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A Mandir in Islamabad: Why Imran Khan government must aid, not stall, the project

Khaled Ahmed writes: Pakistan must recall the golden age when Muslims and Hindus benefited from each other. Religion has got Muslims their Pakistan but mathematics remains the weakest subject taught in their schools and universities.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: July 18, 2020 9:50:04 am
islamabad hindu temple, hindu temple protest, pakistani hindus Supporters of the religious group, Sunni Tehreek Pakistan, carry a banner in Urdu that reads, “we disapprove the construction of Hindu temple in the Pakistani capital with government funds”, during a demonstration in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, July 12, 2020. (AP Photo/K M Chaudary)

In 2018, an allotted piece of land for a Shri Krishna Mandir in Islamabad was attacked and occupied by clerical protesters saying a Hindu structure could not be built in a city named after Islam. In June this year, under the government of Imran Khan, the project was restarted with a first funding instalment of $1.3 million. But the “protesters” reappeared, egged on by the big seminaries in Karachi, saying Islam would be insulted by it, and disappointing Lal Chand Malhi, a Hindu parliamentarian and member of the ruling party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He thought the Krishna temple would clean up the image of an ideological state guilty maltreating its minorities.

Sadly, Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) — a key ally of the ruling PTI — joined the frog-chorus of the pious and forced another halt to the construction of the first-ever Hindu temple in Islamabad. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) had transferred ownership of the plot to the Islamabad Hindu Panchayat; and a small groundbreaking ceremony for the temple construction had taken place end of June, attended by the federal minister for religious affairs and representatives of the Hindu community.

In Pakistan’s first census in 1951, Hindus made up 1.6 per cent of the total population of West Pakistan. Soon the Hindu minority felt discriminated against and began trickling out from Pakistan to India.

Muslims had treated Hindus with great respect in history. Long ago, one of the Central Asian astronomers involved in the project of measuring distance between two meridians Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (780-850), learned his most important lessons from Hindu mathematicians. Al-Khwarizmi was the most influential mathematician during the early Middle Ages.

Al-Khwarizmi got today’s term algorithm named after him after reading Hindu writings. His booklet penned in 825 called Algoritmi de numero Indorum was picked up from Brahmagupta. Amazed by the usefulness of the simple symbols and of positional notation by Brahmagupta, he demonstrated in his pamphlet their superiority to the Greek numbers then used in Baghdad, and to the Beduin numbers the Arabs had brought with them.

Brahmagupta had benefited from another great Hindu mathematician, Aryabhata, credited with writing a work called the Khandakadyaka, which means “food prepared with candy,” possibly referring to the pleasure it gives to seekers of knowledge. But the original has been lost. Only a heavily edited and annotated version exists today, reworked by Brahmagupta (598-665).

In the early 4th century, the Gupta dynasty seized most of northern India and launched Hindu India’s classic age. In the early fifth century, it made great strides in mathematics and astronomy, recording them in a series of texts known as “siddhantas”, or “systems” of astronomy. It was then that Aryabhata produced great work: Estimates of pi, basic rules of trigonometry, the motion of the planets and stars, and the length of the year.

Modern algebra itself comes from one of Al-Khwarizmi’s books, Kitab al-jabr wa al-muqabalah (Calculation by Restoration and Reduction). Later, this became a standard textbook of mathematics in European universities until the 16th century. The word algorithm — algoritmus in Latin — comes from the Europeans’ use of Al-Khwarizmi’s own name to refer to the study of mathematics. But he had got it after reading Brahmagupta.

In 1979, Pakistani scientist Abdus Salam was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to the theory of the “unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current”. Growing up in a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salam was introduced to mathematics by a Hindu schoolteacher. After getting his Nobel medal he went straight to India, got his friends to find out where his old teacher was, and hung his Nobel medal around his neck.

Pakistan must recall the golden age when Muslims and Hindus benefited from each other. Religion has got Muslims their Pakistan but mathematics remains the weakest subject taught in their schools and universities. Lahore’s FCC University recently fired Pervez Hoodbhoy from the department of math and physics because of his “rational” objection to the state’s ideology. In foreign policy, Chanakya’s mandala of inter-state relations recommends good relations with the “first circle” of neighbouring states. PM Imran Khan should not stop the project of building and repairing all the Hindu temples today seen in a dilapidated state in Pakistan.

This article first appeared in the print edition on July 18 under the title “A Mandir in Islamabad.” The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan

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