Monday, June 13, 2005

ISLAM: Search for a Muslim Ideal in South Asia- The Path to Inclusion

When Islam emerged from the Arabian peninsula in the 7th century and first engaged the peoples of what is now the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, it interacted with populations that were largely Jewish or Christian. In short, it was interacting with peoples who were still within the Abrahamic traditions -- the idea of an invisible omnipotent God, of common prophets and of a list of commandments were familiar. Within this tradition, some figures were shared like Abraham who was considered as both patriarch and prophet. In spite of their differences, the Abrahamic faiths had remarkable similarities and points of contact. But in South Asia, Islam met Hinduism, a completely different religious system. Not only was the notion of the divine very different and it took very different forms but here was a civilization which was both ancient and sophisticated. It was a civilization, which had already created great works of architecture, art and literature. Everything was inspired by religion and yet everything was cultural. Even the name, Hinduism, was not a religious name, but derived from the river Indus and the word itself goes back to the time when invaders who came to the subcontinent arrived at the river Indus -- or Ind -- and called the people "Hindi" or the people of the Indus.

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