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Islam and Hinduism: Spiritual Symbiosis - Part 1



By Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam

09 August, 2014

Islam and Hinduism have lived in India together for almost 14 centuries. The first 13 as excellent neighbours. “Love thy neighbour, for he is yourself”, said the Vedas. The Quran agreed: “do good - to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer” (An-Nisa 4.36). 

But the 20th century changed all that. As a result of the British colonial Divide-and-Rule policy, the country witnessed growing disaffection, culminating in partition at the time of Independence from colonial rule and periodic outbursts of unimaginable savagery on the part of both the communities.

This disastrous trend is continuing, infecting hitherto unaffected sections in rural areas and the South of India, apart from the previously affected East, West and North of India. We may lose the 21st century, too, to the forces of disintegration and chaos unless we rediscover the spiritual symbiosis that kept the two communities in near-perfect harmony for such a long time.

As most readers already have a fairly good idea of the catholicity of spirit, broadmindedness and the holistic approach of Hinduism, I would take up the issue of rediscovering what I consider a symbiotic spiritual relationship between the two great religions largely from an Islamic perspective. It is a realisation of this spiritual symbiosis, though largely unconscious, that I believe helped sustain this harmonious relationship despite the Ghaznis and Ghoris, and the British colonialists' well-known Divide and Rule policy.

Islam’s encounter with other religions was quite violent. The history of crusades launched by Christian powers is well-known. It was Hinduism alone that provided Islam with a fertile ground for growth, something it had denied for long centuries even to indigenous Buddhism. Muslims’ treatment of Hindus, too, was quite considerate and in keeping with the Islamic spirit of Lakum Deenakum Waleya Deen (For you your religions, for me mine, The Holy Quran -109:5). As Hindus had the reputation of being polytheists and idolaters, Muslims could have treated them as Kuffar and Mushrekeen (religious deviants). Instead, the very first Muslim to conquer parts of India - Sind and Multan in 711 A.D. - Mohammad bin Qasim, accorded them the special status of Ahl-e-Kitab (people who follow Divine Books brought by messengers of God before Prophet Mohammad) that was at first thought to be meant for Christians and Jews alone. Even the Central Asian bandits who invaded and looted India could not disturb the growing and deepening spiritual ties. A number of Sufi saints spent their life-time in India, spreading the message of Islam that literally means peace that comes with total surrender to the God. Prophet Mohammad, too, is believed to have felt attraction for India.

The Indian sub-continent’s pre-eminent poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal wrote;

Meer-e-Arab ko aaee thandi hawa jahan se,

Mera watan wohi hai, mera watan wohi hai.

(From where Prophet Mohammad received a cool breeze,

That is my motherland that is my motherland.)

Hindus as Ahl-e-Kitab

Some primordial spiritual connection must have been at work. For only recently have Muslim scholars learnt that Hindus indeed constitute the fourth major group of Ahl-e-Kitab mentioned in the Holy Quran repeatedly. For some mysterious reason, the Holy Quran had left this question vague. It mentioned a major religious group as ‘Sabe-een’ as the Ummah (community) of a Prophet who had brought a Divine book bearing God’s revelation to the world. It also mentioned Hazrat Nooh (Prophet Noah of the Bible) as a major prophet ranking with prophets like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad. But who the followers of Hazrat Nooh are was left a mystery.

Painstaking research has been going on seeking the fourth major Ahl-e-Kitab. From Hazrat Shah Waliullah, Maulana Sulaiman Nadvi and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi to a contemporary scholar from Uttar Pradesh, Maulana Shams Navaid Usmani, a number of scholars from the sub-continent, too, contributed to this effort. It is now clear that Hindus are indeed the lost Ummah of Prophet Nooh whom they know as Maha Nuwo. Evidence from Markandaya Puran and several Vedas, and their description of ‘Jal Pralaya’ (devastation caused by the Flood, as in the biblical and Qur'anic stories of Noah’s flood) has been most helpful in this search.

The authenticity and finality of the above-mentioned research has not to be accepted by any one, however, to be able to know that the Hindus do indeed constitute a major Ahl-e-Kitab Ummah. According to the Holy Quran, there is not one nation in the world in which a prophet has not been raised up: “There are not a people but a prophet has gone among them” (35:24).

And again: “Every nation has had a prophet” (10:47).

And again: “And we did not send before thee any but men to whom We sent revelation (Divine Book).” (21:7).

We are further told that there have been prophets besides those mentioned in the Holy Quran: “And We sent prophets We have mentioned to thee before [in the Quran], and prophets We have not mentioned to thee [in the Quran]’ (4:164).

It is, in fact stated in a famous Hadees (also written as Hadith, meaning Sayings of the Prophet, as distinct from The Holy Quran, which is the word of God revealed to the Prophet) that there have been 124,000 prophets, while the Holy Quran contains only about twenty-five names, among them being several non-Biblical prophets. Prophets Hud and Salih came in Arabia, Luqman in Ethiopia, a contemporary of Moses (generally known as Khidzr) in Sudan, and Dhu-l-Qarnain (Darius I, who was also a king) in Persia; all of which is quite in accordance with the theory of universality of prophethood, as enunciated above. And as the Holy Quran has plainly said the prophets have appeared in all nations and that it has not named all of them, which in fact was unnecessary and not even feasible. Thus a Muslim must accept the great luminaries who are recognised by other religions as having brought light to them, regardless of the terminology used to describe them, as the prophets that were sent to those nations.

The Quran, however, not only establishes a theory that prophets have appeared in all nations; it goes further and renders it necessary that a Muslim should believe in all those prophets. In the very beginning we are told that a Muslim must “believe in that which has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Issac and Jaccob and the tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and in that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make distinction between any of them” (2:136). The word “prophets” in this verse from the Quran clearly refers to the prophets of other nations.

Again and again, and in different contexts, the Holy Quran speaks of Muslims as believing in all the prophets of God and not in the Holy Prophet Muhammad alone:

“Righteousness is this that one should believe in Allah and the last day and the angels and the books and the prophets” (2:177);

And again in the same Surah (chapter): “The Prophet believes in what has been revealed to him from His Lord and so do the believers; they all believe in Allah and His angels and His books and His prophets: And they say “We make no distinction between any of His prophets” (2:28).

(To be continued)

Courtesy: Asia Times Online and the Times of India. Full Text of this article was first published by Asia Times Online in December 2003. A short summary also appeared in the Times of India.