Dear Mehbooba Mufti, get enrolled in a science course

Mehbooba Mufti’s objection to Ghulam Nabi assertion that Indian Muslims are Hindu converts signifies what went wrong with Kashmir and the Islamic civilisation

| Updated: 22 August, 2023 5:42 pm IST
Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti

Veteran politician Ghulam Nabi Azad told a gathering in Doda last week that a majority of Indian Muslims have converted from Hinduism, with traces of this conversion evident in the Kashmir Valley. It ruffled the features of many. Taking a dig at Azad, former CM Mehbooba Mufti said, “I don’t know how far back he went (in time) and what knowledge he has about his ancestors. I would advise him to go way back and maybe he will find some apes there in the ancestors.”

Her remarks signify what went wrong in Kashmir in the last 30 decades, in the Indian subcontinent over a century, and in the Islamic world since the 12th century. Mufti’s dismissive ignorance is peculiar to not just Kashmiri politicians but a trademark of Kashmiri academia, media and even intellectuals.

The new generation of Muslims across the Arab world, Iran, North Africa and those living in Western cities would find Mufti’s lack of informed understanding about Islamic principles and scientific temperament – shadowed by the Salafi/Wahhabi radicalism over decades – quite amusing. Thanks to the Internet, the new generation is well aware that observations by several Muslim thinkers, astronomers, philosophers, mathematicians, and rationalists formed Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

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Towering over such figures is Al-Jahiz, an 8th-century Iraqi Muslim zoologist known for his Kitab Al-Hayawan, or ‘The Book of Animals’. After studying animals for many years, he surmised that environmental conditions were a driving factor for organisms differing from one another, as they developed new traits to survive in their environments. In a 2017 paper, Howard University assistant professor Rui Diogo noted that Al-Jahiz observed that individuals of the same species struggle against each other and that the stronger & more adapted ones prevail.

Another Iranian scholar al-Biruni, who lived 800 years before Darwin, believed that man ‘migrated’ through the ‘kingdoms’ of minerals, plants, and animals ‘in order to reach perfection and therefore contains within himself the nature of the creatures of the other realms’. He concluded that monkeys were the ancestor of human beings. 14th-century North African Muslim thinker Ibn Khaldun wrote of humankind, “It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals … the animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and to reflect.”

These accounts from thousands of years ago reveal a rich history of scientific temperament, rationality, and critical thinking among Muslim thinkers – a phenomenon that faded away after the sack of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongol hordes, when the famous House of Wisdom (Bayt ul Hikmah) was destroyed and the Ashari ulema (textual knowledge, rote cramming and literal interpretation) won the war of ideas against the rationalists, a fact that still darkens the Muslim world.

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Iraqi-British theoretical physicist Jim Khalili’s seminal work ‘The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave US the Renaissance’ says that during the ‘Golden Age of Islam’ – correctly The Age of Translation, knowledge preserved in Sanskrit texts, Chinese manuscripts, ancient Hellenism (Greeks) and Persian were collected and transcribed into Arabic – the official language across lands conquered by Muslims. Islamic scholars, while preserving this knowledge, also made modifications to the original works with their own observations, empirical data, and analysis.

Unfortunately, as the Islamic civilization declined into its typical sectarian strife, destruction by Mongols, its clash with European modernity insulated it from outside influences by ossifying its intellectual knowledge with an absent culture for critical thinking and blasphemy laws in the colonial period. The Western world, however, benefited from this preserved knowledge and modernised in many areas.

Mufti is a product of that ossification of critical thinking and rationality which saw the rise of the proto-Salafist theologian, ascetic, and iconoclastic theologian Ibn Taymiyah, the Islamic scholar advocating renewal Shah Waliullah Dehlawi during the despotic Aurangzeb’s time and eventually the Islamist ideologue, Muslim philosopher and jurist Maulana Maududi, father of the Two-Nation Theory which partitioned the Indian subcontinent into East (Bangladesh) and West Pakistan.

Kashmiri politicians have always displayed half-separatist tendencies, sympathising with terror groups, insisting on talks with Pakistan despite continuing cross border terrorism, and advocating cease fires periodically so that terror groups could recuperate from the onslaught of counter-terror operations. At a time when nationalistic fervour is needed to be instilled among the youth of Kashmir, Mufti is resorting to divisive rhetoric, to make a grab at power, which in the pre-abrogation days meant looting the state coffers.

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Ghulam Nabi Azad too spent his political career in a dynastic party that appeased Muslims for the last seven decades. Congress’ policies of appeasement like the infamous Shah Bano case paved the way for the regressive Muslim organisations like the AIMPLB (All India Muslim Personal Law Board). Such groups made it difficult to usher the Indian Muslim community into the 21st century and instil a sense of self-reflection at the causes of decline of the Islamic civilisation.

Azad has made a bold statement to float his Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) in the upcoming elections. It is a welcome move since Muslim organisations and their mouthpieces in the Indian media try to keep 174 million Muslims in perpetual victimhood (Oppression Olympics). India does not need deadwood dynastic politicians whose only credentials are their parents’ names, at this juncture when the world is undergoing a massive churning. Instead, we need scientific minded politicians who can take us to the moon and beyond, help us develop vaccinations for the next pandemic and not shy away from going where the evidence leads us in terms of evolutionary biology, just like those Muslim scientists ages ago.

The Islamic University of Science and Technology at Awantipur, Kashmir is hopefully teaching about Al-Jahiz and Ibn al-Haytham (965-1040). Mufti could do well to enrol in some of the courses there. This is New India, not to be fooled any longer with political opportunist rhetoric or ‘look busy, do nothing’ demeanor. There will be reckoning and accountability at every step.

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