Part 1: Spiritual symbiosis

By Sultan Shahin

TIRUPATI, South India - It is impossible to spend

several days visiting ancient temples in and around

Tirupati, one of the four "Meccas" for Hindus, as the

only Muslim in the company of about 50 Hindu

journalists, having a darshan (close encounter) of

Balaji, as Lord Venkateshwar is popularly called,

detect not the slightest hint of unease on the part of

any of my Hindu colleagues on account of my being a

Muslim, get a rare opportunity to spend a couple of

hours meditating in a temple room next to where Balaji

is installed, and not reflect on the growing hostility

between Islam and Hinduism that is threatening to keep

India from realizing its destiny in the 21st century. 

Does the fault lie with the two faiths or with their

practitioners? Are the two faiths irreconcilable in

their belief-systems? Do they have any points of

convergence? Is it right to say that Islam is

monotheistic and Hindu polytheistic and so the twain

can never meet? Can Hinduism be simply dismissed as a

polytheistic faith, with idol worship as its chief

form of worship, as the Muslim fundamentalists tend to


If the two faiths are so irreconcilable, how can

thousands of Hindus visit and pay obeisance at Muslim

shrines in all parts of the country every day and a

Muslim visit and have darshan of Hindu deities without

provoking the slightest discomfort? How can Hindu

mahants (priests) invite Muslims for Iftar (ritual

breaking of fast during the month of Ramadan) in the

temple town of Ayodhya, which has now become a by-word

for Hindu-Muslim hostility since the medieval Babri

mosque was demolished there in 1992? And how can the

Muslims then reciprocate by inviting Hindus in the

same hotbed of hostility to share the ritual

festivities of Eid? 

Hinduism and Islam have lived in India together for

almost 14 centuries. The first 13 as excellent

neighbors. "Love thy neighbor, for he is yourself."

said the Vedas. The Koran agreed: "Do good - to

parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors

who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the

companion by your side, the wayfarer." (An-Nisa 4.36).

But the 20th century changed all that. As a result of

the British colonial divide-and-rule policy, coupled

with the short-sightedness of Hindu and Muslim

politicians, the country witnessed growing

disaffection, culminating in partition at the time of

independence from colonial rule in 1947, and periodic

outbursts of unimaginable savagery on the part of both


This disastrous trend is continuing, infecting

hitherto unaffected sections in rural areas and the

south of India, apart from the previously affected

east, west and north of India. We may lose the 21st

century, too, to the forces of disintegration and

chaos unless we rediscover the spiritual symbiosis

that kept the two communities in near-perfect harmony

for such a long time. 

Hinduism is known for the catholicity of spirit,

broadmindedness and a holistic approach, but many

Muslims merely dismiss it now as a byword for

superstition. Part of the blame lies with the rise of

obscurantist fundamentalists and their exclusivist

approach in recent years, though Islam was spread in

India largely by Sufi saints who considered all

religions to be merely different paths to God. 

But also responsible for the present image of Hinduism

is Christian missionary propaganda under British

colonial supervision and support that has affected not

only Muslims and Christians, but also Westernized

Hindus educated through missionary schools. Hinduism

has been accused, for instance, of permitting "the

most grotesque forms of idolatry, and the most

degrading varieties of superstition". 

It seems to me, however, that a symbiotic spiritual

relationship exists between the two great religions.

It is a realization of this spiritual symbiosis,

though largely unconscious, that I believe helped

sustain this harmonious relationship despite the

invading Central Asian hordes led by Ghaznis and

Ghoris, who called themselves Muslim, and the British

colonialists with their massive effort at divide and

rule using all possible propaganda tools. 

Islam's encounter with other religions was quite

violent. The history of Crusades launched by Christian

powers is well known. It was Hinduism alone that

provided Islam with a fertile ground for growth,

something it had denied for long centuries even to

indigenous Buddhism. Muslims' treatment of Hindus,

too, was quite considerate and in keeping with the

Islamic spirit of Lakum Deenakum Waleya Deen (For you

your religion, for me mine, the Koran -109:5). As

Hindus had the reputation of being polytheists and

idolaters, Muslims could have treated them as Kauffar

and Mushrekeen (religious deviants). Instead, the very

first Muslim to conquer parts of India - Sind and

Multan in 711 AD - Mohammad bin Qasim, accorded them

the special status of Ahl-e-Kitab (people who follow

divine books brought by messengers of God before the

Prophet Mohammed) that was at first thought to be

meant for Christians and Jews alone. (Muslims are

permitted to have the best of social, including

marital relations, with the Ahl-e-Kitab). Even the

Central Asian bandits who invaded and looted India

could not disturb the growing and deepening spiritual

ties. A number of Sufi saints spent their lifetime in

India, spreading the message of Islam, that literally

means peace, that comes with total surrender to God.

The Prophet Mohammed, too, is believed to have felt an

attraction for India. 

The Indian sub-continent's pre-eminent

poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal wrote:

Meer-e-Arab ko aaee thandi hawa jahan se, 

Mera watan wohi hai, mera watan wohi hai. 

(From where the Prophet Mohammed received a cool


That is my motherland, that is my motherland.) 

Hindus as Ahl-e-Kitab

Some primordial spiritual connection must have been at

work. For only recently have Muslim scholars learnt

that Hindus indeed constitute the fourth major group

of Ahl-e-Kitab mentioned in the Holy Koran repeatedly.

For some mysterious reason, the Holy Koran had left

this question vague. It mentioned a major religious

group as "Sabe-een" as the ummah (community) of a

prophet who had brought a divine book bearing God's

revelation to the world. It also mentioned Hazrat Nooh

(Prophet Noah of the Bible) as a major prophet ranking

with prophets like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.

But who the followers of Hazrat Nooh are was left a


Painstaking research has been going on seeking the

fourth major Ahl-e-Kitab. From Hazrat Shah Waliullah,

Maulana Sulaiman Nadvi and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi

to a contemporary scholar from Uttar Pradesh, Maulana

Shams Navaid Usmani, a number of scholars from the

sub-continent, too, contributed to this effort. It is

now clear that Hindus are indeed the lost ummah of the

Prophet Nooh, whom they know as Maha Nuwo. Evidence

from Markandaya Puran and several Vedas, and their

description of "Jal Pralaya" (devastation caused by

the Flood, as in the biblical and Koranic stories of

Noah's flood) has been most helpful in this search. 

The authenticity and finality of the above-mentioned

research has not to be accepted by any one, however,

to be able to know that the Hindus do indeed

constitute a major Ahl-e-Kitab ummah (religious

community). According to the Holy Koran, there is not

one nation in the world in which a prophet has not

been raised up: "There are not a people but a prophet

has gone among them" (35:24). And again: "Every nation

has had a prophet" (10:47). And again: "And we did not

send before thee any but men to whom we sent

revelation [Divine Book]" (21:7). 

We are further told that there have been prophets

besides those mentioned in the Holy Koran: "And we

sent prophets we have mentioned to thee before [in the

Koran], and prophets we have not mentioned to thee [in

the Koran]" (4:164). 

It is, in fact stated in a famous Hadees (also written

as Hadith, meaning sayings of the Prophet, as distinct

from the Holy Koran, which is believed by Muslims to

be the word of God revealed to the Prophet) that there

have been 124,000 prophets, while the Holy Koran

contains only about 25 names, among them being several

non-Biblical prophets. Prophets Hud and Salih came in

Arabia, Luqman in Ethiopia, a contemporary of Moses

(generally known as Khidzr) in Sudan, and

Dhu-i-Qarnain (Darius I, who was also a king) in

Persia; all of which is quite in accordance with the

theory of universality of prophethood, as enunciated

above. And as the Holy Koran has plainly said the

prophets have appeared in all nations and that it has

not named all of them, which in fact was unnecessary

and not even feasible. Thus a Muslim must accept the

great luminaries who are recognized by other religions

as having brought light to them, regardless of the

terminology used to describe them, as the prophets

that were sent to those nations. 

The Koran, however, not only establishes a theory that

prophets have appeared in all nations; it goes further

and renders it necessary that a Muslim should believe

in all those prophets. In the very beginning we are

told that a Muslim must "believe in that which has

been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Issac and

Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to

Moses and Jesus, and in that which was given to the

prophets from their Lord, we do not make distinction

between any of them" (2:136). The word "prophets" in

this verse from the Koran clearly refers to the

prophets of other nations. 

Again and again, and in different contexts, the Holy

Koran speaks of Muslims as believing in all the

prophets of God and not in the Holy Prophet Mohammad

alone: "Righteousness is this that one should believe

in Allah and the last day and the angels and the books

and the prophets" (2:177). And again in the same surah

(chapter): "The Prophet believes in what has been

revealed to him from His Lord and so do the believers;

they all believe in Allah and His angels and His books

and His prophets: And they say 'We make no distinction

between any of His prophets' " (2:28). 

Part 2: Are Hindus Kafir? 

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