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The Faqir who Read Half the Kalma

The complex of the Jama Masjid, Delhi, a symbol of one of the most glorious times witnessed by the Indian civilization houses the grave of a heretic. The alleged Jewish priest who read half the qalma and got executed by Aurangzeb, the alleged Muslim bigot, Sa’id Sarmad, lies beneath the sacred earth of the great congregational mosque, listening to and crying at, the enormous amount of  pain and prayers hurled at him every day, coming from all faiths and none. Saint Sarmad is remembered as one of the intellectual companions of another heretic, Dara Shikoh, the could-have-been philosopher king of India. Though it is well known that Dara had serious leanings towards comparative study in religions yet what is little known is that a Jewish priest who went about naked had a role in the formation of his intellectual imagination.


It is claimed by scholars that Sarmad was an atheist and agnostic of sorts who didn’t believe in God and went about naked dismantling the social set up of his times. Ones’ mind wanders to what the “Saint” would have felt at being classified with atheists and at becoming the object of being prayed at and to, the collection of his verses which are known to the world by the name of Rubaiyat-i-Sarmad (1949) gives a slight peek into the working of the mind of this intriguing man. To stay true to the spirit of the time, it would be unjust to take his words literally when Sarmad claims to be a Sufi, a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk, a Jewish rabbi, an infidel, and a Muslim at the same time. This might also suggest that the man belonged to all religions and none. And it can be agreed too that the naked fakir was a critical thinker of the highest order. He, when presented before the court of the newly enthroned Aurangzeb, and asked to read the Kalma to save his life, read half of it. La Ilaha, meaning, there is no god. And left it at that and when further questioned about it he claimed that he had till then reached only that stage of knowing god that he knows none and once he knows It he would recite the entire Kalma. This kind of critical spirit was the most dangerous weapon that could have existed, and it still is the most dangerous one to those who want to maintain the status quo and who feed off the ignorance of the minds of the people, be it the political establishment or the religious superstructures, nothing troubles them more than a man who could dare to think on his own without intermediaries. Thus execution of Sarmad was necessary. It would be unjust to not mention how Sarmad writes about his relation with God, his attitude towards God, seems definitely of the order of one of a Sufi in real search of truth, he claims that his poor heart desires nothing but union with the God. But his idea of God, wasn’t the idea that was being shoved down his throat by the orthodoxy.

On reading Sarmad it clearly surfaces that his battle was with the great bearded obnoxious orthodox Mullas who had caused the decay of the innocent minds, he says it clearly, “He who understands the secrets of the Truth, became vaster than the vast heaven; Mulla says, Ahmad went to heaven; Sarmad says, ‘Nay heaven came down to Ahmad”’. In these verses, giving his apparently heretical remark about the contested issue of Prophet Muhammad’s Miraj, he clearly seems disillusioned from the Mullas who do not really as much worry to seek the truth but to gain on their personal level from political establishment and the common ignorant folks.

He also comes close to the stand of Mansur Al Hallaj’s ‘I am the truth’ (An’al Haq) in his quest, he claims, that if your faith is pure than the entire world would be in your control. Thus execution of Sarmad becomes even more necessary than had been the execution of Mansur Al Hallaj, the 10th century mystic who was killed on the grounds that he claimed himself to be the God, because the latter had already found the answer, An’al Haq, and that answer didn’t match the established idea of truth, with Sarmad however the issue is even more dangerous he hadn’t found the truth, he was looking for it. He was looking for answers to believe in the remaining half of the Qalma and that was to come through, through a critical evaluation of every established structure around him, including the political one.

Thus for the survival of the establishment, Sarmad had to die and he was executed in 1660. Sarmad died a death where he was lost also because of the meager amount of information left behind about him; his ideas have been lately rediscovered and rethought about.

The question whether Sarmad was an example of a Saint which wanted to find the God and Truth in it through his own way or if he was a heretic anarchist who aimed at disrupting the established social and political order is a question that needs to be asked, thought and rethought again and again till one can come to a conclusion, but there are serious reasons to believe that he was a man who had had enough of the religious and even spiritual deterioration that had set in during the 17th century India and that is why though he speaks more or less the same things that the great sufi mystics of earlier times say yet he leaves no reason to be associated with them, he claims, “Whether an ascetic or anything else, I’m concerned with the Beloved only(God); Really I have no business with rosary or sacred thread. This woollen cloak (suf) which conceals hundreds of evils under it, I shall never put it on, as it is a disgrace”.

To sum up it needs to be said in defense of the saint who read half the Kalma that his actions were probably motivated by the most serious issue that ruins any society, the decay and rotting of its intellectual class. Sarmad was probably closer to the true idea of God than the idea the people who killed him had, people who killed him claiming he believed in none.

Ibn Khaldun: The Father of Historiography

Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī better known as Ibn Khaldun was a Muslim Arab historian and thinker born in Tunis, Tunisia on 1st Ramadan 732 AH i.e. 27 May 1332.  The fourteenth century scholar is considered as the founding father of various fields of social sciences which include historiography, sociology, demography and economics. He is recognised to be the greatest amongst the historiographers of all times and across borders; and has none but Vico who can be considered as his equal.


Ibn Khaldun was a Yemenite Arab by descent and traces his ancestry to Hadramawt, Yemen. Through genealogy provided by Ibn Hazem he traces his lineage to Wail ibn Hajr who was a companion of the Holy Prophet ﷺ and amongst the oldest Arab tribes of Yemen.  His forefather Khaldun as a part of Arab conquest went to Al-Andalus (Spain) and subsequently settled there with his family. The family of Ibn Khaldun had held various high offices in Seville but had migrated to Tunisia after the fall of Seville as a part of Reconquista. Thereafter his family in Tunisia held important offices and in this family with a rich history of politics and scholars Ibn Khaldun was born.

Ibn Khaldun at a very young age dived into the vast ocean of knowledge. His initial studies were under his father. As he belonged to an upper class family he got an opportunity of getting educated by some of the finest teacher of the Maghreb of that age. He studied and memorized the Qur’an, Arabic linguistics, Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Hadīth, Sharia (Law), rhetoric and poetry and received certificate in all of them. He also studied logic, mathematics and philosophy and the works of Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ar-Razi and At-Tusi.  The great scholar continued his studies till the age of 17 when a great intercontinental plague spreading from Samarqand to Mauritania also hit Tunisia due to which he lost his parents. At this point of time Ibn Khaldun started his political career.

In the tumultuous political condition of Maghreb, Ibn Khaldun had highly unstable political career. He constantly had to switch sides in order to secure his position from downfall. Therefore in his political life with the rise and fall of various power groups he sometimes moved up to important offices while at other times he faced down fall but this helped him to get a deeper insight of the politics and the rise and fall of dynasties and empire and the civilisation as a whole. He began his political life with a humble post at the court of Tunis. Thereafter he held various post at Fez, Granada, again at Tunisia and spent his last years in Eygpt holding various positions and serving sixth time as a Malikite Qadi at the time of his death.

It was in 1375 tired from the political alliances Ibn Khaldun found solitude to devote himself to scholastic work in the remote locality of Qalat ibn Salamah in present day Algeria. Here away from other preoccupation he wrote his magnum opus Al Muqaddimah (Prolegomena) which is an introduction to his work on universal history (i.e. Kitab al Ibar) but is in itself considered an independent work. In this brilliant work he discussed the historical method which he believed to be necessary before working on the project of universal history.  Ibn Khaldun considered history as a science which isn’t separate from other sciences like economics, sociology, politics and theology which shouldn’t be mixed with superstition and was against the uncritical acceptance of data.

In regard to the historical method Ibn Khaldun makes following points in Al Muqaddimah :

  1. History is a science.
  2. History has a content and the historian should account for it.
  3. The historian should account for the elements that gather to make the human history.
  4. He should also work according to the laws of history.
  5. History is a philosophical science.
  6. History is composed of news about the days, states and the previous centuries. It is a theory, an analysis and justification about the creatures and their principles, and a science of how the incidents happen and their reasons.
  7. Myths have nothing to do with history and should be refuted.
  8. To build strong historical records, the historian should rely on necessary rules for the truth comparison.

In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Charles Issawi and Oliver Leaman writes regarding Ibn Khaldun’s approach: “He analysed in detail the sources of error in historical writings, in particular partisanship, overconfidence in sources, failure to understand what is intended, a mistaken belief in the truth, the inability to place an event in its real context, the desire to gain the favour of those in high rank, exaggeration, and what he regarded as the most important of all, ignorance of the laws governing the transformation of human society.”

Arnold J Toynbee, an English historian described Ibn Khaldun’s Al Muqaddimah as “a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place.”

Ibn khaldun also created a new science ‘Ilm al-Umran’ i.e. science of culture and in his book he also gave his concept of asabiyyah i.e. social cohesion. According to this concept the cohesion spontaneously arises amongst the tribes or small kinship group which can be intensified by religious ideology and caries the group to the power but has within itself seeds of its own downfall which maybe psychological, sociological, economic or political and is thus replaced by another group with stronger cohesion. Therefore is also considered founding father of sociology. History according to him was an endless cycle of rise and fall of societies, of flowering and decay.

Ibn Khaldun continued his scholastic work in Eygpt too, both as a professor at Quamḥiyyah College and as a Malikite Qadi. During his stay at Eygpt, being sent on campaign Ibn Khaldun met Timur in 1400 CE and wrote on certain topics of history for him. In 1406 CE, Ibn Khaldun died in Cairo, Eygpt and was buried in cemetery outside Bab al-Nasr. Ibn Khaldun being the father of historiography with no equals in this science indeed stands unrivalled in the field.

Creation of Israel

The history of Israel has important landmark in the history of the world. It was the birth place of Hebrew language and Ibrahimic religions. It contains the sacred sites of Muslims, Jews and Christians. The location of Israel state is on the site of Ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. According to Islamic traditions the Jews were given the territory of Palestine by God under their messenger Hazarat Musahha A.S. but after a while they disobeyed their messenger and started to run away from Palestine to the different parts of the world, very few stayed back. Palestine was under Jews till the 3rd century B.C, and after 3rd century BC it was under Christianity as the Jews were driven out by Romans  and later by Muslims, it also remained under the Ottoman Empire till 1919. It  was in the late 19th century that the Jews started the Zionism movement demanding a separate homeland for Jews, that is Palestine which God had promised them. They had no permanent territory in the world and they were driven out from Germany, Russia, France and other countries because of the high anti sematic spirit of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The problem with the Palestine was that it was inhabited by Muslims mostly, Jews and Christianity in small numbers before the Zionism movement. It was since late nineteen century Jews started to  migrate to Palestine and their numbers increase till the first world war.  As the  second world war broke-out, Britain asked Jews for help against Germany, Italy and Ottoman empire. The Jews promised Britain to help them. Britain had also asked help from Arabs and the Arabs also started to help the Britain because whole Arabian Peninsula was under the rule of Ottoman empire whose dominance Arabs wanted to overthrow.

Britain promised territory of Palestine to both Arabs and in separate secret treaties. Arabs were also promised that they would be free from Ottomans and separate Arab state would be created and the Jews were promised separate Jewish state in Palestine after the war. It was in 1917 that the foreign minister of Britain, Arthur Balfour announced that separate homeland for Jews would be created after the war. It was after the war in 1919 in the Paris peace conference that the delegates of Arabs and Jews were invited to participate. Here Arabs demanded the whole of Palestine otherwise none and the Jewish delegates demanded to take first which would be given to them

From 1919 till 1939 there was increase in the Jewish population in Palestine as they were driven out by Nazis in large numbers, this created social and economic problems for the Palestinian people. It was in 1937 that Britain appointed Peel Commission to solve this issue. It recommended the division of Palestine into two; one part was to be given to Arabs and the other to the Jews but this was rejected by Arabs. It was in 1939, Britain decided that within 10 years Palestine would be given to Arabs and the Jewish population in Palestine would be limited to 10,000 but this was rejected by Jews.

Britain had become weak in the second world war and referred to USA this issue of the fate of Palestinian territory .It was after the second world war in 1946 that the president of USA pressurized Britain to allow 100,000 Jews to live in Palestine. USA referred this case to UNO which was controlled by USA itself. Finally, USA decided to create the separate Jewish state of Israel in Palestine in 1948. The creation of Israel, as we can say that its foundation was laid by Britain and finally completed by USA.

Penning a ‘New’ Past: Revival or Reinterpretation ?

‘As the Muslims came to India, they brought with them, nothing, but, a barbaric rule; their brutal armies plundered the whole of the countryside, killed innocent people indiscriminately, spilled blood on every street, vandalised  and burned to ashes every living city and village; desecrated the worship places of every other religion, faith and school of thought, and committed a hell lot of atrocities, adopted the most oppressive form of rule possible, and all the other things they did were for no good damn reason.’

This is the image of the medieval India which dominated by the Muslim rule has been created by various forms of art and literature like books, articles, dramas, movies and TV serials and every other thing you can get your hands or eyes on. Although all these forms are indeed deadly, the worst I think are the three latter ones, for they use the medium of images which leave a lasting effect on the viewer’s mind. In most of the shows such as ‘Dharti Ka Veer Yodha-Prithviraj Chauhan’, ‘Veer Shivaji’, ‘Bharat ka Veer Putr- Maharana Pratap’ or ‘Jodha Akbar’ such an image is portrayed of the Muslim rulers that one cannot imagine of anything more brutal and atrocious than these Medieval Indian Rulers. They are shown as sinister, full of brutality, oppressing innocents, and assaulting women. On the other hand are their counterparts, who are pure, ideal for everything, who just can’t make any mistake; the flag bearers of peace and justice.

 Penning a ‘New’ Past: Revival or Reinterpretation ?

Penning a ‘New’ Past: Revival or Reinterpretation ?

In this course to demonize the medieval Indian history, one of their favourites is the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. He is seen as an oppressive, intolerant ruler; who held extremely orthodox religious views, with no sense and interest in culture and demolished the temples. Now let us take the account of the facts. Large number of Non-Muslims were there in Aurangzeb’s court as officials and advisors. To be true, there were more Non-Muslims in his court than in Akbar’s; who according to the popular belief is considered a tolerant ruler. He demolished temples, yes he did, but not for religious purpose, but for political ones. The temple were not only the places of worship, they were also used for various socio-political purposes. The temples were used to discuss the political matter, plan strategies; the ones used for this purpose were demolished. Aurangzeb noted, that in Islamic Shariah temple discretion wasn’t permitted, He wrote in 1659 CE: “According to the Shariah [Islamic law], and the exalted creed, it has been established that ancient temples should not be torn down.”  If some temples were demolished in military campaign then many others were built and funded by the state. State made donations for temples and maths; donations were also made in the name of Brahaman priests of which still the records survive. These include the farmans of Emperor Aurangzeb from the temples of Mahakaleshwara, Ujjain, Balaji Temple, Chitrakut, Umanand Temple, Gauhati and many others. These farmans were issued between 1659 CE to 1685 CE.

In ‘Islam and Indian Culture’, Mr BN Pande refers to a farman issued by Emperor Aurangzeb on 5th Ramdan, 1071 AH. In this, 178 bighas of land was allotted to Jangams (a Shaivaite sect). It reads “… under the order of the Emperor to the effect that 178 bighas of land in pargana Banaras is allotted to Jangams to help in their maintenance. ……. so they may utilise it and may pray for the continued existence of the kingdom of the Emperor.”

Another land-grant to a Hindu religious teacher in 1098 AH by the Emperor Aurangzeb is mentioned by Mr Pande in the same book. It says “…. two plots of land measuring 58 dira ….. are lying vacant without any building and belong to Bait-ul-mal we have, therefore, granted the same to Ramjivan Gosain and his son as inam…. he should remain engaged in contemplation of God and continue to offer prayer…”

So, taking in account the facts, we realise what the actual scenario had been.

What is happening today is like penning down an altogether NEW PAST, the one which never actually existed. It isn’t revival – it is reinterpretation, the one which serves selfish interests thus revealing the foul mentality. The hour is in need to shatter the false image, so that people may get to know the realities and don’t see the other community with suspicion and hatred, allowing the society to exist in peace.

‘In this unending fabric of history, one yarn appears black and the other red, stained in ink and blood. This weaves nothing, but sad tales. . . .’

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