The truth about Gandhi, at last!

Thu Apr 30 13:34:45 UTC 1992

Dear colleagues,
Owing to the notoriously short attention span of Canadians, our
academic year ends in mid-April, and we are now in the midst of the
examination period. This is the time of year in which we learn all
sorts of new and interesting things about the subjects we have been
teaching for the past semester.
On an essay on Islam, one of my first-year students wrote: "Mahatma
Gandhi was a very strick [sic] Muslim, who was assasanated [even more
sic] by a fundamentalist on his way home from the pilgrimage to Mecca."
(On the topic of the Hajj, another student wrote that the pilgrimage is
required of all Muslims except those who die before they have a chance
to go. It's good to know that the rule has a few reasonable
Those of you who live and work in the civilized part of the world may
not be aware of the interesting approach to higher learning we have
here in North America, where the operating principle seems to be that
people teach best what they know least about. And so it is that I have
been assigned for the past four years to teach a course on Islam, a
subject on which I did not get even the most minimal training in my
years of following courses in Sanskrit language and Indian Buddhist
philosophy. After all, I suppose it would be a bit foolish to let
Islam be taught by one of the ten or so highly qualified Islamicists
in our Islamic Studies Institute here.
I should not be surprised to be approached by the dean one day and
asked "Here, you have a bit of knowledge of Panini. Would you mind
teaching a course in entomology?" We might then learn that Gandhi was
not a strick Muslim at all, but a species of lepidopteron (or was he
only a Chinese philosopher, dreaming he was a butterfly?)!
Richard Hayes
Somewhere in Canada, I think

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