A Wise Veteran — II | Political economics

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rof Gulzar Haider has written extensively on various aspects of culture, its relation to metaphysics and to cosmology. Muslim architecture, with special emphasis on the architectural structure of the mosque, is its strong. To him the The structure of a mosque is the material reflection of Islamic cosmology.

Here, it is pertinent to underline cosmology for the sake of clarity for those who are not initiated into this branch of the physical sciences. By definition, cosmology is a science of how the universe began and how it is structured. An example of cosmology is the study of the Big Bang theory. It can be a philosophical, religious or mythical explanation of the nature and structure of the universe.

This branch of epistemology deals with the physical situation that provides the context for human existence: the universe is of a nature that makes our lives possible. This means that although it is a physical science, it is of particular importance in terms of implications for human life.

Professor Haider puts forward something new by forging a synthesis of modernity with Islamic tradition. This opens up new theoretical and practical perspectives in the field of architecture. The theoretical depth that Professor Haider offers in his writings and oral discourses is hardly heard in Pakistani academia. A striking feature of his conceptualization is the centrality of lodge as a cultural choreographer.

No definitive information is available on the early origins of the house. However, its history goes back to the simplest forms of shelter. An exceptionally well-preserved house dating from the fifth millennium BC and whose contents are still preserved has been excavated at Tell Madhur in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Similar examples of human shelters called “houses” can be seen at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the main sites of the Indus Valley Civilization.

In the Middle Ages, mansions or havelis (in Lahore and other parts of Pakistan) facilitated various activities and events. In addition, the houses housed many people, including family members, relatives, employees, servants and guests. Their lifestyles were largely communal, as areas such as the Great Hall enforced the custom of meals and gatherings and were intended for shared sleeping beds.

Houses can express the circumstances or opinions of their builders or inhabitants. Thus, a large and elaborate house can serve as a sign of remarkable wealth, while a low-key house built with recycled materials can indicate support for energy conservation.

Home ownership provides a common measure of prosperity in most economies. From this speech, one thing stands out. Culture, its birth and its gradual development towards maturity has always been a bourgeois phenomenon, in which the lower strata of societies had practically no role.

Another remarkable aspect of the “house” is its sedentary character. In medieval times, a sedentary lifestyle was affordable only to the wealthy classes, usually engaged in state affairs or preoccupied with agriculture. Most of the poor or dispossessed were always on the move. Therefore, in the social process leading to the formation of a culture, the poor or dispossessed had little role.

Craftsmen, it seems, were the only exception. Culture or civilizational practices, despite the upper class/bourgeois phenomenon, were articulated by artisans. As far as architecture is concerned, their importance was paramount. We now return to “home” as the primary constituent of culture as well as civilization, culture being a constituent element of the former. The last point, of course, requires some explanation.

When the culture exerts its potential to the optimum, and after having passed through various stages of evolution, it is realized in the form of civilization. The inference, therefore, can be safely drawn that the socio-cultural institution of the “house” with its architectural aspects, creates an environment in which social relations are nurtured, evolve and translate into social formation. Therefore, the “home”, social relations, culture and society have a very strong connection. Their healthy synthesis lays the foundations of a civilization.

Professor Haider has a lot to say about culture. Therefore, defining it here will not seem out of place. The word culture implies truth, beauty and goodness. Culture is that which, transmitted orally through tradition and objectively through writing and other means of expression, enhances the quality of life with meaning and value, making possible the formulation, progressive realization, appreciation and the fulfillment of truth, beauty and moral worth.

I hope Professor Haider agrees with this definition. Returning to Professor Haider’s originality in emphasizing the importance of ‘home’, it should be noted that he inverts the pyramid using a bottom-up approach. In doing so, it accommodated the territorial variety as well as the cultural multiplicity in the concept of the Muslim Ummah which, in this regard, assumes a plural/cosmopolitan character.

I sincerely believe that such a formulation of the Muslim collectivity creates an intellectual antidote to the curse of exclusionary tendencies. Plurality culminating in unity is the most definitive way to achieve a new social synthesis that can serve as a springboard for the reinvention of the Muslim Ummah. I think this is a valuable contribution from Professor Haider. It decenters the monolithic conceptualization of Islam as a cultural code and gives it a humanistic twist.

Dr. Absar Ahmad, a former professor of philosophy at the University of Punjab, writes illuminating articles under the heading of distant thunder published in a leading monthly magazine, Afkar investigation. In a letter he sent to me after reading the first part of this article, he writes: “under the direction of M Iqbal Asaria and S Pervez Manzoor, the Request published the research papers of a galaxy of able and learned writers like the famous Zia-ud Din Sardar, Karim Alwari, Sally Rabbaniha, Sara Saleem and Merryl Wyn Davies.

I wish Professor Haider would publish everything he wrote in a volume for the benefit of seekers of knowledge of art and culture. Unfortunately, the state and society are largely oblivious to enlightened souls like Professor Gulzar Haider among us.


The author is a professor at the Faculty of Liberal Arts in Beacon House National University, Lahore. He can be reached at [email protected]


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