Gandhiji : I have drawn inspiration from Islam as much as from Christianity. Islam's emphasis on justice, equality and human dignity has always attracted me as love and forgiveness of Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount specially attracted my attention. As you know I am deeply committed to philosophy of non-violence and it is in this respect that I am approaching you to know more in depth about Islam's teachings about non-violence. It is necessary as Islam and terrorism are being equated by some anti Islamic forces and it is you who can help dispel these attacks on Islam. Who can be the better person than you, O Prophet of Islam.
Prophet : I am so much pained that
Islam is under attack today whereas 21st century should have been the
most appropriate period to appreciate its teachings. Yes, I admit there
are all kinds of people in any religion and some may be motivated by
their own selfish interests and indulge in violence or other misdeeds
but a religion should be judged by its core teachings, not by what some
followers do. I hope you will agree with me.
Gandhiji : Yes I do agree with you sir,
the great Prophet of Islam.
Prophet: You would agree with me no
religion can teach violence and be followed by millions of people. The
very purpose of religion is to refine morals and guide its followers to
a purposeful and meaningful life with inner peace and deep conviction.
Islam is a religion of surrendering to Allah and Allah is Compassionate
and Merciful (Rahman and Rahim) and in your devotional song you also
mention Ram and Rahim. All Muslims are supposed to invoke Allah, the
Compassionate and Merciful before they begin their work (bism Allah al-Rahman
al-Rahim). It is very central to Islam. Also one of Allah's name in
Quran, you must have noted, is Salam i.e. Peace.
Gandhiji : I understand true meaning of
religion and its need for human beings in life. Inner convictions play
important role in giving meaning and direction to human life. I have
always relied on my own inner convictions before I took any decision.
But I want to understand Islam in all its comprehensive way so that
there is absolutely no confusion and it would certainly reinforce my own
conviction in non-violence.
Prophet : Look when I was chosen by
Allah to be His prophet the conditions in Mecca was extremely
precarious. There was moral chaos in society, the tribal chiefs were
growing wealthier and wealthier as they controlled international trade
and were becoming arrogant and neglecting all their moral obligations
towards weaker sections of society, the poor, the orphans, the widows,
the needy and, in order to achieve greater grip over the minds of
people, were promoting all sorts of superstitions and irrational
beliefs. All this disturbed me deeply and I retired to the cave of Hira
where I received revelation.
The Quranic revelation dealt with the situation on two levels: first, it promoted
concept of one God - Allah- the creator of all and worship Him alone
thus uniting entire human kind and on social level it strongly condemned
accumulation of wealth and predicted it will turn into hell fire if the
weaker sections of the society are neglected and injustice and
oppression prevails. Thirdly, it gave equal rights to women who were
denied all rights and treated as mere chattels. Fourthly, it stressed
need for knowledge (ilm) and compared it with light (noor) and ignorance as darkness.
Gandhiji : How like Upanishads. Upanishad too compares gyan with light and one of its prayers says lead
me from darkness to light.
Prophet : Yes indeed, this prayer
exists in the Quran too. And one other prayer says rabbi zidni ilman (O
Sustainer of this Universe increase me in knowledge). Indeed religions
(not to be confused with customs, traditions and cultural institutions)
do not contradict each other but compliment and stress same values.
Gandhiji : In Hindu tradition we
maintain entire humanity is one family (Vasudhaiva kutumbakum).
Prophet : Yes I too have said in one of
my hadith al-khalq-u-ayalullah (entire creation is Allah's family.)
Gandhiji : How similar are teachings of
two of our great religions. But, Hindus often complain that Muslims call
us kafirs. Sir, are we kafirs?
Prophet : No, no. there is great
misunderstanding about kufr among Muslims and others. In Quran kafir is
one who hides truth and actively opposes it. Every religion is
embodiment of truth and in every religious tradition Allah or God or
Ishwar's name is Truth, In Quran one of Allah's name is Haq (Truth). So
those who hide truth and actively oppose it is a kafir, not one who
believes in it and strongly affirms it.
Gandhiji : We Hindus do believe in
truth and indeed I always said Truth is God.
Prophet : Yes, yes, how can you be
kafir. All those who affirm truth, truth of values and right path cannot
be kafirs. Quran teaches that every qaum (nation) was given truth
through prophets and I have said that Allah has sent 1,24,000 prophets
and Quran also says We have sent prophet for every nation. And some of
the Sufis in your country have said Allah must have sent prophets to
Hind also to fulfill His promise in the Quran. However, I know some
Muslims, either out of arrogance or ignorance, call others kafirs. Do
not worry about them. Then even one Muslim sect in my ummah,
unfortunately call followers of other sects as kafirs. It is nothing but
false sense of superiority over others.
Gandhiji : May I request you sir to
further throw some light on concept of kafir in Quran as there is so
much confusion about it among people.
Prophet : When I began to invite people
of Mecca to Islam, a religion of truth revealed by Allah to me and it
invited the powerful leaders of Mecca too, to accept Islam, their ego as
well as their powerful interests were deeply hurt and they began to
actively oppose Islam. Firstly they felt how can an orphan, without any
wealth and social status could tell us what is the right path and ask us
to deviate from the path of our forefathers. Secondly, Quran, as I
pointed out, attacked accumulation of wealth neglecting weaker sections
This deeply disturbed them as wealth was their main power and there was no state
machinery in Mecca to tax them so the Quran proposed a voluntary
contribution and called it zakat which literally means to purify. The
zakat is meant to be distributed among the weaker sections of society,
the poor, orphans, widows, needy, travelers and liberating slaves and
prisoners. Thus economic justice will prevail and their wealth will be
purified. However, so far they had only accumulated wealth and never
spared anything for the weaker sections of society. This also created
strong resentment among the wealthy of Mecca and they began to actively
oppose me and my followers and even using their power persecuted me and
my followers, torturing them in most inhuman manner. They even did not
allow us to enter Kaaba, our holy shrine for centuries.
The Quran condemned them as kafirs because they actively opposed the truth knowing
fully well that I was bearer of truth from Allah. Their arrogance and
their pride in their wealth blinded them. It indeed was not their
ancestral religion but their arrogance and false pride in wealth which
was the problem.
There were those Arabs who did not accept Islam but at the same time did not oppose Islam
and hence Quran said for them that unbelievers for you is your religion
and for me is mine. Thus you will see religion was indeed not the
problem, power, wealth and arrogance was. Also, the Quran says la ikrah
fi al-din (i.e. there is no compulsion in matters of religion). No one
can be coerced into believing as religion is matter of conscience and
deeper conviction. Even an idol worshipper cannot be coerced into
abandoning his way of worship. If a kafir (which only means non-believer
in Islam) desires to live in peace with Muslims his way of worship has
to be respected and protected along with his life and property. Quran
calls them dhimmis (i.e. those whose responsibility of life and
property) is on Muslims and those who harm them amounts to harming me
and those who harm me they harm Allah.
Gandhiji : This completely clarifies
the meaning of kafir. It is indeed very humane and in keeping with the
contemporary world which believes in freedom of worship and freedom of
conscience and freedom of religion. Unto me is my religion and unto you
is yours. What more one can expect from any religion.
So sir it is not in keeping with the teaching of Islam that one should use sword to
preach Islam. This mis-concept is so widespread in the world today.
Prophet : This is sheer monstrosity.
How can Quran which teaches freedom of conscience can teach such a
thing. Quran says, on the other hand, call people to the path of Allah
with wisdom and goodly words. Those who went out with swords were
conqueror of territories, not conquerors of hearts for Allah.
Gandhiji : This clears many of my
doubts and my countrymens doubts. I always thought Quran and Prophet of
Islam can never allow such things. Religion is a moral force and can
never permit coercion, let alone violence, for its acceptance. The
conqueror may coerce some to convert but a religious person can never.
Those conversions will be more for political than for religious
conviction. In India most of the conquerors also hardly ever used
coercion to convert Hindus though many of them supported various Muslim
rulers militarily and politically. There may have been few instances but
generally Hindus and Muslims lived in peace and harmony and evolved a
Prophet : Yes indeed you are right and
my mission (dawah) was generally accepted by weaker sections of the
society. In Arabia too it is poor, slaves, women, orphans and widows who
responded to my mission promptly. In your country also, it is low caste
Hindus who suffered indignities who responded readily as Islam's tands
for social justice, equality and human dignity.
Gandhiji : Now it brings me to the
question of non-violence which I have practiced in my life, even for
liberation of my own country from the British rulers. Does Islam accept
non-violence as a basic doctrine? Or it accepts it only tactically in
certain circumstances as many Islamic theologians maintain?
Prophet : Truth, as you know is very
basic to the Quran as I told you and it is also one of Allah's names.
Another important names of Allah and Quran's fundamental values are
compassion and mercy. Now put all of them (truth, compassion and mercy)
together and tell me how violence can ever be part of Quranic teachings?
It is not merely tactical but non-violence is most fundamental to Islam.
You evolved the concept of satyagraha (insistence on truth) for practicing non-violence
for liberation of Hind. Truth and non-violence go together and can never
be a sundered apart. One who insists on truth, as you tried to do, can
never resort to violence. Truth reflects our deeper conviction and is
mirror of our pure conscience and you would agree with me conviction and
coercion are poles apart.
Also, truth needs certain virtues most of all patience (sabr) and control over ones anger,
desire and greed without which one cannot practice it. Quran also lays
great emphasis on these virtues, as you also do. In one of the chapters
of Quran it has been said, By the time! Surely man is in loss, except
those who believe and do good, and exhort one another to Truth, and
exhort one another to patience.
Thus it will be seen that truth requires tremendous patience and patience, in turn,
curbs anger and desire. Those who have patience cannot be provoked. To
practice truth you need these qualities. And hence where there is truth,
there will be no violence. Violence is result of impatience, anger,
greed and desire.
Gandhiji : You are very right O Prophet
of Islam. I also always emphasized truth, non-violence and simple
living. Without non-violence truth is not possible and without simple
living too, non-violence is not possible. It is greed and desire which
leads to more and more violence. In the twentieth and twenty first
century more and more consumerism has meant more and more raw materials
and western powers in collaboration with the native ruling elite plunder
third world countries and for that they have to suppress people and
displace them from their ancestral properties resulting in great deal of
violence. The naxalite violence in my country is because tribal are
being displaced without any dignified rehabilitation in the hunt for minerals.
Prophet : Yes, you are absolutely
right. In Mecca when I exhorted the rich and powerful not to neglect the
poor and needy and leave life of luxury they turned against me and
persecuted me. My emphasis was on simple life and I set a rigorous
example of simplicity. I am also known to Islamic historians as
kambliwala i.e. one who used rough blanket and often wore patched
clothes and used pillows stuffed with just palm leaves.
We have all this in common. But the powerful merchants of Mecca had greed for profit and
were used to high life style and accepting my teachings would have meant
giving up all this. When finally I left Mecca and migrated to Madina
they pursued me and attacked me and first battle of Badr took place. It
was the first battle ought by Muslims. It is Meccan merchants who were
aggressors. I had to defend.
Absolute non-violence is not possible in the world where injustices abide,
inequality and human lust is widespread and powerful are ever ready to
exploit and deprive people of their rights and dignity. Violence is not
our choice, it is often inflicted on us without we ever desiring it. I,
along with my followers left Mecca quietly and yet the Meccan merchants
inflicted war on us.
It was in this condition that the Quran permitted us to defend ourselves. The
permission was granted conditionally that we do not commit aggression.
Thus the Quran said that fight in the way of Allah against those who
fight you and do not be aggressors as Allah does not love aggressors. If
we had not defended ourselves we would have been wiped out. Non-violence
should essentially mean absence of violence of aggression. And for Quran
it is matter of basic principle that Muslims should not be first resort
Gandhiji : I am in perfect agreement
with you honourable Prophet. I would also like to know more about the
concept of jihad. It is highly misunderstood both among Muslims and
non-Muslims. I hope it does not mean war and violence but I want to hear from you.
Prophet : You are right jihad does not
even remotely mean war or violence. It means struggle for truth and
truth prevails, as we discussed earlier, if we suppress our unjust
desires, anger and passion for possession. Thus real jihad means to
struggle against ones own selfish desires and this is most difficult
struggle. I call it jihad-e-akbar i.e. the greatest jihad. Then I also
have said that most meritorious jihad is speaking truth in the face of a
tyrant risking ones own life.
People cannot wage such jihad, such struggle as it entails great sacrifices, they wage wars
for selfish desires, kill innocent people and exploit the poor and call
it jihad to legitimize it. Wars of aggression and territorial
possessions can never be called jihad. Some of my followers in
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and some other places are killing even
fellow Muslims through terrorist attacks and call it jihad. Terrorism is
terrorism and most condemnable act of cruelty. How can it be called
jihad which is very noble act of upholding truth even at the cost of
ones life. It entails self sacrifice and not killing innocent people.
Islam opposes violence of aggression in every form and respects life of even enemy and
that is why the Quran says with great emphasis that if you kill one
person without justification it amounts to killing the whole humanity
and if you save one life as if you have saved entire humanity. If this
principle is universally accepted there will be peace on our earth.
Gandhiji : Indeed the concept of jihad
is very noble as explained by you O Prophet. I wish all Muslims and
non-Muslims follow this noble principle and instead of attacking others
and launching wars of aggression fight against their own selfish desires
and greed for consumption and more and more possession. I have always
believed that real peace is inner peace, borne by giving rather than
taking from others.
Prophet : Yes indeed Quran also says that give away what is more than what is left after your basic needs are
met. Do not accumulate. It is desire to accumulate that leads to war and
violence. Accumulation robs you of inner peace. Inner peace and
satisfaction is real paradise as Quran says enter (paradise) with
complete sense of peace and security. It is our desire for wealth which
turns into hell.
Gandhiji : I also advised my followers to serve people and not run after power and self. I even advised
Congressmen to turn themselves into an organization of serving people
after independence rather than fight for crumbs of power. Serving people
by sacrificing our own selfish desires is the highest goal of life. It
gives you inner joy and makes your life meaningful.
Prophet : But the modern economy isn't
need based but greed based and hence so much violence in modern world
despite so much talk of human rights and dignity, peace and security. It
will never be realized until we wage real jihad for these noble ideals
of human equality, dignity and justice.
Gandhiji : O Prophet of Islam, it was indeed very ennobling to have the honour of having talked to you. In the
end I would thank you profusely for enlightening me on all these issues
which have been causing so much confusion in minds of several Muslims
and non-Muslims. May Allah's peace be upon you. Your contribution to
culture of justice, peace and human dignity has indeed been immense.