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Why Muslims reject Vande Mataram

A Chennai surfer says Muslims must get a chance to explain their viewpoint.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2006 12:09 IST

The controversy over the singing of Vande Mataram has once again threatened to divide the country on communal lines.

The refusal of the Muslims to sing this song seems to have angered the Hindutva ideologues, who, without giving them an opportunity to explain their position, have accused them of being anti-national.

Hence, it becomes imperative to analyse the objections raised by the Muslim community against the recital of Vande Mataram.

The Muslim viewpoint is that Islam, being a monotheist religion, forbids the apotheosis of any deity, animate or inanimate, except God, the supreme creator.

In fact, ascribing divinity to even Prophet Mohammad is considered an act of blasphemy negating the very purpose of Islam, that is, to promote the concept of unity of mankind through the worship of a common creator.

In this context, those opposed to the Muslim point of view should know that Vande Mataram contains verses that are in direct conflict with the beliefs of Islam.

For instance, the fourth stanza of the song addresses motherland India as, "Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned…."

When a Muslim sings these words he is forced to equate his country with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Lakshmi, thereby deifying the land of India. This goes against the concept of tawheed (oneness of God) according to which a Muslim cannot supplicate to anyone except God.

Therefore, just as one cannot force non-Muslims to recite the Quran in their gatherings, it would be most unfair to force the Muslims to violate their scriptural injunctions in the name of patriotism.

The religious predicament of the Muslims was understood in the right spirit by Jawaharlal Nehru. In October 1937, when the Congress Working Committee met in Kolkata under his presidentship, it adopted a resolution which said: The committee recognise the validity of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song.

While the committee has taken note of such objection insofar as it has intrinsic value, the committee wishes to point out that the modern evolution of the use of the song as part of national life is of infinitely greater importance than its setting in a historical novel before the national movement had taken shape.

Taking all things into consideration, therefore, the committee recommended that, wherever Vande Mataram is sung at national gatherings, only the first two stanzas should be sung, with perfect freedom to the organisers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character, in addition to, or in the place of, the Vande Mataram song." (Quoted by AG Noorani in the Frontline, Jan 2-15, 1999).

Based on this resolution, it is argued that Muslims should sing the first two stanzas because there is nothing wrong in bowing before one's motherland.

But the first two stanzas cannot be seen in isolation by detaching them from the main song, particularly when the "motherland" referred to in those stanzas has been clearly identified as Durga and Lakshmi in the fourth stanza.

In other words, the salutations offered to Mother India by singing the first two stanzas would in fact amount to paying obeisance to Hindu goddesses. This is what the Muslims are objecting to.

It must be understood that Muslims respect the right of the Hindus to worship any deity of their choice but at the same time they should not be forced to deviate from their monotheist beliefs by making them sing the Vande Mataram.

That the author of the Vande Mataram imagined Bharat Mata or Mother India as part of the Hindu pantheon can be clearly seen from the traditional depiction of India as a goddess dressed in a sari holding a red flag.

Some even describe her as the goddess of fertility. In 1936, a Bharat Mata temple was built in Varanasi by Shiv Prashad Gupt and was inaugurated by none other than Mahatma Gandhi. Then in May 1983, Swami Satyamitranand Giri founded a Bharat Mata temple in Haridwar which has a statue of Bharat Mata holding a milk urn in one hand and grains in the other.

According to the temple guidebook 'the temple serves to promote the devotional attitude towards Bharat Mata, something that historians and mythological story tellers may have missed.'

Also, the largest Hindu website dedicated to the freedom movement, www.freeindia.org, has posted under the subject Bharat bhakti an ancient Sanskrit Hindu verse glorifying Mother India as a goddess.

It reads, "Ratnakaradhautapadam Himalyakirtitinim (I) Brahmarajarsiratnamdhyam vande Bharatamataram (II)". When translated it means: I pay my obeisance to Mother Bharata, whose feet are being a washed by the ocean, who wears the mighty Himalaya as her crown, and who is exuberantly adorned with the gems of traditions set by Brahmarsis and Rajarsis."

Another reason for the Muslims' reluctance to sing the Vande Mataram is fact that the novel Anandamath by Bankimchandra Chaterjee, in which it was first published, glorified the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims.

The following passage may be quoted as an example. "The rural people ran out to kill the Muslims while coming across them. In the night, people were organised in groups to go to the Muslim locality, torch their houses and loot everything.

Many Muslims were killed, many shaved their beards, smeared their bodies with soil and started singing the name of Hari. When asked, they said they were Hindus.

The frightened Muslims rushed towards the town group after group. The Muslims said, "Allah, Allah! Is the Koran Sareef proved entirely wrong after so many days? We pray five times but couldn't finish the sandal-pasted Hindus. All the universe is false." (pages 161-162 of Abbey of Delight, the English translation of Anandamath by Arabinda Das).

In any case, the Vande Mataram is a national song and not the national anthem of India, hence refusal to sing it cannot be construed as showing disrespect to the country. Given the fact that the Muslims have been singing the Jana Gana Mana ever since India attained independence, and the fact that they have laid down their lives for the country during and after the freedom struggle, their nationalist spirit cannot be doubted even for a minute.

It must be understood that India being a secular democracy, every community has the right to profess and practice its faith so long as it did not challenge the unity and integrity of the nation, and therefore, the coercive imposition of the beliefs of one religion over another would only result in communal disharmony.

A Faizur Rahman is a peace activist and executive committee member, Harmony India in Chennai. He can be reached ata.faizur.rahman@gmail.com.

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