By Syed H. Hashmi
The ancient Indian history is a narrative bedevilled by ignorance, superstition, social strife and credal antagonism. There was a marked absence of cohesive factors that could have united the people of diverse thinking, manner of living and interpersonal communication into a polity of harmonious texture and purpose. Society was riven along considerations of caste and tribal affinities. There was no general agreement as to what constituted ritual purity or pollution and what behaviour and conduct licit or forbidden was. There were no generally accepted modes of worship or devotion. In this climate of uncertainty and doubt man lived as if in a desolate wilderness of faith and belief. Where there should have been educated discourse of high seriousness, there was pervasive incoherence of folk vanities. That was the time we were in need of a socio-cultural advancement. A system of a shared and collective belief that would sustain us through the environment of mutual distrust and divisive social equations.
The entry of Muslims on the Indian scene was an epoch-making change in the intellectual and cultural atmosphere of the nation. The Muslim concept of a polity, a social establishment triggered a change in the thinking of the native people. They began to rouse from the dormancy of their communal complacencies and preferences. The retrogressive tendencies of thought and custom that had taken roots in society began to decline. The progressive thinking of Islamic traditions and practices inculcated a spirit of enlightenment and intellectual inquiry in the people. It created an intellectual openness, a generosity of opinion and a cordiality of social nexus. Emerging principles of social morality served as a guide for everyday conduct.
The rich treasure of language and literature that Muslims brought with them added a dimension of universality to the native heritage of culture and creed. The older modes of thinking and habits of living began to recede into oblivion. People learned to apply reason and rational thinking to the complexities of existential problems. Irrational and unfounded notions of mundane realities were brought under the scrutiny of logical and scientific process. A host of ‘idées reçues’ of the age of superstition and ignorance came to be abandoned in the light of new logical expositions. The linguistic idiom used by the Muslim settlers of India exerted an ennobling impact on the people and invested the social interactions and communications of the native population with a decorum of gentility. The social intercourse between people began to have a feel of mutual respect and geniality.
The traditions of literary refinements that Muslims brought with them imparted a dignity of taste to the community of litterateurs in India. Forums of poets, novelists, essayists and other creative artists were instituted for the promotion of a literary culture in society. This facilitated a welcome propagation of exalted moods of literary appreciation of the oeuvre of creative genius of the nation. Exertions of creative imagination and celebrations thereof transmuted the vain causeries of people into sublime expressions of human aspiration and desire. Scholarly seminars, popular discussions, sessions of book-reading and recitations of poetry became established traditions. The creation of such a climate had a salubrious and humane effect on the social conduct of people that was morally ennobling and elevating. It created an atmosphere of communal harmony marked by sympathy with and consideration for the needs and distresses of others. It aroused feelings of compassion and tenderness towards fellow human beings.
The style and mode of sartorial refinement that Muslims brought with them also influenced the way people dressed. A distinction that had become conspicuous was between the casual dress worn in private and the ceremonial vestments worn in public or on formal occasions. The use of a sherwani or long robe was adopted as an expression of dignity and noble custom. The use of caps, turbans and other headgears also inspired a sense of respect and solemnity. Indians of all thought and belief adopted the new sartorial habit without reservations. A uniform national sartorial identity became a widespread reality.
Another influencing factor that Muslims brought with them was their cuisine. The finesse and delicacy of their culinary skills. The art of preparing food is a rare ability. It involves subtleties of taste and fine gastronomic sensitivity. The ability to distinguish between and appreciate different flavours of food. The choice of spices and other ingredients in a recipe and the amount of time for cooking were important factors in achieving desired results. The food of the Indian kitchen acquired a name for its excellence in the world of taste and delicacy.
Muslim architectural design was yet another factor of influence. Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar, Lal Qila, Jama Masjid in Delhi, Humayun Tomb, Sikandra, Fatepur Sikri are some magnificent models of architectural sublimity. The exquisite artistry that embellished some of these structures, the interiors of Taj Mahal, Divan-e-khas, the Peacock Throne and grandeur of carven marble and other precious stones, the floral designs embossed on engraved surfaces adorn these edificial structures with a unique imposing magnitude. Such majestic monuments of Muslim architecture and design are interspersed among structures of unpretentious claim and nature.
The humanizing and ennobling impact of the advent of Muslims in India was a movement of glorious change and socio-cultural amelioration. It buttressed the foundations of a pluralistic society and promoted the spirit of mutual benevolence. It created a climate for liberal thinking and faith in the essential nobleness of common humanity. This was the making of a tradition of mutual trust and respect among people of diverse creeds and propensities. It was due to this mutual inter-fertilization of creative impulse and talent that a rich amalgam of social values and beliefs was created. Such was the foundation on which India of a new identity was erected. Even today, India’s historical pre-eminence in the global scheme of nations owes its image to the shared heritage of togetherness and communal coexistence.