restricted access CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Hindus and Muslims in India
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394 CH APTER T W ENT Y-NINE Hindus and Muslims in India Rāma, Khudā, Śakti, Śiva are one and the same. To whom, then do the prayers go? The Vedas, the Purāṇas and the Quran are just different kinds of books. Neither Hindu nor Muslim, neither Jain nor Yogi knows the true secret. —Kabīr, Bījak, Śabda 28 On February 27, 2002, a group of about two thousand agitated people stopped the Sabarmati Express outside the station of Godhra, Gujarat. After exchanging abuses with those inside, they began to throw bottles filled with gasoline into compartments of the first four carriages. Soon the train was engulfed in flames. Fifty-eight people on the train perished in the fire. The attackers were Muslims—the victims were Hindus, most of them kārsevaks returning from Ayodhyā, the disputed temple/mosque complex that Hindus believe to have been Rāma’s birthplace. The incident on the train sparked off months-long Hindu-Muslim rioting involving over a million people leaving thousands dead and maimed and whole neighborhoods all over Gujarat in ruins.1 Both the attack by Muslims on Hindus and the following retaliation by Hindus followed an advance plan—far from being a spontaneous outburst, it was the unfolding of a scenario all too familiar in India: a confrontation between Muslims and Hindus who have been hating each other for centuries , have engaged in hundreds of similar riots, and still have to live with each other. MUSLIM INDI A Over the centuries Hindu India had absorbed the cultures of many foreign invaders: Greeks, Parthians, Kuśānas, Hunas, and it accommodated followers HINDUS A ND MUSLI MS IN INDI A 395 of many different religions: Jews found refuge from the persecutions by Roman Emperors, Syrian Christians could freely establish their own communities, Zoroastrians fleeing from Muslims found asylum—Hindus were famous for their religious diversity, their tolerance, and their openness for newcomers. Islam came to India as the religion of conquerors who saw it their mission to eradicate its native religion and to transform the country into a Dār-alIsl ām.2 In 711 ce—less than a century after the Prophet’s death—Muhammed ibn al Qasim invaded some towns in the Indus valley, making Multan his headquarters and establishing the rule of the Quran in parts of Sindh. Between 1005 and 1030 ce Mahmud of Ghazni undertook seventeen raids into northwestern India, killing thousands of Hindus, looting temple treasures, and destroying one of the greatest Hindu sanctuaries, the Somanātha temple in Kathiawaḍ. His chroniclers waxed enthusiastic about the large number of infidels killed and the rich booty carried away from their temples. From then on Islamic forces systematically attacked and invaded India. By 1211 ce Iltutmish had established himself as the first Sultan in Delhi—the beginning of Muslim rule over large parts of India that terminated only in 1857! Muslim rulers in Delhi were ousted by other Muslim rulers, Turks were driven out by Mongols, but Hindus remained suppressed and were treated as kafirs who had the choice to either convert to Islam or to pay the jizya, the tax imposed on nonbelievers . There were exceptional Muslim rulers like Akbar the Great (1542–1605), who appreciated Hindu culture and religion, but most, like his own grandson Aurangzeb (1618–1707), fanatically tried to eradicate everything Hindu, destroying thousands of temples and dissolving their places of learning. No wonder that Hindus welcomed the British in Bengal, hoping to find in them allies against the Muslim rulers. While the British did bring an end to Muslim rule, at least at the center, they did not do much to strengthen the position of the Hindus, and the 1856 uprising, called “Mutiny” by the British and “First War of Independence” by the Indians, was undertaken by Hindus and Muslims conjointly who both resented foreign domination. While the Islamic rulers of India strove for Muslim hegemony and kept a sharp diving line between Islam and Hinduism, individual Muslim scholars and mystics entered into a dialogue with Hinduism, integrating features of Hindu religious practice into their own and showing considerable respect for the accomplishments of the Hindus. Thus al-Bīrūnī, born 973 in Central Asia, who made a career as an Iranian scholar-diplomat, spent many years in (Hindu) India, collecting information about Hindu religion and science, customs and practices. His Kitāb al-Hind is the first major scholarly report about Hindu scriptures and Hindu beliefs, astonishingly objective...