Anti-Muslim Prejudices: Openness To Other Faiths And Clarifying The Terms ‘Fatwa’ And ‘Madrasa’ [Part 8]

Posted on March 11, 2013 in Society

By Karmanye Thadani:

This is the last article in this series and it shall discuss some of the miscellaneous prejudices about Muslims, starting with whether they are open to other faiths. The fourth article in this series has already clarified that all Muslim-majority countries are not similar to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia.

Historically speaking, Raskhan, a Muslim nobleman wrote hymns dedicated to Krishna and Prince Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb’s elder brother and a Sanskrit scholar, wrote a book highlighting the similarities between the Upanishads and the Quran as viewed from a Sufi standpoint. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the famous Sufi saint whose shrine in Delhi attracts pilgrims of diverse faiths, had mastered yoga techniques of meditation and was acknowledged by many Hindus as siddh. The Sufi saints in Kashmir, such as Nooruddin, made frequent references to Hindu scriptures and were called rishis.


Even today, many Muslim classical musicians worship Saraswati (as the Indian Muslim journalist Syed Naqvi points out in this video – he also bashes the Pakistani state for sponsoring terrorism) and there are indeed many Muslim painters and artisans who make paintings and sculptures of Hindu deities and other mythological figures (I personally know one such Muslim painter based in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, where I lived for five years for my college education and his was the only Gujarati home in that city I ever visited; theirs is a wonderful family and didn’t let the 2002 riots adversely affect their tolerance in spite of having to live in refugee camps then, and they were devout Muslims) and some Muslims who believe in highly heterodox versions of Islam like one Mr. Khan, an Indian from ISKCON (and he is not the only practising Muslim associated with ISKCON), who explains elaborately to an open-minded Pakistani Muslim how it is possible to practise Islam and Hinduism simultaneously, and that can be accessed here – it makes an amazing read indeed, though it would be unacceptable to mainstream Muslims (though that doesn’t mean that it would be fair to call them intolerant of other faiths and there’s more about them stated later in this article). Also, there are quite a few Sanskrit scholars from the Muslim community (for reference, please see this media report ), and interestingly, the man who scripted the very popular BR Chopra serial Mahabharat in Sanskritized Hindi happens to be a Muslim, Dr. Rahi Massom Raza.

There have been several cases of Muslims funding the construction and/or repair of Hindu temples (and in Europe, a church in Manchester) and helping Hindus break fasts, Hindus have done the same for Muslims too. I personally know a Bengali Muslim who has translated Sanskrit texts to English and is simultaneously very proud of his faith, though he practises a very heterodox version of the same, but I also know of Muslims who follow their scriptures taking them literally and are very tolerant and peace-loving (these are the ‘mainstream Muslims’ referred to earlier and their version of tolerance is of the ‘live and let live’ variety but not of embracing beliefs and practices of others; in other words, they may not accept prasad from a Hindu temple or fold their hands there but won’t support killing innocent people of other faiths and would have no problem in befriending non-Muslims either), considering the same to be an integral part of being a true Muslim.

Many Muslims also accept Ram and Krishna to be among the 1.24 lakh prophets sent by Allah (the Islamic texts say every nation was sent its messenger, which would obviously include the Indians), following a poem by the poet Iqbal, a Muslim, asserting Ram as a prophet, and great Indian freedom fighter Maulana Azad’s grand-nephew wrote a very moving column in the Hindustan Times on this subject — criticizing the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for making public statements hurting religious sentiments by questioning Ram’s existence and endorsing the view of his prophethood as a Muslim, and even Muslim preachers like Zakir Naik (overall, I happen to be his bitter critic, as I have mentioned earlier in this series, but I won’t venture into that here), who only literally follow the religious texts, have stated that there is a high possibility of Ram and Krishna being prophets.

Then, there are Hindus who accuse only Muslims of making such a big fuss about denigrations of their religion, say the offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad made by a Danish cartoonist, the recent film mocking Islam or other denigrations of Islam. However, looking at the issue objectively, Catholics so strongly protesting against the Dan Brown novel ‘The Da Vinci Code‘ and the movie based on it (and the protests were not always free from vandalism; those interested can see this), Hindus getting outraged at the Deepa Mehta film ‘Water‘ which only exposed the truth about the condition of widows in the 1920’s and nowhere denigrated the Hindu religion per se, before its release, to the extent of not letting it be screened in India owing to threats of violence, Sikhs turning violent against the ‘Dera Sacha Sauda‘ because their leader Ram Rahim Singh dressed up like one of the Sikh gurus or Indian Jews protesting against Anupam Kher acting as Hitler in a Hollywood movie, are far more irrational and unfounded. A dialogue in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ‘ was not subtitled for fear of Jewish extremists turning violent and the creator of an art display offensive to Christians (the display was called ‘Piss Christ‘) faced death-threats, though the peaceful protests against the same were certainly justified. If there are threats to the Danish cartoonist’s life, there were also threats to the life of the Muslim painter MF Hussain for his portrayal of Hindu deities in a fashion that was perceived to be offensive by Hindu extremists, though it was actually not derogatory at all, considering the openness and liberalism of Hindu art over the centuries and the paintings were actually not even all that revealing. Moreover, in the context of the recent film offensive to Muslims, ‘Innocence of Muslims‘ (or rather its trailer , many prominent Muslim clerics, like the mufti of Egypt, have urged to maintain calm (for reference, see this) and many of the protests were indeed totally peaceful.

Also, speaking of the movie ‘Vishwaroopam‘, the protests were peaceful, though unwarranted, and the film had been cleared by the censor board but evoked protests before its release by those who had not even seen it, but then, sections of Dalits too had reacted in a similar manner when it came to the Tamil movie ‘Ore Oru Gramathile‘ or the Hindi movie ‘Aarakshan’, even though the latter was pro-reservation!

A clarification about the word ‘fatwa‘ is also quite warranted. A fatwa is just a religious decree to do or refrain from doing something (with no legal backing) and is basically not a death warrant. Fatwas have been issued by progressive clerics against terrorism (as has been mentioned in the previous article in this series), favouring girls’ education (e.g. have a look at this media report) and against cow slaughter to maintain communal harmony, but unfortunately, these don’t get as much media publicity as much as regressive ones like those declaring women working alongside men as being un-Islamic or even to kill critics of Islam like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen, and these fatwas instructing to kill have given a wrong impression to many as regards the very meaning of the word fatwa (the idea of there being a fatwa on an individual, implying some sort of religiously ordained death-warrant, is a misnomer)! In fact, instead of endlessly criticizing regressive fatwas and drawing attention of Muslims towards them, the media should report progressive fatwas more.

Likewise, the word ‘madrasa‘ instantaneously only reminds many non-Muslims of terrorism, though many madrasas are very progressive institutions teaching science, geography and other such subjects other than religion and admitting people of all faiths like convent schools, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that most madrasas preach terrorism. To know more about madrasas, kindly check out these – 1, 2, 3 and 4. I also recall seeing a video of a self-defence class in a Muslim girls’ school, and a devout Hindu friend of mine (he rattles off Sanskrit verses at the drop of a hat) from Bihar, who happened to have studied in an Islamic school for some time, tells me that he never faced any discrimination and in fact, cherishes some of the lessons he was taught from the Quran.

This brings the series to a close. I hope it helped to clarify some misconceptions and also change the outlook of some open-minded readers, aside from giving impartial and humanistic people more solid arguments to advance for their noble cause.