There was a lot of literary activity that took place during the year 2023. Among those activities, the one that will have its impact on our present and future intellectual thinking is the invaluable compendium called, From Big Bang to Baghdad, released in October 2023 in Tagore Hall at Srinagar-Kashmir. This wonderful piece of work, written by Dr. Qazi Ashraf, is a realtime research on the issues that confront us, all the time. In the words of the author himself, it is 'a brief story of the origin and evolution of religion'. Dr. Qazi is an oncologist specialist who has more to do with the subjects of science than with the arts. But he has evolved himself into an embodiment of science and art, logic and philosophy, reason and credo, leading him to do justice with the subject at hand, elaborated in the 400 page book, published by the notionpress.com.
The book has four parts dedicated to four historical phases of the evolution of religion and the connected civilizations. The twelve chapters of the book signifying a serious attempt to present a rational thinking about religion and the allied issues undoubtedly deserve recognition of the highest magnitude. The book once in hands is sure to make the reader inquisitive till he or she completes all its twelve chapters. We have different opinions of different people on one and the same subject. But what counts is the opinion that passes the test of time and space. A balanced view on a subject, that is the most talked one, surely gains both respect and acceptability, and the author has been successful in his endeavour in this regard.
In the first chapter of the Part 1, the author emphasizes, in his creation about the universe in a 'realised' philosophical tone, that, "In the beginning, there was no beginning. In the no-beginning, there was nothing. In the nothing, there was something. That something was small, infinitesimally small, way smaller than the period at the end of this sentence (precisely 1 x 10^-33 in size)......Take one part out of this heap of no-things, and that is your Universe - you can call it 'something' - 'something out of nothing'...."
Ironically, the learned author echoes the Upanishadic declaration in this context contained in the Ishoupanishad written thousands of years ago, "Om purnamadah purnamidam purnad purnamudachyate purnasya purnamadaya purnamevavashisyate Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih.” Meaning: What is visible is the infinite. What is invisible is also the infinite. Out of the Infinite Being, the finite has come, yet being infinite, only infinite remains. In other words, "Outer World is Full with Divine Consciousness; Inner World is also Full with Divine Consciousness; From the Fullness of Divine Consciousness the World is manifested, because Divine Consciousness is Non-Dual and Infinite. Peace, Peace, Peace".
From the words used by the author that 'the temptation to explore and experiment drove early humans to caves, forests, and rocky terrains', the inference is clear -the temptation to explore further hasn't ended and may not end till this universe remains. For a long time in history, the sacred history remained the genuine history. Literature, science, art and other fields of activity remained under the strict influence of this sacred history. The era of the sacred history is fundamentally a period of 'a story of a story' and the author is absolutely correct when he says that 'the story may easily defy time and space'. The genuine history indeed doesn't permit such a licence.
'The Aryans had perfected the art of storytelling. They were master storytellers', says Dr. Qazi in his masterpiece narration. Kashmir has remained the centre of this art for the last thousands of years. The people of Kashmir as well have by instinct remained the front runners in this field, as the inheritors of this ancient invaluable tradition. The author proves that very emphatically. We have trusted narratives of Kashmir as old as one to two thousand years old. However, things have changed a lot over the last century regarding some established notions about humankind, history and even science. The earlier unchallenged narrative build-ups of the Europeans and in particular the Britishers are not the favourite line of application in the current context of socio-political scenario. The theory of the Aryan-caravan has lost the sheen and acceptability, and clinging to this challenged conjecture is not without danger of reaching wrong goalposts.
The Mesopotamian and Babylonian concepts about God, gods and godesses were perfectly in tune with the needs of the people who constructed civilizations that keep us inspiring till date. The institution of 'Ziggarut' has been well explained by the author in his treatise in the most lucrative but informative manner. Relationships these cultures created around have been beautifully described with details. Distant geographies came under the influence of these well established institutions, initially centred around the towns and cities of their civilizations.
India's Harappa, Mohnjo-Daro and Lothal descriptions are definitely interesting and lead the reader to know more about them. There is a perception that has gained a great currency leading the modern intellectuals and research-historians to suggest that these were basically the Sarswati civilizations. The Vedic civilization, lately known as Hindu or Sanatan civilization concentrated more on nature than on God in its pursuits to find answers to the most difficult questions related to the formation of universe, secrets of life and self-realization. There was always a rebellion inherent in this civilization and that has been subtly underscored by the writer of the book. Mahavira and Buddha led the rebellion to logical conclusions during their own lifetime without any sort of bloodbath and it is due to this fact that Hindu scriptures are fundamentally based upon conversations between gods, reshis, people of high standards and even commoners and are not deemed or treated as the voice of God. Bhagwat-Geeta in this context is a classical example to quote.
Abrahamic religions - their origin, journey, belief system and their capacity to expand have been covered with due care and detail. How 'ancient tribal societies lived in a perpetual warfare and violence, making tribal confederation building a necessity rather than a luxury' is well discovered. The confrontation between Zoroastrianism (which stood for spiritual salvation) and the Abrahmic religions also stands covered in a historical perspective.
Exodus has been well described as a foundational story of the nation of Israel and Judaism. The common bondage of the three religions of the Abrahmic order - Judaism, Christianity and Islam has three vital things in common. They are one God, common prophets and expansion of their belief. Though the concept of one God didn't come to Israelites naturally yet it was during the era of Moses that they were inspired to worship one God. The idea of Holy Land (present Israel and Palestine) and why it is synonymous with biblical Israel and includes parts of modern Jordan, Lebanon and Syria has been well explained by the author.
He has made a brilliant attempt to dwell upon some very important unanswered questions, particularly relating to Islam. The Part 4 of the book, The Sands of Arabia-From Caravans to Kingdom deals exclusively with the advent and history of Islam. Some key queries have been replied in the most elegant manner without creating fissures of any sort. The writer of the book believes that 'the human species will evolve further, and together with it, every aspect of human life and interaction including science, religion, thought and discourse will change'. Here lies the beauty of the story and the storyteller.
Lastly two words also about Kashmir and the author who is also a Kashmiri. There is hardly any writer from Kashmir who will omit to describe Kashmir in his/her writings. He or she would unearth a link of Kashmir with his/her subject under discussion somehow and mostly with grace. Dr. Qazi has done the same while describing about the similarities between Kashmiris and Israelis in the book. For some people it might look strange, but the intellectual's quest to excavate possibilities is not subject to any sort of approval. In this connection, the term used by him like 'Kashruth' is original and also civilizational not like 'Kashmiryat' that is political and concocted.
The thought provoking book like, From Big Bang to Baghdad, is a testimony of the fact that Kashmir has started taking a change where discussions and debates can take place. When humanity and societies engage themselves in debates on diametrically opposite thoughts and views, we definitely open new vistas for evolution of synthesis. Dr. Qazi Ashraf, a native of Kashmir, well-known and well connected, has in his twelve years of research, hard work and serious intellectual acrobatics established the fact that Kashmir has slowly and steadily decided to move ahead in this direction rather to its original roots of exchange of ideas. He deserves kudos and acknowledgement of the highest order and also the due recognition.
(The author is a senior BJP and KP leader, human rights defender, author & columnist.)