By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
09 December 2017
The general perception of the Muslims is that Hinduism and Islam are poles apart. The basis of this perception is the external differences in the way of worship in both the religions. Islam believes in unity of God and rejects idol worship while image or idol worship is the main tenet of Hinduism.
But the fact that both Islam and Hinduism are based on divine revelation and in essence both worship the Supreme Being is generally ignored. The foundation of Hinduism is the Vedas comprising of different scriptures revealed to Rishis (prophets) over a long period of time. Islam is also based on the Quran which is a reminder of the messages and commandments revealed to prophet before Muhammad pbuh. The Vedas and the Upanishads sing the glory of the Supreme Being (Nirgun Brahman), the Formless God, the Creator of all. The Mundakya Upanishad VI says:
“He is the lord of all. He is the knower of al. He is the inner Controller. He is the source of everything from Him all beings originate and in the end disappear into Him.”
Vedanta is the theoretical and philosophical part of the Vedas which deals with the Creation and knowledge of the Supreme Being (Brahman). Different parts of the Vedas are ascribed to different Rishis or prophets to whom that part was revealed. About the revelation of the Vedas, Swami Vivekananda has said:
“When you hear that the Rishi (sage) of such and such portion of the Vedas is such and such, do not think that he has written that portion or has created that portion through his own imagination. He is merely a discoverer of the knowledge already existent. That knowledge was latent in this universe since infinity. The Rishi only discovered that knowledge.” 1
From the extract above, it is evident that Hindus do not use the word revelation for the Vedas but believe that the Vedas are not authored by human beings and are divine knowledge revealed to prophets (Rishis) by the Supreme Being, the Brahman.
God in Hinduism and Islam
Hinduism has two concepts of the Supreme Being: Sagun Brahman (Personal God) and Nirgun Brahman (Formless God). Since the ultimate realization of the Supreme Being can be achieved through meditation, the spiritual adept needs to meditate on God by concentrating on Him. To achieve this concentration he needs to conjure the image of a personal God (Sagun Brahman). This concentration on Sagun Brahman leads him to the realization of Nirgun Brahman or the Supreme Being. This concept of Sagun Brahman or personal God represented by an image or idol gave way to idol worship. Initially, this concept of Sagun Brahman was only used by spiritual adepts to acquire concentration but gradually it became common practice and people began to worship idols and idol worship became central to Hinduism. The same can be said about Islam. Many un-Islamic practices have crept in among Muslims which are called Bid’at (innovation) due to wrong or erroneous interpretations of Islamic principles or Quranic verses.
The concept of Sagun Brahman and Nirgun Brahman can also be found in the Quran. The Quran at one point says:
“Nature of God is that upon which He is created man”. (Al Rum: 30)
Here the Quran gives an idea of a personal God (Sagun Brahman). In another verse the Quran says:
“No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things “(Al An’am:103)
Here the Quran gives an idea of Nirgun Brahman who is subtle and formless. However, Islam did not permit the creation of the image of Sagun Brahman. That’s why idol worship did not originate in Islam.
This idea of Fitratallah (Nature of God) helps Sufis to concentrate on God. The Vedanta has three stages of meditation according to degree of concentration and duration of meditation; Dhaaran, Dhyan and Samadhi. The Quran also mentions three stages of realization of truth which comes with deep meditations: Aynal Yaqin, Ilmul Yaqin and Haqqul Yaqin. Indian Sufis took some practices from Vedanta and Hindu scriptures to develop physical and mental faculties that helped them attain greater concentration during meditation. Especially Shattari order introduced Hindu meditation practices into Sufi order. The practices of the Nath Panth, the founder of the Yoga influenced Indian Sufi practices.
Sufism has borrowed a lot from the Advaita philosophy of Vedanta. Non-Dualist philosophy of Vedanta (Advaita Vedanta) gave birth to the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wajood among Muslims. The greatest exponent of this philosophy was Ibn-e-Arabi who had read Bahrul Hayat, an Arabic translation of the Vedantic treatise in Sanskrit called Amrul Kund. The philosophy of Wahdat ul Wujud also preached that only God was real (Wajib ul Wajud) and all the universe including man was only a reflection of the Supreme Being. All creation emanated from him and was a part of God. For example, the waves of an ocean do not have any independent existence out of the ocean. In the same way, man or the universe did not have any independent existence out of God. God is imminent in the universe or is all encompassing.
Though Iqbal was against the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wajud since he considered this philosophy against the principles of Islam, he did not criticize Ibn-e-Arabi because Ibn-e-Arabi brought his arguments in favour of the philosophy from the Quran. The attributional names of God ----- Zahir, Batin, Awwal, Akhir, and so on describe the all pervasive nature of God. Whatever is manifest is God and whatever is hidden or within the creations is God. This concept is in line with the concept of Advaita Vedanta which is summed up in the four Mahavakyas (great statements) of the Upanishad.
1) Aham Brahmasmi (I am God). This can be translated as Anal Haque.
2) Tat twam asi . Thou art That.
3) Ayam Atma Brahma. This indwelling self is Brahman.
4) Praganam Brahma ------ Supreme Knowledge is Brahman.
Thus, Brahman (the Supreme Being) dwells within man and he can attain His knowledge through devotion and meditation.
In Sufism too, Marfat (divine knowledge of the Supreme Being) is attained through meditation and devotion.
God Is Light
God, the Supreme Being, is described as light in the Upanishads. His light shines everywhere and lights up the universe as well as the inner soul of man. K.P. Aleaz writes:
“The Supreme Lord (Parameshvara) is the self-effulgent self (Svayamjyotiratmaiva) and self-effulgent means ‘being’ – Pure Consciousness. The manifestation noticed in the case of all these names, forms, actions and results is caused by the existence of the Light of Brahman. The light of Brahman is implied by the light seen in things born from it. Through the various kinds of effulgence in the effects, it is known that luminosity is intrinsic to Brahman. Whatever, things shine ---- the sun, moon, stars, lightning fore etc --- shine because the Supreme Lord shines.” 2 Now, let’s find out similar concept about God in the Quran. The Quran says, “Allahu Noorus Samawate Wal Arz’. God is the light of the earth and heavens. (Al Nur: 35) It is a long verse and echoes the views present in Vedanta about God as light and His reflection in man and the universe. Another sentence in the same verse says:
Noor un ala Nur (Light upon Light).
The exegetes of the holy Quran have not been able to give satisfactory or acceptable explanations of this beautiful verse in figurative and symbolic language. But when we study the verse in the light of the Bhagavad Gita, the meaning of the Quranic verse becomes crystal clear. ‘Light upon Light’ is ‘Light united to Light’ in Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. When the spiritual adept or Sufi attains union with the Supreme Being, Light present within man is united with Light of Brahman. Swami Mumukshananda in his article “Vedanta Concepts and Application through ‘light united to light’ in the light of Advaita philosophy in the following words:
“ That meditation on God (Sagun Brahman)gradually leads to the realization of Absolute (Nirgun Brahman) is supported in both the Srimad Bhagvatam and the Bhagavad Gita. In the former Shri Krishna tells Uddhav how by starting his meditation on God with form a devotee can realize God as Pure Consciousness simultaneously present within him and all pervading --- as “Light united to light.” In the Bhagavad Gita (XVIII.55) Sri Krishna says to Arjun,, “Through devotion (the devotee) knows Me in reality as to what and who I am. Then having known Me in truth, he enters (Me).3
In Islamic Sufism governed by the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wajud as in Advaita Vedanta, the spiritual adept unites with God through devotion and meditation. Thus Light is united to Light.
The divine light within the Sufi unites with the Supreme Light. The light present inside the devotee is engulfed by the Light of the Supreme self effulgent; all pervasive Being like a candle is guarded by the Fanoos.
Harut and Marut
The Quran mentions the names of two angels called Harut and Marut who possessed the knowledge of sorcery and magic and taught knowledge to those who wanted to learn sorcery and magic only as a test of their faith. In Hinduism, spiritual adepts invoke Marut, one of the angels to attain supernatural powers to work out miracles and do superhuman deeds. The disciples of Shiva, the re-incarnation of Brahma taught Matsyendranath, the founder of Nath Panth the knowledge of attaining supernatural powers. The Yogis of the Nath Pantha had supernatural powers through the practice of Raja Yoga. A Shloka in Matsyendra Samhita is as follows:
Agni Marut Sanyogad Varuna Karmayogatah
Sansiddhi Yogino Dehe Chidme Tat Pradrishyate 4
The sixth Patal (part) of Matsyendra Samhita says that the concentration of mind is of three kinds. One kind of concentration is achieved through concentration on Agni (fire) in association with Marut which leads to achievement of perfect body free from diseases and feeling of hunger, thirst etc. In Upanishads also, a number of hymns are addressed to Maruts. On hymn addressed to Maruts in Rig Veda is as follows:
HYMN XIX. Agni, Maruts.
To this fair sacrifice to drink the milky draught thou art invoked:
O Agni, with the Maruts come.
No mortal man, no God exceeds thy mental power, O Mighty one -
O Agni, with the Maruts come
All Gods devoid of guile, who know the mighty region of mid-air:
O Agni, with those Maruts come.
The terrible, who sing their song, not to be overcome by might:
O Agni, with those Maruts come.
Brilliant, and awful in their form, mighty, devourers of their foes':
O Agni, with those Maruts come.
Who sit as Deities in heaven, above the sky-vault's luminous sphere:
O Agni, with those Maruts come.
Who scatter clouds about the sky, away over the billowy sea:
O Agni, with those Maruts come.
Who with their bright beams spread them forth over the ocean in their might
O Agni, with those Maruts come.
For thee, to be thine early draught, I pour the Soma-mingled meath:
O Agni, with the Maruts com
However, in the Vedas, the Maruts are presented as powerful deities that bring storm and rains and are very aggressive. In the Quran, Harut and Marut are mentioned in Surah Baqarah verse no. 102 as angels who were sent down on earth with the knowledge of sorcery and magic.
Zikr or Jap
Zikr or Jap of the Supreme Being or God is an important part of the spiritual practices of followers of both Hinduism and Islam. Without Zikr or jap one cannot move towards union with God. The Quran enjoins on man to engage in Zikr continuously to attain God’s blessings. There are a number of verses in the Quran to this effect. Some are quoted below:
1) “Bring thy Lord to remembrance in thy (very) soul, with humility and in reverence, without loudness in words, in the mornings and evenings; “ ( Al A’raf: 205)
2) “and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise,- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.”(Al Ahzab: 35)
3) ” The remembrance of Allah (swt) is the greatest (deed)". Quran (Al Ankabut : Verse 45)
According to the verses of the Quran, Zikr is of two kinds: One which is done aloud and the other which is done in a low voice. In Sufism, there is another category of Zikr which is called Sultan ul Azkar. In this Zikr, the Sufi does not chant the names of God aloud or in a low voice but the heart continuously and automatically does the chanting. This Zikr is achieved through strict spiritual discipline and devotion. In Hinduism also, the Jap or Zikr is of three kinds. Bhaskaranand explains the three kinds of Japa in the following words:
“Chanting the holy name or Japa is done in several ways. When it is done audibly by pronouncing the holy name correctly it is called Vachika Japa. When the chanting is done by moving the lips in such a manner that it can be heard only by the chanter and no one else, it is called Apamshu Japa. In the third type of chanting the holy name is repeated mentally without moving the tongue or the lips. This type of silent chanting is called Manasa Jap. Among these, the third one is considered superior to the second and the second is superior to the first.”5
In Hinduism, the devotees or spiritual adepts are also described in different ways according to their attitude to God. The following attitudes are found in Hindu devotees.
1) Shanta attitude – In this attitude, the devotee does not show an intense love for God but he is steady in his devotion to God doing whatever is prescribed to achieve God’s pleasure.
2) Dasya or serving attitude ---- In this attitude, the devote considers himself a servant and God as the Master and obeys what God enjoins him to do. In this relation, a distance is maintained between the servant and the Master.
3) Sakhya or friendly attitude -- In this attitude, the devotee considers God as his friend and expects reciprocation of his love and affection showered on God.
4) Vatsalya or motherly attitude – In this attitude, the devotees’ looks upon God as his child and showers love and affection like a mother.
5) Madhura attitude – In this attitude the devotee looks upon God as his husband and considers himself as his wife. The Bhakti poets come under this category as they celebrate the love of Radha and Krishna in their love for God. They consider God Krishna and himself as Radha.
In Islamic spirituality too, Sufis adopt similar attitude towards God. But more common are serving and friendly attitudes. Generally devotees have Master-servant relationship with God and maintain a distance. Great Sufis attain the relationship of friendship with God. The Quran recognizes them as Auliya or the friends of God.
Prophets and Divine Incarnations
Islam believes in prophets who were raised from among human kind for the social and religious reforms. They spoke the language of the community to which they were raised. Islam believes that one Lakh 24 thousand prophets were sent down on earth. But Hinduism believes that God incarnates Himself on earth to revitalize religion. He is called an Avatara or a divine incarnation. The Srimad Bhagavad speaks of innumerable divine incarnations. Here, Srimada Bhagvatam corroborates Islamic view of many prophets. But Islam does not consider the prophets as incarnations of God but consider them human beings and servants of God. The Vedas also call the prophets Rishis or sages. The Vedas did not call them divine incarnations. However, in later ages, the Rishis were called Adhikari Purusha, men endowed with superhuman powers. The theory of divine incarnation has been explained by Swami Bhaskaranand in the following words:
“God incarnates on earth to fulfill two purposes: (1) to inspire (2) to liberate. He inspires mankind through examples. He willingly takes upon Himself human limitations. Then through intense spiritual practice, He goes beyond them and manifests his spiritual perfections. It should be understood here that as He is perfect from his very birth, the divine incarnation does not really need any spiritual practice to attain perfection. Nevertheless, to inspire others, He goes through various spiritual disciplines and thereby manifests His perfection to set an example for man king.” 6
The above extract explains the phenomenon of the birth of Jesus Christ without father and his subsequent ascent to the Heavens instead of his meeting with natural or unnatural death on earth like a human being. This also explains why a section of Muslims consider Prophet Muhammad pbuh a divine (Nuri) being and not a human being (basher).
Idea of Mental and Physical Purification
Islam lays stress on physical and mental purification. Physical purification can be achieved through bath with water in a prescribed manner. In the absence of water, Tayammum can also be used for purification. In this process one can rub his hands on a lump of soil and then rubbing the hands on the body in the prescribed way. For ablutions also, water or soil can be used in a prescribed manner. Uttering prescribed prayers while doing Wazu wins greater rewards.
But centuries before Islam’s advent, Hinduism laid stress on physical purification by bathing the body with water. In absence of water, the body could be purified by smearing ashes over the body. Matsyendra Samhita describes the process of purification of body in following words:
“The purification of body can be achieved by taking bath in water or with smearing of ashes on body. Detailed description of the actual mode of taking bath has been given. Lord Shiva tells her (Parvati) that bath should be taken in prescribed manner. Different kind of mantras have been suggested which are requested to be uttered at the time of pouring water on the different limbs of the body.” 7
Killing oneself is declared Haram (a great sin) in Islam and those committing suicide will be made to go through severe punishment in the Hereafter. They will be made to commit the suicide in the same way again and again suffering the same pain which they went through while committing suicide. The unnatural death hounds the man in other world and inflicts more pain and suffering. On this count, Hinduism and Islam have almost the same view on suicide.
Beej Akshar and Haroof-E-Muqatta’at
The Quran has many Haroof-e-Muqatta’at in the beginning of 29 Surahs. These letters are said to be possessing great powers. Hinduism also has many Beej Akshars (seed words) that have great powers. One seed word is ‘AUM’. Other seed words are Shreem, Hreem, Kreem, Aim, Dum, Hum and Om Namah Shivaya.
These were some of the similarities in belief and practices in Hinduism and Islam. Since Vedas are the basis of Hinduism which are revealed scriptures, it has many tenets in common with Islam. Since the Quran enjoins on us to stress on the common tenets of different religions to promote multi-religious harmony in the world, a more in-depth study of the similarities between Hinduism and Islam may reveal more striking facts. This brief study is only a small step towards promoting interfaith dialogue.
1. Vedanta by Swami Vivekananda
2. (Vedanta concepts and Application, Ramakrishna Mission Institute, Kolkata)
3. (Vedanta; Concepts and Application)
4. Matsyendra Samhita
5. (Essentials of Hinduism, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai)
6. (Essentials of Hinduism, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai)
7. (Matsyendra Samhita. Page 47)
S. Arshad is a regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com
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