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Instead of presenting a formal paper I would like to take up some of the questions that were raised by a number of participants here. One observation that was made was that Maulana Azad, Tagore and others were individual humanists and that this was not true of a vast majority of the people or the community as a whole. I would like to say that Maulana Azad of course was a very outstanding person, yet what he said is not entirely new. There are roots in the tradition, which are very old. While the worldview, in Islam, in Christianity or in Hinduism is a unified whole, there are plural versions that may be called layers of different interpretations. There are many mansions in every house. So it is not correct to say that the tradition or the original Quran is different and it is only Maulana Azad’s genius, which has led him to this position. I would like to share with you two anecdotes that are very well known among Muslims. One is the anecdote of Moses and the shepherd. It is one of the greatest anecdotal stories in world literature. Dr. Radhakrishnan in his book Commentary on the Principal Upanisads has given such anecdotes from Islam and other religions. Briefly the story is this:

Moses was walking on the foothills in the afternoon and he found a shepherd praying to God, and he was praying to God as if God were a person. The shepherd was saying, ‘If I find you I will do this, I will do that, I will massage your body and apply oil,’ etcetera. When Moses heard this, he said; ‘you have committed blasphemy, you have committed idolatry, because God is no body.’ Then God rebuked Moses in the form of wahi, revelation, and said, ‘I have sent you here not to separate hearts from me. He was in communion with me. After all he was praying to me and do you think that your conception of God is superior to that of the shepherd’s? That is not so.’

The other anecdote is to the same effect. When God calls, the person replies ‘I am here’ and this is called the sound of Labbaik. According to one anecdote the sound of Labbaik started to come from the heavens, that is, the seat of God (Arsh). Instead of Labbaik emanating from Farsh the seat of men, Gabriel heard Labbaik coming from the Arsh. He was perplexed by the fact that God was saying ‘I am Hazir’ or ‘I am present’. So the angel Gabriel went to God and asked him what the matter was. God replied that a very good and pious believer was remembering Him and therefore He was responding. So Gabriel came back and started searching the entire world for the believer, but he did not come across any individual who was really praying to God. So he again went back to God and said, ‘I am sorry. I searched the entire world but I did not come across any individual who was really praying to God.’ So God asked him to go to such and such a place. He went there and found that there was an idol worshipper praying before the idol. So again he went back to God and reported what he had seen. God said, ‘Yes he is the worshipper who is worshipping me and I am responding to him.’

This sort of an approach is a kind of sharing that may be called sharing of religious life-worlds. This is a tradition and an important part of the tradition of Islam as well as of other religions. So it is not a question of Maulana Azad or, let us say, Humayun Kabir being freaks or complete mutations as it were. It is a long process. But the point is that this is not the dominant tradition. The Sufi tradition is not the dominant tradition either. As far as the dominant tradition is concerned I can say that it is the tradition, which creates trouble, and which leads to conflicts. And therefore, the crux of the matter is how one can make the Sufi tradition or the tradition which we think is correct, dominant. That is of course, an educational and cultural matter, and to some extent a political matter, as well.

Another comment made was that the real Islam is the Islam of the Quran and not the Islam of humanists like Maulana Azad and others and that real Islam is somehow militant, it has lead to bloodshed, etcetera. Again I would submit very respectfully, not as an apologist but as a student of Islam, that this is not the case. The real Islam is to be found in the Quran and not in subsequent actions or events. This sort of dichotomy exists in all religions, in Christianity also for example. What is real Christianity? What was the message of Christ? And what was the actual code of conduct or behavior of the Christians, once they acquired political power? So the trouble is that the history of Islam and Christianity in this regard is very different. Islam acquired political power after thirteen years in Mecca and five years in Medina, after roughly eighteen or nineteen years. Then the Prophet died ten years after his migration to Mecca. So, let us say, in twenty years Islam became a politically established religion. But Christianity took three centuries to do this. If you compare the behavior of Christianity after its establishment, you find a remarkable similarity in terms of persecutions in the course of the search for power. You find the same thing in the Sikh religion also. But if you want to find out the truth, about the teachings of Islam, the teachings of Christianity and the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib then you have to look at the scriptures.

Now I would like to pass on to some general remarks arising out of Fr. Troll’s presentation. He posed the question of sharing of alternative life-worlds. I would like to confine myself to this because it is a fundamental question.

My submission is that something more than tolerance is involved in a positive sharing and enjoying of an alternative world-view. It requires a certain conception of religious truth. It requires a whole philosophical, analytical and meta-philosophical background. If you think that religious truths are just like other propositions and are to be viewed in the logic of truth or falsehood, then I don’t agree with you. If I think Islam is true in the sense of Aristotelian logic, and Christianity is false, how can I enjoy different world-views? A lot of intellectual preparation has to go into it and that of course is not easy. But those intellectuals, philosophers or musicians, who are capable of doing it, have somehow realized the meaning of ‘non-propositional’ truth.

Here I would like to remind my friends of a well-known event which happened in 1923 and which may not be known to some of us here. Maulana Mohammad Ali was the Congress President then and Hindu-Muslim unity was at its height. It was just after the Jallianwalla Bagh tragedy and when the Khilafat issue was at its height. A correspondent wrote to Maulana Mohammad Ali and wanted to know the Islamic position with regards to non-Muslims. Maulana Mohammad Ali said that according to the Shariat a non-Muslim, however good he may be, is bound to go to hell, although he may be rewarded for the good works that he had done, he will go to hell nevertheless, and, however superior he may be, morally he is inferior to a Kalmago Musalman because a Muslim who is a Kalmago, who is a believer in Islam, is superior. Having said that he stopped. Obviously it was not Maulana Mohammad Ali’s own view, because at that time he had publicly declared that he was a lieutenant of Gandhi. He said that Gandhiji was his boss. Later, of course, he repudiated Gandhi, Nehru and others, but at that time he was an established leader of both Hindus and Muslims. In spite of that he gave that traditional view, which was not his own view. As a result of this there was a hue and cry in the Indian press. Imagine Gandhi being regarded as inferior to a very immoral type of Muslim who was a Kalmago Musalman.

The Congress session was about to meet after a few weeks, and Mahavir Tyagi told Gandhiji that he would like to pass a vote of ‘no-confidence’ against the Congress President. Gandhiji tried to dissuade Mahavir Tyagi. But Mahavir Tyagi said that he was very indignant and the people were very indignant and they would not rest content without passing a ‘no-confidence’ motion. Naturally at that time it would have meant a great disturbance and commotion and it would really have made a breach in the platform of Hindu-Muslim unity. So Gandhiji said, ‘Tyagi, am I your leader?’ Tyagi said, ‘Yes, of course’. Gandhiji said, ‘I order you not to do this’. And Tyagi withdrew the motion. Gandhiji said that Maulana Mohammad Ali was a friend, and he knew he had committed a mistake but he would like to forgive him. Now this was known to many people close to Gandhiji, but not everyone knew this and some distorted versions appeared in the papers. So it needs a tremendous amount of education, tolerance, and maturity really to share other world-views.

Turning to the question of divine guidance in Islam I must say that this is not restricted to Islam alone. The Quran is not the only book. Every country, every nation, every religion has had its prophets. Secondly, every scripture, every book has become corrupted, including the Bible, the Torah, and for that matter all scriptures. While details have not been mentioned in the Quran it has been repeatedly said that in every age and in every country, the books have been corrupted, but the Quran is the only exception. The Quran is retained in its pre form; it is infallible; it is perfect and it is the last. This is a very important feature of Islamic consciousness. What happened in Pakistan for example was that the Ahmadiyas were declared as non-Muslims. Although Mr. Bhutto, who was the Prime Minister at that time, was personally liberal, he succumbed to political forces and these people were declared non-Muslims. Even the noble prizewinner Professor Abdus Salam, the great physicist, is regarded as a non-Muslim, although he is a citizen of Pakistan.

The Quran is infallible, but it is not possible to understand it unless its abstract teachings are amplified by what the Prophet said. The Quran is the perfect word of God, uncorrupted, uncontaminated and the Prophet is the last messenger of God. He is also perfect, and in some weak sense, he is also infallible. Islamic piety covers the total code of conduct and this means that religion and politics cannot be separated and ought not to be separated. The same sort of outlook is developing among the Sikhs today and there are signs of the same tragedy.

There is also the concept of exclusive salvation, which I have already mentioned in the Gandhian anecdote. There are the features of the dominant view and Maulana Azad, Sir Syed, and many other liberals have repudiated some of these. In my work Quest for Islam I have given my own interpretation of Islam. I do not wish to repeat what I have said there.

I now come to the last point. Some of the things in Islam are not acceptable to me at all. For example the unity of the Church and the State is not acceptable to me and the concept of exclusive salvation is also not acceptable to me. But what is to be done? Inside the pale of Islam, either I could repudiate concepts I do not agree with or I could try to reconstruct them, and I for one stand for reconstruction. This has happened in all religions. Gandhi tried to reconstruct Hinduism. The Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, etcetera, have tried to do the same thing. In Christianity also you have so many great movements. I am also reminded of Russell who always took great pride in not being a Christian. I think what is important is a perfect tolerance for each other as human beings. I know that there are a good number of my Hindu friends who say that they are not Hindus and they tell me that I am not a Muslim. They refuse to label themselves Hindus and they also refuse to label me as a Muslim. I reply that it is up to them to choose their own formulations.

What is the role that a non-Muslim can play here? I think that he can play a very fine and constructive role by trying to be sympathetic and by not trying to criticize from a hostile point of view, but to criticize from a sympathetic point of view.

I must confess that the idea of conversion has not appealed to me at all. To think that an entire people could be converted or ought to be converted is a concept of practical invalidity, which has been shown in the course of world history. I get along very well indeed with everyone provided I find that the person, whether he be a missionary, or a scholar or a Marxist, or an economist, is authentic and sincere. I think the concept of inter-religious dialogue, is most welcome. We have to look at religions form a functional point of view and not from a dogmatic point of view. From that point of view I think Communism today is functionally a religion.

Schisms, developments in China and India and elsewhere, and the changes that are taking place in Russia, the liberalization and all that have to be included in this exercise of inter-religious dialogue. Otherwise, if you speak only in terms of religious people, God’s people on the one hand and the Devil’s people on the other, that is no dialogue. It is not an inter-religious dialogue, because an inter-religious dialogue is only possible when we give an extended meaning to the concept of religion. I know this is very difficult but it has to be attempted if man is to survive.

Sharing of Religious Life-Worlds
BY Jamal Khwaja

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Jamal Khwaja studied Philosophy in India & Europe. He was elected to the Indian Parliament in 1957. He retired as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Aligarh Muslim University. He is the author of seven major books. 

Khwaja’s work seeks to answer three inter-related questions: Firstly, What does it mean to be an authentic Muslim? Secondly, How should a believer understand and interpret the Holy Quran in the 21st century?  And finally, What is the role of Islam in a pluralistic society? 

Khwaja believes in judiciously creative modernization rooted in the Quran and firmly opposes shallow, unprincipled imitation of the West. His mission is to stimulate serious rethinking and informed dialog between tradition and modernity in Islam. 

Khwaja’s work is the definitive contemporary discussion regarding the collision of Islam and Modernity. Readers of his work will be in turn, informed, inspired, and intellectually liberated.