By M.S.N. Menon
It is by its art and literature that a society is judged at the bar of history. They reflect the vitality of the race and its civilisation. Or their decline. Is Islam merely marking time?
Arts are mainly products of the senses; literature, of the mind. They need freedom to grow. India opted for freedom of the mind and the senses. Which is why its civilisation is the richest.
Semitic faiths chose to be less free. Hence the poverty of their civilisation. They are governed by their books. This is more true of Islam, which expects the faithful to be mute. They ?surrender? before Allah.
Let me illustrate. Beauty is divine in Islam. It is an attribute of God. One of the names of Allah is, al-Jamil (The Beautiful).
But Islam is ill at ease with many things beautiful. It banished many beautiful things from its life. For example, painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama and so on. But why? For want of trust in the mind and the senses; for fear that they might betray the faithful.
All arts, say the Hindus, are accessory to worship. In Islam, they are a disturbance to worship. They are said to distract. Thus, to Muslims, art is unwelcome. It has grown, if at all, in defiance of the Quran, the Prophet and Allah. Today, there is an effort to ?Islamise? Muslim art.
They now demand a ban on films, TV and theatres. Naturally, it has very little to show. If at all, it is largely because of regional assertion against orthodoxy.
To the Hindu, work was worship. (It is so even today. To the real Hindu). This explains his reverence for art and his determination to attain excellence in everything he did. Was not everything he did an offering to his gods? There is no parallel to this in other civilisations.
Muslim art continues to be thwarted by puritanical forces. They now demand a ban on films, TV and theatres. Naturally, it has very little to show. If at all, it is largely because of regional assertion against orthodoxy.
In India, the Mughals (a branch of the Timurids) did assert their independence from tradition. Which is why Indian Islam created its own distinct regional culture.
Calligraphy is Islam'ssupreme creation. But it was not an original contribution. It was based on the illustrated and illumined scroll writings of the Greeks. It became an act of piety and dedication among Muslims, and served their artistic urges.
Architecture came next to calligraphy. But, again, it began as a copy of Byzentine architecture, which was known for fortifications. True, Islamic architecture rose to great heights. Especially after the creation of ceramic tiles. The Mughals transferred this art to India. However, it was when Muslim architecture mingled with Indian architecture that the Taj Mahal was born.
Although Mohammed was fiercely opposed to music, the Quran itself went the musical way. The call to prayer is almost always sung. So too the Muslim funeral oration. The Sufis, on their part, saw music as a bridge between heaven and earth. Rumi'sMathnavi is generally sung.
Farishta, the Persian soldier-scholar, reports that the Slave dynasty kept musicians and dancing girls. And Srivara, the famous Kashmiri historian, reports that Sultan Zain-ul-Abidi was a great patron of art, musicians and dancing girls.
The Mughals loved luxury and pleasure, art and architecture. Akbar promoted painting of court scenes and extended his patronage to Tansen, the great singer. Abul Fazal writes in Ain-i?Akbari (Account of Akbar'sLife and Rule) that there were eight forms of dance during his time. On Jahangir, he writes that he was a perfect connoisseur of the arts, especially of paintings, and a great patron of artists. Shah Jehan loved music. The Taj Mahal remains his immortal work.
With Aurangzeb, there was a reversal to fundamentalism and intolerance, which is the basic flaw of Islam as a religion. It is seldom definitive on anything. Aurangzeb had little interest in art, he disallowed festivals (both Hindu and Muslim), banned music and musical instruments, painting and other arts. He compelled the dancing girls to marry or leave his realm. But he allowed his queens to enjoy music and dance. And he himself joined them to watch dances. And he was infatuated with a dancing girl?Zinbadi. Shows the hypocrite that he was.
Artists from Samarkhand took residence in Delhi and drew several hundred exquisite portraitures. This was strictly forbidden in Islam.
There is a lunatic fringe in all religions. But, in Islam, they overwhelm the whole population. To wit, the Taliban.
Islam has come a long way away from those more tolerant days. Little do the Muslims of the world realise that their civilisation is retarded. By curbing free enquiry, Islam blocked the progress of thought, and by restricting freedom of the senses, it blocked the progress of civilisation and, therefore, the inner refinement of men.