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Shared spaces of Islam and Hinduism
By Francois Gautier

At a time when Hindus and Muslims have again started killing each other; when mistrust, misunderstanding and hate stalk the two communities; it is imperative that Islam and Hinduism learn at last to live together. There is no other solution: Hindus cannot wish away the 130 million Muslim minority; and the followers of Islam in India cannot ignore forever the feelings of the majority community, who after all total 850 million strong in India and 1.1 billion worldwide. Kashmir is an unsolvable problem, as neither Pakistan, nor India, are ready to surrender their claims, and for obvious reasons. Ayodhya remains an equally inextricable dilemma, because it has been politicised and communalised so much by political parties, that nobody is willing to take the first step. But then, how to bridge the apparently immense gap between Islam and Hinduism ?

On the surface, you cannot find two more dissimilar religions: The first is a monotheistic faith which proclaims that Allah is the only God and that believers of all other religions are to be treated as "infidels"; the second swears by polytheism and adores thirty three million Gods and Goddesses. Hindus face East to pray; Muslims turn to the West. Hindus write from left to right; Muslims from right to left. Hindus love the colour saffron, Muslims dote on green. While Muslims are regarded as Mlechhas (unholy) by Hindus, Muslims consider Hindus Kafirs (infidels). Whereas the Quran condemns idolaters to Hell and grants permission to the faithful to kill infidels, Hindus are sitting and waiting for the Kalki Avatar to redeem the world of Mlechhas. Because of these differences, both these creeds have been at loggerhead for centuries and the Muslim invasions of India have been exceptionally bloody. Even today, Islam and Hinduism collide in Kashmir, in Ayodhya, or in the wars between Pakistan and India. 

Yet, unknown to both Muslims and Hindus, there exists striking similarities between Islam and Hinduism. In a just released book, Hinduism and Islam, the Common Thread (Vyakti Vikas Kendra, Bangalore, vvkpress@vsnl.com) Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the worldwide Art of Living movement, highlights the fact that contrary to common belief, Hinduism is as monotheistic in its creed as Islam. 'Advaita', for instance, keeps speaking about non-dual monotheism, while the Bhagavad Gita says: "Eko devah sarva Bhutantaratma" (one God who dwells in everybody). Or elsewhere: "All the 33 crore devi devtas are nothing but the rays of one Paramatma (the Supreme Being)". We also find that in Hinduism one God is given 108 names, or sometimes even 1008 names ("Sahastranaama"); in the same way, Islam believes in one God who is vast and formless and He also is addressed by 99 other names.

It is true that Islam abhors the worshipping of God in stones or images and that this has been the prime motivation for Arabs and other Muslims to destroy so many Hindu temples and statues in India from the 7th Century onwards. But do Muslims know that many Hindus, at the end of a puja, say:"Hritpadma karnikaa madhye shivena saha sundari; Pravishadvam mahadevi sarvai aavarnai saha" (You return back to my heart from the idol). Though Islam strictly adheres to the formless (nirakar), it has nevertheless recognised the importance of the Form and the Symbol, symbolised by the Kaaba of Mecca; honouring it is worshipping the Formless through the Form (sagun saakar). Offerings like Chaddar at the Dargah is also a common traditional practice among Hindus, who like offering Chunni to the Mother Divine in the temple. More important even, Namaaz comes from two Sanskrit words: Nama (to worship) and Yaja (to unite with God.) Vajrasana (a yogic posture) is an essential part of the Namaaz, which is prescribed five times daily in the Quran. Friday, the holiest day for Muslims, is as well the holy day for Hindus to worship of the Mother Divine (the Rahukal puja or the noon puja on Friday is considered very auspicious by Hindus). "The 30 days of prayer and fasting", says again Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, "is akin to the Mandala puja and the name of the Islamic month of Ramadan comes from the Sanskrit word Rama-dhyan. Dhyan means to meditate and Ram in Sanskrit means 'the one who shines in the heart'. Thus Ramadan refers to a time to meditate on God. Fasts are also associated with Vedic worship, and Islam has retained that fasting and praying tradition for Ramadan".

It is also very important to note that in the Hindu tradition, although the moon and stars are revered, it is the sun that predominates, since it was a source of comfort in the icy Himalayas, the cradle of Hinduism. In the Arabian desert, it was the moon and stars that gave comfort, while the harsh sun was hostile; hence the moon and the stars were chosen as the symbols of serenity and divinity (Shiva is also known as Chandrashekhara-one who has the crescent moon for a crown). In a similar manner, in India, it was the saffron colour which stood out in the greenery of the Gangetic plains, whereas green was chosen by the Arabs, as it was seen from far in the yellow deserts and this is why today, green adorns many Islamic flags. Again, in the Hindu tradition the first born of God is Brahma and his wife is Saraswati; the first born of God in Islam is known as Abraham (a-Brahma) and his wife is Sara. The Hindus have a practice of chanting mantras on the beads of the japamala; the Muslims too chant the 99 names of Allah on the 99 beads of their rosary.

Finally, Mecca was also a holy place for Hindus. The ancient Vedic scripture Harihareshwar Mahatmya mentions that Lord Vishnu's footprints are consecrated at three holy sites, namely Gaya, Mecca and Shukla Teertha: "Ekam Padam Gayayantu MAKKAYAANTU Dwitiyakam Tritiyam Sthapitam Divyam Muktyai Shuklasya Sannidhau". Though Islam prohibits idol worship, the black Kaaba stone is held sacred and holy and is called "Hajre Aswad" from the Sanskrit word Sanghey Ashweta: Non-white stone (The Shiva Linga is also called Sanghey Ashweta). The pedestal Maqam-E-Ibrahim at the centre of the Kaaba, is octagonal in shape. In Hinduism, the pedestal of Brahma the creator is also octagonal in shape. Just as in Hinduism, the custom of circumambulating (Pradakshina) the Deity is practiced at the Kaaba also. The pilgrims go around the entire building (Kaaba) seven times in the anticlockwise direction.

We could go on forever and show more remarkable parallels between Islam and Hinduism. But it is best to say that it is unfortunate that Hindus have forgotten that all Muslims are their brothers and sisters and that only their ways of worship are different. Muslims, in turn, have completely blanked out the fact that their forefathers were Hindus once upon a time-even Afghanistan and Arabia were part of Hindu kingdoms before the advent of Christ-so they have every right to be proud of Vedic culture; they should not disown Hindu traditions. Thus, Hindus and Muslims spring from the same family and must respect each other more and more, so that this senseless clash of religion, which in turn leads to a clash of civilisations, slowly fades away.



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