By Syed Shahabuddin
Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 20, May 2, 2009
The following piece reached us on April 22, 2009 with the author’s forwarding letter that read: “As you must have noticed recently, the question has been raised whether India is a ‘Dar-ul-Harb’ or ‘Dar-ul-Islam’ and whether the Hindus should be designated as ‘Kafirs’. I enclose a copy of my note on the subject. I would request you to publish it in order to clarify the position and to remove the misunderstanding. I may add that I am not a theologian but I have discussed the matter with some theologians of repute.” —Editor
On the eve of elections many forgotten issues are revived and many old graves are dug up and many questions which have been answered many times in the past are raised once again by Hindu chauvinists and extremist elements to draw out and malign the Muslim community. Sometimes, they ask religious scholars for a fatwa. Some religious scholars, perhaps with publicity in their mind, respond, although it is well-known that a fatwa is nothing but the personal opinion of a Mufti and may not represent the considered view of Islamic scholars. The purpose of this exercise is, first, to confuse the Muslims by involving them in an avoidable controversy and, secondly, to raise the communal temperature by projecting them in the eyes of the Hindu community as an obscurantist or anti-national group.
Ever since the writer entered public life, he has been facing another question, but that has not been raised this time: what comes first, religion or the country? The two questions that have been raised—whether India is a ‘Dar-ul-Islam’ or ‘Dar-ul-Harb’ and whether the Hindus are ‘Kafirs’—are not new.
Some public responses as published have created confusion in the mind of the Muslim community and do not correctly depict the theological, lexicographic or even the historical position.
Status of Indian State in Shariat
AS regards the status of the Indian state in the Shariat, it is absolutely clear that India is not ‘Dar-ul-Islam’ because the law of the land is not based on Islamic Shariat. But neither is it ‘Dar-ul-Harb’ because it by and large provides a peaceful environment for the Muslim citizens to exercise their religious rights freely. The origin of the term ‘Dar-ul-Harb’ is related to the situation when non-Muslim states on the border of Muslim states interfered with the religious freedom of the Muslims residing there or visiting them, which justified or provided an excuse for intervention by the neighbouring Muslim state to defend their rights or to support rebellion by the Muslim community.
The Indian state is governed by a Constitution which grants religious freedom not only to profess a religion but also practise and propagate it. There may be local or occasional interference here and there but the state is fully committed to religious freedom in every sense of the term. Such a state simply cannot be ‘Dar-ul-Harb’. Moreover, today international intercourse is bound by international law. All states are bound by the UN Charter. Differences among states have to be resolved through prescribed procedure and not by force. Neither can any state act unilaterally. Therefore no foreign state, which claims to be Muslim or defender of Islam, can intervene in the internal affairs of another state on the plea that religious freedom of Muslims is being curbed. Of course, it has an option to raise the matter in the UNO. In any case, intervention depends on balance of power and influence. For example, no Muslim state has intervened in support of Palestinian rights or against Russia to save Chechnya.
The Indian state may be viewed as a social compact among its citizens. Muslim Indians enjoy equal political and legal rights. They have the freedom to place their grievances before the legislature and the executive or take recourse to the judiciary. So far from being ‘Dar-ul-Harb’, India is a ‘Dar-ul-Aman’ (land of peace) and a ‘Dar-ul-Muwahida’ (land of compact). India is a secular state and the essence of Indian secularism is non-discrimination by the state among its citizens on ground of religion and equal treatment of all religions and religious groups as equal before law. That is why secularism as an essential character of the Indian state has a theological significance. So long as India remains true to its secular ideals, it shall remain a ‘Dar-ul-Aman’ and ‘Dar-ul-Muwahida’ and cannot be depicted as ‘Dar-ul-Harb’. However, if Muslim Indians are constitutionally reduced to the status of second class citizens and deprived of their fundamental and human rights, they have the right to protest peacefully and democratically and if their legitimate rights are not restored and they suffer persistent violation of their rights and are subjected to violence and oppression, then they would be justified to regard it as a ‘Dar-ul-Harb’ and to exert themselves, to the extent possible, to defy the state and to appeal to the world at large and to the conscience of mankind.
Meaning Of the Word ‘Kafir’
THE second issue relates to the meaning of the word ‘Kafir’ which appears many times in the Holy Quran. Allah asserts in the Quran that it was within His power that all mankind have a common faith and in His wisdom he bestowed the gift of knowledge and free will on human beings and prescribed that there can be no compulsion in matters of religion. Thus, a human being is absolutely free to choose his faith or even to change it, if I may add. But all human beings are accountable for their beliefs and deeds on the Day of Judgement.
The root of the word ‘Kafir’ is ‘k’fr’ which has a wide range of meanings but, in essence, it means ‘to deny’ or ‘to conceal’. A similar word is ‘Munkir’ whose root is ‘n’kr’ which means ‘to refuse’. The essence of Islam is belief in Tauhid (monotheism), Risalat (Prophet-hood) and Akharat (accountability). One may perhaps (I confess I am not a Qurani scholar) distinguish between the two terms ‘Kafir’ and ‘Munkir’ on the basis that one set of people deny the very existence of Allah (God, by any name) and the other refuses to follow the path shown by Him through His Prophets. The Quran uses both the words interchangeably for the non-believers of Mecca because at that time, hardly anyone denied the existence of Allah. But there is another oft-used word ‘Mushrik’ in the Quran which means a person who does not deny the existence of Allah but considers that Allah has delegated His power to and operates through other deities. Thus, the word ‘Mushrik’ means a person who conceives Allah as infinite and all powerful but, to use a contemporary parallel, sees Him as the Chairman of the Board with several managing directors, many directors and managers of a mega corporation. The Mushriks of Mecca always claimed that they believed in Allah but they worshipped various deities which exercised power over and managed some aspects of their life.
Under Islamic theology, ‘Kafirs’ or ‘Munkirs’ or ‘Mushriks’ are not Muslims but nowhere does the Quran or the Hadith prescribe that ‘Kafirs’ or ‘Munkirs’ or ‘Mushriks’ be killed or even penalised for their beliefs in any manner by a human agency. So, these lexicographic terms make factual statements about the beliefs of those who do not profess Islam. Even the Holy Prophet was told in the Quran that he has been sent down as a messenger and not as a custodian of others. How can any living Muslim take up a role which was denied by Allah to the Holy Prophet?
Allah says in the Quran that He sent Prophets to all peoples in various parts of the world at different times and that no one shall be penalised on the Day of Judgement unless he had received Allah’s message and then wilfully rejected it. This also means that after the death of the Holy Prophet who was the last Prophet, the message of Islam should have been communicated to him by the Muslim community.
Islam does not vest the authority in anyone to pronounce anyone as Kafir and consign him to hell and anticipate Allah’s Judgement in the Akharat.
Many Muslims believe that Allah could not have ignored the people in non-Arab lands and must have appointed Prophets to a subcontinent like India. The Quran mentions only a few Prophets, not all by name or recount their history or record the message as it was immediately addressed to the people in various parts of Arabia. Many Muslims believe that Buddha or Krishna were Prophets of their time, though the message they brought was corrupted and has not reached us in its original form. Many Muslims also believe that the spirit of the Vedas is essentially mono-theistic. In any case, Islam prescribes that Muslims should respect all religions and religious figures.
These words ‘Kafir’, ‘Munkir’ or ‘Mushrik’ are no more than statements of fact. In Indian society, there are many religious groups which believe in one God, do not worship any other deity and do not attribute divinity to it. Sikhism or the Arya Samaj or the original Vedanta believe in the oneness of God who is formless and timeless, who is the creator of the universe and who manage it without any assistance from anyone and will do so, till the end of time. In this sense, these religious concepts come very close to those of Islam. To Muslims, the universal essence of DIN is Wahdaniyat, Risalat and Akharat.
It may be added that Allah in the Quran uses a derivate ‘Kaffar’ for Himself, meaning One who conceals the wrongdoings of the people. In Persian and Urdu poetry, ‘Kafir’ is a term used for the beautiful and the beloved. In prose it is also used for lack of gratitude for a blessing (‘Kufran-e-Nemat’).
To sum up the above discussion, India is not a ‘Dar-ul-Harb’ and most Hindus may in a literal sense be called Kafirs but the term is a statement of fact and not abuse or derisory or vilificatory or anticipatory of the Divine Judgment.
Syed Shahabuddin, a retired IFS officer and an erstwhile Member of Parliament, is the Convenor of the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee and Editor of Muslim India.
-2015 Mainstream Weekly