Monday, March 28, 2022

Islam and the Indic Tradition: The Contribution of Mir Fenderiski

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam 28 March 2022 Little Is Known About the Iranian Scholar Who Was Steeped In Indic Religious Tradition Main Points: 1. An Iranian, Mir Fenderiski was a poet, Sufi and a philosopher translator of Indic knowledge. 2. He knew Sanskrit and wrote a commentary on Yoga Vashishta 3. Eventually, he adopted some of the precepts and practices of Hinduism like vegetarianism and non-violence. 4. Around the same time, a similar effort was being undertaken by Dara Shikoh ------ Abul Qassim Fenderiski/Findiriski (1562-1640) ----- The Mughals in India and the Safavids in Iran were almost contemporaries. The Mughals, especially since Akbar had the policy of using Persian at all levels of bureaucracy. He invited a number of scholars from Iran for this purpose, gave them tax free lands and established madrasas for this very purpose. Not just Muslims, but Hindu castes like the Kayasthas made use of this provision and eventually rose up to high positions within the state structure. But this is not just the story of creating a standard bureaucratic language. More fundamentally, the association of India and Iran also saw the exchange of ideas and personalities, especially those who sought to understand each other’s religious traditions. This article is about one such personality who came to India to learn about the Indic traditions and then transmit it to his Iranian Muslim audience. This man was known as Mir Abul Qassim Fenderiski/Findiriski (1562-1640) who was a poet, Sufi and a philosopher translator of Indic knowledge. Let me add a caveat here. I am not suggesting that the interaction between the Islamic Khurasan and the Indic tradition started in the 16th – 17th century. Muslims took over those land which were dotted with Buddhist Viharas. Some Buddhist priest like the Barmakids would eventually embrace Islam and played an important role in the formation of the Abbasid Empire. But then that’s another story. Let us concentrate on Mir Fenderiski and his fascination with Buddhism and Hinduism. This becomes all the more important to recall because of the current ideological atmosphere where it is being argued that Islam never ever had a positive appreciation of Indic traditions. Just like al-Biruni much earlier, Mir Fenderiski would learn Sanskrit and introduce Hinduism and Buddhism to the Islamic world in the spirit of inter religious understanding and dialogue. There is very little work on this scholar of comparative religion, but he engaged with Indian traditions for 35 long years of his life during which he produced commentaries on Indian religious corpus. Eventually, he would even adopt some of the precepts and practices of Hinduism like vegetarianism and non-violence. It has been argued that one of his students was Mulla Sadra, the Iranian philosopher who would breathe fresh ideas of dialectics into Islamic thought. But then, for reasons best known to all of us, neither Mulla Sadra nor his mentor would write about their indebtedness to Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Fenderiski used to frequent India at a time when Hindu religious scriptures like the Upanishads, Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita were being translated into Persian. Nizamuddin Panipati had already translated the Yoga Vashishta into Persian. Yoga Vashishta is a Hindu mystical text in the form of a dialogue between Vashishta, a Hindu sage and his student which is infused with Vedantic and Buddhist thought. Mir Fenderiski edited this text and wrote a commentary on it, parts of which survive to the present day. The manner in which he has commented on the text makes it amply clear that he had extensive knowledge of the Sanskrit language. Through his commentary, he refined the meaning of greed (lobh) and desire (moh) and told his readers how they could overcome them and find bliss (sukkh); all of them concerns native to Buddhism and Hinduism. Through his travels in Gujarat and other places, he immersed deep into Indic philosophy, eventually adopting the principle of Ahimsa, primarily a Buddhist principle. Fenderiski never said that he was not a Muslim but he refused to do the pilgrimage to Mecca arguing that if he did so, he would have to sacrifice a sheep which was against his principle of non-violence. He remained deeply wedded to the idea and practice of yoga, maintaining a wakeful state (Bodhi) and vegetarianism. Not much is known of the later life of Mir Fenderiski, but scholars have opined that he went into seclusion, away from the public view. This is certainly understandable at two levels. It is beyond doubt that he was much inspired by Indian tradition and hence seclusion in the penultimate years of life is completely in sync with this tradition. At the level of politics also, it made sense, as the Islamic orthodoxy would have eventually condemned some of his ideas and writings and declared him an apostate. Dara Shikoh (1615-1659), a close contemporary of Fendiriski, was attempting at a similar reciprocity between Indic tradition and Islam. It is supremely important to remember that Dara also took a special interest in Yoga Vashishta. Alongside, he had translated nearly fifty Upanishads and written the Majmua al Bahrayn (A Meeting of Two Seas). The exercise was another heartfelt attempt to bring Islam and Hinduism together, trying to tie the knots through allegorical and hermeneutical efforts. Dara was wedded to the idea of monotheism, but he could see its manifestation in Vedantic Hinduism and thought that it could become a bridge of conversation between Hinduism and Islam. Dara was killed on the charge of apostasy. And along with him died a genuine intention of inter religious dialogue and harmony. ----- A regular contributor to, Arshad Alam is a writer and researcher on Islam and Muslims in South Asia. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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