ARTSPEAK: TOWARDS SULH-I-KUL

March 10, 2019

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There is something very calming about the term Sulh-i-Kul. Translated as complete reconciliation or universal peace, it is a term associated with Emperor Akbar, who aimed to unite all the religions or schools of thought in India. While his Din-i-Elahi was controversial, its genesis lay in Sulh-i-Kul, promoted by the 12th-century Sufi saint Hazrat Moinuddin Chisti. The Sulh-i-Kul of Chishti —“peace for all”— has outlived the Sulh-i-Kul of Akbar, with thousands of devotees subscribing to the message of “Love towards all, malice towards none.”

“World peace” has become a cliché, not least because of its association with the Miss World contests. In the film Miss Congeniality, Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart, an undercover police officer who is initially cynical about the phrase, says, as she unexpectedly receives the crown: ‘I really do just want world peace!’ underlining what the naturalist, Rashmi Chandran says, “Everyone’s natural state is one of peace” if it is not disrupted by external circumstances.

From Sufis to world leaders and ordinary people, all humans desire a peaceful existence. There are many organisations promoting world peace — the United Nations with its designated International Day of Peace, the Universal Peace Federation, the World Peace Organisation, the Women’s Federation for World Peace International, the Dance of Universal Peace, Artists for World Peace and many more.

Marxists believed that a proletariat world revolution would lead to world peace. Some believe democracy discourages war, others think that capitalism ensures peace. Ironically, much of modern warfare justifies war as the only way to restore peace.

Despite centuries of effort, the human race has yet to find lasting peace or justice for all to the point that peace has become an empty word replaced by the ambitions for wealth and power.

In medieval Anglo-Saxon communities, peaceweavers were women who were married to a member of an enemy tribe to establish peace — an idea translated into a wider dialogue by the Mindanao PeaceWeavers.

The Olympic Truce or Ekecheiria required all conflicts ceased during the Olympic Games so that athletes, artists, their relatives and pilgrims could travel safely to the Olympic Games and afterwards return to their countries.

During Haj, all hostility, hunting, the cutting of a tree and even the killing of a mosquito is prohibited.

Bacha Khan, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yusafzai and many others, faced with a choice of violent retaliation, remained lifelong pacifists. Women of Kunhar, Afghanistan, bravely engaged with the Taliban to find a way to end local violence.

Despite centuries of effort, the human race has yet to find lasting peace or justice for all to the point that peace has become an empty word replaced by the ambitions for wealth and power. As John Lennon, whose 1971 song Imagine has become a peace anthem, said: “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”

The importance of peace has acquired a new urgency with the recent sabre-rattling by India as the world realises, with alarm, the global consequences of a war between two nuclear countries.

Most conflicts arise from the “fear reflex” when confronted with “otherness.” The Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, “Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace.”

In the midst of the ongoing conflict, artists, filmmakers and architects in Mumbai and Delhi have come together for peace and tolerance. If we are to head to a post-war world, we need to create, maintain and sustain a safe environment.

As the Native American Black Elk believe, “There can never be peace between nations until there is first known that peace which is within the souls of men.”

Durriya Kazi is a Karachi-based artist and heads the department of visual studies at the University of Karachi

Email: durriyakazi1918@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 10th, 2019