13. Facing the truth the only solution
13.1 Facing the past
The chronic disease of communal riots is not going to end by all the talk of secularism and national integration. Some people in Indian politics and in the press seem to think that by repeating the mantra secularism often enough, you will get secularism. But by saying food, food, food your hunger will not be satisfied. Rather, you will starve to death, or get bored to death by this insupportable repetitiveness.
Superficial Sadbhavana bla-bla is not capable of stopping communal hatred. A minimum requirement for communal harmony is that
- the historical and ideological roots of communal hatred are faced squarely, and
- the general and theoretical insight into the roots of the problem are actualized by a formal acceptance of historical responsibilities.
After 1945, the Germans have apologized to the Jews for what they had done to them. They also have payed huge reparations to the Polish, Russian and Jewish peoples, for them it was more than just a gesture ; but it is the gesture which we want to consider here. The Japanese needed till 1989 before they apologized to the Koreans. The fact that the Japanese occupation of Korea had ended since 44 years was not invoked as an excuse for just disregarding that unfortunate chapter in history. Also in 1989, the Soviet authorities have recognized their guilt in the Katyn massacre of Polish officers, and held a ceremony on the site with Polish leaders. In 1990, the Soviets have apologized to the Koreans for starting the Korean war in 1950, as well as for shooting down the Korean airliner in 1983.1 In 1990, the American government has apologized to the Japanese who had pre-emptively been arrested and put in concentration camps during World War II, and payed a compensation in cash to the affected people still alive. On December 29, 1990, the Centenary of the Native Americans’ last battle in Wounded Knee was marked with a ceremony in which the South Dakota governor offered words of sorrow and apology. It was the culmination of a Year of Reconciliation.2 And the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa publicly apologized to the blacks, and asked them for forgiveness, for the ideological support it had given to Apartheid. The way to make a new beginning goes via recognizing and formally terminating the faults of the past.
The application of this principle to the Indian situation is crystal-clear; the Muslim community should come out and recognize the atrocities which its earlier generations have inflicted on the Hindus, and make a gesture of goodwill to formally terminate that chapter in history.
Leaving the Ram Janmabhoomi spot to the Hindus, to do with it as they please, would have been just such a gesture. A very easy one, for it cost nothing. The Muslim community was not even in control of the place, all they would have to do was not to interfere in what already was an internal Hindu affair. The fact that even this easy goodwill gesture was not made, at least by the externally recognized leadership of the Muslim community, is a very sad thing. On a world-wide scale, the time is ripe for such a recognition of past mistakes.
The Christians are facing their past. Even in religion class in Catholic schools in Belgium, we gave attention to the gruesome part in Church history. In Latin America, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival has sparked some serious reconsideration both within and outside the Church, about the role of Christianity in the wholesale destruction of all the cultures without exception in the entire New World. In Delhi, I have asked a Roman Catholic Father, head of an important institute, what he had to say about the acts of fanaticism perpetrated by many of his predecessors in the Mission. He said: “We are not uptight about it.”
While this past is by no means forgotten, the Christians have, by and large, accepted that in the name of Christianity very large-scale crimes against humanity have been committed. They now reorient themselves, making a distinction between the original spirit of Christianity, and the later aberrations. It is possible to live with the realization that the community to which one belongs, is or has been responsible for less than uplifting practices (Dante, the greatest of Christian poets, described how utterly depraved the Church had become in his time, and then added that to him it still remained the Church of Christ).
So, it is time to face the truth. Judging by the glasnost in the Soviet block and in the Catholic Church regarding past crimes, the time is ripe to finish the glossing-over which the secularists have been practicing and propagating. The rosy presentation of Islam which the secularist press is feeding the public, should be debunked.
In Europe there are also people, very few, who insist on denying the Nazi crimes, the genocide on the Jews and the Gypsies.3 These people are called revisionists or negationists, and their stand is considered highly objectionable (France has even gone a little too far, in my opinion, by making it a punishable offence to deny the Nazi extermination camps). In India, by contrast, the negationists who deny the existence of the centuries-long jihad, in which a systematic oppression and slaughter of Kafirs was pursued, are calling the shots.
Even if the Muslims themselves don’t feel ready yet for coming to terms with their communal past (which may be humanly difficult, and should in no way be forced on them), that is no reason for secular intellectuals to stick to this negationist glossing-over.
In 1987 the Japanese ministry of education decided to tone down the report of the Rape of Nanching (a massacre in China by the Japanese occupation forces in World War II) in Japanese history books. They wanted to put in a new version : this massacre was nothing special, it just happens in any war, it had nothing to do with Japanese national supremacism, and therefore it doesn’t deserve any special highlighting. They did not intend much more than changing the proportions of this episode vis-a-vis the totality of the war. They were not going to deny that it had happened. Yet, China reacted angrily. The Chinese government filed a strong official protest against this rewriting of history, and Chinese communities in different countries held demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassies.
So, that is how particular the Chinese are about setting the historical record straight.4 Now, even if Japan ever whitewashes its entire role in World War II (which it does not consider doing at all), even if Chinese protests could not prevent such a development, then that still would not make any neutral historian, much less the Chinese themselves, rewrite their own history-books to absolve the erstwhile Japanese aggressors. But in India, we find the unbelievable situation, that not only Muslim historians and public figures refuse to face the truth about Muslim history : neutral secular historians are also covering up and denying the crimes which Islam has systematically committed, and even many Hindus are denying the crimes committed against their own society.
It is a matter of self-respect as much as a matter of respect for the historical truth, that Hindus face their own history and tell their children about the crimes of the closed creeds like Islam.
13.2. Islam and Nazism
It may sound shocking to some people that I have compared the Hindu-Muslim relations with the Jewish-German relations of the Nazi period. While in Israel you get to hear more comparisons of Muslims with Nazis, in India it may still be unfashionable. I would like to point out that comparing people to the Nazis is not so uncommon. In fact, the communists call non-communists fascists all the time. In the communalism debate, the Hindu side has been bracketed with Nazism by all sorts of people, even by a smug bourgeois like Mani Shankar Aiyar (in several episodes of his Sunday column, where he considerably distorts German history to make it fit, see [ch.14.10]) or a preacherous do-gooder like Rajmohan Gandhi, as much as by rank fanatics like Syed Shahabuddin.
Now, I don’t have to distort history in order to make my comparison of Islam with Nazism. In very essential characteristics, the role of Islam in Indian history is the same as the role of Nazism in German-Jewish history.
Firstly, both uphold an absolute division of humanity in a superior and glory-bound community, and an evil and hell-bound community. The Quran says dozens of times that the Kafirs are condemned in an absolute and eternal sense, whereas the Momins or believers are promised eternal lust in heaven. Nazism didn’t have those otherworldly pretensions, but in this world the Jew was identified with everything evil, and made to suffer for it. This is just like Islam, which from its absolute and eternal division of humanity logically deduced their radically different status in the other world, and imposed a radically inferior status on the Kafirs in worldly matters also.
Secondly, on the conscience-quietening bedrock of this divisionist ideology, they both set up a program for the total extermination of the inferior species. Here there was one difference : since Nazism postulated biological determination, and erroneously thought Judaism as a racial unit, there was no way out for anyone born from Jewish parents. Facing the sword of Islam, Kafirs had one escape : conversion. If they had been taken captive when fighting or fleeing the Muslim armies, even conversion could not save them from slavery, but at least it saved their lives in most cases.
I estimate that the Muslim conquerors killed more than six million Hindus, the number of Jews killed by the Nazis.5 Of course, they had a bigger number of victims to pick from, and they had centuries while the Nazis had a few years. But then, they didn’t have the technology, nor the total control of the country. They didn’t have the means to be as thorough. Among the systematic killers, like Ghaznavi, Ghori, Teimur, Babar, there was a clear drive to physically finish the Kafirs. Fortunately they didn’t have gas chambers, but they had no inhibition in using all the killing apparatus at their disposal. The Bahmani sultans made it a point to kill one lakh Hindus every year.
On top of outright massacres, there were several other ways in which the Muslim conquerors and rulers caused the death of many lakhs of Hindus. Many died a nameless death under the hardships of slavery. Many were made to fight in special infantry cohorts in the Muslim armies, and systematically used for the risky and suicidal tasks.6
This absolute disrespect for the lives of the Kafirs was founded in Islamic doctrine. It was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern that was also in evidence in other parts of the Muslim empire. The Egyptian-born scholar Mrs. Bat Ye’or has presented a collection of documents about the Jewish and Christian communities living under Muslim rule, and of whom Muslim apologetics always boasts that they were treated better than minorities in Christian countries.7 In reality, they were often subjected to all kinds of harassment and humiliation, large-scale abduction of women and children, and occasional mass slaughter. As late as 1915, the Turks slaughtered about 15 lakh Christian Armenians, more than one-fourth of the Armenian population, or a percentage close to that of the Jews killed by the Nazis. They never expressed regret or payed reparations. Hitler, when criticized by his aides about the extermination camps, explicitly invoked the Armenian genocide as a precedent.
There are also smaller points of similarity. Before the extermination of the Jews began, the Jews were tolerated but they had to suffer a number of restrictions and humiliations, which correspond closely to the restrictions imposed on the Zimmis by the Muslims. A telling example is that they had to make themselves physically recognizable by wearing a David’s star on the chest, just like the Muslims imposed the wearing of specific dress on the Jews in Morocco, the Christians in Egypt, the Hindus in Gujarat.
Like the Muslims, the Nazis acknowledged an intermediate status between the Jews/Kafirs who have to be exterminated, and the Herrenvolk/Muslims who should rule the world. The Nazis did not want to exterminate inferior races like the Slavs, but they wanted them to remain as third-class citizens, with no say in power, wholly subordinate to the superior race. And the Muslims did not declare total war on the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), who could remain as third-class citizens, with no say in power, wholly subordinate to the Muslims.
This is the heritage which the Muslim community has to face. It can be done. In fact it is only hard to the extent that you keep identifying yourself with those rulers who conducted such policies, and with the doctrines that inspired them. It can be taken as a glorious opportunity, to free one’s community from those awful heroes and doctrines.
13.3. Seeing the bright side
While some secularists are outright liars and conscious history-distorters, this falsified history has become so widespread that there is now a generation of intellectuals who genuinely believe that Aurangzeb was the unifier of India, rather than a cruel fanatic, or that Mahmud Ghaznavi plundered for wealth rather than to terrorize the Kafirs. In the case of non-historians, I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume that their whitewashing of Muslim history is in good faith.
For instance, Mani Shankar Aiyar has said :“All [Uma Bharati] sees, knows or cares to know are Mahmud Ghaznavi, Aurangzeb and others. It is not germane to her world view that Islam brought brotherhood to the world and initiated the greatest self-improvement movement, a part of which were Sant Tukaram, Namdev, Mirabai, Guru Nanak and Kabir.”8
As for this brotherhood, the facts are that Islam practiced slavery on an unprecedented scale, and that its treatment of Kafirs was anything but brotherly (unless you think Aurangzeb’s treatment of his broad-minded brother Dara Shikoh is normative). If the saints mentioned by Mani were that great, then the credit goes to Hindu culture, of which each of them was a part. Even Kabir, the only one among them with an unmistakable Islamic connection (an Arabic name), has never said that “there is no contact with the divine except through the Quran”, which is essential in Islam ; he has said on the contrary that liberation is not to be found in Scripture (a stand always held up against Brahmins, but in fact more shattering for Islam with its total belief in one definitive Scripture). I have it on good authority that Kabir’s thought is Hindu through and through.9 The simplest proof that his contribution to Indian culture was un-Islamic, is that he was persecuted for his Kafir ideas by the Muslim ruler Sikandar Lodi.
One well-known Indian journalist told me that “this Ram Janmabhoomi movement is finishing the tolerance which was brought into Hinduism by the Sufis like Kabir and Nanak”. My God, what a distortion. First, the statements of tolerance in Hinduism can be found in pre-Sufi books like the Rig-Veda and the Bhagavad Gita :“Let good thoughts come to us from all sides”, or “The truth is one but the wise call it by many names”, or Krishna saying that “Whoever invokes a deity by whatever name, it is Me he invokes”. Second, it is a myth that the Bhakti movement owes a lot to the Sufi movement.
If anything, it was the reverse. But by that, I do not mean, as secularists would hope, that Sufis took over a lot from these Bhakti saints : they didn’t, in fact they scrupulously avoided Kafir influences. But Bhakti was a late-medieval re-statement of doctrines that had always been present in Hindu tradition. And its universalism and stress on direct experience had been expressed in the teachings of many sects, some of which had a following outside Hindusthan proper. It was there that they left traces which have reappeared in Muslim religious thought as Sufism.
When Islam had overrun Iran and Turkestan, the local religions were exterminated, but they started a second life as the Sufi movement, which brought distinctly un-Islamic elements back into the official culture, but in Islamic garb. The original Sufis, like Jalal ud-Din Rumi, brought a lot of the open-mindedness and universalism of pre-Islamic culture back into the Islamized world. However, the later Sufis who came to India, were largely just missionaries, who may have practiced mysticism which was un-Islamic enough, and yet joined in the fanatical drive to exterminate Paganism, by conversion or otherwise. (For some authentic testimony, I could advise you to read Eaton’s book Sufis of Bijapur, but with the secularists active or passive support, it has been banned).
It should be stressed that what is worthwhile in Sufism, is the un-Islamic part. The consciousness exploration, the universalism, the commonality (or should I say: the communalism) with all creature, this is very nice but very un-Islamic, nowhere to be found in the Quran or the Hadis. The orthodox doctors of Islam knew it well enough that this was heresy.10 But increasingly, Sufism was integrated into Islam, not to make it more humane, but to become less humane itself. And when Sufism reached India, it was not the stuff that could attract genuine saints like Guru Nanak or Tulsidas (who, perhaps because of his devotion to Ram, is absent from Mani Shankar Aiyar’s list), or Kabir. It was these Hindus who gave some attention to the fact that Muslims too had devotion and a universal spiritual urge, and even in the face of Islam’s fanatic challenge, these Hindu saints held high the banner of universalism.
If I try to understand where these people get the wholly erroneous notion that it is Sufism that brought tolerance into Hinduism, I surmise they might be meaning the attacks on the social intolerance of the caste system, which are attributed to these Bhakti saints (mis-termed Sufis). Well, that has to be looked into. To my knowledge, Kabir has only said that social differences disappear during the Bhakti experience. And the same thing counts for Guru Nanak, and, for that matter, for Gautama Buddha. They were not social reformers.11 At most, they had to make certain social choices in the practical organization of their sect.
It is the deep influence of Marxism, together with a total ignorance concerning religion, that makes it hard for people to see these religious teachers for what they were : teachers of a spiritual path. In Ambedkar I see no religious enthusiasm for the Buddha’s teachings. All he does with the teaching of Compassion, is using it as a stick to beat Brahminism with: a complete subordination of the Buddha’s spiritual message to Ambedkar’s own political compulsions.12 Another example of this essentially Marxist exaggeration of social concerns is the Sanskritization theory (which holds that lower castes adopted Brahmin ways to raise their status), where it says that some castes adopted vegetarianism for prestige reasons, off-hand denying the possibility that spiritual teachers convinced people of the intrinsic spiritual, ethical or health value of vegetarianism.
So, While here I don’t want to give my final opinion on the matter, it seems to me that the Bhakti saints were religious teachers rather than social reformers. I think the compulsion to see social reformers everywhere in Indian history, follows from a Marxist prejudice, from an ignorance of religion as a field of experience in its own right, and from a far too grim image of the structure and living conditions in traditional Hindu society.
The journalist I just quoted, also praised these Sufis for being iconoclasts. Again, what he meant was probably that they went against obsolete or harmful practices, both at the social and the religious level. Well, very good of them. But what does it say about my secularist spokesman, that he praises people for being iconoclasts? This : he is totally alienated from pluralist Hindu culture, and has imbibed the monotheist contempt for idols to this extent that he uses idol-breaker as a synonym for free-thinker. What he doesn’t realize, is that an idol-breaker is by definition intolerant. Breaking something that is sacred to someone, is not a proof of free-thinking and open-mindedness at all. Breaking your own false gods of self-righteousness and sweet illusions, and giving up your own claims to dictate to others what to believe and what not, that is more convincing proof of a free and positive mind.13
13.4. Tolerance in Islam
In spite of all the untruth in pro-Islamic myths that have recently been floated, it is all right that people try to see the bright side of Islam, be it in brotherhood or in Sufism. However, they should make sure it is the real Islam they are talking about, not some syrupy misrepresentation by latter-day apologists or by self-deceiving Hindus like Vinoba Bhave (whose Essence of the Quran is nothing but a suppressio veri, and thus a suggestion falsi : it nicely keeps out of the reader’s view all the most repulsive verses). Nobody has any quarrel with the private version of Islam that some people entertain, but general statements about the “tolerance (or otherwise) of Islam”, should be checked against the real, official Islam. And even in presentations of Islam as tolerant, we may be facing not the heartfelt belief of an open-minded Muslim, but a shameless attempt at deception.
For instance, I have heard Hindutva people sing the praise of Maulana Azad, for being a model of a tolerant Muslim. And they quoted him as saying that Hindu-Muslim unity was for him more important than independence, and that this was in keeping with the example of the Prophet, who had also made a covenant with the Jews in Medina. Well, the truth about this covenant of Mohammed with the Jews is that within a few years, two of the three Jewish clans had been driven out of Medina, and the third one was slaughtered to the last man. This statement by the Maulana only proves how dishonest he was, and that he counted on Hindus not knowing anything about Mohammed’s career. The fact that Hindus quoted this statement with enthusiasm, proves that the Maulana’s estimation of the absolute Hindu ignorance was correct.
Two more recent varieties of the same tolerant Islam rhetoric, are the following. Asghar Ali Engineer writes :“It is too simplistic to put [Hindus] in the category of kafirs. It is neither doing justice to the teachings of Islam nor to those of Hinduism.”14
It does complete justice to both traditions to put Hindus in the category of kafirs. They don’t recognize the prophethood of Mohammed nor the exclusive pretense of his chosen deity, Allah. That makes them non-Muslims. They also do not believe in any prophetic tradition, i.e. in people who are exclusive beneficiaries of divine revelation, from whom others have no choice but to borrow knowledge about the divine. On the contrary, they believe that everybody can attain the Awakened state which gurus have been teaching. They also reject the notion that the final truth is contained in one book : any book is merely an attempt to approximate in the terms of discursive or poetic reason the unspeakable truth, and it cannot be more than one viewpoint among others.
Disregarding the essential difference between the role of Sutras and Shastras among the Hindus, and that of Scripture among the Jewish and Christian people of the Book, we might say that all of them at least use books in their religious practice. But what about tribals for whom writings and a fortiori Scriptures are simply unknown ? By no manipulation can Asghar Ali Engineer recognize them as people of the Book. So they are unmitigated Kafirs, and have to be given a choice between Islam and death. That is the true tradition of Islam. And if Mr. Engineer wants to bring communal amity, he should not try to bring people in the people of the Book denomination, but repudiate the notion of Kafir (with its attached doctrine of killing or forcibly converting them) altogether. Considering Hindus or tribals as Kafirs is not just simplistic, it is anti-human and criminal.
Until Mr. Engineer rejects the Islamic division of mankind into Muslims and Kafirs, with or without the intermediate category of people of the Book, he is exactly as guilty of communal strife as the worst fundamentalist. Defeat him.
Why does Mr. Engineer want to declare the Hindus people of the Book? The practical impact is, that they can become Zimmis, protected ones. That means, third-class citizens in an Islamic state. When he and the secularists want to shout abuse at Hindu Rashtra, they say it will be a theocratic state in which the Muslims will be second-class citizens, and they call that fascism. That same thing which they call fascism when they wrongly attribute it to Hindu Rashtra, is effectively accepted in the case of a Muslim Rashtra, such as Pakistan. I at least have never heard any of them refer to Pakistan as fascist. Muslim Rashtra is not only not called fascism: Mr. Engineer even seems to take it for granted as a political framework, and therefore he tries to secure a place for the Hindus in it by declaring them people of the Book, rather than just Kafirs who could not be tolerated alive. Well how generous of him.
The category people of the Book is an arch-communalist notion, an integral part of a doctrine which divides humanity into Muslims or Momins (rulers and freemen, the first-and second-class citizens), Zimmi Kafirs (inferior third-class citizens), and non-Zimmi Kafirs (to be exterminated). I agree with the secularists that no compromise whatsoever should be made with communalism. Therefore I advocate an all-out intellectual attack on this distinction between Momins, Kafirs and Zimmis, the communalist doctrine par excellence.
Asghar Ali Engineer continues his theological discourse as follows :“The holy Prophet, in his treaty with the Zoroastrians of Bahrain, recognized them as ahl-al-kitab (people of the book) though they are not mentioned in the Quran as such. No wonder that some Sufi saints like Jan-i-Jahan considered the Hindus too as people of the book.” One more good reason to show no interest whatsoever in Mr. Engineer’s little favour of including Hindus in the people of the Book, is the effective record of the treatment of the Zimmis. All right, in a generous (or maybe just tactical) gesture of the Prophet, the Zoroastrians of Bahrain were recognized as people of the Book; but where are they now ? Apart from a few thousand Zoroastrians living in abject poverty in a few villages in Iran, the Zoroastrians have been wiped out by Islam (only those who fled to Hindusthan have survived and prospered). If Sufis and moderate Muslims want to recognize Hindus as people of the Book, they may have the same future in mind for them as for the Zoroastrians of Bahrain.
The second recent example of a moderate Muslim trying to fool Hindus, is Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. He quotes from an Arabic book, so maybe the fault lies with its writer, though from a Maulana I would expect some familiarity with early Islamic history. He tells the following story :“Jama Masjid in Damascus built during the early period of Islam under Ummayad rule…saw its completion in 715 and is in existence till today. But in its early days, the Christians objected to a strip of land belonging to an old abandoned church having been annexed during its construction”.15
So, in the centre of the metropolis Damascus, there was an old abandoned church? The truth of the matter is that this church was a famous and celebrated cathedral. The Christians were people of the Book, so they became Zimmis and could, after the surrender of Damascus to the Muslims, keep their places of worship (though not build new ones). But, as already mentioned in [ch.8.\^6], the Muslims badly wanted to take over this big building, so the Christians had to bribe the Caliph in order to prevent the Muslims from taking it over, After decades of taking ever bigger bribes, the Caliph gave in to Muslim pressure, and had the cathedral transformed into a Jama Masjid. So, if moderate Maulanas tell you stories, don’t believe them.
But he continues :“A delegation of Christian Syrians, therefore, came to Umar the second…with the complaint that his predecessor had annexed a part of the church, having incorporated it into the building of the mosque.” So, they risked trouble with the Muslim ruler for nothing but an old abandoned church, and that in an age when there was no need of creating communal friction in order to built vote-banks.
Now we seek justice from you, they said. Umar ibn Abdal-Aziz promptly appointed Muhammad ibn Suwayd an-Nahri as the arbiter....The latter…arrived at the conclusion that the Christians were justified in their complaint. Then Umar issued orders for the part of the mosque which belonged to the church to be returned in its entirety to the Christians. However, this order was never executed, for the Christians had only intended to put Islamic justice to the test. When they found that it came up to the mark, they gladly announced that they were happy to donate this part of the church to the mosque. Conclusions: even in the story, the Christians don’t get redress. This is explained as a voluntary gesture, but it must have been just as voluntary as Rushdie’s embracing Islam. And in reality, the Christians were not even protected against the take-over of their cathedral by their Zimmi status.
So, Pagans are not interested in recognition as people of the Book. They want moderate Muslims to stop denying the intolerance inherent in Islamic theology. They want them to give up the anti-human division of humanity in Muslims, Zimmi Kafirs, and Kafirs for whom there is no mercy.
The fundamental intolerance and fanaticism of Islam are an undeniable fact. They can readily be proven from a large number of Quranic verses. Since quoting the Quaran may get this book banned, I will merely give the verse numbers, so you can check it for yourself. Islam promises hell to the Kafirs in Quran 3:85, 4:56, 5:37, 5:72, 8:55, 9:28, 15:2, 21:98-100, 22:19-22, 22:56-57, 25:17-19, 25:55, 29:53-55, 31:13, 66:9, 68:10-13, 72:14- 15, 98-51. Islam warms against mixing with Kafirs in Quran 2:21, 3:28, 3:118, 5:51, 5:144, 9:7, 9:28, 58:23, 60:4. Islam calls on Muslims to wage war against the Kafirs in Quran 2:191, 2:193, 4:66, 4:84,5:33, 8:12, 8:15-18, 8:39, 8:59-60, 8:65, 9:2-3, 9:5, 9:14, 9:29, 9:39, 9:73,9:111, 9:123, 25:52, 37:22-23, 47:4-5, 48:29, 69:30-37. Islam encourages the war against the Kafirs by glorifying it in Quran 2:216, 9:41, 49:15, or by promising lust in paradise to the Shaheeds who die in such a war, in Quran 3:142, 3:157-158, 9:20–21. The Hadis is also explicit enough, and proves that Prophet put the Quranic injunctions into practice.
However, defenders of the Faith have been trying to prove that Islam to tolerant. They have some very few arguments, and these seem convincing as long as they are not closely scrutinized (like the Maulana’s reference to the Medina covenant with the Jews)16. One classic is:“There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Isn’t that tolerant? Well, when people quote from the Quran to prove that Islam is inhuman and fanatical, the standard reply is :But you are quoting our of context. So, let us not make that mistake here, for the context is the key to the meaning of the text. If we read the whole passage, we find that it ends if by stating :But those who don’t listen,… they are the people of the Fire, and will live forever in it. So, while not mentioning the duty of war against the unbelievers, the passage at least confirms that they will go to hell forever.
The thrust of this passage is that Allah himself chooses who becomes Muslim and who doesn’t. Not that the two options are equal: the Muslim will enjoy paradise, the Kafir will suffer forever in hell. But Allah says that the Prophet need not worry, since it is Allah who makes people convert. The larger context of this passage is that Mohammed is getting discouraged because the Arabs, like the Jews, ridicule his claim of Prophethood, so Allah gives him some confidence by assuring him that these care of by Himself. At any rate, this Quranic verse does not at all say that it is all right to stick to another religion than Islam. Only by carefully keeping the context out of view, can it be presented as a statement of tolerance.
The same situation explains Quran 10:99:“If the Lord had wanted, all people would have entered the Faith together.” Will you then force people to accept Islam. But when he is weak, he gets revelations that Allah will take care of everything, even of conversations (an application of the Islamic notion of Taqdeer, fate or divine pre-ordination).
The same thing counts for this other verse presented as proof of Islamic tolerance:“Unto you your religion, unto me my religion”. (Quran 109:6) This appears in one of the earliest Suras, when Mohammed is still weak and unimportant. The Sura says repetitively that :“I do not serve what you serve, I will not worship what you will worship,…To you your religion, to me my religion”. All it says is that Mohammed breaks with the Meccan religion, and that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He rejects all composite culture and proclaims the incompatibility of the prevalent religion and his own Islam. This sura is not yet a declaration of war on the Pagan religions of Arabia and of the entire world, but it is certainly a preamble to such a declaration of war. At that time, Mohammed could not yet afford more than such a formal distancing from the prevalent religion, because he was not yet strong enough for an all-our confrontation.
Only by concealing the proper context, can one create the impression that Islam contains even one single positive injunction to tolerant co-existence and pluralism.
So, let us not be fooled by two or three seemingly tolerant statements in the Quran. Once Mohammed was powerful, and had a free choice between tolerance and intolerance, he shed all tactical semblance of live and let live, and opted for persecution and mass-slaughter of Kafirs. In the Medina Suras, there is ample testimony of Allah’s desire that Muslim make war on the Kafirs, and that they do not anyhow integrate and make friendship with them. We can safely say that the Quran does teach intolerance. Those moderate Muslims who deny this, thereby prove that they are apologists who put the interests of Islam higher than the truth. Expose them.
However, it is equally a historical fact that people have outgrown the fanaticism present in the earlier layers of their tradition. When you read how Moses and Joshua exterminated the tribes that stood in the way of the chosen people, all at Yahweh’s explicit command, you would except the Jews, the followers of Moses, to be ruthless persecutors of non-Jews. But in fact, for the last fourteen centuries, the Jews have not persecuted anyone.17 Even today, now that they have a state, they are the ones who have guaranteed freedom of worship as well as free access to the sacred places of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (as well as Baha’ism) for the respective believers, in contrast to the earlier Islamic regime. If there is tension with the non-Jews of the area, it is not due to any persecution in the name of Yahweh of Moses. Even the Biblical justification for the Israeli hold over Palestine, is only put forward by a minority of religious fundamentalists: for most Israelis and for their secular government, it is merely a matter if living in a sustainable state with defensible borders, which is a legitimate secular concern.18
So, if the Jews could grow out of the stage of bloody persecution, and develop a stable attitude of live and let live long ago, can the Muslims not do the same?
The fact that so many Muslim apologists are saying that Islam is really very tolerant, raises hopes that, regardless of what the Quran says, they at least accept that tolerance is a positive value. Of the simple Muslims who think Islam consists of drinking alcohol or eating pork, this tolerance is not a problem. But for Muslims who know Islamic doctrine and Islam’s exclusivist claims, it is a lot more difficult. And many seeming champions of tolerance and communal amity are at second sight only more sophisticated than their separatist brethren.
Take the case of those Muslims who opposed Jinnah and his communalist demand for partition. While Aligarh was a hotbed of Pakistani agitation, the Deoband school advocated the gradual Islamization of the entire united India. The godfather of modern Islamic fundamentalism, Maulana Maudoodi, was one of the staunchest opponents of Partition. He claimed that the Muslims had a right to rule all of India. In fact, many Hindus are glad that India was partitioned. They argue that a Muslim population of 24% (now more than 30%) in united India would never allowed Hindu society to function, and would have created trouble until it was safely and totally in power.
So if today moderate Muslims criticize Pakistan and the policies that led to Partition, I wonder if there is not some pan-Islamist design behind it.19 At any rate, Maulana Azad, that moderate that would have given 50% of all power positions to the Muslims, with the rest to be divided between Hindus, Christians, Ambedkarites, and others. Short, Azad was in favour of a Muslim India.
So, before the Muslim moderates can become credible, they will have to do better than their predecessors of the Azad generation, who, on closer inspection, turn out to be just as Muslim-imperialist as the communalists. A very little gesture, by far not sufficient but a minimum proof of good intention, would be that they come out in support of Salman Rushdie. Now that the man has become a Muslim, this doesn’t even require any deals Kafirs anymore. On December 28, 1990, Rushdie made an appeal to the Indian Muslims to come out and convince the Iranian leadership to cancel the death sentence.20 So, far, I have not seen this little gesture from any influence to stop the oppression of the non-Muslims in Pakistan, Bangla Desh and Kashmir.
The gentle scenario for the future is that Muslim leaders accept the value of tolerance and pluralism, and that they continue for some time to swear by the Quran even while effectively repudiating its intrinsic intolerance. Since crores of people have a sentimental attachment to the forms and names of Islam, the body of Islam will be kept alive for some more time, even while its spirit is giving way to the rational humanist spirit. The Hindu solution for Islam is not a dramatic mass-conversion, but a change in the spirit even while leaving the outer from intact. Allow the Muslims a stage of upholding the Quran rhetoric but claiming that it means something else that what it says. After that stage, the empty husk of Islam, with its Jihad phraseology and prophetic pretense, will be dropped easily.
This is the approach which Mahatma Gandhi tried: respecting the Scriptural and organizational body of Islam, and trying to influence and charge its spirit. The Mahatma’s failure should be studied, together with the success of the humanists in Europe who managed to create an intellectual climate in which Christians started outgrowing their exclusivism and self-righteousness (and mostly also Christianity itself). One conspicuous difference is that the Mahatma never criticized Islam, while the European humanists did criticize the evils of Christianity. In order to encourage the monotheists to discover the value of pluralism and tolerance, it is necessary to make a clear diagnosis of their exclusivism an intolerance, and to be frank about it.
13.5 How to say it
Since we cannot be fooled by the humanist pretenses of Muslim propagandists, we will henceforth be straightforward about the following established facts concerning Islam. Islam is an ideology based on an unreasonable claim to the possession of a unquiet and final revelation from the Creator of this universe. Islam makes a dangerous division in humanity between believers and unbelievers, and builds an absurd theology around it: for the superficial act of declaring or not declaring belief in Mohammed’s presence at prophethood, the one half will enjoy eternal lust in heaven, while the other will suffer eternal damnation in hell. Islam preaches and practices the systematic oppression and persecution of the non-Muslims. Because of its belief that the Quran, the historically contingent product of Mohammed’s own limited mind, is God’s eternal and final revelation, Islam prevents itself from adapting to new developments. It is bound to become backward, and it loses itself in outward details that do not have an authentic stamp of eternity at all.
All right, we reject Islam. And we can say to the Hindus that there is no reason at all to feel that Islam is somehow superior to Hinduism. On the contrary, Islam is a very defective ideology, very crude and superficial. It is also anti-humanist, since it makes the absolute distinction in mankind between Muslims and non-Muslims, who have a totally different status both in this world and in the next. Now, in this age, you cannot say those things to one group without another group also knowing about it, if at all you would want to proceed that secretively. How to say these things, knowing that Muslims are listening too?
For all his tactical mistakes, Mahatma Gandhi essentially had a powerful vision, centered on two concepts: satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence). We have to say the truth about Islam, but in a non-violent way. We have to combine truthfulness about Islam with non-violence and even non-hurtfulness towards the Muslims.
Being sensitive means: taking into account the way the other person will perceive things. So, let us imagine the situation of the Muslim regarding this discussion. Suppose you have believed that Mohammed was God’s unique and final spokesman, and that his life is to be emulated in every way. And then you get to here people say, with an air of competence, that these revelations were only in Mohammed’s head, that no sane person hears voices the way Mohammed did, that these revelations were very much centered around Mohammed’s life situation and there is nothing universal and eternal (i.e. worthy of the eternal Creator) about them. In other words: all you have believed in, is a big mistake. Does that not cause a big crisis?
It depends on whether you believe the skeptics or not. If you don’t believe them, you may get angry with them. You may even issue a fatwa condemning them to death. But this anger will partly be determined by the presentation of the skeptical viewpoint. If someone express his viewpoint in a personal conversation, and also patiently listens to your objections, if will be easier to tolerate than if someone speaks scornfully about your beliefs or mocks them in public.
If you are inclined to believe the skeptical viewpoint, you get into an inner rethinking of all the things that are somehow linked with the belief system. But once you get through that, it is a liberating experience. I have seen so many people of my generation, as well as some older people, go through this process of outgrowing Christianity. It is a very interesting experience. You just wouldn’t want to have missed it.
This large-scale process of people outgrowing the Christian belief system has seldom been the result of anti-Christian campaign. It has gone gradually, with people developing doubts and sharing these with friends, or with coming across books that opened up a different view on the life of the life of the soul. Where anti-religion campaigns in the Soviet block have failed, this gradually spreading of the spirit of free inquiry has severely undermined the hold of Christianity on the European mind.
This is the way the hold of unwholesome Islamic doctrines over people’s minds will have to be tackled. It is useless to propagandistically beat it out of them, it is even counterproductive. Look where Islam really lost it grip. Earlier in this century, people in countries like Iran and Egypt came under the influence of modernity, and gradually dropped Islamic ways and beliefs. They also rediscovered their glorious pre-Islamic past. This effect was stronger in proportion to the degree of education. There was no pressure on them to leave Islam, they themselves discovered that there are other things to life. Of course, we know that the process has been reversed in the seventies and eighties. But that is only temporary, because the relevant cultural factors at work in the earlier part of the century, are still there, and growing stronger.
As people are mentally or formally leaving a religion, you see the religion also opening up and listening to its critics. As people criticized Roman Catholicism, the Church itself changed : it dropped the Inquisition, the Index, the forced conversions, the intolerance of non-Church-members in Catholic institutions. It recognized the values of humanism, and corrected its social philosophy accordingly. In other words: the Church had ideologically been put on the defensive, and therefore it gave up its self-righteousness.
Similarly, Islam has to be put ideologically on the defensive. One should not go from door to door telling an unwilling Muslim audience what you think of their Prophet. Let the Muslims discover for themselves what the rational and scholarly views on the Prophet and the Islamic doctrines are. Those who are interested, will certainly find out what is being said in the public arena, and within non-Muslim communities, there Islam should definitely be put on the defensive.
Imagine the day when the fanatic leaders in the Muslim community notice:“On, people have found out that the Prophet taught something else than brotherhood. They know that the wars on the infidels have not been waged ‘in spite of the Prophet’s teaching of tolerance’ but rather in fulfillment of the Prophet’s injunctions. They have realized that the infidel society was not that much worse than Islamic society, and in many respects actually better.” That day they are bound to lose some of their self-righteousness. When a thief realizes people are aware of his thieving designs, he will think twice before starting again. Today these Muslim fanatics bask in all the praises heaped on Islam, and enjoy all the self-criticism among the Hindus: all this merely vindicates their sense of divine mission.
The day when Muslims join the humanist culture and freely express their uninterestedness in the claims of the prophet, and get supported by society at large, the fanatics will start doubting their case.
At the human level, I am aware that at first it may be very painful for those people who have really devoted their lives to Islam, to find out about its not so divine and not so superior nature. I really feel for them. Giving up one’s beliefs is harder in proportion to the part of one’s life that one has invested in them.
A Jesuit who, later in life, during his Bible research, started seeing that the Bible is really just a human creation, and that there is little God-given and eternal about the Christian teachings, morals and institutions, wrote in the epilogue to one of his scholarly books :“This has been a very painful process for me. Finding out that one has wasted one’s life on absurd beliefs…”21 Not that he regretted having come to this insight : the painful thing was that it had happened so late in life, that he had already missed so much because of the narrow Christian theological window through which he had experienced life so far. So, I can imagine that realizing the unfoundedness of one’s fond belief in belonging to a superior part of humanity, chosen for rule in this world and eternal lust in the next, may create a bitter feeling. Not bitterness against those who helped you to wake up from your fond illusions (if anything, jealousy because they were free from this particular illusion before you), but a kind of bitterness against your own earlier gullibility.
We may conclude that in exposing the falsehood and the inglorious record of Islam, we have to proceed in a dispassionate way, free of triumphalism, as gently as humanly possible.
Reported in Indian Express 19/12/1990. Not so long ago, the paper of the Belgian Marxist-Leninist party published an article by a historian who set out to debunk the myth that the communists had started this war. Fortunately we now have the Pravda to tell us the truth. ↩
Reported in Time, 14/1/1991. Meanwhile in Latin America, some people floated the idea of celebrating 1992 as the 500th anniversary of a meeting of cultures (cfr. the cultural synthesis for which Hindus should be grateful to the Muslim invaders). The idea was rejected in disgust by both Native Americans and European-descended intellectuals. ↩
The Gypsies are always forgotten when people mention the Nazi camps. They speak an Aryan language, in fact a Panjabi-Hindi dialect (efforts by Gypsy linguists are on to standardize their language using Devanagari script), so their massacre raises questions about Hitler’s Aryan scheme. They had been deported in the early part of Muslim rule in India. In Europe they have been living as nomads, and they are known for certain crafts, for fortune-telling and for their music. But people mistrusted them as thieves, and that hostility was taken to an extreme by Hitler. ↩
Similarly, both Israel and Korea had earlier refused to receive German and Japanese visitors unless they offered an apology for their countries’ war crimes. If Hindus today demand a similar act of recognition of past crimes, this is not overbearing or coercive, it is quite a normal thing to do. ↩
With glasnost in Poland, the official death toll of Auschwitz has been brought down from four million to over one million. Jewish sources had estimated it at about two million. It is therefore being suggested that the total number of Jews killed by the Nazis is only between five and six million. ↩
About the use of Hindu troops in Muslim armies, see K.S. Lal : Indian Muslims, Who Are They (Voice of India, Delhi 1990), p.106-108.. ↩
Bat Ye’or : The Dhimmi. Jews and Christians under Islam, Fairleigh Dickinson 1985, translated from French, Le Dhimmi, Paris 1980. The French paper Le Figaro put it briefly : “The dhimmis were undoubtedly the colonized natives.” (review on 26/7/1980) ↩
Speech reported in Times of India, 1/12/1990. ↩
Speech by the Math head of the Kabirpanthis in Allahabad, available on cassette ; and personal talk with the Math head of the Kabirpanthis in Varanasi. The fable that Kabir brought a synthesis between Islam and Hinduism, does not survive a comparison between his works and the Quran. That Kabir was a simple weaver who produced lofty poetry just like that, is another fable for children of socialists : Kabir was well-read and knew his classics. There are hardly any Muslims in the Kabirpanth, and it is only the Hindus who venerate him. ↩
A spiritually-minded friend of mine had read Rumi and other Sufis. He felt attracted to Islam, the religion that he thought must have inspired these Sufis. So he read the Quran. Well, that was the end of his love affair. But he continued his search. The real sources of Sufism, the pre-Islamic religions of Iran, were either directly related to the Vedic religion (Zoroastrianism), or influenced by Buddhism and other later Hindu sects. So logically, he ended up in India, and is now a genuine traditional Swami. ↩
Praising V.P. Singh for his caste-based reservations policy, Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav has said : “V.P. Singh is the first person after Lord Buddha and Mahavira to do something for the poor and downtrodden.” This assumes a mistaken view of Buddha’s and Mahavira’s work : they considered all worldly endeavours futile, including social reform, and they saw suffering as the core experience (and their Arya Dharma as the solution) in the life of all sentient beings, not just of the downtrodden. Such misconceptions may be forgiven to a politician who extols backwardness, but not to the intellectuals who fed him this myth in the first place. ↩
When Ambedkar led several lakhs of followers into mass conversion to Buddhism, he extracted from them 22 promises, essentially to break with all Hindu practices. This is totally un-Buddhist, as was pointed out at the time by experienced Buddhists from Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Ambedkar’s mental fixation on hatred for the Brahmins was not visibly mitigated by the Compassion which Buddhism teaches. It was a political conversion, just like the mass conversions his grandson has been leading in late 1990. ↩
The key work to understanding polytheism is Ram Swarup: The Word as Revelation : Names of Gods, published by Impex India, New Delhi, 1980. ↩
Mainstream,, 5/1/1991, and Times of India, 5/1/1991. ↩
Hindustan Times, 6/1/1991, with reference to Abd al-Aziz Sayed al-Ahl:Khalifa al-Zahid Umar bin al-Aziz, Cairo. ↩
e.g. A.A. Engineer has devoted a chapter to Islamic tolerance in his book Communalism and Communal Violence in India, Ajanta Publ., Delhi 1989. In it, he parades the classics of tolerance in the Quran and early Islamic history. ↩
In Arabia, in the century preceding Islam, they had persecuted the Christians, in a joint revenge action together with other religious communities that were persecuted in the Christian Byzantine empire, including the Nestorian Christian heretics. ↩
A few years ago, the Israeli representative in Bombay (there was no ambassador, because no full diplomatic relations) declared, no doubt correctly, that it was only the Indian government that sided with the Arabs, while the Indian people sympathized with Israel. He was thrown out of the country. ↩
e.g. M.J.Akbar (in his India:The Siege Within), Rafiq Zakaria,A.A. Engineer. To M.J.Akbar I would give the benefit of the doubt:he seems not so steeped in Islamic theology, and he is in the anti-Hindu-front as a secularist rather than as a pan-Islamic schemer. But for each of these moderated, one should compare what they say in English with what they say in Urdu:doing the moderate thing before a modern and non-Muslim audience doesn’t prove much. ↩
The Times of India, never a staunch defender of Rushdie, in its editorial of 12/1/1991, has asked Indian Muslims to “responds to mr. Rushdie’s appeal”. ↩
Dr. H. Somers :Jezus de Messias. Was het Christendom een vergissing? (“Jesus the Messiah. Was Christianity a Mistake?”) EPO Publ., Antwerp 1986. ↩