Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The International Symposium on “Democracy and the Eastern Scholarship”
May 20, 2013
Reported by Saeed Qureshi
The international symposium held on May 18 in Garland, Texas, under the auspices of South Asia Democracy Watch (SADEW) was a brain storming event and provided enormous intellectual food to the audience that had come to attend it in sizable number.
The symposium was split into three sessions. The first part was dedicated to pure debate and dialogue on the topic of the evening. The second was for the dinner that was delicious and sumptuous. The third part was allocated to music. The famous Gazal (ode) singer Ustad Salamat Ali Khan thrilled the guests with his inimitable skill and profound mastery at singing this genre of oriental music.
The organizers had planned it meticulously and in very orderly manner. I am highly grateful to our dear mentor and friend Syed Fayyaz for inviting me to this august function and benefit in a huge way from the output of the invaluable debate and discussion.
The main topic of that unique event was, “the Democracy and the Eastern scholarship: Allama Iqbal”. The other two topics or issues to be deliberated and discussed were first: “Democracy in South Asia”. The second was subtitled under Panel discussion: “Allama Iqbal and the contemporary world”.
I had certainly come to grips with the expression “democracy” but about the second part “eastern scholarship” was rather vague for me to understand. With the colon in between this phrase and Allama Iqbal meant that perhaps the author of the pamphlet wanted to convey that Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal was a proponent of democracy and that democracy was part of eastern scholarship. Or vice verse.
It concisely spelt out that Allama Iqbal was the embodiment or a product of the democracy and eastern scholarship. But the fact is that in his poetry he seldom took a charitable view of democracy. Unfortunately I missed this part of the discussion that must have been animated and soul stirring. I was a late comer for unavoidable reason.
The second title of the debate participated by eminent scholars and intellectuals was captioned as “Allama Iqbal and the contemporary world”. I was trying to figure out as a student of sub-continental history of the post 1857 war of independence till the creation of two dominion states of Pakistan and India in 1947 with a question mark which could be the contemporary history.
When we correlate Allama Iqbal with the contemporary world then it must be the era until 1938 when that great poet of the East and an outstanding scholar departed from this transitory abode of the world. If the contemporary world means our time period in which we are living then it would be out of place to relate it to Dr. Iqbal as he was not understandably a contemporary of the ongoing times.
The rectangular hall of the Holiday Inn in Garland TX was filled to its capacity. But by the time the music session started it was almost depleted by a half. The reason is obvious that those who had come purely for the symposium on democracy must have thought it expedient to depart due to the paucity of time left at their disposal.
I must admire the scholastic profundity and acute insight that many speakers had demonstrated in their speeches or the presentations. However, I was immensely carried away by a candid and academically rich lecture delivered by Iranian ambassador Dr. Mohammad Mahllati from Oberlin College Ohio. His introduction was only one liner given in the leaflet that was provided to the guests. But I would be eager to know if he was a former ambassador or the incumbent one and which country he has been serving.
Also one would be curious to find out, was he teaching at Oberlin College Ohio or was a student there. In such brochures the detailed profile is always helpful for the audience to be abreast of the background of the speaker. It is also helpful for a novice journalist like me to write a report or note for media. A curtain raiser was given by our friend Raj Muzaffar in his brief introductory address. But to retain the verbal enunciation in the memory is some time difficult.
It was an electrifying address that succinctly established the intimate and abiding spiritual, poetic and intellectual links between Allama Iqbal and Iran. He informed the audience that Allama Iqbal (in Iran fondly called as Iqbal-e-Lahori) is as popular and venerated figure as the celebrated Iranian classical poets.
He also narrated his visit to Lahore and his presence at the Allama’s tomb in front of the Grand mosque (Badshahi mosque). He recited the Persian couplet written on the grave of the sleeping laureate of both Urdu and Persian poetry.
He revealed by way of retracing the history of intellectual revolution and surge in Iran that Ali Shariati, one of the leading scholars in Islamic theology was greatly influenced by the philosophy and vision of Allama Iqbal.
Dr. Nyla Ali Khan was another distinguished speaker in this seminar of great significance. She was the keynote speaker. She has the honor of being the granddaughter of the legendary Kashmiri leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (also called Lion of Kashmir)
She was extremely vocal on the burning question of liberation of the enslaved and colonized people around the world. She was distressed to point out the inhuman conditions under which her fellow Kashmiris were living. She is the author of several books including “Between India and Pakistan”.
She talked at length about the Allama Iqbal’s ancestry from Kashmir by espousing the deep pain of that great poet for the people of Kashmir who during his times were under the tutelage of Dogra rule. They have been suffering for ages and she hoped that one day the travails of the Kashmiris would come to an end.
She voluminously quoted the verses of Allama Iqbal in which he described the pitiable conditions of the Kashmir people. She vigorously established that Allama was against the sectarian discords and wanted a unified creed and faith among the Muslims. She maintained that the same time he was an ambassador of peace between Hindus and Muslims.
The symposium ended with a note of thanks by the organizers.