Degenerating the Faith (2)

Posted in books, classics, culture, faith, history, Muslim world, society by jrahman on December 5, 2015

Part 1.

Classical Muslim scholars used to divide travel and travel writing into two categories. First is what they called rihla — a description of what the traveller did, saw or experienced.  Ibn Battuta’s travelogues are the best known in this genre.  However, rihla can also be more than mere narratives and descriptions. They can form the basis of scientific enquiry.  An example of this kind of rihla is the 11th century polymath Al Biruni’s description of India.  Travelling under the protection of Mahmud of Ghazni, Al Biruni studied sciences and mathematics and wrote Tarikh al Hind — one of the most comprehensive books on pre-Islam subcontinent. In fact, great rihla, according to the scholars, had to have some analysis as well as description.

There is another tradition of travel and travel writing among the learned Muslims of yore, that of safr.  Safr is the word for travel or journey in most north and east Indian languages, including Bangla.  To the 11th century Sufi philosopher Al-Ghazali, safr meant any travelling through which a person evolves.  To him, safr meant as well as the physical act of travelling somewhere, mixing with the inhabitants of that land, imbibing oneself with their customs and ways, and evolving into a person closer to Allah.

Al-Ghazali further categorised travellers: those who travel seeking knowledge, the best kind; the Hajis; the immigrants — the Prophet himself was an immigrant; and the refugees, the worst kind.

What is the line between an immigrant and a refugee?  Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul have both written about the uprooting involved in migration.  Both have noted that at some level or other, all migrants are really refugees.  But for Naipaul, the uprooting is mostly a bad thing.  Rushdie is open to the possibility of migration leading to something new.  Migrants are works of translation, he writes.

Those of you who have read the Quran probably have done so in translation.  Translation then can’t always be bad.


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On da’wa and harakat

Posted in Islamists, politics, society, Uncategorized by jrahman on January 30, 2013

In a number of online forums including this blog and UV, I’ve chided Bangladeshi progressives for lumping all Islamic movements — harakat, to use the Arabic term preferred by many participants of such movements — as one monolithic and homogenous enemy, and demonising them as war criminals / collaborators / militants (if not chhagu or something worse).  For some ultranationalists, anyone with facial hair and skull cap — dari-tupi — or hijab is enough to warrant such derogatory tagging.  Childish such behaviour may be, but in a country where 90% of the people are Muslim, that behaviour will have dangerous blow back.

This post, however, is not about making that argument.  Rather, this is really my attempt at classifying several streams of harakat as I see them in (hopefully soon to be post war crimes trial) Bangladesh.  The analysis behind the classification is based on my own personal experience, observation and conversation, as well as a reading of the relevant literature (authors I would recommend include Gilles Kepel, Olivier Roy, Timur Kuran and Wali Nasr).

As always, the views are ever evolving and tentative.  I may well change my mind in future.  In fact, I will very likely do so.  But this is how I see the movements in near future Bangladesh.

This is a positive post, not a normative one.  That is, I am not going to comment on where I stand on the movements or their objectives.  Rather, the idea is to classify the movements.