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Rumi And Advaita

By Dr.Auswaf Ahsan

06 January, 2008

The house without a window is a hell;
To make window is the essence of true religion.
Don’t thrust your axe on every thicket;
Come, use your axe to cut open a window.

- Jalaluddin Rumi

While I was reading a recently published book on Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi by Connie Zweig, one of the great mystics of Islam, my colleague at the dental school asked me, “Why do you read books written by Muslims only?” I told him that a similar query was posed to me 10 years ago but then the book was ‘Culture and Imperialism’ by Edward W. Said! I was intensely concerned by the observation of the fact that a stereotyped image is constructed around a Muslim as to what he/she would normally read. It remains a distressing truth that many of our ‘secular’ friends would have shirked reading Edward W. Said, thanks to his Arab roots. Perceiving a writer while reading his/her text shows maturity of the reader whereas gazing his/her religion/ethnicity prior to reading the text is blatant bias.

This kind of a construct is bound to create a ‘subtle pressure’ on any individual, intimidating him/her to move away from the currently contested secular space. When a Muslim thinks for himself/herself, it is implied that they are doing so for the benefit of the society in general. That is ‘Muslim’ is not an outsider. If a Muslim reads history and culture that is to relocate him/her in contemporary society. This sort of thinking is essential for ‘greater common good’. Denial of space to such Muslims would prevent healthy dialogue and subsequent erosion of meaningful contribution from them.

A few vital milestones in the history of Indian subcontinent have substantially transformed the way by which communities understand each other. 1947 (Partition), 1984 (Sikh mass murder), 1992 & 1993 (Babri demolition and Bombay blast), 1999 (Graham Stein’s murder), and 2002 (Gujarat genocide) are examples. Present locale of discourses on secular space, perhaps, will have to be redefined in such a way that the communities can recognize common ground. This will definitely broaden the scope of dialogue of civilizations.

It has become extremely cumbersome for a Muslim to comment on issues of social importance. ‘Babel’ (2006) a movie by Alejandro Gonzalez depicts how deeply the global scenario has transformed in terms of perceiving and responding to violence worldwide. It starts in the Moroccan desert, where a man buys a Winchester rifle from a neighbor to help keep the jackals away from his herd of goats. A Japanese hunter had gifted the neighbor with the rifle in gratitude for his work as a guide. Alejandro lucidly elaborates how an innocent shepherd boy’s playful mood turns out to be a serious stand off between US states department and the Moroccan state officials.

My colleague later went on to borrow the book by Connie on Rumi. He could not resist commenting after few days on that work, but he said ‘Rumi speaks Advaita!

Dr.Auswaf Ahsan
Associate Professor
Dept. of Oral Medicine & Radiology
Century Dental College
Kerala - India
+9198950 80789

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