By Muhammad Maroof Shah
Aug 1 2018
Almost everything that has to do with celebration
of beauty and regard for many art forms is suspect today in the name of Islam.
Aesthetic dimension of life/Islam has not been given due consideration by
Madrasas, Universities or other educational institutions and it is no wonder
that our lives, our surroundings, our cities and other living spaces are
largely bereft of beauty. Few know that cultivating beauty in every act is the
fulfilment of Islam.
The Islamicate world has been a cultured
world with much emphasis on beauty, on poetry, on arts, on higher intellectual
pursuits and so many applied/traditional sciences. Any talk about study of
Islam or revival of Islam bypasses more
than three fourth of Islamic legacy. It is law and some dose of theology and
passing, often dismissive references to philosophy and esoterism and mostly
non-academic talk about history and modern trauma of encounter with
colonization that forms the main body of Islam in our sermons, curricula and
classes. Islam as the Religion or Religion of religions as distinguished from a
religion, as metaphysics, philosophy and culture distinguished from exotericist
theology and legalism is what is mostly missing when we talk about defending
Islam or teaching it. Islam as an abstraction, as something to be drilled,
imposed and opposed to other religions and world heritage of sciences, arts,
philosophies has been sold to the people with the consequence that Islam
appears often to be in danger that some specialists and ideologues are needed
to save for us.
There is all pervasive strange anxiety to
understand and defend Islamic as a prefix or category that situates itself
against what is branded non-Islamic in every human or even “divine” discipline.
The idea is to Islamize even Islam itself, to return to so-called pure Islam,
Islam shorn from its context and embodied legacy of rich cultural expressions.
Some slanders against world religions, world philosophies, Sufis, intellectual
elite of Islam, arts and new approaches in different disciplines rule the
roost. A few questions related to art and aesthetics that Muslims mostly have
ceased to ask and no wonder fail to answer (by even Islamic Studies/Madrasa
pass-outs)showing how little we understand how Islam has been
understood/expressed in history and lives of Muslims:
is Islamic Shahadah read as “There is no beauty but Beauty” by many a guardian
of Islamic culture? How come Muslims now
fail to understand Ihsan as commandment to beautify and often ignore/are
averse to arts and fail to note significance of what are called Beautiful Names
(Asma al-Husna) of God? What is the connection of so many names of God with
beauty? Isn’t it possible to understand denial of God or apostasy as choosing
ugliness over beauty?
did Muslims use feather as a bookmark for the Quran and what peacocks meant in
come we find pervasive astrological references in the Islamicate world? For
instance, we see fish, representing the zodiacal sign Pisces, on ceramics and
metalwork in Anatolia.
do trees, their branches and flowers in general, represent in the Islamic
there such thing as Islamic architecture that distinguished Muslim monuments,
dwellings and cities and why Muslims now ignore it except in case of mosque
design? What happened to Mecca in the name of reconstruction in recent history
and why Muslims are still indifferent? Was Islam indifferent to the question of
is order of activation of special organs of perception (lata’if) yellow, red,
white, black- green? What explains Islam’s privileging white and green? Is it
connected with Sirr and Ikhfa? Why is blue dominant colour in
architecture, in mosques and mausolea?
should we continue to build minarets as we no longer need them for reaching out
to people living far away? Why don’t Muslims build mosques the way their
Prophet (SAW) built at Medina and
instead use elaborate symbolic structures and take great care of interior
design and beauty? Why Muslims have been lavishing so much care in beautifying
mosques, shrines and tombs? How come the
notions of architect as priest and transforming dwelling place into cosmos or
“giving it the value of imagio mundi” are alien to modern would be experts on
come we reconcile the explication of cultural face of Islam by Ahmed Amin,
Pickthall, Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, Lamya al-Faruqi besides Nasr and
others with most juristic manuals on Islam that seem to write it off? What
about the phenomenon of Khusraw whose brand of Islamizing Indian culture
involved transforming music? How come such important figures as Ghazzali,
Ibn Hazm, al-Shawkani, Abdul Ghani Nablusi, Sultan al-Ulema al-Iz ibn
Abdul-Salam and many other towering Ulema and saints didn’t toe popular
line of rejection of music in the name of Islam? Didn’t Sufis win some famous
debates between jurists and Sufis on music?
is black drape over Ka’ba? What explains traditional black colour of
come gardens in Islamic culture got modelled on Paradise? Whose diagrams became model for designing Taj
Mahal and what about compelling readings that read the Taj Mahal as conscious
evocation of Divine Throne (Arsh)?
is the symbolism of ornaments, turban design, carpet design and general fabric
design Muslims have worn? Why, for instance, the particular design of carpets
with alternating jasmine and peony floral patterns you have seen?
come Muslims, in every age and from the earliest times, largely ignored some
commonly believed prohibitions of representing living creatures and music and
decorating mosques and building tombs for saints and kings? Did they betray
Islam thereby or it is we whose understanding of Islam as culture is a
problem? Is it known that “The
prohibition of images in Islam is not however absolute”?
Why has the art of talking about women and ‘civilizing sexual passion’ – ghazal
– as an art form been so important for major Islamic languages/cultures? What explains its central features?
If one fails to get illuminating answers to
such questions from average pass-outs In Islamic Studies departments or
religious seminaries, don’t be surprised. They fail to appreciate or take
account of scores of other questions on Islam’s intellectual and spiritual
legacy as well. Either curriculum is faulty or level of engagement below
standard or method of teaching-learning faulty.
Figuring of certain names / themes in curriculum doesn’t matter much
unless it is translated in real capacity building of students/ comprehension of
primary texts. Taking Islam seriously as it has been embodied in culture, in
arts, in philosophy and Tasawwuf or taking culture seriously in what is
called Islamic Studies is a task that has yet to properly begin in Kashmir.
Much Ado About Nothing
Good arguments need consideration, bad
arguments need refutation and no arguments (like dead deliveries) call for
silence or lamentation if they are taken as arguments. Dr Tawseef’s response to
my previous column on Nasr falls in the last category. Since this needs for
some readers a clarification, a few remarks follow.
my first and third statements, he has not stated any objection but simply
asserted he doesn’t agree as if impressionistic disagreement could refute the
fact – dismal engagement with Islamic intellectual legacy – presented for
anyone to verify. To the second statement, he has no counterargument as such
but creates a straw man to thrash by confounding my critique of product
(pass-outs) with the critique of curriculum that was not my primary
My point was that proof is in the pudding –
average pass-out have little acquaintance with much of Islamic legacy.
Imagining contradiction in my endorsing Summer School as contribution with my
dissatisfaction with previous record regarding how Islamic Studies has been
done shows a strange logic or lack of imagination. I didn’t brand students with teachers or
generalize about all students in my comments – I have great respect for some
teachers/students and have learnt/keep learning at their feet many things.
Slanders/ad hominum “arguments” attributing the worst corruption imaginable –
that one can sell one’s pen for being a resource person – are best left alone
for God to take account and not deserving even refutation.
maintain that in much of (as distinguished from everywhere) the Muslim world
Islamic Studies as characterized by me or authorities Dr Tauseef quotes does
not exist. One can count on fingers institutions/departments that do Islamic
studies in the desired sense. The rest is a poor adaptation of the idea called
Islamic Studies. The best institutions for doing this remain mostly in the West
– all doyens of it Nasr, Fazlur Rahman and Ismail Raji al-Faruqi
– did it mostly in the West.
check how Islamic Studies is done here, let us ask a fair sample of recent
Masters and PhDs to discuss, in any language, randomly opened one page of
classics of Muslim philosophy like Hikmat Al-Ishraq, Al-Isharat
Wa'l-Tanbihat Or Asfar or of Sufi classics such as Tawaseen or Fusoos
or even commentary on Fusoos or of classics of wisdom poetry or Quranic
exegesis by Ibn Sina, al-Sulami or al-Maybudi. If they hesitate
it shows one can pass exam by mugging up Wikipedia notes and dispense with
reading primary texts (curriculum/readings suggested don’t emphasize that
either) though still claim a Masters/Doctorate in Islamic Studies.
had long back seen syllabus and fair sample of students before commenting and
knew about course on Architecture in IUST but there was no teacher trained in
Islamic architecture to teach it. How many theses have been written on Islam
and arts so far?
So the learned author’s analysis rests on
misunderstanding my critique of the product (pass-outs/PhDs) as critique of