By Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
New Delhi, September 3-4, 2015
The Global Hindu-Buddhist Initiative inaugurated recently by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzō Abe of Japan (through a video) focussed on confronting the rising tide of violence threatening the world order by "building a non-formal intellectual and geo-political architecture to appeal, influence, persuade and moderate the forces of violence." In order to unravel the causes of conflict caused by violent ideologies, and preventing violence from escalating, the well-delineated concept paper for the conference suggested "intense studies about the sources and impulses of violence."
This is an urgent task. While violence has and can emanate from people professing other ideologies, in present times we are largely facing terrorism from the practitioners of a particularly vile form of the Islamist ideology. Islamism is a derivative of the religion of Islam, which has peace enshrined in its very name. The word Islam itself means peace, though its practitioners have practised violence, defensive and offensive, at different points in Muslim history. Contrary to explicit guidance in their primary scripture, the holy Quran, some Muslims have taken upon themselves the task of imposing Islam on the world through violent means. This group is called Islamist and their ideology Islamism.
Islamism has been present in Islam almost from the very beginning. Within decades of Prophet Mohammad's demise, Muslims, both Shia and Sunni, fought with Islamists, sacrificed their lives in large numbers and called them the Khwarij, the castaways of Islam, those who were thrown out of Islam. The majority of Muslims call the Islamists of today the neo-Khwarij. In one form or another the Khwarij or Khrjiites or Islamists have been a part of Islam throughout its history. For brief periods they have even been dominant. Today they are in a very powerful position. With tens of billions of dollars being spent annually on spreading the neo-khwarij ideology for the last four decades, Islamism has caught the imagination of large numbers of Muslims throughout the world. It is not a mean achievement for this virulent, un-Islamic ideology that an army of fedayeen, prepared to sacrifice their lives, become available from within the Muslim society today, wherever and whenever required by a determined and motivated group of Islamists. Most Muslims have certainly not become violent, but the idea of imposing God's sovereignty on earth, which leads to violence, has gained a lot of traction in recent decades.
The main factors leading to the fascism evident in the behaviour of Islamists today is their exclusivism and xenophobia, a belief in religious supremacism. While Quran teaches that God sent many prophets (said to be 124,000 in a Prophetic tradition), and that all of them have equal status, Islamists believe in the exclusivity of their sectarian interpretation of Islam as the only true religion. In fact many ulema including those engaged in interfaith dialogue, and with a reputation for moderation, claim that Islam alone is a universal religion. For instance, the Imam of Islamic Culture Centre of New York, Imam Shamsi Ali, told me that "Our prophet came to serve humanity. All other prophets came to serve only their people. Only al-Islam is a universal religion for all humanity."
The antidote for Islamist exclusivism and supremacist attitudes that the Hindu-Buddhist Initiative is suggesting is tried and tested. It has already been experimented with in the past and with very good results. The Sulh-e-Kul, acceptance of all, philosophy of Sufi mystics adopted also by Mughal Emperor Akbar in his religion Din-e-Elahi, or found in Allahopanishad, which was also probably written during Akbar's reign, was precisely the result of what the concept paper put as "dynamic cross-pollination" and "acceptance of the other view." The Hindu-Buddhist values, along with other philosophies and religions, had played a major role in this dynamic cross-pollination.
Hinduism and Buddhism have lived together with Islam for almost fourteen centuries, from the very beginning of Islam. Beginning with the term employed to describe themselves, Dharma and Deen (both meaning ways of life), and an emphatic assertion of the Oneness of God (Ekam Sat: La Ilaha Illallah), Islam and Hinduism share the vision of a moral order prevailing in the universe. Both dharmas inform us of cosmic agencies keeping an account of all our deeds for which we will be made accountable. Both talk about life after death. The Hindu belief in reincarnation is well-known. But it is not so well known that the Quran refers as Kafir (rejecter of the truth, deviant, infidel) anyone who doesn’t believe in the possibility of rebirth. Several verses in the writings of the great Sufi mystic, Hazrat Jalal-ud-Deen Rumi, describe the process of evolution through reincarnation - from mineral and plant to animal and man and then to angelhood and beyond.
Another great mystic Mansur al-Hallaj, famous for his formulation, Anal Haq (I am The Truth: Aham Brahmo Asmi) had written:
“Like the herbage I have sprung up many a time,
on the banks of flowing rivers.
For a hundred thousand years,
I have lived and worked in every sort of body.”
The Quran itself seems quite clear: ”And you were dead, and He brought you back to life. And He shall cause you to die, and shall bring you back to life, and in the end shall gather you unto Himself.” (Quran 2:28) The words ‘you were dead’ may mean that they had lived before becoming dead. And the words “in the end shall gather you unto Himself” could very well mean the attainment of Moksharather than an eternal life in Heaven or Hell. These speculations may be disputed but cannot be totally denied as a possible interpretation.
While their perception of humanity’s intellectual level is understandably different, both Islamic and Hindu scriptures accord the highest value to intelligence, reason, Buddhi. The Quran’s repeated emphasis on reason and education is well-known. No wonder the advent of Islam had heralded a period of great intellectual and scientific achievements that is also said to have been at least partly instrumental in propelling the Europeans from Dark Ages to Enlightenment.
The use of reason is regarded as one of the ten principles of Hindu Dharma as well. The greatest prayer in Vedas asks inspiration for intelligence. Even the Gayatri mantra calls for ‘an unerring guidance to our intellects.’ In Yogavasistha, the redoubtable sage Vasistha exhorts Sri Ram to “discard irrationality even if it comes from the creator himself.” No wonder ancient Hindus had led the world in nearly all disciplines of scientific and artistic endeavour for several millennia.
Hinduism has been likened to a vast sponge, absorbing all that it can. As an ancient Deen (Dharma) it has to do that in order to stay modern. The Vedas predate Creation. This is confirmed by the Bible: ‘In the beginning was the word’: John: 1:1-4). Islam enjoins upon its followers to believe in and learn from all the previous prophets. The Quran does not go into a detailed discussion of the Oneness of God. It does not teach techniques of meditation and absorption in God, though they are vital elements of prayer. There was no need. The Hindu scriptures, our Adi-granth, had done that much earlier. Our philosophies are complimentary, not contradictory. The spiritual symbiosis is an obvious fact. Hinduism's absolute commitment to pluralism, for instance, can buttress the strains of pluralism in Islamic thought.
Similarly there are almost identical concepts in Buddhism and Islam that can serve as tools for a fruitful inter-faith dialogue. The Islamic concept of Insaan-e-Kamil (perfect human) and the Buddhist concept of Bodhisattva, for instance, or Mahatma Buddha being likened to the Qur'anic figure of al-Khidr, a seeker of enlightenment, or the Buddha being regarded by many Muslims as a previous prophet. It is said that the reference to fig tree in the Quran (95:1) is actually referring to the Prophethood of the Buddha as the Buddha received Nirvana (Enlightenment) under a wild fig tree, something which does not figure in the life story of any other prophet.
The concept of ultimate accountability and emphasis on good deeds is found in all three religions. Buddhism and Islam make it an article of faith. Something like the Noble Truths of Buddhism is found in Islam too. Certainly the idea that every good deed will be rewarded and one has to face punishment for every bad deed is the cornerstone of Buddhism and Islam as much as that of Hinduism.
The impact of Buddhism and Hindu ascetic traditions on Sufism has been much talked about. In fact the development of zuhd or ascetic tradition in Islam is said to be entirely due to cross-cultural pollination, with influence of Christian monasteries as well as Hindu and Buddhist wandering mystics, indeed that of the journeys of Buddha himself. Several Sufi mystics are said to have been inspired by Buddha's journeys in search of truth as much as they are by Prophet Mohammad's mediations in the cave of Hira, near Mecca, for weeks on end.
One can have no doubt, therefore, that the concept of Global Hindu-Buddhist Initiative on Conflict Avoidance and Environment Consciousness is an inspired idea whose time has come, given the growing threat to world peace from a bunch of misguided Islamists. It is primarily the job of Muslims to confront this cancerous growth in the body politic of Islam, but help from other cultures is entirely welcome.
It has not been possible to talk about environment in the space available, but what is true of Conflict Avoidance is also true of Environment Consciousness, though one will have to seek special assistance in this regard from Jain cosmology and Teerthankars as well.