Published On:29 December 2010
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

OPINION: The Purpose(lessness) Of History

By Dr. Wasim Ahmad

History is one of the three sources of knowledge according to Qur’an. Qur’an recalls the landmark events of the past and does so for specific purposes. This is why we notice that it mostly omits the names of persons and does not mention the exact year and time etc. It does not mention unnecessary details. From the temporal (related to time) and spacial (related to space) it extracts what is atemporal and aspacial, not confined to both. This style of Qur’an teaches us a lesson i.e. what should be the focus while studying and narrating history. We get lost in the details of history focusing on the names of persons, places and dates etc. We go into such minute details of the past that the present escapes us. If we teach history with the Qur’anic outlook we will learn the right lessons from the right (or factually correct) stories and will not repeat the same mistakes which is the sole purpose of learning history.

For example, those occasions and events in history which caused division among Muslims should serve as a warning against division and (if rightly understood) should not further divide the Muslims. But this is precisely what those events do – defeating the very purpose of history. There are signposts in history which warn in big red letters not to go in a certain direction. But we make sure that we certainly move in that very direction. We remember the minute details of a historical event but forget the very lesson that we were supposed to learn from it. It is like reading “Deep Excavations Ahead” and falling blindly precisely in the same excavations.

We have a good number of experts in history in our Institutions. With such a big number of them we should have been in a much better shape. Imagine the same number of people constantly showing us mirrors. Because it hasn’t happened as desired we have been constantly cleaning the mirror (the RSS-VHP-BJP et cetera). We should have obtained a wealth of knowledge about the reasons for the rise and fall of nations and those reasons should have been popularized among ALL. By now all of us must have known quite clearly about the signposts, detours and the red lights. We cannot remove or put any new signposts in history. We cannot change a single name nor can we relocate an event. We have no control upon that. Therefore, what we have no control upon (the past) should not consume our time so much that we ignore what is present.

We have experts of history in its various periods which we have very clearly defined and identified. This is a very good work. But we remain in those periods the entire life. Is this the purpose of history – to remain glued to the past? When will we come back to the present after learning from history? If anyone argues that we don’t remain in any given period forever and it is false to assume so then I will ask where is the impact in the present, then? “Darakht apnay phal se pahchaana jaata hai” we have heard from our elders. We need to revisit the purpose of studying history and convince ourselves to MOVE ON after learning a few lessons from it. Not focusing on the real purpose of history, however, we notice what Anwar Mas‘ood has aptly described about the excavations on the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro:

‘ibrat ki ik chhataa(n)k baraamad na ho saki
culture nikal paraa hai manou(n) ke hisaab se

We have a knack for beating about the bush and remaining away from the crux of it. This is why I argue that we do not have the Book in our Right Hand. Those who teach this Book they, too, mean the same thing from the ‘minority’, for instance, as those who do not (claim to) hold that Book in their Right Hand. Let us learn the teaching and learning methodology from this Book. This will be the only Criterion (al-Furqaan) to know what are the issues and which are the non-issues. When we focus on the non-issues ignoring the issues (there is no other way to focus on the non-issues) then I wonder what is happening. The Book, however, will make us pause about our well established pre-conceived notions and (mis)conceptions. It might give a different meaning to things. It might help us look for a clear purpose behind everything – including history.

[Dr. Wasim Ahmad is Department Head of Islamic Studies, Preston University, Ajman, UAE. He can be contacted at malikwasimahmad@gmail.com or +971505363235]

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on December 29, 2010. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on December 29, 2010. Filed under , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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