Continued from “Playing to the Gallery”
Napoleon was wrong when he said that kids must be taught history to enable them to learn from the past mistakes of nations. As history unerringly demonstrated, as a grown-up, man tends to grouse about the perceived wrongs of the past instead of learning from the wrongs of the history.
The history of man, as taught by the Torah, inculcated a sense of injustice in the collective Arab consciousness that was captured by Edward Gibbon thus:
“They pretend that, in the division of the earth, the rich and fertile climates were assigned to the other branches of the human family; and that the posterity of the outlaw Ishmael might recover, by fraud or force, the portion of inheritance of which he had been unjustly deprived…. If a Bedoween discovers from afar a solitary traveler, he rides furiously against him, crying, with a loud voice, “Undress thyself, thy aunt (my wife) is without a garment. A ready submission entitles him to mercy; resistance will provoke the aggressor, and his own blood must expiate the blood which he presumes to shed in legitimate defense.”
To this sense of Arab self-righteousness to plunder, the Quran accords it the religious sanction through the verses of ‘Spoils of War’.
“They ask thee (O Muhammad) of the spoils of war. Say: The spoils of war belong to Allah and the messenger, so keep your duty to Allah, and adjust the matter of your difference, and obey Allah and His messenger, if ye are (true) believers.”
Thus, by a quirk of destiny, in Muhammad’s war against the idols, the Quranic creed of Islam and the mundane agenda of his warriors made a common cause. When the flag of Islam was finally hoisted on the Kabah, the progeny of Ishmael became a nation of the Musalmans. Besides, the old Bedoween resentment gave way to the Zeal of the Musalman even as the Arab greed for plunder underlined the agenda of aggression.
It was thus, the might of the Arab tribes, hitherto misdirected in internecine quarrels, was to become the force of Islam that dared the world to undo the historical wrong done to Ishmael. The capabilities of succeeding Caliphs and the Paradise of wine and women that Muhammad had promised the jihadis provided the cutting edge to the Islamic swords. Thus, in time, as considerable part of the old world fell prostrate at the feet of the Musalmans, the posterity of Ishmael had had their revenge after all.
For years thereafter, the Arabs, the deprived race of Ishmael, ensconced in the conquered lands, went about their life as though to compensate for the lost generations. What is more, they had ensured to make the subdued peoples of the conquered lands the servants of their God. After all, Ishmael could have had the last laugh as his progeny planted Islam in the rich and fertile climates that were unjustly denied to him. At last, his tormented soul could have rested in peace, when, in the end, the Musalmans hoisted the flag of Islam in Jerusalem itself!
However, the hatred for the idols that Muhammad inculcated in his believers, though as a tool to conquer Mecca eventually, fetched the highest dividends for Islam in the landmass of India. Mahmud Ghazni, who opened the gates of India to the faith of Muhammad, would have had no reason to think of it at all, if not for the riches of its temples that the Hindu Deities of theirs occasioned. Alberuni might have had a correcting influence on Ghazni’s mind regarding the so-called Hindu idol worship had he preceded him. And then, perhaps, the subsequent Indian history would have been less vicious! It is interesting to note Alberuni’s observations regarding the religious beliefs and the philosophical orientation of the Hindus around the turn of the eleventh century.
“The main and most essential point of the Hindu world of thought is that which the Brahmans think and believe, for they are specially trained for preserving and maintaining their religion.”
“Since, however, here we have to explain the system and the theories of the Hindus on the subject (idol worship), we shall now mention their ludicrous views; but we declare at once that they are held only by the common uneducated people. For those who march on the path to liberation, or those who study philosophy and theology, and who desire abstract truth which they call sara, are entirely free from worshipping anything but God alone, and would never dream of worshipping an image manufactured to represent him. A tradition illustrative of this is that which Saunaka told the king Pariksha in these words:
“There was once a king called Ambarisha, who had obtained an empire as large as he had wished for. But afterwards he came to like it no longer; he retired from the world, and exclusively occupied himself with worshipping and praising God for a long time. Finally, God appeared to him in the shape of Indra, the prince of the angels, riding on an elephant.
He spoke to the king: “Demand whatever you like, and I will give it you.”
The king answered: “I rejoice in seeing thee, and I am thankful for the good fortune and help thou hast given; but I do not demand anything from thee, but only from him who created thee.’
Indra said: “The object of worship is to receive a noble reward. Realize, therefore, your object, and accept the reward from him from whom hitherto you have obtained your wishes, and do not pick and choose, saying, ‘not from thee, but from another.’”
The king answered: “The earth has fallen to my lot, but I do not care for all that is in it. The object of my worship is to see the Lord, and that thou canst not give me. Why, therefore, should I demand the fulfillment of my desire from thee?”
Indra said: “The whole world and whoever is upon it are obedient to me. Who are you that you dare to oppose me?”
The king answered: “I, too, hear and obey, but I worship him from whom thou hast received this power, who is the lord of the universe, who has protected thee against the attacks of the two kings, Bali and Hiranyaksha. Therefore let me do as I like, and turn away from me with my farewell greeting.”
Indra said: “If you will absolutely oppose me, I will kill you and annihilate you.”
The king answered; “People say that happiness is envied, but not so misfortune. He who retires from the world is envied by the angels, and therefore they will try to lead him astray. I am one of those who have retired from the world and entirely devoted themselves to worship, and I shall not give it up as long as I live. I do not know myself to be guilty of a crime for which I should deserve to be killed by thee. If thou killest me without any offence on my part, it is thy concern. What dost thou want from me? If my thoughts are entirely devoted to God, and nothing else is blended with them, thou art not able to do me any harm. Sufficient for me is the worship with which I am occupied, and now I return to it.”
As the king now went on worshipping, the Lord appeared to him in the shape of a man of the grey lotus color, riding on a bird called Garuda, holding in one of the four hands the sankha, a sea-shell which people blow when riding on elephants; in the second hand the chakra, a round, cutting orbicular weapon, which cuts everything it hits right through; in the third an amulet, and in the fourth padma, i.e. the red lotus. When the king saw him, he shuddered from reverence, prostrated himself and uttered many praises. The lord quieted his terrified mind and promised him that he should obtain everything he wished for.
The king spoke: “I had obtained an empire which nobody disputed with me; I was in conditions of life not troubled by sorrow or sickness. It was as if the whole world belonged to me. But then I turned away from it, after I had understood that the good of the world is really bad in the end. I do not wish for anything except what I now have. The only thing I now wish for is to be liberated from this fetter.”
The Lord spoke: “That you will obtain by keeping aloof from the world, by being alone, by uninterrupted meditation, and by restraining your senses to yourself.”
The king spoke: “Supposing that I am able to do so through that sanctity which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me, how should any other man be able to do so? For man wants eating and clothing, which connects him with the world. How is he to think of anything else?”
The Lord spoke: “Occupy yourself with your empire in as straightforward and prudent a way as possible: turn your thoughts upon me when you are engaged in civilizing the world and protecting its inhabitants, in giving alms, and in everything you do. And if you are overpowered by human forgetfulness, make to yourself an image like that in which you see me; offer to it perfumes and flowers and make it a memorial of me, so that you may not forget me. If you are in sorrow, think of me; if you speak, speak in my name; if you act, act for me.”
Again on the idol worship itself Alberuni’s had this to say:
“ … that such idols are erected only for uneducated low-class people of little understanding; that the Hindus never made an idol of any supernatural being, much less of God; and, lastly, to show how the crowd is kept in thralldom by all kinds of priestly tricks and deceits. Therefore the book Gita says: “Many people try to approach me in their aspirations through something which is different from me; they try to insinuate themselves into my favor by giving alms, praise, and prayer to something besides me. I, however, confirm and help them in all these doings of theirs, and make them attain the object of their wishes, because I am able to dispense with them.”
On the subject of idol worship Alberuni’s views as follows are worth noting by Muslims who tend to revere, if not worship, the symbols of Islam:
“It is well known that the popular mind leans towards the sensible world, and has an aversion to the world, of abstract thought which is only understood by highly educated people, of whom in every time and every place there are only few. And as common people will only acquiesce in pictorial representations, many of the leaders of religious communities have so far deviated from the right path as to give such imagery in their books and houses of worship, like the Jews and Christians, and, more than all, the Manichaeans.
These words of mine would at once receive a sufficient illustration if, for example, a picture of the Prophet were made, or of Mekka and the Ka’bah, and were shown to an uneducated man or woman. Their joy in looking at the thing would bring them to kiss the picture, to rub their cheeks against it, and to roll themselves in the dust before it, as if they were seeing not the picture, but the original, and were in this way, as if they were present in the holy places, performing the rites of pilgrimage, the great and the small ones.”
Contrast this with what we have now. The Quran is not only venerated as the Holy Quran, but also handled reverentially in book form by every Musalman and his woman! The pictures of the Kabah adorn the walls of every Muslim home and business establishment! When it comes to Muhammad, it is hero-worshiping all the way, more fervent than any idol-worshipping ever. Besides, Muhammad’s name in Islamic print must be obligatorily suffixed with pbhu, the short form of ‘Peace Be Upon Him’. For whatever that might suggest to the Musalmans, the skeptics would feel that given the strife in his life the practice could be apt.
Continued to "Pitfalls of Faith"