This is an excerpt from Imam Zaid’s Review of Islam in NYT Book Revie.
I thought in the context of Pakistan these are valuable insights. My time with parents in Pakistan has time and again proved the views of the Imam, we are obsessed with producing engineers and doctors, now MBAs, IT professionals and bankers. It is sad to see the role of education limited to its’ utility in improving ones social status or economic status. We should use our creative talents in other areas..
William Dalrymple’s review of Ghalib Lakhnawi and Abdullah Bilgrami’s The Adventure of Amir Hamza is a welcome addition the Book Review’s collection. Such works go a lot further than any number of speeches or educational initiatives to humanize the Muslim world. With so much attention given to the bloody things that lead in the headlines of the coverage given by the western media to the Muslim world, it is refreshing to read about a great work of literature. Dalrymple’s concise overview of the development of this genre of writing is lucid and insightful.
His review is also saddening, for as he points out, this art form, along with virtually of all the classical Islamic arts—with the notable exception of calligraphy—are almost dead. In this context, Dalrymple issues a subtle challenge to Muslims when he states, “If the Sackler’s “Hamzanama” exhibition was the first time a Western audience has been exposed to the Hamza story, it also served as a wake-up call to Urdu and Persian scholars. It quickly emerged that this epic, said to be the longest single romance cycle in the world, has been almost forgotten.” The wake-up call Dalrymple mentions extends far beyond scholars of Persian and Urdu. It is one that should be heeded by all Muslims.
Being a viable and competitive nation includes far more than the ability to produce doctors and engineers, the primary professions most Muslim parents direct their children towards. Without relevant and engaged scholars in the humanities and social sciences, it is difficult to see how the type of Islamic world expressed in the pages of the Hamza tales will be recaptured. That world is a world rooted in the realities that are shaped by real people engaging the world on human terms. It is a world capable of producing great art and literature, a world of subtleties and nuances, a world of heroes and heroines.
A true revival of Islamic civilization does not require a return to the prophetic epoch, nor does it require starting from scratch in the face of the novel contingencies presented by the modern and now post-modern conditions. It will require a deep appreciation of the tradition that emerged from the struggle of Muslims to apply our religion in the world as much as it will require a rededication to the underlying piety that drove that engagement. It will also require the creative imagination illustrated by the many minds that unwittingly collaborated over long centuries to produce The Adventures of Amir Hamza, as well as the creative assimilative genius that produced the distinctive Mughal art form displayed in the Hamzanama.
It is interesting, as Dalrymle points out, that The Adventures of Amir Hamza begins near Bagdad and unfolds in an area encompassing most of the Middle East that has become synonomous with conflict and strife. Bringing about a new day in that region will hinge in large part on how we in the West envision it. Hopefully works like The Adventures of Amir Hamza will help us to view the region and its wonderful people in a more human light.