Thursday, January 8, 2009

The path of reason

I, of course, only know the Emperor Akbar from two fabulously lush, lengthy historical epics: 2008's Jodhaa Akbar (which depicts him as young, hunky, and romantic, embodied in super-buff Hrithik Roshan), and 1960-s Mughal-E-Azam (grown into a stern, imposing king trying to keep his son away from beautiful dancing girl Madhubala, obviously a futile goal).

Nonetheless, those movies did give me an interesting mental picture (largely Hrithik-ized) when he turned up in Amartya Sen's excellent Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, a book which, if I could afford it, I would buy and give to every human being on the planet.

As described by Sen, Akbar was a promotor of "rahi aql," or "the path of reason," especially in dealing with religion. His strategy of granting equal legal protections for different religious practices seems, on one hand, like an only-logical way of dealing with a large geographical area full of wildly diverse beliefs. After all, when the citizens you're ruling belong to all sorts of different groups, why fan antagonisms and sectarianism between them? Why not try to encourage understanding between them, if only in the name of stabilizing the country? Since the same could be said of the wildly diverse citizens of the US, though, let's just assume that logic isn't always the issue.

But back to the book. "Akbar, the Great Mughal, was born a Muslim and died a Muslim, but he insisted that faith cannot have priority over reason, since one must justify -- and if necessary reject -- one's inherited faith through reason." (p. 161).

He goes on to quote Akbar thus: "The pursuit of reason and reject of traditionalism are so brilliantly patent as to be above the need of argument. If traditionalism were proper, the prophets would merely have followed their own elders (and not come with new messages)."

I think I've attempted to use that exact same argument (in certain specialized circumstances), but much less succinctly. As I said to my honey whilst reading on the couch, "Akbar kicks ass!"

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