Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Of Maududi and Munir

Most readers of these scribbles would know that a global bestseller has Jesus escaping Judea and settling in France. This book has caused many in Firangi lands to wonder about their religion. It has also caused commotion in Desh — in its great secular tradition, India found the idea objectionable enough to censor the movie version. This is odd, because the idea that Jesus escaped from the Roman punishment field alive and in flesh to settle elsewhere is not new in Desh. Why, there is even a tomb of the man in Kashmir.

Yes, that’s right. There is a tomb, called Roza Bal, in Srinagar where buried is a man alleged to be the son of Mariam of Nazareth, a false messiah to the Jews, part of the Divine Trinity to the Christians and a prophet to the Muslims.

So how come in a continent of one and a quarter billion people and one-third of a billion gods/demi‑gods/god-men this place does not attract thousands of devotees everyday? Perhaps this particular tomb had no sponsor to market it as a shrine. Perhaps Jesus, after escaping from the Levant, had no chela to peddle his divine connection to Desis. But that can’t be right, because there is a sect that actively sells the idea of Jesus dying in the Paradise on Earth instead of ascending to Heaven. I am talking about Ahmadiyas/Qadianis.

Ahmadiyas get their name from the founder of their cult — one Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (hence Qadiani), Indian Punjab. These guys believe that Mirza Ahmad is the promised Messiah of the three Abrahamaic faiths. While there is a dispute among his followers about whether Mirza Sahib was a prophet or a mere learned reformer, there is no doubt among them that Jesus had indeed died in Kashmir in the early 2nd century CE.

Mirza Ahmad started his god-man career in the 1890s. He preached that the British Raj was the Anti‑Christ/Dajjal. He talked about overthrowing the empire and freeing his people. Punjab has the most productive farm sector in Desh today, but in the 1890s it experienced droughts, a famine and a depression. One would have thought that in that time of desperation, Ahmad’s messianic message would massively move the mass imagination. This, however, did not happen. Ahmadiyas are not a major religious group even in Punjab, let alone elsewhere in Desh.

And this, perhaps, is a greater puzzle than why the Roza Bal is not better known?

It’s not as if strange people who heard voices had a difficulty finding followers in Punjab, or indeed elsewhere in Desh. After all, those railing against another empire a few centuries earlier found many followers, enough to have their own shrine in Amritsar affecting Desi history in the 1980s. And elsewhere in Desh and beyond, god-men from Prince Siddhartha to Bhagwan Rajnish had flourished. So why did Ahmad flop?

Perhaps because Ahmad marketed his cult to the wrong audience. You see, Muslims are not all that receptive to new ideas when it comes to religion — at least that’s the orientalist line many in the Firangi land run these days. But we know that in Desh that’s mostly rubbish. Desi Muslims have their fair share of god-men, pirs, Sufi mystics, other crackpots who seek a carnal relationship with their maker (in the words of a nocturne). Why, then, could Ahmad not whip up a following to match those of the Qalandars of Sind, Shah Jalal of Sylhet, and Khawajas and Chishtis of Delhi and Ajmer?

I am no expert, so I’ll give the authoritative commentary of the completely unqualified. I think where Ahmad is different from other assorted god-sellers/lovers is that he challenged the merchant of Mecca monopoly on the last direct line to the Lord. You see, none of the other mystics claimed to have received any message (verbal or written) from you know who. Ahmad claimed to have done exactly that. It seems that anything to do with the Prophet and you’re in trouble, and Ahmad claimed he was at the least a semi-prophet.

I think this is why Ahmad’s cult flopped. There are reasons to think that this conjecture is plausible. The first intra-Muslim sectarian violence in Pakistan was against the Ahmadiyas in the early 1950s. Maulana Maududi, writer of semi-intelligent rant passing as the interpretation of the Quran and founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, issued a fatwa that Ahmadiyas are the enemy of Islam because of their heretical views on the last prophet, and mob burnt down their houses and mosques in Lahore. Order was restored by the Army (this was the first time that gallant institution saved our hacked off lands). More recently, Bangladesh’s supposedly secular politicians entertained passing a law that would, in effect, brand Ahmadiyas as non-Muslims. In Pakistan, Ahmadiyas are officially disqualified as Muslims.

In a perfect world, this law would be as significant as the conference that deliberated on how one bows to Mecca while in space. But in Pakistan (though fortunately not in Bangladesh), non-Muslims are denied the same rights as Muslims, so the distinction matters — on the other hand, since in Pakistan no one has any right to speak of, maybe the distinction doesn’t matter. Either way, let me tell you what Justice Munir found five decades ago on the definition of a Muslim.

In 1953, after Maududi’s followers did their worst and the Army its best, two judges were appointed to write a report on what the government should do about defining a Muslim. The judges, Munir and Kiyani, interviewed all the leading Islamic scholars of Desh and beyond. The result was a 350 page report that contains these words.

The result…, however has been anything but satisfactory and if considerable confusion exists in the minds of our ulama on such a simple matter, one can easily imagine what the differences on more complicated matters will be…. Keeping view the several different definitions given by the ulama, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the Ulama, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim, but kafirs according to the definitions of everyone else.

The report is one of the most cogent argument against an Islamic Rpeublic I've ever read. Oh how one wishes that Munir triumphed over Maududi.