The Rampant Erasure of Muslim Heritage in India



PINJRAWAN PANCHAYAT, India — In a distant city within the Indian state of Bihar, a peculiar grave stands. This grave holds the half-burnt books that lie behind the blackened library partitions of Azizia Madrasa, a 113-year-old Islamic academic establishment. The library’s 4,500 books have been torched throughout a riot in March. Their ashes now lie in an eight-foot-deep pit. Tons of of half-burnt pages are a testomony to the numerous aspects of Islamic tradition and historical past, which now, each actually and figuratively, are consigned to a grave.

On March 31, a mob of about 1,000 folks armed with swords, bricks, and petrol bombs vandalized and set hearth to Azizia Madrasa. What began as a celebration of a Hindu non secular pageant in the end turned violent as autos, properties, and outlets within the small city have been torched and several other folks have been injured. The extremist mob was reportedly chanting “Jai Shri Ram” or “Glory to Lord Ram” and “Kill them, burn them” as they broke the lock of the madrasa (Islamic college) and threw petrol bombs into its three-acre campus housing 22 lecture rooms, a library, and different communal areas. Closed for Ramadan, not one of the madrasa’s 500 college students or academics have been current on campus. Nonetheless, the library of books, a wealthy archive of Islamic and cultural heritage, and a website for students, was utterly destroyed.

A view of contained in the burnt corridor of the library

The library is now a shell of its former self — soot-covered partitions, cracked steel followers, and crumbling balustrades. The books — which included handwritten manuscripts from Egypt and Turkey, uncommon Arabic texts on science, philosophy and logic, Islamic literature, medication, divinity, and 250 uncommon handwritten Hadiths in Urdu and Persian calligraphy — are actually gone. The worldwide supply of those books would attest to transcontinental literary information and change as soon as frequent within the subcontinent dominated by Central Asian Islamic rulers. The depth and variety of topics are proof of the extensive scope of scholarship practiced by readers and thinkers, who challenged the narrow-minded perceptions of Islamic information as purely theological. The wealthy calligraphic texts have been a nod to the visible aesthetic of Islamic tradition.

“We simply couldn’t throw them away,” mentioned Mohammad Shahabuddin, the aged library caretaker, in an interview with the authors. “We buried 4 thousand 5 hundred burnt books in an eight-foot-by-eight-foot-deep pit behind the library constructing.” 

The burned books have been buried in a pit behind the library constructing.

The violence in Pinjrawan Panchayat is simply one other tragedy within the spate of Islamophobic incidents — mob lynchings, hate crimes, and discriminatory authorities insurance policies — which have turn into more and more commonplace in India. However the assault and burning of the century-old Azizia library is proof of a cultural struggle being waged towards Muslims, carried out by way of the distortion and erasure of India’s Islamic heritage.

In 1996, historian and founding member of the Subaltern Research mission Gyanendra Pandey described the “new Hindu historical past” that was being created to bolster Hindu nationalists’ concept that Muslims have been international invaders within the pure land of India. By perpetuating this narrative, right-wing teams are capable of paint websites of Islamic heritage as websites of desecration.

They’re actually finishing up their mission efficiently, and the nation’s very historical past is being reshaped consequently. Experts say that 230 distinctive Islamic websites have been destroyed throughout the 2002 riots in Gujarat alone, rivaling the destruction of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and the Purple Guard’s destruction of Tibetan monasteries. After successful the case in 2020 to construct a Hindu temple on the positioning of the 16th-century Babri Masjid, which was demolished in 1992 by a Hindu nationalist mob, right-wing Hindu nationalist teams are calling for other heritage sites, equivalent to Delhi’s Qutub Minar and the Taj Mahal, to be designated as Hindu websites and renamed “Vishnu Pillar” and “Tejo Mahalaya.” Cities, cities, and roads reflecting India’s Islamic previous are being renamed as effectively. Websites of historic and non secular significance, just like the 16th-century mosque Shahi Masjid within the state of Uttar Pradesh, are routinely demolished to make means for city infrastructure tasks. In April of this 12 months, a nationwide training board removed the chapters on the Mughal Empire, a rule spanning 300 years of India’s historical past, from Twelfth-grade textbooks.

“What has been happening since Narendra Modi got here to energy in 2014 is a aware effort to erase the Muslim imprint on Indian historical past,” mentioned Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan, a well known scholar and former chairman of the Delhi Minorities Fee, in an interview with Hyperallergic. “After this wanton deletion of Muslims from India’s historical past and cultural areas is achieved, their bodily deletion and relegation to second-class residents and even non-citizens might be simply potential. It is a century-old Hindutva mission. If this course of continues, Indian Muslims would turn into aliens in their very own nation. Who will care about individuals who don’t have any historical past and made no contribution to the nation?”

The Babri Masjid mosque, Faizabad, India (c. 1863–1887) (photograph through Wikimedia Commons)

In April 2018, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), a authorities physique on historical past, closed down its library that contained priceless sources on Islamic historical past and tradition in India and included the non-public library of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the primary training minister of India. Azad was an iconic Muslim member of the federal government that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru fashioned instantly after India’s independence in 1947. “Nobody now is aware of the place that valuable treasure has gone. The identical ICCR additionally closed down its Arabic journal, Thaqafatul Hind, which was a bridge between India and the Arab World,” added Dr. Khan.

With a purpose to make their declare of a Hindu Rashtra (nation) a actuality, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Social gathering (BJP) and its supporters should not solely guarantee Hindu supremacy within the current, but in addition rewrite India’s syncretic previous. However with these violent acts towards India’s heritage, the demolished mosques, burned libraries, and forgotten metropolis names, what will we lose of ourselves?

To historian Rana Safvi, who has spent a long time documenting Islamic heritage in India, this isn’t solely a tragedy for Muslims, but in addition a tragedy for the entire nation. The assault on the madrasa in Bihar exhibits that Hindu nationalists lowered madrasas and symbols of Islamic heritage to their non secular id, ignoring their historic position in nation-building.

“For them, a madrasa is a non secular establishment, and since majoritarianism is on the rise, it’s a pure goal,” Safvi mentioned in an interview. “It was precisely as a result of it was seen as a logo of Muslims and so it might damage their emotions. However madrasas haven’t solely been patronized by Muslims.” She famous that the famend Hindu reformer, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, realized Arabic and Persian in a madrasa in Bihar’s Phulwari Sharif, lower than 50 miles from Madrasa Azizia. 

A view of the library earlier than and after the violence

Authors like Ziya Us Salam and Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz have written extensively in regards to the position of madrasas in mainstreaming training in India of their not too long ago launched e book Madrasas in the Age of Islamophobia (2020). They argue that madrasas in pre-independence and in post-independence India “weren’t the monopoly of Muslims, or mere facilities to study to learn the Quran.” Moderately, they taught an enormous vary of topics together with arithmetic, poetry, physics, and geography. Reflecting on the assault at Azizia, Safvi mentioned, “The books that have been misplaced right here weren’t solely non secular texts but in addition priceless treatises on literature and tradition. These books in Urdu and Persian are our collective heritage and burning them down means destroying recollections of a pluralistic previous too.”

“I feel it’s actually essential to emphasise that Islamic heritage in South Asia is at risk,” Dr. Vivek Gupta, an artwork historian on the College of Cambridge, informed Hyperallergic. “Not simply a part of it, however even issues which might be so-called ‘protected’ are in an terrible state of hazard. A complete vary of cultural historical past is in danger.” The adjustments, to Dr. Gupta, are occurring slowly and maybe have turn into anodyne now, not even making the entrance pages of newspapers nor inciting protest anymore. “When monuments are destroyed, we lose entry to our histories,” he mentioned. “The Babri Masjid is now not, and that was an essential website that students can now not research as structure, simply as documentation. When the federal government, and even the general public, targets Muslim heritage, once they erase it, we are able to now not begin to inform its story.”

The charred pillars and partitions of the Azizia library function a reminder of the violence by the Hindu nationalist mob. In keeping with reports, the restoration will price an estimated $365,088. However the library’s assortment, an archive spanning centuries which will have held on its cabinets the solutions to many questions for students, is now misplaced perpetually. 


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