Saturday, March 05, 2005

Ghalib and his multicultural Delhi

Reviving Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s multicultural legacy as a reflection of the 19th century Delhi he lived in, Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia Musirul Hasan stressed on the significance of fostering a dialogue between different faiths, especially between Islam and Hinduism.

This inter-faith dialogue, he said, played a crucial role in undermining religious violence then. “There is no reason why the revival of this dialogical element cannot achieve the same purpose in today’s society,” he added, while delivering the Professor AG Stock Memorial Lecture at the University of Rajasthan on Saturday. Especially, as he put it, when religion was being used to exacerbate violence today.

“If not as a sceptic, Ghalib comes across as someone who approached religion with quizzical reverence,” Hasan said, referring to him as someone who did not wear a “sectarian badge”. “Ghalib even referred to Kashi as the Kaba of India, something not easy for most Muslims to say today,” the noted historian added.

Hasan mentioned that many historians have an “analytical blockage” when it comes to Delhi’s intellectual discourse, which flourished in a time of “religious syncretism rather than a cultural crusade of one kind or the other”. He also questioned why this was not featuring in the contemporary debate and why textbooks continue to stay away from it. “It’s important to let the students know that such a discourse existed,” he said.

The continuing tradition of festivals such as Phool Walon Ki Sair and Pankha Festival testify to that tradition, Hasan added. Besides Ghalib, he referred to Mohammad Zakaullah and Nazir Ahmad as the other luminaries of this age. The scholar also stressed that religious boundaries need not be dissolved to create a secular society. “The secularists today would demand that, which is not wise. Religion is a matter of personal choice and disposition. So, let’s be content to let a hundred flower bloom,” he added.

Hasan, later speaking to Hindustan Times, said that the seemingly endless bout of interpretation and reinterpretation of history to suit political ideologies could end with the rise of discerning readers who would reject such moves. “This can only happen with the dissemination of a secular ideology,” he added.


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