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A forgotten leaf of medieval history

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By Tahir Kamran

Scantily researched and rarely mentioned these days is a significant figure of the medieval history, Allami Abul Fazal, the author of Akbarnama and Ain-i-Akbari. Our academia’s general indifference to such personalities as Abul Fazal may be attributed to a receding interest in Persian language and literature. Our utilitarian approach to knowledge, and in the process ignoring our history and heritage, has cost us dearly.

Recently, the head of the Translation Bureau of Iran, Dr Nasiri, a historian by training, visited the GC University Lahore’s Persian department on the invitation of Professor Iqbal Shahid. We talked about Ain-i-Akbari and the second part of Akbarnama, which deals with history as a form of knowledge, and about how rarely medieval historical narrative transcends the general practice of chronicling events of certain time period in sequential order. We agreed that Abul Fazal formulated a theory of history, which is yet to be analysed and deliberated on by historians, particularly those interested in the philosophical undercurrents of the subject.

 

I found the conversation to be illuminating. It motivated me to write this week’s column on Abul Fazal, which I dedicate to Prof. Iqbal Shahid, a scholar in Persian literature of extraordinary stature. It was because of him that I could meet Dr Nasiri.

Born in January 1551 to Shiekh Mubarak in Agra, Abul Fazal inherited from his father and grandfather the tradition of ‘mysticism and toleration, of universal learning and cosmopolitanism’. His was a Hejazi family that had migrated to India from Iran and had settled in Nagaur near Ajmer. He was privileged to be a son of such a celebrated scholar as Sheikh Mubarak. Also, he was the younger brother of Abul Faizi, a renowned Persian poet of his age.

At a young age of 20, Abul Fazal had earned the reputation of an erudite scholar, with a wide range of scholarly pursuits, coupled with profound thinking. His brother Faizi presented him to Akbar in the 19th year of the emperor’s reign in 1574, and very soon he became the Akbar’s alter ego, even more powerful than the prime minister. He obtained a high rank of 4000 horses and distinguished himself as a soldier and a civilian.

Besides being a writer and a scholar, Abul Fazal was ‘a man of affairs’ with a profound understanding of the behaviour of states and the course of history.

He acquired unusual dexterity as a prose writer, which was matched by none of his contemporaries. Thus his works are important, for they are a great source of medieval history and are literary masterpieces. Apart from Akbarnama and Ain-i-Akbari, Abul Fazal wrote a collection of letters, called ‘Makatib-i-Allami’, ‘Insha-i-Abul Fazal’ or ‘Makatib-i-Abul Fazal’. The collection of letters is divided into four Daftars. These letters were written to kings and amirs on behalf of Akbar. A collection of his private letters has also been compiled; title Rukiat-i-Abul Fazal, which too is of great importance as a primary source of history.

As a prose writer, Abul Fazal was a laureate of great merit. Shah Nawaz Khan, the author of Ma’asir ul-Umara, praised his work and wrote, “As a writer Abul Fazal stands unrivalled. His style is grand and is free from the technicalities and flimsy pettiness of other munshis (scribes) and the force of his words, the structure of his sentences and the suitableness of his compounds and the elegance of his periods are such that it would be difficult for anyone to imitate him.”

Abdullah Khan Uzbek used to say that he was more afraid of the pen of Fazal Khan (Abul Fazal) than the sword of Akbar.

Abul Fazal began writing Akbarnama and Ain-i-Akbari in 1595 after Mughal Emperor Akbar directed him to “write with the pen of sincerity the account of the glorious events and of our dominion increasing victories”. E. Sreedharan is of the view that “Few histories could have been written from a wider background of education and experience, few prepared more diligently, elaborately and conscientiously than the Akbarnama and Ain-i-Akbari”. He finished writing it in seven years and presented it to the king in 1602.

A detailed analysis of these works requires another column. This week however I will focus on a few minor aspects of his personality: He is known in history as a glutton who could consume 30 pounds of food everyday. He had four wives; one of them was a Hindu. The power and pelf that he enjoyed earned him several enemies; Prince Saleem, the crown prince, one of them.

Saleem ordered Bir Singh to murder Abul Fazal in 1602, the year he completed his magnum opus. His death came as a big shock to Akbar.

Obviously Abul Fazal produced some of the greatest works of history sponsored by kings and financed by the state.

In Abul Fazal’s Akbar Nama and Ain-i-Akbari, Indian historiography saw a visible departure from the previous methods employed during the Sultanate period. In this regard, three aspects of Abul Fazal’s works of history are worth our appreciation.

First, he used a rationalist approach to history, which was unique in that day and age. One can say that he pioneered rationalism in the local-medieval epistemology. For him, reason has central importance to realise the Truth: “Realisation of Truth, which is the goal of human life, can be achieved only by the light of reason, and reason is nourished by a study of the past.” Thus, he seems to have necessitated rationality as a perennial attribute of history. He considered history, “a unique pearl of science which quiets perturbations, physical and spiritual, and gives light to the darkness external and internal.”

Abul Fazal’s emphasis on rationality as a guiding principle for human life goes on to contradict the long-held view of ‘reason’ having its origin in the West. According to that assertion, it was by way of Colonialism only that India came to adopt rationality, and there were no traces of rationality in the socio-cultural tradition of the subcontinent. That is one big reason why Colonialism is considered benevolence in disguise for Indian people, who otherwise could not have ventured out of medievality.

It is unfortunate that many among our literati consider medieval age essentially irrational, implying that those were the dark ages. One may argue here that it is through Abul Fazal’s works that we can lay claim to rationality stemming from local epistemic tradition. That can help us know alternative traditions of knowledge which have indigenous moorings. One historian contends that “among medieval historians Abul Fazal alone can lay claim to a rational, secular and liberal approach to history”.

The second aspect that is of considerable significance is Abul Fazal’s attention to details. He took incredible pain to ascertain the veracity of the fact before including it into the narrative. Therefore, we can consider him a precursor of Leopold Von Ranke — a Prussian historian of 18th century who enjoys an elevated status of ‘the father of modern history-writing’ — in some sense. Abul Fazal made extensive use of the collection of original sources; their critical scrutiny was the most advanced and novel attempt so far made in Indian history-writing. The well-organised Imperial record office established in 1574-75 was at his disposal, including the considerable material already collected for the Tarikh-i-Alfi.

Besides, Abul Fazal’s extreme fastidiousness can be gauged by the fact that he revised the original draft of Akbar-Nama five times before submitting it to Akbar. He procured copies of the orders earlier issued to provincial governors and other eminent officers. Dignitaries of state and other well-informed persons were called upon to write down their reminiscences and dispatch them to the Court. He made persistent enquiries from old servants and attendants of the Court and discussed events with officers involved. He indeed had all those privileges of access to the original sources and the ears of everybody of some consequence in the Imperial Court, which must have made things quite convenient for him.

Having said that, one cannot deny the talent and diligence Abul Fazal was endowed with. It will not at all be easy to refute Sreedharan’s conclusion about him, which goes on to state, “No historian in India so far had been so insistent on the need for historical methodology and none brought it to such perfection as Abul Fazal”.

The third characteristic of Abul Fazal’s history writing is his broadening of Indian history’s scope. I have no qualms in stating that after Abu Rehan Al Beruini, Abul Fazal was the only historian who made close and meticulous study of Indian social classes his subject of study. He left an account not only of the political institutions and administrative arrangements of north India in the sixteenth century, but a description of the country and the manners, customs and popular beliefs of the local masses.

He did not confine himself to Muslim Kings and nobility (Ashraf) as his focus of historical enquiry. Hindus and Jains were the pre-eminent part of his study, a fact that accords Abul Fazal a unique status among the historians of Medieval India. Through his historical narrative, he tried his best to bridge the gap and the religio-cultural differences between the Hindus and Muslims. He categorically refuted the claims of the ulema that Hindus were kafirs or mushrik. He went on to establish Hindus as believers in One God.

All said and done, it was for the first time that the governed classes found a representation of sorts through the works of Abul Fazal. N.A. Siddiqi writes, “He refused to agree with the view held by his predecessors that Indian history essentially constituted a record of the struggles between the forces of Islam and Hinduism.

For Abul Fazal the conflict was between the Mughal Empire and the Indian princes, Hindu and the Muslim alike.” Athar Abbas Rizvi considers both of Abul Fazal’s works of history as extraordinary pieces of Persian prose. Undoubtedly, his inimitable grand style is much admired by the orientalist scholars for the force of words, the structure of sentences and stylistic elegance.

It is obvious that Abul Fazal wrote these monumental works at the behest of the Emperor. So expecting objectivity the way it is perceived in the era of modernity amounts to asking a bit too much from a medieval historian. In eulogising his master, he at times bade farewell to reason and tended to associate miraculous powers and attributes to Akbar. He is also being said to be the main architect of Din-Illahi along with his father Sheikh Mubarak and brother Abul Faizi, but that is a subject of study that needs a separate series of columns.


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Roots of Social Darwinism

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By Amir Suhail Wani

August Comte, the forefather of modern sociology divided human history into three stages, “the theological stage, when events of the universe are interpreted in terms of divine powers, the metaphysical stage in which we find no mention of specific Gods (Although external forces are still referred to in order to explain events)and the stage of positivism, where events are explained in terms of common laws deduced from observation and calculation without having recourse to spirit, God or external power’’. Positivist philosophy is a technical term applied by Comte to his view of the world. He believed that human mind should confine itself to actual facts or phenomenon. Comte’s central thrust was to apply scientific methods to the study of society. Positivism, therefore says Patrick “really amounts to this: Science is the final stage of human thought” Comte’s positivism thus amounts to epiphenomenalism, restraining humans to abstain to look behind the phenomenon into their root causes. Such an approach shifted the gaze of man from metaphysical causes to mere physical events.

Time and again the slogan was raised that “All knowledge that is factual is connected with experiences, in such a way that verification or direct or indirect confirmation is possible”. Such a view had long lasting ramifications on almost all subjects of human interest and it provided a new matrix for the re-synthesis of human thought. One of the most important emergent consequences of this doctrine was the mechanical interpretation of life. The first step in this direction was taken by Charles Darwin, who posited that all living species evolved from a single cell that emerged on the earth 3.8 million years ago. Organic evolutionists believe that the study of animal life shows higher and lower species exist, which range from unicellular to multicellular organisms. When these observations are linked with the fossils preserved in different layers of earth’s crust, it is revealed (to evolutionists) that higher forms of life have actually emerged from the lower forms. Thus it deems man as the decedent of apes, which apart from its biological aspects has some serious philosophical consequences. We shall not go into the details of evolution, neither its acceptance nor rejection; however, we shall see that how it has led to the downfall of human values and created a podium for what can be called as the descent of man68.But the spontaneous origin of life governed by laws of probability is something which no rational being can accept. Thus Prof. Leslie Orgel, an evolutionist of repute from the University of San Diego confesses in 1994 issue of Scientific American magazine confesses that:-

 

“It is extremely improbable that proteins and nucleic acids both of which are structurally complex arose spontaneously in the same place at the same time. Yet it also seems impossible to have one without the other. And so, at first glance, one might have to conclude that life could never, in fact, have originated by chemical means.

The philosophical ramifications of the theory of evolution are still far reaching. We can approach it in two directions, either as an ascent of man or as the descent of man, the former being positive approach while the latter being negative Darwinian approach. For, to say that man emerged from lower forms of life implies a rhetoric degeneration of the pedestal that man occupies. It can also be said that man is the climax of process of evolution and occupies the highest place in the hierarchy of creation. Even if it is assumed, for time being that the theory of evolution has some credibility, even then it has no scope either to deny the existence of creator nor to demote man from his pedestal. In former case, can be argued that if evolution is correct then the God works like this and evolution is one among his many means to bring existence out of naught. In argument to second statement, it can be exampled that the origin of things hardly matters when it comes to its real ends. As an example, stars are created out of miniscule and unworthy atoms of hydrogen and helium, but when it comes to their purposive nature, the stars lit the entire universe. It is pertinent to quote Allama lqbal in this regard, who said:-

“The fact that the higher emerges out of the lower does not rob the higher of its worth and dignity. It is not the origin of a thing that matters, it is the capacity, the significance and the final reach of the emergent that matter- indeed the evolution of life shows that though in the beginning, the mental is dominated by the physical, the mental, as it grows in power, tends to dominate the physical and may eventually rise to a position of complete independence”

There are other versions of evolution like that of spiritual evolution, cosmic evolution, which believes that evolution means the adoption of life to the energy patterns of universe or in other words to harmonize oneself with the laws of nature. In Islamic lexicon, this is termed as “Submitting to Shariah or divine law”. It also believes that things have to have some causes before they start assuming phenomenal form and since man strives for higher values these values must exist. Thus this evolution doesn’t stop at man, but takes entire cosmos into its fold, while simultaneously striving towards never ending vistas. The second part of this vision deals with the evolution of universe tracing back its origin to big bang and investigating its time evolution through different cosmic time scales’. There is also another version of evolution called creative evolution, to which we will come after a while. Thus on the whole we have seen that the evolutionary picture of man, as interpreted by Darwinists reduces man to an amoral biped with no sense of higher values. Such an interpretation of Evolution has often brought it into strong clash with the religion and the doctrine has been refuted, not merely on dogmatic but on sound rational basis.

The formulation of the theory of evolution was a turning point in the evolution of human thought. The way, this theory was interpreted removed God from the cosmic screen. Thus Julian Huxley, in his book Religion without revelation remarked that “Newton showed that God did not control the movement of the planets. Laplace in his famous aphorism affirmed that astronomy had no need of God hypothesis; Darwin and Pasteur between them did the same for biology”. Such interpretations paved the ground for materialists and deprived humans of the spiritual element which had been an inspiring factor in evolution of civilizations. This materialistic doctrine took different forms in different sectors of life. In physical sciences it came to be concluded that the universal phenomenon are governed by strict and immutable laws of physics, with no intervention of creator. In biology, as shown above it was precluded that life emerged from De novo without the intervention of creator. So much of determinism, it was concluded that even the realms of human free will are subject to laws of mechanics (Laplace). This was the picture of philosophy and the framework of human understanding that existed in and prior to 1860.

The philosophy was further reinforced by Karl Marx, via his famous doctrines of capitalism and Marxism. It is said of Marx that he gave to history what Darwin gave to biology. Marx claimed that he had discovered the laws of social evolution which govern our present, past and future of our social dynamics as the laws of physics govern the overall history of physical phenomenon. In other words, he established social and physical sciences on same stand. As the laws of physical universe are immutable to any human intervention, so are the laws of social evolution unchangeable and follow a definite course on their own, without any active participation of man. Further he professed that all social phenomenon are a consequence of class conflict. As Manifesto of the communist party puts it, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles .

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” Apart from his views on social history or economic system, which remain a subject of controversy, Marx presented a picture of man that deserves special mention. Marx referred to humans as Gattungswesen, translated as “species essence” By this Marx meant that humans are capable of making or shaping their own nature to a great extent. As Erich Fromm notes “For Marx’s philosophy, which has found its most articulate expression in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, the central issue is that of the existence of the real individual man, who is what he does, and whose “nature” unfolds and reveals itself in history. But in contrast to Kierkegaard and others, Marx sees man in his full concreteness as a member of a given society and of a given class, aided in his development by society, and at the same times its captive. The full realization of man’s humanity and his emancipation from the social forces that imprison him is bound up, for Marx, with the recognition of these forces, and with social change based on this recognition.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: amirkas2016@gmail.com)

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RESPECT YOURSELF

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BY Shabbir Aariz

Respect is more valuable than praise and we are told ‘respect others and you will be respected’. Not bad but because of this, one is likely to become obsessed with pleasing everyone else, ignoring one’s own self for having been guided to a thinking that any importance if accorded to one’s own self, is something wrong to do. But everything in your life depends on how you treat yourself as the self-respect is at the root of everything that you will ever do, how you treat yourself and allow everyone else to treat you and it is always important not put yourself last.

Self-respect is neither to be confused with an inflated ego or self-esteem or over confidence. One can have little self-respect while acting with self esteem by conducting himself in the manner that makes him very successful. If one has a bad day, one falls an easy prey to blame, guilt, depression, despair and stress and with that the self-esteem also is at a risk of disappearance that once had inflated one’s ego, given also the feeling of being very special and important. Respecting oneself is not all about that. Respecting one’s own self is nothing to do with being conceited or self centered and egoist….. in fact it does the quite opposite. Self-respect is all about discovering one’s worth and having its deep sense and showing the worthiness of giving and receiving love and respect. It is a belief about one’s own worth and value. One needs to admit and acknowledge to oneself that one deserves not to be treated poorly but with respect and have the courage to stand up for oneself while being treated in a manner that is less than what one really deserves. It is an ability to adjust one’s life after knowing one’s worth on one’s own terms and isolating people treating one poorly. It is being able to never saying ‘yes’ while wanting to say ‘no’ and letting others know the same. It never makes a person bad but respectable and strong. It has to do with feelings people experience that come from their sense of worthiness or unworthiness. It is about having the ability to put a halt to any attempt that is aimed at taking one for granted.

 

When one learns to love oneself and treat others with respect that gives one an amazing inner satisfaction. It is not ego which would mean only to respect yourself. Self-respect means to be able to sacrificing personal interest for greater good. In one’s relationship with anyone, respect is an important quality and there is no exception when it comes to one’s relationship to oneself. It is about having a sense of honor and dignity about yourself, your choices, decisions and your life. It is about treating others well and knowing that by doing so, others will treat you well in return. It keeps us on track in our lives. It is really interesting to teach others how to treat us.

It has to be viewed differently than self esteem which is the feeling of knowing we can conduct ourselves well out there in the world. We can be good at our job and know that our families are thriving due to our leadership. Outwardly we are successful in at least some of the ways our society defines success. But it is very possible to experience self esteem without any self-respect. It is that deeper, inner feeling about ourselves. Self esteem is earned undoubtedly by proving ourselves that we can achieve positive results in our various life tasks. Self-respect is also earned……. It is an inside job that nobody can do for us. It can neither be bought nor can another person bestow it upon us. It is not until we truly love and respect ourselves, that we can begin to believe that we are worthy of another person’s love and respect. It is the most important thing we either have it or don’t have, because it forms the keystone of how we treat ourselves and how we allow others to treat us. The only thing we can change already resides within us—such as our preferences, our attitudes towards ourselves and life in general—-we can come out of our feelings of ‘victim’ by acknowledging that we do actually have enough control over many aspects of our lives. No one can make you feel badly about yourself without your permission. Don’t say yes while you want to say no and if you do so, you teach others to take you for granted and treat you poorly. With this faith and conviction, you are neither arrogant, nor an egoist or selfish but a giver of love, care, compassion and respect because you equally want to amass all that in return.

(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at: vaklishabir@gmail.com)

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Women in our society

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By Irshad Ahmed Bhat & Zahid Sultan Magray

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a women”.
Simone De Beauvoir.

Discrimination against women and girls is a pervasive and long running phenomenon that characterizes society at large. Beyond economic figures and financial abstractions a particularly heinous manifestation of toxic patriarchal society is violence against women; rape is undoubtedly one such horrible crime.

 

Rape happens everywhere: it happens inside homes, families, in education institutions, in neighbourhood, in police stations, in towns, villages and its incidence is increasing in India after every passing day. In fact, in India, rape is fourth most common crime against women. Gender equality performance of India like other south Asian countries is dismal. World economic forum Global Gender Gap report 2018 ranked India at 142 out of 149 countries on economic participation and opportunity gap.

Protest whether in physical or virtual space against such crimes is important because it shakes the conscience of society, brings people close to change, makes them feel part of the change. And there is certainly good chance that widely held wave of protests in wake of three year old Sumbal minor ‘ s rape case will lead to some expected results after widespread Outrage. But what is need is to ask ourselves; why did rape of female child, college going daughters, girls at working places or married mother’s occur cutting across age differences? It is important to protest but it is not something that occurs by itself. It is a part of continuing & embedded violence in society that targets women on daily basis that needs to be looked upon. Selective sex abortions, female infanticide , male child preference , dowry related case , workplace sexual harassment , physical violence, physiological violence , intimate partner violence , sexual violence and structural violence against women are what makes such crimes a normalcy. It is this culture that leads to such violence against women & pervasive sexism.

Modern women still encounter widespread gender inequality and often internalise conservative attitudes towards women’s social role. Society at large is stagnating under the veneer of modernity which further internalised these behaviours among women. Famous feminist Simon de Beauvoir said, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a women”. She was referring to the notion of social construction of a person as a women. In the second sex, De Beauvoir sketches a kind of existential history of a women’s life. A story of a women’s attitudes her body and bodily functions changes over years, and of how society influences this attitude. Here De Beauvoir raises the core question of female embodiment; are the supposed disadvantages of the female body actual disadvantages which exist objectively in all societies, or are they merely judged to be disadvantaged by our society? Paul Sartre observed that whatever we perceive, including other people, is rendered as an “object” to our gaze and is defined by us. De Beauvoir takes up this idea of Paul Sartre and applies it to men’s perception of women. The very concept of women, argues De Beauvoir, is a male concept. Women is always, ‘other’ because male is the ‘seer’: he is subject and she is the object. The meaning of what it is to be a women is given by man. This timelessness observation is all relevant and holds good in our society without an iota of doubt.

Similarly, Masculinity is also related to the notion of becoming a man in a sexists, misogynist world. It is a stereotype or social construct. Not all men are violent or aggressive .it is the pursuit of power that public consciousness is being moulded to uphold the notion of destructive, brutal or aggressive aspect of manhood. The industrialization has also created a havoc by bringing into the cult of exploitation, exclusion and stratification while creating straight Jacket role for being a man or women through inflexible sexual racial division of labour. Vulgar depiction of male dominance and focus on male privileges & entitlements is creating a culture of misogyny.

Addressing a crime like rape needed a comprehensive holistic approach to maintain and support gender equality at interpersonal, family, society, country or at global level by combating domestic violence against women, ensuring progressive institutional & legal procedures, imparting Education on gender equity from primary to university level in collaboration with religious community, structural reforms to end bias towards women. A vibrant grassroots women’s network is needed to push policy makers and communities to step up actions on gender equality, to ensure accountability on legislation addressing violence against women. Similarly, In Muslim society, The Quranic command for ensuring women right and their protection, fair and equal treatment needs to be rejuvenated and emphasized, and Muslim mainstream scholarship must address such pressing issues

What makes judiciary in India hesitant to intrude by criminalising marital rape or rapes in general, it is here that structure of caste, and culture and sexuality inhabit women’s freedom with fatal consequences. To seek justice (Punitive) for rape victims in such a culture is little more than melodrama. More importantly, the real task is to shift attitudes towards sexual violence, not just to victims’ post-facto but more importantly to accept that rapists are a product of a society to which we all as a society are responsible in one or other way.

It is about a society, how it creates, perpetuates and sustains the mind-set that leads to rape like crimes and how such privileges intensify this centuries old violence. Women do not choose to think about their bodies and bodily processes negatively. Rather they are being forced to do so as a result of being embedded in a toxic patriarchal society. And half of the descendants of Eva are deprived and marginalized by rest male fellows of their legitimate share.
(Feedback at: bhatirshad@gmail.com)

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