Source: Outlook India
By Akeel Bilgrami Professor of Philosophy Columbia University
In that spontaneous burst of poetry and speech, a deeper citizenship is forged — via the many-spangled ethos of Indian Islam. This is remarkable and without precedent, writes Columbia Professor of Philosophy Akeel Bilgrami.
Islam arrived in India from its classical origins in the Arabian lands via travels through Persia, Turkey, Central Asia and Afghanistan, acquiring a variety of accretions at each stage. And, having arrived, it accrued even greater variety through its regional dispersal (Punjabi, Bengali, Hindustani, Mappila, Gujarati, Odia…), and through a highly differentiated set of spiritual traditions of worship and scholarship that developed over some centuries. To name just a very miscellaneous few, there were figures of influence such as Shah Wali Allah of the Naqshbandi tradition located in the courtly ethos of princes, the more populist Chishti Sufi tradition consolidated by Shah Abdullah Latif Bhittai, Bulleh Shah, and the poets Mir and Dard, the reformist strain of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan; Chiragh Ali, the Shia thinker Ameer Ali, the novelist Nazir Ahmad, Shibli Nomani of the Nadwatul Ulema, the famous Deoband school providing traditional learning, the even more orthodox Ahl-i-Hadith school favouring strict Hanafi law, down to the more relaxed Barelwi tradition stressing very local customary practices, the Ahmadiyyas who claimed that their leader Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was all at once the Muslim Mahdi, the Christian Messiah and the avatar of Krishna, and in the 20th century the poet Muhammad Iqbal and the refined and learned Maulana Azad, representing in the last few decades of his life the ‘composite culture’ of Hindus and Muslims.
I begin with this remarkable accumulation of accretions that characterise Indian Islam not only to point out what is often said—that Islam is many things in India, not one—but also to point to the vast conceptual distance of the content of the Islam that laid these diverse roots in India from the originary Islam of the Arabian lands. As a result, any group trying to assert a fundamentalism of faith (Maulana Maududi and his following in the Jamaat-i-Islami, for instance) could do so only by deracinating itself from these roots, and their broad and entrenched range of practices, and by invoking in its place an Islam that—from the point of view of this pervasive and rooted Islam—is pure artifice, the rootless construct of a bookish, normative, deferential gaze upon some claims to an originary Islam of 7th-century Arabia.