BY MOHAMMAD MAROOF SHAH
Do we have a culture now?
What is culture and what is civilization, and the difference between the two? Even our better educated class is conscious of the difference between the two and what this means for quality of life we live. Broadly speaking we have been pursuing a march to civilization at the cost of culture and don’t know the middle point that marries both of them – this is the mandate Islam has proposed for itself. This thesis has been brilliantly argued in a classic work Islam between East and West by former Bosnian President Alija Izatbegovic, one of the really great scholar-intellectual-statesmen of the Muslim world.
Culture signifies everything that relates to man as something more than merely biological or material entity. It is poles apart from what is called civilization and is an expression of religious or spiritual self of man. Everything cultural ultimately has its grounding in man’s yearning for what transcends man as biological creature or individual ego – non-self, Divine, Spirit. Culture illiteracy is a sin that costs us impoverished living here (we must surround ourselves with beauty and pursue whatever we do with perfection as far as possible) and exile from the Paradise reserved for the cultured people conscious of human dignity embodied in pursuit of perfection. In this sense and in the more popular sense of language, arts, crafts and other refined expressions of human imagination, culture literacy is waning fast in Jammu and Kashmir. It has been inversely proportional to what is called rise of literacy rate.
We are not aware of what our heritage is and thus the question of preserving it doesn’t arise. Our educational system has been a huge failure. We have yet to evolve, as a community, a sense and sensitivity towards the vital question of our heritage that define, sustain and ennoble any living culture. We are already passing through severe moral-spiritual and socio-economic crises and are at the brink of a disaster. The key is addressing overall orientation of our education that has so far lacked philosophical basis. Our cultural heritage can’t be understood without a sound understanding of its philosophical basis in different religious-mystical systems prevalent in Kashmir.
What is our literary, philosophical and religious heritage? To whom should we approach to enlighten us regarding the question of logic and transcendence in Nagarguna’s Mahayana system, or symbolism of Saivist-Buiddhist architecture, or ancient art, or arguments for affirmative transcendence in Tantraloka or aesthetic route to moksha in Abhinavbhrati, or unraveling the little explored religion of beauty that our tradition has sustained? Who will authoritatively speak on the doctrine of apocatastasis in Buddhist, Saivist or Islamic tradition? Who can speak on Ibn Arabi’s Fusus which once upon a time made great impact on our local Sufi thought and found able expounders? How many of us have read Gani Kashmiri and can talk about the mystical symbolism of even very familiar verses of Hubbi or Rusul Mir?
How many, amongst the newer generation, know that we have the greatest literary critic and aesthetician and exponent and synthesizer of a great tradition in Indian history, if not world history, in the form of Abhinavgupta? How many of us can really appreciate the fact that Kashmir Saivism and Sufism have conceptual resources to postmortem and appropriate the most influential philosophical or literary movements of the modern world and why studies on Abhinavgupta and Ibn Arabi – the great thinkers who have greatly impacted on our tradition and have been appropriated in Sufi poetry – have become such a craze in the Western academia?
We are teaching criticism in Kashmiri, Urdu, English and other disciplines but keep students largely ignorant of the great treasury of insight into literature and its relationship to other aspects of culture and religion that was bequeathed to us by Abhinavgupta. How conscious we are regarding our traditional heritage can be gauged from the fact that our greatest literary, religious, philosophical masterpieces are either in Sanskrit or Persian or complex ill-comprehended Kashmiri such as that of Sheikh Nurudddin or Lalla. Thus we are, generally speaking, quite ignorant and incapable of overcoming this ignorance as well. There has been no campaign for introducing Persian or Sanskrit at primary or secondary level to the extent that all students attain working knowledge of these languages. We have the optional languages but in practices it means no option or unattractive option for most of students.
Comparing competition for Persian and Sanskrit courses in University entrance examination speaks volumes about death of a great culture brought about by the callous indifference of policy makers towards such a vital question of language learning. We have no language policy and tragically enough most of our students fail to excel in English as well alienating them from the cultural mainstream globally.
How Islam has been such a great cultural force and in fact has “conquered” the world – Rumi, Hafiz, Ghalib, Ibn Sina, Ibn Arabi, Khayam are world phenomena – needs to be understood at a time when the question of Muslimness has been more ideologically or politically framed. Culture literacy will counter fundamentalism on the one hand and nihilism that lurks in secularization project on the other. Here in Kashmir mainstream and resistant leadership is united in ignoring the question of culture illiteracy. But why should they bother? Culture isn’t a political capital so may be left alone to its fate. The question is do we bother and if yes how?
Mohammad Maroof Shah is a noted columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org