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Islam, Hinduism And Truth

India must develop indigenous basis for secular politics

Islam, Hinduism And Truth
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The recent communal violence in India draws attention totwo significant problems that are undermining India’s greatness. The firstproblem is the growing animus between the followers of two of the world’sgreat religions – Islam and Hinduism -- both with long histories of toleranceand pluralism.The second problemis the implication of India’s national and local governments in this growingtension between advocates of Islamic and Hindu identities. The two problemstogether strain social seams by creating deep fault lines on the basis ofreligious identity and also erode national consensus about the secularfoundations of India’s polity.

India as a nation cannot fulfill its promise until its twomost important socio-cultural pillars, Islam and Hinduism, work in tandem,developing a relationship not just of tolerance, but also of mutual appreciationand respect. Many of India’scontemporary thinkers are still working with the euro-centric conception ofnationalism and democracy. They arestill trying to import European pathways to modernity by premising democracy ona secularism that seeks to reduce the role of religion in the public sphere.It is inevitable that this model will fail in a society where religionand the connection with the spiritual realm is so vital a part of day-to-dayexistence.

India wakes up everyday to the soul-searching call forMuslim prayers and the soul soothing melodies of Hindu bhajans.In a society such as India’s, where the infinite and the immediate, thespiritual and the mundane, the exotic and the ordinary, are inextricablyentwined, European notions of secularism based on crass materialism and a morbidaversion for spirituality cannot provide a basis for social unity and politicalpurpose. India needs its own, indigenous, homegrown socio-political discoursethat accommodates rather than excludes all its vital elements, especially thewidespread religious impulse that is so characteristic of this nation of templesand mosques of pirs and pundits.

We need to advance a discourse that gives due regard toreligion and traditions. This does not mean that we accept and accommodate theangry and hate filled expressions of religiosity as witnessed by the intolerantranting of an Imam Bukhari or a Bal Thackery.What we need is to revive the authentic values that have made these twofaiths so large in their following and so immense in their accumulation oftraditional wisdom.

Mutual respect and tolerance can come only from theknowledge and appreciation of the cardinal values that constitutes the other.It is only through intimate knowledge of the other that we can discoverthat transcendent commonality that underpins all great religions. And in gainingthis awareness, we can inculcate an enlightened recognition, appreciation andeven union with the other. I believe that India can become great only through arecognition and appreciation of its traditions and not through marginalizationof its fundamental values in exchange for European style nationalism orsecularism.

Muhammad and Dharmaraj

I wish to contribute to this discourse that will build acivilizational bridge between Islam and Hinduism by sharing what I as a Muslimhave found so admirable about Hindu traditions. I must alert the reader to thefact that as a Muslim my perceptions of Hinduism are through Islamic lenses. Ido not make any claims to any kind of transcendent objectivity.Only imposters, liars and simpletons make claims of objectivity.

One of the things that I admire most about Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) is the manner in which he conducted himself before he declared hisProphethood. Muhammad was known andadmired for his honesty and truthfulness not just in Mecca but also among othertribes of Arabia. His personal integrity and his passion for truth earned himthe Arabic title Al-Amin, meaning the truthful.This quality of his served him well when he declared that he was themessenger of God. For me Muhammad (pbuh)and Truth are inseparable.

One summer I read the Mahabharat. It is an engrossing andwonderfully exciting epic full of parables and personalities that enlighten aswell as entertain.When Iencountered the oldest brother of the Pandavas, Yudhister, also known as Dharmaraj,I was immediately struck by the similarity between Muhammad (pbuh) and Dharmaraj.Both embodied truth in their respective traditions.And the more I read about Dharmaraj and what he stood for, the more I wasreminded of the Quranic verse which suggests that Islam is also a reminder ofthe knowledge and values that have already been revealed to humanity.I realized that Dharmaraj and Muhammad (pbuh) must surely have sharedantecedents.

Since then I have always had an enduring respect for Dharmaraj.I also rather like the name itself that unites religion and politics. Theword Dharma simultaneously implies faith as well as duty, and in the name Dharmaraj,faith and its correlative duties are united with the idea of the sovereign.Dharmaraj is indeed an embodiment of the Islamic idea of the Khalifah, inwhose persona faith and duty, servitude and sovereignty is also united.

This article does not have an end because I am hoping thatit is the beginning of a discourse.

(Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of InternationalStudies at Adrian College in Michigan. He is Vice President of the Associationof Muslim Social Scientists and is on the board of the Center for the Study ofIslam and Democracy and the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. Hiscommentaries are archived at http://www.ijtihad.org)

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