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Swami Vivekananda, India’s harbinger of interfaith awareness

July 4 is observed as the death anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, an Indian spiritual luminary who played an important role in introducing the philosophy of Vedanta to the West.

July 4 is observed as the death anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, an Indian spiritual luminary who played an important role in introducing the philosophy of Vedanta to the West. He is best known for his speech at the World Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893 which started with the opening remarks, “My brothers and sisters of America”. Here’s how he spread awareness of interfaith harmony in India!

Narendranath Dutta, who became Swami Vivekananda after becoming a monk, was born in Kolkata on January 12, 1863. He was one of the most powerful spiritual leaders who made a significant contribution to India’s regeneration. He was a strong proponent of universal brotherhood and religious harmony, as well as a modern revivalist of Vedanta Philosophy. He formed the two worldwide spiritual movements known as “Ramakrishna Math” and “Ramakrishna Mission” while serving as the principal disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Both groups have been actively involved in various sorts of humanitarian and social work for more than a century, inspired by the Swami’s values of renunciation and social service.

Swami Vivekananda, India's harbinger of interfaith awarenessSwami ji was a vocal critic of religious supremacy. He felt that there were many paths to God and that they were not limited to a single faith. Despite being a devoted Hindu, he opposed the caste system’s primacy and advocated for social balance and communal harmony.

In their search for the ultimate destination, all religions, according to Vivekananda, were supposed to pursue the same goals. For example, in Hindu philosophy, Nirvana (union with the Brahman or Supreme Being) through Moksha (freedom) is the ultimate goal of existence; in Islamic spirituality (Sufism), the highest achievement of man is Wisal-e-Ilahi (union with Allah).

Swami Vivekananda’s lecture in Chicago aroused the attention of the entire world to our country’s rich history and cultural origins (1893)

Unfortunately, religious zealots and fanatics, both Hindus and Muslims, have been worsening the social, cultural, and religious ties between India’s two main communities to advance their nefarious goals. They go to such lengths to fan the communal fire that they tarnishes the images of India’s spiritual legends. Swami ji was a huge admirer of Islam’s essential ideals, which he believed were the only reason for the religion’s existence on the planet. It shows up in his statement, which reads, “Mohammed — the Messenger of Equality.”

The above comment of Swami Vivekananda is an excerpt from a magnificent chapter on “Mohammed and Islam” in a book named “Teachings of Swami Vivekananda,” as Dilip Raote pointed out in an article in Hindustan Times (Take it from Vivekananda, July 25, 2007). Christopher Isherwood, a British writer, provides an incredibly moving 30-page introduction to the book. The chapter is made up of excerpts from a speech given by Swami Vivekananda to an American audience. I have included some of them here without comment, as has Dilip Raote, in the hopes that readers may better comprehend the importance and real spirit of Swami Vivekananda’s historical views on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):

“Mohammed showed through his life that full equality and brotherhood should exist among Mohammedans. There was no distinction made based on race, caste, color, or gender. The Sultan of Turkey may purchase a Negro from an African market and transport him to Turkey in chains; however, if he converts to Islam and demonstrates sufficient merit and abilities, he may marry the Sultan’s daughter. Compare this to the treatment of Nigerian and American Indians in our country (the United States of America)! And what about Hindus? If one of your missionaries came into contact with an orthodox person’s food, he would throw it out.”

“As soon as a man becomes a Mohammedan, the entire Islamic community embraces him as a brother, without difference, as no other faith does. The Sultan of Turkey would have no issue to dining with one of your American Indians if he became a Mohammedan. If he possesses intelligence, he can hold any position. I have never seen a chapel in this nation where a white man and a Negro can kneel side by side to pray.”

“It has been said incorrectly that Mohammedans do not believe in the existence of souls in women… I’m not a Mohammedan, but I’ve had the opportunity to study them, and there isn’t a single line in the Koran that indicates women don’t have souls; on the contrary, it says they do.”

Mohammedanism has been greatly influenced by the Vedantic attitude of religious liberality. Mohammedanism in India is not the same as it is in any other country. A Mohammedan mob is aroused and fights only when Mohammedans from other nations come to India and preach to their co-religionists about living with men who are not of their faith.”

“Practical Advaitism… has yet to emerge among Hindus worldwide… As a result, we are certain that without the aid of practical Islam, Vedantism’s theories, however great and wonderful they may be, are completely useless to the vast majority of humanity…The only chance for our own motherland is a meeting of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body… In my mind’s eye, I see a great and invincible future India emerging from this chaos and strife, with a Vedanta intellect and an Islamic body.”

Vivekananda criticised Muslims who committed atrocities against Muslims or non-Muslims, but he was convinced that such actions were incompatible with Islam’s global brotherhood concept. He believed that Islam advocated for fair and just treatment of non-Muslims, but that many Muslims were unaware of this concept and, as a result, grew intolerant of people of other faiths. He was certain, however, of the core cause of their abuse of non-Muslims: a misunderstanding of Islam’s theological teachings. “However, wherever there was a philosophic man among these Mohammedans, he was sure to protest against these cruelties,” he says. He showed the Divine touch and recognised a fraction of the truth in that; he was not playing with his religion, he was speaking, and he stated the truth directly as a man.” The expression “playing with his religion” refers to those who misinterpret Islam and treat non-Muslims unfairly or with intolerance.

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