- Expansion and Contraction
- Islamic Saint Saw Upanishads as Secret Book of Quran
- Mingling of the two oceans - Hinduism and Islam
- Tipu Sultan: A Great Vedic Muslim
- Guru Nanak: Mekka Vedic
- Islam And Sri Caitanya
- Bhagavad-gita in Arabic (.pdf, 5.3 MB)
- Bhagavad-gita in Arabic online audio
- Books of Srila Prabhupada in Arabic
- Allah and Krishna Are The Same Person, by Sumeet Chandra
- An Interfaith dialogue with Islamic scholars
- reaction to An Interfaith dialogue with Islamic scholars
- Wesley Muhammad Williams, Islamic personalistic theologian
Dr. Frank Gaetano Morales (Madison, Wisconsin)
In its relatively short - and decidedly Western-centric - history, a wide variety of academic terms have arisen from within the discipline known as Religious Studies in the expressed order of assisting the field's specialists to more ably grasp the structure and outlook of religious sects and institutions. One pair of such terms that we encounter are the concepts of "Expansive" versus "Contractive". It is important to note that these two words are used, not with the intent of ascribing a superiority status to any one particular sect over another, or of denigrating any particular religious belief system, but with the aim of rationally understanding the functional and attitudinal aspects of differing religious institutions. In the following, I will illustrate the meaning of the terms Expansive and Contractive by examining two very different faiths: Hinduism and Islam.
Before we begin, however, it is important to first explain the difference between these two academic terms. An expansive religion is one which tends towards social and philosophical inclusiveness. Overall, such faiths tend to be both tolerant of internal differences of opinion, as well as open to positive contributions from outside the institutional bounds of the faith. Generally, they seek to embrace the social, political and philosophical realities that exist outside the sectarian confines of the religion. Expansive religions are inherently open, liberal, progressive and accepting.
By marked contrast, a contractive religion is exclusivistic in nature. Members of contractive sects tend to view themselves as being thoroughly separated from non-believers by virtue of their own espousal of the one and only true faith. Unlike expansive faiths, contractive religions tend to be highly suspicious of both internal dissent, as well as of perceived external challenges. Consequently, such faiths will often suppress any attempts at reform, change and renewal from within, and will repeatedly wage both ideological and martial war against other faiths whom they consider to be at odds with their own rigidly cherished notions of truth.
It has been argued by numerous scholars and practitioners that the religion of Hinduism is radically expansive by nature. This expansiveness can be seen, first, in the realm of traditional Hindu philosophical and theological thought. The six schools of Hindu philosophy (Shad-Darshanas), while completely united in their assessment and acceptance of the basic philosophical foundations of Hinduism, are quite diverse in their respective approaches to moksha, or the ultimate spiritual attainment of liberation. For example, while the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy posits a dualistic ontology, juxtaposing the two distinct elements of purusha (spirit) and prakriti (matter), the school of Advaita Vedanta sees reality in purely monistic terms. For Shankara's Advaita, there is only one substance in reality: Brahman, or unbounded consciousness.
For Vedanta, on the other hand, ritual is generally viewed as being merely a collection of symbolic rites, the efficacy of which is negligible in contrast with the attainment of brahma-vidya, or the knowing of Brahman; but for the Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy, ritual in accordance with Vedic injunction is the highest religio- philosophical activity that can be performed by human beings. Despite the diversity and freedom of opinion that has existed both within and between these many schools of Hindu thought, these schools have all peacefully co-existed in India for thousands of years, preferring to do battle in the realm of civil academic debate rather than on the bloody battlefields of supposed holy wars.
In keeping with this respect for diversity of opinion and thought, hundreds of various sects, traditions and schools of thought have arisen within the tolerant framework of Hindu culture. So open-minded has the Hindu outlook traditionally been that it has been said by many Western academic observers of Hinduism that whatever your individual belief, concern or practice may be, there is (or at least has at one time been) a sect of Hinduism that embraces it. While this claim is certainly somewhat of an exaggeration, it does point to the fact that Hinduism is, indeed, a religion of tolerance, diversity and expansion.
The atmosphere of tolerance traditionally encouraged by Hinduism is dramatically seen in how Hinduism has historically dealt with heterodox religious and philosophical movements. The religions of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are three religions that originated as offshoots from Hinduism. Both Buddhism and Jainism began as ascetically oriented movements within mainstream Hinduism in the fifth century B.C.E. Sikhism, which was founded by the great Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century C.E., was an attempt to synthesize the profound philosophical insights of Hinduism with the zealous martial spirit of Islam. While all three movements were founded as schools of thought within the greater rubric of Hindu culture, in time, all three began to view themselves as religions distinct from the Vedic/Hindu world-view.
Despite several major philosophical and religious differences between these three sects and Hinduism, however, most of the contention between these religions have remained on a purely philosophical level. At no time in Indian history did there occur such instances of persecution and bigotry between these religions as was witnessed in the Inquisition, Crusades or witch-hunts so well known in the sad history of Western religious expression. Consequently, while it is certainly true that no religion falls perfectly into either the expansive or the contractive category, it is probably rather safe to say that Hinduism does display more expansive characteristics than not.
With the above caveat about the dangers of generalizing in mind, we will now explore a more contractive religion. Unlike the tolerance observed throughout the long and very illustrative history of Hinduism, Islam demands that its adherents follow a very rigidified code of beliefs, attitudes and practices. Every Muslim, for example, is required to uphold six sacred religious beliefs. Muslims must believe: a) that there is only one true god, whose name is Allah, b) in the existence of a vast repertoire of semi-divine beings called angels, c) in a specific number of recognized prophets (ranging from Abraham to Muhammad, and including Jesus and Moses) who were sent by Allah to reveal his commandments upon humanity, d) in the revelations given by Allah to these specific prophets, e) in a final Day of Judgment in which all beings will either join Allah in paradise or perish eternally in hell, and f) in the doctrine of predestination (the idea that Allah has already preordained who will be saved and who will perish).
In addition to these six obligatory beliefs, it is required that each Muslim perform five practical religious duties, known as the Five Pillars of Islam. These are: 1) Confession of the faith ("There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet"), 2) prayers five times daily, 3) fasting during the month of Ramadan, 4) Almsgiving, and 5) the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. All people who do not follow these commands of Allah are considered by Muslims to be unbelievers, and are subsequently subject to conversion to the one true faith of Islam.
In Islamic theo-political theory, the non-Muslim world is divided into two broad categories: a) Dhimmis, or people of "the book", and b) Heathens, or subhuman non-believers. The Dhimmis - Jews and Christians - are considered to be people of the Covenant because they are followers of the earlier revelations of the prophets Moses and Jesus, respectively. Dhimmis were therefore historically given special protective status in the Islamic world. Despite this special treatment by Islamic rulers, however, Judaism and Christianity are still considered by Muslims to be religions that fall short of being true religion.
Followers of all other religions that lie outside of the Judeo- Christian-Islamic world-view, however, are looked upon as "heathens" by the Islamic religious law. Such "Heathens" include Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, and the followers of all earth-centered indigenous religions. "Heathens", up until the last few hundred years, were considered third class citizens in Islamic societies, and were subject to forced conversion, special taxation and persecution. The temples and sacred relics of such "heathens" were systematically destroyed, their priests, saints and sages were killed and their histories rewritten by Islamic scholars. Islam is considered by more liberal Muslims as being the most legitimate of all religions, and by its conservative elements as being the only true religion, all other forms of religious expression being but pale imitations of the glory of Islam.
Not only are non-Muslim religions looked upon with a very high degree of suspicion by Muslims, but internal dissent is also rarely tolerated in Islam. Heterodox movements within Islam, such as the Shias, Druze and Alawites, are considered heretical and their respective followers have historically been persecuted and killed by the majority Sunnis. In addition, strict Islamic societies are usually guided by the Sharia, the rigid code of law and rules which governs the life and behavior of all Muslims. The strict demands placed upon believers, coupled with a lesser degree of tolerance than is exhibited in more expansive religions, make for a convincing argument that Islam would be considered a contractive religion by most objective observers.
It is crucial that the many varied and diverse religions of the world be studied, as much as is feasible, on their own terms, and from an objectively sympathetic perspective. Like all the many attempts to analyze and categorize faith systems that have arisen from the field of Religious Studies, the Expansive/Contractive definition is but an attempt to better understand the differences between the many diverse religions of the world. These terms are certainly helpful pointers to a general understanding of the specific religions under observation, but they are not wholly perfect instruments in making such assessments. It is my hope that these two terms have assisted the reader somewhat in gaining a more objectively focused glimpse into the psychological, philosophical and social distinctions that exist between two very different world-views.
- Andrae, Tor. Mohammed: The Man and His Faith. New York: Schribners, 1936.
- Avdich, Kamil Y. Survey of Islamic Doctrine. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: privately printed, 1979.
- Cane, P. V. A Brief Sketch of the Purva-Mimamsa System. Poona: Aryabhushan Press, 1924.
- Chaudhuri, Roma. Ten Schools of the Vedanta. 3 vols. Calcutta: Rabindra Bharati University, 1981.
- Deutsch, Eliot. Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1969.
- Esposito, John, ed. Islam and Development. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1980.
- Galwash, Ahmad. The Religion of Islam. Cairo, Dar al-Shaab, 1952.
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- Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
- Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. 2 Vols. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996.
- Rahman, Fazlur. Islam. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
- Rust, Eric C. Religion, Revelation & Reason. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1981.
By Shweta Austin
Prince Muhammad Dara Shikoh (1627-1658 AD) the favorite Sufi son of Moghul emperor, Shah Jehan. Known the world over for his unorthodox and liberal views. He was a mystic and a free thinker.
Dara Shikoh, wrote in his Persian translation of the Upanishads.
"After gradual research; I have come to the conclusion that long before all heavenly books, God had revealed to the Hindus, through the Rishis of yore, of whom Brahma was the Chief, His four books of knowledge, the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda."
He had learned Sanskrit and studied the Hindu scriptures in the original.
He translated the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga-Vasishta into Persian directly from Sanskrit and called it Sirr-e-Akbar (The Great Mystery). Titled "The Upanishads: God's Most Perfect Revelation" and then into Latin by Anquetil Duperron (1801 and 1802) under the title Oupnekhat, contained about fifty. The Quran itself, he said, made veiled references to the Upanishads as the "first heavenly book and the fountainhead of the ocean of monotheism."
In his Majma-al-Bahrain, he sought to reconcile the Sufi theory with the Vedanta.
He was able to affirm that Sufism and Advaita Vedantism (Hinduism) are essentially the same, with a surface difference of terminology.
And in introduction to this work he says that one finds in Upanishads the concept of tawhid (the doctrine of Unity of God, the most fundamental doctrine of Islam) after the Qur'an and perhaps the Qur'an refers to Upanishad when it refers to Kitab al-Maknun (The Hidden Book). His work Majma-al-Bahrain (Mingling of the Two Oceans i.e. Hinduism and Islam) is very seminal work in the history of composite culture of India.
Two years after the completion of the Sirr-i-Akbar, Dara was executed on the orders of his brother Aurangzeb.
It's a strange feeling to feel lost in your own city. It happened after spending hours trying to locate what was once considered the pantheon of all knowledge and the glory of Shahjahanabad, the library of Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan's eldest son. After hovering near the Kashmiri Gate area in the scorching heat for hours my efforts finally paid off as I entered the huge colonial bungalow which is now the office of the Archeological Department of the Delhi government.
With little idea of what the century-old library would look like, I was nevertheless somewhat taken aback to find the entire complex surrounded by jamun trees, huge white pillars, speaking of British architecture, and wooden blinds covering the verandahs. The only remnant of Mughal architecture could be seen in the basement.
Dara, a professed Muslim, was known the world over for his unorthodox and liberal views and was deeply imbued with the heretical mysticism of the Sufis. He mixed freely with philosophers and scholars of other religions. In fact, due to his relations with priests like Father Buseo, there were even rumors at one time about his embracing Christianity. During the autumn of 1657, after endless intrigues, when Aurangzeb finally ascended the throne, Dara fled westward.
The Rajputs were the main supporters of Dara Shikoh and if Jaswant Singh of Marwar had not behaved treacherously, he might have won. Later, he was betrayed by his Afghan host, Malik Jeewan, a person whose life he had once saved from the wrath of Shah Jahan. The court theologians readily humored Aurangzeb's penchant for legal proceedings and passed the death sentence against Dara Shikoh. Dara was beheaded and his corpse paraded through the city and buried without ceremony in a vault near Humayun's Tomb.
The death of Dara also meant the destruction of his library. Dara's estate, comprising the palace, library and garden were given to the subedar of Lahore, Ali Mardan Khan, and later taken over by Wazir Safdarjung, before being captured by the British. According to the records at the Archeological Department the building changed hands at least seven times, each time being modified by its owners.
The first to do so was the Viceroy of Punjab, Ali Mardan Khan Mohammad, around 1639. Then came Sir David Ochterlony Bart around 1803, after which it was taken over by the government college between 1804 to 1877 and later by the District College in 1877 to 1886 until the Municipal Board School took it till 1904. It finally came to the Delhi College of Engineering till recently when it came under the Delhi government.
This perhaps explains why nothing typically Mughal in style or architecture is visible here, asserts Nita Bali, the secretary of Art and Culture, Delhi government. The guiding force behind the renovation of the Ghalib Manzil, Nita observes, "It has not been easy for us to restore the 'original' touch to the library since no original plan has been recovered. On our part, we have tried to preserve whatever traces of Mughal architecture that still existed."
Referring to the inaction of the government in preserving the monument till now, Bali's opinion is to let the past rest and concentrate on doing some good work in the present. She has come up with a Citizen's Charter aiming at the digitization and upgrading of the archaeological museum set up on the premises, besides an advisory committee chaired by her which will be responsible for ensuring conservation.
At present, the department is also planning to extend its conservation activities to the Mutiny Memorial near GTK Depot, Baradari at Sadhana Enclave, Zail at Bawana and Lodi period tomb at Katwaria Sarai, all within a budget of Rs 50 lakh. However, Bali maintains that "till the Delhi Ancient and Historical Monuments and Sites and Remains Bill awaits the assent of the President of India, we are not equipped to effectively preserve monuments of local importance."
Also commendable is the fact that the basement of the monument (Dara's library), known to be the only original portion of the library which still exists, has been preserved. Dr B S R Babu the deputy director of the archaeology department who showed me around the basement with its typically Mughal pillars, cleaned and carved out after the debris from the structure was cleared, says the conservation work was started in February in phases.
The first phase is complete and a feast awaits lovers of history. The first task it faced was having to tear down the encroachments that had come up in all these years before beginning renovations in keeping with whatever records and references they could lay their hands on.
However, it remains to be seen how the department approaches the issue of Dara's original manuscripts which have been missing since the time of his death. For instance, there is his Persian version of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. While many are familiar with Dara Shikoh's translation of the Upanishads, few know that in the preface to the translation, he speculates that the Upanishads may well have been the secret book mentioned in the Quran. It was for this reason that he called the Upanishads, The Great Secret. Among his literary works is his book Majma-al-Bahrain which aims at bringing Islam and Hinduism closer. While it is said that Dara's passion for books saw him spend most of his time in the library, which was close to his living apartments and contained a valuable collection of works brought from Turkey, Persia, Greece, Egypt and various parts of India, apart from his own scholarly works. Sadly enough, the library stands empty today.
Interestingly, some see it as part of Aurangzeb's plan to blot out every memory of Dara, his 'infidel' brother whose work he considered heretical. Others say these works found their way to auction houses and private collectors of England. Dr Babu says the works may be in Lahore, the Royal Asiatic Society Bengal, Asfiya Library in Hyderabad and the Punjab University according to references. "We will try to locate these," he says. As to how he plans to do this, it's anybody's guess!
Asghar Ali, Engineer
Dara Shikoh has made seminal contribution to the composite culture of India. He was appointed heir apparent by Shah Jahan and had he become emperor of India it would have certainly made much difference to religio-cultural scene in India. Dara Shikoh had learnt Sanskrit and studied the Hindu scripture in original. He translated Upanishads into Persian directly from Sanskrit and called it Sirr-e-Akbar (The Great Mystery). And in introduction to this work he says that one finds in Upanishads the concept of tawhid (the doctrine of Unity of God, the most fundamental doctrine of Islam) after the Qur'an and perhaps the Qur'an refers to Upanishad when it refers to Kitab al-Maknun (The Hidden Book). His work Majma-al-Bahrain (Mingling of the Two Oceans i.e. Hinduism and Islam) is very seminal work in the history of composite culture of India.
Dara Shikoh who was the disciple of the disciple of Mian Mir, the great Sufi saint who had laid the foundation stone of the Har Mandir in Amritsar at the instance of the Sikh Guru shows in this book that there is great deal of similarities between these two great religions Hinduism and Islam. He divides his tract into twenty sections like The Elements, The Senses, The Religious Exercises, The Attributes, the Great Resurrection and so on. In each section he discusses similarities between Hinduism and Islam.
For example, in the first section "Discourse on the Elements" he compares the concept of these elements in Islam and Hinduism. They are five in number i.e. Arsh-i-Azam (The Great Throne); secondly the wind, thirdly the Fire; Fourthly the water and Fifthly the Dust. In the Indian language these are called Panch Bhut namely akash, vayu, tejas, jala and prithvi. He then discusses these elements and their similarities in both the traditions. Dara Shikoh for example compares Ruhi-i-Azam with jivatma.
Then coming to Sifat-I-Allah Ta`ala i.e. Divine Attributes he says in Islamic Sufi tradition there are two Beauty (Jamal) and Majesty (Jamal) while in Indian tradition it is called Triguna, called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas which mean Creation, Duration and Destruction. Then he goes on to compare Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshvara with Jibrail, Mika'il and Israfil. He says that Brahma or Jibra'il is the superintending angel of Creation; Vishnu or Mika'il is the angel of Duration (or Existence) and Maheshvara or Israfil is the angel of Destruction. Dara Shikoh further says that water, wind and fire are also allied with these angels. Thus water goes with Jibra'il, fire with Mika'il and air with Israfil. Similarly Brahma is water, Vishnu is fire and Maheshvara is air.
In all these 20 sections in Majma-al-Bahrain Dara Shikoh finds similarities between both Hindu and Islamic (particularly Sufi) traditions. The fanatics and fundamentalists in both the traditions denounce each other and try to prove the truth of their own religion. In such circumstances it is highly necessary to popularize writings of persons like Dara Shikoh who uphold the truth of all religious traditions. The Sufi Islam has been a bridge between Hindus and Muslims in India. The very fundamental doctrine of Sufism has been sulh-i-kula i.e. peace with all.
The Sufis go with essence, not with phraseology or terminology. The Sufis studied the local traditions and adopted many of them. Even in the Qur'an one finds remarkable similarities between some of the Hindu traditions and Islamic tradition. For example in Indian tradition we find Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram for God. One finds in the Qur'an Huwa'l Haq (He is Truth), Jamil (Sundaram) and Jabbar (Shivam). All three Attributes are there in the Qur'an.
Also, the often quoted saying Vasudhaiv Kutumbakum (entire universe is a family) finds its reflection in the Holy Prophet's saying Al-khalqu `Ayalullah i.e. entire creation is Allah's family. These are remarkable similarities between these two traditions. It is on these similarities that the Sufis and others built the bridges between the two communities. However, it is some political interests, which selectively and superficially use some traditions to divide Hindus and Muslims. Thus one can easily say that while religions unite the politics divide.
Among the `Ulama persons like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad came out with the doctrine of unity of religion (wahdat-i-din) which is also very constructive approach. There have been many Sufi saints in India like Mazhar Jan-i-Janan who accept Ram and Krishna as the Prophets of God as Allah has stated in the Qur'an that He has sent prophets to all nations. Thus we must promote similarities between Hindus and Muslims and there are abundant examples of these similarities in our scriptures.
The story of a Patriotic Martyr
By Dr. B. N. Pande
In 1927-28 I was doing some research on Tipu Sultan at Allahabad. One day some office-bearers of Anglo-Bengali college students' union approached me with a request to inaugurate their history Association. They had directly come from the college with their text-books. Incidentally, I glanced through their text book. I opened the chapter on Tipu Sultan. One of the sentences that struck me deeply was: "Three thousand Brahmins committed suicide as Tipu wanted to convert them forcibly into the fold of Islam."
The author of the text-book was Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. Har Prasad Shastri, Head of the Department of Sanskrit, Calcutta University. I immediately wrote to Dr. Shastri for the source of his information. After many reminders came the reply that he had taken the fact from the Mysore Gazetteer. The Mysore Gazetteer was not available either at Allahabad or at the imperial Library, Calcutta. So I wrote to Sir Brijendra Nath Seal, the then Vice Chancellor of Mysore University seeking a confirmation of the statement of Dr. Shastri. Sir Brijendra Nath Seal forwarded my letter to Prof. Srikantia, who was then busy editing a new edition of the Mysore Gazetteer. Prof. Srikantia informed me that "the episode of the suicide of 3,000 Brahmins is nowhere in the Mysore Gazetteer and he, as student of history of Mysore, was quite certain that no such incident had taken place." He further informed me that the Prime Minister of Tipu Sultan was a Brahmin, named Purnea and his Commander-in-Chief was also a Brahmin, named Krishna Rao. He supplied me with the list of 156 temples to which Tipu Sultan used to pay annual grants. He sent me 30 photostat copies of Tipu Sultan's letters addressed to the then Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Sringeri Math with whom Tipu Sultan and his father Haider Ali had very cordial relations. Tipu Sultan, as was customary with the rulers of Mysore, daily visited the temple of Lord Ranganatha located inside the fort of Srirangapatanam before taking his breakfast.
Dr. Shastri's book was approved as a course book of history for High Schools in Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Orissa, U P, M P and Rajasthan, I approached the then Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University and sent him al the correspondence that I had exchanged with Dr. Shastri, with Mysore University, Vice Chancellor, Sir Brijendra Nath Seal, and Prof. Srikantia, with the request to take proper action against the offending passages in the text-book. Prompt came the reply from the Vice-Chancellor, that the history book by Dr. H.P. Shastri has been put out of course.
IN YOUNG INDIA, edited by Mahatma Gandhi dated January 23, 1930, on page 31 appeared the following item:
Fatehali Tipu Sultan of Mysore is represented by foreign historians as
a fanatic who oppressed his Hindu subjects and converted them to Islam
by force. But he was nothing of the kind. On the other hand his
relations with his Hindu subjects were of a perfectly cordial nature.
The Archaeological Department of Mysore State is in possession of over
thirty letters by Tipu to the Shankaracharya of Sringeri Math. These
letters are written in the Kannada characters. In one of the letters
written to the Shankaracharya in 1793 Tipu acknowledges receipt of the
Shankaracharya's letter and requests him to perform TAFAS (i.e., to
undergo self-purificatory discipline) and to offer prayers for the
welfare and prosperity of his own realm as for that of the whole
universe. And finally he asks the Shankaracharya to return to Mysore,
for the presence of good men in a country brings down rain and makes
for good cultivations and plenty. This letter deserves to be printed
in letters of gold in every history of India, and no apology need
therefore be offered for reproducing in Devanagari characters the
original Kannada which is full of Sanskrit words, some of these being
printed here: Tipu made lavish gifts of land and other things to Hindu
temples and temples dedicated to Shri Venkataramana, Shrinivas and
Shri Ranganath and located in the vicinity of Tipu's palaces still
bear testimony to his broad-minded toleration, and indicate that great
martyr at any rate for a real martyr he was in the cause of liberty
was not disturbed in his prayers by the Hindu bells calling people to
worship the same Allah whose devotee he was.
The above info may be considered controversial. This presentation is more balanced: Tipu_Sultan: Religious policy
"According to tradition, Guru Nanak said to contemporary theologians
of Islam during his visit to Mecca...." According to Makke-Madine di
Goshati edited by Prof. Kulwant Singh, Guru Nanak said: "Mecca is an
ancient place of pilgrimage, and there is a Linga of Mahadeva here. It
was presided over by the Brahmanas. One of the Brahmanas, though born
among them, became a Musalman... . His own name was Mohammed, which
means the same as Mahadeva... . He floated some sort of a creed, and
taught it... ."
by Swami B.V. Parivrajak Co-ordinator of the World Vaisnava Association
Inter-religious debates have a deep value for all those who hanker to see the establishment of Vaishnavism as the world religion for all mankind. Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and so many other beliefs have all their relative importance in the development of theism. This can be loosely compared to the relative function of many rooms in a house. That house, or Vaishnava dharma, is beyond the reach of all those who neglect the eternal, original function of the soul.
Saints and prophets reveal the knowledge of Krishna according to time, place and circumstances. In the age of Kali, however, the sacrifice of the saints is more intense due to the high degree of moral corruption and forgetfulness of God. In this short essay we are going to examine briefly the nature of the Islamic faith and its link with the Vaishnava dharma. [sentence removed on request] References to the Holy Koran, Sri Caitanya-caritamrita and Jaiva Dharma are also interspersed in the presentation.
The mission of the holy prophet Mohammed was to reestablish the worship of the only true God and stop idolatry, or unauthorized demigod worship. Although Mohammed factually accepted and respected all the sacred images as a genuine method to honor Allah, he could not reveal this confidential information because the people of his times were in a condition of great moral degradation. To have more than a wife was the rule and incestuous relations between mothers and sons were common.
The ancient Arabs believed in Allah, the only God, but actually they did not worship Him. They thought that Allah had entrusted the management of the various functions of the universe to different demigods. The faithful addressed these gods to invoke their blessings. They prayed to them to get the favor of Allah. The Arabs of the Syrian desert considered Al-Manat, the goddess of fortune, wife of Allah and mother of all the gods. Some deities as Al- lat, the goddess of heaven, and Al-Uzza, the goddess of Venus, were considered the daughters of Allah. The tribes of Yemen worshiped the sun. Others were worshiping the moon and still others the stars. Most of them worshiped idols. Traditions and rites were exclusively aimed to fulfill material desires. The degradation of the moral and religious principles had reached such a level where a messenger of God was necessary. Hazrat Muhammad (Mohammed) appeared in order to realize this plan of the Lord.
Mohammed took birth at Mecca around 570 AD. His father died before his birth and his mother shortly after. It was his grandfather, the respectable Abdul Muttalib who took care of him. The Kaba was under the custody of his grandfather. This temple, built by Adam of Biblical reminiscence and rebuilt by others for the worship of the only one God, was called the House of Allah. However, the main objects of worship were 360 idols. Those who did not approve of this situation which prevailed since centuries were known as Hunafas. They practiced ascetic life and meditation. They often withdrew from social life and went to live in solitary places. Mohammed grew in the beginning as a devotee of the goddess Al-Uzza, but gradually he came to realize the anomalies in the religious practices of his people. He naturally came closer to the life style of the Hunafas. For one month in a year he withdrew from family life and lived in a cave in the desert. His place of meditation, Hira, was a desertic hill not far from Mecca. It was there that one night he received the first revelation of God through the angel Gabriel. During the rest of his life, Mohammed continued to receive revelations during which he was experiencing an ecstatic trance characterized by tremor and profuse perspiration. This trance induced him to shout and faint several times. The Koran (Al-Qur' an), the compilation of the revelations of Allah, was edited only after the demise of the prophet. Mohammed had to refound the religious consciousness of Islam. His task was to uproot the problem of idolatry which was like a spreading disease. In order to achieve this aim, he apparently acted in an extremely radical way. Once, anyhow, Mohammed accepted a sacred image. This happened during the conquest of Mecca. On that occasion he entered the Kaba and ordered the destruction of all the idols. There were paintings on the walls among which an image of the Holy Mary with baby Jesus. According to the tradition, Mohammed did not allow this image to be destroyed.
The nature of Allah
The Koran establishes the impersonal nature of God, but a closer reading reveals the personal God. Once Mohammed explained that in each of the verses of the Koran there is an external as well as an internal meaning. Five hundred years ago, in the conversation with the saint Abdullah Pathan, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu offered His realized interpretation of the Sacred Koran. After visiting Vrindavan, Sri Caitanya was on the way to Allahabad when, in a condition of ecstatic rapture, he fainted in a village. Some Pathan soldiers saw the condition of Sri Caitanya and concluded that His companions must have poisoned Him and killed Him in order to steal His possessions. Balabhadra Bhattacharya and other assistants of Sri Caitanya were immediately arrested. It was only after Sri Caitanya went back to the external consciousness that they were released. Among the Muslims was present the saint Abdullah Pathan, who discussed with Sri Caitanya about the nature of Allah. Abdullah Pathan tried to establish the impersonal nature of God on the basis of the revelations of the Koran. All historians confirm that Sri Caitanya was a great expert of all the religions of the world and had full knowledge of all the meanings, external as well as internal, of the verses of the Sacred Scripture. Sri Caitanya said, "The Koran has certainly established the impersonal nature of God, but ultimately it rejects impersonalism and establishes the personal God." Sri Caitanya pointed out that according to the Holy Koran, Allah is also a person. One who thinks, wills, feels, has senses, desires, qualities, remembrance, knowledge, relationship with others, individual existence, activities and identity is defined as a person. If this definition of a person is applicable to Allah, we should accept Mahaprabhu's statement regarding the personal aspect of Allah.
Since the Koran proclaims that Allah is unlimited, then He must be simultaneously personal and impersonal. This is possible because Allah is not a person in a limited mundane sense. His personality is completely spiritual, free from any material qualities and beyond the limits of time and space. The Koran itself suggests that Allah has different personal features.
Innallaaha la-Zuu-Fazlin 'alan-naasi wa laa- kinna 'aksa- rahum laa yash-kuruun
"Allah is bountiful toward men, but most of them are ungrateful" (10.60)
Inna Rabii Latiful-limaa yashaaa / 'inna-huu Huwal- 'Aliimul- Hakiim
"My Lord is tender to whom He will. For He is the knower, the wise." (12.100)
Innallaaha la-'Afuw-wun Gafur"
"Behold! Verily Allah is mild and forgiving." (22.60)
In these few Qur'anic verses, Allah has been described as fazlin, or bountiful; latif, or tender; hakim, or wise; afuw, or mild; gafur, or forgiving. Obviously the owner of these qualities must be a person. Otherwise how can an abstract power be bountiful or forgiving, mild or wise? To say that an impersonal truth has all these qualities, which factually require a personal awareness, is meaningless. Sri Caitanya explained to the Pathans that Allah is the Supreme Person and should be worshiped through the sankirtana- yajna, the congregational chant of the holy names of the Lord.
"Chant the name of Rahman!"
Mahaprabhu found references in the Holy Koran to show the Pathan soldiers how this spiritual method is not the exclusive monopoly of any religious sect. It is a universal method and is recommended in all the true Scriptures of the world. It is possible to develop love of God if we sincerely take shelter in the Supreme Lord and sing His holy names. In the Sacred Koran (17.110) it is said,
qulid-'ullaha 'awid-'ur rahman 'ayyama tad-'u fala-hul-'asma-'ul- husna
"Invoke Allah, invoke Rahman, the most merciful one. Invoke Him through any of His names. To Him belong the most beautiful names." According to a famous Islamic tradition, the knowledge of Allah is based upon one hundred names, one of which remains secret. It is said that one can conquer the world, if he discovers the hidden name. A list of the 99 names of Allah is available on request.
Then Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, tomara shastre kahe sheshe 'eka-i- ishvara sarvaishvarya-purna tenho - shyama kalevara (Caitanya- caritamrita Madhya-lila 18.190)
"In your Holy Scripture it is said that ultimately there is only one God. He is full of opulence and His bodily complexion is shyama, blackish like a monsoon cloud." In the sura "Al-Baqarah", or "The Cow" of the Holy Koran there is a specific verse which confirms this statement of Mahaprabhu's.
sibgatallah wa man 'ah - sanu minallahi sibgah
"We take our colour from Allah and who is better than Allah at coloring?" (2.138)
In this verse it is explained that nobody can surpass Allah in lending colour to His own creation. He is the source of all colors and possesses them too. No wonder that some colour of this material world should resemble His colour. Besides, Mohammed personally said to his associates, "We take our colour from Allah". If the colour of the Arabs resembles that of Allah, we can safely conclude that Allah is of a beautiful dark complexion. And Krishna is that selfsame Allah. In fact, one of the most celebrated names of Krishna is Shyamasundara, the beautiful boy with shyama kalevara, the colour of a stormy cloud. This dark colour(shyama), fully spiritual, is beyond the perception of the material senses and the mind.
Esk is the goal of life
Sri Caitanya explained that the purpose of the Holy Koran is to establish within the human society that Allah (Krishna), is the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Being, and that to develop esk, or pure love, for Allah is the ultimate goal of life.
The saint Abdullah Pathan, fully convinced by the expert preaching of Sri Caitanya, was later on initiated into the Vaishnava faith. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu renamed him Ram Das. Afterwards all the soldiers, transformed by the charismatic presence of Sri Caitanya, embraced the life of renunciation.
In Jaiva Dharma Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has reported an exchange of opinions about the ultimate goal of life between the Vaisnava saint Lahiri Mahashaya and the Head of the Mohammedan community or Kazi. Lahiri Mahashay put a question to the Kazi, "Will you kindly give me your definition of mukti as per your Koran?" The Kazi replied,"According to the Holy Koran, there are two kinds of 'ru' or individual souls. The ru in bondage is known as tarkavi-ru, the ru which is eternally free is the mujarradi-ru. 'Alam-misala' is the name of the spiritual world. 'Esk' means prema. By culturing esk, ru becomes pure and transcends mundanity. All this has been stated in the Koran, but all Mohammedans are not competent to understand these points." Are 'esk' and 'prema' on the same level? Again we find the answer in Jaiva Dharma. The words of Srila Sanatana Goswami, who was deeply learned in the Muslim language and tradition, are quoted in this regard. Sanatan Goswami said, "The word esk means love, but unfortunately the Muslim preachers cannot understand it properly. By the word esk they mean either physical or mental demonstration of love on the mundane plane."
The religion of the jivas is one. Apparently there is no reason why the religion of the individual souls should vary according to race, language and country. We can see that a variety of mental dispositions causes the jaiva dharma to appear in a perverted form. Actually all religions are pure in proportion to the degree of Vaishnava dharma they display. As humble preachers we are glad to find the connecting points between the different beliefs and the eternal sanatana-dharma. For instance, at the end of the Gita (18.66) Sri Krishna had requested Arjuna to abandon any form of irreligion and religion, and simply surrender unto Him. The Holy Koran (3.31) maintains the same principle:
qul 'in-kuntum tuhibu-nallaha fatabi -'uni yahbib-kumullahu wa yagfir lakum zunubakum wallahu gafurur-rahim
"If you love Allah, follow me. Allah will love you. He will forget your sins because Allah is the One who forgives, the Merciful." We shall end here by remembering that Allahu Akbar. Yes, Allah (Krishna) is great and Mohammed is His prophet (or a prominent one). Nobody before Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, however, had revealed to the world the real meaning of Allah's greatness and glory.
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