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To you, your religion ...

In the 18th century a fatwa was asked for from Shah Waliulah Mohaddis Dehlavi. The issue was: what should Islam think of India? The conclusive view that emerged is worth knowing. Renuka Narayanan elaborates.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2008 22:55 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times

It’s great news that the Saudi king wants to set up an interfaith dialogue between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But they will also have to talk to the other religions of the East, don’t you think, especially old, widespread faiths like Buddhism and Hinduism? What is the option, when Hindu-majority multi-faith India alone contains the world’s second-largest Islamic population? And shouldn’t senior Islamic clerics from the everywhere ride herd on people like that Indonesian mullah, who spews venom on foreign tourists in Bali as ‘snakes and vermin’?

Meanwhile, here’s uplifting news of an amazing interfaith dialogue that I learnt of from the Israeli embassy in New Delhi: a historic concord between two ancient faiths, Judaism and Hinduism. It was the second Jewish-Hindu summit (the first was in India last year) and it took place in Jersusalem five weeks ago, resulting in a joint declaration by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel (led by the Chief Rabbi, Shear Yeshuv Cohen) and the Hindu Dharmacharya Sabha (led by Swami Dayanand Saraswati). “The participants reaffirmed their commitment to deepening this bilateral relationship predicated on the recognition of One Supreme Being, Creator and Guide of the Cosmos; shared values; and similar historical experiences. The parties are committed to learning about one another on the basis of respect for the particular identities of their respective communities and seeking, through their bilateral relationship, to be a blessing to all.”

Further, they “recognized that the One Supreme Being, both in its formless and manifest aspects, has been worshipped by Hindus over the millennia. This does not mean that Hindus worship ‘gods’ and ‘idols’. The Hindu relates to only the One Supreme Being when he/she prays to a particular manifestation.” (Some big key words in there!).

Thirdly, “Central to the Jewish and Hindu world view is the concept of the sanctity of life, above all, the human person. Accordingly, the participants categorically reject violent methods to achieve particular goals. In this spirit, the participants expressed the hope that all disputes be resolved through dialogue, negotiation and compromise promoting peace, reconciliation and harmony.”

On behalf of the two oldest religious traditions of the world, the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha and the Jewish religious leadership “consider jointly appealing to various religious organizations in the world to recognize that all religions are sacred and valid for their respective peoples. We believe that there is no inherent right embedded in any religion to denigrate or interfere with any other religion or with its practitioners. Acceptance of this proposition will reduce inter-religious violence, increase harmony among different peoples.”

They noted, “the Svastika is an ancient and greatly auspicious symbol of the Hindu tradition. It is inscribed on Hindu temples, ritual altars, entrances, and even account books. A distorted version of this sacred symbol was misappropriated by the Third Reich in Germany and abused as an emblem under which heinous crimes were perpetrated against humanity, particularly the Jewish people. The participants recognize that this symbol is, and has been sacred to Hindus for millennia, long before its misappropriation.” The two organizations now plan to prepare textbooks and reference material together to dispel incorrect ideas about each other’s faiths.

This is called emotional responsibility. But what many in the Islamic world outside and alas, some of our own people, may not know is that Islam too had once resolved the question of positive co-existence with non-Abrahamic religions. In the 18th century, a fatwa was demanded from Hadrat Shah Waliullah Mohaddis Dehlavi, a spiritual authority respected all over the Islamic world. The issue was: what should Islam think of India? The conclusive view of India that emerged in the Islamic world is worth knowing.

By conventional Muslim reckoning, it is neither Dar-us-Salam (an Islamic state) nor Dar-ul-Harab (where Islam is not free). Since Islam is not the uniform rule of law here, India should technically be Dar-ul-Harab. But in all other respects that characterise an Islamic country, it is very much Dar-us-salam. The azaan is proclaimed aloud; there are no restrictions on namaaz or the Friday prayer; the hijab, beard and cap are freely worn. So the fatwa was proclaimed that India could not be categorised by anybody, it was a unique entity. As the Quran Sharief itself says: ‘Lakum deenukum walyadeen’. To you your religion, to me, mine.