The Hindu view of Islam - A critical review
By Asghar Ali Engineer
A dialogue was held between Hinduism and Islam in Glasgow University, U.K. on 30th November 2006 wherein this author spoke on Muslim view of Hinduism and Prof. Chakravarthy Ram-Prasad who teaches Hinduism in U.K. spoke on ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œA Hindu View of Islam.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â?
I must say Prof. Ram-PrasadÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s views of Islam are quite objective and rational. He is free of prejudices, which are prevalent among non-Muslims. His paper is quite scholarly and well documented. I had also heard him speak during the dialogue and whatever he said about Islam was agreeable. However, his treatment of the subject is more historical and political rather than theological. He also concentrates on Indian Islam rather than universal Islam.
Before we deal with this aspect of the problem, I must mention a very valid point Chakravorthy makes. He observes that the pan-Indian religious identities were created by British colonialists. He observes, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWhile there is controversy over whether a sense of religious identity already played a role in motivating social violence between communities in pre-colonial India; arguably, the fixation of monolithic identities through the construction of pan-Indian religious communities was carried out through the administrative rationale of British rule in India and communal violence thereafter was clearly part of this colonial fixation of identities.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â?
This is not only very valid observation but also is key to understanding and solving communal problem. Construction of pan-Indian religious communities and identities was a colonial political project, which is being perpetrated by our political leaders in post-colonial, post-independence India. One has, therefore, to emphasise multiple identities and Indian lives with but also one has to realise that the idea of pan-Indian religious communities is going to pose political problems.
But then Ram-Prasad also maintains, with some justification of course, that ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦one realises that this British colonial project was by no means conjured out of thin air: after all, distinctions clearly existed between groups in Hindu society, and there were certainly pronounced distinctions between the commitments of the established streams of Islam and those of the multifarious Hindu traditions.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â? But then he points out ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe fixation of a single Hindu identity, as one that held across a myriad of traditions, and was held to trump all other forms of self-reference, looks to be a colonial construct; and I am arguing that it is that is relevant to the apparent naturalness of the Hindu-Muslim divide.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â?
However, problem does not start only with the construction of a single Hindu identity as a colonial project, it also lies in the sense of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“civilizational divideÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, as Ram-Prasad puts it, created by the writings of a number of Muslim elite who had accompanied various armies that invaded the Hindu kingdoms of India or attended courts of Muslim rulers. But again use of words like ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Hindu kingdomsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ and ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Muslim rulersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ are somewhat problematic. This is again to fall prey to colonial construction of identities. No such identity as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“HinduÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ or ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“MuslimÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ existed. There were different Buddhist, Rajput, Brahman dynasties which were invaded and those who invaded should not be bracketed within universal Muslim identity; they too belonged wither to Ghaznavid, Slave, Tughlaq or Khalji dynasties who were fighting against each other. Using words like ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“HinduÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ or ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“MuslimÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ rule or ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Hindu and MuslimÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ period leads to supporting the colonial project.
Muslims themselves were divided not only among various invading dynasties but also among those who came from outside and those who were converted, again for myriad reasons to Islam. Those converted were despised by the ruling classes who came from outside. The latter looked down upon the indigenous Muslims. Also, the indigenous Muslims like Hasan Mewati, refused to side with invader like Babur and instead fought with Rana Sanga and thousands of Mewati Muslims (indigenously converted) fought along with the Rana and courted death.
Thus Indian social reality is extremely complex and defies any neat categorisation, however carefully made. The Pathans, whom the Moghuls had defeated never saw eye to eye with them and always sided with those who fought against Moghuls. Then also Rajput clans were fighting against each other and some Rajput rulers like Raja Mansingh sided with Moghuls whereas some others like Rana Pratap fought against them. And a Pathan like Hakim Khan Sur fought against Moghul army along with soldiers of Rana Pratap. Thus a Rajput fought a Rajput and a Muslim (Akbar) fought a Muslim (Hakim Khan Sur).
Among elite Muslim writings also one finds no homogeneity. As I have shown in my paper (ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œA Muslim View of HinduismÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â?) some Ulama took what could be described as anti-Hindu view as if there was ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“civilizational divideÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, others like Dara Shikoh, Mazhar Jan-I-Janan and several others took diametrically opposite view and came to the conclusion that Islam did not clash with Vedas and Upanishads, the indigenous scriptures. Dara Shikoh, particularly, showed complete harmony between the two religious scriptures.
The crucial divide was political, rather than theological. Those Ulama, who were part of ruling political establishments, tended to be hostile towards followers of indigenous religious traditions (as party of power politics and courting favour with rules) than those who grappled with religious differences outside charmed circle of political power. Dara Shikoh was studying ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“HinduÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ religion seriously as a non-political theological project and hence he found great similarities between the two.
Prof. Prasad also points out that ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe British were not the only ones to read into these elite discourses the entire history of India as the violent clash of Islam with Hinduism, the utter rejection of every aspect of the latterÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s culture by the former and the essential ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ even racial ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ difference between Muslims and Hindus.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â? He then continues, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIn the 20th c, as the political movement to gain independence from Britain grew, the Muslim League organisation began to argue that if the principle of nationhood for Indians was to be granted, it would have to be applied equally to separate people, Hindus and Muslims.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â? It is true that Muslim League almost agreed with the British reading of Indian history based on the assumption of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“clash of civilizationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢. Muslim League was clashing with the Hindus as a whole, (ignoring that a large number of Hindus led by Gandhi and Nehru stood for secular India) was a political project. Jinnah neither knew nor was interested in knowing fundamentals of Hindu religion (he hardly knew of Islam as well). Jinnah was fighting in political arena.
It will be wrong to assume that Muslim League was the only sinner. The Hindu communal forces were no less. Thus, as pointed out by Ram-Prasad, the emergence of a single unified Hindu identity derived from the colonial construction of a single Hindu ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“religionÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ out of organically inter-related but infinitely diverse traditions, came close to the idea of India as a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Hindu nationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢. And for Leaguers too ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Hindu IndiaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ was more acceptable than secular India. Together they carried the cross of partition.
Coming to contemporary India, Ram-Prasad deals with communal situation. He feels that whatever performance of Hindutva forces it Parliament, the Hindu nationalist assertion of a natural Hindu majority has certainly taken root in urban India, even if voters are uncertain in their support of it at election time, when more fundamental questions of governance and even caste identity seem to supersede religion as factors.
Ram-Prasad also refers to bomb blasts and attacks by jihadi groups and even feels that these trans-national jihadi attacks are more in number and devastation than in Europe. This further compounds the situation though these attacks have not made real dent on Hindu-Muslim relations.
The author also deals with the socio-economic situation of Muslims in India and refers to recently published Sachar Committee report. However, Ram-Prasad feels though there is discrimination against Muslims at lower levels of government jobs, it is lack of education and merit which results in poorer representation of Muslims in higher echelons. But at the same time he admits lack of education is also partly result of economic situation and not necessarily lack of interest in modern education.
Thus on the whole it seems Prof. Prasad deals with the subject fairly objectively though one may differ from him in certain assertions here and there. Prof. Prasad, however, does not deal with, or is perhaps not equipped to deal with, the theological aspects of Hindu view of Islam. The Hindutva forces are attacking today certain theological aspects of Islam, like the concept of kufr and rejection of non-Muslims and also shariÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ah laws. It would have been certainly more rewarding if Ram-Prasad had dealt with these theological aspects too. The title of his paper is ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œA Hindu View of IslamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ but he deals with the Hindu view of Muslims.
Despite lack of this aspect in the paper it is a good paper on the subject and deals with the subject quite sensitively. Certainly his idea of colonial construction of single Hindu identity is quite useful and if understood properly, can dispel many myths being woven around the concept of single Hindu identity by the Hindutva forces in contemporary India and its harmful effects on secular foundation of Indian politics. The Muslim leaders also should not insist on such singular Muslim identity.