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All together now

india Updated: Aug 31, 2006 03:39 IST

I learn from the media that the national song, Vande Mataram, is unacceptable to Muslims as it amounts to them bowing their head before the motherland and a Muslim cannot bow his head before anyone except God. Great argument. But not very convincing.

First, the word 'Vande' does not mean 'bowing one's head'. 'Vande' can mean 'to sing', 'to salute' or 'to pray'. Second, there are Muslim countries where the same phenomenon is found but no one raises a hue and cry. Third, saluting a country is better than eulogising a mortal. But many Muslim countries mention a person in their national anthems. Jordan, for example, has "Long live the king/ Long live the king/ His position is sublime/ His banners saving in glory supreme" as its national anthem.

Then there is the issue of idolatry. Vande Mataram uses the metaphor of the 'mother'. Using the device of personification is not idolatry. It is a poetic weapon freely used in all languages. The national anthem of Bangladesh uses the word 'mother' four times.

If fatwas are important for certain people, even here there is no injunction. The former chief of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee Sheikh Atyiyah Sak is on record stating: "There is nothing wrong with standing up for the national anthem, for that reflects one's respect and loyalty for one's country. This patriotic act has nothing to do with worship as there is neither prayer nor dhir. Thus, standing up for the national anthem is neither a Bid'ah (innovation) nor a show of disrespect to God."

Today, we need to merge all separatist identities and place the nation higher than religion. For the revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle, their only religion was the country. If Vande Mataram talks of a 'motherland' and venerates it, it does so without injury to any religion.

The author is Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh