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Spiritual Meditations ( 12 Feb 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Forgotten: Muhammad’s Islam and Gandhi’s India



By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam

Feb 12 2013

Muhammad and Gandhi, two of the most influential men in the history of the world, changed the face of the world we live in. Their early period of life may have been totally different but their moral philosophy has a common touch.

Gandhi was born in a high class family. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, served as the chief minister (Diwan) of Porbander state. Early in life he had been highly influenced by the stories of Shravana and king Harishchandra. He was neither good in studies nor did he excel in sports or outdoor activities. One of his report card reads: "good at English, fair in Arithmetic and weak in Geography; conduct very good, bad handwriting”. But all this was about to change in a few years’ time...

Muhammad was born on Monday, the twelfth of Rabi AL-Awwal in the year of 571 AC. He was brought up as an orphan, for his father died when his mother, Amenah bint Wahb, was pregnant. When he was six, his mother took him to Madinah to visit his uncles. In their way back to Madinah, she died at Al Abwa. Then, his grandfather Abdul-Muttalib took care of him. Even he died when Muhammad was eight years old. Finally, his Uncle Abu Talib took care of him.

The “few years’ time” of Gandhi’s life was over when he read the Bhagwad Gita. Before that he had never read any religious book but after reading it his appetite for reading the Words of God increased. He says:

“I felt ashamed, as I had read the divine poem neither in Sanskrit nor in Gujarati...the verses in the second chapter made a deep impression on my mind, and still ring in my ears. The book struck me as one of priceless worth.”

After that he read the Bible. He “disliked reading the book of Numbers” and the chapters that followed the book of Genesis sent him “to sleep”. But “the New Testament produced a different impression”. He was highly influenced by it. He tried to compare the Gospels with the teachings of the Gita. Gandhi says that he read a chapter on the Hero as a prophet (of Carlyle’s Heroes and Hero-Worship) and “learnt of the Prophets’ greatness and bravery and austere living.”

Muhammad, before becoming the Prophet, spent his life in simple living. He used to do business. He was so honest and trustworthy that he was given the title of “al-Amin” and “al-Sadiq”.  Attracted by his upright character and good nature, Khadijah proposed him, and he accepted the proposal and got married and tried to live a settled life.

The life, custom and people around Muhammad troubled him. He was sick of the superstition of the people of his time. He used to go away to Mount Hira to meditate, away from the din. Muhammad was an agnostic, as he could not accept the gods of his time. There was something missing. What was it? He did not know. His married life was happy and complete, yet the void of spirituality and answers bothered Muhammad so much.

The void was over with knowledge; the knowledge of the Quran. That “something missing” was over. Now his mind, after getting totally convinced that he is indeed the Chosen one, did not ask questions, as all his spiritual answers were fulfilled in the revelations.

After successfully challenging and accepting a respectable truce, Gandhi returned to India. His first reaction was- shock. He was stunned to see abject poverty; and he was against the Home Rule Movement and the way the National Movement was marching. He made trips across India to know real India and in his famous speech he rightly said, “Real India lives in her villages”.

Gandhi wanted Swaraj (self rule) to be practiced- not just physically and economically, but also morally. J. Nehru writes about Gandhi in The Discovery of India:

“And then Gandhi came. He was like a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves and take deep breaths; like a beam of light that pierced the darkness and removed the scales from our eyes; like a whirlwind that upset many things, but most of all the working of people’s minds. He did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition. Get off the backs of these peasants and workers, he told us, all you who live by their exploitation; get rid of the system that produces poverty and misery. The essence of his teaching was fearlessness and truth. The greatest gift for an individual or a nation was abhaya (fearlessness), not merely bodily courage but the absence of fear from the mind.”

Muhammad’s Islam was simple and easy, with no complications. If Islam is to be praised, then it should be praised for its uncomplicated teaching. According to Wikipedia, “Islam is a verbal noun originating from the trilateral root s-l-m which forms a large class of words mostly relating to concepts of wholeness, safeness and peace. In a religious context it means "voluntary submission to God”. Anyone who surrenders his will to God is a Muslim, whatever his name or so-called religion may be.

Leo Tolstoy says:

“As far as the preference of Mohammedanism to Orthodoxy is concerned…, I can fully sympathize with such conversion. To say this might be strange for me who values the Christian ideals and the teaching of Christ in their pure sense more than anything else, I do not doubt that Islam in its outer form stands higher than the Orthodox Church. Therefore, if a person is given only two choices: to adhere to the Orthodox Church or Islam, any sensible person will not hesitate about his choice, and anyone will prefer Islam with its acceptance of one tenet, single God and His Prophet instead such complex and incomprehensible things in theology as the Trinity, redemption, sacraments, the saints and their images, and complicated services… And therefore, please, regard me as a kind Mohammedan, and all will be fine”.

The teachings of both Muhammad and Gandhi are being forgotten. Muhammad said, “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, fanatic Muslims are scheming to either convert the whole world into Muslims or to kill all those who disbelieve. Gandhi said that the backward castes are the children of God (Harijan), but the fanatics segregate and mistreat the Schedules Castes, even though the Indian Constitution is against it. Muhammad said do not destroy the temples, churches, synagogues for the Lord is being praised in these holy places; but the fanatics raze the temples and the churches and the statues of Buddha and the gods of the Hindus. Gandhi said:” First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win”. But the fanatics say “first we fight them and then we win”.

Where are we heading? Are we following the teachings of these great men? Our actions belie anything said contrary to it.

Muhammad Abduh said:

“I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam.”

I say:

“I see Muslims but no Muhammad; I see India but no Gandhi”.