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Mehreen Omer

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 563313_244743872367255_1579701021_npast, 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.

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.

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.

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