I am republishing a few Quora answers of mine regarding Muhammad, the Islamic Prophet. I have maintained a neutrality and have written these answers in a way to make people open-minded and think differently. As always, I am writing this post to promote religious tolerance.
Why do you think Prophet Muhammad was a good person or a bad person? Please provide unbiased facts based on his biography wherever possible.
I think Muhammad was just like any other human being, a mixture of kindness and aggression.
If you watch old or medieval Tamil or Bollywood movies, you will see a hero who is endowed with all the positive qualities of the world. His love for parents, sisters, and poor people is mind blowing. He knows how to fight, how to dance, how to give lengthy speeches and he will convince you that he is the best human being.
On the other hand, you will see a villain who acts like an animal, has no sense of respect or regard for human life and emotions, will kill anyone for anything and doesn’t even have a simple trace of kindness. You will hate him!
But you can’t find a single human being in the above two extremes. The world is not black and white and people are not black and white. So categorizing a human being as good or bad is not realistic.
I see a human being as a process, not an entity. It is a process that begins in the womb and ends in grave, directed by two forces: nature and nurture.
When Muhammad was a little kid, he would have looked quite innocent, like this:
The society that brought up conditioned him. Muhammad got his moral values from his society. And this pre-Islamic society was not very evolved in terms of ethics. There was no big state or empire and there was no common law regulating the morality and social conduct of people living all over Arabia.
A question to ask yourself now is, if you had born in such a society, how would have you grown up and what kind of moral sense would you had?
If you were born in a tribal society of cannibals, you would have been a cannibal too. You would have not been taught that it was wrong because that is how your society survived.
Female infanticide was very common in pre-Islamic society. Many people were illiterates. Raiding a caravan was a norm. And there was no big leader to tell people what is wrong and what is right. It was also the time when polytheistic worshippers, Jews and Christians were living with mutual intolerance.
But what is the difference between pre-Islamic society and Islamic society? The new Islamic society was worse if you compare it with modern society; but it was better than how it was before. Islam was an improvement. But yes, it led to many negative consequences too.
It created a new culture which created its own art, music, and literature. But this is not to deny the endless inhuman deeds done by many people who not only followed this faith but also thought killing people in the name of faith was a religious duty and a gateway to heaven. Innocent people are still being massacred in the name of blasphemy, which I find to be the most cruel violation of human rights: Denying free expression.
Lots of temples were destroyed and lots of artwork was smashed. Some had purely political reasons. But that is not to deny some had religious reasons too.
But what does this all say about the personality and character of Muhammad?
First let us see what modern historians say about the historicity of Muhammad:
While the existence of Muhammad is established by contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous historical records attempts to distinguish between the historical elements and the ahistorical elements of many of the reports of Muhammad have not been very successful. Hence the historicity of Muhammad, aside from his existence, is debated
Apart from the fact that a person called Muhammad existed, we can’t really be sure about his life. Hadiths are unreliable because they were not written at the time of Muhammad.
According to Harald Motzki, “On the one hand, it is not possible to write a historical biography of the Prophet without being accused of using the sources uncritically, while on the other hand, when using the sources critically, it is simply not possible to write such a biography.”
Heger (2008) argues that Muḥammad “the blessed one” being a title of Christ does not necessarily preclude the historicity of the prophet of Islam. It rather opens up a scale of possibilities summarised in three alternatives to the default assumption of the historicity of a Muhammad recognizably similar to the hadith accounts,
- the Islamic tradition on the life of Muhammad is entirely legendary,
- Muhammad is historical, but was active roughly a century later than suggested by Islamic tradition,
- there were two distinct people, both given the epithet Muhammad or “blessed”, one active in the early 7th century, and author of the Meccan suras, and the other the Mamed of Johannes Damascenus, author of the Medinian suras.
Ok. So we really know nothing for sure. What does Quran indicate?
I don’t see Quran as either black or white. There are actually many verses that I like, which defines the nature of Allah. Allah is just an Arabic word for God. But that is not to deny that there are numerous verses that asks people to come to war even if they don’t like it, kill the kafirs whenever they see them and many others which are seen as totally inhuman according to the standards of an evolved society.
Before we explore the motivation behind such violent verses, let us first see what kind of revelation would have actually happened to Muhammad. Was he authentic when he said Gabriel dictated the verses?
It is possible to see things which are not there, and hear things which are not there. In fact, dreams and hallucinations are already capable of producing such an effect. Any content that comes out of such an experience comes from one’s own mind. But because of the convincing nature of such experiences, one would really think that he was talking to someone else and getting those information.
So, was there anything divine about it?
It is possible that Muhammad actually went through a spiritual experience. We can’t say anything about the nature of it. Whether it was permanent or impermanent, whether it was transformative or not etc cannot be said. We don’t know if it was what Eastern traditions define as self-realization or just a glimpse, satori.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was able to see Goddess Kali and talk to her but the experience is a creation of the brain. It may have to do with the right and left side of the brain. They appear to have two different conscious fields and sometimes act like two people being in one body, if the right and left hemispheres of the brain are surgically separated. For example, see Alien hand syndrome – Wikipedia.
By the way, Muhammad and Ramakrishna were not the only two people who claimed to have such an experience. Let me give you another example:
Conversations with God (CwG) is a sequence of books written by Neale Donald Walsch. It was written as a dialogue in which Walsch asks questions and God answers.
The first book of the Conversations with God series, Conversations with God, Book 1: An Uncommon Dialogue, was published in 1995 and became a publishing phenomenon, staying on The New York Times Best Sellers List for 137 weeks. The succeeding volumes in the nine book series also appeared prominently on the List.
In an interview with Larry King, Walsch described the inception of the books as follows: at a low period in his life, Walsch wrote an angry letter to God asking questions about why his life wasn’t working. After writing down all of his questions, he heard a voice over his right shoulder say: “Do you really want an answer to all these questions or are you just venting?”
Though when he turned around he saw no one there, Walsch felt answers to his questions filling his mind and decided to write them down. The ensuing dialogue became the Conversations with God books. When asked in a recent interview how does he ‘open up’ to God these days, Neale stated “I am reaching out to touch others with this information. When I reach out and touch others with this information I reconnect immediately with the divine presence.”
Conversations with God (CwG) is a sequence of books written by Neale Donald Walsch. It was written as a dialogue in which Walsch asks questions and God answers. The first book of the Conversations with God series, Conversations with God, Book 1: An Uncommon Dialogue, was published in 1995 and became a publishing phenomenon, staying on The New York Times Best Sellers List for 137 weeks. The succeeding volumes in the nine book series also appeared prominently on the List.
In an interview with Larry King, Walsch described the inception of the books as follows: at a low period in his life, Walsch wrote an angry letter to God asking questions about why his life wasn’t working. After writing down all of his questions, he heard a voice over his right shoulder say: “Do you really want an answer to all these questions or are you just venting?” Though when he turned around he saw no one there, Walsch felt answers to his questions filling his mind and decided to write them down. The ensuing dialogue became the Conversations with God books. When asked in a recent interview how does he ‘open up’ to God these days, Neale stated “I am reaching out to touch others with this information. When I reach out and touch others with this information I reconnect immediately with the divine presence.”
Now you may ask, if such a spiritual experience has happened to him, wouldn’t it have made him as a more peaceful man? Not necessarily. Since the nature of spiritual experiences and self-realization has not been studied much yet (even though there is a growing research on this field), there is no way to really know how a spiritual experience changes a person’s behaviour and personality.
But there is one thing which is certain. If you say that Muhammad was a barbarian, I would say that he was a better barbarian. One thing very important to note is that before Islam, there was no such religion in Arabia which had charity as one of the five pillars. Historians do not disagree that Islamic society was an improvement when compared to the pre-Islamic society.
I do not believe that any book is an infallible word of God. I haven’t come across such a book. All religious texts are filled with scientific errors. And Quran, for me, is an outdated book. But I have quoted selective verses from Quran that describe the nature of Allah in my book “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam”. It is only those verses, which indicate that Muhammad might have indeed gone through a spiritual experience. For me, God is a not a person in the sky. It is more related to one’s experience and consciousness. So I don’t believe in a personal God, eternal hell or final judgement day. But by my experience, I know that spirituality is not nonsense.
Muhammad was neither too good nor too bad. He is a combination of various traits. He was probably cruel at times and compassionate at times. In spite of his good intentions, he possibly had a feeling of vengeance and certain amount of intolerance towards Jews of his time; that was probably because of his previous experiences in the past that put him through a lot of humility.
But he was probably very ambitious to bring changes in the society and had a good charisma. The critics of Muhammad during his time do not criticize him as a cruel or bad man. They called him mad and possessed. He was known to be honest too.
But in terms of modern ethics and law, he is a criminal (if the claims of his critics were true); child marriage and mass murders will land him in jail and may even lead to a death sentence.
But if Muhammad was born in today’s world in a developed country, he would not be doing whatever he was doing in his time. Because, the culture and society that brings him up is different; and hence the conditioning is different. So a Muhammad of modern day may actually follow the modern norms and try to improve the society.
2. How cruel was the prophet Muhammad?
Prophet Muhammad is one of the most misunderstood men in the history but also the most influential person in the history. A strong bias exists in the society among non-muslims which has led to a lot of misconceptions. One big mistake that people do regarding Muhammad is judging him based on today’s norms. But the pre-Islamic Arabian society was a society of conflicts, superstition, female infanticide, social disorder, inequality based on economic disorder, religious intolerance etc.
Historians agree that Prophet Muhammad brought social reforms that improved the status quo of Arab society:
According to William Montgomery Watt, religion for Muhammad was not a private and individual matter but “the total response of his personality to the total situation in which he found himself. He was responding [not only]… to the religious and intellectual aspects of the situation but also to the economic, social, and political pressures to which contemporary Mecca was subject.”
Bernard Lewis says there are two important political traditions in Islam—Muhammad as a statesman in Medina, and Muhammad as a rebel in Mecca. In his view, Islam is a great change, akin to a revolution, when introduced to new societies.
Historians generally agree that Islamic social changes in areas such as social security, family structure, slavery and the rights of women and children improved on the status quo of Arab society.
For example, according to Lewis, Islam “from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents”.
Muhammad’s message transformed society and moral orders of life in the Arabian Peninsula; society focused on the changes to perceived identity, world view, and the hierarchy of values.
Economic reforms addressed the plight of the poor, which was becoming an issue in pre-Islamic Mecca.
The Quran requires payment of an alms tax (zakat) for the benefit of the poor; as Muhammad’s power grew he demanded that tribes who wished to ally with him implement the zakat in particular.
How can one ignore this when talking about Muhammad? Muhammad is the doorway to understand Islam. When you truly understand Muhammad and his character, you can also understand Islam.
He was a simple man, though he was a ruler. This was his room:
More about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!).
- He was considered as honest and trustworthy by all people of his time, including his enemies. He was described as a person who was generous, always smiling, worked hard for the upliftment of poor and united the whole Arabia into single Islamic polity.
- He wanted equality in the society. He was very clear that no one should discriminate based on skin color, economic status and others.
- He was against female infanticide which was wide spread in those times.
- He introduced Islamic way of greeting people which is ‘as salamu alaykum’. It means ‘Peace be unto you’.
- He always had a smile on his face. “I have never seen a man who smiled as much as the Messenger of Allah.” (Tirmidhi).
- He was concerned about the welfare of orphans. It was probably because he knew the pain of it; he was an orphan himself. A Hadith says, ““The best house among the Muslims is one where an orphan is well treated, and the worst house among the Muslims is one where an orphan is badly treated.” (Ibn Majah)
- He helped people and co-operated with them. “I saw the Messenger of Allah on the Day of the Trench carrying dirt (that was dug from the trench) until His chest was covered with dirt.” (Bukhari)
Comments about him by historians and biographers:
Edward Gibbon (d. 1794), a historian and member of England’s Parliament, wrote, “The good sense of Muhammad despised the pomp of royalty. The Apostle of God submitted to the menial offices of the family; he kindled the fire; swept the floor; milked the ewes; and mended with his own hands his shoes and garments. Disdaining the penance and merit of a hermit, he observed without effort or vanity the abstemious diet of an Arab.” In other words, he not just endured the coarseness of an austere life, but it flowed naturally from him. He was not trying to encourage monkhood or self-deprivation, nor was he faking this minimalism to earn praise from the people. Gibbons continues, “On solemn occasions, he feasted his companions with rustic and hospitable plenty. But, in his domestic life, many weeks would pass without a fire being kindled on the hearth of the Prophet.”
According to Washington Irving (d. 1859), an American biographer and diplomat, “He was sober and abstemious in his diet and a rigorous observer of fasts. He indulged in no magnificence of apparel, the ostentation of a petty mind; neither was his simplicity in dress affected but a result of real disregard for distinction from so trivial a source … His military triumphs awakened no pride nor vainglory, as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power, he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his adversity. So far from affecting a regal state, he was displeased if, on entering a room, any unusual testimonials of respect were shown to him.
Bosword Smith (d. 1908), a reverend, schoolmaster, and author writes, “Head of the State as well as the Church; he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without the Pope’s pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.”
Consider a man who never knew his father firsthand, hardly enjoyed the compassion of his mother, and then lost his grandfather, and then his uncle and dearest wife simultaneously. Consider a man who lived to witness every single one of his children die save for one, who was treated like a menace and fugitive after decades of building a flawless reputation among his people. Consider a man who experienced physical abuse until he would faint, was starved for years by his own people, and faced countless campaigns of character assassination. Consider a man who was driven out of his home, sent fleeing to Madinah for shelter, only to find hypocrites there awaiting every opportunity to betray him. Consider a man watching assassination attempts against his life unfold regularly, as well as the murder and mutilation of his relatives and companions, and then the slander of his cherished wife Aisha (rA), the daughter of his most loyal comrade. Who could persevere with hope, and persist in matchless ethics, through all this except someone infused by a unique aid from the heavens? The Prophet ﷺ rose from that abyss of negativity and not only survived, but became a fountain of mercy and empathy for people, animals, and plants alike. This is nothing short of miraculous; only God brings the dead out of the living, and produces a spring from a rock, and nourishes a rose in the desert. Only God could have kept him smiling throughout, playing with his grandchildren, standing by his principles, and lifting the spirits of those who suffered so much less than him. Only God could have empowered him ﷺ to have compassion for the heartless, forgiveness for his enemies, and concern for the arrogant. Only God could have kept his heart grateful at times when others could not even be patient, and his heart merciful at times when others could not even be just.
In my recent book Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, I have shown the beauty of Islam and how its essence is the same as the essence of Hinduism and Christianity. It explains what true Islam is, the side of Islam which was preserved secretly and unknown or unrecognized by the mainstream Islam. You can find the link to the book in my profile.
Update: 1st October, 2019
Unexpectedly and by the grace of Allah, this answer has become the top answer of all my answers. So, I want to use this opportunity to let readers know a few more things. Religion as how it is understood in today’s world is actually a recent Western concept. It was created based on Christianity, when some Christian theologians were trying to prove that Muhammad was a fake prophet and Hindu deities were satanic (Read Carl Ernst’s books for detailed evidence). The whole concept of religion as it is understood today is based on Christian model, with a single holy book, a single saviour. But today many of us have made religion as an identity. People tend to be more inclined to prove that their religion is better than others. But true religion has got nothing to do with pride. It is a love affair and totally private. It is very sad to see that some politically inclined Hindus take political propaganda as authority. Even here, some comments are just trying to make fun and insult instead of being open-minded to understand the reality. This is not about your religion vs another religion!
Anyway, I just wrote a poem today. It is mainly an expression of gratitude, but also requests God to empower me in explaining the truth about religions to people. If you want to know more, buy my book. Here is the poem:
This website debunks a lot of myths about Muhammad: Muhammad Fact Check
Also read this: https://www.quora.com/Was-Prophet-Muhammad-a-virtuous-man-or-a-man-of-good-character-In-some-hadiths-he-is-portrayed-as-a-slave-trading-sex-obsessed-man-If-these-hadiths-are-true-why-do-Muslims-follow-him-And-if-these-hadiths-aren%E2%80%99t-authentic-which-ones-are/answer/Shanmugam-P-12
3. What are the differences between Allah and Brahman? Aren’t they both the same absolute infinite intelligence? A stark similarity between the Quran and the Upanishads?
Before we talk about Quran, I want to explain something.
Most of the disagreements in spiritual schools are only about the terminology and not about the essence. This may sound too controversial for many to hear, but I have walked on the spiritual path over three decades to confirm this. You need to have extraordinary open-mindedness and willing to explore my blog and my book if you want to see why I am saying this.
For example, Shankara never discarded yoga or Buddhism when it comes to the effectiveness of practice or the truth that these paths lead to; but Shankara strongly objected to using negative terminology like ‘Shunyata’; Shankara also disagreed with certain metaphysical elements in the schools of Yoga and Samkhya. For more details with clear evidence, read this: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison
The terminology in spiritual schools have created a lot of confusions. This is strengthened by the fact that the ultimate truth is beyond words; and it gets worse when the words get translated to another language. For example, atman really means ‘self’. And when we try to interpret all these words after several centuries later, we are completely unaware of the fact that these words have also had different meanings at different times.
But when you see spiritual truth as a bunch of words and concepts, you may not see this. You need to see words only as pointers.
Now, before I talk about certain verses in Quran, Muhammad has to be understood. (That is why I have included the answers about Muhammad in the beginning). His experiences are in a way similar to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, (who actually went through multiple paths including Islam and confirmed that all these paths lead to the same truth).
Ok. Now I am going to quote the complete third chapter from my recent book: “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam”:
Chapter 3. The Nature of God, Adam and Eve and Abraham
In this chapter, I am going to try to define something that is essentially indescribable. So, the words in these chapters actually point to God, even though it can be fully grasped only when the oneness of God or the oneness with existence is felt in one’s moment to moment experience.
In Hinduism, God is described as Avyakta, which means impersonal. He is not a person. God is also described as Sat-Cit-Ananda, with three of his important aspects. Sat means truth. God is the only truth there is. All other truths we see are modifications of the same truth. Cit means consciousness. Your own consciousness is nothing but an aspect of God. But this consciousness is pure awareness, devoid of one’s thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions. If you look at your own mind, you can notice that there are two aspects to it. Your actual contents of the mind and the awareness which witnesses these contents. That is why the Bible says that God created man in his own image. This image is not the physical appearance of a person, but the pure consciousness itself. Ananda means bliss, which refers to the eternal bliss that you experience after you go through a spiritual transformation. This Sat, Cit and Ananda are roughly equivalent to Father, Son and the Holy Spirit of Christianity. We will see in what way they are different in an upcoming chapter.
We all know that human beings evolved through natural selection. So obviously, Adam and Eve were not real people. But the story of Adam and Eve has a metaphorical interpretation. When we were born, we were not only naked but we didn’t experience a separation from God in our early childhood. This is before the intellect understood the difference between ‘you’ and the ‘world’. During those days, you felt one with the existence and one with God. In other words, we lived in a metaphorical Garden of Eden. But this oneness was lost when we started to discriminate between the individual self and the rest of the existence. This was possible because of our own temptations to grow and this is also essential as a part of the growth. So Satan, which is the personification of our own temptations was responsible for the fall from Eden. When we developed our discrimination between ‘me’ vs ‘world’ and ‘right vs wrong’, we also lost our innocence and the oneness with God. In other words, we lost our paradise or the Garden of Eden.
Regaining this Garden of Eden is entering the Kingdom of God. It is the same as getting baptized by the Holy Spirit. For that we have to purify ourselves and regain the innocence of childhood. This doesn’t mean that you will lose your discriminative faculty. This means that in spite of the presence of your discriminative faculty, you would still experience the oneness of God. When Jesus says in Matthew 18.3 that you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you become like a little child, this is what he means.
Consciousness and God
Let us now explore the relationship between consciousness and God and see how consciousness is the image of God. When you see a tree, you are able to see it because the sun’s light is reflected from the tree. Even though the sun gives light, both sun and light appear as a perception in our consciousness. In other words, even though the sun shines the objects, it is consciousness which shines both sun and the objects and makes them perceptible by us. Consciousness is like a screen where every sense perception including light, smell, touch, taste and sound are perceived. It is also the screen which shines the contents of our own mind, including thoughts, emotions, etc. So consciousness is like the absolute reality. You can doubt the existence of anything that appears as a perception in your consciousness but you cannot doubt the existence of consciousness itself. Because it is self-shining and self evident.
Imagine a television screen. You see a movie on the screen and the movie shows various objects. But do those objects have any independent existence apart from the screen? No! Even though thousands of objects may appear on the screen, the screen is the only thing that has actual existence. Similarly, God as consciousness is the only thing which has actual existence in your experience. After spiritual transformation, the psychological boundaries that separate you from God dissolve. Then you feel like you are living in an ocean of consciousness and you see God as the absolute truth.
David Flusser, who was an Israeli professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem quotes a legend about Abraham from ‘The Legend of the Jews’ by L.Ginzberg:
“When the sun sank, and the stars came forth, he [Abraham] said, “These are the gods!” But the dawn came, and the stars could be seen no longer, and then he said, “I will not pay worship to these, for they are no gods.” Thereupon the sun came forth, and he spoke, “This is my god, him will I extol.” But again the sun set, and he said, “He is no god,” and beholding the moon, he called her his god to whom he would pay Divine homage. Then the moon was obscured, and he cried out: “This, too, is no god! There is One who sets them all in motion.”
This actually explains how Abraham intellectually discerns that God sets everything including the stars, the sun and the moon in motion and that God as consciousness shines its lights on them and reveals them. This legend is also mentioned in Quran 6: 75-80. Flusser also shows how the same concept is present in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:
“But [once] when Janaka, [king] of Videha, and Yajnavalkya were discussing together at an Agnihotra, Yajnavalkya granted the former a boon. He chose asking whatever question he wished. He granted it to him. So [now] the king, [speaking] first, asked him: “Yajnavalkya,
what light does a person here have?” “He has the light of the sun, O king,” he said, “for with the sun, indeed, as his light one sits, moves around, does his work, and returns.” “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, what light does a person here have?” “The moon, indeed, is his light,” said he… “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, and the moon has set, what light does a person here have?” “Fire, indeed, is his light,” said he… “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, and the
moon has set, and the fire has gone out, what light does a person here have?” “Speech, indeed is his light,” said he… “Therefore, verily, O king, where one does not discern even his own hands, when a voice is raised, then one goes straight towards it.” “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, and speech is hushed, what light does a person here have?” “The soul (atman),indeed, is his light,” said he, “for with the soul, indeed, as his light one sits, moves around,does his work, and returns.”
Here the word atman or Self is translated as soul. That is actually the real meaning of the word ‘soul’. Your true Self is not the self-image that you have in your head, not the opinions you have about you, not the story of your life but Sat-Cit-Ananda or God himself. As we saw earlier, God exists without a second. Nothing else has an existence apart from him. So you don’t exist as a separate entity either, even though it appears to be. Your Self is the Self of God.
The fact that God as consciousness and the light of everything is also described in Katha Upanishad:
“The sun shines not there, nor the moon and stars,
These lightnings shine not, much less this (earthly) fire!
After Him, as He shines, doth everything shine,
This whole world is illuminated with His light.”
Who is this Abraham? Was that a real person? Probably not. All historians agree that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were not real people. These legends as stories were created to communicate subtle truths. First, the children read the stories. Then when they become adults, they could get teachings based on these stories, which metaphorically and sometimes directly convey a lot of insightful messages. This is how mythology and epics work. When I read the narrative of Old Testament, it resembles a lot with Indian Puranas (mythology) and Epics.
In the story of Abraham, God is shown to test Abrahmam’s devotion by asking his son to be sacrificed to Him. A similar story also exists in Periya Puranam, a Tamil text about Lord Shiva. The idea of somebody sacrificing his own son may sound barbaric. But we need to remember that these legends were created during a time when human sacrifice was a usual thing. Deaths and losing life was also very usual and out of 10 children only 5 or 6 usually survived to adulthood. One mistake that people do is to judge an older legend based on today’s social norms. But the world has changed a lot recently: now we have reached the agreement that human sacrifice is wrong, slavery is wrong and discrimation based on caste, creed or race is wrong.
But the story of Abraham was created to show an example of unconditional devotion. Such a devotion purifies one’s mind and makes him receptive to understand the absolute truth about God in one’s experience. The whole effort of Prophet Muhammad was to restore this path of devotion that is symbolized by the story of Abraham.
Many people have noticed similarities between Abraham and the indian concept of Brahma. The word Brahma has many meanings. It means the creator God as well as a priest. The word Brahman also means God as Sat-Cit-Ananda:
For example, Steven Rosen, an American author has written the following in his book:
“The similarities between the names of Abraham and Brahma have not gone unnoticed. Abraham is said to be the father of the Jews, and Brahma, as the first created being, is often seen as the father of mankind…’ We might also note that the name of Brahma’s consort Sarasvati seems to resonate with that of Abraham’s wife, Sarah [… each one’s identity as a wife and/or sister]. Also, in India, the Sarasvati River includes a tributary known as the Ghaggar…. According to Jewish tradition, Hagar was Sarah’s maidservant…. Both Brahmins … and Jews see themselves as the ‘chosen people of God.’ The Hebrews began their sojourn through history as a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). Likewise, Brahmins are also a community of priests.” — Rosen in Essential Hinduism, p. 12.
Probably, the name Abraham may be a product of Hindu influence, through Mitanni kings who ruled northern Syria and southeast Anatolia. Many people have written about the similarities.
Nature of God revealed in Quran
Now, many people may feel a little averse towards Islam because of a stereotype that it has gained in the last century. It is seen as a violent religion and many verses from the Quran are often quoted to show how violence is encouraged by Islam. But the reality is, there were groups of people and tribes who wanted to kill Prophet Muhammad and they didn’t agree for a peace treaty. The violent verses in the Quran have to be interpreted in the right context, as encouraging war as a self-defence. The ‘unbelievers’ that Quran mentions often is specific to these people who were actually waging war against Muhammad and the Muslims of his time. I see Quran as a beautiful poetry. There are many beautiful verses in Quran which points to the reality of God. Let us see some of those verses:
“And We are nearer to him than the jugular vein” (50:16). This verse means that God as consciousness is very close to you than anything else.
“And He is with you wherever you are” (57:4). This means that God as your inner light or consciousness is with you all the time.
“We shall show them Our signs upon the horizons and in their selves” (41:53). – Quran calls its own verses as ‘ayat’ which means ‘signs’. It uses the same word to refer to the things in the universe. Everything that you see is the sign of God. In other words, consciousness is God and everything that is witnessed by consciousness is a sign of God, which doesn’t have an independent existence other than God’s own existence. In Hinduism, there is a word called Lakshmi, which means ‘sign’. Lakshmi is also a Goddess in Hinduism, which actually means that it is an icon among many icons in Hindu iconography which renders psychological aid for devotion. We will see how this Hindu iconography is different from the polytheistic idol worship in a different chapter. But here, we need to understand that Lakshmi is everything that is manifest and witnessed by consciousness, where as Vishnu is the actual consciousness which is all-pervading (pervades all over your moment to moment experience). A name similar to Vishnu also exists in Islam as one of the 99 names of God. The name ‘Al-Wasi’ means all-pervading, which is the literal meaning of the word Vishnu. Here it means both physically or externally all-pervading and internally all pervading as consciousness/the base for your experiences.
Verse 41.53 also says that signs of God can be seen within yourself. If God is all-pervading and omnipresent, then He should also exist within you. He exists within you as the light of consciousness. An-Nur, another Islamic name for Allah means light, which is the same as Cit or consciousness in Sat-Cit-Ananda. He is the light of everything, because it is with His light you sense or notice anything at all. He is within you. That is why Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).
In fact, the following verse from Quran explains about this aspect of God as light:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The analogy of His light is as a niche, and within it, a lamp. The lamp is enclosed in a glass. The glass is like a shining star. Lit from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil is almost luminous, though no fire touched it. Light upon light. Allah guides unto His light whom He will. And Allah speaks to mankind in allegories, and Allah is Knower of all things. (24:35)
The above verse is actually a beautiful piece of poetry
“Wherever you turn, there is the face of God” (2:115). God is omnipresent. Everything you see is actually a sign of God and God is the essence of everything. In this sense, he is both the subject and object, the observing conscious witness and the observed objects. This doesn’t mean that each object is God, as it implies the existence of multiple gods. This means that the multiplicity of objects is an illusion and that it is God who exists as everything; it is God who exists without a second. But this is actually a final truth which is fully grasped only after spiritual rebirth, after-life or self realization, whatever name you want to use for it. Before that, we will be discriminating between God and the signs of God, the observer and the observed, the consciousness and the object of consciousness. This discrimination and clear understanding of the difference between the two has to be completely understood in order to walk in the path towards salvation. This skill is called Viveka in Hinduism. Islam also has such a discrimination. The significance of Islam is that it has a statement related to this as its first pillar and it is called Shahada. The statement is “There is no god but God”. This statement has a deep meaning. ‘No god’ refers to the contents of consciousness, which are like moving pictures of the screen devoid of their own reality. That is why they are called ‘no God’, meaning that they do not have any reality separate from God; God refers to Sat-Cit-Ananda, or ‘Truth, consciousness and bliss’ which is the only reality. The Arabic statement of this is something you have probably heard, which is ‘la ilaha illa illah’. This line is actually meant as a spiritual practice. You observe every thought, every sensation and sense perception and every emotion that occurs in the present moment and realize ‘this is not God, this is a sign of God’. In Hinduism, this practice is called ‘Neti neti’. In the initial stages, you can mentally repeat ‘la ilaha illa illah’ as you realize that the ‘no god’ part. But it is important to note that the final truth you realize in spiritual transformation is the complete oneness. That is both ‘no god’ part and God part are God. Because, ‘no god and God’ implies the existence of two entities whereas God is one without a second. The picture is also a part of the screen! We will explore more about this in a different chapter.
Let us see the quote of some Sufi mystics about this God and no God discrimination (Sufism is a branch of Islam):
“With no god the practitioner negates other than the Real, and with but God he affirms the Presence of Exaltation. When he does this constantly and clings to it, the spirit’s attachment to
other than God is gradually cut with the scissors of no god. The beauty of but God’s authority discloses itself from behind the Pavilion of Exaltation. In keeping with the promise, Remember
Me, and I will remember you [2:152], the remembrance is disengaged from the clothing of letters and sound. The specific characteristics of Everything is perishing but His face [28:88] become evident in the disclosure of the light of Divinity’s magnificence” – Najm ad-Din Razi
No one says ‘No god but God’ correctly unless he negates
everything other than God from his soul and heart.” – Ibn Ata’illa
A poem of Sufi Poet and Mystic Rumi is also about this discrimination:
The joy and heartache of lovers is He,
the wages and salary for service is He.
If they were to gaze on other than the Beloved,
how could that be love? That would be idle fancy.
Love is that flame which, when it blazes up,
burns away all except the everlasting Beloved.
It slays “other than God” with the sword of no god.
Look carefully: After no god what remains?
There remains but God, the rest has gone.
Hail, O Love, great burner of all others!
It is He alone who is first and last,
all else grows up from the eye that sees double.
Discrimination between ‘God’ and ‘no god’ is called as viveka in Hinduism and is considered as one of the qualifications that a seeker or devotee needs to have to walk on the spiritual path.
That is, God is neither limited, mean, narrow-minded, nor poor in resources. All such notions about God, which arise from considering Him as essentially similar to human beings, are erroneous. God’s realm is boundless and so is His vision and the range of His benevolence and mercy. Moreover, God’s knowledge is all-embracing. He knows who remembers Him, as well as where, when and why he does that. (2:116). – This is a very important verse. It actually says that God is absolute infinity and unlimited. In Hinduism, we have the term ‘ananta’ for God, which also means unlimited. The same verse also says that God is not a person and that attributing human attributes to God is essentially a fallacy.
“Everything upon the earth is undergoing annihilation, but there subsists the face of your Lord” (55:26–27). – This talks about the impermanence of things and the permanence of God. Objects keep changing their forms, but God, who is the essence of all objects persists. In Hinduism, impermanence is known as anitya. It is very important to realize that all objects, things, feelings etc are impermanent and getting attached to them causes suffering. Spiritual path develops non-attachment, which is the direct result of purifying oneself.
The next verse talks about the stage of purification, when you purify yourself by unconditional devotion and meditation:
“By the soul and That which shaped it, and inspired it to its depravity and its godwariness. Prosperous is he who purifies it, and failed has he who buries it” (91:7–10).
Let us also see some other important names of God in Islam:
Al-Haqq means ‘Truth’. It is one of the names of God which is synonymous to ‘Sat’ in ‘Sat-Cit-Ananda’.
Az-Zahir means the manifest; Everything that is manifest is a sign of God, which do not have an independent existence even though they seem to be. When this is realized in experience, you see the face of God in everything, as explained by Quran 2:115.
Al-Batin means the unmanifest. Purusha Sukta says that both the manifest and the unmanifest are essentially God himself. But only one quarter of him is manifest as objects in the world, showing His sign or face; three quarters of Him is unmanifest.
Al-Hadiy means way. God is the source, destination and also the way!
As – Salam means source of peace of bliss. It is synonymous with Ananda in ‘Sat-Cit-Ananda’.
In fact, we can come up with an Islamic version of Sat-Cit-Ananda based on the above names. It would be ‘Al-Haqq’ – ‘An-Nur’ – ‘As-Salam’.
Please note that all these names, including Hindu names such as Vishnu, Lakshmi etc are various names of one Truth, which is God. Each name refers to a certain aspect of divinity. Rig Veda says ‘ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti’ which means that the Truth is one, but it is called by various names by wise people.
Sat – Cit- Ananda – Explained Further
We saw that pure awareness or consciousness is nothing but God. We are always conscious of something. Even during sleep, consciousness exists but there is nothing to be conscious of. Then, it is like an empty screen. This consciousness remains always the same, shining on everything like a screen of light. The objects like sense perceptions, thoughts, emotions etc appear in this screen and the light of consciousness shines on them, making them visible or known.
Also, at any moment we are always experiencing something. Even during deep sleep, there is an experience of peace. Divine peace or bliss is the base level experience which is felt in its purity when we sleep. But when we are awake, this base level experience gets clouded with impurities like desire, hatred, jealousy, boredom, suffering etc. So we don’t feel the underlying bliss. But once the mind is purified, the pure bliss and pure consciousness is all that exists, and this screen of truth, bliss and consciousness continues to show the contents of consciousness, such as thoughts, sense perceptions etc.
The sense of individual self which acts like a barrier between your inner world and the outer world disappears. Along with it, desire, jealousy, aversion, psychological fear etc also disappears. Since aversion disappears, you are left with pure love, a sense of acceptance, forgiveness and understanding towards all human beings. So God is revealed as He is, once the sense of individual self disappears. You are left with pure conscious experience of being filled with love, the love which belongs to God himself.
So, along with consciousness, bliss and truth are also a part of the screen that we are talking about in our screen metaphor. The screen is made up of three dimensions: Truth, Consciousness and bliss or ‘Al-Haqq’ – ‘An-Nur’ – ‘As-Salam’.
That is the end of the third chapter. Trust me, these words from Quran are impossible for a random warlord of the 5th century Arabia which didn’t even have the scent of any Indian schools of thought, unless the person had actually went through some experience.
4. Is Islam a peaceful religion?
Now the most important question. When you see countless massacres that are happening in the name of Islam, the most obvious conclusion that a person would make is ‘Islam is a violent religion and it is totally anti-humanity.’
While majority of Muslims would actually want to claim that their religion is peaceful, people who want to show Islam as violent claim that true Islam teaches Muslims to kill unbelievers. They insist that an ISIS terrorist is actually the true follower of Muhammad.
But do you realize that this insistence comes from some kind of aversion or a feeling of vengeance, rather than an attempt to create peace? Or may be it is coming from the strong temptation to prove how wrong Muslims are. But what I am saying is, If a Muslim wants to claim that his religion is peaceful, let him claim so. Because, it only shows a good attitude of that Muslim to interpret Islam in a peaceful way. It actually shows that this Muslim who claims that his religion is peaceful will probably not kill an unbeliever, smash a temple or be averse to other religions. Is that a good thing or bad? If you tell him that true Islam asks to kill unbelievers and destroy temples, and insist that an ISIS terrorist is the one who follows true Islam, you are not really adding any value but it even seems like you are indirectly teaching him to follow this ‘true, violent’ Islam that you talk about. I think we need to stop this and help Muslims with the cognitive dissonance that they are facing! Let them interpret Islam in a peaceful way and help them to interpret that way! Is there anything wrong in doing so? After all, it can only bring positive changes.
The key to peace lies in how we are going to bring up the upcoming generation. These children are innocent just like the baby you see in the top of this page. What are we going to teach them? How are we going to bring them up? This is the most important question.
Past is past; you cannot raise Aurangzeb or Mahmud of Ghazni from their graves and punish them because they are already dead. But do not punish the majority of Muslims who are living today, by looking them down just because some ruler, who is not even a common man, did something bad to your culture long before you and they were born.
I like the way how Islamic Religious Council of Singapore interprets Islam: