Published On:13 July 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

"Islam" Means Peace: An interview with Amitabh Pal

By Mas'ood Cajee

Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive magazine and author of the new book “Islam” Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today (Praeger, 2011). My review of Pal’s book will appear in print in the next issue of Fellowship magazine, and I recently conducted an interview of Pal via e-mail to ask him some more questions about his book and continuing work.

Why did you write this book?

I have been interested in nonviolence since I heard about Mahatma Gandhi’s accomplishments as a child. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, I remembered about a Pashtun friend of Gandhi — Abdul Ghaffar Khan — who founded a remarkable movement dedicated to nonviolence and social reform. I did a profile of him for The Progressive, and this piqued my interest in nonviolence in the Muslim world. I wrote about other such personalities and movements, and, eventually, this led to my book.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Germany, where my father, a naval architect by profession, lived for four years. When I was barely two, my parents moved to the United States. But since they had already decided to return to India, much of my schooling even during this phase was in India, mostly at a boarding school. When I was eleven, my family and I shifted to India. I came back to the United States as a young man of twenty.

Tell us about Lucknow. Did you have Muslim friends or neighbors?

Lucknow, the capital of the largest state in India, is famous all over India for its Hindu-Muslim composite culture and for its politeness (tehzeeb). My neighborhood was a microcosm of India’s syncretism. On one side of our home, we had Christian neighbors; on the other, we had Hindus. And across the road, we had a Muslim landlord (nawab), no less, residing in a large, ancient house. (In fact, he used to own the entire neighborhood and sold my grandparents our house.) In true regal style, he always had a gatekeeper sitting outside his house who used to greet everyone in the traditional Muslim manner. And on Muslim festivals, the nawab used to send over to us choice Indo-Muslim dishes.

How has the book been received?

The book has been received affirmatively. People have reacted with positive surprise to the message of the book and its findings. I have received a number of invitations to talk about the book. And for better or for worse, I am not yet on the radar of professional Islamophobes, so I haven’t received any hostile feedback.

How has the book been received in India?

The book has to date only been published in the United States. I do hope to get it published in India. It is sorely needed there, since most Indians have forgotten the contributions of giants such as Ghaffar Khan to the Indian independence struggle. If the book can contribute even a bit to clearing up misconceptions about Islam and its history in India, it will have more than fulfilled its mission.

With regard to American Muslims or the Muslim World, what makes you hopeful?

2011 will go down in history as the most significant year in modern Arab history. The Arab people have seized charge of their destiny. Regardless of how things eventually turn out (and I am more optimistic than most other commentators), this is an epochal shift. I can’t tell you how excited and hopeful I am!

With regard to American Muslims or the Muslim World, what are you worried about?

I am worried about the negative social and political influence of the Saudi Arabian monarchy, in my view the most retrograde force in the Muslim world. The regime has crushed (for now) the democracy movement in Bahrain and complicated things in Yemen. Simultaneously, it is busy using its oil money to spread its regressive version of Islam throughout the planet.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished reviewing for The Progressive (in the July issue) an amazing book — John Tirman’s The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars. It is the first comprehensive effort that I know of to catalogue the effects of U.S. wars on people in all corners of the world. I am finishing up right now Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic: An Alternative History of Postwar Germany, an authoritative account of Germany since World War II.

How are things at The Progressive?

This has been a very exciting year for The Progressive! We’ve been covering the Wisconsin fight-back against Governor Scott Walker’s misrule like no other national publication, since it is happening literally in our backyard. And through my writings, we have kept regular tabs on the upheavals in the Middle East. If only we had more resources to devote to such important issues (my not-so-subtle appeal to readers to subscribe and donate!).

What is your next book project? Are you going to revise “Islam” Means Peace in view of the Arab uprisings?

If all goes well and if I have a publisher willing to support me, that is indeed what I hope to do. My dream project will be to go to Egypt and Tunisia (and Syria and Bahrain and ….) to interview those people who made these historic events in the Arab world possible. Inshallah, my dream will come true!

[Mas’ood Cajee is a member of the steering committee of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, and a former vice chair of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s National Council.]

(Courtesy: FORusa.org)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on July 13, 2011. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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