Reportedly a young woman was raped in West Uttar Pradesh (UP). After the rape she was converted to the religion of the rapist. There are conflicting versions of the incident. Regardless, it sparked a virtual war of words between different religious communities seeking conversions to their respective religions. The RSS backed Dharm Jagran Vibhag announced intention to launch a mass awareness campaign across UP to counter religious conversions by other communities. The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JuH), the largest body of imams, in a resolution adopted at the end of its two-day conference accused Christians and RSS of trying to convert Muslims. “Preachers… are trying to convert poor Muslims by offering them a better life. They mostly lure them in the net woven of the dreams of better job opportunities, health facility, cash and easy loan.”
One respectfully asks these protagonists how many of their followers are concerned with the spiritual content of their respective religions, and how many only with religious identity issues. It is up to priests of all religions to urge restraint and sense to their respective flocks. Unfortunately priests of all religions seldom do this. Voluntary conversion by a seeker influenced by the teaching of any religion is welcome. But should conversions be engineered through a kind of activity appropriate for politicians? Apart from causing discord and hatred among different religious communities what does such activity achieve? In what way does it genuinely strengthen the religious quality of its members?
In this context the many acknowledged saints and men of God belonging to the Sufi and Bhakti movements in India merit close study. They were part of not too distant history. Arguably they constitute India’s greatest untapped spiritual heritage. These saints recognized no distinction between the Sufi and Bhakti movements. They recognized no distinction between different religions. They extolled the teachings of Krishna, Rama, Jesus, Mohammed, Moses and all those who inspired followers to establish organized religions based on their teachings. Guru Nanak was one of these saints. He did not establish a religion. He preached a message and lived a life. His followers in his memory established the Sikh religion. The teachings contained in scriptures of every religion should not be confused with the conduct of its followers. There is wide divergence between the precept of religious scriptures and the practice of its followers.
The saints belonging to the Sufi and Bhakti movements belonged to all castes, communities and regions. Nanak was a Punjabi Khatri, Kabir was a Muslim weaver from UP, Parma Nand was a Brahmin from Maharashtra, Ravi Das was a Dalit from UP… These saints sought no conversions. Nanak’s closest disciple was Mardana, a Muslim. Rajput princes including the Queen of Chittoragarh were ardent disciples of low caste Ravi Das. These saints were above the conventional social order. They preached self purification through introspection and respected all religions. Should not the story of their lives and teachings be taught in schools? It would promote respect for all religions and genuine secularism.