Jan 29, 2023
Jan 29, 2023
by BS Murthy
Puppets of Faith: Theory of Communal Strife
A critical appraisal of Islamic faith, Indian polity ‘n more
During the middle of the 1st Century A.D, St. Thomas reached India’s west coast of Malabar to establish the Church of the Christ, and having succeeded in cementing the Syrian Christian Order there, the evangelist moved on to Madras, now Chennai, to spread the message of the Gospel. However, the temper of the Tamilians ensured a hostile reception to his missionary zeal, and his persistence to proselytize them regardless had ended in his martyrdom for the Christianity. And after that, all was calm and quiet on the Indian religious front till the Buddhist Sind was painted Islamic green by the hand of bin Qasim in the early 8th Century.
Notwithstanding Ghazni’s sack of Somnath, religious status quo still held good in Hindustan till the end of the 12th Century, when the sword of Allah wielded by Muhammad Ghuri firmly grounded the religion of the Arabs in the soil of the Arya Varta by enabling his lieutenant to establish the slave dynasty in Delhi. Thus was heralded the Muslim rule in India that was to last till the British signed off Bahadurshah Zafar the Last Mogul in the mid 19th Century.
While the oppressive Hindu phenomenon of untouchability worked well for the religion of the Arabs, it was as much the ‘social oppression’ as the ‘religious denial’ that would have made these outcastes feel, as if they were living in a no-man’s land in Hindustan. Moreso in Bengal, so it seems, where in droves, they had embraced the alien faith of the Islam that came with an odd cultural baggage of Arabia, which in the end assumed the proportions of a near exodus into the Muhammadan arena. After all, while the caste Hindus denied the outcastes their gods by keeping them at arm’s length from their mandirs, the Muslamans were prepared to share with them the precincts of their masjids for common prayers for Allah Ta’ala’s grace. This caste Hindu refusal to share even one amongst their pantheon of gods with the outcastes of Arya Varta, made the latter, as latter-day Musalmans, to shoulder the Islamic urge to grab its ‘land wings’ for Pakistan. Oh, what shortsightedness of Hindu pigheadedness!
Thus, by the time the political prop came to the Missionaries of the Christ in the form of the East India Company, in the late 18th Century, the homes of most of the disgruntled outcasts and vulnerable Hindus and / or both, were firmly in the Islamic tent. Even otherwise, the bottom line of the alien religious appeal to the populace of Hindustan is that Islam and the Christianity could only impinge upon the fringes of its polity, that too when the rulers belonged to the respective religious dispensations. After all, this is understandable since man tends to weigh the temporal advantages more than the spiritual benefits when it comes to embracing a new religion, and depending on the state of evolution in a given society or commune, the factors that prompt one’s conversion change from time to time.
Nonetheless, as East India Company and later the British Viceroys were interested more in commercial exploitation than in religious conversions, the evangelists could not harvest as many souls, as Pope John Paul II had paraphrased it in recent times, as they would have loved to. Yet the Christianity made its Indian mark in remarkable ways, more so being instrumental in introducing secular education that ushered in social reengineering in an otherwise stagnant Hindu society, the sad relic of a once vibrant Upanishadic polity. Eventually though, what with so much reformist water having flowed down the untouchable bride, of course, pumped by the western educated Hindus leading up to the independence struggle and beyond, the caste color of Hindustan began to acquire a new shade albeit imperceptibly.
It was only time before modernism became the new mantra of upward mobility, and the western education, the preferred route to social savvy in the Indian society, but as Islam is conceptually antagonistic to both, at last, it lost its erstwhile sway over even among the disaffected harijans, nay dalits, who, instead, tended to seek the Standard of the Christ as a benign brand equity. Thus, it is no wonder that the Christian salvation had become the natural selection for the Hindu fringes, if only seduced with the right inducements from the Catholic Church.
Nevertheless, unlike the Brahmanical indifference of yore to those unabated conversions into Islam, the Hindu mood of the day is in no mood to brook the compulsive Christian urge to proselytize, by means fair or foul. This justifiable Hindu resentment against the Christian zeal to convert others into its religious creed had unfortunately led to unjustifiable atrocities on the evangelists on occasion.
All said and done the so-called revealed religions that supposedly preach the pure message, or purportedly show the straight path, have failed to touch the mainstream of the Hindu polity. And that is in spite of the unceasing efforts of their proselytizers and the presence of their converts in their midst for a millennium! It is thus, the surprising resistance of the Hindu dharma to the dogma of Semitic religions, unlike the political capitulation of India to foreign forces, would be worth probing for the fault lines in the proselytizing faiths.
The assumption of the Christians is that only the Gospel could enable man’s salvation, and that Jesus, the Son of God, only could intervene on behalf of man on the Day of Reckoning. The novel path of salvation through the Christianity that Jesus showed would have surely excited the Christian missionaries, and their desire to share their noble creed with the others is unexceptionable. But for the Christians to imagine that there could be no salvation sans their God’s Son betrays the credulity of their minds at best, and their ignorance of the Hindu philosophy’s sophistication at worst. It is a different matter though, that for the orthodox Jews, Jesus was a Judaic renegade, and for the idolatrous Arabs, Muhammad was but a deviant, and so on, which brings to the fore the fallacy of prophetic glorification.
Though it was the unwavering belief in Jesus that enabled the Christian missionaries, in spite of centuries of persecution, to spread his word on the continent and elsewhere that kept the Christianity alive to start with, the eclipse of the Greco-Roman Gods in the heart of the Roman Empire at its expense was achieved more through the conversion of Emperor Constantine than by the miracles of the Son of God and his anointed Saints. Whatever, this Christian conviction of salvation coupled with the mistaken belief that the Hindu souls were languishing for want of the message from the Messiah, which could have brought St. Thomas to the Malabar Coast half a century after Jesus had died on the Cross.
On the contrary, with the sword of Allah in one hand and Muhammad’s Quran in the other, the Caliphs of Islam set out to pillage the world with an army of zealots, who had their eyes on plunder or Paradise, and / or both. Whatever, it was the good fortune of Islam, and the misfortune of its adversaries, that its adherents encountered little or no resistance from the nations of the world, by then exhausted after centuries of wars, to spread its wings all across. Oh, how one religion’s food had turned out to be other religions’ poison!
If the credo of the Christianity is courting other religious souls in covetous ways, the creed of the Musalman has been to turn the kafirs of the world into servants of their God, and by extension admirers of their prophet. After the destruction of the idols of the Arabia, the mandirs of India that the Musalmans might have heard about should have raised their hopes of mundane plunder, even as they would have outraged their religious sensitivity. Muhammad’s allergy for the idols at the Kabah was to turn out, some three centuries later, to be the nightmare of the Hindu deities in their resplendent mandirs. The anecdote quoted by M J Akbar in ‘The Shade of the Swords’, published by Roli Books, is illustrative.
“The story of the Muslim conquest of central India may have begun with a misunderstanding: one man’s pronunciation can become another man’s poison. The three most revered pagan goddesses of pre-Islamic Mecca were Al Lat, Al Uzza, and Manat, denounced in the Quran as false deities and the source of the infamous controversy about the alleged ‘Satanic Verses’. According to an old belief, when the Prophet smashed the idols of the Kaaba, the image of Manat was missing: it had been secreted away, and sent in a trading ship to a port-town in India called Prabhas, which imported Arab horses. According to this belief, idol-worshippers built a temple to Manat, and renamed the place So-Manat, or Somnath. The warrior king Mahmud, who built an empire from the Afghan city of Ghazni, waged the first jihad in the heart of India. His most famous raid was the one in which he destroyed the idol at Somnath and carried away enough booty to appease avarice.”
However, the very fact that Mahmud raided the temples of Mathura, Thanesar and Kannauj before plundering Somnath would leave one wondering whether it was not a Muslim rationalization of the gruesome killing of over ‘fifty thousand’ souls, possibly, including a thousand Brahman priests, in the temple of So-Manat? But, what is relevant is the reported hope of Mahmud that once the idol of Somnath was captured and destroyed, the Hindus would become Muhammadans, a la Meccans. But, that didn’t happen, and as though to signify the symbolism of Somnath to the Hindu ethos, even the secular government of Nehru’s India thought it fit that the temple should be rebuilt.
What was in the Hindu dharma that soured St. Thomas’ dream to proselytize the polity and belied Mahmud’s hopes to see a Muslim India? The logical and rational answer would be that the Hindus are neither heathens as assumed by the Christians nor are they idolaters as presumed by the Musalmans. On the other hand, as against the single-scripture wisdom of the Abrahamic Orders and the dogmas of their prophets, the Hindu sanaatana dharma is a spiritual way of life with an imbibed philosophical ethos that is steeped in deep-rooted culture and tradition. Thus, in terms of reach and approach, the straight but narrow paths of Judaism, the Christianity, not to speak of Islam, appear like by-lanes of bigotry compared to the Highway of Hindu Spirituality, exemplified by the dictum of vasudhaiva kutumbakam – (world is one family).
However, the irony of Hinduism is that this laudable premise was neither passed on to the outside world, and what is worse, nor put in practice in its homeland either, if not why were there those untouchables and the downtrodden in the Hindu backyard? After all, notwithstanding their hallowed precepts, doublespeak and double standards seem to be the common features of all the religions. Just the same, while the Semitic religions are faith driven, the sanaatana dharma is philosophical in its orientation, and that enables the Hindus to probe the vicissitudes of life unbound by any scriptural dogma. And this has always been the strength of Hinduism notwithstanding its Achilles’ heel of caste discrimination for possible course correction, all by itself, which, in time, led to the birth of the likes of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
It is in this context that the Roberto Baggio episode is to be seen. The Italian footballer, dejected as he was owing to his penalty goof-up that cost his country the World Cup, reportedly turned to Buddhism for solace for he felt that the Christian dogma had no philosophical inputs in it to face of the vicissitudes of life. That Jesus died for the sinners won’t help his faithful in any way to handle their own predicaments. After all, the feature of the Semitic religious faiths is the dogmatic belief sustained by habit while spirituality epitomizes the search for the self in this world and beyond.
Whatever others might think of the Hindus of the day, their forebears once believed, as Americans do now, as Alberuni observed that,
“there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs”.
If anything, as and when the hoped-for Hindu renaissance does take place, the tag of three thousand years old culture would be added to the above in their Hall of Fame.
Herein lay the Christian inability to proselytize India and the Muslim failure to attract the caste Hindus into the Islamic fold.
W. W. Hunter, aided by the Gibbonian insight, throws light on the nature of the mono and polytheism in The Indian Musalmans, published by Rupa & Co, India, thus:
“Yet many English Officers have gone through their service with a chronic indignation against the Muhammadan for refusing to accept the education which we have tried to bring to every man’s door. The felicity with which the rest of the population acquiesced in it made this refusal more odious by contrast. The plaint Hindu knew no scruples, and we could not understand why the Muhammadan should be troubled with them. But the truth is, that we overlooked a distinction as old as the religious instinct itself, the distinction which in all ages and among all nations has separated polytheism from the worship of One God. Polytheism, by multiplying the objects of its followers’ adoration, divides its claims on their belief.
What Gibbon finely said of the Greeks, applies at this moment with more than its original force to the Hindus: ‘Instead of an indivisible and regular system which occupies the whole extent of the believing mind, the mythology of the Greeks was composed of a thousand loose and flexible parts, and the servant of the gods was at liberty to define the degree and measure of his religious faith.’ The Muhammadans have no such licence. Their creed demands an absolute, a living, and even an intolerant belief; nor will any system of Public Instruction, which leaves the religious principle out of sight, ever satisfy the devout follower of Islam.”
Why not, the caste Hindus, prone to be biased against those borne into the so-called lower castes, yet are not abhorrent of the lesser gods worshipped by them, though they themselves ascribe no divinity to these minor deities that dubbed as kshudra devataas. While that portrays the religious tolerance of the Hindus to differing faiths, sadly it betrays their cultural intolerance towards the deprived fellow-human beings, upon which the Islam and the Christianity, espousing an egalitarian doctrine, had made inroads into the Indian religious milieu.
Yet, it is the paradox of the Semitic faiths in that while vouching for the selfsame God, who is believed to have enshrined the Torah, inspired the Gospel and gave the Quran, it was the Christians that ran the Crusades against the Musalmans, who had earlier oppressed the Jews. While the unfortunate Jews suffered again at the Christian hands in the European lands in several pogroms before the Holocaust, given the Hindu tolerance for other religious dispensations, it was in India that they could breathe easy without let or hindrance pursuing their faith; which fact was gratefully acknowledged by the modern state of Israel.
But when it comes to the peoples of the Books, though all of them repose their faith in the selfsame God but as the dogmas of their cults vary, they tend to be at each others’ throats, and in what can be said as the acme of the Abrahamic religious intolerance, the Ahmadias ‘n Shias of Pakistan and the Shias of Iraq have come to suffer at the Sunni hands as the worst victims of the Islamic dogma.
Wish the Semitic scriptures contained some philosophy as well!
Continued to "India in Coma"
More by : BS Murthy
With regard to your following comments, I may say that
1) Christ, by contrast, for all His claims to Divinity and the promise of eternal life, dies, yes, but rises from the dead, providing substantial proof of a life after death for His followers. - Its just a belief and its just that.
2) Thus, in Christianity the highest ideal of philosophy is a mundane fact, and given the simple facts, makes of all philosophical approaches to God a complete waste of time. It 's a fantastic statement.
3) It is apparent Mohammed did not expect converts from the other two faiths, hence his magnanimous accommodation of them in the Koran, a tolerance bequeathed to Muslim rulers in the course of history, at least in theory. - One need not go beyond the quotes from the Quran and hadith and sunna contained in the chapters of this book to know that the facts are contrary to your magnanimity to Mohammad.
|Arguably, the success of Christianity as a cult was acceptance within the Roman Empire under the Emperor Constantine, who claimed a miraculous victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 302, wherein it acquired a temporal purchase in becoming part of the establishment. I say, arguably, because in establishment lay the seeds of worldly corruption that was to later occasion the scandal of its division. Christianity became an imperial phenomenon that gave its founder, Jesus Christ, an indelibly western imperial image.|
Jesus might well be a fair-skinned Jew, the ancestry of the Jews being sourced in Mesopotamia, modern Iraq. If Jesus is accepted by the dark-skinned peoples of Asia, Africa and native America, it is on His merits, with white skin as baggage; not merely white skin, but the European imperial image of Christianity. Over the centuries, this proved to be the alienating factor in those non-European countries, including India, reacting to Christianity as an imported imperial western cult; and that one had to in some sense defer to that culture, even change one's name to a 'Christian' form, to fit in. In the Indian state of Goa, Catholic Portuguese rule acculturated the local people to such a degree as to their acquiring Portuguese names, and this as a badge of their Catholic faith and westernised (civilised) culture.
It is evident that Christianity was a cult Mohammed felt excluded, even alienated from. His perception of Jesus as a prophet but not the Son of God gives an insight into his perception of the by now centuries presence of Christianity. Six hundred years is a long time; it is less than five hundred years since Shakespeare’s day to the present. Christianity was evidently not the answer to the idolatry of the Arab tribes. In himself taking up the cause of monotheism, Mohammed, I feel must have been inspired by Christ. His denial of Christ’s divinity is yet protective of Christ’s honour as a prophet, the latter apparently wronged by the overstated claims of His own worshipping followers. In converting the Arabs, he, Mohammed, would succeed where Christ had failed, and in doing so verify his stance as the messenger of the same God, but of a new people who would ostensibly do God’s bidding where the others, the Jews and Christians, had failed.
When Islam was exported it suffered the same fate as Christianity. Both have their following in countries world-wide, but both stylised by imperial cultural forms by which they are identified and correspondingly diminished. Hinduism is an indigenous cultural form, a distinct way of life. In most foreign missions, the policy in the Catholic Church to present Christ or the Blessed Virgin as local types goes some way towards emphasising the latter’s identification with the people.
The confinement of Christ to a cultural image is something that contradicts the identity of Christ as the Saviour of mankind. His message was simple, extended to all men, to believe in Him and be saved: that He was the Resurrection and the Life. These are momentous statements, but when put in the context of a foreign culture, they become statements of cultural domination.
Christ’s own reply to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ says it all in respect of His followers in all cultural settings; but to most of them this is the ultimate destiny, that is rationalised into forms of living this life to the full backed by other sayings of Christ, particularly about the obligation to use one’s talents, which would effectively back the protestant ethic of material success through honest endeavour as a Christian obligation.
Hinduism, I think we will both agree, makes no claims to be a revealed religion, but in fact makes claim to be enlightened through philosophy. There is no philosophy in revealed religion, except as theology, where ideas of God’s nature are in any case derived from what is revealed, in the case of the Trinity, by Christ’s own recorded allusions to the Father and the Holy Spirit and His relationship to them. Hinduism, as philosophy, is a human idea of the ultimate reality of God, even identified with himself in the Atman. This is pure conjecture, but made real by the sublimity of the philosophy, which becomes identified as a faith – in other words, forgets it is not divinely inspired, whence it calls the human mind ultimately divine. The divinising of man by man is reconciled in the accommodation of death as merely a phase in something that is in transit to a state of enlightenment where it merges with the Atman. Again, pure conjecture, but philosophically sound, and therein transformed to 'reality'.
Christ, by contrast, for all His claims to Divinity and the promise of eternal life, dies, yes, but rises from the dead, providing substantial proof of a life after death for His followers. Thus, in Christianity the highest ideal of philosophy is a mundane fact, and given the simple facts, makes of all philosophical approaches to God a complete waste of time.
In relation to the other two revealed religions, Judaism and Islam, both ironically, with Christianity, claiming the same source of revelation, it is that Christ is the fulfilment of Judaism, as He made pains to emphasise in His teaching. Islam is inspired by both Judaism and Christianity, but distinctly a breakaway creed, and makes out to excel both religions in the historical failure of the followers of the other two to do God’s bidding: this as a premise that had, after all, yet to be tested! The Koran is God’s word of exhortation to man (Arabs) to obey and prevail, but as done, as if it is the final word. In this it is exactly similar to that of the God of the Old Testament, but blames the Jews as incapable, where the followers of Islam are presumed, nay, guaranteed capable. The temporal fortunes of the Islamic movement further guarantees its claims – to itself. Allah is intolerant of all disobedience, and keeps up a sustained threat of hellfire for default. Thus Islam becomes an historical stream of consciousness in its own right.
It is apparent Mohammed did not expect converts from the other two faiths, hence his magnanimous accommodation of them in the Koran, a tolerance bequeathed to Muslim rulers in the course of history, at least in theory. Islam was providential in its accomplishment of monotheistic faith, but the idea of God reverts to a judgmental wrathful Old Testament one, with the irritating attribute of referring to Himself as the All Compassionate. The Christian idea of God was preached as a loving Father, and as a consequence, there was much more of an attitude of forgiveness, of genuine compassion, towards mankind, expressed most fully in the life, death and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of sinners. Mark 2:17 records: On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."