Indianness and Islam
A Karachi based Pakistani social scientist while visiting India recently, coming across a large hoarding advertising a new serial Draupadi, asked an Indian friend, "who Draupadi was?" In a column in Dawn (9 Sept 2002), he wrote the Indian friend was "shocked" by his question. "Hai Rama, what kind of South Asian are you?" she cried in disbelief.
The Indian lady was wondering how could a South Asian be so ignorant of the history of the region he lives in – of the heritage of his country. At the same time the Pakistani social scientist was surprised that the Indian lady does not understand "how should I know who Draupadi is/was? I come from a country where 97 per cent of population is Muslim and has been so for at least last fifty years, where Islam dominates culturally and politically. …The stories of Indian mythology are not those which form our reality or consciousness."
Despite common heritage, geography and history, a deep cultural, religious and psychological gorge divide the two – and the two communities -- which both, but mostly Indians are not willing to accept.
The ignorance is more on the part of the Indian lady. Just because Pakistan is part of larger India – now called South Asia – she assumed that Pakistanis would be aware of the history of their land -- Mahabharata being as much the story of what is now Pakistan as it is of what is left as India.
But it is not really so.
Those outside the present boundaries of truncated India don’t regard the history and culture of pre-truncated India as their history, culture or even heritage. The history, culture and history of the Indian subcontinent – or South Asia, to be politically correct – is regarded as belonging solely the preserve of the Hindus – and to be even more politically correct of those who are now labeled as Hindu communalists.
Where does Pakistan stand?
"History, in the Pakistan schoolbooks, begins with Arabia and Islam." Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul notes in Among the Believers. "In the simpler texts, surveys of the Prophet and the first four caliphs and perhaps the Prophet’s daughter are followed, with hardly a break, by lives of the poet Iqbal, Mr. Jinnah, the political founder of Pakistan, and two or three "martyrs," soldiers or airmen who died in the holy wars against India in 1965 and 1971."
Pakistan is an Islamic country and in Islamic theology, the period before Islam is a time of blackness – of jahiliyat . History has to serve theology and thus any history prior to coming of Islam is a period of darkness. A thing is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ only as it relates to Islam. Thus before Sind was conquered by Islam, it was bad. When the Arabs invasions brought the faith, "bad times become a sacred times."
"The Mongols destroyed the Arab empire in the East. So Mongols were bad. But the Mongols became Muslims and established the great Mughal empire in India; so that becomes a wonderful time." Observed Naipaul.
The excavations of Mohenjodaro is one of the archaelogical glories of the world, and should be of Pakistan. "Mohenjo-Daro is one of the oldest, if not the oldest" known civilization of the world. But this excavations are now being damaged by water logging. The Indians claim it as their heritage but not Pakistan where it exists. "A featured letter in Dawn offered its own ideas for the site. Verses from the Koran, the writer said should be engraved and set up in Mohenjo-Daro in appropriate places: "Say, (unto them, O Mohammed): Travel in the land and see the nature of the sequel for the guilty….. Say (O Mohammed, to the disbelievers): Travel in the land and see the consequences for those who were before you. Most of them were idolaters."
Draupadi and the Mahabharata were also before the advent of Islam and thus belong to the period of darkness. Why would Pakistani minds be polluted with darkness?
As a matter of fact the current controversy about Ayodhya has similar overtones. What is true of Pakistani Muslims is also true of many Indian Muslims. For the Muslims of India too, only that of history is important that relates to Islam. India before that is an area of darkness. It is immaterial that over 95% of the Muslims of India are converts from Hinduism, and of Indian origin. But since they have now become Muslim, what Babar, a foreign Muslim invader built by demolishing a Hindu – Indian – shrine is more important than the their Indian heritage. For an Indian once he converts to Islam, his Indian heritage is to be forgotten. Tabligh jamaat is working hard to remove all vestiges of Indianness from the daily mores of converted Indians.
The Indian lady – read Hindu – only expressed her ignorance of Islam when she expected her Pakistani visitor to know who Draupadi was or is? Had the Indian television not carried the Mahabharata serial, not many Indian Muslims would know who Draupadi was or is? Yes, knowledge of Aisha or Khadija would be a different matter.
The ignorance is solely on the part of the Indian lady who expected the visitor from Pakistan to know about the darkness before Islam. And since India has not yet become fully Islamic, it is still an area of darkenss.