Thursday, July 25, 2013

Alberuni is perhaps the first outsider to look deeply at India, with clear eyes

Megasthenes would have been the first outsider to have written his impressions about India but we do not have a copy of the Indica. What we get to know of it is what other Greek writers have quoted from it. So, that makes Alberuni the first outsider scholar to study India. Megasthenes was an ambassador at Chandragupta Maurya's court and perhaps did not have the scholarly interest in Indian ideas that Alberuni, a great scholar himself, has shown. Alberuni argues that when one quotes from books and beliefs one does not believe in, it should not be misconstrued. In the first chapter, he refers to a book about Mutaazzilites, an early Islamic rationalist sect which carried rationalism to extreme ends, and how Ustad Abu Sahel Abdul Munim ibn Ali ibn Nuh Tiflisi hated the Mutaazzilite texts being quoted like "muta'azl kehte hain ke allah ko ilm nahin hain". Alberuni argues that among those who quote these texts there are very few are free of error. But he insists on the need to know the truth. So, he says that he wants to be different when he quotes from the Hindu texts. But he says he is not quoting them in order to refute them because they do no conform to truth. "ye kitaab behas o manazirah ki kitaab nahin hai ke hum mukhaalif ke dalaael bayaan kar ke jo un mein sey haq ke khilaaf hai tardeed karein. ye sirf naqal o hikaayat ki kitaab hai. hum hinduon ka qaul is ki asli surat mein bayaan karke, hinduon aur yunnaniyon ki baahmi mashaabahat dikhlaane ke liye is ke saath isee qism ke yunaaniyon ke aqwaal ko bayaan karenge. (This book is not a debate or a disquisition in which we will put forward evidence for their sayings which are untrue and refute them. We want to present the sayings of the Hindus in their true sense and show the commonalities between Hindus and Greeks and to quote similar sayings from the Greeks.) He makes the acute observation about the Greeks that though they set out to find out truth they are bound by the religious ideas of their society: "falaasafa yunaan ka maqsood agarcha haq ko daryaaft karna thhaa lekin ye log bhi in amoor mein jin ko awaam se taaluq hai apne deen ke ramooz apne shariat ke maslamaat se baahar nahin nikal sakey. (Though the Greeks have set out to inquire about the truth they too have not been able to get out of their religion mysteries and traditions.) Then he explains how he is going about giving the ideas of the Hindus: "hum do kitaabon ka arabi mein tarjuma kar chuke hain. ek kitaab mabaadi aur safaat maujudaat mein jis ka naam "saank" hai., doosri jism qaid sey nafs ke nijaat paane mein jis ka naam "paatanjali" hai." (We have translated two books into arabi. One book is about the first principles and defining features of existence and it's name is "Saank". The second one deals with the issue of freeing the spirit from the prison of the body. It is called "Paatanjali".) In Chapter 2 with the title, "Allah Paak ki nisbat hinduon ka aetaeqaad"(The belief of Hindus with regard to God), he quotes from Paatanjali, Geeta, and Saank. He says: "Allah Paak ki shaan mein hinduon ka aetaeqaad ye hai ki woh waahid hai, azli hai, jiski na ibtadaa hai na intahaa, apne fa'al mein mukhtaar hai, qader hai,hakim hai, zinda hai, zinda karne waala hai, saaheb tadbir hai, baaqi rakhnewaala hai, apni baadshaahat mein yagaana hai jis ka koi muqaabla aur mumaashil nahin. na woh kisee cheez se mushaaba hai aur na koi cheez is ke saath mushaabahat rakhti hai" (The belief of the Hindus in the majesty of God is that He is One,Eternal, Who has neither a Beginning nor an End, He is Sovereign of His Own Existence, He is the Ruler, He is the Wise, He is Life, and He is the Life-giver, He is the Master of What He plans, He is the One Who keeps things going, He is Alone in His Sovereignty Who has no rival or equal. He is not connected to anything nor is anything connected to Him.) Then he says: "taake mera yeh bayaan mahaz sunee sunaai baat ki tarah na samjha jaaye hum is mazmun ke mu'taaliq in ki kitaabon mein se be'en naqal kar dete hain"(Lest it be thought that I have written what I have merely told, I will quote from the books about the subject.) "Kitaab 'Paatanjali' mein sa'ael poochchta hai: sa'ael: woh maábood kaun hai jis ki ibaaadat karne se taufeeq (yaani nek kaam ki iste'daad aur us ki taraf tawajjuh) haasil hoti hai?" (Who is the Being by worshipping Whom I will gain the pious inclination to concentrate)? "Mujeeb: yeh maábood woh hai jo basabab apne azli aur waahid hone ke is faál beniyaaz hai jis ki mukafaat mein raahat ki aarzoo ya ummeed keejaati ya takleef se khauf aur dar rakhaa jaata hai. woh (maqlooq) ke afkaar o khayaalaat se bari hai is liye ke woh azdaad makruh aur azdaad mahbub se baalaatar hai. woh azal se abd tak bazaaat khud aalam hai, is liye ke baaahar se is cheez ka i'lm aaata hai jo pehle ma'aloom na thhee. haalan ke is par kisee haal aur kisee waqt mein jahlad aur nahin hota." (This Being is He Who by reason of the fact that He is Eternal and One and He is Incomparable and in the moment of misery does not look for relief nor hopes and Who is not afraid of difficulty. He is free of the creation and its thought because he is above what is prohibited and what is desirable. He is His Own Universe and therefore free from beginning and end, and no knowledge comes to him from outside of which he did not know about earlier.) (Urdu translation from Alberuni's Arabic original of Kitab Al-Hind by Syed Asghar Ali, with an introduction by Dr. Maulvi Abdul Haq, and the manuscript peer-reviewed by Maulvi Syed Ata Husain. Published in 1941 Anjuman Taraqi Urdu in Delhi)

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