Published On:12 March 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Need to look into role of India & Muslim world in new perspective: Dr. Arshi Khan

By Pervez Bari

New Delhi: Dr. Arshi Khan, Associate Professor of Political science, Aligarh Muslim University, (AMU), Aligarh, has said that there is a need to look into the role of India and the Muslim world in a new perspective different from Western epistemological framework of understanding.
Dr. Arshi Khan said both India and the Muslim world possess a good number of population, professionals and natural resources in addition to a long history of multiple pattern of relationships for centuries. Both of them have to set their agenda to direct their actions outside their national boundaries so that they could play a role in their own interests. They have to rebuild symbiotic relationship with respective levels of governance with the recognition of the needs of the people.

Dr. Khan was addressing the business session entitled “Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Issues” in the two-day International Conference on “India and the Muslim World in the 21st Century” which was held here in New Delhi at the Constitution Club recently. The New-Delhi based Institute of Objective Studies, (IOS), had organized the conference in cooperation with the Government of Saudi Arabia. This session was chaired by Prof. Aftab Kamal Pasha, Director, Gulf Studies Programme, Centre for West Asian & African Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

In his opening remarks Prof. Pasha observed that even before freedom, Indian leaders had close relations with the Muslim world. Under India’s first Education Minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations was established after independence. The first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, had close interaction with Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. During his 1956 visit to Saudi Arabia the Saudis called him the “prophet of peace.”

“The largest number of ministerial visits and delegations come annually from the Muslim world”, Prof. Pasha said. When sanctions were imposed on Iraq and Libya, India worked hard to provide enough room for reducing hardship. India regularly used its diplomatic clout to reduce suffering of people in the Muslim world.

“The visit of Saudi King Abdullah bin Adul Aziz in 2006 as the chief guest at Independence Day celebrations and the return visit of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia were high marks in mutual relations. India’s relations with Egypt, Syria, Algeria and “the entire Muslim world is robust,” Prof. Pasha remarked.

Meanwhile, it may be mentioned here that the International Conference had discussed various issues, including Islam’s role and relevance in India, economic and financial relations, Islamic banking and finance, scope for educational cooperation, international and diplomatic relations. The need for Saudi Arabia to invest in India’s education, healthcare, low-cost housing, public transport social and infrastructure sectors were also another area of focus at the conference.
Apart from all over India the conference was attended by more than a dozen foreign delegates, especially from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, USA, Malaysia, Indonesia etc.

Apart from the inaugural and valedictory functions the conference had five business sessions on “Islam in India: Historical Context and Cultural Heritage”; “Economic and Financial Relations”; “Islamic Banking and Finance: Global Trends and India”; “Prospects for Educational Cooperation”; “Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Issues” & “India and Saudi Arabia: World Peace through Dialogue”.

Referring to Hegel, Dr. Arshi Khan said that they have to realise their own potentials that they possess without realising their utility. He gave the example of 1973 Arab Oil Embargo which had been very painful to the US for supporting Israel. Today they can use this power to pressurise the West to streamline the Zionists entity in accordance with the UN Charter. Both India and the Muslim world should not become the constituent elements of the Uni-polar forces as it would be detrimental to peace, security and development. They must assert not for the purpose of coercion but for setting the fair rules in international politics in the larger interests of the humanity.

Dr. Khan also talked about the economic collapse of the US which will continue and the same trend will occur in Europe with the exception of Germany and Turkey. Asia and Africa must rethink over their foreign policies goals not to be influenced by the declining powers but engineer a global coalition to resist the Revisionist forces in the world, he added.

Prof. Khwaja Abdul Muntaqim, Visiting Professor, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Amity University, NOIDA, speaking on the subject said that there is no reason to raise the eyebrows or to frown if multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country like India with large Muslim population density and other Muslim countries come closer in future particularly when it is clearly stated in UN Global agenda for dialogue among civilisations. That the globalisation is not only an economic, financial and technological process but it also presents the challenge of preserving and celebrating the rich intellectual and cultural diversity of humankind and of civilisations despite obstacles of intolerance, aggression, non-co-operation, arrogance etc.

Prof. Abdul Muntaqim said that there has been constructive interaction throughout history among various civilizations. It has led to the solution of many a political and non-political problem and United Nations New Millennium declaration (2000) inter alia provides that it is only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future based upon their common humanity in all its diversity, can globalization be made fully inclusive and equitable.

He said that any close & sincere relationship between India & the Muslim world may be beneficial to both the quarters in areas like diplomacy, trade and commerce, strategic ventures etc. India’s political and diplomatic support to the Muslim world and reciprocal gestures by the latter may help each other in winning over many a diplomatic battle particularly when India is at the threshold of being a permanent member of UN Security Council. Both the quarters can be instrumental in getting various bilateral and multi-lateral issues resolved at regional and international fora and assume the status of a formidable group like other global powers thereby ‘de-monopolising” the diplomatic sector, he added.

Dr. Naseema Akhtar, Associate Professor, Department of Political Sciences, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, spoke on “The Growing Links between GCC states and Central Asian Republics within the Indian context” emphasised on four points namely (i) The three regions are situated at the tri-juncture of Euro-Asia India can strengthen the “Look East” policy more pronouncedly and definitely can play a major role in implementing this policy. Within this context J & K geo-politics provide a special status which no other states can provide it; (ii) Kashmir had been connected with Central Asian region since 1420 AD and Zain-ul-Abideen King of the time utilised these connections for socio-economic and political prospects and benefits to common masses of Kashmir; (iii) Kashmir is connected to the Caspian Sea area through Silk route and Khanjar-pass roads. This Khnjar road goes to China, Central Asian states and backdoor to the Indian Union through Laddakh which serves as a binocular telescope to this Euro-Asian continents & (iv) It is not only that Kashmir will be prosperous but India will be in a win-win position in terms of economic and political aspects particularly within the context of
Dr. Sani al-Faraj, President, Kuwait Centre for Strategic Affairs, Kuwait, sought a broad based relationship with India in economic, political and military affairs. He compared Kuwait to a mouse surrounded by three elephants–Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Only amicable relations with the three, and among the three, elephants would ensure the safety and security of the mouse. His area, he said, had been known for trade which linked Muslim holy places to big markets across a stretch of 6,400 miles even in early medieval times. Caravans of 1,000 camels used to traverse the entire trade route from Arabia to India, China and Japan. He pleaded for making it a zone of peace.

“India as a naval power should help secure the maritime routes from piracy and other threats for oil and other trade. India’s interests in GCC-oil and other economic interests should also be secured. The Gulf as a business hub, should be of particular interest to India”, Dr. Sani al-Faraj emphasised.

He said a new Kuwait City was being built to accommodate new needs. He made a power-point presentation of the new city called City of Silk. The layout was inspired by the intricate patterns of a silk carpet, which represented some of the finest elements of Islamic art and craft.
Dr. Zakir Khan, a former Indonesian diplomat and chairman, World Muslim Solidarity Forum of Dewah Dawah Islamiyah, Indonesia, said big power politics and American hegemony had harmed the Muslim world immensely. However, if the Islamic and other developing countries made a common cause to resist foreign interference they would be able to restore their freedom. He gave the example of Indian Muslim soldiers of the British army who had been sent to Indonesia by the British rulers to support the Dutch rulers of Indonesia to crush the independence struggle of the people. The Indian Muslims soldiers refused to crush the Indonesian freedom fighters and crossed over to their side.

Islam did not support violence, much less terrorism. However, the Muslim aspiration for freedom from foreign dominance had to be respected. He condemned the so-called War on Terror, which had led to the unjustified death of a large number of Muslims. On the other hand, Muslims had been helping non-Muslims all over the world in times of trouble, Dr. Zakir Khan pointed out.

Islam in India: Historical Perspective and Cultural Heritage

Meanwhile, the theme of another session was “Islam in India: Historical Perspective and Cultural Heritage”. The presidium consisted of Prof. B. Sheik Ali, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Mangalore and Goa, and Syed Shahid Mahdi, Former Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia.

In his opening remarks Prof. Sheik Ali in this session said that the early Muslim rulers of India had known only the Abrahamic faiths–Judaism and Christianity-besides their own faith, Islam. In India they came face to face with eastern faiths like Hinduism and Buddhism, which gave them a different understanding of the Shariah (Islamic law). In the new, non-Abrahamic environment, they set their religious perspective afresh, giving “Adl” (justice) a primacy over other things. “Adl” is a major goal of the Shariah. Ghyasuddin Balban, the Delhi Sultanate ruler, said famously that he would not be able to implement the entire Shariah, but he would be happy to ensure justice for everyone. As usual, he had a tense relationship with the Ulema, he added.

Prof. Ali said that conversions to Islam did not take place because of Muslim force of arms, but because a lot of lower-caste Hindus felt oppressed by an iniquitous caste system and wanted to get away from it. In the deep south, Islam was brought in by traders who came by sea as this region had maritime contact with the Arab world since long before the advent of Islam. India then had a rich intellectual tradition and a richer civilisation than most other lands.

Prof. Shahid Mahdi said that the coming of Muslims to India led to the establishment of Bhakti-Sufi movement, which later culminated into the birth of a new faith, Sikhism. He quoted Maulana Rumi’s couplet: “Tu brai wasl kardan amdi / na brai fasl kardan amdi” (you have come to unite people / not to sow division among them) as a mission statement of Islam.

Prof. Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. Faculty of Medicine, King Abdullah Medical City, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, talked about Islam’s project of knowledge. Under this project there had been great interaction between India and Arab Muslim world. He referred to Abu Rehan al-Beruni’s formidable scholarship on India, which is objective and non-judgmental. Initially, the pundits, India’s scholars, shunned him. However, he persevered and got ultimately admitted into the circle of scholars. He became such a great scholar of Sanskrit and the Puranas that he was given the title of “Vidya Sagar,” (Ocean of knowledge).

While Prof. Hamidullah Marazi, Director, Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, presenting a paper on the above theme stated that prior to Central Asian influences on Indian sciences said: “We find some interaction between Indian and Arab scholars also, as they would from Baghdad to Sindh and Multan after its conquest by Mohammad Ibn Qasim. But after that the Central Asian scholars were the most frequent visitors to India.

Prof. Hamidullah said that in the fifth century A.H. Abu Rihan Al-Biruni arrived India and he not only mastered Indian philosophy and astronomy but also taught Indians Mathematics and astronomy. He is remembered by the world as a great and outstanding Astronomer, Physician, Physicist, Mathematician, Geographer, Geologist and Astrologer. Among all his books Kitab al-Hind is very famous so far as the Indian religious life and belief system is concerned. It gives a detailed account of the Indian life, religion, languages, cultures and also, observations on geography. He was the first Muslim tourist of India who learnt Sanskrit and studied Hindu religious and philosophical books in their original language on his own. He spent around 15 to 20 years or according to some scholars around 40 years and travelled throughout whole India.
The most outstanding Central Asian intellectual at Akbar’s court was Mir Fathullah Shirazi. He first immigrated to the court of Abdul Shah of Bijapur, but in 1582 moved to Akbar’s court and became the spearhead of all the intellectual movements there. Excellent in all branches of philosophy, he was an eminent authority on Avicenna’s works and Ishraqi theosophy. In mathematics astronomy, and mechanics he was unique both in Central Asia Iran and India.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Iqbal Rather, a research scholar in the Department of Islamic Studies in AMU Aligarh, while intervening during a business session said since 2006 Indo-Saudi Arabia relations have reached new heights. However, there is still scope for diversifying these relations including culture. The nature of the relationship, particularly Indian advantage of oil imports from Saudi Arabia, the significance and benefits of Indian expatriates working in Saudi Arabia whose remittances to India should be widely disseminated in the media channels of the country which could be helpful in dispelling the stereotype images of the Muslim world in Indian public’s mind.

Another research scholar Showkat Ahmed Dar in the Department of Islamic Studies in AMU in his paper entitled “The contemporary Indian Muslims: A review of their educational status” pointed out that the Muslim World, of which Indian Muslims are integral part, is falling behind many other countries in education, science and technology and the data is not pretty. He quoted the 20th century great Islamist thinker Abu A’la Maududi who had said: “Today we need an educational system which can produce Muslim philosophers, Muslim jurists, Muslim statesmen, in brief, Muslim experts in all fields of knowledge who would reconstruct the social order in accordance with the tenets of Islam”.

Meanwhile, delivering the valedictory address Dr. Jasir Auda, deputy director, Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics, Qatar, said that the Muslim world had always had a close relationship with India. Now was the time to expand the contacts further on government to government and people to people level.

Malaysian intellectual Datuk Seri Mohammad Iqbal said that India and Malaysia were “Joined together by emotional ties.” Besides cultural and social similarities between the two countries they enjoyed close economic and educational ties. In Malaysia’s Islamic University several Indian academics had been working. Islamic Shariah, halal food and Islamic banking could be some of the shared aspects between the two, Datuk Iqbal concluded.

Dr. Abdul Majeed Mohammad S. Al-Umri, director, external services in the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, said that the heavy representation of Saudis in the conference showed its significance. He hoped that the conference would pave the way for the two countries coming together on practical issues. Now that Saudi Arabia had made giant studies in educational and economic fields, it would be easier for the two countries to establish world peace through dialogue.

[Pervez Bari is a senior Journalist based at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Madhya Pradesh). He can be contacted at pervezbari@eth.net]

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