“Kashi kaaba ek hai; ek hai ram rahim
maida ek pakwan bahut, bait kabir jeem”
(There is no difference between Kashi and Mecca, Ram and Rahim. It is the same wheat, but different meals)
The story of his life would sound like the plot of a Manmohan Desai potboiler….
To escape dishonor for bearing a child out of wedlock, the widowed Hindu Brahmin mother abandons the baby on the steps of the Dashmedh Ghat in India’s religious capital, Varanasi, northern India. A passing couple, impoverished weavers, pick him up and adopt him.
Here’s the Manmohan Desai twist – His adoptive parents are poor and cannot educate him but they are kind and open minded. And they are Muslim.
And as they say, you cannot keep a good man down. He grows up to be one of India’s greatest and most beloved poets and thinkers of all time, whose writings are simple but they manage to find a cozy niche at the very bottom of your heart.
The above lines urging Hindu-Muslim amity, were set in stone by him and have been copied in different forms into millions of texts and scripts. Who could be better qualified? He was born in 1440AD a Hindu and raised a Muslim and the best of all, he was taught to believe that no one religion has supremacy. I salute his parents and I am in awe of his courage at a time when bigotry raged through the land.
Kabir, as he was known in Hindu India or Al-Kabir, as he was known in the Muslim world (AD1440 – 1518)
At around the same period as Kabir, lived another great saint who preached pretty much the same precepts – Guru Nanak (1469-1539), founder of the Sikh religion. I wouldn’t be off the mark if I said that this was the golden period in the history of the Indian civilization (comparable maybe to the classical Greek period of the 4th Century BC, if one can discount the bloodletting of the Greeks).
In no small measure is one other guy responsible, for the renaissance that India witnessed in the 16th century – the great Moghul Emperor Akbar, himself was a patron of art and culture. The Shahenshah(King of Kings), as he was known, was fond of literature and he created a library of over 24,000 volumes, written in Sanskrit, Hindustani, Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Kashmiri, staffed by many scholars, translators, artists, calligraphers, scribes, bookbinders and readers. Holy men of many faiths, poets, architects and artisans adorned his court from all over the world for study and discussion. The great Indian poet, Tulsidas were among this congress of creativity. New Delhi in 1550AD looked like Alexandria in 320BC. (Kabir was born a century earlier but I’m sure he would have found a place in Akbar’s pantheon).
But just as enlightenment died after the Greeks left the scene, leading to barbaric bloodletting right into the Dark Ages, so did all the emancipation of Kabir’s era pass into history, lost forever in a sea of hate and bigotry. It is where we all are today, condemned to only sit back and marvel at those ancient times – impotent, our sense of justice and equality in chains. Evil was evil then, easily recognizable as such. Today, evil stalks the earth in disguise, as peacemakers, arbitrators and reasonable men.
I had an instructor in CNC techniques over here, a short and chubby Palestinian from Gaza named Mukhtar Mohammad, who fled to Canada to escape the violence that had spread through Gaza during the First Intifada. It was an armed uprising against the expanding Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories through large-scale forced settlement activity.
The conflict, (if one can call it that, since it was so one-sided with Israel and it’s superpower-like military capability versus the impoverished, desperate Palestinians), began in December 1987 and lasted until the signing of a ludicrous farce known as the Oslo Accords.
No sooner than the ink on the Oslo Accords was dry, when another set of farcical Nobel Peace Prizes were awarded, this time to three gents – Israel’s Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin and the Al Fatah/PLO’s Yasser Arafat. Like in the case of Barack Obama, this time too the Nobels were awarded in anticipation of peace in the Middle East.
We all know what followed – a number of agreements were reached, before the Oslo ‘process’ ended after the failure of the Camp David Summit in 2000 and the outbreak of the even bigger Second Intifada. The only winners in all this were the cement black marketeers and we all know why.
The Oslo process and all other peace initiatives were virtually set to fail. When you have a peace negotiator who is blatantly seen as being in favor of one side, who arms that side with sophisticated weapons and tops up his bank account on ‘automatic recharge’, any negotiations are going to turn into a farce. Add to that blatantly partisan and opportunistic ‘peace envoys’ in the form of unemployed British ex-Prime Ministers and it is easy to see how the dice has always been heavily loaded against the Palestinians.
During the Second Intifada, another catch-phrase, Roadmap for Peace, was introduced, which explicitly aimed at a two-state solution and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The Roadmap, however, soon slipped and slid into a vortex similar to the Oslo process and gradually died.
Frustrated at living in constant fear of the sporadic suicide bombings, the rocket attacks, the Israeli air strikes and the two hours of electric power every day, Mukhtar fled with his wife and two kids, to Canada, immediately after the start of the Second Intifada, in 2000.
They say that you can’t keep a good man down for long and so it was with Mukhtar. A mathematics teacher back home, he retooled himself, got an engineering degree and went to work, all the while struggling to bring two growing kids in an alien, often bigoted, environment.
But here’s the thing. Outwardly Mukhtar Mohammad was a contented man, happy to be freed from the clutches of the Hamaz and the Mullahs back home. He appeared well-adjusted to life in the west, a typical hockey-Dad to his only son, proudly coming to teach class in a Montreal Canadiens’ T-Shirt during the NHL playoffs and all.
My mental image of Mukhtar suddenly acquired more pixels in it one day at the lunch table. Facets that till then had been invisible, suddenly emerged, like as if I was using picmonkey.com to enhance a photo. He had sauntered over and sat down with us, something he did often, since he enjoyed our lively debates, sometimes even taking the role of the moderator.
Our’s was a motley group – a Hungarian, a Quebecois, a Bangladeshi, a Gujarati and a Pakistani. We had grown to like each other’s company and usually gravitated to the same table at lunch. No topic was off limits. When Mukhtar drew up a chair, the conversation had already veered toward the proxy war over Kashmir, raging for five decades now.
Mukhtar was listening quietly to the ebb and flow of the discussion, a diffident look on his face, as if to say, ‘it is impolite for me to comment over other’s conflicts’, when suddenly someone said,” Why don’t you Indians let Pakistan have Kashmir? After all, they are all Muslims there.” It was Mukhtar.
His question was directed at me, so all eyes swiveled toward me. My response was instantaneous and kind of snappy and impatient, as I countered, ” Why don’t you Palestinians let the Israelis keep on building their settlements?”
You could cut through the silence with a knife, but Mukhtar backed down, not wanting to let the discussion snowball out of control. But I could sense that he wasn’t happy about it. It hadn’t occurred to Mukhtar that there were more Muslims living in India than there were in Pakistan or Bangladesh and that they were quite contented being Indian, that there were rich and poor Muslims just as there were rich and poor Hindus, in India.
Mukhtar instantly recognized persecution with a typically Muslim mindset, which narrows down the worldview into a single track – persecution. You are not Muslim, if you have not been persecuted. Unlike Buddhism or Hinduism, the edifice called Islam is built upon the emancipation of the persecuted, just as it is in the case of it’s two elder cousins, Christianity and Judaism.
Even in this single-minded pursuit of persecution, the ‘Big Three’ have been picky about whom to emancipate. At the time that their faiths were born, these prophets and their God didn’t seem to be much bothered about the persecuted in the other parts of the world, restricting their ‘upliftment’ to a tiny region, the size of a postage stamp in comparison to the rest of the world’s landmass, that we know now as the golden crescent. Why? We in the east didn’t count? Or were we folks in Asia living inside a utopia? What did we brown folk do, not to deserve to be called the Lord’s ‘chosen ones’, instead of this ‘oligarchy of the Big Three’? Why of why, Lord? Jehovah? Allah?
Look at it this way – Without a Pharoah Ramases II, there would never have been a state of Israel and without Tiberius, Jesus Christ would have remained just a middling to good and a rather absent-minded carpenter, constantly scratching his head, puzzled at who his father really was.
The Pharaoh and the Roman emperor were important props to God, just as important as Moses and Jesus were. It should be reasonable to assume that, to the Big Three there simply cannot be a God without persecution. This ties up neatly with the fact that in today’s comparative peace and tranquility in the west, church attendance has plummeted. Apparently there is no need to thank God for the peace. He is just doing his ‘duty’, right? That’s his job. God becomes irrelevant when the times are good, as implied by the Big Three.
In Mukhtar’s mind, Kashmir becoming a part of Pakistan was the only solution to the Kashmir issue – the Kashmiris would be free and happy, their Islamic faith would guide them into some kind of a utopia inside Pakistan. That premise might have proved to be true if it had been any country other than Pakistan.
But what escaped Mukhtar’s reasoning was the glaring fact that Pakistan has been reduced by it’s murderously corrupt politicians into a rogue, a pariah state that lives on the alms of the others, a state that is so devoid of self-respect that it extends a begging bowl over to a very opportunistic sponsor, the very nation whose values it hates.
Today, ordinary Pakistanis are trying to escape the constant threats of suicide strikes, of their kids being blown to smithereens, of the runaway inflation, of the near total power cuts in the sweltering heat, while their politicians lord it inside palatial mansions, pretty much the same hell that Mukhtar himself escaped. And there he was, sitting at the lunch table in front of me and telling me it would be nice if India handed over Kashmir to Pakistan.
What the world needs is an Akbar or a Kabir and definitely not a Mukhtar.