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Islam and Pluralism ( 23 Feb 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Living Harmoniously in a Religiously Plural Society



By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

The Hindu-Muslim problem has existed for a very long time, since much before 1947. Our leaders tried, in their own ways, to deal with this issue. Finally, two different approaches to this question emerged. One was Mahatma Gandhi’s approach. The other was Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s approach.

Mahatma Gandhi was of the view that the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims were mainly religious in nature, that religious differences, being magnified, assumed the form of conflicts. And so he believed that the solution to this problem was that people should be convinced that, so he argued, there was no distinction really between the different religions—that Islam is a true religion and so is Hinduism. He summarized this understanding of his in the phrase: “Ram and Rahim are One’.

This was no new perspective. 400 years before this, the Mughal Emperor Akbar tried to propagate this view with the help of political power. A well-known scholar, Dr. Bhagwan Das, wrote a voluminous book, wherein he expressed his encyclopedic knowledge of various religions in seeking to prove his point about the fundamental sameness of all religions. Mahatma Gandhi sought to propagate this same view through his enormously popular leadership. A spiritual man like Vinoba Bhave devoted his whole life for this cause. But events tell us that in terms of attaining their stated goal, these efforts did not achieve even 1% success!

The understanding that ‘all religions are true’ is itself a negation of religion. The purpose of religion is to bless man with certainty and conviction. Certainty or conviction requires oneness or singularity, not many-ness. Certainty develops out of faith that just one thing is true. To accept everything as equally true can never engender in a person this feeling or sense of certainty. An instance of this is provided in the life of Mahatma Gandhi himself. He would always explain his position on religion by quoting the phrase ‘Ram and Rahim are One’. But on 30th January 1948, when he was shot at by his assassin, just before he died, the words he uttered were not ‘Hey Ram! Hey Rahim!’, but just ‘Hey Ram!’

You can utter many truths out of diplomacy, but if you have conviction in truth, it will necessarily be in one truth, not many.

The ideology that the phrase ‘All religions are one’ encapsulates is an unreal one, because it is completely impractical. Proponents of this ideology take some surface-level points that are common to all religions, and, on their basis, go about claiming that all religions are identical, that they are one and the same. But the fact is that there are very basic and fundamental differences between the different religions.

Take the case of Islam and Hinduism, for instance. To attempt to prove that these two religions are actually the same on the basis of some similarity in the sounds of the words Ram and Rahim or Nuh and Manu is not an intellectually-sound approach. It is as absurd as claiming that India and Cuba are the same because there are trees in both India and in Cuba, too!  An intellectually appropriate approach would, instead, be to compare the foundational teachings of both religions.

With full confidence, I can say that in my heart I have equal respect for every human being, whether Hindu or Muslim or anyone else. But I certainly cannot say that all religions are one. I definitely cannot claim that the teachings found in the scriptures of one religion are the same as the teachings of the scripture of another religion. This sort of view is not at all intellectually sound, and it is also does not reflect reality as it truly is.

For instance, many Hindus believe in monism, that God is everything, and everything is God. In contrast, Islam is based on Tawheed or monotheism. According to Tawheed, God is separate from His creatures. He is a separate Being. In contrast, in monism there is no understanding of any such separation between the Creator and the creation. Instead, it avers that everything is an expression of a single impersonal Reality. And so there are some monists who would claim—God forbid—that ‘There is no difference G-O-D and D-O-G’.

Likewise, in Islam there is the concept of God’s prophets, while Hinduism has the concept of God taking human form, assuming the form of avatars or incarnations. Islam has the concept of Hell and Heaven after death, while Hinduism talks about reincarnation. And so on.

All of this clearly indicates that the belief that ‘all religions are one’ is not useful in any way at all in promoting harmony between believers in different religions.

Even within a single religion-based community, the fact that all people believe or claim to believe in the same religion is not enough to prevent them from fighting among themselves. In the battle of the Mahabharata, the Kauravas and Pandavas were both, in a sense, Hindus. Yet, they fought a deadly war. Most of the participants in both the First and Second World War were Christians. Despite this, they fought the most bloody wars in history. The rival parties in the civil wars that continue to rage in Afghanistan and some other Muslim countries all claim to follow Islam. Yet, they consider each other as mortal enemies.

The fact is that the solution to the problem of people of different faiths living together is not religious uniformity, but, rather, religious tolerance. To promote harmony between believers in different religions what is needed is not considering others’ religions to be the same as one’s own, but, rather, mutual respect. People must learn to tolerate and respect each other, rather than uselessly trying to prove the specious claim that all religions are one and the same.

If in this regard Mahatma Gandhi’s approach was not useful, the solution that Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah came up with proved tragically counter-productive. Before 1947, the Hindu-Muslim problem in India was a problem between two politically communities, neither of which enjoyed political power, because at that time India was ruled by the British, who, for their political interests, sought to establish a balance between the two communities. But when, on the basis of Mr. Jinnah’s formula, ‘Hindu India’ (India) and ‘Muslim India’ (Pakistan) came into being, the problem that had hitherto been one between two communities became even worse, because it now became a problem between two nation-states. When it had been a conflict between two politically powerless communities, their differences were expressed in the form of rallies and demonstrations. But now it took the form of war and a deadly arms race between two countries, leading, very soon, to a ‘Hindu atom bomb’ and a ‘Muslim atom bomb’!

The fact is that the Partition was in no way an appropriate solution of the Hindu-Muslim problem. The only solution was—and so it still remains—is that both communities should ignore their differences and learn to live together. That is, they must learn to live harmoniously despite their differences.

(This essay is a translation of an extract from Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's Urdu book Hind-Pak Diary)