Is fixation with the past an obstacle to India’s future?

Story by  Atir Khan | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 01-03-2023
Tourists at Taj Mahal in Agra (Courtesy: Passport Symphony blog)
Tourists at Taj Mahal in Agra (Courtesy: Passport Symphony blog)


Atir Khan

Fixation with the past is one of the greatest obstacles in the process of constructive change in the country. There could be no better time to decide on priorities. The cue has come from the Apex court of the country.

The question is should Indians delve into their past, recreate the lost glory or fulfill the dreams of Amrit Kal, as envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take the country to greater heights as a world leader?

In the ancient world Alexandria’s Great Library in Egypt is said to have been destroyed several times, Muslim invaders were also accused of the destruction. Though this was later disputed and it was observed by Bertrand Russell, the logician, and other scholars that the library had been destroyed by the Romans much before the advent of Islam.

History is never in black or white, it is far more complex than we often tend to understand it. Even Indian history as narrated to us since the British era has too many grey areas. Any sane person would say if Muslim rulers destroyed the historical works, they would have been better off preserving the treasures of knowledge. 

The problem is that the rulers in the past civilizations thought that the historical remains of the other civilizations would influence their followers, and jeopardize their interests; perhaps that’s why historical artifacts were either erased or destroyed.

Muslims though did try to learn from their mistakes, there was a phase when thinkers and scholars gained importance through their learning from other civilizations and eventually started sharing their learned works with others. 

However, more than Muslims the learning of Muslim scholars such as Avicenna influenced the Christian world. The philosophy of the Muslim scholars later led to the enlightenment of Europeans and brought about the Renaissance. 

Unfortunately for the Muslim world, the benefits of the scholars’ learning were short-lived. With the churnings in Islam in the 11th Century, clerics became more powerful and scholars were relegated to the background, some of them were even punished.

Several foreign Muslim invaders in India were influenced by Muslim clerics. They conveniently made Islam their tool to suit their politics. Their acts were justified as being compulsions of politics rather than atrocities. 

Emperor Akbar introduced Deen-e-Illahi

To be fair all Muslim invaders were not bad, some of them had great contributions and they were so enamored by the Indian culture that they were even accused of losing their religion. Akbar the Great is one such example. He introduced Deen-e-Ilahi, an inclusive religion but he miserably failed to propagate it. Muslim clerics came down heavily upon his philosophy and opposed it tooth and nail. 

The Supreme Court recently dismissed a petition seeking the formation of a committee, whose job it was proposed would be to ensure that the names of Indian places, which are identified with the Muslim invaders are changed. The double bench of the apex court turned down the petition and came up with the observations, which have provided food for thought. 

Several pertinent questions have been raised. Will it be appropriate for the Muslims to rejoice in the past glory of the Mughal rulers or should they go along with the changing times? Should Hindus be fixated on getting the names and places changed or they should move on? Should both of them delve into the past or look at the promising future ahead of them and make India a superpower? Both things cannot happen together.

The Supreme Court had observed, “The history of any nation cannot haunt the present and future generations to the point that succeeding generations become prisoners of the past,” further adding that in the Independent India Constitution lays the guiding principles and not the history. In these utterances, there is a clear message for both communities. 

Supreme Court of India

“Hinduism is the greatest religion in terms of metaphysics. The height which Hinduism has in the Upanishads, Vedas, and Bhagwat Gita is unequal in any other system. We should be proud of it,” the bench of Justices KM Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna had observed.

In the past, such sentiments have also been reflected by scholars, who are more reliable than preachers. Bohra Muslim scholar Asghar Ali Engineer in his book Islam Misgivings and History writes, Alberuni, the historian acquired knowledge of the Sanskrit language and studied Hindu scriptures in Sanskrit. He believed that both religions have much in common and it is more a difference of language than substance. 

He translated the Upanishads into Persian and called them Sirr-e-Akbar. What is more interesting is that he began by invoking Ganesha, along with Bismillah Hir’ Rahman Nir’-Rahim. Dara Shikon wrote that monotheists of India also believed in qiyamat-e-qurba (The Day of Judgement) and Hindu scriptures, it is referred as mahapralaya. He compared concepts of mukti (salvation from the cycle of birth-death-rebirth) with that of Sufi concept of fana fi Allah. He wrote about Bhahmand as the body of God. Brahmand in Islam is referred to as Alam-i-Kubra, which is a manifestation of Allah.

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The confluence of such thoughts is what gives India its richness, something which needs to be carried forward. The people must decide what’s good for their country, which is a mother of numerous communities. Either they let history decide their future or they preserve history to remind them of the mistakes of the past for learning in the future.