernity, Religion / 11.11.2008

By Bettina Robotka  The question of whether there is any positive role for Islam or for religion as such in a modern world is gaining urgency in the light of an ongoing "War against (Islamic) terror" and the spread of militant and conservative interpretations of Islam. The picture which this Islam tends to paint of an ideal Muslim society is that of a patriarchic, male-dominated community inhabited by intellectually unquestioning Muslims who live in closely knit kinship relationships including tribal, biradri and caste units, who accept existing society as given, and who are supposed to follow what the state defines as right or wrong through its laws. There is limited place for individuality, no place for questioning of the basics of social, political and economic life and the task of moral, political, economic and spiritual guidance seems to be left to a small group of Islamic...

Ghalib / 09.11.2008

This week’s verse requires us to remind readers that on The South Asian Idea we do not aim to provide an interpretation of the selected she’r. Rather, we use it as a point of departure to discuss the contemporary relevance of issues suggested by the verse. Of course, for the sake of completeness, we do provide links to the most complete and accessible literary interpretations at A Desertful of Roses and to ones that explore related themes on Mehr-e-Niimroz, our companion blog in the Ghalib Project. This week’s choice is the following: kyuuN nah chiikhuuN kih yaad karte haiN mirii aavaaz gar nahiiN aatii why should I not scream because I am only remembered if my voice is not heard Let us use this to explore relations between the rulers and the ruled in our land today. The majority of the ruled are voiceless. When they do raise their voices, they are either...

Ghalib / 31.10.2008

Last week we left off with the comment that Ghalib did not have a high opinion of people who thought they would go to heaven. Here is the she’r we had in mind: kam nahiiN jalvah-garii meN tire kuuche se bihisht yihii naqshah hai vale is qadar aabaad nahiiN it’s not less in splendor than your street, paradise – the layout is the same, but it is not as flourishing The following interpretation by Faruqi explains it best: “Those who long for paradise, and those who enter it -- the poor things are dried-out ascetics. Little do they know that paradise is present in the world itself. Only a handful of fools follow them on the road to paradise. The axis of the people is the beloved's street.” The underlying question is: Who goes to heaven? Ghalib is quite consistent in voicing his opinion that those who are absolutely sure they would go...

Development / 29.10.2008

By Anjum Altaf  This essay was written after the last Asian Games in December 2006. When it was first submitted for publication the editors returned it as too pessimistic. Pakistan was at the time in its ‘enlightened’ phase and clocking high rates of economic growth – the writing on the wall was there even then but people wished not to see it. Many complained that the essay had simplified complex issues by using a trivial indicator of development. It was finally published in Chowk on July 30, 2007 with a sign of interrogation at the end of the title. Now that the lights have gone out and the country is bankrupt, we can take out the interrogation sign and finally face up to the reality. Hiding our heads in the sand is not going to get us anywhere.  With a major election coming up, we are likely...

Ghalib / 25.10.2008

This week we use a popular she’r by Ghalib to explore some ideas about paradise: ham ko ma’luum hai jannat kii haqiiqat lekin dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib yih khayaal achchhaa hai we know the reality of Paradise, but to keep the heart happy, Ghalib, this idea is good  The tension in the verse is created by the play between haqiiqat and khayaal, between reality and imagination. The fundamental question being asked is: What is Paradise? One can think of paradise as a home – one of the possible homes after death. Just as the feeling of being without a home on earth can be very unsettling, the thought of being without one after death could be equally so. Thus it is not a surprise that it could be comforting to imagine a home after death. Is paradise then an imagined reality? Or is it a reality? When Ghalib says, “we know the...

Religion / 24.10.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 2: Getting to Terms with Religion It is time now to take stock of the encounter of India with Muslims. The first aspect that needs to be clear in our minds is whether this was an encounter between Hinduism and Islam or between Hindus and Muslims. This will make a significant difference to our understanding of subsequent events. We will argue that this was not a clash of religions, that it was an encounter of Hindus and Muslims. Of course, this encounter had an influence on both Hinduism and Islam, but the influence was indirect. As always, this is the starting point for a conversation. We are open to alternative interpretations that are cogently argued. Raiders or Crusaders? Frequent and repeated interaction of Hindus in India with Muslims from Afghanistan began around 1000 AD with the raids of Mahmud of Ghazna followed by those of Mohammed...

Education / 19.10.2008

Four men top the list of India’s least favorite British colonialists: Robert Clive, for the decisive victory at the Battle of Plassey (1757) that established Company Rule in India; Thomas Macaulay, for the infamous Minute on Indian Education (1835) that aimed to create a class of Indians in the image of the English; Reginald Dyer, for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in Amritsar (1919) that killed hundreds of unarmed Indians; and Louis Mountbatten for the shameful flight (1947) that hurried India into a horrible carnage. Of these, only Dyer and Mountbatten are guilty as charged. Clive did well by his side and Macaulay, it can be argued, is badly misunderstood. It is particularly important to explore Macaulay with more care and ask whether our verdict is colored by stray bits of evidence without looking at the details of the case. Two selective quotes from the Minute are known to...

Religion / 16.10.2008

Continued from Hinduism – 1: What is ‘Hinduism’? It’s time to remove the quotation marks around ‘Hinduism’. It just adds to the confusion when one argues in this day that Hinduism is not a religion in the sense religion is understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is better to explain that ‘religion’ has a wider scope. See how religion is defined in the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language: Religion, in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. If one starts with that definition it would be very hard to fit Hinduism into the mould. However, one can take a...

Religion / 12.10.2008

Is it a Religion? (The subtitle has been added following an intensive discussion that is recorded in the comments section. The point at issue was that the title of the post was misleading giving the impression that the subject pertained to the content of Hinduism whereas the intended perspective was quite different. The series was intended to explore the interactions of three religions (which is how we perceive history in retrospect, incorrectly as this series intends to argue) for which reason it was important to define at the outset the ways in which the three religions were alike and different. This anticipated the point raised in Part 2 of the series which referred to the first census in British India which institutionalized religious identities for non-religious purposes. In this census, the census-takers made the claim that in the etymological sense of the word, Hinduism is not, and...