ByÂ Karmanye Thadani:Â
The communal Hindus, completely oblivious to or overlooking the fact that there are several Quranic verses emphasizing peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood (e.g. verses 2:256, 4:94, 5:32, 6:8, 49:13 and 109:6; there is also this false propaganda that such Quranic verses disappear towards the end of the book being superseded by verses advocating violence, though the fact is that the very last verse of the book advocates tolerance stating “you unto your religion, me unto mine”), and that the Quran allows violence in the name of religion or external jihad (internal jihad being a process of self-cleansing or fighting the evils within oneself) only against those that forcibly displace Muslims from their homes or deprive them of their freedom of religion, and there are clear instructions to attack only the perpetrators of these crimes and not innocents, especially not women, children and the elderly, or that Islam marked the beginning of looking down upon slavery, female foetecide or not educating the girl child in the Middle East, would only associate the religion with religious intolerance, violence, rigidity in religious beliefs and practices and the subjugation of women. In fact, the misinterpretation of the Quran as regards four male witnesses to testify rape has been busted in this article by an erudite Muslim. Likewise, some point out that Prophet Muhammad was a pedophile, but even going by the Islamic texts, the narrative of Aisha, his youngest wife, being nine years old when she married him is highly doubtful as has been explained very well in this piece.
In fact, it is interesting to note that a recruitment manual used by many Islamist terror outfits (the usage of the term ‘Islamist’ instead of ‘Islamic’ is indeed deliberate) points out that youths who don’t have much knowledge of theology make softer targets for recruitment on being exposed to the rather exaggerated accounts of injustices Muslims have been subjected to globally, for a Muslim with a goodÂ know-howÂ of his faith would generally not accept their interpretation of jihad (for reference, please see this article).Â
Some of the prejudiced Hindus also have a tendency to criticize the practice of animal sacrifices in Islam (though arguably not ordained by the faith) as highly inhuman, unaware of the fact that Hindus too engage in animal sacrifices (bali) in many different temples across the country, the most significant example being goat sacrifices in Kali temples in West Bengal, especially in the Navratri season and animal sacrifices have existed among the Hindus even in the period of Gautam Buddha (he had objections to the same) much before Prophet Muhammad was even born! In fact, historically speaking, there have actually been instances of even human brings being sacrificed in Hindu temples as late as in British times. And the story behind the animal sacrifice in Id-ul-Zuha relating to Prophet Abraham is to be found not only in the Quran but also the Old Testament of the Bible (the Muslims accept the prophets of the Jews and Christians as prophets preceding Muhammad, who is considered the last) and animal sacrifices have been a part of Judaism as well, just like the practice of circumcision (which for Jews is performed at a much earlier age than Muslims and the practice arguably has health benefits) or the halal/kosher dietary regulations and mode of slaughtering animals (though halal and kosher are not identical, they are very similar) or even laws that advocate harsh physical punishments and Jesus, as a Jew, did not oppose the same and quite arguably even reinforced these practices.
The Old Testament of the Bible has much more violence than the Quran and indeed has many verses seemingly provoking violence against non-believers (for reference, Deuteronomy 13:6-10, Deuteronomy 13:15, Samuel 15:3 and Numbers 31:17). The Hindu extremists clearly demonstrate their hypocrisy by being silent on these aspects of Judaism (though some saffron elements do misuse those verses in the Old Testament to bash Christianity, since they have an issue with Christians over the issue of religious conversions but never Judaism, though the Old Testament is primarily for the Jews; occasionally, they do make negative remarks about the Abrahamic faiths in a general sense that include Judaism but not Judaism in particular) but only bashing Islam for those things it shares with it because they love Israel, the only Jewish-majority country for its ‘strong’ stand against Palestinian Muslims who are the real victims deprived of their national identity, though many Jews (including Einstein) opposed the creation of Israel and even today many of them stand up for the rights of the Palestinian Muslims. That being said, Israel has done a good job of giving equal rights to people of all faiths (including Islam) within its borders.
Prejudiced Hindus would love to base their entire understanding of Islam on hate propaganda against it (this is not to say that I am an uncritical admirer of any religion, be it even Hinduism, and all religions have controversial elements), which they may access on the Internet, ignoring the fact that there are enough books and websites criticizing Hinduism as a faith as well, which are authored/run by not only Muslims but also leftists and Christian missionaries and to understand any belief system, it should first be studied from neutral sources, then sources that appreciate it and finally from those that criticize it to form any rational and unbiased opinion. In fact, in online interfaith dialogue communities, I have seenÂ practicingÂ Muslims politely, yet firmly, defend their faith and clarify misconceptions about it very well just as I have seen Hindus doing the same, and we ought to engage with different people to get a clear picture rather than jump to conclusions based on some literature we encounter.
There is also this notion that Muslims are somehow inherently more aggressive by nature, as though they constitute a different species! Muslims in India mostly have Hindu ancestry and there are Muslims across the globe of diverse races, all with different genetic makeups, and it’s not like Islam as a faith asks you to exhibit this trait (on the other hand, it asks you to be peace-loving, and Prophet Muhammad is said to haveÂ inquiredÂ about the health of a woman who threw garbage at him daily — some may question the historicity of this account, but Islam as a faith is what its texts say and not what actually happened orÂ didn’tÂ the historicity of many things contained in texts of all religions, that way, is debatable). In fact, leaving aside our notion of terrorism being a Muslim monopoly or our biased reading of history (it’s noteworthy that Chengiz Khan was not a Muslim but an animist), if we objectively analyze, many of our Muslim friends and/or acquaintances, including even devout ones, may be quite calm and composed as opposed to some non-Muslims we know to be quite aggressive (this is not to say that Muslims can’t be aggressive, but thisÂ isn’tÂ something unique to a particular community). Similarly, there’s a stereotype about Muslims in general being slimy or cruel, but an objective analysis will make us realize that thisÂ isn’tÂ true (except if we choose to judge the Muslims we know through a prejudiced eye-lens, assumingÂ baselesslyÂ that they are what we imagine all Muslims to be). In fact, if one were to watch Iranian or even Pakistani movies, one would realize that they exhibit a lot of sensitivity.
Many Hindus criticize Muslims for having more children because they practise polygamy (though census reports have established that Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims, even though it is illegal for the former, and I myself know a Hindu electrician in Delhi who has engaged in bigamy) as permitted by their faith, even though as Shashi Tharoor repeatedly points out in his writings, that actually doesn’t make a difference to the number of children as long as the number of reproductive women remains the same. Four women would give birth to the number of children they have to, whether they are married to one man or four different men!
In fact, polygamy is not prohibited by Hinduism as a faith. The Puranic lore is full of multiple marriages by a single man — to quote some prominent examples, Krishna had thousands of wives, prominent among whom were Rukmini, Satyabhama and Jambvati; his father Vasudev had two wives, Devki (Krishna’s mother) and Rohini (Balram’s mother) and Ram’s father Dashrath had three wives, besides even Bheem having a wife other than Draupadi (Gatodkach’s mother) and Arjun too had several, including Krishna’s sister Subhadra. In fact, the law mandating monogamy for Hindus was introduced only after independence! Also, Islam mandates a limit of four wives and a responsibility of the husband to look after them equally well, though I do agree that even this is anachronistic today.
And there are indeed many Hindus too, particularly in rural areas and in several cases, even among the urban educated class, who have several children even if they are monogamous. As Khushwant Singh has pointed out in his famous autobiography, many educated Hindus who have been public figures, like former President V.V. Giri, former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and our very own Lalu Prasad Yadav have all had many children.
Also, there are some who accuse Muslims of being the only community that carries out inter-cousin marriages, but that is true for Zoroastrians as well and Hindu lore mentions Abhimanyu marrying his maternal uncle Balram’s daughter (though this is a folk adaptation not in the Puranic lore, it shows that the ideaÂ hasn’tÂ always been abhorrent in Hindu societies) and Rajasthani folklore has it that Prithviraj Chauhan too eloped with his cousin and while even this is contested by historians, he has never been looked down upon for the same, and even today, this practice exists in South Indian Hindu societies.
It may also be noted that not all Muslims were against the Shah Bano verdict and there were practising Muslim intellectuals like Arif Mohammed Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer who welcomed it. In the West too, there are practising Muslim intellectuals like Bassam Tibi who strongly oppose some of their co-religionists wanting to put in place Islamic law in their respective countries. In fact, there are practising Muslims who would welcome a uniform civil code, as this articleÂ demonstrates.
Also, there is this piece of false propaganda that royal family feuds for power have been a Muslim monopoly, though all one has to do to refute this myth is look at the Mahabharat! Besides, even in the iron age, we have several instances of family feuds, such as Ajatashatru killing his father Bimbisar or later in Indian history, Ashoka killing his brothers for the throne, and while these can be contested, such historical records show that such things were not unheard of in India even as regards Hindu royal families (and this holds true for the Gupta dynasty too, and the pre-Islamic history of Kashmir too has such accounts). Family feuds take place in societies across the globe and have nothing to do with religion.
There is also this wrong notion that Muslims are the only ones who stop non-Muslims from entering some of their holiest places of worship like the Kaba in Mecca, but several Hindu temples too bar non-Hindus from entering them (for reference), while many mosques and Sufi shrines have absolutely no problem with non-Muslims visiting them or even praying there.
Also, the conspiracy theory about the Kaba being a Shiv temple have their basis in the writings of one Mr. Oak, who was not even a historian, and he is actually not even taken seriously even by those historians, Indian or of other nationalities, who have saffron or other religious right-wing leanings. Oak also said that Christianity is Krishna-Neeti and many other such ludicrous things!
Moreover, some Hindus’ obsession with the critique of Islam in many cases would hardly make them acknowledge that the concept of being the only valid religion in the eyes of the Almighty and even encouraging proselytization (going by the conventional interpretation) exists in Christianity as well (again, going by the conventional interpretation). However, to draw an analogy, if a certain coachingÂ centerÂ (analogous to Islam or Christianity, going by the mainstream interpretation) claims it is the only one that can get students admitted into say, IIT (analogous to heaven), and even encourages its students to get students of other coaching centres and those not taking any coaching to join that particular coachingÂ centerÂ it cannot be equated with forcing others to join their institute or killing those not willing to do so. In fact, both the Bible and the Quran preach the message of peaceful coexistence with other religious groups.
A word about the self-beating on Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram; While that day has significance for both Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, the practice of beating oneself is only prevalent among some sections of the Shi’ites (not even all Shi’ites), and it’s relatively popular specifically in the Indian subcontinent, and so, should not be associated with the entire Muslim community per se and is indeed nowhere ordained by the Muslim scriptures. Also, even self-beating is not unique to Muslims and even some Christians practise what they call ‘mortification of the flesh’ in more extreme forms, such as by whipping themselves.
Also, though more extreme cults of Muslims have argued that Islam prohibits music or at least music of stringed instruments, there is absolutely nothing in the Quran to this effect, nor is there something of this nature in any of the quotations of Prophet Muhammad, the authenticity of which is not doubtful. Indeed, some of the finest musicians, including in the sphere of classical music in the Indian subcontinent, happen to be practising Muslims, and except under the Taliban regime, music hasn’t been banned anywhere in contemporary times, not even in Saudi Arabia, and historically speaking, even Aurangzeb stopped patronizing music himself but didn’t ban it in the whole empire. Coming to the recent controversy in Kashmir, the jihadist militants there are the ones who are the effective threat, and many Kashmiri Muslims are indeed quite liberal by outlook. It may also be mentioned that many fanatic Christians regard rock music as coming from Satan!
The next article will take a more international view of Muslims, but primarily focusing on Pakistan, and examine whether absolutely blanket stereotypes about Muslim intolerance of religious minorities and also of sexism are all that justified.
[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. He has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World’.Â To read his other posts, click here.[/box]