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Gandhi and Islam

by Syed Ashraf Ali

(August 18, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the spiritual and political leader of India, worked tirelessly to make India independent of British rule. His teaching was based on the power of love.

He organised campaigns to defy the government by peaceful means because he did not believe in the use of force. He once said: "An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind." His belief in non-violence was based on his faith that truth is God. India became independent in 1947 largely as a result of his leadership.

Gandhi lived a simple life, did not hold a position of power in the government, and had no worldly possessions. He felt in himself the woeful poverty of his people and literally put on the beggar's robe to demonstrate his unity with them.

For clothes, he wore a loin-cloth and a robe of coarse homespun. He lived on goat's milk, vegetables cooked without spices or salt, and a little bread and fruit. He used to spin for a while every day in order to identify himself with the poorest people.

He also used to clean streets and collect refuse in order to punish himself for the injustice of the caste system as practised by most people in India. Only untouchables did this kind of work.

Whether as an exceptional human being, a unique politician, or charismatic leader of non-violent movement, Gandhi's many-sidedness is proverbial. The Indian people loved him. They called him Bapu (father) out of affection and still hail him as the Father of the Nation.

Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian maestro, called Gandhi Mahatma, which literally means "great soul." His ideals and teachings have influenced and inspired billions at home and abroad, including the likes of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.

Although a very devout Hindu with unshakable conviction in Hinduism, Gandhi was a religious genius as well -- with genuine tolerance and respect for all mankind's faiths. In his Introduction to the Sayings of Muhammad by Abdullah Suhrawardy, Gandhi declares emphatically: "There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but even to respect the other faiths as our own."

M.J. Akbar elucidates it further: "Gandhi's commitment to religion did not mean commitment to a single religion. In his Ram Rajya, every faith had full freedom and complete equality. His prayer meetings were not just about his beloved Gita; there was space for the Holy Qur'an, the Bible and the Guru Grantha Saheb as well. He could never understand why anyone should misunderstand this, and it pained him when opponents misrepresented him, sneered at his gentle idealism, and challenged his pacifism with the undisguised threat of violence."

The impression of Islam and the Muslims on Gandhi started at a very early age. "He was born," says Sheila Mcdonough, a renowned authority on comparative religion, "into that part of India (the coast of Malabar) where the geography situates Hindus to reach out and experience contact with others. To be a child beside the sea is already to know that a mysterious beyond beckons. The Muslims had been in Gujarat for centuries as traders. In his childhood, Gandhi knew them as representatives of those who came and went to other places beyond the seas. Muslims seem from the beginning to have represented challenge and adventure to him ... Muslims were received as guests in the Gandhi home: the political traditions of diplomatic courtesy seem to have been imbibed by the child as a self-evident way for civilised life to be conducted ... In his father's world, the Muslims had long been part of the community. The British were the perceived danger to the well-being of the social and political order."

Gandhi not only spent his childhood among Muslim neighbours who were frequent visitors to his house, six generations of Gandhis had also served as ministers of the ruler of one of the principalities of Kathiwara where Gandhi was born.

The family had therefore great experience in dealing with Muslims as part of local political and social life. Even at school he learnt to cultivate friendship with students who professed other religions and developed a healthy respect for their beliefs.

Gandhi was well aware that his fundamental values with respect to Hindu-Muslim mutual respect and cooperation were rooted in his childhood experiences. While addressing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee in 1942, he reiterated the importance of these fundamental values as a basis for designing a free, renascent, independent India:

"Hindu-Muslim unity is not a new thing. Millions of Hindus and Mussalmans have sought after it. I consciously strove for its achievements from my boyhood. I believed even at that tender age that the Hindus in India, if they wished to live in peace and amity with other communities, should assiduously cultivate the virtue of neighbourliness."

In the world of the men of his family, friendships with Muslims, Jains, and Parsis were indeed part of the natural order of life. Once when Gandhi's paternal grandfather had been involved in a conflict with a local ruler, Muslim soldiers had guarded his house during an attack, and one of them was killed. A memorial to that Muslim soldier still exists in the Vaishnava temple adjoining the family house.

When Gandhi returned to his native land after qualifying as a barrister in England, he went to South Africa as a lawyer for a Muslim firm that had family connections with some of his neighbours at home. Through this significant phase Gandhi's sense of common brotherhood with Muslims was reaffirmed and strengthened.

Many of the Muslim businessmen he worked with in South Africa had roots in his hometown of Probandor, as well as in Bombay (now Mumbai). He sometimes lived in their homes there. The feeling of participation with Muslims in common life with shared goals became much stronger.

In his own words: "When I was in South Africa, I came in close touch with Muslim brethren there ... I was able to learn their habits, thoughts and aspirations ...

I had lived in the midst of Muslim friends for 20 years. They had treated me as a member of their family and told their wives and sisters that they need not observe purdah with me."

In his political activity in South Africa, both Hindus and Muslims living there were his followers. The South African experience invigorated his belief that there should be mutual understanding and cooperation among Indians irrespective of religion.

"The South African experiences," writes Sheila Mcdonough, "seems to have strengthened and developed Gandhi's basic religious consciousness by eliciting from him a profound 'no' to the absolute category of eternal inferior which the South African were attempting to impose upon the Indians. Since the category was imposed on Hindus and Muslims equally, the 'no' came with power from both. The protesters formed a brotherhood of resistance to degradation.

"Gandhi knew that Prophet Muhammad had said 'no' to many elements of his own situation. He understood from his Muslim friends that sometimes courage requires casting the whole self into struggle ... Gandhi responded with the movement of his own soul when he heard an old Muslim say that, with God as his witness, he would never submit to that law.

"This attitude is characteristic of a certain Muslim understanding of jihad, struggle, namely that sometimes witnessing to God requires that the whole self must make conscious choices and decide to act. Gandhi believed that the essential struggle of Muhammad's lifetime, the struggle to create a new form of civilisation, could be equated with the mythical struggle of Rama against Ravana as portrayed in the epic, the Ramayana. The Qur'an and the Ramayana, as he understood them, conveyed images and symbols that could illuminate the spiritual meaning of everyday life."

The years spent by Gandhi in Great Britain to qualify for the Bar also played a significant role in educating him on Islam. During the early twentieth century when he was in England, the climate against eastern religions, especially Islam, was slowly changing.

On May 8, 1840, Thomas Carlyle delivered a public lecture in Edinburgh on Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam. It was the second of a series "On Heroes, Hero-worship and the Heroic in History," and had the particular title: "The Hero as Prophet."

Carlyle had no special qualifications as Arabist or Islamist for lecturing on this subject, and yet the lecture has an important place in the development of Islamic studies in Europe, since here for the first time in a prominent way was it asserted that Muhammad (pbuh) was sincere and the religion of Islam basically true. This speech on the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a massive attack on the stereotyped Christian and Jewish attitude to Islam.

Carlyle carefully listed the virtues he had found that Muslims attributed to Muhammad (pbuh). The holy Prophet was regarded as: "A man of truth and fidelity, solid, brotherly, genuine ... able to laugh ... spontaneous, passionate, just ... a great, silent soul ... one who could not but be in earnest ... one who communed with his own heart ... open to the 'small, still voice'."

In his historic and brave endeavour, Carlyle was only following the footsteps of the great German philosopher-poet Goethe's positive evaluation of the religious simplicity of basic Islamic teaching, namely that human beings should surrender to God, and only to God.

"If this be Islam," said Goethe, "do we not all live in Islam? Yes, all of us that have any moral life, we all live so."

It was through Carlyle's sensational essay that Gandhi got the perception that Islam affirmed self-denial. Carlyle said: "Islam means in its way Denial of Self, Annihilation of Self ... This is yet the highest Wisdom that heaven has revealed to our Earth."

The fact that Gandhi read Carlyle's essay at a formative period in his own development makes it very probable that Carlyle's perspective strengthened the young Hindu's conviction that Muhammad (pbuh) represented an example of a significant religious leader whose battle against the forces of darkness in his own time could and should be a model of honest people everywhere.

Gandhi himself informs us: "A friend recommended Carlyle's Hero and Hero Worship. I read the chapter on the Hero as a prophet, learnt of the Prophet's greatness and bravery and austere living ... These books raised Muhammad in my estimation."

Later, Gandhi read Shibli Numani's biographies of Muslim heroes, books of Hadith, and Syed Amir Ali's books on Islamic history which strengthened his respect for the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) all the more. We find references to the works of Carlyle, Shibli and Amir Ali scattered throughout Gandhi's writings in every period of his life.

All this whetted Gandhi's interest in Islam and he made a deeper study of the tenets laid out in the Holy Qur'an to understand better. In his later years, he learnt to carry on "sympathetic debates" with eminent Islamic scholars like Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and later Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Zakir Hussain, M. Mujeeb and S. Abid Hussain.

Gandhi firmly believed that understanding the religion of another is ultimately appreciation of the other as a person, with direction and hope. He tried to reveal himself in this sense to his Muslim friends, so that they could perceive the inner meaning of his tradition. He was committed to inter-faith dialogue; he believed one should try to comprehend the personal dimension of faith. "Heart-unity" meant for him that friends should be open to the deepest values of each other's traditions.

In 1920, Zakir Hussain, M. Mujeeb, S. Abid Hussain, and a few other Muslims of Gandhi's way of thinking felt that they had to disassociate themselves from the Aligarh Muslim University which was considered too pro- British. In this instance they decided to set up an altogether different type of institution of learning for Muslims, the Jamia Millia Islamia.

Very few Muslims know that Gandhi offered the directorship of the new institution to the renowned poet and philosopher Allama Mohammed Iqbal. Most of Gandhi's close Muslim friends loved Iqbal's poetry; the poet's work was an important source of increased Muslim pride and self-esteem.

Gandhi himself was well aware from his conversations with his friends like Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar that Muslims generally considered Iqbal's poetry a magnificent source of inspiration.

In his brief but eloquent letter written to Iqbal in 1920 Gandhi wrote: "The Muslim National University calls you. If you could but take charge of it, I am sure that it will prosper under your cultured leadership. Hakimji Ajmal Khan and Dr. Ansari and of course Ali Brothers desire it."

Iqbal, however, very politely declined the offer for personal and other reasons. He replied: "I regret very much my inability to respond to the call of those for whom I have the highest respect, for reasons which need not and perhaps cannot be mentioned at present. While I am a strong supporter of National Education, I do not think I possess all the necessary qualifications for the guidance of a University that requires a man who would steer the infant institution through all the struggles and rivalries to arise in the earlier stages of its life. And I am, by nature, a peace-time worker."

"Iqbal believed," writes Sheila Mcdonough, "that the Muslims of his generation needed special help in education to get them up to the level of the other communities of the country in terms of economic development. They were, in his opinion, a sort of backward minority, because, following the disaster of the 1857 Mutiny (the First War of Independence), they had been excluded from the possibility of development by British policy. Gandhi and other Hindu leaders still thought of Muslims as bullying rulers, needing to be tamed into reasonable citizens, but many Muslim leaders, like Iqbal, thought that the repression of Muslims after the Mutiny had made them a relatively under-developed class.

"On the issue of religious education, there was also an emerging difference ... Gandhi thought that hymn-singing and devotional practice were the crucial elements of religious practice, and that helping children learn to sing hymns and to internalize the inner significance of religious poetry was all that was necessary ... Iqbal, the poet, had less confidence than Gandhi did in the spiritual power of poetry to shape future generations.

"Iqbal laid special emphasis on Sharia. Iqbal's phrase about the need for the Sharia was that it might give 'a suitable line of action under our present limitation' ... The Sharia stressed human equality, and would serve to keep Muslim minds aware of social justice at a time when they were in danger of being swamped by discriminatory caste system ... So the poet thought the Muslims needed the Sharia, as well as poetry."

Gandhi did not seem to have grasped the significance of Iqbal's thought on this issue. Later, while he was in jail in 1932, Gandhi decided that Iqbal had become anti-nationalist.

After going through an account of Iqbal's speech to the Muslim League published in the newspaper, he commented: "Other Muslims too share Iqbal's anti-nationalism; only they do not give expression to their sentiments. The poet now disowns his song Hindustan Hamara (India is Ours)."

Mahdeva Desai asked: "Is not his pan-Islamism the same as Shaukat Ali and Muhammed Ali's?"

Bapu said: "Yes, but this anti- nationalism has nothing to do with pan-Islamism."

Zakir Hussain, M. Mujeeb and S. Abid Hussain, the three young Muslims who returned from their graduate studies in Europe to take over the Jamia Millia Islamia, remained with the institution until the independence of the country. They devoted themselves specifically to education.

Gandhi called upon educators to design a new system of basic education for Indian Schools. He put Zakir Hussain in charge of this project. Dr. Hussain stayed with the project for ten years. Subsequently, he became the governor of Bihar, vice president of India, and finally president of India.

Gandhi's broad outlook and respect for other religions urged him not only to ask that Jamia Millia Islamia retain the word Islamia in its name, but he also sent one of his sons to be educated there. Gandhi's keen interest in Islam took a political turn when he launched India's freedom struggle after his permanent return to the country. He was able to enlist the full support of Muslims, intellectuals and masses alike, when he himself lent full support to the Khilafat movement and tacked on the 1921 Civil Disobedience movement to it.

The message of the Khilafat movement, ably led by Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali, and supported whole-heartedly by Mahatma Gandhi and Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, reached every nook and corner of India.

For the first time in the political history of India, thirty thousand men and women went to jail in thirty days. For the first time in the political history of India twenty lakhs of human beings left their country at the bidding of their leaders.

So pervasive was the passion for liberty that even Moplas were roused out of their poverty and ignorance to set up a Khilafat kingdom along the far-flung Malabar coast.

It seemed that India at last realised her new dreams, her new pride and dignity, her unity and strength. The folk song of the day truly echoed the feelings of the nation by the words: "Desh ka Bandhu Chittaranjan, Desh ka Shova Gandhiji, Khoda ka piyara Muhammad Ali (Chittaranjan is the friend of the country, Gandhiji is its ornament and Muhammad Ali is the darling of God).

The Muslim sentiment had been antagonised by the dethronement of the caliph at Istanbul by the victorious Western powers as Turkey had fought with the Germans in World War I.

The entire Muslim Ummah had looked upon the caliph as the spiritual head of Islam. The caliph was needed to protect the freedom of Makkah. Pilgrimage to Makkah is one of the basic religious duties of all Muslims, and Makkah has been free from foreign domination since the days of the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

The independence of Makkah was therefore a potent symbol for all Muslims. Gandhi argued that one must help a brother whenever he says he has a religious need. Hence the Hindu should help his Muslim brother defend the sacred shrines of the Islamic faith. According to him, Hindus needed "heart-unity" with their Muslim brothers; they could win this unity if they helped the Muslims protect the independence of the Turkish caliph.

Indian Muslims joined the civil disobedience in large number as Gandhi had linked it to the demand to restore Caliph to his pristine spiritual glory. Not only Maulanas Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, but many other renowned Muslim leaders and exegetists like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad also became actual participants in the joint Khilafat and Non-Cooperation movements, the first nation-wide Hindu-Muslim movement since the First War of Independence in 1857.

But the entire bottom fell out of the historic movement when the resurgent Turks under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk decided to abolish the caliphate and declared themselves a republic.

Gandhi called off non-cooperation after violence broke out in Chauri-Chaura. Many Muslims felt, as did some Hindus, that Gandhi had betrayed their revolution by calling it off just when they had some hope of success.

Since the Turkish revolution abolished the Caliphate, the Indian Muslims of the Khilafat movement fell into disarray and confusion because they had lost their cause and the symbol that united them. Most of the Muslim students, who had earlier shunned the Aligarh Muslim University, returned to the same institution. But to the end of his life, Gandhi always had Muslim friends close to him.

Besides the group of teachers and students of the Jamia Millia Islamia, another group of Muslims who remained loyal to Gandhi were the Khudai Khidmatgar (servants of God). These were a group of Pathans on the North-West frontier under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Popularly known as the "Frontier Gandhi," Abdul Ghaffar Khan remained loyal to Gandhi for the rest of his life, and accompanied the Hindu leader later on many of his long walks in riot-torn areas.

Mention must be made in this connection of another Muslim stalwart who influenced Gandhi's life and thought (not always in a positive way), especially in the period from 1937 to 1947.

He was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, creator of Pakistan. Hailed as the Father of the Nation in Pakistan, he is revered by all Pakistanis as Quaid-e-Azam , the "Great Leader," a name first given to him in 1940.

Gandhi and Jinnah took diametrically opposite positions on most occasions and arrived at very different solutions for the Muslims in undivided India. But the situation was totally different and quite friendly at the initial stage. The two leaders were not at daggers drawn and saw eye to eye on many an issue:

"In 1915, the young Jinnah, having established a successful legal practice in Bombay, became a leading advocate of co-operation between Hindus and Muslims in the task of working together to promote self-government for India after the war. He managed to arrange for the Muslim League and the Congress party to hold a joint meeting."

No wonder, Gopal Krishna Gokhale unhesitatingly declared: "Jinnah is an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity." Jinnah was also hailed by many as the "Muslim Gokhale."

"But Jinnah did not like the response of many Congress members in 1919 to Gandhi's call for the use of his satyagraha techniques for combating the British. Jinnah disliked the idea of attempting to agitate the masses, and he prepared to deal with the British through constitutional negotiation. He also did not like Maulana Azad's idea when he wanted to develop a new form of leadership by enlightened members of the Ulema class.

Jinnah was interested primarily in the development of modern constitutional means of government ... He never felt any sympathy with Gandhi's approach, or with the tactics of the Muslim leaders of the Khilafat movement. Although he certainly shared the goal of self-government for India, he disliked the populism and mass agitation of the Non-Cooperation movement of 1919-22. The difference between him and Gandhi was a matter of disagreement over means; it was not in the first instance a difference based on Hindu-Muslim issues. Once Jinnah, after 1937, accepted the leadership of the Muslim League, he faithfully implemented the policies of the League. Iqbal and other Muslim thinkers helped to brief him and then he implemented their ideas." (Mcdonough)

The difference between Gandhi and Jinnah unfortunately went on widening over the years and soon their views were poles apart almost on all occasions, especially when Jinnah became the chief spokesman of the Two Nation Theory. No wonder, Gandhi never felt inclined to discuss Islam with Jinnah, as he often did with Muslim thinkers like Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar, Allama Iqbal, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Zakir Hussain, et al.

During the period of the Khilafat and the first Civil Disobedience movements, Gandhi moved very closely with Muslim leaders and intellectuals like Maulana Muhammad Ali, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Allama Mohammed Iqbal, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and later Congress stalwarts like Zakir Hussain. Through intimate acquaintance and long discussions with these learned exponents of Islam, his profound respect for the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) became deeper and stronger.

Gandhi was so eager to know about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that he became sad when he did not have more to read about him.

In his own words: "I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind ... I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his selflessness, his absolute trust in God and his own mission -- these and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the second volume (of the Prophet's biography) I was sorry there was not more for me to read of that great life."

Gandhi's eulogy further testified: "Muhammad was a great Prophet. He was brave and feared no man but God alone. He was never found to say one thing and do another. He acted as he felt. The Prophet was a Faqir, he could have commanded wealth if he had so desired. I shed tears when I read of the privations, he, his family and companions suffered voluntarily. How can a truth-seeker like me help respect one whose mind was constantly fixed on God, who ever walked in God's fear and who had boundless compassion for mankind."

The sayings of the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) impressed Gandhi to such a great extent that he hailed those as "the treasures of mankind." In his introduction to The Sayings of Muhammad (SM) by Allama Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, he unhesitatingly declared:

"I have read Sir Abdullah Suhrawardy's collection of the sayings of the Prophet with much interest and profit. They are among the treasures of mankind, not merely Muslims."

Mention may be made in this connection that the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy came to appraise the real personality of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy's The Sayings of Muhammad (SM) and "a copy of this book was found in the large over-coat in which he wrapped himself before setting out on that last walk of his to die in the fields he used to till."

In addition to his interest in the example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a man who changed the world by putting his faith into action, Gandhi also studied the Holy Qur'an regularly. He spent a considerable time studying the Holy Qur'an during his intermittent sojourns in Indian jails as the guest of His Imperial Majesty.

"He wanted, as he often said," claims Sheila Mcdonough, "to know from the inside the hearts of his Muslim fellow-workers, and he believed that understanding their scripture was the way to understanding them. There were a number of areas in which he believed that he recognised similarities of themes between the insights he had gained from his understanding of Hindu scriptures, and the Qur'an. The word 'surrender' is one instance. This is the common English translation of the word Islam and is acknowledged to be the basic affirmation of all Muslim faith, namely surrendering to God, and to God alone. Gandhi felt that this was similar to the understanding of surrender he gained from an Upanishadic passage. Gandhi thought there was no significant difference between the Qur'an and the Upanishads on the issue of the necessity for total self-abandonment to God."

Another similarity he discerned was the teaching that one should respond to evil with good. This seems to have one of the earliest affirmations that he took very seriously to heart when he learned it from a Vaishnava hymn. There is a very similar moral teaching in the Qur'an.

In the words of Mcdonagh: "Only men possessed of mind remember; who fulfill God's covenant ... patient men, desirous of the Face of their Lord, perform the prayer, and expend of that We have provided them, secretly and in public, and who avert evil with good."

In Gandhi's opinion, dharma meant firmness in upholding truth. This would be similar to his understanding of Qur'anic imperative in Surah Fatiha to remain on the straight path, and not be led astray. No wonder, he continuously used Surah Fatiha from the Holy Qur'an as part of his daily prayer service:

"Gandhi also advised the Hindus as well as the Sikhs to read the Koran as they read the Gita and the Granth Saheb. And to the Musulmans he would say that they too should read the Gita and the Granth Saheb with the same reverence with which they read the Koran." (Abdul Waheed Khan, India Wins Freedom: The Other Side)

While discussing Suddhi and Sangathan movements Gandhi even went to the extent of asking: "Why cannot Hindus believe in the divinity of the Qur'an and say with us that there is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet? Ours is not an exclusive religion, but it is essentially inclusive."

Gandhi also believed the teachings about the attributes of God to be very similar in the scriptures of Hinduism and Islam. He did not hesitate to speak of Caliph Ali bin Abu Talib (RA) as a model of restraint, and thus a model for those who would take up the method of satyagraha. (Satyagraha means utter insistence upon truth. When a man insists on truth, it gives him power).

In his own words: "You must know how to restrain your anger, if you desire to maintain non-violence in action for any length of time. Hazrat Ali, the hero of Islam, was once spat upon by an adversary; and it is my conviction that if he had not restrained his anger at the time, Islam would not have maintained its unbroken career of progress up to the present time."

Gandhi also paid eloquent tribute to the incomparable sacrifice made by Imams Hassan and Hussain (RA). The glorious example of Imam Hussain (RA), the grandson of the holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh), who suffered martyrdom at the hands of a cruel and hostile state, is equated by Gandhi with tapascharya, the Hindu belief in the power of suffering to transform consciousness:

"All religions in the world are thus strict in regard to pledges ... Even if only a few among you take the pledge, we shall have reward through them. Muslim students have before them the example of Imams Hassan and Hussain. Islam has not been kept alive by the sword, but by the many fakirs with a high sense of honour whom it has produced ... I have nothing to give you in the way of excitement ... I want to give you quiet courage. I want you to have hearts pure enough for self-sacrifice, for tapascharya."

Gandhi believed that what he called "the Sufi aspect of Islam" taught patience and self-discipline, which Indian Muslims should learn to practice and the bhakti forms of Hinduism preached egalitarianism, which Hindus should learn to understand in its true spirit.

He firmly believed that the Holy Qur'an stresses mercy and patience as essential human virtues. He refused to believe that irrational violence was a particular characteristic of the Muslims or the Hindus. He always interpreted irrational Muslim violence as corrupt understanding of Islam, as Hindu violence was equally a corrupt understanding of Hinduism.

No wonder Gandhi was cut to the quick when a terrible communal riot broke out in Calcutta on August 16, 1946. In the next few years, mutual killing and destruction continued among Hindus and Muslims in many parts of the country.

There were attacks on Hindu villages by Muslims in Noakhali and similar outbursts of violence against Muslim villages by Hindus in Bihar. The grief-stricken Bapu lamented:

"We represented in India (the undivided India) all the principal religions of the earth, and it is a matter of deep humiliation to confess that we are a house divided against itself; that we Hindus and Muslims are flying at one another."

Nothing became him so well as the end of his life. His cherished dream had come true -- freedom had come. But with freedom came communal passions, and Hindus and Muslims massacred one another.

The frail old man, on the verge of his eightieth year, went from place to place, seeking to establish peace and goodwill while there were enmity and strife. He went to Noakhali to soothe the Hindus who had suffered from Muslim atrocities. He went to Patna to heal the sufferings of the Muslims at the hands of Hindus. He went to Delhi, and each day he preached love and communal amity.

In the words of Mcdonough: "Gandhi indeed lived his final years, in the midst of a sort of hell on earth. There can scarcely be a worse kind of hell than outbursts of malicious violence among the very persons one has given one's life to serving."

An insensate fanatic named Nathuram Godse, unable to bear Gandhi's message of goodwill and inter-faith harmony, shot him dead even when he was on his way to his prayers. That day, January 30, 1948, will remain a day of mourning forever, not only in India but in all places where people shun hostility and love peace and harmony between all faiths.

Syed Ashraf Ali is former Director General, Islamic Foundation Bangladesh.

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