Let us rediscover our history of composite culture: Asghar Ali Engineer

By Anju Azad, TwoCircles.net

Guwahati: Ashgar Ali Engineer spoke at a 3-day long international conference on “Armed Conflcit and Peace Prospect’ on June 17th, 2009 at Guwahati, Assam. The conference was organized by Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development. He delivered a lecture on ‘Re-reading through History of Communal Harmony’.

A brief abstract of his speech is as follows:

History is not history in the long run. History can be reconstructed, can be used or misused, history is the only social science that can be reconstructed as it deals with the past. It is a powerful tool which strongly appealed to our emotion. It can be used for controlling power to make or unmake society by reconstructing the past.

Because, it is all about our past. We tend to glorify our past. Muslims glorify their past and Hindus glorify Hindu period. We always take refuge in the past if there is anything wrong in the present. It is related with our culture and identity. Hindus says, before Muslims came it was all peace, prosperity, and everything started once Muslims came to India. Muslims will say, Muslim period was a glorious period. Muslims rulers were more tolerant towards others. In this way we reconstruct our history.

Text book in history – our heroes are their villains and there villains are our heroes. We give selective glorification of our past. It is a part of human behavior, we suppress our bad aspects. Same thing we do with our history. So that past appears to be real and ideal.

One must think about human behavior in mind while interpreting history. Everyone thinks that his religion is great. The dynamics of human behavior is important. For rulers, their interest is more important than anything else in the world. If a ruler belongs to my religion we would shape according to my religion. If a ruler belongs to other religion we may focus his bad aspects. So, we need to understand human mind.

Our history was written from British period. It was written chronologically. We don’t have analytical analysis of our history. British had their own interest keeping in mind their political goals. They saw unity among the Hindus and Muslims here and wanted to destroy that. They wrote history in a way to create tension between Hindus and Muslims. Whole Babari Masjid Ram Janambhoomi, the way the British translated Babar Nama. Babar never visited Ayodhya. He passed through. It was six month period in the diary is missing. So it was interpreted that in this period ram janambhoomi was destroyed in order to construct Babri Masjid. There was absolutely no evidence. He wrote it in a foot note and it was repeatedly used when the ram janambhoomi controversy started.

We can write history which will be very helpful in creating harmony in the society. Ayodhya has been a city of composite culture. There are so many Sufi establishments, masjids and temples. It was a great place of Muslim culture. It is also a city of Tulsi Das who translated Ramayana. In this conflict thousands died along with the harmony.

History of India is a culture of composite heritage. I don’t believe is periodisation as Hindu period, Muslims period, etc. it is very wrong. When we use the term Hindu or Muslim it becomes problematic. All rulers are homogenized as Hindus or Muslims. There is nothing like Hindu past or Muslims past. Various Hindu rulers fought among themselves and Muslims among themselves. Babar defeated Ibrahim Lodhi to come to India. It was between two Muslim dynasties. How can we say that Muslims killed Hindus to reign over India. Except Babar, Akbar or Humayun, all Mughals fought among themselves for power.

Culture of India is a composite culture, even before the Muslims came. It was diversity. Diversity is a part of the history of the India. It was always a composite culture. In Hindi, we called sanjhi virasat.

Today Indian Muslims don’t follow Ram, but in their language, they are very Indian. Once I went to Saudi Arabia in my childhood. They addressed me as ‘Hindi kaafir’. They think Arab Muslims is the true Muslim. Indian Islam is different and divers. Islam in Kashmir and Kerala are different. Indian Muslims, sect wise, are culturally linguistically different. Say for example, Assamese Muslims are different from me. I am a Guajarati Muslim. In fact al communities are diverse.

Different communities co-existed in India for a long time. Kabir panth is a result of marriage between Hindus and Muslims. Kabir would criticize both Hindus and Muslims. Arya samaj is another example of marriage between Hindus and Muslims.

Parinam Panthi from Gujarat believe in both Prophet Mohammed and Krishna. They also believe in idol worshipping. They consider prophet as an avatar of Krishna. In earlier days those who adopt Parinam Panthi would follow both religions. One brother would go to temple and another one will go to masjid.

These things are not known. We don’t teach history in a way that fosters communal harmony. We teach only those that create communal conflict.

Sufis contributed a lot for communal harmony. Kaafir means ‘someone who hides’ in Arabic. A famous Sufi leader opposed the use of the term of kaafir.

Communalism will be a thing of the past if we teach out history in a way to create communal harmony. Our education system is a powerful tool for strengthening communal harmony in the country. There should free debate among the historians on multiple interpretations in the country. Let us rediscover our past of composite culture. We should not let our rules use history in a way to satisfy their interests.