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The West in South Asian Muslim Discourse: A Seminar Overview

Written by Nadia Iqbal

On 31January 2013, the topic for a seminar at the University of Edinburgh was “The west in the South Asian Muslim Discourse.” The speaker was Mrs Najeeba Arif, who is a lecturer at the University Of London and who, also, spent three months in Pakistan teaching at the International Islamic University.

Mrs. Najeeba Arif is from Pakistan. She was granted the Charles Wallace and SOAS fellowship to complete her Ph.D. During her Ph.D work, she studied the narratives of Urdu travels in the nineteenth century, which sparked her curiosity and led to further research. After the attacks on 11 September, 2001 her interest grew in understanding the impacts of these devastating attacks on Urdu poetry and literature, and the fears, threats, dominance and hegemonic nature of the west, which South Asians feared.

In the seminar Najeeba Arif gave a detailed narration of religious stories in ancient times. According to Arif “he Indians felt more interested towards the west than hostile”, which in comparison to the present times is different; despite the west being an example of modernity and integrity, we see a lot of abhorrence for the western world today in South Asia. She further talked about the men from South Asia traveling in Britain usually would wanted to intermingle in the western society. The best way they found was to marry British women and get absorbed in the society. The interesting thing was that even in the 18th century mostly people from this region, be scholars or students went abroad and continued with their careers and studies. Indians and Pakistanis were very appreciating and wanted changes in their system after living in the British society. The Mughal emperor Jahangir khan was the first to let the British buy a company in the subcontinent: British East India Company From this point on Najeeba Arif talked about the travelers’ documents. The most renowned amongst them were Mirza I’tishan al Din (1730-1800). His first travel document was in Persian. Another very important and famed travel document was by Eusoph Khan. He was the soubadhar of Lucknow. He paid a visit to England and named his travel document Tarik-i-yousafi. Eusoph Khan also created his own religion based on his own views and judgments, Suleiman Religion. He believed in God and His prophets but he made his own law and rules for people.

In the end Najeeba Arif showed some very interesting pictures of early nineteenth century London which was visualized by the early South Asian travelers. Indian travelers were mesmerized by the western beauty and wrote stanzas on them.  But now there is a gradual change in the thinking of Muslims about west. Earlier they were not hostile of it and were being appreciating. They were trying to improve the conditions of their country keeping the west as a role model. Now we see a slightly different perceptive. With this Najeeba Arif concluded her presentation.

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