India as a nation cannot fulfill its promise until its two most important socio-cultural pillars, Islam and Hinduism, work in tandem, developing a relationship not just of tolerance, but also of mutual appreciation and respect. Many of India’s contemporary thinkers are still working with the euro-centric conception of nationalism and democracy. They are still trying to import European pathways to modernity by premising democracy on a 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 religion and the connection with the spiritual realm is so vital a part of day-to-day existence.
India wakes up everyday to the soul-searching call for Muslim prayers and the soul soothing melodies of Hindu bhajans. In a society such as India’s, where the infinite and the immediate, the spiritual and the mundane, the exotic and the ordinary, are inextricably entwined, European notions of secularism based on crass materialism and a morbid aversion for spirituality cannot provide a basis for social unity and political purpose. India needs its own, indigenous, homegrown socio-political discourse that accommodates rather than excludes all its vital elements, especially the widespread religious impulse that is so characteristic of this nation of temples and mosques of pirs and pundits.
We need to advance a discourse that gives due regard to religion and traditions. This does not mean that we accept and accommodate the angry and hate filled expressions of religiosity as witnessed by the intolerant ranting of an Imam Bukhari or a Bal Thackery. What we need is to revive the authentic values that have made these two faiths so large in their following and so immense in their accumulation of traditional wisdom.
Mutual respect and tolerance can come only from the knowledge and appreciation of the cardinal values that constitutes the other. It is only through intimate knowledge of the other that we can discover that transcendent commonality that underpins all great religions. And in gaining this awareness, we can inculcate an enlightened recognition, appreciation and even union with the other. I believe that India can become great only through a recognition and appreciation of its traditions and not through marginalization of its fundamental values in exchange for European style nationalism or secularism.
Muhammad and Dharmaraj
I wish to contribute to this discourse that will build a civilizational bridge between Islam and Hinduism by sharing what I as a Muslim have found so admirable about Hindu traditions. I must alert the reader to the fact that as a Muslim my perceptions of Hinduism are through Islamic lenses. I do 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 his Prophethood. Muhammad was known and admired for his honesty and truthfulness not just in Mecca but also among other tribes of Arabia. His personal integrity and his passion for truth earned him the Arabic title Al-Amin, meaning the truthful. This quality of his served him well when he declared that he was the messenger of God. For me Muhammad (pbuh) and Truth are inseparable.
One summer I read the Mahabharat. It is an engrossing and wonderfully exciting epic full of parables and personalities that enlighten as well as entertain.When I encountered 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 was reminded of the Quranic verse which suggests that Islam is also a reminder of the knowledge and values that have already been revealed to humanity. I realized that Dharmaraj and Muhammad (pbuh) must surely have shared antecedents.
Since then I have always had an enduring respect for Dharmaraj. I also rather like the name itself that unites religion and politics. The word 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, in whose persona faith and duty, servitude and sovereignty is also united.
This article does not have an end because I am hoping that it is the beginning of a discourse.
(Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of International Studies at Adrian College in Michigan. He is Vice President of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists and is on the board of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. His commentaries are archived at http://www.ijtihad.org)