Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, the moderate Muslim clergy, was sharing the platform with the VHP President Shri Ashok Singhal on the Independence Day. The maulana recounted the number of times the Quran refers to humanity, acceptance and tolerance of other faiths. Shri Singhal lost no time in discarding that compassion and started painting Islam with everything the maulana said it is not. To be more authoritative, he took out a note from his pocket with a verse from the Quran that says, "A Muslim should kill a Kafir when he sees one".
Shri Singhal did not need to take out that note from his pocket because his entire rhetoric of years against Islam has been built on that verse. Of course, denying or ignoring the existence of that verse in the Quran by the Muslim intelligentsia would be an exercise in futility. Moderate Muslims have tried to hide that fact under other verses in the Quran which ask for humanity, respect for other faiths and forbearance to be valued above everything else. What they need to do is to contextualise it - put that verse in the proper perspective and spirit that it was said and meant to be.
People living in this age of science realize that nothing is perfect. We move towards perfection only through failures. The need for Islam was dictated by the social conditions existing at that particular time and place where Islam came into existence. There are many apparently contradictory statements one can find in the tenets of Islam, when those statements are torn apart from the contexts in which they were made -- something that the critics of Islam regularly do to denigrate this faith. However, such deficiencies, are not limited only to Islam, but exist in every other religion, the way practiced today. There is no religion without holes, or without scope for improvement.
I have great admiration and regards for Hinduism which, when understood properly, is a faith that seeks unity at the highest level of human intellect, regardless of religious belief. This makes Hinduism a very scientific and a rational belief system that does not limit one’s imagination to attain perfection, or if you will, God. However, as practiced, it is far from perfect.
Following in the footsteps of Shri Singhal, let me bring out some of the serious shortcomings of Hinduism as it is practiced today. This is not meant to denigrate or disrespect this remarkable faith and a way of life, but only to show Shri Singhal and his followers around the world that finding faults with any religion by focusing on the negative aspects is an easy but a bad exercise.
What I present in the following is with my sincere apologies to real Hindus.
If there is a single aspect confronting Hinduism today which can be termed really evil, but practiced for centuries, it is the classification of its followers into Varnas by creating a hierarchical system based on ones profession. This is an ancient concept, several centuries old, which has lead to the practice of untouchability amongst Hindus whereby a very large part of Hindu community (between 15 to 30%) is reduced to a status that is much lower than that of animals.
Under this system, Hindus have committed much worse atrocities on their co-religionists than what Muslims ever did to them. This practice of discrimination and alienation has continued for centuries and is responsible for the torture and deaths of millions of innocent Hindu men, women and children. Even in present times, the followers of Hinduism -- Shri Singhal brand -- not only condone the practice, but defend it in terms of specialisation and benefits for the society as a whole.
The latest case of Harijan lynching in Jhajjar, where 5 dalits were brutalized and burnt for skinning a dead cow, is a case in point. There are thousands of villages and towns all over India where cattle and other animals have unrestricted access to the ponds and other water resources. But they are off limits to the Dalits. One recent report said, "Oppression of 160 million Dalits is one of the most nauseating, but enduring, reality of India's countryside. As is the violence against them, especially Dalit women. To be a Dalit today means having to live in a sub-human, degraded, profoundly insecure way. Every hour, two Dalits are assaulted in India. Every day, three Dalit women are raped; two Dalits are killed."
Concept of sacrifice in order to please God has been quite old. It is said to have a very sound and logical basis. If I like something very dearly and yet give it to you, that sacrifice would surely please you. And so it is with God, it is argued. Every religion has promoted the concept of sacrifice. Semitic religions believe God commanded Ibrahim to slaughter his son Isaac and just when Ibrahim lifted his hand to kill his son, God intervened and substituted the life of a ram for the life of his son. Sacrificing animals for pleasing God continues to the day.
But the tradition of human sacrifice to please God continues in Hinduism, and many other tribes in Africa, even today despite laws banning it. A ferocious slayer of evil in Hindu mythology, goddess Kali is said to have an insatiable appetite for blood. There are a large number of faithfuls who still believe goddess Kali and goddess Durga can be pleased only with human sacrifices. Until as recently as 200 years ago, a boy was killed every day at Kali temple in Calcutta.
In January this year, a 24 year old woman in Andhra Pradesh hacked her three-year old son to death to please God and receive earthly riches. In February, two men in Tripura beheaded a woman on the instructions of a deity they said appeared in their dreams. In April Khudu Karmakar, brutally killed the 15 year old virgin, Manju, amidst chanting of mantras in Atapur village in Jharkhand state to please mother Kali. There are many more such cases, which take place every year.
The practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband's funeral pyre in the belief of uniting with him after death or, some may say, to escape the cursed life of a widow in a society that does not allow remarriage, has been an ancient Hindu tradition. Although several ancient Hindu scholars pronounced Sati as suicide and called it against Shastras, the tradition lives on essentially because Agni Purana declares that the woman who commits sahagamana goes to heaven. Maha-sati stones are erected in memory of brave women who committed sati and are worshiped. Jauhar was a part of sati tradition in Rajasthan by the wives of the soldiers who used to get killed in the battle. Although, it must be emphasized that this act was more to save the honor of those brave women who would prefer death than falling in the hands of the enemy.
Sati was first banned by the British Government in 1829. But the tradition continued despite concerted efforts by the social reformists like Raja RamMohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati and Mahatma Gandhi. The latest case of sati took place this year in Madhya Pradesh. A recent verdict by the Indian court allowing worship in temples dedicated to sati-mata has raised some concerns that this may further encourage sati tradition and practice.
Dowry and bride-burning
Dowry is yet another ancient Hindu tradition whose ills far exceed its benefits in present times. The traditional Hindus still refuse to give it up despite laws banning it. I personally know several families, some of them very close, where the woman worked all her life, lived without spending a paisa of those earnings, only to save it for the daughter's marriage. Girls who fail to bring the bounties in marriage are often tortured, traumatized and in several cases even killed by her in-laws. On an average, there is one reported case of bride burning per day in India. Many go unreported and so unnoticed. The curse of dowry is so severe that many Hindu couples do not want daughters. When amniosynthesis came promising the determination of the child-sex in the womb, many Hindus regularly aborted girl fetuses essentially with the fear of dowry. This evil is still very much at large.
Sub-human role of women
Inferior role of women in every ancient civilization was a reality. Hinduism also had no better or respectable role for women in their societies. It is said that the author of Ramcharitramanas, Swami Tulsidas who overcame his passion for his wife, once said:
dhol, ganvar, sudra, pasu, nari; yeh sab taadan ke adhikari
(Drums, illitrates, shudras, animals and women; work only when beaten)
Pained with the status given to women in Hindu society, eminent poet and writer, Maithili Sharangupta said:
ablaa jeevan hai tumhari yahi kahani; aanchal maen hae doodh aur aankhon maen paani
(Helpless woman, this is the story story of your life - milk in the breasts, tears in the eyes)
With time and stronger movements for women's rights, that is changing. But women in general still face discrimination, brutality and subhuman treatments. In many villages, there are ponds, temples and several holy places, which are off limits to women, and Dalits.
There are many, many other evils, apart from those I've mentioned above, plaguing Hinduism which, otherwise, is an excellent way of life. There is no single book giving guidelines to this way of life and so there are no fixed tenets of Hinduism that are provided for its followers. The traditions form the seat of this faith.
But, as with any other tradition, or faith, there are many aspects of Hinduism, which are simply wrong. As I said earlier, all this is not to smear this great faith and bring it in bad light, but it is merely to show that deficiencies in religions is not limited to any single, or a particular, religion as has been repeatedly preached by Shri Singhal and his lieutenants.
It is important, even essential that we understand this reality, look into our own faith and beliefs and reform where needed. The present day activists, guised as saviors of Hinduism from what they perceive as dangers to their religion by the foreign faiths (read Islam and Christianity), must worry about the internal dangers posed by their own practices and change those traditions, which need urgent attention.
No one can deny that Islam needs reforms. It does. It also has a caste system, although not like that in Hinduism; the role of women in Muslim societies is also subhuman; laws on marriage, talaq (divorce) and meher (support money) are far from adequate; Talibanization of Islam has been very easy, which leads to a series of its own ills and unacceptable attitudes we see in the world today.
But no one can also deny that there is plenty of good in Islam, again, just like any other religion. The biggest asset of Islam is its concept of equality among the believers, which Shri Singhal and his followers can learn from. That itself may take care of their concerns about conversions.
The extremism and terrorism we see amongst some Muslims today has little to do with Islam, and more to do with the global geopolitical situation, mainly the Arab-Israel conflict and America's unconditional support to Israel. Just as a man becomes a critic when he cannot be an artist, or an informer when he cannot be a soldier, he becomes a terrorist when he cannot be a free citizen.
Indian Muslims, just like any other Indian, are proud and free people living under a secular and democratic system. It is wrong to call Indian Muslims terrorists, or supporters of terrorism. That charge is simply ill conceived and mischievous.
There is no "perfect" religion. The followers of Islam have a duty to reform it just as well as Shri Singhal and his school of thought have a duty to reform their own practices and understanding of Hinduism. We need to stop hate mongering and focus on learning from the positive aspects of other religions to be able to see the elements of humanity, commonality and tranquility in them. That is the only way we all will find peace.
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