Islamic monotheism is not under threat

A Faizur Rahman
First Published : 11 Nov 2009 11:41:00 PM IST
Last Updated : 11 Nov 2009 02:05:10 PM IST

In his article How did it turn unsafe? (TNIE, November 9) S Gurumurthy wants to know “what is so special about Islamic monotheism that singing Vande Mataram minimises the importance of only the Islamic God and not the gods of other monotheistic faiths?” He wonders why Muslims should feel threatened when Christians and Sikhs are not opposed to the song.

Before we proceed further, a glance at the recent history of this controversy would be in order. It started in 2006 when the then HRD minister Arjun Singh called for the singing of Vande Mataram in schools across India on September 7 that year to mark its centenary. Although he later clarified that singing would be voluntary, the BJP went ahead and issued its own fatwa asking all the states ruled by it to make the singing of the song compulsory in all schools, including madrasas.

It was as a legitimate reaction to this extra-constitutional attitude that Deoband issued a fatwa against singing the national song, not because Islamic monotheism became suddenly ‘unsafe’ from Vande Mataram. A few days ago RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in an interview said all Indians must sing this song. Gurumurthy’s feigned ignorance of the circumstances that led to the Deoband fatwa stands exposed.

He is also wrong in his assertion that the Shiromoni Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in 2007 ordered Vande Mataram sung in its schools. Indeed, the SGPC asked its schools not to sing the song as it went against their religion. SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar, quoted by Gurumurthy, said; “Vande Mataram will not be sung in SGPC-run schools. It’s a conspiracy to extend communalism throughout the nation.”

What Makkar later expressed was only his inability to prevent Sikhs from singing the song. There seems to be no record of his praising the song as claimed by Gurumurthy.

Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee president Harvindar Singh Sarna said on September 6, 2006; “Vande Mataram would not be sung in the DSGMC-run educational institutions tomorrow on its first centenary as it is against the tenets, principles and philosophy of Sikhism.” He also said that it had been rejected by veteran Akali leaders Baba Kharak Singh and Master Tara Singh during the freedom struggle.

On September 8, 2008, the Punjab Newsline reported that Sikh and Christian institutions boycotted the singing of Vande Mataram in Punjab.

In quoting Fr Cyprian Kullu, Gurumurthy reproduced only a part of his statement. In the other part Kullu censured the Hindu extremists saying, “It is ironic that Muslim clerics issued fatwas that singing the song would be an act of desecration. But equally ridiculous is the stand of some Hindu organisations describing as anti-national those who refuse to sing the song. This is a frivolous thing. India is a democratic country and democracy reveres individual freedoms.”

Also, Gurumurthy omitted mentioning the views of the author of our National Anthem, Rabindranath Tagore. In a letter to Subhash Chandra Bose in 1937, he wrote: “…. no Mussulman (Muslim), Christians and Arya Samajis can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ (the nation)…The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.” (Letter 314, Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, edited by K Datta and A Robinson, Cambridge University Press)

Therefore, it is not the question of the ‘Islamic God’ being ‘minimised’ by singing Vande Mataram. The Deoband fatwa should be seen as a kind of democratic protest, a refusal by the patriotic Muslim minority of India to be browbeaten by the Hindutva brigade (which does not enjoy the support of the majority of the Hindus) into surrendering their religious freedom. The Muslim position is more legal than theological. They have neither ridiculed Vande Mataram nor condemned it. They only want Hindus to respect their religious sentiments. Had Gurumurthy waited a day before publishing his article he would have had the benefit of the counsel of one of our top legal brains, Soli Sorabjee. In his Soliloquies ‘Contaminated mindset is genesis of bombers’ (TNIE, November 9), Sorabjee writes, “The legal position is that Muslims who because of their conscientious religious belief refuse to sing Vande Mataram cannot be forced to do so nor can they be penalised for their abstention. What is the rationale of the Supreme Court judgment? In the words of celebrated Justice Chinnappa Reddy: “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution practises tolerance; let us not dilute it”.”

It has become a sort of tradition for Gurumurthy to malign Islam at the slightest provocation. Obviously he is not aware that Swami Vivekananda, the greatest proponent of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) after Adi Sankara, tried to bring about reconciliation between Hinduism and Islamic monotheism which coincides with the non-dualism of Advaita.

On June 10, 1898, in a letter written from Almora to his friend Mohammed Sarfaraz Hussain Vivekananda proclaimed; “I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind”… “For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope. I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.” (Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, page 379-380). Is Gurumurthy listening?

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