American Islam and the Marginalization of South Asian Culture – Part 5
Wahabi Arabic Hegemony and the Andalusian Ideal
As we have demonstrated, the largest factor of this South Asian marginalization seems to be the self-hating nature of South Asians towards their own culture. Nothing of worth was integrated into American Islam because South Asian’s had nothing to bring. While we have provided a few small examples of the rich South Asian cultural and religious legacy which has not had the opportunity to contribute to the American Islamic project (except immigrants wearing Kurta and selling Samosas), the discussion over *why* larger amounts of native and immigrant South Asians ran from their spiritual and cultural heritage has still not taken place. In fact, it would be a clear oversight in this discussion to lose sight of the influences of anti-cultural or Arabization ideologies on South Asians themselves.
The overwhelming power of the decline of a Muslim South Asian culture can be attributed to the viewpoint of ethnically Arab and linguistic Arabic superiority in religion. This idolization of the foreign necessitates an eventual and automatic rejection of native culture. This concept is represented excellently in an article on “Ethnic Culture Versus Islam”. While the article is specifically addressing Malay’s, the beliefs of a large group of religious South Asian and non-Arabs have been the same. The article at one point states the crux of the problem:
That is why our brand of Islam is the same as in India and we find some differences when comparing our practices to that of the Middle Eastern Muslims.
The nation at that time owed their loyalty to the Sultans. When the Sultans converted to Islam the nation followed suit without any questions asked. They became Muslims due to the tradition of loyalty to the Sultans rather than because they were committed to the religion.
Here alone was reason enough for the weak following of the religious principles. The people were just doing what the Sultan asked. The old cultures and traditions were retained and practiced side-by-side with Islam. The early Malay Muslims were one confused lot of people and, to some extent, this confusion still remains.
The preference for Middle Eastern countries and their interpretation of Islam is a universally adopted one by those suffering from the inferiority complex. Various excuses are presented to help further marginalize the faith of “simple” non-Arabs. The article quoted attempts to discredit the rational faculty of non-Arabs who apparently were, in the authors view, peons and simpletons without any desire or say in their own faith. The view that non-Arabs had no real reason for choosing Islam other than “that is what the ruler did” shows a lack of awareness of the established sainthood and scholarship of these regions (see: Part 4).
Although non-Arabs are often painted as those who accepted the faith of Islam without any real reason for adherence, interestingly enough, it seems that it was exactly these non-Arab areas which survived harsh pressures to leave and silence their religion. The examples are abound in history and modern times: Chechnya, China, Myanmar, and India. These are cultures that faced entire extinction of their faith (and themselves along with it). In fact, it was these non-Arab countries where the most difficult challenges were met against non-Muslims with an unyielding and consistent clinging to the faith and tradition of Islam. It is interesting to note that the fact:
Although the Chagatai Khanate and the Golden Horde both established themselves in regions already inhabited by Muslims, their invasions of Central Asia and Russia, respectively, did not have the catastrophic effect on the native Islamic faith that the Mongol invasion of Persia and Iraq had.
-The Islamic World to 1600 / The University of Calgary
So, when the Mongols crashed into Iraq and razed Baghad, the faith was deprecated and Buddhism replaced the religion of the land.
Yet, when Russian communists eliminated all religious practice, where study of Islam was punishable by imprisonment or death, Muslims kept a strong love for the faith in their hearts through spiritual and traditional practices. When Muslims in India faced massacre and Hindu mobs, they died holding onto their faith. When the Chinese Hui faced being alienated by their own people and suffered through horrible attacks, they still kept close to Islam. Certainly all these groups did not survive by clinging to mere printed letters of Arabic texts or love of their contemporary Arabs (who were nowhere to be found when it came to these events). Rather, they kept to the developed tradition of Islam as they understood it, and not once did they consider it second to that of the Arab people. So is this the story of a people who built a civilization, a lifestyle and a culture intertwined with their faith, or is this a story of a people who simply were Muslim because a Sultan hundreds of years ago converted?
The Wahabi philosophy is a major driving force of such accusations of mindlessness and irreligiousness of historical South Asians. The adoption of the Wahabi philisophy (which exists at different tiers and levels) within South Asia is also therefore responsible for the Arabization and the marginalization of South Asian faith, art, tradition and culture. The central thesis of Wahabi philosophy relies on reinterpretation of hadith texts and Quran, a necessary act to erase the tradition ‘inserted’ by people especially by those of non-Arab lands. This same argument was applied to the Ottoman Turks primarily to undermine their authority to the Caliphate, but it was further applied to all non-Arabs including South Asians, Persians, Chinese, Malay, Russians, and others in seeking to consume them into the Wahabi philosophy, which was increasingly being represented by an new Arabic Hegemony.
A trait of Wahabi philosophy is the emphasis on the Arabic tongue, and this a higher level representation of the deep resentment of non-Arab people and their contributions to Islamic thought. Unfortunately the Wahabi mentality has slipped into most of the discussions regarding Islam to the point that people actually believe that Arabic needs to supplant their native tongue. Or at least, people can give no legitimate reason why their native tongue is relevant to the world today. Arabic has become the only tongue of faith, and English has become the only tongue of business. This is, of course, based on the understanding that there is a series of secret knowledge which, these cultural apostates suggest, was never introduced to non-Arab communities. The idea that people of faith within South Asia have a legitimate claims to a rich intellectual, spiritual and scholastic tradition of their own that was largely independent of parallel Arabic influence is strikingly obscene to some, or is castigated to the side as “Sufi”. Since they are either knowingly or unknowingly influenced by Wahabi ideas against Sufism, this makes most native tongues irrelelvant.
Obviously the issue of the importance and relevance Quranic Arabic and the knowledge behind Quranic understanding is, and always has been, a seperate and distinct issue for South Asians scholars. Learning and understanding Islam through the Arabic Quran was far different than learning and adopting the contemporary Arabic culture which grew and existed in parallel with non-Arab Muslim regions. It is often assumed that non-Arabs were not benefited by those with knowledge and spiritual insight, since the source of Islam was ‘Arabia’. However, what is equally as possible (and an often overlooked fact), is that these far-away lands were able to be spared from the influence of the new aspects of Arab culture developing centuries after the Prophet (Sallalahu’alaiheewassalam), while attracting only the most dedicated Sahabis and spiritual Imams of Islam (who were obviously successful, by the Grace of Allah in spreading Islam).
This idea of Arabization of tongue and culture, of course, has been devastatingly successful, and fed right into the weaknesses of the colonized South-Asian inferiority complex. Hence South Asia began marginalizing their own culture only a few decades after the Saudi’s began the propaganda machine. The rich colors of the South Asian woman have been discarded, and today, this is the picture of the religious South Asian woman given to the world:
American Islam has fallen into similar traps as native South Asians, converts especially (at times) are under a hidden inferiority complex. For American Muslims, the Arabic cultural imperialism has also continued to dominate the conversation regarding arts, culture, dress, food. The Arabic influx into our language, and the intense desire to learn it, add it into our everyday English is only a continuation of what has happened in South Asia.
Even traditionalists have been affected by the Arabization bug. ‘Traditional’ American Islam has fallen towards an “Andalusian” ideal which seeks to emphasize and recreate the real tolerance and intellectual prosperity which existed during the times of Muslim Spain. However, Americans have apparantly not thought through the consequences of choosing Andalus as a primary example of a tolerant Islamic state. While Andalus was incredibly successful and one of the heights of Muslim tolerance, it was still representative of an Arabic hegemony which had turned Morroco, Egypt, Jordan and Syria into Arabic speaking polities.
Andalus was indeed a case where a great deal of diversity attracted great thinkers and progress. However, at the same time it is clear that the apparant Arabization of Andalus was an underlying theme of the society. In Andalus Arabic was the primary language, so in what way did Islam prove in Andalus to incorporate a different culture in terms of honest respect and growth? Everyone dressed like Arabs, and spoke Arabic, ate like Arabs. It seems that while Andalus was the height of tolerance on the part of the Arabs after the Prophet (sallalahu’alaiheewassalam), even then it made the everyone into Arabs. In fact, a primary question would be: can we outline clearly in what ways was Andalus uniquely Spanish? Was the Medina Azahara inspired by Spanish architecture or by Damascus? What made Maimondes, a Jewish philosopher in Spain, look and dress like this:
This same phenomenon of Arabization which was witnessed in Spain occurred in Egypt, in Syria, in Morrocco, all of which were not native Arab speakers, much less self-identifying as Arabs until a much later point in history. But why didn’t this phenomenon take place in India, in Turkey, in the Caucuses, in Singapore and Malaysia? Why wasn’t this level of Arabization necessary for the continued development of the religion within these countries, and did they not achieve spiritual and knowledgeble heights without making Arabic a requirement for religious and spiritual acheivement?
In light of the above, and after further review, it seems that South Asians did indeed contribute to the American Islam dialogue, however it was not with their own culture, arts and heritage. It was as carriers of the Wahabi-based inferiority complex.
(continued with: “The Sunnah and Ottoman Multiculturism”)