Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dalrymple on the Mosque Controversy

I first became familiar with William Dalrymple's writing when I lived in India in the summer of 2009. I was there working for a human rights NGO based in Delhi, and I rented an apartment in south Delhi, a short distance from my job. Nothing really prepared me for India, let alone living in Delhi as a foreigner. I loved my time there, but I was also lucky to have had Dalrymple there with me. Well, not physically, but I read his "City of Djinns" when I was living there. The book is basically a history of the city of Delhi, while also telling the story of his life there for one year (he now lives with his family outside Delhi). Reading his book (and then others, all about India, past and present) introduced me to the incredibly complicated and fascinating history of that magnificent city and to India more generally, and I would recommend him to anyone who's going there.

I'm writing this now because Dalrymple, who is also a historian, has a terrific column in the New York Times, discussing the NYC mosque controversy. Unlike other people who have written about this, Dalrymple goes to great lengths to explain what is behind the Cordoba Center, and, more specifically, about Sufism, the mystical stream in Islam. No doubt Dalrymple draws upon his knowledge of Sufism from his studies of India and Pakistan, both having a rich Sufist history and present. Hearing Sufi singers sing their devotional music (called Qawwali) in the Nizamuddin neighborhood in Delhi on Thursday nights is an experience that will not be forgotten.

Anyway, read Dalrymple.

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