India has a unique place in the community of nations. It is the melting pot of religions. Hinduism and Islam are the two major religions and each claim to be the symbol of wisdom, virtue, justice and law. However, we are taken aback when we look at their current state of affairs. They do not see eye-to-eye, breed religious conflicts and spew the venom of prejudices. They have become the symbol of national disgrace that makes us look ugly in the eyes of the world.
While Hinduism and Islam do not need defining, for the clarity of purpose, I have presented the following description:
People usually know Hinduism as a religion but it is well-established fact that it is a way of life that emerged out of our ancient traditions, practices, and customs. Historians conclude that the root of Hinduism is in the perpetual growth of Indian civilization and as civilization developed, so developed Hinduism. The Hinduism, as we know it now, is the derivative of Sanatan Dharma, the original religion. Its parishioners were the Aryans of ancient times until Persian traders on their eastward incursions across the mountain range of Afghanistan came to the regions of Hindu Kush. For convenience, they named the region the land of Hindus and their religion Hinduism. Hinduism has been the predominant religion of India ever since.
Islam is one of the prominent religions of India and its influence on Indian society has been as menacing as powerful.
Islam came to India through the Arab Traders of 7th and 8th centuries. They brought with them the concept of Sufism, which had some Vedic characteristics. Later on, Muslim invaders used Sufism as a conduit to persuade the masses to convert to Islam. Islam got its foothold because of Sufism but it prospered rapidly during the Mogul Rule. From Babar to Aurangjeb, the objective of the Mogul empire was the proliferation of Islam. Akbar even initiated the policy of religious tolerance to boost the image of Islam that accelerated conversion and expanded Muslim population. Now there are over 180 million people of Muslim faith in India.
Muslim Traders and invaders who came to India for riches were also the zealots of Islam. They discovered that India was divided based on caste where lower castes were treated disdainfully and differently. Such a situation provided the zealots the opportunity to present Islam to the people as the religion of beneficence, possibility and hope. Those who accepted Islam in the beginning were the people of lower castes before it spread to upper castes. Since Hindu society lacked unison and passion, it could not resist the spread of Islam. Only Brahmins opposed the conversion but the price they paid was mercilessly high. Aurangjeb being a devout Muslim used his brutal power to expand Islam and to constrict the influence of Hinduism. To make Islam a veritable religion of India, he demolished Hindu Temples, replaced them with Mosques, and converted Hindu places of learning to Madarsas. Since Brahmins were the guardians of the society and protectors of Hinduism, he tried to purge their influence and targeted them for annihilation. During the rule of Aurangjeb, Brahmins were free to accept Islam but they were not free to disregard it with impunity.
Prof. Meenakshi Jain of Delhi University describes the state of Brahmins during the Muslim Rule in India that, “…. religious ideas and practices underlay the entire social structure and that, as custodians of the sacred tradition, Brahmins were the principal integrating force. This made them the natural target of those seeking to fragment, indeed atomize, Indian Society.”
However, since Hindus and Muslims lived side by side in the same community, resentment against Islam was not ubiquitous. Often Hindu Kings cooperated with Muslim Emperors and placated them with valuable gifts. Some would say that Hindus were either too weak or too submissive to oppose Islam. I would say they were tolerant of Islam because they were ignorant of the motivations of Muslim Invaders. Perhaps, Hindus saw the proliferation of Islam in a different light. For them, Muslims were like any other castes of India; and since there were many castes, having another caste among them was not a major concern. The only other reason for such indifference was interconnection of the society. Indian Muslims having had the same ancestry as Hindus lived in harmony. However, to say that Hindus and Muslims did not fear each at the height of conversion period would be the exaggeration of facts. Sporadic feuds of mild nature irrupted but dissipated without disturbing the balance of the society.
Hindu Muslim Solidarity
Did we have the harmonious relationship because of the strict control of the Rulers or were Hindus and Muslims benevolent towards each other? I hope the later was true because it was in that spirit that we stood by each other for centuries, shared our beliefs=2 0and customs, respected each other’s Gods and Goddesses and fought against the tyranny of the British Empire.
The best example of Hindu Muslim solidarity was the fight for the independence of India. If we cannot forget the sacrifices of Rajguru, Sukhdeo, Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad, we cannot forget the martyrs of 1857 like the sons and grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar who were murdered by Major Hodson after the king's surrender to the British. The hanging ground of Lahore Jail and the Khooni Darwaja of the Red Fort stand as witness that both Hindus and Muslims died for the same cause. If Gandhi and Nehru were our leaders, Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Ajmal Kahn were our leaders too. The British did not kill only Hindus in Jallianwala Bagh, they also massacred many Muslims.
The leaders of both communities demonstrated courage and bravery similarly to liberate India and remained united. Even the Moulanas and Moulvis declared “subjugation unjust and against the tenants of Islam“. Though leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Abbas Tyabji, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Maulana Hussain, Ahmed Madani and Maulana Hifzur Rehman remained united with their colleagues in the Congress, they could not sway the leaders of the Muslim League for a united India.
Start of Hindu Muslim Divide
Mr. Jinnah was the member of the Indian National Congress, recognized as the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity until he joined Muslim League. The turning point of Hindu Muslim relationship was the introduction of Muslim League. The league had only one objective - to create a separate status for Muslims. For all practical purposes, Muslim League had no agenda but to divide India. Unfortunately, it was successful and a separate State of Pakistan was created. .
The creation of Pakistan was based on religion but only a small number of Muslims moved to Pakistan. But, the tragedy that followed the partition of India marred Hindu Muslim accord. The people who sacrificed their life for the freedom became enemy after freedom. One country of brotherhood became two countries of enemies. The country where Hindus and Muslims lived in peace became two countries of enemies. My purpose is not to bash Pakistan at all. I simply wish to address the adherents of the two major religions of India that if they continue to make their faith the flash point of conflicts, they will remain in constant turmoil. On the contrary, they can defend their conflicts - if it is due to religion - without defending the ugly and destructive forces that polarize them and break down their harmony.
By creating a secular society, our leaders had one thing in mind that India was not exclusive to any one religion. They created India for all religions and hoped that it would remain united notwithstanding one’s religious beliefs. However, the partition brought about animosity and dissension between the Hindus and the Muslims of India and the result has been religious polarization. Six decades have elapsed since the independence but Hindus and Muslims have remained apart. Who is responsible for such a divide, who helps create such an ambience, who is behind riots and who benefits from it are the questions for the people to decide but one thing is for sure, if we are unable to coexist we will suffer together and the evils of religion will to continue to cost our destiny.
In pre-independence India, we had only Muslim League and RSS to blame but after the partition, there are many elements both moderates and extremists that effect our lives. The groups affiliated with Muslim Community may think that they represent their communities but the following paragraph “so poignantly illustrates how the leadership of the Indian Muslims has gone off on a tangent and has gone off-track.”
“They have gotten bogged down in locking horns with their adversaries on minor non-issues instead of challenging the mainstream parties, to give them their due share of infrastructure development in their townships, to protect them from rabid sectarian violence, and to stop denying them the benefits of democracy.9 D
Similarly, the extremists of Hindu religion think that they are the guardian of Hindu community but their actions are less than responsible. They are the forerunners of chaos and confusion and perpetrate sectarian violence. We can call them fascist, we can call them Hindu militants or we can brand them as communal organizations but they are not the true reflection of Hindu India.
We are the citizen of a country that has demonstrated to the world that in a peaceful way, we can win the world. But our riots, our communal disharmony and our belligerent relationship demean us in the eyes of the world as if we were all bigots. Of course, we cannot deny that there have been excesses like the demolition of the Babari Masjid and conflicts of Godhra. Likewise, Hindu extremist claim that Ram Mandir was demolished by Babar and Kutub Minar was erected on the site of a Hindu Temple. However, these are the blemishes of the past. How long can we go on fighting over it? In nutshell, if we do not forge alliance for peaceful coexistence, we would keep blaming each other until eternity. The result will be the same, communal riots, internal polarization and hegemony of ignominious leaders. Five Hundred years of Mogul rule in India saw the spread of Islam but Hinduism never considered it a threat. Cannot Muslims and Hindus see e ach other as part of the same creation?
Therefore, it is high time that we end the blame game and move on with our lives for the shake of our posterity and for the well-being of our people. It is not only good for peaceful living it is good for India.
Role of Political leaders
Who is a bad leader and who is not bad is not my purpose; my purpose is to suggest that if the people want peaceful co-existence, they have to keep watchful eye on their leaders. They cannot follow them blindly and cannot as well pawn their intelligence to the poisonous minds of wicked leaders. They have to separate falsehood from the facts before siding with their leaders. Just like British, the egocentric politicians make alliance with communal forces and use treachery and debauchery to misguide their communities and preserve their leadership position.
May I say that the religious zealots are the dreadful advocates of the communities? They propagate hatred to dupe masses and exploit religious fervor to cause unrest? Trusting such leaders is like committing suicide. In fact, every Hindu and Muslim conflict in Modern India has roots in the failure of the leadership because when leaders misuse the emotions of the people, the result is always ugly. The adherents of these two religions have to keep in mind that their well-being depends on harmonious relationship; and unless they are ready to discard the leaders who provoke them, the alternative will always be uncertainty and turmoil.
Secondly, there is need to use rationale before choosing leaders. Religion is not something we can dissect and dissolve to suite our purpose. Religions have traditions and values. We value them without constraint and subscribe to them unconditionally. We do not question nor do we want anybody to question our faith. Faith is what the humanity is based on and faith is what drives peace and prosperity. Nowhere in any religion, there is prescription of iniquity. All religions loathe wickedness, all religions abhor vice and all religions reject injustices. Conversely, the core values of all religions are virtues, fairness and benevolence. The religions I am talking about are close to the hearts and minds of their respective adherents and they have the right to practice their religion the way they see fit without the interference of obdurate leaders.
On the one hand, the leadership of the Muslim Community is distracted and divided, on the other; Muslim clerics have usurped the role political leaders. As political leaders, they have low credibility, as clerics they are accused of mixing religion with politics. What is needed is the emergence of new leader ship that separates religion from politics and demands national reconciliation in the order of what Actor Salman Khan said. He said “he is Indian and Indian Nationalism is his religion”
Let us pray in the name of Allah and Mohammed on one side, Ram, and Krishna on the other that neither our posterity nor we ever face the consequence of religious conflagration. Let us promise that we are Indians and Indian Nationalism is our faith.