The inaugural Webinar conducted by the Australia India Muslim Forum was held on Thursday 25 February 2021 showcasing Professor Irfan Ahmad talking on the topic “Faces of Hindu Orientalism”.
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The AIMF has been recently founded with the aim of creating a forum and resource for community-building through education and debate on some of the key challenges facing the Indian Muslim community today.
Monthly webinars by academics, student leaders, grass root intellectuals and social movement figures will be organised around topics, with a particular focus on bringing to light and educating the Indian Muslim community in Australia.
The MC, Mr Adil Khan, a legal scholar at the University of Melbourne commenced the proceedings by welcoming the speaker and the audience and explaining the house keeping rules and proceedings of this international webinar.
Mr Mohammad Zuhair, a PhD scholar at Monash University provided an introduction of AIMF and its webinar series and the context for the inaugural Webinar’s topic saying, “Western Orientalism and Hindu Orientalism both need to be discussed in the public sphere to increase awareness and to dismantle Islamophobic notions and misrepresentations of Muslim history and figures. Such misrepresentation catalyses dehumanisation of Muslims that results in discrimination and violence against them on a global level in general and in India in particular.”
Mr Zia Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief, AMUST provided a detailed introduction of the speaker, saying that tonights speaker is an intellectual giant, Professor Dr Irfan Ahmad, currently Senior Research Fellow at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, Germany.
“Previously Professor Ahmad was Associate Professor of Political Anthropology at the Institute for Religion and Critical Enquiry at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne while earlier than that he was a senior lecturer in politics at Monash University in Australia where he taught for nearly five years,” said Zia Ahmad.
He concluded by saying, “I had the great pleasure of reading his classical book, titled Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of the Jamaat-e-Islami (Princeton University Press, 2009), that is the outcome of his doctoral research and intensive field work that took him to Delhi, Aligarh, Rampur, Azamgarh and Patna, places where I have spent some time as well.”
Professor Irfan Ahmad started his lecture by thanking AIMF for inviting him for their inaugural webinar and saith that although he is indeed an academic, this webinar is meant to be for laymen as well for their understanding of the topic.
At the start of his lecture Prof Ahmad defined what Orientalism was, referring to the classical book, titled Orientalism (1978) by Edward Said that mainly talked about Western Orientalism in reference to the Middle East and Islam and colonial subjugation.
He then referred to a recent book, Restating Orientalism (2018) by Wael Hallaq where he talked about Israeli Orientalism as a practice to justify the occupation of Palestinian Territories and subjugation of its indigenous population.
Coming to the main topic of the webinar, Prof Ahmad claimed, “What we see today in India, especially since 2014, is not simply political; rather, it is power/knowledge which I call Hindu Orientalism. Focusing on the subjects of Muslims and Adivasis (tribes), this talk describes many faces of Hindu Orientalism in domains ranging from judiciary, food choice, language use, gender question to violence/peace.”
“We must go past the sibling rivalry between Congress and RSS-BJP to recognise Hindu Orientalism that binds them both. Hindu Orientalism as a knowledge/power matrix is present among “critical,” “liberal” and “progressive” voices too: in media, civil society, academia alike,” Prof Ahmad said.
“I have not explained why I use Hindu Orientalism and not Indian Orientalism. The brief answer is that both Western Orientalism and Indian nationalism as derivative thereof, especially in matters religious, view India as essentially Hindu. With its philological approach and continuing preoccupation, if not obsession, with “Sanskrit High Culture,” the discipline of Indology as a branch of Orientalism is coterminous with Hindus and Hinduism, the latter as “the basis of Hindu civilization.”
“In Indology, Muslims stand emptied out, erased or subsumed within Hinduism. If mentioned, as in the nationalist history, Muslims appeared as despicable and cause for the downfall of Hindus; it erases the practices of exclusion of non-Hindu traditions within to ratify the Indological equivalence between India and Hindus.
On a question posed by Zia Ahmad as to why we do not term this kind of orientalism to Hindutva Orientalism, Dr Ahmad said that this orientalism is not limited to Hindutva elements only but spread into other mainstream Hindus and political parties.
At the conclusion of the Webinar, Ms Yasmeen Siddiqui presented the vote of thanks on behalf AIMF and gave details of the next scheduled AIMF webinar.
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