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by HUMRA QURAISHI June 26 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins, 40 secs

This week Humra  Quraishi looks back at her conversations with well-known sociologist Professor Imtiaz Ahmad, who passed away a few days ago, about UCC and other things.

Earlier this week the well-known sociologist of international repute, Professor Imtiaz Ahmad passed away here, in New Delhi. He taught Political Science at JNU and also in one of the universities in America…he was soft spoken, articulate, expressive and kept a low profile. I had the privilege to interview him on several occasions, so I met him many times, and I loved the way he explained even the most complex topics in the simplest of ways.

He was critical of the Right-Wing in bringing divides between the two communities, Hindus and Muslims. He was outspoken about the labelling of Muslims as terrorists; arguing that terrorism has no religion. To quote him from an earlier interview with me, “No, it is not that more Muslims are turning into militants. Worldwide, there are many other forms of militancy and terrorism that are equally aggressive and widespread. In our own country we have had and continue to have militancy in Kashmir and in the North East, to name two persistent forms of militancy in recent years. Outside the country, within the South Asian region, we have had terrorism in Sri Lanka and Nepal. Further away there are also Muslim  militants who are fighting against regimes, which are wholly or largely Muslims. It is ironic that following September 11, the world seems to have forgotten that there are these other terrorists. Partly because the US led war has put the focus on Muslims and partly because Muslims are more widespread, the impression is gaining ground that more and more Muslims are turning terrorists. Actually more and more people in the entire world are turning into terrorists.” 

Professor Imtiaz Ahmad was consistent in his stand against the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code. He said that it’s another of those BJP-RSS ploys to cause disruptions. Also, his basic argument against the Uniform Civil Code was that ‘there is no uniform definition of marriage in the communities, so why and how will the Uniform Civil Code be implemented?’ And, it cannot be overlooked that for the Muslim community, marriage is a contract.

Whilst on the Uniform Civil Code, I have been speaking to a cross section of people and all the Muslims I’d spoken to, are totally against it. They have said to me the Quran carries ample provisions to safeguard the rights of the women in situations of divorce and maintenance. They do not want any changes or interference in the Personal Laws. They do not trust this sarkar, as Muslim community faces adversity on a daily basis and its identity as well as survival is at stake now. The young Muslims I spoke to are upset as the communal assaults on them by the Right Wing brigades are increasing and there is no protection coming from the government’s end.

I’ve also been thinking of the men who for years, decades and centuries have travelled from Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, and beyond, towards the Kashmir region. Travelling thousands of miles, in search of refuge and peace. And in all probability, they found peace and tranquillity in abundance that none of them ever returned. Their simplicity brought them close to the locals and also to the emperors of those days, who were impressed by their selflessness.

In his memoirs, Mughal Emperor Jehangir had written, “Though they have no religious knowledge or learning of any sort, yet they possess simplicity and are without pretence. They abuse no one. They restrain the tongue of desire and foot of seeking. They eat no flesh, they have no wives and always plant fruit bearing trees in the fields so that men may benefit from them, themselves desiring no advantage."

Mughal Emperor Jehangir’s memoirs and the writings of Abu’l Fazal contain lengthy descriptions on the Sufis and their uncomplicated lives. Keeping away from worldly ways, these Sufis planted trees and practised renunciation and meditation. It is said that Sufi Makhdoom Sahib could control his breath for long stretches. The Kashmiris’ attachment with these Sufis and their ziarats is deeply emotional and gives them peace and strength. And so influenced was Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh, that he had built in Srinagar the unique school of Sufism called the 'Kas-I-Mah'. The first of its kind in the whole of Asia and Central Asia, he built it at the instance of his spiritual teacher Akhund Mulla Mohammad Shah, who had travelled from Badakhshan.

Kashmiri historian G M D Sufi writes in his two-volume book Kashir, “Deeply imbued with Sufism of the age and country from which they emigrated, these Sayyids and their followers seem to have stimulated the tendency to mysticism for which Vedantism and Buddhism had already paved the way.”

To this day dargahs of these men lie dotted around the Kashmir region. In fact, not too far from Srinagar’s Nowhatta Chowk, on the banks of the Jhelum river, stands the dargah of Shah-i-Hamdaan, who, as legend states, had left the small Persian town Hamdaan to escape the wrath of Timur. And, it is said that about seven hundred Sayyids accompanied him to the Kashmir Valley during the reign of Sultan Shihabuddin in 1372 AC. Legend also goes that when the Kashmiri mystic poetess Lalla Arifa saw Shah Hamdaan descend on the Kashmiri soil, she’s said to have uttered, ‘At long last I have spotted a man!’

And to this day the design and architecture of this dargah stands out - at night it’s amazing when its reflection gets picked up by the waters of the flowing Jhelum. The original structure built in 1395 was rebuilt several times and the present one dates back to 1732. And on the other side of the Nowhatta Chowk, is the dargah of the Iraqi sufi Dastageer sahib. The wooden architecture of this dargah carried grandeur and left an impact. Sadly, a massive fire engulfed it a few years ago. A new structure has come up but has missed the grandeur of the original and left many disappointed.

Still further, just a few hundred metres ahead, is another ziarat with a large sized board – ‘Ziarati Hazrati Yousa Asouph Syed Nasiruddin’. Inside the compound there are two graves: one average sized but the other far longer than the average length. These two graves are of Hazrat Yousa Asouph and Syed Nasiruddin. There are several theories around the identity of Yousa Aza, with some of those theories and historical studies going as far as to say that he was one of the descendants of Moses…

There are several other Sufi dargahs of prominence…standing out…holding up, high, the significance to the Sufis, to the values they upheld.

I’m ending this week’s column with this verse of VINEETHA MOKKIL  titled ‘After The War’ from the volume Amity Peace Poems (Hawakal Publishers).

After the war/They planted peace/In scarred fields/Shoots sprouted, gender green/Peaches blushed on the branches/Apples bloomed red again/Parrots, chirping/Circled the droneless skies/The blood moon shed its stains/and shone, milky white/Stars came out of hiding/To heal the wounded skies.//Guns fell silent/Barbed wires fences/stopped drawing blood/The night, sighing, slipped/into restful sleep/The day grew quiet/So quiet sometimes you could/hear a butterfly’s wings flap.//After the war/They planted peace/The first  harvest/They offered to the Gods/And the ghosts/of those they had lost/Memory watered the land/Memory whispered in the wind/Memory a prayer/A blessing, a curse/A sign, pulsing/In the summer sun, the winter dark/After the war they wept bitter tears/After the war they tended peace.’

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