Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hideaway Communalism

Arun Shourie

A case in which the English version of a major book by a renowned Muslim scholar, the fourth Rector of one of the greatest centers of Islamic learning in India, listing some of the mosques, including the Babri Masjid, which were built on the sites and foundations of temples, using their stones and structures, is found to have the tell-tale passages censored out.

The book is said to have become difficult to get.

It is traced: And it is found to have been commended just 15 years ago by the most influential Muslim scholar of our country today, the current Rector of the great center of Islamic learning, and the Chairman of the Muslim Personal Law Board.

Evasion, concealment have become a national habit. And they have terrible consequences. But first I must give you some background. The National Ulama of Lucknow is one of the principal centers of Islamic learning in India. It was founded in 1894. It ranks today next only to the Darul-Ulum at Deoband. The government publication, Centers of Islamic Learning in India, recalls how the founders "aimed at producing capable scholars who could project a true image of Islam before the modern world in an effective way'; it recalls how "Towards fulfilling its avowed aim in the matter of educational reform, it (the group) decided to establish an ideal educational institution which would not only provide education in religious and temporal sciences but also offer technical training"; it recalls how "It (Nadwa) stands out today -- with its college, a vast and rich library and Research and Publication Departments housed in fine buildings -- as one of the most outstanding institutions for imparting instruction in the Islamic Sciences"; it recalls how "A salient feature of this institution is its emphasis on independent research"; it recalls how "The library of the Nadwa, housed in the central hall and the surrounding rooms of the main building, is, with more than 75,000 titles including about 3,000 handwritten books mostly in Arabic and also in Persian, Urdu, English etc., one of the finest libraries of the sub-continent". That was written 10 years ago. The library now has 125,000 books.

Its Head

Today the institution is headed by Maulana Abdul-Hasan Ali Nadwi. Ali Mian, as he is known to one and all, is almost without any doubt the most influential Muslim teacher and figure today -- among the laity, in government circles, and among scholars and governments abroad.

He was among the founders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the fundamentalist organization; but because of differences with Maulana Maudoodi, he left soon. Today he is the chairman of the Muslim Personal Law Board. He is a founder member of the Raabta Alam-e-Islami, the Pan-Islamic body with headquarters in Mecca, which decides among other things the amounts that different Islamic organizations the world over should receive. He has been the Nazim, that is the Rector, of the Darul-Ulum Nadwatul-Ualama since 1961, that is for well over a quarter of a century. The Nadwa owns not a small part of its eminence to the scholarship, the exertions, the national and international contacts of Ali Mian.

Politicians of all hues -- Rajiv Gandhi, V P Singh, Chandrasekhar seek him out. He is the author of several books, including the well known Insani Duniya Par Musalmanon Ke Uruj-Zaval Ka Asar (The Impact of the Rise and Fall of Muslims on Mankind), and is taken as the authority on Islamic law, jurisprudence, theology, and specially history. And he has great, in fact decisive, influence on the politics of Muslims in India.

His Father and His Book

His father, Maulana Hakim Sayed Abdul Hai, was an equally well known and influential figure. When the Nadwa was founded, the first Rector, Maulana Muhammed Monghyri, the scholar at whose initiative the original meeting in 1892 which led to establishment of the Nadwa was called, had chosen Maulana Abdul Hai as the Madagar Nazim, the additional Rector. Abdul Hai served in that capacity till July 1915 when he was appointed the Rector. Because of his scholarship and his services to the institution and to Islam, he was reappointed as the Rector in 1920. He continued in that post till his death in February 1923. He too wrote several books, including a famous directory which has just been republished from Hyderabad, of thousands of Muslims who had served the cause of Islam in India, chiefly by the numbers they had converted to the faith.

During some work, I came across the reference to a book of his and began to look for it. It was a long, discursive book, I learnt, which began with descriptions of geography, flora and fauna, languages, people and regions of India. These were written for Arabic speaking people, the book having been written in Arabic.

In 1972, I learnt, the Nadwatul-Ulama had the book translated into Urdu and published the most important chapters of the book under the title Hindustan Islami Ahad Mein ("Hindustan Under Islamic Rule"). Ali Mian, I was told, had himself written the foreword in which he had commended the book most highly. The book as published had left out description of geography etc, on the premise that facts about these are well known to Indian readers.

A Sudden Reluctance

A curious fact hit me in the face. Many of the persons who one would have normally expected to be knowledgeable about such publications were suddenly reluctant to recall this book. I was told, in fact, that copies of the book had been removed, for instance from the Aligarh Muslim University Library. Some even suggested that a determined effort had been made three or four years ago to get back each and every copy of this book.

Fortunately the suggestion turned out to be untrue. While some of the libraries one would normally expect to have the book -- the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi; the famous libraries in Hyderabad -- those of the Dairutual Maarifal-Osmania, of the Salar Jung Museum, of the Nizam's Trust, of the Osmania University, the Kutubkhana-I-Saidiya -- did not have it, others did. Among the latter were the Nadwa's library itself, the justly famous Khuda Baksh Library in Patna, that of the Institute of Islamic Studies in Delhi.

The fact that the book was available in all these libraries came as a great reassurance. I felt that if reactionaries and propagandists have become so well organized that they can secure disappearance from every library of a book they have come not to like, we are in deep trouble. Clearly they were not that respectful. The fact that, contrary to what I had been told, the book was available also taught me another reassuring thing: factional fights among Muslim fundamentalists are as sharp and intense as are the factional fights among fundamentalists of other hues. For the suggestion of there being something sinister in the inaccessibility of the book had come to me from responsible Muslim quarters.

'This valuable gift, this historical testament'

The book is the publication number 66 of the Majlis Tehqiqat wa Nashriat Islam, the publication house of the Nadwatul-Ulama, Lucknow. The Arabic version was published in 1972 in Hyderabad, the Urdu version in 1973 in Lucknow. An English version was published in 1977. I will use the Urdu version as the illustration. Maulana Abdul-Hasan Ali Nadwi, that is Ali Mian himself contributes the foreword. It is an eloquent, almost lyrical foreword.

Islam has imbued its followers with the quest for truth, with patriotism, he writes. Their nature, their culture has made Muslims the writers of true history, he writes. Muslims had but to reach a country, he writes, and its fortunes lit up and it awakened from the slumber of hundreds an thousands of years. The country thereby ascended from darkness to light, he writes, from oblivion and obscurity to the pinnacle of name and fame. Leaving its parochial ambit, he writes, it joined the family of man, it joined the wide and vast creation of God. And the luminescence of Islam, he writes, transformed its hidden treasure into the light of eyes. It did not suck away the wealth of the country, he writes, and vomit it elsewhere as western powers did. On the contrary, it brought sophistication, culture, beneficent administration, peace, tranquility to the country. It raised the country from the age of savagery to the age of progress, he writes, from infantilism to adulthood. It transformed its barren lands into swaying fields, he writes, its wild shrubs into fruit-laden trees of such munificence that the residents could not even have dreamt of them.

And so on.

He then recalls that the vast learning and prodigious exertions of Maulana Abdul Hai, his 8-volume work on 4500 Muslims who served the cause of Islam in India, his directory of Islamic scholars. He recalls how after completing these books the Maulana turned to subjects which had till then remained obscure, how in these labors the Maulana was like the proverbial bee collecting honey from varied flowers. He recounts the wide range of the Mualana's scholarship. He recounts how the latter collected rare data, how a person like him accomplished single-handed what entire academics are unable these days to do.

He recounts the structure of the present book. He recalls how it lay neglected for long, how, even as the work of retranscribing a moth-eaten manuscript was going on, a complete manuscript was discovered in Azamgarh, how in 1933 the grace of Providence saved it from destruction and obscurity.

He writes that the book brings into bold relief those hallmarks of Islamic rule which have been unjustly and untruthfully dealt with by western and Indian historians, which in fact many Muslim historians and scholars in universities and academics too have treated with neglect and lack of appreciation.

Recalling how Maulana Abdul Hai had to study thousands of pages on a subject, Ali Mian says that only he who has himself worked on the subject can appreciate the effort that has gone into the study. You will get in a single chapter of this book, he tells the reader, the essence which you cannot obtain by reading scores of books. This is the result, he writes, of the fact that the author labored only for the pleasure of the God, for the service of the learning, and the fulfillment of his own soul. Such authors expected no rewards, no applause, he tells us. Work has their entire satisfaction. That is how they were able to put in such Herculean labors, to spend their entire life on one subject. We are immensely pleased, he concludes, to present this valuable gift and historical testament to our countrymen and hope that Allah will accept this act of service and scholars will also receive it with respect and approbation.

The Explanation

Such being the eminence of the author, such being the greatness of the work, why is it not the cynosure of the fundamentalists' eyes ?

The answer is in the chapter "Hindustan ki Masjidein" , The Mosques of Hindustan (India).

Barely seventeen pages; the chapter is simply written. A few facts about some of the principal mosques are described in a few lines each.

The facts are well-known, they are elementary, and setting them out in few lines each should attract no attention. And yet as we shall see, there is a furtiveness in regard to them. Why? Descriptions of seven mosques provide the answer.

The devout constructed so many mosques, Maulana Abdul Hai records, they lavished such huge amounts and such labors on them that they cannot be all reckoned, that every city, town, hamlet came to be adorned by a mosque. He says that he will therefore have to be content with setting out the facts of just a few of the well-known ones.

A few sentences from what he says about mosques will do:

Qawwat al-Islam Mosque at Delhi

"According to my findings the first mosque of Delhi is Qubbat al-Islam or Quwwat al-Islam which, it is said, Qutub-Din Aibak constructed in H. 587 after demolishing the temple built by Prithvi Raj and leaving certain parts of the temple; and when he returned from Ghazni in H. 592, he started building, under orders from Shihabuddin Ghori, a huge mosque of inimitable red stones, and certain parts of the temple were included in the mosque. After that, when Shamsud-Din Altamish became the king, he built, on both sides of it, edifices of white stones, and on one side of it he started constructing the loftiest of all towers which has no equal in the world for its beauty and strength."

The Mosque at Jaunpur

"This was built by Sultan Ibrahim Sharqi with chiseled stones. Originally, it was a Hindu temple after demolishing which he constructed the mosque. It is known as the Atala Masjid. The Sultan used to offer his Friday and Id prayers in it, and Qazi Shihbud-Din gave lessons in it"

The Mosque at Kanauj

"This mosque stands on an elevated ground inside the Fort of Kanauj. It is well-known that it was built on the foundations of some Hindu temple (that stood) here. It is a beautiful mosque. They say that it was built by Ibrahim Sharqi in H. 809 as is recorded in Gharbat Nigar. "

The Jami Mosque at Etawah

"This mosque stands on the bank of the Jamuna at Etawah. There was a Hindu temple at this place, on the site of which this mosque was constructed. It is also patterned after the mosque at Kanauj. Probably it is one of the monuments of the Sharqi Sultans."

Babri Masjid at Ayodhya

"This mosque was constructed by Babar at Ayodhya which Hindus call the birth place of Ramchandraji. There is a famous story about his wife Sita. It is said Sita had a temple here in which she lived and cooked food for her husband. On that very site Babar constructed this mosque in H. 963 "

Mosques of Aalamgir Aurangzeb

"It is said that the mosque of Benares was built by Alamgir on the site of Vishweshwar Temple. That temple was very tall and held as holy among the Hindus. On this very site and with those very stones he constructed a lofty mosque, and its ancient stones were rearranged after being embedded in the walls of the mosque. It is one of the renowned mosques of Hindustan. The second mosque at Beneras is the one which was built by Alamgir on the bank of Ganga with chiseled stones. This also is a renowned mosque of Hindustan. It has 28 towers, each of which is 238 feet tall. This is on the bank of the Ganga and its foundations extend to the depth of the waters. Alamgir built mosque at Mathura. It is said that this mosque was built on the site of the Gobind Dev Temple which was very strong and beautiful as well as exquisite"

"It is said"

But the Maulana is not testifying to the facts. He is merely reporting what was believed. He repeatedly says, "It is said that".

That seems to be a figure of speech with the Maulana. When describing the construction of the Quwwatul Islam mosque by Qutubuddin Aibak, for instance he uses the same "It is said".

If the facts were in doubt, would a scholar of Ali Mian's diligence and commitment not have commented on them in his fullbodied foreword? Indeed, he would have decided against republishing them as he decided not to republish much of the original book.

And if the scholars had felt that the passages could be that easily disposed of, why should any effort have been made to take a work to the excellence of which a scholar of Ali Mian's stature has testified in such a fullsome manner, and what has been done to this one? And what is that?

Each reference to each of these mosques having been constructed on the sites of temples with, as in the case of Benaras, the stones of the very temples which were demolished for that very purpose have been censored out of the English version of the book ! Each one of the passages on each one of the seven mosques!

Indeed there is not just censorship but substitution. In the Urdu volume we are told in regard to the mosque at Kanauj for instance that "This mosque stands on an elevated ground inside the fort of Kanauj. It is well known that it was built on the foundation of some Hindu temple that stood here." In the English version we are told in regard to the same mosque that "It occupied a commanding site, believed to have been the place earlier occupied by an old and decayed fort".

If the passages could have been explained away by referring to the "It is said", why would anyone have thought it necessary to remove these passages from the English version -- that is the version which is likely to be read by persons other than the faithful? Why would anyone bowdlerize the book of a major scholar in this way?


But that, though obvious, weighs little with me. The fact that temples were broken and mosques constructed in their place is well known. Nor is the fact that the materials of the temples -- the stones and the idols -- were used in constructing the mosque, news. It was thought that this was the way to announce hegemony. It was thought that this was the way to strike at the heart of the conquered -- for in those days the temple was not just a place of worship; it was the hub of the community's life, of its learning, of its social life. So the lines in the book which bear on this practice are of no earth-shaking significance in themselves. Their real significance -- and I dare say that they are but the smallest, most innocuous example that one can think of on the mosque-temple business -- lies in the evasion and concealment they have spurred. I have it on good authority that the passages have been known for long, and well known to those who have been stoking the Babri Masjid issue.

(Several other modern Muslim historians and epigraphists accept that the fact that many other mosques including the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya stand on the sites of Hindu temples.)

That is the significant thing; they have known them, and their impulse has been to conceal and bury rather than to ascertain the truth.

I have little doubt that a rational solution can be found for the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi tangle, a solution which will respect the sentiments, the essentials, of the religions of all.

But no solution can be devised if the issue is going to be made the occasion for a show of strength by either side, if it is going to be converted into a symbol for establishing who shall prevail.

The fate of Maulana Abdul Hai's passages -- and I do not know whether the Urdu version itself was not a conveniently sanitized version of the original Arabic Volume -- illustrates the cynical manner in which those who spoke the passions of religion to further their politics are going about the matter.

Those who proceed by such cynical calculations sow havoc for all of us, for Muslims, for Hindus, for all. Those who remain silent in the face of such cynicism, such calculations help them sow the havoc.

Will we shed our evasions and concealment? Will we at last learn to speak and face the whole truth? To see how communalism of one side justifies and stokes that of the other? To see that these "leaders" are not interested in facts, not in the religion, not in a building or a site, but in power, in their personal power, and in that alone? That for them religion is but an instrument, an instrument which is so attractive because the costs of wielding it fall on others, on their followers, and not on them?

Will we never call a halt to them?

Indian Express
February 5, 1989

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