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Religion and Society

Muslims and Hindus: how can they co-exist?

Author: Rafiq Zakaria


Title: Indian Muslims. Where have they gone wrong?


Publisher: Popular Prakashan and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan



The author of this book, Rafiq Zakaria, is a Muslim who remained in India. He wanted the country to remain undivided after the British left. Had this taken place, the Muslims would have made up 33% of the population. So he opposed the theory that Hindus and Muslims were two nations. Rafiq and other Muslims failed to keep India united in 1947 and Pakistan was cut out of India, one part to the west of India and one to the east. The latter (separated from the western part by 1,000 miles of India) later became the independent Republic of Bangladesh in 1971.



The Hindus in India resented this division. But as Rafiq and other Muslims who remained in India had foreseen, Indian Muslims encountered (and still today feel) the hostility of Hindus, although they were not to blame for the partition. What is worse today is that traditional Hindu tolerance has been changed by small but vociferous and violent groups into hatred and intolerance towards Muslims, as well as their persecution. Organisations such as HinduMahasabha, Rashtriya, Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Banjrang Dal have all grown over the years and have an anti-Muslim agenda. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is sympathetic towards these militant Hindu parties.



So what should Muslims in India do now given that they have failed to keep the country united? Rafiq thinks they should not retaliate. Instead, he advocates dialogue with Hindus in order to dispel their misconceptions, which, indeed, should be corrected. Those misconceptions, in Rafiq's view, are that:



1. Islam encourages the destruction of idols.


2. The Koran permits destruction of places of worship.


3. Islam does not allow freedom of worship.


4. Islam believes only in the brotherhood of Muslims and not in universal brotherhood.


5. The Koran does not recognise the great wise men born in India.


6. Islam does not encourage Muslims to be loyal to a country in which they are in a minority.


7. Islam treats Hindus as Kafirs (non-believers).


8. Islam enjoins Muslims to wage perpetual war (jihad) against Kafirs


9. According to Islam, Muslims and non-Muslims are not to be treated equally by the state, as demonstrated by the jizya (tax) on non-Muslims.


10. Islam allows polygamy.



The problem is complicated by the fact that although Rafiq quotes verses from the Koran against all the above ten 'misconceptions', there are other Muslims (both inside and outside India) who quote verses from the Koran to support these 'misconceptions'.



So Rafiq defends his view by saying two things: firstly, that those verses from the Koran which seem to support these notions should not be read in isolation but rather in the light of the fundamental teaching of Islam, and secondly that these precepts are rooted in a specific socio-historical context and cannot be blindly and dogmatically applied to today's society. He believes that these 'misconceptions' handed down as the legacy of Islam is what historical Islam, especially through the acts of commission and omission of some Muslim rulers, have clothed it with. For Rafiq, this legacy has no religious sanction.



The author rejects terrorism as anti-Islamic and shows how Indian Muslims have to suffer because of the identification of their religion with terrorism. As regards the vexed question of Kashmir, he feels it is a part of India and argued vehemently at the United Nations that this is the case. This led Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then foreign minister of Pakistan, to walk out of the session calling Rafiq a 'traitor'.



So how are the Muslims in India to survive given that Pakistan and Bangladesh took away two-thirds of the Muslims of pre-independence India? Rafiq has one answer: education. He shows how minorities survived everywhere in history because of education. His main example is the Jews, who have the highest number of Nobel Prize winners because of their stress on education. He does not advocate begging the government for favours and privileges. When these are promised by politicians (even Muslim Indians) they are seldom, if ever, kept. Even the reports of government committees, produced to recommend improvements in the status of Muslims, have not been implemented.


Rafiq's last chapter (section twelve of the book) quotes the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka (who ruled 273-232 B.C.). Ashoka declared (Rock Edicts 7 and 8):


'King Priyadarsi (Ashoka), beloved of the Gods, wishes that all religious sects should live harmoniously in all parts of his dominions. In fact, all of them desire to achieve self-control and purity of thought. People, however, are of diverse inclinations and diverse passions. They will perform either the whole or only a part of their duty. However, even if a person practices great liberality but does not posses self-control, purity of thought, gratitude and firm devotion, he is quite worthless.



King Priyadarsi, beloved of the Gods, honours men of all religious communities with gifts and with honours of various kinds, irrespective of whether they are ascetics or householders. But the Beloved of the Gods does not value either the offering of gifts or the honouring of people so highly as the following, viz., that there should be a growth of the essentials of dharma among men of all sects.



And the growth of the essential of dharma is possible in many ways. But its root lies in restraint in regard to speech which means that there should be no extolment of one's own sect or disparagement of others sects on inappropriate occasions. On the contrary, other sects should be duly honoured in every way on all occasions.



If a person acts in this way, he not only promotes his own sect but also benefits other sects. But, if a person acts otherwise, he not only injures his own sect but also harms other sects. Truly, if a person extols his own sect or disparages others' sects with a view to glorifying his sect, owing merely to his attachment to it, he injures his own sect very severely by acting in that way. Therefore, restraint in regard to speech is commendable, because people should learn and respect the fundamentals of each other's dharma.


This, indeed, is the desire of the Beloved of the Gods: that persons of all sects become well-informed about the doctrines of different religions and acquire pure knowledge. And those who are attached to their respective sects should be informed as follows: 'the Beloved of the Gods does not value either the offering of gifts or the honouring of people so highly as the following, viz., that there should be a growth of the essentials of dharma among men of all sects'."



With this Magna Carta of tolerance, Ashoka managed to unite almost the whole of India. Rafiq regrets the fact that intolerance has divided it into several parts, with religious, sects, castes and classes further divided among themselves. He quotes Indian poets and religious leaders, both Hindus and Muslims, who advocate unity and harmony. Though the present situation of conflict makes this sound like a dream, Rafiq strives to make it a reality and encourages others (both Hindus and Muslims) to work together to achieve it.