Gandhi and the Prophet
- Asghar Ali Engineer
Note: This imaginary dialogue between Gandhiji and the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) is to clarify many misunderstandings which are being spread about Islam and Muslims. My mission in life is to promote peace and inter-religious understanding and to struggle against religious fanaticism and extremism. As I have deep conviction about teachings of Islam, I am also great admirer of Gandhiji and his philosophy of non-violence. (A.E.)
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 of society.
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 composite culture.
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 to violence..
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.
Source: Islam and Modern Age, August, 2010