More Thoughts on Islam and Bangla Desh

I was recently directed to a website called Political Islam, run by Kenneth Roberts, who is very definitely in the "Clash of Civilizations" mode. This has inspired a few thoughts emanating from my experience at the Patiala conference and the things I was thinking about then (Taking the Long Term View, The Ahimsa Heritage).

While in Patiala, I met Kazi Nurul Islam, the founder and head of the Department of Religions at the University of Dhaka. Prof. Islam actually has a Ph.D. in Hindu Philosophy, which he got from Benares Hindu University. His wife (whom I did not meet) also studied there, so they form a rather unique couple. The number of Bangladeshi Muslims with these kinds of credentials are very few. And, indeed, departments of comparative religion are a rarity anywhere in the Muslim world.

During the course of the three days, since we were both staying in the same university guest house, I had the occasion to talk several times with Prof. Islam; and as we have a good mutual friend, Prof. Joseph O'Connell, and as I speak a little Bengali, we were able to create a bit of common ground for discussion. Since I had been reading Taslima Nasreen's Lajja, I thought I would just discuss it with this uniquely liberal and doubtlessly sincere Muslim, and get his feedback.

The instant I mentioned Nasreen's name, however, Prof. Islam reacted viscerally. His first response was to condemn her morality. Though no specifics were mentioned, his primary reaction was to attack her personal character. When I objected that surely her personal morality had no bearing on the truth of her account itself, he said that these things had been taken out of context and he went on to defend Bangladesh's human rights record. But, I asked, did these things happen or not? Yes, but ever since Nasreen had written this book, she had brought disrepute on Bangladesh. The negative stories were circulating and the positive aspects of relations between religious groups in Bangladesh were never highlighted.

This was the essence of our conversation, which I did not pursue, as the issue had clearly touched a nerve and I did not wish to provoke him further. I was merely fact finding. But though it had been short, I found our talk very instructive.

Prof. Islam gave the inaugural address ("World Peace through Interreligious Dialogue"), a very pious talk in which he called for empathy and mutual understanding between religions. I will just quote his opening sentence:
Though all the religions of the world teach love, preach sympathy for others and encourage man to exercise utmost self-restraint and have most profoundly been a source of inspiration for the highest good of mankind, the world today is torn by conflicts, enmity and religious hatred. In this predicament, a lasting and peaceful society is impossible unless different faiths are understood in their proper perspectives.
He goes on to express pious hopes--the need for "warm hearts," changing from an "Age of Monologue to the Age of Dialogue" and so on. He there goes into a discussion of the meaning of "deep dialogue," for which he outlined seven elements:
  • In dialogue one must be ready to learn from partners,
  • Dialogue cannot be one-sided, it has to be both-sided,
  • Participants must be true to the ideals of dialogue,
  • Participants must come with an open mind,
  • Dialogue must take place only between equals,
  • Dialogue should take place only on the basis of mutual trust,
  • Participants must be ready to be self-critical and accept genuine criticisms from others.
The paper was peppered with quotes from Ramakrishna, Max Muller, Raimundo Panikkar, and various other thinkers on interfaith dialogue. So what is there to complain about? Like so my other complaints, it was mostly about what was not said. And that is the problem of mutual trust.

So, entirely against my liberal inclinations, I have to admit that I have a big problem with Islam. In his introductory sentence, Prof. Islam said that "all religions teach love and peace," but my suspicion is that, in the case of Islam, this is just not true.

The situation in Bangladesh described by Nasreen is not atypical for Islam. If the population there is only 10% Hindu now, rather than 30% it was a century ago, it is the onus of the Muslim population to explain the exodus.

If anything, we should perhaps fault Nasreen for not presenting the plight of Hindu minorities there in the context of worldwide Islam. In fact, though the term is no longer used, the Hindus of Bangladesh are treated as dhimmis, and throughout Moslem history, the dhimmis in all Muslim-majority countries have been second-class citizens, subject to the whims of the majority, with no legal redress.

Kenneth Roberts's indictment of political Islam here resonates with Lajja most uncomfortably:
In some Islamic countries, particularly when the country felt powerful, it was more tolerant towards the dhimmis. A dhimmi could even rise to a decent level of power within government, but that could all vanish overnight. The treatment of the dhimmi was shown in Coptic Egypt. (the Copts were the original Egyptians.) A dhimmi could have his tongue removed if he spoke Coptic in front of an Islamic government official. The dhimmi was always persecuted and was never really an equal.

When the Egyptian military tried to conquer the Byzantine Christians, but lost a battle, back in Egypt the Muslim rioted against the Christians. Christians would be killed because riots were one of the favorite ways to punish the dhimmi. When Smyrna--the last of the seven churches of Asia--was destroyed in 1922, it was not done with the military and bulldozers. No, rioting Muslims did it. Riots are a form of jihad. The dhimmi could always be persecuted, not only in the courts of law, but a riot could destroy an entire section of a city.
Since Hindus and Muslims both speak the same language in Bangladesh, the use of certain words, like pani instead of jala, or Muslim greetings instead of namaskar, etc., all become surrogates for this kind of differentiation. But what rang really true was the description of riots as a tool for persecution, which paralleled the situation in Bangadesh completely. Moreover, the humiliation of the kafir, the gradual, persistent grinding down of self-respect, until conversion becomes the only option--all these are vividly described by Nasreen.

Roberts shows that all these characteristics of the Bangladesh situation are not specific to it, but prevail and have prevailed in all Muslim-dominated countries throughout history, whether Egypt, Turkey or Pakistan, in which all traces of pre-Islamic cultures have for all intents and purposes been entirely wiped out. His point is this: that is exactly what Islam is about.

That was what Mohammad himself did. His dying words, "Let there not be a single Jew or Christian in Arabia." And his followers carried out his will. He himself massacred the Jews of Medina. Since Mohammad's personal example is the essence of Islam, it is hard to see that there is any other way of changing the Islamic mindset other than through a total transformation of the religion. But I have little hope of that.

My personal feelings about Islam were solidified in my university days when I did a little bit of research into the life of Mohammad and Islamic history. I too observed most of the things that Kenneth Roberts talks about, particularly the sharp difference between the Mohammad of Mecca and the one of Medina, and the difference between the Quranic passages coming from each of the two situations.

When Mohammad was banished from Mecca and came to Medina, he came face to face with a large and prosperous Jewish community. In Mecca, he had been promoting himself as a prophet in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but the Jews in Medina would have none of it. They recognized that he had distorted the Biblical stories beyond recognition. Mohammad, before he realized that the only way to rid himself of the problem was to just wipe them out completely, first tried to establish his credentials by promoting a severe form of Talonic law that had long since softened in this Jewish outpost. Do you stone adulterers? Do you cut off the hands of thieves? If you don't follow the Mosaic law, then what kind of Jews are you? Look at me, I do all of that. If you do not recognize me as Allah's prophet, you shall be destroyed.

Islam has a great attachment to its Prophet, to its beginnings. There is no pristine Islam in which love and peace were taught. Roberts is quite right: the prophetic teachings of Mecca were one thing, but the political career of Mohammad in Medina is the real beginnings of Islam, and that is the same as the beginning of Jihad. Peace (dar al-islam) can only come when a country is 100% Muslim. Love is only for Muslim to Muslim. There is no equality of any kafir with a Muslim; the kafir is less than human. That is the teaching of Islam.

Thus when the Muslim president of the Indian National Congress said of Gandhi that no matter how saintly he was, he had to consider even the most immoral Muslim to be better than him, he was not saying anything other than what is the normal, traditional Islamic position. (Can't find the exact reference, sorry.)

In my own talk at Patiala, I talked about tamasic religion. There is no doubt in my mind that Islam is the most tamasic of the major religions on the earth today. It has a Sufi component that displays some of the characteristics of universalism and tolerance, but the dominant Islamic orthodoxy is one that is addicted to intolerance and feeds on the basest elements of the human psyche, and that attitude springs from the Prophet himself and nowhere else.

How Islam can be separated from the example of Mohammad is an uncrackable nut. You would have to separate Islam from all its foundations, and that is obviously not going to happen anytime soon. But when Christopher Hitchens says, "God is NOT great," if he means this God, we have to agree. The God of the tamasic man is, by definition, a false God.

During the meetings, I may have already mentioned, when Sufi scholar Sirajul Islam made some efforts to find possible lights of hope in the black firmament of Islamic intolerance (or as Kenneth Roberts puts it, when speaking of Andalus, "specks of gold, not a gold mine"), he was immediately challenged by the Sikhs present there. I thought that Siraj should be commended for making the effort, for the task is certainly daunting. But the task is doubly daunting for the fact that Muslims may use any conciliatory statements as bait in a bait-and-switch. They will never be able to be Muslims and repudiate the violence and intolerance of the Prophet himself. The duplicity of taqia, the right to dissimulate to further the cause of the faith, is the basis of mistrust.

So where does that leave the Gandhians, or those who believe, hopefully, that through goodness, love and patience, eventually even Muslims will accept a brotherhood of man, in all its variety, instead of an Islamic umma engulfing the globe?

It is said that the Muslims feel that history is on their side and so are patient, able to wait out the kafirs in their quest for world domination. I have to say, no, it is not: the only history that is on the side of ignorance is that of self-destruction. I stand by the Gandhian ideal. The Muslims are not the less human for their misguided doctrine of Jihad. Gandhi was right to say that we must constantly appeal to their better side, to the side that, despite all the indoctrination, knows that the goals of universal love, peace, empathy are what everyone really seeks.

To Prof. Islam, I can only say, may there be a thousand more like you. If you can make your fellows believe that their religion is one of love and peace, and act upon it, then you are truly a saint and a prophet.


Anonymous said…
You said it perfectly prabhu: Islam from its inception is a religion of self-destruction. Possibly the greatest threat to humanity right now, even greater than economic imperalism.

The neo-atheism movement was a reaction to Islam particularly. Such god indeed is not great.
Lajjeshwari said…
Islam is no different than the other Abrahamic religions, which arose out of tribal warfare. Jews and Christians also extracted more taxes from non-co-religionists during political reigns around the world. That is one reason why back in the day many Jews in Europe converted to Christianity, to save taxes.

I have a theory about religions that grow out of harsh, desert climates and those that grow out of lush, naturally abundant environments, but I won't go into that here.

Dr. Islam's impulse response to attack the "character" of Nasreen is a typical Desi response based on growing up in a shame-based culture. "Lajja" indeed!

You cannot believe the amount of "really smart" Desis I've encountered, with multiple degrees and the whole nine yards, who nonethelesss have the analytical depth and naivity of a small child when it comes stuff like that.

Desis are very "image conscious". It is not important whether a thing happened or not, what is important to them is how it "looks" to the world.

Dr. Islam was ashamed (lajja!) that Nasreen made Bangladesh "look bad" to the rest of the world.

This is a 100% shuddha Desi response, I tell you! I swear it's genetic.

Moving on. If you are still in the mood for some cringe, check out Dr. Zakir Naik on youtube. He is the brainchild behind Maharastra's "Peace TV" and fancies himself a sort of "renaissance Muslim" when it comes "knowledge" about various world religions and how they all predict the Prophet Mohammed. LOL!

Low IQ Indian Muslims call him a "scholar" of the Vedas and other Hindu texts, which of course, all point to Islam.

He is a master of the great pan-Desi art of very rapidly rattling off shlokas and verses in a loud and authoritative tone so as to give the impression of actually knowing something and making a point.

His "debates" wherein he "defeats" Christians and Hindus are truly "enlightening".

Watch a few of the videos and your mind will be boggled. If you can bear his accent.


2. Here is speaking in Urdu/Hindi about Taslima's and Salman Rushdie's books

3. Zakir Naik with Hindus

4. With regards to the other Abrahamic faiths

I tell you I can't make this sh*t up! LOL

Moving on to another mind boggler...

Just last week Deepak Chopra had a "debate" with 2 atheist scientists on ABC's Nightline Face-Off. Theme: Does God Have a Future?

All I have to say on that is thank god (pun intended) Raganuga Bhakti does not require me to think Krishna is god, otherwise I'd have to jump fence after watching this
Anonymous said…
According to the Bhavisya Puran Mahamada is the Tripura demon, some say. The prophet of peace and savages who worship him destroyed India. they boiled hindu priests in oil. how much will the hindus tolerate?
They want Israel, they want America, Britain. What they need is a big atom bomb to wipe them out.
Jagadananda Das said…
By the way, as I was writing these words, word of the Moscow metro bombing, which killed 40 people, came on the news. As if to confirm my thoughts.
Jagadananda Das said…
I was a bit leery of this post because I knew it would be likely to attract highly charged anti-Islamic comments. I don't usually censor comments on this site, but I am going to ask you to write carefully.

By this I mean, don't just jot down some diatribe against Islam. I don't want this blog to start looking like RedState. If you want to say something, then write it carefully.
Anonymous said…
I am very c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y going to state that Islam is dangerous.
Freedom of Expression said…
I just received an email from a vaishnava with an attached forward from some Hindu group in India who wants me to "protest" the cute animation "Sita Sings the Blues" by Nina Paley, which I have been enjoying for a few years now.

Remember the ransacking of an educational institute in India over M.F. Husein's art?

These right-wing Hindu groups are becoming just as uptight as the Muslims who protested (sometimes violently) the Danish cartoons.

Here's my view on all that bukwus;
Jagadananda Das said…
The thing is that rajas produces rajas and tamas produces tamas. The response, as far as possible, is to hold your transcendental ground.
Anonymous said…
we can't allow them to boil you in oil Ghee ok.
Anonymous said…
ok, I'm a hindu. i plead dont boil me in oil. fry me in ghee.
Tirath Singh Nirmala said…

I have to say I'm surprised by this article. I've always found your blog refreshing, insightful and inspiring, despite the great differences with my own samprdaik background.

On this topic I think you need to read some Ibn al'Arabi, Rumi, Hafiz, Shia literature and get a feel for how influential the more adhyatamic reading of Islam is 'on the ground' in both the Sunni and Shia worlds before making such vast generalisations.
Jagadananda Das said…
If Muslims follow the examples of those you mention, there is no doubt truth to what you say. Unfortunately, they don't.

One of the good things about human nature is that it is capable of finding the good or transforming even the bad. That is the case with Sufism. The understanding of Jihad as personal struggle over the idea of war of annihilation with the non-believer, which is unfortunately the practical example set by the Prophet himself, is a definite improvement. May everyone follow the Sufi model.

That is what I am saying.
Jagadananda Das said…
And, by the way, Nirmalji, thank you for your kind comments.
Anonymous said…
Dr. Singh,
You don't boycott walmart? You should. Don't think your choices in this world are not connected with your Ishtadevata. Don't buy food ingredients for your deities at walmart. Seek a less demoniac source. Jai Radhe!
Anonymous said…
Jagat, you still alive? Haven't read anything of yours for a while now...
gogo vaisnava and dancer said…

Where are you ?
Your blog is the only vaisnava blog I still read occasionally.

So an occasional thought of yours is appreciated.
Anonymous said…
You Hindus should look at your own ugly past and how you persecuted Buddhists in unspeakable ways as well as your own women.
Anonymous said…
Uh... care to elaborate?
Anonymous said…
Gosh its been a month whats going on here?
Anonymous said…
Jagat, thanks for your thoughts and opinions. You have pointed to some very great problems in Islam.

Here is my thoughts. I practice Sufism, within the context of Islam (the process of surrender). During my years as a Hare Krsna, it was clearly taught that Sufism is Mayavadi, in that the followers wish to God. How can this be? La Iaha Illah (there is no other God but Allah). Jesus was not God, nor the Prophet. Please refer to the 3rd last verse of Quran. We get caught in philosophical terminology.

Islam from a sufi context is very clear, there is no compulsion in religion, infact Quran says each must choose, and to not disturb those who differ (aspiring them to offences). Yes the Medina period is political, very clear in the Gita too - each must perform their duty? Where is the example of a pure devotee in this world, without a body?

So, we have action performed in time and place, in Arabia, a warlord people. Gita, a mighty war too. What is the message for today? Each person has a world, there are many worlds. Submission to God, is an ego founded correctly. If the muslim continues the path sincerely there will be no need for conflict, as the presence of such a saint will be enough to impress souls toward 'saranagati'. Where is such a saint today?

The world is embroiled in hatred, war, gross materialism, inflated egos...and a profundity of information like Professor Islam or even fanatical forms of hindu nationalism. The hard concrete reality of this material plane is we are called to action. We cannot be inert. So the call of Allah is to move into the 'heart'. The place of buddhi (devotional action) which in due course (and infact always) is under the direction of the Unseen. Yes , by God's mercy the righteous may get glimpses of the Unseen. But the Absolute (Qui huwallahu Ahad. Surah Number 112) is the only complete knower?

We are called to the heart. Sufism is simply a process to cultivate and gentlemans and gentle womans heart. Prabhupada said the same thing, he wished to create gentleman.

We are to touch nothing of the material world and claim it as our own. Instead we call upon mercy, and ask to be guided to the straight path, not the path of those who have erred or a caught in wrath (opening surah).

Islam is astray, and it awaits the Mahdi, supported by Prophet Jesus. Is this only an internal mystical occurrence, or is the realized atma a manifester of its won world? According to Vedanta Sutra such is the atma? Inconceivable diversity (worlds). So where is our Unity? We have proven we lack social skills, as a violent humanity, do we have communion? Are a global community? Where are we heading?

Lets move toward the heart Jagat. Anything else in this world is speculation (in relation to time and place). If we can glimpse sat-cid-ananda, maybe we have been granted a sanction of responsability within the heart.

Thanks for reading.
Jagadananda Das said…
I have just been rereading this post and comments after a couple of encounters with Muslims on Facebook. The came, coincidentally, as I have been preparing for another of these annual conferences on religious dialog at Punjab University.

This conference is partly sponsored by Swami Veda Bharati, who is a firm believer in the underlying unity of all humankind and a striver for world peace through meditation and goodness. In 2010, a Sufi-Yogi conference was held at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama with Sufi leaders, men and women, from Egypt, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India.

This conference was conducted in a spirit of great love and hope. If Muslims and Hindus can see beyond the externals of religion to find the common ground of spirituality, then what greater hope is there for humankind?

My question in this article was to simultaneously show appreciation for the pious proposals shown by Prof. Islam and at the same time show how it is not easy.

The fact that it is not easy is based in this: Spiritual life starts with self-examination. The problem with religion is that it strengthens ego identification with the religious group. You may be ready to examine your own personal flaws, but because of your identification with the guru or prophet, you become willing to ignore other wrongs when they are done in his or their name.

This phenomenon plays out again and again and again in human history. It can happen religiously, but it also happens politically, where there are charismatic dictatorships and so on. Islam has the unfortunate distinction of combining the religious with the political to an extent that is present in no other religion.

Anyway.... Jai Shri Radhe.

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