Sunday, March 08, 2009

Silencing the Islamic nightingale

Interesting piece by William Dalrymple in the Obs on two very different approaches to Islam

Rahman Baba, "the Nightingale of Peshawar," was an 18th-century poet and mystic, a sort of North West Frontier version of Julian of Norwich.
He withdrew from the world and promised his followers that if they also loosened their ties with the world, they could purge their souls of worries and move towards direct experience of God. Rituals and fasting were for the pious, said the saint. What was important was to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart - that we all have paradise within us, if we know where to look.

At Attock, not far from the shrine of Rahman Baba, stands the Haqqania, one of the most radical madrasas in South Asia. Much of the Taliban leadership, including its leader, Mullah Omar, were trained here, so I asked the madrasa's director, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, about what I had heard at Rahman Baba's tomb. The matter was quite simple." Music is against Islam," he said. "Musical instruments lead men astray and are sinful. They are forbidden, and these musicians are wrongdoers."
Nor were Sami's strictures limited to the shrine's music: "We don't like tomb worship," he continued. "We do not pray to dead men, even the saints. We believe there is no power but God. I invite people who come here to return to the true path of the Qur'an. Do not pray to a corpse: Rahman Baba is dead. Go to the mosque, not to a grave."

I don't want to make too sectarian a point here - no, honestly - but you know what this stark tubthumping version of Islam with its objection to praying to saints, rituals and music reminds me of? Sixteenth Century Calvinism, that's what. There are many people in the west who have expressed a desire for an Islamic reformation. I say they should be careful what they wish for.


Blogger Paul said...

Yes! When I first came across the "Islam needs a Reformation" line I thought "Do they really think that religions are so interchangeable as to follow identical paths of 'development'?" - that aside, it's quite clear that Islam has had a Reformation (of sorts), but the people who comment so glibly in the media tend to forget that Reformations can bring Wars of Religion.

3/09/2009 3:06 AM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Quite so, Paul. They also forget that reformations can throw up some rather unsettling fanaticism.

3/10/2009 4:58 PM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

As against fine moderate traditionalists like the Society of St Pius XII who should obviously be welcomed back into the fold, obviously.

I think you'll find that the falso dichotomy between "good Catholics" and "evil Protestants" really does fall to bits when it comes to Islam: actually for example Sufi or Dervish cultures could just as easily be compared to modern folksy spins on Christian spirituality, as to Catholicism, for instance.

3/12/2009 12:43 AM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

PS - To reiterate the part of the article that's quoted, Rahman Baba spoke of a direct relationship with God...

3/12/2009 12:45 AM  

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