This article is written by one of my close friends at Cornell. I am grateful to him for contributing for PTH. Raza Habib Raja
I remember, back home, every morning my brother would bring me the newspaper which had something on ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) as the lead organization behind everything happening in India ranging from farmer suicides, corruption scandals, black money to terrorism. The next day, same newspaper would be stuffed with the statements of hardliners trying to espouse the escapist brand of patriotism in order to run away from the real issues (as it requires a lot of introspection which any fanatic breed is scared of) eventually breeding a generation of youth who thrives on these ideas of misinformed and imagined hatred. Being in India, as a middle-class youngster I had developed a very biased opinion of Pakistan and especially Pakistanis. That opinion was informed by the booming hyper-nationalist media and political rhetoric.
But when I came to Cornell in August 2012, I found my best friends from Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was a natural bonding necessitated by very petty things but very important ones like the desire for tea with ginger and ilaychi, quest of biryani and passion for old bollywood songs. Despite the fact of intense political rivalry back home, here we realized that we love each other and this strain of love has an intense spiritual depth and historical beauty. I felt compelled to explore the roots of this love and this makes me write this essay.
This article is addressed to the hardliners and fundamentalists from both sides of the border. Through this article of mine I want to tell these various orders of fanatics which are superficially different but eternally one in essentials, that the mutual love which we the people of both these nations have for each other has a very strong history and deep spiritual underpinnings. It is a rational advice for them that they better fall in line or the logic of social evolution will throw them into the dust-bin of history.
The clashes between the ‘Hindu-Muslims’ and the followers of Brahmanical religious orders had nothing extraordinary. They emanate from the same forces which drive any conflict in the evolutionary history of mankind. There is nothing religious to them to a large extent. In fact all such conflicts have their roots in the human psyche and or its various conflicting faculties like faith and reason. In this article I am making an effort to demonstrate the assertion made in the previous line by exploring the roots of this phenomenon in the history of the subcontinent.
The advent of Islam in India goes back to 7th or 8th century A.D. when the Arab traders came to the western coast of India and made settlements in the present day states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Konkan region. The dynasties like Rashtrakutas gave those traders all the opportunities of trade and settlement in their kingdoms. This was so because Indian ruling clans were always welcoming trade and the benefits coming from that. Those traders were even allowed to build mosques in their kingdoms. The Arab writer Al Masudi 9th century A.D. talks about such flourishing Muslim settlements in southern parts of India. Those traders practiced and proselytized their faith and there was no violence accompanying that process of cultural intermingling. After that there was one another phase of such cultural intermingling and spread of Islam which was not accompanied by violence. It was the phase of Sufism which began in 12th century with the advent of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and continued through the millennia until 19th century. In this phase several Brahmanical followers from various castes converted to Islam because of the influence of Sufi saints like Mahboob-e-Ilahi Nizaam-ud-din Auliya, Garib Nawaaz Gesudaraaz Banda Nawaaz , Hamiduddin Nagauri. They could influence people because of their good behavior, humanitarian values and various miracles associated with them.
Now I will discuss the times when the spread of Islam was accompanied with violence. Before this let me make it clear that whenever any religion begins, after the initial phase when it witnesses the active involvement of its founder or prophet, it tends to be played at the hands of those who seek political power. This happens because the popularity of that religious ideology and its appeal make it a very convenient and easy way to seek and legitimize power. On the other hand the new converts to that religion or its passionate clergy elements find the political support a very easy way to expand their faith in order to strengthen their position. Same thing happened in case of Islam. In the Arab world, when Islam after the demise of Prophet, came to be backed by political power of caliphates and later sultans of Mawra-un-Nahar (Transoxiana) then it became political Islam or rather an expansionist Islam. This was evident in many theatres like conquering Iran,Turkistan and demolition of Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan and Trans-Oxiana region. The Arab invasion of Sind (712A.D) and Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi’s looting of Somnath was also the manifestation of political Islam.
Although superficially all these invasions were done in the name of Islam but the real intentions of the ruling class were personal ambitions seeking power. The temples like Somnath and Buddhist monasteries had loads of wealth in those times so they became their first targets. The ideology of Islam functioned merely as a rallying point for these politico-economic conflicts. This phenomenon was not something specific to be associated with the arrival of Islam in India. Previously in Buddha’s time several Brahmins adopted Buddhism but later when the religious order started getting state support from the Mauryan king Ashoka then the Sangha (Buddhist religious order) also assumed political ambitions and violent conflicts erupted between brahmanical followers and Buddhists.
Similarly examples of such clashes in the name of religion (basically for political and economic power) are evident in the clash between Kshtriyas and Brahmins in the vedic period, between Jains and brahmanical faiths (this clash is continuing even now), between shudras and Brahmin/Kshtriyas, between shaivaites and vaishnaivites (Shashank, the Shaivite king of Gaud, Bengal cut the Bodhi tree of Buddhism in the reign of Harsh).
So, what I want to convey is that the history of conflict between different ideologies and faiths is perfectly natural (in the sense of historical evolution). Whenever there is diversity, to begin with conflicts do occur. But it’s a process and next stage in the process is of harmony, shared traditions, peaceful co-existence. So, please stop dwelling on the ideas of Islam in danger, divine intervention on white horses to wipe out all other faiths and the notions of Hindutva riding on holy cow. In the next part of this essay I will discuss the next stage of the process which I just mentioned.
The differences between the fundamentals of Buddhism and Brahmanical religions and Jainism were much more pronounced than the difference between Islam and Brahmanical religious order. Buddhists believed in the idea of ‘no soul’, ‘no god’. Similarly Jainas also believed that God could not be above the Tirthankaras (self realized humans like Mahavira). With Islam, at least few things are in common like the idea of prophethood, monotheism and the notion of devotion. These different religious systems started with these fundamental differences and politico-religious conflicts but in course of time they came to terms with each other. The differences at scriptural level remained and surfaced at various instances but the compulsion of co-existence and common culture mitigated these differences to varying degrees and what followed was the shared traditions, common customs.
The interaction and co-existence with Jainism led the imbibing of the idea of non-violence (ahimsa), cow worship in Brahmanical religion and common deities like Ganesh (the elephant god) and lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and Shiva (the lord of destruction). So the culture triumphed and led to peace between these orders. The interaction with Buddhism led to the growth of the philosophy of Advait Vedanta (non dual monotheism) and the practice of meditation. It also led to the growth of Nathpanthi sect (esoteric order which practiced a set of physical and breathing exercises to realize god). The intermingling of Buddhism and brahmanical order was much more pronounced than the intermingling of Jainism and brahmanical order. In fact there were many other religio-philosophical orders with different fundamentals, like Charvaka (atheism and materialism), sankhya( dualism) and Mimansa who, in spite of the differences and initial clashes developed common practices of worship and survival. The culture played a very important role in that process. Human life is not just about faith and ritualistic prayer but it is also about economy, trade and livelihood which can’t be sacrificed for supernatural entities. The mere compulsion of living together happily and prosperously prepares the ground for peaceful co-existence.
The same stage was witnessed in the relations between Islam and Brahmanical orders in India after the initial conflict. The drivers of this stage were the people like Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti, Nizam-ud-Din Auliya sahib, requirements of staying together and sustaining economy on the same land etc. The first product of this process was Amir Khusro who serenaded ‘Chap tilak sab chode mose naina milaike’ in the ears of our ancestors and we still feel the spiritual depth of these lines. The best product of this stage was Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar who laid the foundations of Ganga-jamuni Tahzeeb or joint hindu-muslim culture of doab region. The other products were Rahim who gave his life to the music of lord Krishna’s flute, Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan who wrote poetry in the praise of Krishna. And yes how can I forget Kabir, Sai Baba or Shirdi, Manik prabhu of Gulbargha. All these people emphasized upon the harmony and peace between two communities.
This peaceful interaction was also seen in other domains of life like politics in the form of joint Mughal-rajput state and the marital relations between the two groups. In fact you would be shocked to learn that in my place (Udaipur, Rajasthan) until recently rajputs and pathans used to intermarry among each other. In my state in almost every village one can find about 10 to 100 Muslim families. This extent the of spread of Islam speaks volumes about the peaceful interaction between these two faith systems. Even in crime this partnership made its presence. Many of us have heard about the cult of thugs in 19th century India. This was a cult who believed that its divine duty was to unleash destruction in the cosmos. This cult included Muslims, Brahmins, rajputs and people from other communities. In this cult the Muslim members did Namaz five times a day, read Kalma but they also worshipped Goddess Kali (the deity of destruction), wearing a Dhoti ( a dress which brahmin priests wear during yajna rituals) and with vermillion on their forehead.
Can you imagine a Muslim worshipping goddess Kali ? You will go beserk if you even hear something like this. But this happened and it happened because the goddess was the patron goddess of their cult. Another examples of this process are the Muslim participation in Ganapati processions in Mumbai, Durga( goddess) processions in Bengal, holi, diwali. Brahmanical people’s participation in Id, Muharram etc. Today millions of non-muslims visit Khawaja Sharif in Ajmer, auliya sahib in Delhi. In fact for any sort of divine illnesses non-Muslims visit various mazars and dargaahs. The practice of Peeri and muridi is exactly the same as the practice of sadguru and shishya( teacher and disciple) of Brahmanical orders.
The caste system in Muslims, Christians and Sikhs is the remnant of these peaceful interaction between the two communities despite the fact that fundamemtals of the above mentioned orders reject caste system. The Kayamkhani Muslims who converted from Chauhan rajputs still retain a horde of their old practices in terms of their dressing, eating habits and other aspects of culture. They cover their heads but they do not wear burqa or hijab. They wear kurti and kanchli( traditional Rajput female outfit). The system of purdah in rajputs of India is practice which was derived from Mughals. Another excellent product of this interaction was Urdu which was a mixture of Hindi, Punjabi, Avadhi, Turkish, Persian and Arabic. Even today the language of police department in Rajasthan( one of the state of India) is Urdu. My father speaks better Urdu than any Punjabi Pakistani.
The washerman Faiz Muhammad of my village is another product of this common culture. He has been staying in my village for generations. He knows more about my grandfather than I know. He is a devout Muslim but he doesn’t know anything about Bal Thakeray, wahabism, Al quaida. The constable Altaf who managed my sister’s wedding as the most trusted man of my father is also the product of this common cultural heritage. Altaf used to wear a dhoti with a vermillion and assist Brahmin priests. After his job, he used to go to his room for his Namaz. Those two pathan girls who did mehandi in my sister’s wedding and were with her much more than a real sister could ever be, still bring tears into my eyes. Makbool Chahca is still the most reverend figure for our family. He is a pious Muslim but he also fortunately knows nothing about wahabism or any kind of global Jihad. He thrives in the few letters of ‘Alhamdulliah’ and ‘Khuda aapko salamat rakhe’.
The strongest evidence of this peaceful culture-driven interaction presented itself to me when I came to Cornell University. Here my first and the most natural friends were not Brahmins from south Indian state of Tamilnadu or from Assam or Nagaland( northeastern states) but Raza, Wasiq, Hira, Hajra from Pakistan, Rafi from Afghanistan and Olinda from Bangladesh. Even here we have Kashmir but no one fights over it. I have found the Kashmir, the one which is here, eternally blissful and as peaceful and silent as Mansarovar lake. This is a very strong evidence of the phenomenon that culture makes the national and religious boundaries irrelevant.
My hardliner brothers must realize that with their activities they are basically doing a severe harm to devout Muslims like Altaf, those two pathan girls and Makbool chacha. More than this you are doing a great disservice to humanity.They are trying to hinder the process of Allah, the process of history, the process of evolution of ideas and philosophy. They are going for a head strong collision with dialectics of ideas. But mind it, that this process is natural and logical. It can be tempered with, disturbed and delayed but cannot be ended. The colonial rulers and the selfish politicians on both sides tried to stop this process (again to seek political authority by firing religious passions) and that resulted in Pakistan and Bangladesh. But today again after 60 years of freedom we have created a happy and prosperous culture where 80% Brahmanical followers live with 14% muslims, 2.3% Christians and 1.3% sikhs live together peacefully. Now if my hardliner friends try to stop this process Allah might do the same to them what he did to Osama-bin-Laden because if true muslims like Altaf and Makbool chacha are hurt Allah the almighty will never forgive their hypocrisy.
So please do not stop us from loving humanity. Do not stop my friends from coming to India and me from coming to taste the delicacies of Lahore.
Jai Hind, Jai Pakistan