Emphasising the need to ‘decolonise’ Muslim intellectual history, Cemil Aydin, a Turkish history professor, said that the portrayal of Ottomans and Mongols in the popular Turkish TV series Diriliş: Ertuğrul is not completely accurate.
Prof Aydin had interesting responses to the points raised in the discussion. He refused to simplify the entire cultural and religious history of Muslims across the world by means of popular references and Western outlook. “Ottoman history is not as displayed by Ertugrul,” he proclaimed. Talking about the multiplicity of Islamic politics, Prof Aydin said that the post-Abbasid empires had an art of government and took proud in being the progeny of such great ancestors, like the in the war between Ottomans and Tamer Lane. “Historical memory matters” Prof Aydin said and further added “We need to read history more sophisticatedly.” Speaking about the Ottoman-European relations and Siege of Vienna, Prof Aydin remarked the European and especially Polish were the admirers of Ottomans. He further added that Ottoman Empire was giving high posts to Christians and concluded that even the Caliphate was then a secularised institution, as per traditional standards.
Aydin, who teaches at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was speaking on the first day of Aligarh Literary Festival, a virtual academic and literary event organised by New Delhi-based Centre for Educational Research and Training (CERT) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) chapter of Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO). “The Islamic character of Ottomans has been depicted a few degrees higher than the historical reality. While they were proud Muslims, they were also great empire builders. Similarly, Mongols were not completely evil either. Rather, they embraced Islam later on,” he said.
While discussing his book “The Idea of the Muslim World”, the idea of pan-Islamism was a result of colonialism. “Islamic empires were driven more by geopolitics rather than religious or ideological entities”, he said.
The student-led festival, which will continue till Friday, is a unique event where some of the leading academic personalities and experts from across the world are discussing wide-ranging topics including history, politics, society and religion. “Aligarh Literary Festival draws upon a rich tradition of discussion, debate, dialogue and activism that Aligarh has inherited. The most salient feature of the festival is the fact that it seeks to discuss the various identities embraced by the people in this country, at a time when the powers-that-be want force a monolithic nationalist identity,” said Fawaz Shaheen, the Director of CERT.
The first day of the festival also had a panel discussion on “Muslim Societies in Post Normal Times” which featured Ziauddin Sardar, renowned scholar and author. He said, “Future is the only domain that is left for us to struggle and the solutions to our problems lie in the future. One must work towards keeping the future as pluralistic and accessible as possible.”
Abdullah Azzam, a research scholar at University of Oxford and former president of AMU Students’ Union, urged participants to find meanings in things around themselves, saying. He described “Nature as ayat (verses) of God” and emphasized that Nature is there not to exploit only but also it is there to ponder over to find meanings to it and above all to find God. He said that the Quran describes the “noor (light) in ourselves”. He ended his talk by quoting the holy Quran “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the Earth”.
Fawaz Shaheen argued that most of the literary festivals in India have become “sanitised spaces” where uncomfortable topics are censored or conveniently avoided, legal scholar and Director of CERT said on Wednesday. He lamented that even university campuses in the country are being censored, while congratulating the organisers of the festival for providing a space to address the important topics “that would otherwise be suppressed”.