Category Archives: diversity

Malik Ambar:Slave ruler of the Deccan.

{The emperor Jahangir shooting an arrow through the head of Malik Ambar. A 19th century version of the painting by Abu’l Hasan, dated 1616; Mughal.}
Seen in this painting by Abul Hasan, an ace miniaturist of the Mughal Court is Jahangir, Emperor Akbar’s son, further taking on a beheaded Malik Ambar, ruler of the Ahmadnagar kingdom in the Deccan.
Although the two never locked horns in battle, Malik Ambar was seen by Jahangir as a force needing to be crushed.
‘Born in the mid-sixteenth century at Harar in Ethiopia, and known simply as “Chapu”, he was sold by his poor parents to an Arab slave merchant, landed up in Baghdad, and from there, in the early 1570s, in the Deccan – known for its polyglot and tolerant culture which included many blacks or ‘Habshis’ as they were called (from the Arabic word ‘Habsh’ for Abysinnia, the older name of Ethiopia) – where he was sold again to a prominent noble at the troubled court of the Nizam Shahs of Ahmednagar.-‘
This picture which Chelby Diagle , cultural critic and blogger who calls herself the ‘Funky Ghetto Hijabi‘ points to in a radio series she works on on the history of ‘other’ Black narratives in South Asia strikes me for the reading that she, a Nigerian French Canadian Anglophone Muslim brings to it, and the reading that I can bring to it after reading her.
This wonderful picture is to me about the complexity of being a post-colonial South Indian Muslim, and reading histories that were not once accessible and looking at these images from various historical points of view.
When you put this image through the digestive lens which I’m wearing right now then it becomes frightfully and delightfully confounding.The Emperor who is depicted in many paintings as an incarnation of God or even as an immortal viceregent, (a trend which the later Mughal miniatures were given to) stands on a globe and the iconography which is used is to me very layered and not simple by any means.
At the outset this work could easily be labelled blasphemous even by me, for it’s blatant racism makes it more than unholy.
Scattered over the painting, in a very minute hand, are also verses in Persian, like: “The head of the night-coloured usurper is become the house of the owl”, or “Thine enemy-smiting arrow has driven from the world (Ambar) the owl, which fled the light“.
But look at the imagery.
The globe , (which could very well be a gift from the East India Company, judging by its make) stands on a bull which stands on a fish.
It takes us back to an ancient tribal or even neolithic imagination of the universe.In all its symbolism this image reveals an artful anthropomorphic use of the devices available to the artist, operating as he is in a culture where different world-views proliferate.
Little is known, as Goswami(click on the link above) says about the presence of Blacks in the history of South East Asia.But reading from this allegorical picture painted in the Mughal court, there were obviously surviving narratives that defied the by then almost deified lineages of the Mughal entourage.
What’s also interesting is the analogies that can be drawn between the imagination of the ‘Black’ as ‘other’ by the Whites, the ‘Dravidian’ as ‘other’ by the ‘Aryans’, and now, the ‘Muslim’ as ‘other’ by the neo-imperialist hyper-mediated consciousness.


ballot box

[ click on the ballot box]

This is a message in public interest circulated by the White Ribbon Campaign for Peace(India).You can also view it here and on Blogbharti.

Please copy and distribute extensively.

Kya aap White ribbon mein shraddha aur imaan rakhte hain?

Do you have faith in the White ribbon?

White Ribbon


Feminist, blogger and activist Anasuya Sengupta, in an essay called ‘Fundamentalisms of the Progressive wrote,

‘One of our campaigns was to wear a white ribbon for peace (the White Ribbon Campaign for Peace, India) – we used it both as a symbol and as a talking point, to begin conversations about violence of all kinds, including what we call ‘communalism’ in India (the rousing of hatred against particular communities). Initially, some of our friends scoffed at us, and wondered what an insignificant white ribbon could do, to change attitudes and animosities.

But the interesting thing was that there were so many people – both young and not so young – who were unable to be political in the same way as they saw ‘activists’; they felt this meant standing at street corners with banners, or going on rallies, or shouting slogans against the government. They found this too ‘political’ (in their understanding of the term), and yet they were deeply disturbed at the kinds of violence being perpetrated in the name of religion.

So for these people, wearing a ribbon was the beginning of a series of conversations they had with others, which began other processes of change, at least in terms of breaking the silence around violence.

And because it was something everyone could do – and have conversations at whatever level of politics and ideology each was comfortable with – it wasn’t intimidating in any way, and yet gave a sense of belonging to a community against violence, and speaking up for peace.’


Do you believe in pluralism and justice?

Are you Secular, liberal, free thinking?

Do you believe that all religion has in its essence ways of leading a soulful, integrated and fulfilled life?

Do you believe that religious extremism has done us no good?

Say No to religious bigotry.

White Ribbon

Wear a White Ribbon today.

Affirmative action, Identity politics and Divisiveness.

Where is the place for looking at space defining interventions within identity politics in South Asia?

One State Solution

One often finds that the Indian political landscape or to put it largely, the South Asian Political landscape ridden with extremely tight notions of identity.Understandably because of the region’s history with the idea of religion and politics that grew around it.

As a consequence of this, people that want to speak of these ideas find themselves on a no man’s land between tight lipped conservationists and sometimes tighter liberationists.

If you don’t want speak of a revolution then where might be the space to speak in ways that are new and innovative? What is the language in which you are going to pitch your discourse of identity if you do not draw from existing discourses?

Somehow, No one wants to listen.

Read between my lines.Please.


Image thanks to my new best friend.

Pledge of Mutual Respect and Co-operation….

I endorse the Sunni Muslim Unity Pledge for mutual understanding, respect and co-operation. But I have a lot of reservations.

Here is the text of the pledge.

Pledge of Mutual Respect and Cooperation Between Sunni Muslim Scholars, Organizations, and Students of Sacred Knowledge

Hold fast to the Rope of Allah, all together, and be not divided. (Qur’an, 3:103)

Surely, those who have made divisions in their religion and turned into factions, you have nothing to do with them. Their case rests with Allah; then He will inform them of what they used to do. (Qur’an, 6:159)

In light of the Divine Word, we recognize that the historical nature of Sunni Islam is a broad one that proceeds from a shared respect for the Qur’an and Sunnah, a shared dependence on the interpretations and derivations of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them), and a shared respect for the writings of a vast array of scholars who have been identified by their support for and affiliation with the Sunni Muslims and have been accepted as the luminaries of Sunni Islam – as broadly defined.

Likewise, detailed discussions in matters of theology are the specific domain of trained specialists, and proceed on the basis of well-defined principles and methodologies, which are beyond the knowledge of the generality of Muslims.

Our forebears in faith, with all the dedication, brilliance and sincerity clearly manifested in their works, have debated and discussed abstruse and complex issues of creed and practice, and have failed in most instances to convince their opponents of the veracity and accuracy of their positions.

The average Muslim is only responsible for knowing the basics of creed as they relate to a simple belief in Allah, His Angels, Scriptures, the Prophets and Messengers, the Last Day, and the Divine Decree.

Recognizing that the specter of sectarianism threatens to further weaken and debilitate our struggling Muslim community at this critical time in human affairs, and recognizing that Allah, Exalted is He, has given the Muslim community in the West a unique historical opportunity to advance the cause of peace, cooperation, and goodwill amongst the people of the world, we the undersigned respectfully:

– Urge Muslims to categorically cease all attacks on individual Muslims and organizations whose varying positions can be substantiated based on the broad scholarly tradition of the Sunni Muslims. We especially urge the immediate cessation of all implicit or explicit charges of disbelief;

– Urge Muslim scholars and students of sacred knowledge to take the lead in working to end ad hominem attacks on other scholars and students; to cease unproductive, overly polemical writings and oral discourse; and to work to stimulate greater understanding and cooperation between Muslims, at both the level of the leadership and the general community;

-Urge Muslims in the West, especially our youth, to leave off unproductive and divisive discussions of involved theological issues that are the proper domain of trained specialists, and we especially discourage participation in those internet chat rooms, campus discussion groups, and other forums that only serve to create ill-will among many Muslims, while fostering a divisive, sectarian spirit;

-Urge all teachers to instruct their students, especially those attending intensive programs, to respect the diverse nature of our communities and to refrain from aggressive challenges to local scholars, especially those known for their learning and piety;

– Urge our brothers and sisters in faith to concentrate on enriching their lives by deepening their practice of Islam through properly learning the basics of the faith, adopting a consistent regimen of Qur’anic recitation, endeavoring to remember and invoke Allah in the morning and evening, learning the basics of jurisprudence, attempting to engage in voluntary fasting as much as possible, studying the Prophetic biography on a consistent basis, studying the etiquettes that guide our interactions with our fellow Muslims, and the performance of other beneficial religious acts, to the extent practical for their circumstances;

– Finally, we urge the Believers to attempt to undertake individual and collective actions that will help to counter the growing campaign of anti-Islamic misinformation and propaganda that attempts to portray our religion as a violence-prone relic of the past unsuitable for modern society, and by so doing justify indiscriminate wars against Muslim peoples, occupation of Muslim lands, and usurpation of their resources.

Saying this, we do not deny the reality of legitimate differences and approaches, nor the passionate advocacy of specific positions based on those differences. Such issues should be rightfully discussed observing established rules of debate. However, we urge the above measures to help prevent those differences from destroying the historical unity and integrity of the Muslim community, and creating irreparable divisions between our hearts. Further, we do not deny the urgency, especially in light of the situation in Iraq, of efforts to foster greater cooperation between diverse Muslim communities. Hence, this document should not be seen as negating any statements, or declarations designed to foster greater peace and harmony between diverse Muslim communities. However, we feel, as Sunni Muslims, a pressing need to first set our own affairs in order.

In conclusion, having called our brothers and sisters to act on these points, we, the undersigned, pledge to be the first to actively implement them in response to the Divine Word:

Do you enjoin righteousness on the people and refuse to follow it yourselves and all along you are reciting the scripture!? Will you not reflect? (Qur’an (2:44)

We ask Allah for the ability to do that which He loves. And Allah alone is the Grantor of Success.


The pledge itself was developed in the West, but I cannot say enough about the need for mutual understanding between not just Muslims but all religious scholars in India where I see innumerable animosities based on matters of religious understanding , and among the Muslims in terms of Fiqh(Jurisprudence), on the application of Sufi thought and doctrine, and on matters of ijtihad(reasoning on matters of theology).

I cannot stress enough the need for opening out the scripture and theological texts to the larger public domain for them to available and accessible to one and all. When great scholars like Al-Ghazzali worked they had in mind the benefit of all mankind. My experience and practice and knowledge , for now remains painfully and ignorantly rooted only in Islam, so I speak from here in the hope and earnest prayer that God increases me in his knowledge. For He. surely, is the supreme guide and holder of wisdom.

I would like to go further and say that matters of sacred knowledge (God and his messengers know best) need to be debated in the open, so that our inner worlds are not that far from the outer. And this should not just be for the Muslim ummah but for the whole of God’s creation.

Traditional knowledges are inter-connected; medicine or anatomy was not separate from matters of the spirit. Today these connections need to be re-established or we will see a devastating impact on the academies wherein knowledge will only serve to disassociate us from our spiritual lives. This is already happening with the technologising of our lives and life-styles, and is a trend that needs to be corrected in the sciences and within philosophical spheres of learning.

This is the reason why I feel that matters of all religious learning need to be debated openly among diverse scholars and in conjunction with historians, scientists and theorists and political thinkers. I’m sure that in that process we will be not just doing justice to but also bearing and carrying forward the immense and invigorating repositories of knowledge that theological learning, the sciences of the spirit and ways of life such as the religious method have to offer.

There are however some problems I have with the pledge itself. I do not endorse the divide between scholar and lay-man and will never endorse the divide between a religious scholar and a practitioner of religion (May God be the witness to my words and deeds).While I embrace this call whole-heartedly because I see in it a spirit for togetherness and bridging long standing gaps between Islamic sects and the potential for some real debates on matters of Islamic history and the ahadeeth, I feel that the internet is in fact a great place to start talking about these matters. What better democratic, non-patriarchal and classless platform than this to advance thought,  and to communicate with diverse view-points? While there is a risk of profanity and distortion there is also the possibility of synergizing.

I am a believer in real experience as the best teacher in all values, but as a Muslim woman from a country where Muslims are an often persecuted minority, I cannot say how much being on the internet has strengthened my sense of being a part of a global shared pool of thinking, cultural values and practices. It is pitiable that I do not have the same sort of atmosphere in a physical sense but we all have our lives to lead. Our cultural mileu may be different but the best thing about this medium is that it allows people to talk to each other. And Alhamdulillah(Praise be to God), that may yet be the best tool we have.

In conversation with my people back home there always is the rift which the staunchest traditionalists call ‘maghribi taleem ka assar’ or the influence of Western learning, which to them reflects a lack in certainty. Urdu learning on the other hand is to them perfectly capable of granting an individual with the knowledge of certainty and moral rectitude that a Muslim needs. These differences between theology and modern life are too wide right now and it is about time that they be bridged.

As I write this I write with a great satisfaction that I have been given the means to articulate anger and angst that has been simmering in me for a long time . Jazak Allah! It is the holy month of Ramzaan and may my words bespeak the pain of a troubled heart and mind. But I’m immensely happy that I have had the opportunity to articulate these feelings and that this blessed pledge has brought them forth.

In the past week we have all been witness to the most stirring events of a generation. We have seen monks taking to the streets in order to correct a political situation. I have no words to express my exhuberance at these replenisingly, rescusiatingly wonderful sights. We all must in our own capacity stand with the brave people of Burma in their struggle for self-rule, and as we speak for unity in theological thinking, discourse and action we do not stand in isolation from the larger worlds of religions, each with their separate world -view. May God show us all the way.Aameen.

In Solidarity,


Original PDF version here.This pledge comes together from a group of scholars and I’m sadly not aware of any of them yet.Here is the Muslim link.