The Undivided Past: history beyond our differences, By David Cannadine

David Cannadine, a leading historian makes a spirited case for harmony against the myths of identity politics according to the writer of this book review published in The Independent. the historian Sir David Cannadine seeks an understanding of the past that finds its focus in our age-old conversations and collaborations, rather than in conflict. Emperor Akbar, who pursued his vision of a common humanity just as much of Europe tore itself to shreds in fanatical wars of religion, has a brief cameo in this account by the author. Some 25 miles to the West of the Taj Mahal lies the rose-red hill-top ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri, the royal capital custom-built by the Emperor Akbar, occupied for 14 short years in the late 16th century and then, mysteriously, abandoned. Here, Akbar pursued his dreams of eclectic learning and enlightenment, and here he summoned scholars and clerics from all faiths – his own Islam, but also Hindu gurus, Catholic priests, Zoroastrians, Jains, Jews and Buddhists – to determine via debate not what divided them but what they shared. Cannadine offers a spirited, if relentless, challenge to the “us and them” mentality and the “allegedly impermeable divides” it finds between people of different communities and backgrounds. He takes his cue from the strident “clash of civilisations” rhetoric of the post-9/11 years, and extends his critique of “binary divisions” to cover oppositions and antipathies rooted in ideas of faith, nation, race, class, gender, and in “civilisation” itself. He argues against the notion that the key to history is some “all-pervasive polarity”, be it Christians vs Muslims, bourgeois vs proletarians, men vs women, the West vs the Rest. None will open history’s lock and reveal its innermost secrets, rather it is in and through unity and our similarities that the mysteries will be revealed.

Close Call for MEPS: Europe Strongly Condemns Attacks

European officials strongly condemned the attacks in Mumbai. Three members of European Parliament were among those trapped in the Taj Mahal hotel. They escaped unscathed, but will return to Brussels with harrowing memories. On Thursday morning, officials from the European Union and its member states strongly condemned the terror attacks in Mumbai. “Terrorism is never justified and is no means to achieve any goal. We stand by the Indian government in its fight against terrorism,” the European Commission said. The European Council, currently headed by France, said that “it joins in the mourning of the Indian nation and stands beside it during this distressing trial.” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the attacked “outrageous”; German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was personally “distraught” by the news. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent her condolences to Indian prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday. “The German government sharply condemns these crimes,” she wrote. “I would like to express my deeply felt sympathy to you and the citizens of your country. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families in this difficult hour.”

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Fatwas and Modernity

By Sheikh Ali Gomaa {Sheikh Ali Gomaa is the Grand Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt – the second highest religious position in the country. He oversees the premier institution in the Muslim world for religious legal direction, Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah. This essay is distributed by Common Ground News Service.} Almost two years ago the citizens of London were victims of a great atrocity. Those who perpetrated those crimes would like you to believe that they were inspired by the religion of Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing in Islam that could ever justify these blatant acts of aggression. Islam calls on Muslims to be productive members of whatever society they find themselves in. Islam embodies a flexibility that allows Muslims to do so without any internal or external conflict. This is why we see a vast variety of cultural, artistic and civilisational phenomena all of which can be described as Islamic, ranging from the Taj Mahal in India to the winding streets of Fez to the poetry composed by English converts that represents not only the rigor of English verse, but also encompasses the beauty of Islamic piety. This flexibility is not just present in the cultural output of Muslims; it is an integral part of the Islamic legal tradition as well. In fact, you could say it is one of the defining characteristics of Islamic law. Islamic law is both a methodology and the collection of positions adopted by Muslim jurists over the last 1,400 years. Those centuries were witness to no less than 90 schools of legal thought, and the 21st century finds us in the providential position to look back on this tradition in order to find that which will benefit us today. This is one of the first steps in the issuing of a fatwa (religious opinion/ruling).