Notions of persecution

A little different from every imaginable stereotype, editor-in-chief of a chain of newspapers, M.J Akbar, welds steely professionalism with an engaging smile. Though, he is better known for his exquisitely penned columns, which relate his insatiable quest to churn out extremely thought-provoking pieces of articles on the immediate state of affairs.

Probably one of the youngest editors the country has produced, Mr. Akbar edited the Onlooker when he was just 23. After successfully launching and establishing a weekly newsmagazine, Sunday, and a daily newspaper, The Telegraph in the seventies and eighties, he briefly interrupted his career in journalism, to enter the Indian Parliament in November 1989 as an elected representative at the invitation of the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi. After his brief political stint he returned to writing and editing in 1993. The subsequent year he launched The Asian Age, India's first global newspaper, with simultaneous editions in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Ahmedabad and London. During the three decades in the field of news media Mr. Akbar also authored a couple of internationally acclaimed books, the latest one being The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the conflict between Islam and Christianity. The other four were Nehru: The Making of India, India: The Siege Within, Riot After Riot and Kashmir: Behind the Vale.

ROMMEL RODRIGUES meet up with Mr. M.J. AKBAR to explore the motivation, reason and purpose of his new opus which attempts to dispel quite a lot of myths on why Jihad has emerged as the most potent phenomenon of Islamic history. Excerpts from the interview:

What Islamic dogma does your latest book The Shade of Swords attempt to encapsulate?
The Shade of Swords engagingly recounts the potent and recurring power associated with jihad at various times in Muslim history. It explicitly traces the genesis of jihad in the struggle against oppression that was part of the earliest consciousness of the followers of Islam. The book also recounts the myriad manifestations of jihad, its mythology, in history, literature and culture since the fall of Jerusalem in AD 637 to the recent 9/11 attacks on the US.

What according to you is the real sense of jihad?
The power of jihad pervades the mind and soul of Islam. When Muslims take the name of Prophet, Muhammad, they always add a prayer: Peace be upon him, though peace is the avowed aim of Islam, a word that means surrender; as in as-salam, or the peaceful, is one of the names of Allah. However, the Islamic faith also demands from time to time, in a holy war defined by specific circumstances, the blood of the faithful in the defence of their faith. This is jihad in its true sense.

How could jihad thrive in its immutable form for so many centuries?
Jihad has thrived on complex and shifting notions of persecution, victory and sacrifice. Travelling across centuries and continents, from the triumphant rise of Islam under the Prophet Muhammad to the depression of defeat in the first Crusade, through the renewal of Saladin to the rise and fall of the Ottoman and Mughal empires and the raw passions of Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent, it has remained a indomitable tool for Muslims.

What relevance does jihad has in today's context especially the September 11 attack?
Lets understand this clearly, whatever the complexity and ambiguity of the interpretive tradition, jihad has emerged as the most potent phenomenon of Islamic history. When we tend to define war in terms of nations, interests, and uniformed armies. This jihad is also a proxy war, fought by elliptical strategies, through irregular armies. To define this singular aspect of one Islamic response to the perceived world-dominated by the US is complex enough. There are, as implied, other responses as well, but jihad stands out through its ability to shift the tides of history on a day like September 11 attack.

How did you compile such comprehensive and exhaustive book, which relies so much of historic references?
The book is a result of intense research and extensive touring. It has a concentrate of enormous references which was complied for over a decade, covering travel to almost half the globe. In fact the famous Samuel Huntington have quoted from my references in his seminal essay the clash of civilization in foreign affair which was published way back in 1993.

How do you explicate the conflict between the Islam and Christianity?
The first eight chapters of the book explains in great details the doctrinaire and historical root of the conflict between Islam and Christianity. The war, which began from virtually the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad for political control of the known world and the spill of hatred into literature and rhetoric, leaving wounds more permanent than the fortune for battle.