Saturday, October 25, 2014

A curious inversion

In the Bill Maher - Ben Affleck kerfuffle the other day, Affleck voiced a conventional opinion. e.g.,

Affleck said that a minority of radical Islamists shouldn’t give a bad name to the overwhelming majority of Muslims who do not share the same extreme views.

In this view, there are a small percentage of crazies, who give the rest of the community a bad name. I found a contrary view in a somewhat unusual place, below the fold.

Dr. Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi got his doctorate around 1965 from Agra University, in northern India. His Ph.D thesis was published in book form: Muslim Revivalist Movements In Northern India in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.

This book from almost fifty years ago has a foreword by Emeritus Prof. Mohammad Habib, Aligarh Muslim University, which I quote here to highlight one specific point.

It is difficult for me to find words to express my appreciation for this extraordinary work. It is an unrivalled study of Indo-Muslim ideology for the two centuries it covers. No medieval or modern work comes to this standard. As compared to our great medieval writers, even Maulana Abdul Haq Muhaddis, Dr. Rizvi has more basic material (printed as well as manuscript, but mostly manuscript) within his reach due to his prolonged labour in its collection and the facilities of the modern age. Also, unlike them, he has freedom from bias and sectarianism, the fear of the Muslim popular opinion; fanaticism of the millat (Muslim Community) does not sit as a nightmare on Dr. Rizvi's mind. His study of the unpublished authorities has been very sound; his attitude is tolerant but critical; and a very complete and (in my humble opinion) correct picture of the religious and mystic movements of the period emerges from the book.

A word of explanation is necessary before I proceed further. Muslim writers and thinkers (both mystics and Mullas) may be divided into two groups. There has been a lower layer that sought a livelihood by serving the government of the day or by pandering to the fanaticism of the multitude. But there has also been a top-layer of persons with broad humanity and freedom from religious fanaticism - Alberuni, Avicenna, Averroes, Ibn Arabi, Shaikh Nizam ud-Din Auliya, Dara Shukoh, etc., about whom Dr. A.A. Rizvi correctly says: "To draw a distinction between believers and kafirs, heaven and hell, reward and punishment was frivolous in their eyes." Dr. A. A. Rizvi promises to be the greatest of this group in our generation.

Notice - unlike the Western liberal "majority are moderate only, and the fanatics are just a few percent", Prof. Habib labels the Millat, the Muslim community, the multitude of the Muslim community as fanatical; and among the writers and thinkers only a small group rise above that fanaticism to broad humanism. The fear - nightmare is the term used - of Muslim popular opinion - is a factor in this. "The government of the day" has rarely been humanistic either.

I don't want to get into an argument here that Ben Affleck is wrong and Prof. Mohammad Habib is right, or vice versa. It is the contrast that is interesting, and is worth reflecting on. 

(originally posted on