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Leave the past alone

Leave the past alone
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The latest assertion of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath Das, that Taj Mahal should be respected because it is built by the sweat and...

The latest assertion of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath Das, that Taj Mahal should be respected because it is built by the sweat and blood of our Indians is a mere hogwash. Even in his presence, a MLA of his party asserted that it was built after demolishing an existing Shiva temple. Yogi did not react or comment on it. There will be many more who will say again and again that the monument is a blot.

This is really a country which seems to love its ‘work in progress’ signboard perennially installed. Not a single day passes without some silly controversy erupting and making it to the headlines of our news channels which devour and digest each word and make merry of their TRP ratings. For our politicians, caste, religion, creed, nationality and region are no bar when it comes to serving their petty interests. Their hysteria blurs history leading to a macabre comedy.

Everything from faith, belief, custom and tradition seems to be at odds with all else in this country. Take for example the very latest, the Taj controversy. Should it become a controversy at all? Symbol of love for the world, this is being looked at by some now, as a blot on our history. Is it so? If it is their study of epistemology, then a few more questions arise.

Does rationalism have a place here? Does the argument contain any scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested? Is it all priori reasoning, intuition or revelation? If knowledge is to be based on experience, what does our experience tell us? That Shah Jahan was an emperor who not only got Taj Mahal built in memory of his beloved wife, but also got involved in the designing of Red Fort of Delhi, Jama Masjid of Delhi, a section of the Agra Fort, the Wazir Khan Mosque and the Moti Masjid in Lahore, now in Pakistan.

The likes of Sangeet Som should know that Shah Jahan was not only a great warrior king, but also an exceptional builder and was given the title ‘The Builder of the Marvels’, most deservedly. What makes Som think that Shah Jahan was a traitor? Here is an example of Sangeet Som’s ignorance when he claims that Shah Jahan imprisoned his father.

Jehangir was neither imprisoned by Shah Jahan nor was dethroned by him. In fact, Jehangir was a prisoner of his own wrong doings. He gave too much power to his beloved Nur Jehan who, with the help of her relatives, became the de facto ruler of the Mughal Empire towards the end of Jehangir’s life and her manipulations forced Shah Jahan to rebel against father.

However, he only failed in it and was driven around to be caught and pardoned by his father. It was Shahryar who came to power, not Shah Jahan, after Jehangir’s death due to Nur Jehan’s plot. Shah Jahan came to power only three months later with the help of his uncle.

That is history. So why was Som intent on saying so? As Kant said the sole feature that gives an action moral worth is not the outcome that is achieved by the action, but the motive that is behind the action. And what could be that moral worth for Som? The municipal elections of UP? As petty as that to defile Taj Mahal and history? Does setting history right mean, eliminating a large part of our history?

Equally atavistic was the call of the Darul Uloom Deoband of Uttar Pradesh. This one based in Saharanpur has issued a fatwa prohibiting Muslim men and women from posting their or their families' photographs on social media sites recently and it does not come as a surprise to anyone.

It seems the fanatics in both Hindu and Islam have made it a point to stay put in the 18th century in the country and are on an unwarranted display of their regressive mindsets. Such fatwas are making a mockery of our Constitution and the fundamental rights guaranteed by it to our citizens. The other day there was another fatwa banning hair trimming and eyebrow shaping by Muslim women. In effect, it meant that they should not visit beauty parlours.

Perhaps, there is a gush of blood to the head among the clerics to counter the rise of fringe groups of Hindutva in this country and save Islam from the perceived decline here. One should remember that Islam carried the light of learning through many centuries paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and enlightenment.

Innovation in the Muslim communities and countries in the past led to the development of algebra, magnetic compass and tools of navigation, mastery of pens and printing or in understanding how disease spreads and ways to contain it. Initially inspired by Greek and Indian works, the Persian al-Khwarizmi (died in 850) wrote a book from whose title we get the term algebra.

Later, Rhazes, born in present day Tehran, identified smallpox and measles, writing a treatise on them that became influential beyond the Middle East and into the nineteenth century Europe. He was the first to discover that fever is a defense mechanism.

A Baghdadi thinker, al-Farabi who died in 950 was known as the Second Teacher, second greatest after Aristotle. Much later al-Baruni near-accurately measured the Earth’s circumference using his trigonometric method and missed it by only 200 miles.

Geometrician Alhazen, philosopher, physician and jurist Ibn Rushd upheld the spirit of inquiry. Sadly, the spirit of science declined in the Islamic world with the rise of the anti-rationalist Ash’ari school as a backlash to Mu’tazilism and its opposition to any scholarship and scientific inquiry that did not directly aid in religious regulation of private and public life.

Those issuing such fatwas today are only continuing this tradition of not allowing institutionalisation of free inquiry just as those who are opposing free thinking among the Hindus. Such anti-rationalist minds are always in pursuit of less self-criticism. Today self-criticism is valued only insofar as it is made as an appeal to be more pious and less spiritually corrupt and most criticism is directed at the West.

This is tantamount to a political tradition of belligerent self-pity which is one of the biggest of obstacles in India’s progress. Such minds in any religion in any country do not bode well. The clerics should realise that they will only be strengthening the hands of their likes in the opposite camp and that both of them, together, will hinder the scientific quest of the country leading to its backwardness in the long run. The youth need no lessons from these evolutionarily-challenged minds.

Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian Dominican priest, founder of Liberation Theology, once said, “Those who change the course of history are usually those who pose a new set of questions rather than those who offer solutions”.

If traveling to and interacting or communicating with the past is really possible then doing so could also mean that past history could be altered, even when no changes are intended. Any change in past history could lead to a chain of related events that cannot be predicted, and possibly have dramatic consequences.

Could there be any reason to justify an intent to change our own past? The dangers are so obvious that It seems unbelievable that anybody would ever be willing to take such risk. What could we actually achieve by changing the known history time line and why would we ever try to do such thing? Would it not be much better to leave the past alone and just learn from it?

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