The New York Dispute

Theres a dispute raging about whether Park 51, and the centre for multi-faith dialogue and engagement should go ahead or not. As predicted, passions run high. The question that comes up, though, is whether this is about religion at all or not. Looking at it as a political dispute is also probably missing the basic idea. It is, i feel, more about the attitide people have for others different from themselves, and though i have no opinion, either for or against, i am just trying to look at the larger picture of intolerance and misunderstanding that provides the backdrop for this, and a number of other disputes raging across the world. I do feel this is more about attitude and ignorance than anything else.

There is an interesting piece written by Mr. Ashok Malik in Hindustan Times about A Strange Crusade. There is a picture of an a protestor holding a placard saying “you can build a mosque at ground zero when we can build a synagogue at Mecca”. Interesting, that, isnt it? Well, there are places in the world where religions can co-exist. Yes, there can be disputes, but they dont necessarily need to go out of hand, do they? There are numerous examples of this from around the world. Interestingly, there are quite a few examples of this in South Asia, considered one of the most volatile regions in the world. No, i am not talking from a political perspective, rather from the perspective of the common man, the human being.  I was, for example, recently reading a book titled Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia, and i feel she has written wonderfully, capturing the synthesis of Islam and Hinduism into a common cultural fabric, which, though sundered by partition, is nevertheless part of the social psyche, the Punjabi Taliban notwithstanding. This, i feel, should be a wonderful demonstration of the way sometimes mutually opposing philosophies (and religions cannot be mutually opposing) can find a way to live together.

This finds much more expression in the Sufi tradition of the sub-continent. Though originating from the Middle East (i havent read much about the history of Sufism, so if you know of a good book which is available in India, please do leave a comment), i feel Sufism came into its own in South Asia, where the tradition drew from the rich heritage of both Hinduism and Islam to build something which is all encompassing, transcending organized religion, looking at The One God. Why this cannot be an example for building a movement towards greater inter-faith engagement i dont know, and where this should be physically located may also not be the central question, in this virtual world of today. Should the movement gather enough steam, the virtual world itself would keep the momentum going. What is more important is attitude.

What i found interesting in the article is that Mr. Malik writes that Christians and Jews paid tax which Muslims didnt have to pay when Cordoba was a part of the Caliphate. Jaziya, if i remember history. Though what that has to do with 2010, New York, or any other part of the world, as Mr. Malik says, i dont really understand. What i also find interesting is:

To laypeople in the West, the Moorish rule of Spain was simply occupation and colonisation by an alien people. That may not be the entirety of the story but it is certainly the popular one.

That may or may not be the entire story, but its the popular one. One mistake we make is that we tend to see history in black or white. History, i feel, is never so. Rather, since history is the story of the changes human civilization has been through, and changes are always gradual, at least at the social level, history is full of transition periods where civilization is changing from one form to another, and these transition periods are shades of grey. There is no “us-or-them” in history, what we see as something which is neatly dividing into pigeonholes is actually more like a flowing river. Or, in other words, what we see as a series of lakes is actually a river. This sentiment is basically assuming that anything Islamic cannot be native to a particular region. But this doesnt consider that its people, culture, psyche which are native to the region, and is a belief system which people adopt, in a way which goes along with their cultural ethos. Which is why you find that the same religion is followed in different ways in different parts of the world.

I feel it is important for us to understand this. That there is no “us-or-them” block which can divide me from the next person, and that we are all in it together. Its not easy to divide the present into neatly divided pigeonholes, just as we cannot divide history on similar lines, for both are defined by the flow of time.


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