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Published in the 1-15 Sep 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

President taken for a ride

Mafias are active in numerous fields in our country and this includes even Arabic and Islamic studies where semi-literates hold sway for one reason or another, leading to a sharp deterioration of the standards of education, knowledge and relevance to our country and society. They survive by scratching each other’s back, employing the age-old wisdom: man tura haji bagoyam, tu mura haji bago - I’ll call you haji, you too call me haji. 

This comedy comes to light each year with the announcement of the Presidential certificates of honour for Arabic and Persian scholars on Indpendence Day. Most of the recipients of the Arabic award during the last two decades, which I have watched, have gone to people who hardly deserve the honour and scarcely know Arabic. They cannot correctly read one single paragraph from a contemporary work and cannot write one single paragraph in correct and modern Arabic. Still the awards go to them year after year thanks to the mafia which fools the authorities who have no way to know the fake scholars. This year’s award to the AMU Islamic Studies Professor M. Salim Kidwai sharply demonstrates this fact. He may not have published one single article in Arabic in his whole life but here he gets the award for “his contribution to the advancement of scholarship in Arabic Studies,” according to a statement issued by the AMU PRO on August 23. The PRO describes him as “a distinguished scholar” of a hitherto unknown branch of knowledge: “Arabic Islamic Studies.” The PRO has the temerity to claim that Prof Kidwai’s Urdu book Hindustani Mufassarin Aur Unki Arabi Tafsiren is “a pioneering contribution in the field of Arabic Studies.” Tafsir belongs to Islamic studies, not Arabic.

It is time a hard look is taken at the issue and some criteria are agreed upon for the selection of candidates for the award, e.g., nominations should be publicly called for (instead of the practice of secret selection which is the norm now), candidates must have written at least one published book originally in modern Arabic, they must have sufficiently published in respected Arab publications and a new selection committee is constituted each year. 

- Zafarul-Islam Khan

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