Books and Documents

Islam and Pluralism (20 May 2010 NewAgeIslam.Com)

The Importance of Hindu-Muslim Dialogue

By Maulana Waris Mazhari

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand/Noor Mohammad Sikand) 

Hindus and Muslims have been living together in India for over a thousand years. Yet, they are still plagued by misunderstandings about each other and mutual hatred. A principal reason for this is that they have not sought to understand each other sincerely. Undoubtedly, there have been individuals among them who were deeply conscious of, and strongly opposed to, the enormous gulf that divides them, and they tried, in their own ways, to transform this hatred into dialogue and reconciliation. However, in the face of stiff opposition, their efforts did not yield much fruit.

The most salient factor for hatred and conflict between Hindus and Muslims is historical memory—of the former being dominated by the latter for centuries. The earliest Muslims came to India as traders and enjoyed peaceful relations with the local Hindus, and, as in Kerala, spread Islam using peaceful means. However, their place was rapidly taken over by invading armies so that the relationship between Muslims and Hindus was rapidly transformed into that of conquerors and the conquered. Obviously, the Hindus did not take kindly to this. This is why they considered Muslims to be foreigners and their inveterate foes.

This gulf between Hindus and Muslims was further promoted by the biased and hardly impartial rule of Muslim Sultans, for which they sought religious legitimacy. A striking instance of this was the imposition by many Muslim rulers of jizyah on their Hindu subjects. No matter what justification they sought for this, it was obvious that for the Hindus this caused much opposition and ill-feeling.

It must be noted that, despite the claims of the Delhi Sultans, and, after them, the Mughal Emperors, their rule was not, strictly speaking, Islamic or in accordance with Islamic commandments and principles. The political and social rules of Islam were applied, if at all, only in name. Yet, in order to fill the royal coffers the Sultans imposedjizyah on the Hindus in the name of Islam. They could have, had they wanted to, followed the practice of the third Caliph, Umar, who levied a general tax instead of jizyah on the Banu Taghlib, a Christian tribe who felt that the jizyah was a sign of subjugation and degradation. However, a complete lack of proper insight, a rigid adherence to the prescriptions of the books of classical fiqh, and a distressing dependence on the court ulemaand their fatwas prevented the Sultans from following a more enlightened policy in this regard.

The Mughal period, particularly the reign of Akbar (1556-1605), was perhaps a more enlightened one in terms of state policies vis-à-vis the Hindus. This period saw increasing interaction between Hindus and Muslims at various levels. Following in the footsteps of the Abbasid Caliph al-Mamoon (786-833), Akbar arranged for the translation of numerous books on the religion, culture and history of the Hindus. This proved to be a major milestone in promoting a more objective understanding of the Hindus among Muslims, and a significant step in facilitating dialogue between the two.

The Revolt of 1857 that marked the formal end of the Mughal Empire witnessed impressive efforts to unite Hindus and Muslims to combat the encroaching British. Were it not for the tragic Partition of India, it is possible that major progress could have been made to improve Hindu-Muslim relations through dialogue. It should have been among the topmost priorities of our leaders after Independence to bring Hindus and Muslims closer together, but this did not happen. On the contrary, the gulf between them only further widened and the conflicts between them are becoming ever more deadly.

The Relevance of Dialogue

Recent and ongoing political developments at the regional and global level, particularly conflicts between Muslims and others and the heinous actions of some radical groups in the name of Islam, have had a major and enormously debilitating impact on Hindu-Muslim relations in India. These developments have further emboldened anti-Muslim Hindutva forces in India, which have enabled them to make even further inroads among those Hindus who otherwise have nothing