Monday, March 15, 2010

A literary treasure from Hindu-Muslim culture

Hoshruba is a fantasy epic written in 19th century Muslim India. Now Muhammad Ali Farooqi has produced the first ever translation of "Hoshruba" into any language. In this interview with Lewis Gropp he talks about this unique epic, Urdu literature, and the colonially induced Urdu-Hindi divide.

Hoshruba – The Land of the Tilism was produced in 19th century Muslim India. In how far are the "magic" elements of the epic part of Islamic culture, and: is there evidence of protests of orthodox Muslims against this epic?
There is a difference between the reaction to magic and occult elements in the Christian and Islamic traditions. Some Islamic scholars in India did object to the reading of this epic but they grounded their opposition not on the influence of magic in the tale, as, for example, the Vatican does today with tales of sorcery.

When we look at the Islamic tradition we see that the Quran itself acknowledges the power of magic; a chapter contains the mention of witches who cast spells by blowing on knots. It refers to an event when magic spells were cast on Prophet Muhammad by his opponents. Similarly, the belief in the supernatural is also incorporated in Islamic tradition. Belief in the jinns – who are mostly invisible – is an article of faith for all Muslims.

The jinns are mentioned in the Quran, and there are, as well, recorded traditions of Prophet Muhammad's encounters with jinns. Equally, there is a very strong tradition of occult sciences of divination that is traced back to Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law and the fourth caliph of Islam, Ali. These are some of the reasons why magic and the supernatural were not objected to in these tales.

The story was found objectionable for other reasons: for example women in particular were advised not to read it because of the prevalence of bawdy and raunchy elements which were unsuitable for their ears. These stories were also found objectionable because their reading did not morally or spiritually improve a person.

Full interview here Qantara

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