Religion, Culture and Literature…

I smsed my brother asking if he has “The Prince” and he replied in affirmation. I texted back saying,”I’ll be highly obliged if you can bring it”. He later commented that my “highly obliged” reflected the mentality of a slave. And I replied, “As if taking a degree in English is not a reflection enough !”

A few weeks back, a cousin of mine was asking about some symbol on orkut and her brother tried to show that he doesn’t know. And as I was standing nearby I shouted out that word loud and clear. And her brother looked at me, shocked, and then told her sister, ” that’s why I didn’t say it!” The word is commonly used but has vulgar connotations. And with this the realisation dawned upon me that I’m getting accustomed to all those words which are not a part of my culture. In the book Doing English, the author has clearly stated that with every word of a foreign language comes the whole cultural package. And with this the fear took over me. Am I falling through the bottomless pit of a foreign culture?! From then onwards I became conscious of every word that I use and am trying still to shun every word that does not reflect decency.

But how many of us actually realise that?! Last year while attending one of the presentations of the research group in our department, the professor said that not every word can be translated. In Arabic we use words which have no direct one word in English or any other language. It’s true for Urdu and other languages. And this is true for English as well. The words become terminologies! Once attending the lecture of philosophy, a professor said that we should avoid using words like “enlightenment” and “modern” because these are not words with simple meanings, for Occidentals these are terminologies that have derived from their history and culture. These words date back from the 16th and 17th Centuries, the age that Europe called The Age of Enlightenment. The shift from homo-centric to the ego-centric culture, when man became more important. And these all are not part of our culture.

In Notes Towards the definition of Culture, T.S. Eliot says that Europe’s culture is deeply seated in the religious history of Europe. The literature of Europe has it’s roots so deep in Christianity that even now when some of them reject every religion, their every action is Christian. And Muhammad Asad in his book The Road to Makkah says that he has come to the theory that the European prejudice and hatred towards Islam and Muslims is dated as back as the first Crusades! So it’s deep rooted in their hearts, and is instilled in their genes and they cannot detach it from themselves. It has become part of their culture. And it was T.S.Eliot who said that Culture is derived from religion and faith (with it or the lack of it). And as writers cannot write in a vacuum, and they incorporate their genes into the whole experience of writing, we see the reflection of their beliefs, culture and thoughts. So, when I am reading Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte or James, I am actually exposing myself to their culture and beliefs. I remember a friend saying that it seems as if we know more than the average European about their sects and religion and history. It’s incorporated in their literature.

Now the effect of literature upon our lives: The first ever department of English was established in the colony of Subcontinent. The English believed that literature would incorporate certain values in the Indians without them realising it. And this would help them make better slaves. And they would not realise the religious moulding through literature. So, literature became a tool of making us more “civilized” in the eyes of West to serve their own purposes. Literature, if read passively, works subtely yet moves your insides violently. Your mind may accept things subconsciously or unconciously and may effect your whole way of thinking. And I realised that you need to be active when reading literature, alert all the time, in order to keep their beliefs and metaphysics at bay.

The recent writers of Pakistan, who chose English to be their medium of communicating their ideas, do not reflect the embedded culture of the East. And when I’m talking about Muslim writers, I’m talking about the culture of Islam. The writers have not only chosen English but they have incorporated the ideas of Europe, their culture in those writings reflecting their own “slave-ish mentality”.  The embedded idea in our minds that doing English, eating with forks and spoons and sitting on a dining table reflects the marks of civilization, without realising that in our culture, eating with your hands and sitting on the floor are the marks of being “civilized”.

It’s high time for us to realise that our culture, literature and everything else have a center, and that center is Islam. And the unification in things come from that one center. We may be able to intitutionalise every “branch” of knowledge, but the cente would allow a Muslim to see things in totality and not in fractions. And we see all that in the works of Muslim poets from Rumi to Iqbal. So, even if we are to read the Western authors, we need to counter that effect by reading our own literature in the languages of the East, mainly Urdu, Arabic or Persian. It’s high time to stand facing the current and yet not loose our grounds. And we can only do that by standing in our own cultural grounds and not borrowed ones. We have far more better examples than those of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates.


7 thoughts on “Religion, Culture and Literature…”

  1. Great Post, indeed. However, I am wondering what Mr Masood would have said about the last paragraph if he had had the opportunity of reading your blog! 🙂

    I wish I would write such long posts. After reading your posts I always feel that there is so much to write about but when I actually sit down to write, I get tired after a few moments only. Sigh!

  2. shut up! you’re a better writer, it took me two days to finish and yet I think it just ended abruptly. I’m still striving to stay focused, I just jumble up alot of points in one thing and then I dont know how to end it! lol.
    Need you expert opinion and advice in all this! 😀

  3. Thas was a very good and powerful post Asma! I believe all religions are used as control mechanisms for the masses!
    It’s all about control…… person or one nation wanting to control another!

    I have never read Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte or James! I’ve only read very few verses and chapters of the New Testament and Old Testament and I have never read the Quaran!

    I love my freedom over here in America and that as my choice to not practice any religion, I am not arrested or stoned for it!

    I just try to live by the verse “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”! And that is really harder than it sounds!

    I have to work hard at that. I have to look inside myself every day and question myself, and remember to try to do better by my fellow man! That is all my religion consisit of! Trying to love!

  4. On your first point I’d like to say that for Muslims religion is not mere restrictions or power game, Islam is a way of life. PERIOD. And it’s not about controlling others, it’s about controlling oneself. COmpletely submitting ones everything to God. This is Islam.

    About your second point: You are a christian and you’ve read the Bible. But when colonizers came to the East, one of their aims was to spread Christianity and they realised that Bible would be too forward and offensive. So, they thought of a better way, a more subtle way. Literature. So, when they institutionalised English, they had certain hidden aims. The Canon i.e. particular writers that were chosen to be taught were those whose writings were more effective in turning the “Cannibals” into “civilized Slaves”. That was my point that when we read Milton or Chaucer, or Dickens or whoever, We, people of the East or non-Christians, need to know the fundamentals of Christianity. Most of the writers talk about The Great Fall, Fall of Satan, Adam or the Original Sin, the idea of Baptizing a child, protestantism, puritanism, utilitarianism etc. I just wanted to put forward in the thing I’ve written that even if I’m taking a degree in English I have to be very careful as not to adopt all these ideas.

    Third Point: Well, the concept of being stoned or arrested if you’re not a Muslim in a Muslim Country itself is a projection of what East is by the West. Or by the Western Oriented Eastern Writers. I believe that you need to look beyond what media’s been projecting onto you.

    I hope I answered some of your queries…

  5. Asma
    I used to be a Christian. I lost that faith many many years ago. I admire Christians & Muslims alike who believe in their faith!………….
    As long as their faith doesn’t restrict the non believer from living his life without being persecuted for his nonbelief or doubts!

    What you said in first paragraph…”And it’s not about controlling others, it’s about controlling oneself.”
    I’m all for that!!!!I try to control myself everyday!!!LOL!
    I just have a problem submitting myself to a “God”? If “God” wants that,then why didn’t he just make a bunch of robots?
    I try to submit myself to “good”!

    I don’t have any friends who practice Islam, but I have Christian friends, and they look at me and feel sorry for me because I don’t believe the way they do! They always say they are going to pray for me, or things like “don’t you know you are going to hell if you don’t change?”

    The bible is more like a story book to me. Like the Greek Mythology! It has lots of good lessons to be learned for living ones daily life. And it is man’s attempt at explaining the unexplainable!

    I had a friend laugh at me the other day because I said I believe in UFO’s and life on other planets!
    I said……”well you believe in God don’t you?” He said “yes”…..So,I say ” I have to believe in something!”

    And lastly……I agree with you about what the media projects to all of us! I don’t trust the bible, so you know I’m not going to trust the media!!!!!LOL!!!!

    You are a breath of fresh air, my dear! Stay on your journey to inner peace!


  6. “I just have a problem submitting myself to a “God”? If “God” wants that,then why didn’t he just make a bunch of robots?”

    Well… you just contradicted yourself. Because if God really did make robots, you would have been one too…

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