(Republishing my Quora answer for the same question) …This is going to be a long answer because I want to cover many aspects which are related to Hindu-Muslim disunity and also suggest some solution for that.
Before I answer the question, let me narrate how I grew up and what values I was taught when I was very young:
My first introduction to anything religious happened through Lord Ayyappa, if I try to remember clearly. My father used to wear mala and go to Sabarimala in Kerala every year. Sabarimala is a symbol of religious tolerance, as there is also a shrine of Vavar, a muslim friend of prince Manikandan there. Every Sabarimala devotee has to first go to a mosque of Vavar and offer salutations before having the darshan of Ayyappa. I learned at a very young age how this promotes religious tolerance.
During my first standard, I studied in Presentation convent, Thachanallur. It was a Christian convent and our classroom was very close to a church. I didn’t know anything about Christianity back then; but for me, Jesus was just another God. I didn’t find anything odd in thinking that way.
During my second standard, I lived in Colachel, Tamil Nadu, a town where Hindus are a small minority. Majority of the residents in the town are Christians and Muslims. I studied in a Muslim school where I was the only Hindu in my class. We lived in a big compound owned by a Christian family that had a lot of animals including cows, turkeys, hens etc. The compound was full of bones of animals as the Christian family ate meat regularly. Inside the same compound, a Brahmin family, an old Muslim couple and us lived together like a big family. It was also the time when Babar masjid was demolished. But we all lived very peacefully there. We celebrated all our festivals together.
During my 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th std, I studied in another school in Tittagudi, where I had a close friend called Anbarasan. Their parents had an interesting story. They were Christians; but one day his father wore mala to Sabarimala without his mother’s knowledge. This led their whole family to accept both Christianity and Hinduism. Since I was his close friend, I always went to his house before going to school and used to have a light morning breakfast there. We used to discuss a lot about both religions as my friend was very much devotional.
In 7th standard, I entered a Hindu school, which is Swami Jayendra Sarasvati Swamigal golden jubilee matriculation higher secondary school in Tirunelveli. There were lots of Muslims and Christians there, as their parents didn’t mind their children studying in a Hindu school. They valued the quality of education more than religion. Each day for us began by reciting slokas from Guru Gita, Dakshinamurthy slokam, Saraswati sloka, Shanti mantra etc. On Fridays, we had an hour long Bhajan session and everyone including Hindus and Muslims sang those songs. And here is one of the songs we used to sing:
Govind Bolo Gopal Bolo
Ram Ram Bolo Hari Nam Bolo
Allah Malik Isha Nanak
Zoarastra Mahavir Buddha Nam Bolo
Govind Bolo Gopal Bolo
Ye Nam Sare Hai Jivan Sahare
Paramananand Ke Kholte Hai Dvare
Jo Nam Chaho Vo Nam Bolo
Prem Se Bolo Bhav Se Bolo
Sing the glorious names of Govinda, Gopala,
Rama, Hari, Allah, Sai, Jesus, Nanak, Zoroaster,
Mahavir, and Buddha. As companions in life,
they open our hearts to supreme bliss. Chant
the name you choose with love and devotion
There is a small shrine of Vinayaka in front of the house. During every Hindu festival we ate prasad together. We celebrated Holi and Raksha Bandhan together
6. During 10th standard, I studied in a school in Thirumalaiappapuram, a small village in Tirunelveli district in between Pottalpudur and Ravanasamudram which had Muslim majority. We had a lot of muslims there, playing together with Hindus. There is a famous dargah in Pottalpudur where Kandhiri is celebrated by people of all religions.
7. My role models during these days also insisted that all names like Allah and Ishvara were various names for one God. I read about Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who practiced different religious paths including Sufi Islam and Christian mysticism, attained the same samadhi experience, and proclaimed that all these religions are various paths leading to the same goal. I spoke regarding Ramakrishna and Vivekananda in lectures in my school and won many prizes in competitions conducted by Vivekananda Kendra. I also loved the poems of Bharathiyar, who wrote songs about Jesus and Allah too. I learnt that he had even given a speech about Prophet Muhammad in Pottalpudur dargah during his time.
8. In my personal life, I have had some close Muslim friends. There was a girl called Fathima in my first company who took care of me like a mother. She also fell in love with a Hindu guy and married him. There was also a Fazil Hussain who stood beside me for every problem. In general, I have received lots of love and hospitality from Muslims. So, I have been conditioned to never think that a Muslim or a Christian is an outsider or someone who doesn’t belong to my group or block.
But only when I began to see the kind of comments made by religious extremists online, I woke up to a different reality. The beautiful world of religious tolerance that I saw in school life is now being threatened; I am scared that if we do not act now, we may no longer be able to brag about the unity in diversity in India, after a few generations.
Let us come to the question now. What is the reason for hatred between Hindus and Muslims in India?
The simple reason for any conflict that arises between two groups is In-group favoritism, or in-group–out-group bias:
“In-group favoritism, sometimes known as in-group–out-group bias, in-group bias, intergroup bias, or in-group preference, is a pattern of favoring members of one’s in-group over out-group members. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, in allocation of resources, and in many other ways.
This effect has been researched by many psychologists and linked to many theories related to group conflict and prejudice. The phenomenon is primarily viewed from a social psychology standpoint. Studies have shown that in-group favoritism arises as a result of the formation of cultural groups. These cultural groups can be divided based on seemingly trivial observable traits, but with time, populations grow to associate certain traits with certain behaviour, increasing covariation. This then incentivises in-group bias.”
We derive our sense of self and ego, not only based on the individual abilities and skills but also based on the group that we belong to. You may be someone who were born just 30-40 years before. But you derive your pride from good things about your culture, and even boast about an ancient ancestor of your group for the good things he did; As a Hindu, you take pride in a temple that was built by someone who lived about 1000 years ago, even though you might not have done anything worthwhile yourself to deserve it. You never had a choice when it comes to where you were born. And you had no idea who your ancestor were 5-6 generations before or what kind of values the great-grandfather of your great-grandfather had. But yet, the very fact that you belong to that group makes you have a sense of superiority.
Then you were told that people from a different group destroyed your temple about 500-600 years before. You also come to know that many people who are identified with that same group indulge in terrorism. You start seeing the world in groups instead of seeing individuals. Just like you derive your pride from your group even though you didn’t do anything to deserve it, you also begin to look down on this ‘other’ group and start to stereotype them. You generalize this whole group, and you somehow tend to think that someone who was born about 30-40 years in that ‘different’ group is responsible for temple destruction and terrorsim. You see him as an outsider.
You know, it is human nature to have some kind of prejudice. But the real maturity is to grow to go beyond that. So, if someone tries to pour fuel into your prejudice or provoke your sense of ego based on your group identity, it is very important to recognize and resist that. Failure to do so is the cause of the growing hatred between Hindus and Muslims.
Do you know what keeps fueling this prejudice? Politics! But unfortunately, even based on politics we create groups. We tend to be married to one political party and be committed to vote for that group for life. We get too defensive when trying to support a political party and we even lose friends because of that. Even based on this answer, people will try to judge me and place me in a political group: a congress supporter, a sickular person, an Anti-hindu etc.
But the reality is, I hate today’s politics and how it is going. I am not attached to any political party or committed to vote them for life. In democracy, I am the king and I do not have to wipe the feet of any politician.
Politicians just play with your emotions to get votes. And you give in. Now, your political leaders become your gurus and authorities. You begin to worship them, blindly support them, kill the spirit of democracy and allow the unity of diversity of this country to be threatened. You fall for it when they act like they are the saviours of your religion, which makes you to neglect the true dharma of this land. You end up worshipping Godse and demonise Gandhi!
A politician openly says in media that Hindu boys should rape Muslim girls. A politician openly declares that Godse, who did nothing but kill a 70 year old man, as a patriot. Most of these politicians say things which are utter nonsense and seems to be lacking real intelligence. Yet, we support them, worship them and try too hard to defend them. And when someone tries to point this out, we try to come with a list of faults from another party, so that your group appears better (which is nothing but fooling ourselves). And when a person who belongs to the ‘other’ group questions it, we stereotype him just based on his Arabic name and troll him.
Yet, when someone asks in Quora if India is becoming intolerant, we have the guts to deny it, because accepting it hurts our self-esteem. So, just to save our self-esteem and pride and to make your people feel better, you start denying the reality and deliberately lie; You close your eyes to the hatred and prejudice. And in order to prove that you country is still tolerant, you come up with examples from other countries to show how we are actually better.
Let us say someone comes to your house and says that there is a lot of garbage in your house and that you should clean it. If you respond by saying, “You know, other houses are worse; you haven’t seen them. They have more garbage than we do”, then you are actually being stupid. There is no reason to look at another house. If your house has even a little garbage, you should attempt to clean it for your own good. But if you remain deaf when someone points that out, you just pave way for more garbage to gather in your house in the future. And soon, it will be worse than other houses.
If you want to know how much poison the minds of people have gathered, just look at the nature of comments on Twitter and Facebook; just see how cheap people get in abusing other people inhumanely, just to save their face and establish their superiority. There are Facebook groups tied to political parties who openly abuse the ‘other’ group members and sometimes I am left speechless and concerned after seeing all that.
The true maturity is the ability to see our own faults and criticize ourselves. We have to take our sense of self less seriously. Pointing out the faults in our own group, acknowledging them and being willing to rectify them is not the same as defaming ourselves or putting ourselves down. It only shows that we are always ready to improve and grow.
There are also two other problems that I would like to point out:
Black and white thinking: Because of too much attachment that we have towards our own culture, we tend to white wash our culture completely; and we tend to ‘black-wash’ another group completely. Caste system? British created it. Sati? That happened because of Muslims.. Our culture? Oh, our culture is golden and there is no fault in our culture at all and never has been. Asram Bapu? He is a Hindu and so I will defend him. Nithyananda? I don’t care how many people he raped; since he is trying to create a Hindu country, I will support him. Raja Raja Chola? Oh, he was a great Hindu king who conquered many countries in South Asia, very peacefully without killing a single human. Did you say Akbar and Shah Jahan were great? Go to Pakistan. We Indians never did anything wrong right from the day God created us, we never suppressed women, we did everything only for good. In fact, the fact that my own grandfather who ran a restaurant in my village had a separate room for dalits, separate bucket to wash their hands etc is something that happened because of some evil ‘outside’ influence. Yes, none of our scriptures have any defects while all other scriptures of the world are complete nonsense.. And people like Rumi, Kabir, etc never existed because nothing good can actually come from the ‘other’ group. This way of thinking is sickness and it needs medicine. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa? Since he said that all religions lead to the same truth, he must be deluded or someone who never existed. (I was told that I am living in a fool’s paradise just because I said the same thing). Have you ever bothered to check why some people say that all religions lead to the same goal? Have you ever bothered to understand why Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi spoke good things about Islam and Christianity? Are you aware that Shirdi sai baba was both a Muslim fakir and a Hindu saint? We are drinking too much alcohol! No, not the ones which are sold in bars; The name of this alcohol is ‘pride’ and it is too intoxicating.
Conformity: The group we belong to and identify with gives us a sense of belonging. So, we try to unconsciously conform to the norms of our own group. We tend to agree with what the members of our own group say, and this takes precedence over logic or ethics. Because, when our self-esteem is threatened, our mind is willing to compromise on logic and ethics. This is a fact in psychology; but the true maturity is to see through that and go beyond that. Guess what, we are not doing that! We simply tend to support someone’s opinion just because they belong to our group, especially if that opinion shows our group in a favourable way and puts down the other. That is like eating chocolate for us. I have seen many intelligent people simply agreeing to things just to conform. And Quora or any social media platform that signals an acceptance by your group members through upvotes and shares acts as a perfect breeding ground for all this.
How to increase Hindu – Muslim unity?
Hindus need to take the first step for that. Why Hindus? Because, we are the ones who claim that we are tolerant than the others. It is our Dharma which teaches that the world is one family. Rather than asking a different group to be tolerant with us and be peaceful us, we need to set an example by doing the first step. Only by seeing examples, other people get inspired. When you make religious tolerance as the highest value to conform to, people from other religions will also start to conform to those values. As I said, conformity is something natural to humans.
What we call as Hinduism is a huge library. And we have a huge list of saints who are important. On the other hand, Islam has just one central holy book and just one important Prophet with whom all of them all emotionally connected. So, even to compare Hinduism and Islam and argue which one is better is very unfair. It is like a huge army with thousands of weapons fighting with a single man who has a small knife. Who has to be more generous here?
You can very easily insult a person who practices Islam. Just cherry pick the so called ‘sword’ verses from Quran and ignore all the verses in the Quran that says things like ‘there should be no compulsion in religion’, or ‘If you kill one human, it is like killing the whole of humanity’. Pick some controversial verses from Hadiths that were written more than a hundred years after the death of Muhammad and use those verses to portray Islam as completely evil. Most importantly, ignore all the verses which are good. On top of that, try to insult the only person that they revere and put him down by calling him with abusive names, without caring about the historicity. Don’t worry, the whole world is with you when you do that.. Many people will come and agree with you and even rejoice at the insults that you are passing. And when you do this, forget about the claim that your religion is tolerant.
Because, the beauty of stupidity is that you can have double standards. On the one hand you can claim that your religion is very tolerant, generous, and forgiving; on the other hand you can go down to any level of intolerance to put down the ‘other’ groups and rejoice in making fun of them. Why should you care about the feelings of an innocent harmless Muslim who is already too scared about the hell fire and is in a dilemma? Why should you have any compassion to any Muslim to help him deal with his cognitive dissonance? After all, 600 years before someone from their group destroyed a temple and somewhere in the world, a sick-minded terrorist is bombing people; and this innocent Muslim is responsible for all of that!
There is an intelligent priest in Quora, an expert in Pancharatra and Mimamsa and a ‘proud’ Shudra, who actually contributes to pouring fuel in this glowing fire of intolerance. I like most of his answers. He is never abusive himself and is a very nice person. But one thing he does is, constantly cater to the needs of some extremist Hindus who are looking for some dose in the alcohol of superiority. Whenever Islam is put down, many people who are looking for this dose rejoice and upvote. And, probably the priest also gets some comfort because now he conforms to the opinions of a particular group and his need for the sense of belonging is satisfied. Who cares about a different perspective on Islam? The world has already made up their mind about it and we can all join in the chorus. Well, while this does absolutely nothing to stop terrorisim and obviously cannot undo the calamities which has happened in the past, it continues to spoil the ‘proud’ people. May be the priest doesn’t know what is happening in India or doesn’t care about the politician who said that Hindu boys should rape Muslim girls or that Godse is a patriot (After all, these politicians are Hindus, right?).
Please remember. It is the comparison of religions (to feel superior) that makes the differences and gaps in humanity larger and larger. Dharma is a path; it is not an identity. The focus of Dharma is to ensure the well-being of yourself and others. If you want to brag, please pick something else. Buy fancy clothes and post your pictures on Instagram, write beautiful and useful answers on Quora and enjoy the pride of being appreciated, go to the gym and build a six-pack to show off, play cricket and impress others etc. But do not touch dharma! Dharma is not for you to brag.
OK. Now, let me tell you about my views on Muhammad; This may help you to get a different perspective:
Historians agree that we can’t be sure about Muhammad’s life at all. The only thing we can say for sure is the fact that a person called Muhammad existed.
But they do agree that Islam improved the status quo of the pre-Islamic society. Islamic society was an improvement of what was existing.
We also know that Muhammad was invited to be a mediator in Medina to handle religious intolerance. It is not an opportunity that some cruel bigot can get.
If a person is cruel and he is just after power and money, there is no reason for him to promote charity, welfare of orphans etc or even name his religious doctrine as ‘Islam’ which is a word related to peace and surrender. There is no reason why there should be even a sentence in Quran that says that there should be no compulsion in religion.
Human beings are not generally good in judging others. We really do not know another person. Trying to judge a person who lived about 1500 years ago based on some bits and pieces of information that we have is not going to work out.
No human being is perfect; so I am pretty sure that Muhammad was not a perfect man either.
Also, please understand this: A human being’s behavior, personality, moral sense etc strictly depends on two things: Nature and nurture. Pre-Islamic society was very backwards and this was the society that Muhammad was brought up in. Now ask yourself these three questions:
If you had been born in 5th century Arabia, what kind of person would you be?
If Muhammad with his same genetic make up is born in today’s world in a developed country, what kind of person he would be?
If Muhammad was born in 5th century India instead of Arabia, what kind of person he would have been?
Place Muhammad in his own time and in his own society. Before you try to judge him, place him in the stage where he belongs to. So, abusing Muhammad in an attempt to criticize Islam is not only unfair, it will only make you as a ‘hater’ in the eyes of Muslims. As soon as you talk ill about Muhammad, all the ears will be closed and you can’t expect any open-mindedness from the other side, even if you want to engage in some healthy discussion. At least, try to understand human psychology.
Now, my views about Islam:
Islam means ‘submission’ or surrender to the supreme God. This concept of surrender exists in all religions. For me, this is the only criteria that defines a Muslim. In that sense, I am a Muslim too.
Allah is just another word for God or Ishvara. I am not too obsessed with names. Also, this is what Ramakrishna, Kabir, Rumi, Vivekananda, Gandhi etc taught me. And the opinion of a modern Godse fan or Savarkar’s fan cannot change that. (By the way, Savarkar praised Nazism and he said that Indians should do the same thing to Muslims. So, I think any political party that is associated with this guy is evil).
I reject the concept of eternal hell because it contradicts with Quran itself. I think the idea of hell and heaven were only brought to control the order of society based on fear. These ideas were first popularized by Plato.
Quran says, ‘everywhere you turn, there is a face of God’. So, as long as you see the face of God in an idol, it is not shirk.
I do not agree that Muhammad is the last messenger of God. In fact, Muhammad was considered as seal of Prophets, which seem to indicate that Muhammad concluded and finalized the teachings of specific prophets accepted by Jews and Christians.
I do not agree with Sharia laws and I think most of them are outdated.
I am completely against the cruel blasphemy laws, killing people in the name of faith or anything that is unethical, which is done in the name of Islam.
I do not have to abuse Muhammad or totally blackwash Islam to say all that. And I am pretty sure that we can come up with a list of problematic aspects in many religious scriptures of many religions.
When you come across any idea from any religion, there are only two simple questions to ask:
Is it rational?
Is it ethically correct?
If yes, accept it; if no discard it. This was the simple message of Mahatma Gandhi.
Hindu-Muslim conflicts are caused when we see these religions as an identity. But we don’t have to. We can discuss independant ideas without worrying about which religion it comes from.
Please remember.. You cannot make a person to leave his religion by condemning his religion. This has never worked. Most of the conflicts in religions have been resolved by syncretism and exchange of ideas. Even Shankaracharya united six different traditions under Vedantic philosophy by fusion of ideas and not by completely condemning any tradition. In fact, Muhammad himself did exactly that to unite the people of Arabia under a common law.
Quotes of Swami Vivekananda on Islam, Muhammad and Quran:
Mohammed by his life showed that amongst Mohammedans there should be perfect equality and brotherhood. There was no question of race, caste, creed, colour, or sex. The Sultan of Turkey may buy a Negro from the mart of Africa, and bring him in chains to Turkey; but should he become a Mohammedan and have sufficient merit and abilities, he might even marry the daughter of the Sultan. Compare this with the way in which the Negroes and the American Indians are treated in this country! And what do Hindus do? If one of your missionaries chance to touch the food of an orthodox person, he would throw it away. Notwithstanding our grand philosophy, you note our weakness in practice; but there You see the greatness of the Mohammedan beyond other races, showing itself in equality, perfect equality regardless of race or colour.[Source]
Mohammed— the Messenger of equality. You ask, “What good can there be in his religion?” If there was no good, how could it live? The good alone lives, that alone survives.[Source]
Mohammed was the Prophet of equality, of the brotherhood of man, the brotherhood of all Mussulmans.[Source]
Among Mohammedans the prophets and great and noble persons are worshipped, and they turn their faces towards the Caaba when they pray. These things show that men at the first stage of religious development have to make use of something external, and when the inner self becomes purified they turn to more abstract conceptions.[Source]
England has the sword, the material world, as our Mohammedan conquerors had before her. Yet Akbar the Great became practically a Hindu; educated Mohammedan, the Sufis, are hardly to be distinguished from the Hindus; they do not eat beef, and in other ways conform to our usages. Their thought has become permeated with ours.[Source]
For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope. I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible , with Vedanta brain and Islam body.[Source]
I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind.[Source]
Islam makes its followers all equal — so, that, you see, is the peculiar excellence of Mohammedanism. In many places in the Koran you find very sensual ideas of life. Never mind. What Mohammedanism comes to preach to the world is this practical brotherhood of all belonging to their faith. That is the essential part of the Mohammedan religion; and all the other ideas about heaven and of life etc.. are not Mohammedanism. They are accretions.[Source]
It is a mistaken statement that has been made to us that the Mohammedans do not believe that women have souls. I am very sorry to say it is an old mistake among Christian people, and they seem to like the mistake. That is a peculiarity in human nature, that people want to say something very bad about others whom they do not like. By the by, you know I am not a Mohammedan, but yet I have had opportunity for studying this religion, and there is not one word in the Koran which says that women have no souls, but in fact it says they have.[Source]
The fact that all these old religions are living today proves that they must have kept that mission intact; in spite of all their mistakes, in spite of all difficulties, in spite of all quarrels, in spite of all the incrustation of forms and figures, the heart of every one of them is sound — it is a throbbing, beating, living heart. They have not lost, any one of them, the great mission they came for. And it is splendid to study that mission. Take Mohammedanism, for instance. Christian people hate no religion in the world so much as Mohammedanism. They think it is the very worst form of religion that ever existed. As soon as a man becomes a Mohammedan, the whole of Islam receives him as a brother with open arms, without making any distinction, which no other religion does. If one of your American Indians becomes a Mohammedan, the Sultan of Turkey would have no objection to dine with him. If he has brains, no position is barred to him. In this country, I have never yet seen a church where the white man and the negro can kneel side by side to pray. Just think of that: Islam makes its followers all equal — so, that, you see, is the peculiar excellence of Mohammedanism. In many places in the Koran you find very sensual ideas of life. Never mind. What Mohammedanism comes to preach to the world is this practical brotherhood of all belonging to their faith. That is the essential part of the Mohammedan religion; and all the other ideas about heaven and of life etc.. are not Mohammedanism. They are accretions.[Source]
This Vedantic spirit of religious liberality has very much affected Mohammedanism. Mohammedanism in India is quite a different thing from that in any other country. It is only when Mohammedans come from other countries and preach to their co-religionists in India about living with men who are not of their faith that a Mohammedan mob is aroused and fights.[Source]
Swami Vivekananda on Quran
Let the Vedas, the Koran, the Puranas, and all scriptural lumber rest now for some time — let there be worship of the visible God of Love and Compassion in the country. All idea of separation is bondage, that of non-differentiation is Mukti. Let not the words of people dead-drunk with worldliness terrify you. ” — Be fearless” “Ignore the ordinary critics as worms!” Admit boys of all religions — Hindu, Mohammedan, Christian, or anything; but begin rather gently — I mean, see that they get their food and drink a little separately, and teach them only the universal side of religion.[Source]
Religion must become broad enough. Everything it claims must be judged from the standpoint of reason. Why religions should claim that they are not bound to abide by the standpoint of reason, no one knows. If one does not take the standard of reason, there cannot be any true judgement, even in the case of religions. One religion may ordain something very hideous. For instance, the Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran, “Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans.” They must be put to fire and sword. Now if we tell a Mohammedan that this is wrong, he will naturally ask, “How do you know that? How do you know it is not good? My book says it is.” If you say your book is older, there will come the Buddhist, and say, my book is much older still. Then will come the Hindu, and say, my books are the oldest of all. Therefore referring to books will not do. Where is the standard by which you can compare? You will say, look at the Sermon on the Mount, and the Mohammedan will reply, look at the Ethics of the Koran. The Mohammedan will say, who is the arbiter as to which is the better of the two? Neither the New Testament nor the Koran can be the arbiter in a quarrel between them. There must be some independent authority, and that cannot be any book, but something which is universal; and what is more universal than reason? It has been said that reason is not strong enough; it does not always help us to get at the Truth; many times it makes mistakes, and, therefore, the conclusion is that we must believe in the authority of a church! That was said to me by a Roman Catholic, but I could not see the logic of it. On the other hand I should say, if reason be so weak, a body of priests would be weaker, and I am not going to accept their verdict, but I will abide by my reason, because with all its weakness there is some chance of my getting at truth through it; while, by the other means, there is no such hope at all.[Source]
We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.[Source]
Mahatma Gandhi on Muhammad, Islam and Quran
I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an 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 for Islam 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 fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. When I closed the second volume of the book about his life, I was sorry that there was not more for me to read about his great life.
“From my reading, I received the impression that the Prophet was a seeker of Truth. He was godfearing. In this I know I am not telling you anything new. I am only describing to you how I was impressed by his life.”
Gandhi on Theory and Practice of Islam – by Dr. Anupma Kaushik.
The word Islam means peace but today it invokes images of violence, totalitarianism and irrationality. (Afkhami, 1995, 33) Islam is one religion which of late has been associated with terrorism and fundamentalism worldwide. Names like ISIS, Boko Harem, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Al-Shabaab, have become synonym with fundamentalism and terrorism. (Times of India, 2015, 10)Â The troubled spots in the world today such as Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan where violence and fundamentalism have disturbed peace are mostly associated with Islam. (The Hindu, 2015, 12) This raises the question whether Islam is a peaceful religion or not? However this is not a new question for a country like India which had a huge Muslim population living with people of other religions at times peacefully but at others not so peacefully. Even in pre independence era leaders like Gandhi had to deal with this issue.
Gandhi claimed that he had read the Quran more than once and also many books on Quran and the Prophet. (Gandhi, 1949, 235) He claimed he had read Maulana sahib’s Life of the Prophet and also Usva-e-Sahaba and insisted that Islam never sanctioned destroying places of worship of other religions. (Gandhi, 1949, 139) He also claimed that the Prophet often fasted and prayed and that the Prophet had revelations not in moments of ease and luxurious living. Gandhi claimed that he had cultivated respect for Islam. (Gandhi, 1949, 94) He clearly saw the difference between teaching and practice of Islam. He regarded Islam to be a religion of peace. Â He claimed that there is nothing in the Quran to warrant the use of force for conversion.Â He also claimed that the holy book says in the clearest language possible that there is no compulsion in religion. Â To him the Prophets whole life was a repudiation of compulsion in religion. Â He argued that Islam would cease to be a world religion if it were to rely upon force for its propagation.Â (Gandhi, 1949, 19) He had the view that Islam in the days of Harun-al- Rashid and Mamun was the most tolerant amongst the world’s religions but there was a reaction against the liberalism of the teachers of their times. The reactionaries had many learned, able and influential men amongst them and they nearly overwhelmed the liberal and tolerant teachers and philosophers of Islam. He believed that Muslims are still suffering from the effect of that reaction, but he believed that Islam has sufficient in it to become purged of illiberalism and intolerance. (Gandhi, 1949, 99)
Muslims argued with Gandhi claiming that he is wrong in saying that Islam enjoins non-violence upon its followers and that the Prophet himself met force with force at Badr. Muslims even argued that use of force is allowed on the particular occasions specified by Islam and especially against the non Muslim Government Islam prescribes only sword, protracted battle and the cutting of throat. (Gandhi, 1949, 261) Gandhi accepted that being a non Muslim he can always be challenged and hence is at a disadvantage while interpreting the Quran. However he argued that he was aware of the battle of Badr and similar incidents in the Prophet’s life and also of the verses in the Quran that contradicted his claim of Islam being a peaceful religion. He asserted that it was possible that the teaching of a book or a man’s life may be different from isolated texts in a book or incidents in a life. (Gandhi, 1949, 262) Same goes for the Quran and the Prophet and to Gandhi the central teaching of the Quran remained that of peace. (Gandhi, 1949, 263) Gandhi acknowledged that some passages can be quoted from Quran which are contrary to peace. But he argued that same can be found in Christianity and Hinduism as well. He reasoned that we are all growing along with various religions. He acknowledged that the followers of Islam are too free with the sword, but in his opinion that was not because of teaching of Islam but due to the environment in which Islam was born. He argued that Islam is a comparatively new religion and is yet in the course of being interpreted. He rejected the claim of Maulvis to give a final interpretation to the message of the Mohamed.Â (Gandhi, 1949, 134)
He found Muslims to be brave, generous and trusting if their suspicions were disarmed. (Gandhi, 1949, 62) He however acknowledged that in his experience he has found that Muslims are as a rule bully. (Gandhi, 1949, 48) However he tried to explain this behavior by stating that although non-violence has a predominant place in Quran, the 1300 years of imperialistic expansion has made the Muslims fighter as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit. Hence they have become bullies. (Gandhi, 1949, 66) He claimed to have read Quran and to him it did not sanction or enjoin murder. (Gandhi, 1949, 125) He believed that Muslims have an ordeal to pass through. He felt that they were too free with the knife and the pistol. He cautioned that the sword is not an emblem of Islam, but clarified that Islam was born in an environment where the sword was and remains the supreme law. He lamented that the sword is too much in evidence among the Muslims despite the message of the Prophet.Â He advised that it must be sheathed if Islam is to be what it means – peace. (Gandhi, 1949, 131).
He clarified that however good Islam may be in abstract the only way it can be judged is by the effect produced by each of its votaries considered as a whole. (Gandhi, 1949, 63) He told the Muslims that they cannot protect Islam with the lathi (stick) or sword. The age of lathi (stick) is gone. A religion will be tested by the purity of its adherents. He argued that if a religion is left to the goondas (criminals) to defend it, it will do serious harm to that religion including Islam. Islam will in that case no longer remain the faith of fakirs (mendicant monks) and worshippers of Allah. (Gandhi, 1949, 78)
He objected to destruction of Hindu temples by Muslims. (Gandhi, 1949, 71) He acknowledged that he had found difficulty in the Muslim circles about invoking reverence for Hindu Vedas and incarnation. (Gandhi, 1949, 98) He expected Muslims to tolerate other religions. He reminded Muslims that Islam is judged by their conduct. (Gandhi, 1949, 72) However he also argued that when a person of any religion does evil, it is an evil done by one person against another and each one should personally try to remove the evil because we are persons first and our religious identity is secondary. One should not blame the Muslims as a whole for some evil committed by a person or a group of persons. (Gandhi, 1949, 22) He explained that when blood boils, prejudice reigns supreme; man whether he labels himself a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or what not becomes a beast. (Gandhi, 1949, 44)
He advised that it is no use becoming angry with all Muslims in general. (Gandhi, 1949, 24) He sought to gain Muslim friendship by right of love. (Gandhi, 1949, 26) In his characteristic non-violent arguments, he argued that if only one party were to continue its guilt and the other consistently remained patient and suffering the guilty party would be exhausted in the effort. If there is no reaction following the action the world would attain salvation. (Gandhi, 1949, 37) But if we answer an abuse with a slap a slap is returned with a kick, the kick than is returned by a bullet and so the circle of sin widens. But generally those who believe in taking a tooth for a tooth after a time forgive one another and become friends. So let us recognize this rule of mutual forgiveness and forget one another’s wrongs. The easiest method of achieving peace is to give up the idea of complaining against one another and to concentrate our attention upon taking preventive measures so that there is no recurrence of madness. (Gandhi, 1949, 38)
He argued that religion is being interpreted in the lives of those who are living these messages in silence and in perfect self dedication. The seat of religion is in the heart. We have to write the interpretation of our respective faiths with our blood.Â (Gandhi, 1949, 135) He advised everyone to not force their views on one another. He argued that those who force others to respect their religious wishes are irreligious savages. (Gandhi, 1949, 46) He argued that an attitude of non violence in mutual relations is an indispensable condition. People must not break each other’s head in respect of religious matters. (Gandhi, 1949, 47)
He believed that Muslims alone are not to be blamed for everything in every place. (Gandhi, 1949, 84) When he received reports of acts of violence by Muslims he investigated the facts before passing judgments. (Gandhi, 1949, 55) He had to deal with cases in pre-independent India where Muslims had abducted Hindu boys and girls who were forced to embrace Islam. The remedy he suggested was non-violent resistance and if that is not possible than through most violent self-defense. (Gandhi, 1949, 119) He received complaints that Muslim men invade Hindu quarters and insult Hindu women. They also take forcible gifts from Hindu shopkeepers. (Gandhi, 1949, 152) Gandhi termed such men who let their women be abused and their goods be taken by force cowards. He said where there are cowards there are going to be bullies. Hence the cowards need to be taught how to be brave. (Gandhi, 1949, 152) But at hearing about murders of Hindus he asked out loud if Muslims are practicing terrorism. (Gandhi, 1949, 282)Â He declared the Khaksar organisation to be a militant organization in 1940. (Gandhi, 1949, 301).
However he claimed that he can never be an enemy of Muslims no matter what any one or more of them may do to him. (Gandhi, 1949, 163) His ultimate remedy was to deal with the wrong but not to hurt the wrong doer. (Gandhi, 1949, 163) Thus to him the ultimate answer lay in the concept of ‘Live and Let Live’ or mutual forbearance and toleration in life. He claimed that this is the lesson he had learnt from the Quran. (Gandhi, 1949, 236) In his opinion, religion binds man to God and man to man and hence Islam binds not only Muslim to Muslim; but also Muslim to non-Muslims. The message of the Prophet was not just for Muslims and if anyone claims to the contrary he does greatest disservice to Islam and is poisoning the minds of Muslims. (Gandhi, 1949, 310).
In fact when he was travelling to quell Hindu-Muslim riots in Bengal, he always carried the Gita, the Quran and the Bible. (Gandhi, 1949, 500) He appealed to Muslims to do away with purdah system. (Gandhi, 1949, 502) When some Muslims objected to this and said that Gandhi had no right to speak on Islamic Law, Gandhi countered by saying that this is a narrow view of religion. He hoped that this narrow view was not shared by other Muslims. He claimed the right to study and interpret the message of Islam. He said that Islam was not a creed to be preserved in a box. It was open to mankind to examine it and accept or reject its tenets. (Gandhi, 1949, 523) He also appealed that women folk should be rescued from the thralldom of ignorance and superstition. (Gandhi, 1949, 506).
He considered himself to be as good a Muslim as he was a Hindu and an equally good Christian and Parsi. (Gandhi, 1949, 538) During his prayer meetings, he always included verses from the Quran Sharif. He reminded people of folly of looking upon one religion as better than another. (Gandhi, 1949, 585) Some people at times objected to recitation from the Quran when prayer meeting was being held in the Valmiki Temple. He preferred not to hold the prayer meeting without the recitations from the Quran. (Gandhi, 1949, 584) When some Muslims objected to his reading of Arabic verses from the Quran,herefused to accept the objection. He asked why cannot he acclaim Mohammed as his Prophet. (Gandhi, 1949, 589).
He advised both Hindus and Muslims to not look towards leaders for solutions but to look towards themselves and if they did than their desire for peace would be reflected by the leaders. (Gandhi, 1949, 505) He quoted from the Prophet that, “A perfect Muslim is he from whose tongue and hands mankind is safe. No man is true believer unless he desireth for his brother that which he desireth for himself. The most excellent jehad is that for the conquest of self. Assist any person oppressed, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.” (Gandhi, 1949, 509).
He welcomed inter-religious marriages with mutual friendship and respect for religion of each other. (Gandhi, 1949, 542) He did not believe in state religion and opposed state aid to religious bodies. He only wanted schools to give ethical teachings as fundamental ethics were common to all religions. (Gandhi, 1949, 543)
Other Non-Muslims on Muhammad, Islam and Quran
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) British philosopher, mathematician, and Nobel laureate, whose emphasis on logical analysis greatly influenced the course of 20th-century philosophy.
• “Our use of the phrase ‘the Dark Ages’ to cover the period from 699 to 1,000 marks our undue concentration on Western Europe… From India to Spain, the brilliant civilization of Islam flourished. What was lost to Christendom at this time was not lost to civilization, but quite the contrary… To us it seems that West-European civilization is civilization; but this is a narrow view.” [History of Western Philosophy, London, 1948, p. 419]
Hamilton Alexander Roskeen Gibb
Hamilton Alexander Roskeen Gibb (1895-1971) A leading orientalist scholar of his time.
• “But Islam has a still further service to render to the cause of humanity. It stands after all nearer to the real East than Europe does, and it possesses a magnificent tradition of inter-racial understanding and cooperation. No other society has such a record of success uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity, and of endeavours so many and so various races of mankind … Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements of race and tradition. If ever the opposition of the great societies of East and West is to be replaced by cooperation, the mediation of Islam is an indispensable condition. In its hands lies very largely the solution of the problem with which Europe is faced in its relation with East.”[Whither Islam, London, 1932, p. 379.]
• “That his (Muhammad’s) reforms enhanced the status of women in general is universally admitted.” [Mohammedanism, London, 1953, p. 33]
James A. Michener
James A. Michener (1907-1997) Leading American writer; recipient of honorary doctorates in five fields from thirty leading universities and decorated with the Presidential Medal of freedom, America’s highest civilian award.
• “No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam . . . The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Qur’an is explicit in support of the freedom of conscience.” [Islam – The Misunderstood Religion, Readers’ Digest (American Edition) May 1955]
Edward Gibbon (1737-1794). Considered the greatest British historian of his time.
• “‘I believe in One God and Mohammed the Apostle of God,’ is the simple and invariable profession of Islam. The intellectual image of the Deity has never been degraded by any visible idol; the honours of the prophet have never transgressed the measure of human virtue, and his living precepts have restrained the gratitude of his disciples within the bounds of reason and religion.”[History Of The Saracen Empire, London, 1870, p. 54.]
• “More pure than the system of Zoroaster, more liberal than the law of Moses, the religion of Mahomet might seem less inconsistent with reason than the creed of mystery and superstition which, in the seventh century, disgraced the simplicity of the gospels.” [The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 5. p. 487]
Jared Diamond Professor of Physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine; recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1998.
• “Medieval Islam was technologically advanced and open to innovation. It achieved far higher literacy rates than in contemporary Europe; it assimilated the legacy of classical Greek civilization to such a degree that many classical books are now known to us only through Arabic copies. It invented windmills, trigonometry, lateen sails and made major advances in metallurgy, mechanical and chemical engineering and irrigation methods. In the middle-ages the flow of technology was overwhelmingly from Islam to Europe rather from Europe to Islam. Only after the 1500’s did the net direction of flow begin to reverse.”[Guns, Germs, and Steel – The Fates of Human Societies, 1997, p. 253]
Annie Besant (1847-1933) British theosophist and nationalist leader in India. President of the Indian National Congress in 1917.
• “I often think that woman is more free in Islam than in Christianity. Woman is more protected by Islam than by the faith which preaches Monogamy. In Al-Quran the law about woman is more just and liberal. It is only in the last twenty years that Christian England, has recognized the right of woman to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times.” [The Life and Teachings of Muhammad, Madras, 1932, pp. 25, 26]
Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) A writer, poetess and one of the most visible leaders of pre-Independent India. President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman governor of free India.
• “Sense of justice is one of the most wonderful ideals of Islam, because as I read in the Qur’an I find those dynamic principles of life, not mystic but practical ethics for the daily conduct of life suited to the whole world.”
• “It was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy for, in the mosque when the call for prayer is sounded and worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and king kneel side by side and proclaim: “God Alone is Great.” I have been struck over and over again by this indivisible unity of Islam that makes man instinctively a brother.”
[Lectures on “The Ideals of Islam;” see Speeches And Writings Of Sarojini Naidu, Madras, 1918, pp. 167-9]
Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) British historian, Lecturer at Oxford University.
• “The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.” [Civilization On Trial, New York, 1948, p. 205]
William Montgomery Watt
William Montgomery Watt (1909- ) Professor (Emeritus) of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
• “I am not a Muslim in the usual sense, though I hope I am a “Muslim” as “one surrendered to God,” but I believe that embedded in the Qur’an and other expressions of the Islamic vision are vast stores of divine truth from which I and other occidentals have still much to learn, and Islam is certainly a strong contender for the supplying of the basic framework of the one religion of the future.'” [Islam And Christianity Today, London, 1983, p. ix.]
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:
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:
True islam involves three things: surrender to the will of God and Holy Jihad, which is actually a war against one’s own ignorance and delusion, and unconditional love towards God. The concept of oneness in Islam is so subtle that it is misunderstood by 98% of the people. So, the Quranic verses that came through Muhammad was tailored to suit the understanding of the barbaric, uncivilized people who lived in Arabia back then. People were making idols and eating the pieces of them, and were also killing female children alive.
How can the oneness of God be understood by these people when it deifies the minds of people who are living in a technologically advanced, scientifically progressed and culturally more civilized modern world? But still, Quran seems to preserve the essence, as Sufis seem to interpret it in a way that is so close to the essence of various thoughts of schools of ancient India, Greece and China. The violent verses in Quran need to be interpreted with the right context, as a verse intended to convey how one has to defend oneself. It was true that a large number of people were trying to kill Prophet Muhammad and those verses should be taken as inspiration that Muhammad gave to Muslims to be ready for the war as a self defence. It was a need of the hour.
Also, It seems to make sense to think that Muhammad was a very compassionate and intelligent person, going by the things that have been written about Muhammad. He is described by various authors of his time as an extremely compassionate and caring person. He was also a conqueror by his psychological nature and was a Kshatriya in the lingo of Hinduism. He seemed to have created a revival in the society and culture.
His main teaching was the oneness of God, surrendering to the will of God (taking what comes in life and not struggle against the nature; surrender itself gives a deep sense of peace) and unconditional love towards God. Everything else he said was culturally specific and also specific to the social conditions of the time he lived. Because, there are multiple ways to approach divine. As long as the essence of a spiritual path is love and meditation and conveys the oneness of God, it is the right path.
Now, what is this oneness of God? It doesn’t just mean that there is no other God apart from him. It means that nothing else has an existence apart from him. This is what one without the second means, and it is the literal meaning of the word Advaita (without second). Oneness of God is something that is realized in one’s experience. Words of prophets and Imams can only guide you towards realizing it on your own. They cannot describe the oneness because the oneness and the unity of Gods cannot be described in words, even though people always give it a try. You have to walk the path and dissolve yourself in the process.
Let me put it this way. Imagine that there is a water in a glass tub and an ice cube is floating in it. There are two clearly manifest entities in the bathtub now: an ice cube and the given volume of water. But when finally the ice cube melts and becomes one with water, ice cube has lost its independent existence. Now there is complete oneness, one without a second. Same thing happens psychologically to a true Muslim. He is like the ice cube and the water is like God. He loses his psychological boundaries and his sense of independent existence. Then he gets his true afterlife, which actually happens while living in the body. In this afterlife, there is eternal peace and bliss. This is when a Muslim truly understands the oneness of God; this is when it is possible to understand it in the first place.
To put it in Christian terminology, this is when you discover the Kingdom of God inside you, become spiritually reborn, get a mind like a small child, become baptized by the Holy spirit and enjoy the gifts it brings such as peace, joy, kindness, goodness, a deep trust in existence etc.
To put it in Hindu terminology, this is when you finish your sanchita karma, get atma jnana or self realization and understand the true meaning of Advaita. This is when you are twice born or dvija. In the terminology of Upanishads, this is when you are really a Brahmin, a knower of Brahman!
Spiritual wisdom is so subtle and can be easily misunderstood. But it is the central nerve that runs through every major religion. It is also the same in all religions. People focus more on the skeleton and skin instead of the flesh. How would you feel if I come to your home on Ramadan, get a plate of delicious mutton Biryani from you, throw the flesh and eat the bones? God has given a feast to you. But you are fighting among yourselves in proving whose plate has more number of bones, when it is actually an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Spiritual wisdom of oneness of God and realizing that oneness in one’s own experience by walking on the path of unconditional love and surrender brings out the flesh of the feast that Allah has given you in this wonderful party of life! Alhamdulillah الحمد لله (All praise goes to God!).
Islam openly shares two elements of self purification that it shares with Bhagavad Gita: 1) Doing one’s duties while surrendering oneself to the Will of God or karmayoga 2)Showing unconditional love towards God, long to unite with him and go through a pain of suffering until the Unity of God is experienced in one’s experience or bhakti yoga. But Bhagavad Gita also has something called Jnana Yoga which Islam too secretly shares through the path of Sufism. Sufism is not just about love and surrender but also about getting the true knowledge of oneness of God through one’s experience. Muhammad gave the Sufi teachings to his cousin and son-in-law Ali. Almost all Sufi orders trace their origins to Ali.