The Sweetest Tale of Doom. Ever!

‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’ by Salman Rushdie
1001nights

The Story of Imam Ghazali’s Jinn and Ibn Rushd’s Jinnia (‘jinnani’ in Punjabi) begins with the orthodox Muslim philosopher Imam Ghazali finding a bottle with the spirit of a powerful jinn in it, and the unorthodox Ibne Rushd finding himself in possession of a jinnia who is the princess and the heir-apparent of the jinni world thriving above. The jinn is beholden by the Imam to spread his unreasonable and religious fundamentalist thoughts while the numerous ‘kan-tutta’ offspring of the jinnia and the ‘voice of reason’ must resist those ideas to save themselves and the world.

It is a surprise to read a pleasant and easy-to-get-into story about our fast-approaching environmental and economic disasters while we are suffering the violence unleashed by the warring corporate rulers and militant religious fundamentalists. In an interesting, and often funny way, the reader gets to connect the dots in time, history, ideology, argument, cause, effect. This novel is not just an interesting read but it also makes a perfect artistic tool to fight the threats we face. After The Satanic Verses, this is another literary intervention by Salman Rushdie where he has created something that can be used, in different ways of course, to strengthen secular and equality-seeking trends in the world.

The complexity of the themes of modern life becomes simple when told in the style of a fairy tale. Enjoyable, like all fairy tales, the text is ready to mutate into film, video drama, graphic novel, children’s illustrated book, teen comic book, stage drama, video game, and perhaps, a paperback edition.

I enjoyed Ursula K Le Guin’s review of it (a rare case of one fav doing another), her winks, and the chuckle where she expects that a male author should (could or would?) have explored the delights of motherhood regarding the human-jinnia who had delivered 7, 11 or even 19 children at a time. Yes, i agree, we have been robbed of many hilarious possibilities, but it’s like asking a woman author to expansively gloat in the frolics of mortal men. On second thoughts, may be Le Guin has a point, perhaps only men can speculate motherhood long enough to write something hilarious about it.

Her comment on the jinnia being a ‘man in drag’ provoked some thoughts. Going after one’s descendants or being committed to them can’t be a solely male passion or prerogative; a matriarch would do it perhaps for reasons different than those of the patriarch. Also, from the time the Dunia character appears at the Great Philosopher’s door, to when she re-appears in his grave after a few hundred years, she just keeps doing what she thinks would please him; even, pathetic as it may sound, while she had been missing her offspring she only begins to get them together when the dead philosopher asks her to; she takes her own ‘leading’ role seriously after her father dies and the gardener bails, and then her almost unconditional beyond life-long love for the philosopher guy!! She seems like a weird woman pretending to be a jinnie.

And yes, it is indeed a delightful read, more so because now we have a new fairy tale on the world literary scene. I like that the people who are fighting for rational/equitable solutions in this story, trace their lineage from their mother; and also, that they are not just mix-race but mix-species.

If this present-day fairy tale was in the public domain, i would translate it in Punjabi and Urdu, and make it available in South Asia at different levels of society to inspire artistic interventions.

Available in hardcover, ebook and audiobook editions.
penguinrandomhouse.com

Fauzia Rafique
gandholi.wordpress.com
frafique@gmail.com
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The Separation of Religion and State in Islam

arches-islamic

Islamists and CNN proclaim alike that religion and state are one in Islam. The oneness of religion and state justifies the existence of Islamic states like Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban. It is a claim which inspires Islamist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir to petition for the re-establishment of the Caliphate in the twenty-first century.

In his Allahabad Address in 1930, Muhammad Iqbal held that “the religious ideal of Islam…is organically related to the social order which it has created.” Yet Iqbal discusses neither what that social order is nor how those ideals are embodied in a social or political organization. Indeed, the idea that religion and state are one in Islam is a recent one with little historical precedent.

First, Islam originated in a society where there was no state. The revelations of the Qur’an are moral commands on how a Muslim should live, on the Oneness of God, on the inevitability of the day of judgement and on the line of prophets before Muhammad. Whereas the revelations do speak to some matters of marriage, divorce, the payment of alimony and inheritance, they say little on how states should be formed, how governments should be run or organizations managed.

Second, the idea that religion and state are separate in Islam is not borne out by history. The Prophet of Islam did not appoint a successor for the community. Although the Caliphate was the religious and political head of the early Muslim community, its authority remained temporal, leaving matters of religious doctrine to the Ulema. After the siege of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols, the Caliphate existed essentially as a figurehead until it was abolished in 1924. As Ayubi makes clear, the early Muslim communities were concerned more with the politics of survival and succession than political theories of the state.

The great Islamic empires of the medieval ages – the Ottomans in Turkey, the Safavids in Iran and the Mughals in India – saw powerful rulers run their empires through bureaucracies, economic systems and armies all of which had little if anything to do with religion. The Ulema meanwhile monopolized matters of religion, the preaching and administering personal law. Religion and state co-existed, but separately.

Third, the Qur’an does distinguish between the temporal world (dunya) and an eternal, spiritual world (akhira). The temporal world can be further separated into matters relating to the “secular” world (dunya) and to religion (din). This distinction is similar to the Christian idea of the “secular” as the temporal world of human activity and the “eternal” world of God or the spiritual.

Ironically, the father of secularism in the West is the Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (1126-1198) or Averroes. Ibn Rushd distinguished between religious knowledge (ilm al-kalam) and philosophical knowledge (ilm al-falsafa) and between the human soul into the divine (eternal) and the individual (non-eternal), distinctions again important for distinguishing between the “temporal” or secular world and the “eternal” or spiritual world.

Fourth, and as a modern-day ideology, the characteristics of Islamism are shaped by the times and societies in which it originated. As Ayubi points out, Islamism emerged in post-colonial Arab societies amongst groups who felt excluded from power, who were distrustful of state authority, were also disdainful of modernity and sought to resurrect the “authenticity” of their culture which they presented as Islam. It was up to the Islamists to reassert the supremacy of that culture and to root out social, political and cultural corruption by seizing the instruments of power.

Like Islam however, Islamism has no specific theory of the state. What is “Islamic” for an Islamist is typically identified in opposition to what is “un-Islamic” (modernity, non-Muslims, foreign powers). There are little if any positive political theorizing or policy solutions in Islamism. The tendency of Islamists is to escape upwards to the Heavens by seeking absolute submission to God.  For them, Ayubi points out, “Islam is the solution” (al-islam huwa al-hall), with the implication that if Islamists took power, and declared the full sovereignty of God, social, economic and cultural problems will somehow solve themselves.

Written by Randeep Singh

Further Reading:

Nazih N. Ayubi, Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World (Routledge, London: 1991).

William Cleveland and Martin Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East (Westview Press, Boulder, CO: 2009).

Charles Taylor, “Modes of Secularism” in Secularism and Its Critics, ed. Rajeev Bhargava (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1998).