By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
The rich Islamic heritage in India stemmed from the Persian cultural roots, the ancient Indic civilization and their pluralistic moorings. For instance, Sufism—the rich product of India’s ancient links with Central Asia, carried its universal message of “Wahdat ul Wajud” (Unity of Existence) which beautifully reflected the Indian concept of ‘Vasudhaive Kutumbakam’ (World as one family). Thus, Islamic heritage in India is mainly based on practicing the prophetic tradition: “Al-Khlaqu Ayal Allah” meaning: the whole mankind is one family of God. This is the emblem of religious pluralism in Indian Islamic tradition which can be described as the true expression of the Devine Will, as enunciated in the Qur’an:
“If Allah, the Almighty had willed, all the people on the earth would have become one religious community, whether they had wanted or not”.
The richness of the cultural and literary Islamic heritage in India stands on the solid bedrock of the Indo-Arab pursuit of shared knowledge. It reached its higher culminations in science, medicine, literature, architecture, art and aesthetics. The rigours research, translation and literary works undertaken by the Muslim scholars on Indian cultures and civilizations, at a very early stage of Islam’s cultural history, such as al-Brunei’s treatise ‘Kitab-ul-Hind’ (the study of Indian history), the seminal Arabic work on “Indian Ideas” (Tahqiq Ma lil Hind), Ibrahim al-Fazari’s translation of Indian astronomical treatise Sidhanta (Kitab al-Sindh) at the order of Abbasid Caliph, al-Mansur, Al-Khwarizmi’s book on modern algebra al-Jam’ wa’l-Tafriq bi-‘l-Hisab al-Hindi (Book of Addition and Subtraction in Indian Mathematics), the most celebrated Arabic prose of Ibn al-MuqaffaKalilah wa-Dimnah (the Fables of Bidpai, originally translated from Sanskrit into Pahlavi) and his book Al-Adab al-Kabir (The Major in Literature) which exhorts high moral behaviour for governments and their relationships with people, are treasures of Indo-Arab heritage. Travelling across ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Central Asia and Africa, Caucasian lands to the region of East Asia, Indo-Islamic heritage has not only enriched itself, but also the entire world fraternity. While Khusrau’s poetry and musical innovations continue as the soul of Hindustani Qawwali, Dara Shikoh’s intellectual tradition of confluence between Islam and Hinduism and the esoteric intermingling between Sufism and Bhaktimat is echoed in the progressive Muslim voices today.
There is no denying that such an Islamic heritage is an integral part of human endeavour for a civilized society based on the ideals of inclusivity, moderation, plurality and toleration that deter exclusivism, extremism, religio-supremacy and fanaticism. Therefore, these humane values in the current Islamic discourse must be celebrated and consecrated both in Muslim-majority and democratic countries.
Notably the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan which is seeking to promote the very luminous Islamic heritage has backed India’s narrative of moderate Islam which fosters the Qur’anic tenets of plurality, toleration and inclusivity. It bases its drive on this Qur’anic exhortation:
“Each one believes in God and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers. We make no distinction between any of His messengers”. (2:285).
Recently, King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein who was on a 3-day visit to India said in the conference themed “Islamic Heritage: promoting understanding and moderation” in New Delhi: “All leadership means serving the hopes and good of others. This is my duty rooted in our religion, Islam. It is why our highest priority is securing a better future for all—Jordanians, Christians, Muslims and all”.
In this significant conference, the Prime Minister of India and the King of Jordan highlighted the two countries’ perspective and role in promoting Islamic moderation and combating extremist thoughts in order to avert the threats posed by ISIS and al-Qaeda. They addressed a mixed intellectual audience that included academics, Ulema (Islamic clerics) and representatives of nearly all Islamic sects in India.
Significantly, India’s religious pluralism was highlighted in this conference as key stimulus behind averting the extremist thoughts. The motif that India can best establish an inclusivist Islamic identity was evident throughout the two leaders’ talk that stressed the Islamic moderation in the context of Indian composite culture. Prime Minister Modi highlighted India as a country of the divine message (Khuda Ka Paigham) where all religions have been nurtured, calling Indian democracy as ‘celebration of age-old pluralism’. “Whether it’s Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi, the message of peace was spread from here, India has created an identity while considering the whole world as one family”, he said. He also particularly mentioned the mysticism of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and Hazrat Nizamuddin in promoting the pluralistic ethos of the ancient inclusivist India. The Vedic worldview of Vasudhaive Kutumbakam, Sufi message of reconciliation (Sulh-E-Kul), syncretic confluence of different religions and the rich heritage of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb reverberated in the PM’s speech which was endorsed by the following remarks of King Abdullah.
Historically, India is the only country which laid the foundation of its composite culture (Ganga-Jamuni Tahzeeb) with a fusion of the Vedic tradition, the Eightfold Path (Ashtanga) of Gautam Buddha, ahimsa (non-violence) of Mahavir Jain, the Sikh focus on the Devine Light (Wahe Guru) and the Sufi doctrine of the unity of existence (Wahdat ul Wajud). Most importantly, only in the pluralistic ethos of the inclusivist Indian polity, the uncompromising Monotheistic belief of the Semitic religions (Tawheed) has lived peacefully with the Polytheistic faith traditions. Thus, just as PM Modi averred that counter-terror was not a fight against any religion but rather against a particular misleading mindset, King Abdullah rightly termed the global war against terror as ‘fight by moderates of all communities against extremists’.
Inevitably, India’s progressively robust policies involving the Muslim countries into a dialogue over Islamist radicalization is a major achievement for the country’s foreign policy as well as the community’s resilience against radicalism. The strongly-worded statements of both Indian PM and Jordanian King will considerably help in popularizing an inclusivist narrative of Islam in India, though regrettably, it is still drowned by the aggressive posturing of hardliners in different ways. However, one hopes that this rare gathering of all Muslim denominations will build strong community resilience against the internal security threats posed by foreign or home-grown extremists.
Tellingly, when it comes to counter-extremism, Islamic clerics of all hues have created a melody in India. Leaders of all Islamic denominations (Sunni, Shia, Barelwi, Deobandi etc.) have loudly disassociated themselves with the extremist groups. It is true that most anti-terror fatwas were launched from India’s Ulema and muftis (Islamic jurists). Both in Sunni-Sufi leadership’s conclave at Ramlila Maidan (World Sufi Forum) in March 2016 and Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind’s multi-religious conference (Aman and Ekta Sammelan) at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in October 2017, thousands of Indian Muslims came together to adopt a declaration of peace, pluralism and counter-extremism, castigating every form of violence as ‘anti-Islamic’ (Ghair Islami), ‘anti-national’ (Mulk-Mukhalif) and ‘anti-humanity’ (Khilaf-E-Insaniyat). Given such Fatwas’ popularity in this country, even Pakistani Sufi scholar, Dr Tahir ul Qadri chose to launch his Fatwa on Terrorism (Jadeed Khawarij aur Dahshatgardi) in India after it was released in London.
But sadly, these large-scale conferences on counter-extremism have not yet stemmed the tide of Takfirism, which still ideologically exists in the country, though not violently. Non-Takfirism is precisely what Indian Muslims can particularly learn from the progressive Islamic leadership of Jordan.
Jordan’s importance for Indian Muslims lies in an inclusivist non-Takfiri interpretation of Islam which King Abdullah championed through the Amman Message which assumed global significance against the backdrop of increasing Islamist radicalisation. Syed Ata Hasnain writes: “With the other major threat looming over the Middle East, that of Radical Islam and in the midst of the growing sectarian discord between Iran and Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah held one of the best attended conclaves to address the issue of the hijacking of the moderate Islamic street by the Islamic radical elements. The culmination of this conclave of Islamic clergy and scholars across the sectarian divide in 2004 was the Amman Message of which enough has not been written nor spoken. Among many of the sub messages gloved in the folds of this amazing message was the acceptance by the Islamic clergy of the need to do away with the self-assumed practice of ‘Takfirism’.”
But the crisis of the Indian Muslims is that while several counter-radicalization conferences have successfully garnered attentions, they still fail to fight off the Takfirist theology. Winning this war on Takfirism, rather than issuing the attention-grabbing anti-terror Fatwas of little use, is what the Ulema can learn from Amman. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan convened the Assembly for Moderate Islamic Thought and Culture convened in Amman, to promote the essential Islamic principles of moderation. The 200 topmost Islamic leaders and scholars of different countries including India, who participated in the Amman Message against Takfirism, believe that if the Amman declaration is adopted in India, Muslims can get rid of Takfirist thoughts and consequent sectarian discords.
Muslims in India are likely to benefit from the far-reaching impact of this joint venture of India and Jordan against extremism. One of the salient parts of the PM’s address at Vigyan Bhawan was that “Muslim youth should have Quran (tradition) in one hand and computer (modernity) in the other”. For India’s young generation of Muslims, modernity and tradition go hand in hand. Hence, this significant pitch is being welcomed in the community’s intellectual circle. The Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought of Chennai stated: “Indian Islam is the best interpretation of Quranic Islam. Indian Muslims have always believed in Islam being syncretic. This conference is again the reiteration of that faith. Not long ago, the Prime Minister said that Indian Muslims are not at all radicalised.”
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of classical Islamic studies, cultural analyst, researcher in media and communication studies and regular columnist with newageislam.com