September 26th, 1999
© Akhilesh Mithal

The Genius of Abul Fazl


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Albeit slowly, and, often painfully, India is recovering from the experience of a long, and, on occasion, savage slavery. There are deep conditioned reflexes caused by trauma to contend with. The main one being a lack of self-esteem. Many feel inferior and are convinced that it was always thus, that Indians are inferior to others and in particular to Whites.

To aid the healing process many measures are necessary, these must be undertaken consciously as a rehabilitation process and sustained for at least two generations, before positive results can be achieved. Priority should be given to restoring the dignity and status of men of consequence in Indiaís history. These were lost under alien rule. Itís not as if the British had any special animus against particular individuals. Their attitude was more general. No Indian was or could be employed at decision making level. As an executive or officer or manager in either the civil or the military functions of the British Raj in India. Not because they, the British known for "justice" were not willing to employ Indians as officers but because no Indian was or could possibly be "worthy" of such status. The "decision-making" status was beyond the reach of coloured people because of their lack of "character" and "other officer like qualities," called OLQ in short.

There was a genetic, inalienable quality about the difference. "Fair" means just proper and right while "dark" means the opposite. Europeans are fair and Indians are, by and large, dark. Even as late as the beginning of the 20th century, the colour factor ruled out the appointment of a particular Indian to the Viceroyís Executive Council because his dark complexion would upset the Whites on the body. A less able but "fairer" looking Indian was chosen.

This discrimination persists. Even today the publicly acknowledged and flaunted all over the world lover of Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed is referred to by pucca Brits as a "sand nigger" because he was not European but Arab and an Egyptian to boot! The bereaved father of the unfortunate Dodi, believes that the establishment in Britain could not countenance the idea of the mother of a future King having a coloured husband. A Black stepfather for a King of England was repugnant to White racists. In consequence, he fears that an accident was engineered which took away not only Dodi but also Diana. The colour prejudice which hobbled Indians from 1757 to 1947, continues to plague humanity even as we enter the 21st century.

To get away from the foul present and to give the lie to the propaganda that all Indians at all times were narrow communalists who hated all others, we shall focus on a brilliant figure from the court of Akbar, Emperor of India (1556-1605).
He was one of the most formidable intellects of the world in the 16th century AD. Abul Fazl Allami, son of Shaikh Mubarak, called the "Hindustaanee" shaikh because of his dark complexion, rose to the highest ranks in the Imperial Mughal Service. His career owed its curve of success to his formidable intellect and the excellent education and training he received from his father.

Abul Fazlís prose is ranked alongside the poetical works of Nizami and Amir Khusro. This is about the highest praise possible in a verse obsessed society. The corpus he created is immense and includes monumental tomes such as "Akbarnaameh" (Akbarnama), and Aaeen-i-Akbaree (Ain-i-Akbari), which are more encyclopaediae than books. The letters or epistles he composed for his master, friend and guide, Jalaluddeen Muhammad Akbar Badshah Ghazi, Emperor of India, are models of prose writing. They were taught as text in schools (madrasaas). This happened soon after his assassination in 1601 and continued until English replaced Persian as the link language and the language of culture and commerce for the whole country in the mid-19th century. To be standard text for 250 years in the then richest and most cultivated country in the world means that the Allama achieved instant classic status and sustained it for 10 generations.
Born on 14th January 1551 to Shaikh Mubarak, in a family which had produced scholars and savants teachers and thinkers for many generations, Abul Fazl spoke fluently and in complete sentences at 12 months. In keeping with the custom amongst the Shaikh families of intellectual eminence, his formal teaching and learning started in the fifth year. By 15 years, Abul Fazl had covered the traditional as well as the rational sciences. He established a hold on the three major schools of philosophy in vogue in the formal scholastic learning of the time.

These three were, firstly and most importantly, the unrestricted or wide treasures of the various sects of the Sufis. The other two were Greek origin studies. This , the Younaanee or Ionian knowledge or philosophy was divided into two. One was the philosophical thought that arose out of the stimuli provided by "the dialogues of Plato" and the other was triggered by the teachings of Aristotle. The former were called the wisdom of "Aflaatoon" which word is the Persian rendering of "Plato." The second school or "Arastoo" (Aristotle) followers were called the itinerants or peripatetics. This name arose out of Aristotleís practice of teaching his acolytes on the move while restlessly walking up and down in the compound of the Lyceum of Athens.

All the immense learning provided by tradition failed to contain our heroís aspirations or confine him to the narrow grooves of religion. It appeared that formal education did not satisfy his intellectual curiosity and left unslaked "the yearnings of his soul." Worse, the orthodox faith failed to provide him spiritual solace. Abul Fazlís craving for spiritual sustenance and succour became a raging fire egging and goading him into an insatiable quest for knowledge. He increasingly found the learned men of the time unable to help him. This dissatisfaction was inherited from his teacher/father Shaikh Mubarak.

The answer appears to have been found in action to bring about a paradigm change in the thinking. As Akbarís role in making this change was positive and critical Abul Fazl became a devotee and acolyte of the Emperor. We hope to return to this great and creative relationship between an Emperor and an intellectual in a future column.

See Also: Itihaas articles on Abul Fazl.


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