Religious riots seem to hit India more frequently nowadays. Termed ‘communal’ it is a term that is constantly thrown around on the Indian media. Communal tensions, Communal politicians and their Communal politics are often terms which are bandied about. However it often becomes a term to desensitize the horrors which often happen on the ground.
Violent religious riots erupt with gruesome consequences and horror stories of communities turning on each other often plagues my mind for a solution.
Analyzing the problem of Hindu – Muslim violence stems from 2 diametrically opposed philosophies. The concept of Tawhid is central to Islamic faith yet the Hindu ideal espouses a principle of Adhikari Bhera (the uniqueness of every individual gives the individual the right to follow his/her own path). Idolism is abhorred in Islamic tradition and many verses are written against this greatest sin of Idol worshiping, yet the Hindus laud the virtues of Murti’s in which divinity is given a visual focus for worship.
Dar Ul Islam and Kufr are terms used to divide Islamic countries from the rest of humanity while Hindus use the term Vasudaiva Kutumbam to describe the world as a single family. Evil intentions placed by Shaitan are to be constantly guarded against in the Islamic tradition while in the Hindu tradition, Ignorance forms the greatest danger.
The list of differences is indeed huge and one often wonders how the two communities can resolve such opposing values, but perhaps dealing with this Hindu concept of Ignorance is a fine place to start. The belief of ignorance is often meant in the specific context of the ignorance of Bhagwan or God which can lead to increased suffering and dissatisfaction with life. Expanding from this line of thought, perhaps we can say that if spiritual ignorance is a cause for suffering between the two communities then perhaps some basic religious study between the two communities may improve inter religious harmony.
Which brings me to two historical figures and the trials they initiated but ultimately failed. Akbar created the Din-I-illahi a syncretic mix of Sufism and Bhakti. He repealed the Jizya taxes on the Hindus and abolished to a large extant hunting of game in perhaps a changing of his values from Islamic to Ahimsa. He himself is to have reported to change his diet to almost completely vegetarian on the principles of Ahimsa taught taught by Hir Vijay Suri. His attempts though were deemed blasphemous by muslims including the Qadi of Bengal and Sufi Shakh Ahmad Sirhindi.
His great grandson was to have little success either. A few days back I eagerly came across of a translation of Dara Shikoh’s : Majma Ul Bahrain or a mingling of two oceans. I had often envisioned that Dara had picked up where his great grandfather had left off in trying to reach some commonality between the two religions. By the time I had reached halfway through the book, I was plagued with more doubts. Perhaps I had asked for too much from Dara, and it seemed in my view that he upheld the gold standard of the Quran while desperately trying to find a patchwork of Hindu sources to corroborate his ideas.
A few examples come to mind, in his opening few paragraphs, he makes the proposition that monotheism sets the highest standard and listening to the Indian monotheists, he did not find significant difference in the way each religion sought the truth…
Indeed quoting Khwaja Ahrar he says : “If i know that a infidel, immersed in sin, is, in a way, singing the note of monotheism, I go to him, hear him and am grateful”.
Here he already sets the gold standard of Abrahamic monotheism being the highest pinnacle that one can reach and has to find equivalence among Hindu ideals to prove that the latter can indeed meet the test.
Reading further, he makes a equivalence of the Hindu trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh to the angels Jibrail, Mikail and Israfil. It is indeed a stretched reasoning on one hand to compare three aspects of Bhagwan to the three subservient angels in Islamic philosophy.
Another example is the transitory nature of the soul in Indian religious thought which is intrinsically linked to the law of Karma. While one may stay in heaven or Swarg for a time, they eventually exhaust their cumulative good(punya) Karmas and are bound to be reborn again as humans to carry on in their quest for spiritual enlightenment. If successful in reaching enlightenment (Mukti), upon their death they shall eventually merge into God. This forms little resemblance to Kiyamat (Qayamat), the day of resurrection in which Dara tries to equate.
Still, I believe Dara should be praised for his effort. Indeed it is said that he went on to translate the Upanishads into Persian and later the Bhagavad Gita shortly before his death.
The story of his death being a tragic one, defeated at the battle of Samugarh and betrayed into the hands of his brother Aurangzeb by a man he twice saved Malik Jiwan, he and his son were strapped to the back of a worn and filthy elephant and rode into Delhi. Covered in filthy robes, they were paraded around the city to be sighted by the Delhi residents who bitterly wailed at his condition. They remembered the same Aurangzeb imprisoned his father, brother and son and filled with hate, would no doubt plan a more gruesome fate for one he hated the most.
Aurangzeb quickly convened a mock trial by some Ulema who deemed him Takfir (apostate) thereby sealing his fate.
Imprisoned, Dara was cooking his evening Dal with his young son, when four assassins sent by Aurangzeb fell upon them. Apparently he tried to fight with all he had, a small kitchen knife, before he was held down and quickly decapitated in front of his young son. His head was taken to Aurangzeb who exclaimed; ‘Ah wretched one! let this shocking sight no more offend my eyes, but take away the head, and let it be buried in Humayun’s tomb.’
A painful end to promising son of India, but what lessons may Dara offer to the ‘communal’ politics of India? Consider the diversity and plurality of Indian tradition where Adhikari Bhera stands for the idea that every individual has the right to pursue the religion of his or her own choice. Where one finds solace in Krishna, another may find such peace in mother Lakshmi yet the individual, has the choice of his own will to pursue his/her spiritual quest to the fullest.
What if more people were to open their minds to the heroic deeds of Akbar and his grandson Dara by trying to make a study of Vedanta from a Islamic perspective. Try to build on what Dara tried to create and consciously recognize that Arabian ideas may not be the gold standard to which Hindu ideas must match.
A small spark can reduce a mountain of wood to ash, may it be then that the spark that Dara started to burn will continue to burn the mountain of ignorance that exists among some Indians.