Did Gandhi truly believe in the equality of religions, or did he believe in the superiority of his own path?
Advising Hindus to let Muslims kill them was not the only message given during Partition. In the same breath, Gandhi told Hindus to consider all the religions as one. Years earlier, he had explained his position that “all the great religions are fundamentally equal. We must have the innate respect for other religions as we have for our own.1” This was at the core of his religious philosophy, a principle he spent his whole life preaching, yet it was having no effect on the masses fighting each other during the turmoil of Partition. If only they were to realize the inherent equality of their religions, then there would be no reason for strife:
If the people of different religions grasp the real significance of their own religion, they will never hate the people of any religion other than their own. As Jallaluddin Rumi has said, or as Shri Krishna said to Arjun, there are many rivers, and they appear different from one another, but they all meet in the same ocean. In the same manner, there may be many religions, but the true aim of all is the same, and that is to help one to see Khuda or Ishwar. Hence, if we look to the aim, there is no difference among religions. 2
While it may be true that all religions have a similar general aim for the individual - mainly a state of existence higher than man’s current state – it is not true that all religions have the same concept of what this higher state constitutes. The Islamic goal for its followers is not to - like the Hindu goal - become one with Allah, it is to ‘see’ him after ascending to heaven (indicating an inherent division between human and God), a place full of things found in the earthly human life:
And hath awarded them for all that they endured, a Garden and silk attire; Reclining in the (Garden) on raised thrones, they will see there neither the sun's (excessive heat) nor (the moon's) excessive cold. And the shades of the (Garden) will come low over them, and the bunches (of fruit), there, will hang low in humility. And there shall be made to go round about them vessels of silver and goblets which are of glass…Upon them shall be garments of fine green silk and thick silk interwoven with gold, and they shall be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord shall make them drink a pure drink. (And it will be said unto them): Lo! this is a reward for you. Your endeavour (upon earth) hath found acceptance. (Quran 76:12-22)
In Hinduism, these earthly things (within the heavenly realms) were not considered the ultimate spiritual aim (Hinduism has its heaven, a higher yet temporal state, that the soul might reach), for the Soul ascending to the supreme and eternal state of being was not to find himself dressed in the finest silk; such lush descriptions were considered material symbols of the highest state of consciousness, Brahman. The Brahman Consciousness, the supreme state of Satchitananda, “Conscious neither internally nor externally, Nor either ways, neither ordinary consciousness, Nor the greater and the deeper consciousness, Invisible, otherworldly, incomprehensible, Without qualities, beyond all thoughts, Indescribable, the unified soul in essence, Peaceful, auspicious, without duality, 3” cannot adequately be described by the human intelligence.
Thus it can be said – if we are to compare the Paradise of Islam to Brahman – that if the aim for a higher state is shared, Paradise remains an image of earth, while Brahman has the dual aspect of transcending earth, “boundless, intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and odorless, 4” even as he upholds all of Earth’s processes, since “all worlds are contained in Him and none can pass beyond. This, verily, is That. 5” Brahman “is inside all this and It is outside all this,” and the wise “beholds all beings in the Self, and the Self in all beings. 6” The Self is not to be obtained through an Islamic style Day of Judgement after death, with specific believers chosen whilst perceived sinners and unbelievers descend into a horrific hell. 7 No, the Self can be obtained within life through spiritual techniques including but not limited to proper detachment from the sense objects and Egoistic actions and thought, through devotion, and a variety of other techniques used singularly or in combination. Of course, the Self can be obtained upon leaving the body, but the principles to be followed while in the material world remain the same, and those who do not obtain the Self are returned to the world in different forms or bodies.
Gandhi’s inability to discriminate between the spiritual goals of the two religions did not in itself bother Hindus during partition. Rather, his continuous recitation from the Quran during prayer meetings disturbed Hindus enough for them to protest. The Quran being a holy text of a different religion was not the reason behind the protest; instead it was the antagonistic attitude the book displays towards the Hindu faith:
Today I have received a long letter from the Maharashtrian lady. She has complained in her letter that the volunteers did not act properly in stopping her. She has also said that the Koran ordains the killing of non-Muslims and hence there should be no recitation from the Koran. I have read the Koran and I found nothing of the kind in it. On the contrary the Koran lays down that one should have love for non-Muslims as well. If those who read the Koran do not obey its teachings, how can we blame the Koran? I utter every word with the fear of God in my heart. I am pained to find that the lady insists on writing something about which she has no knowledge. Why does she believe that such and such a thing is written in the Koran because somebody says so? 8 - (said Gandhi)
Gandhi must not have read – or chose to ignore – sizeable parts of the Koran, because the lady in question was correct in her statement; it was not hearsay that led her to write. The Quran, more so the Hadiths, contain numerous passages where Muslims are asked to fight and slaughter the nonbelievers. For instance, the believers are told that “when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.” (Quran 9:005) Muslims are told to fight the unbeliever until they are in a state of subjugation to Islam and are paying a tax for their disbelief:
Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. Quran 9:029
The punishment for unbelievers who wage war with Muslims is of a brutal kind; “I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”(Quran 8:012) The prophet is told to be unmerciful against the unbelievers, the destined inhabitants of hell: “O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.” (Quran 9:73)
Gandhi, perhaps feeling less secure in his pronouncements, two days later admitted to consulting a couple of Muslims to verify his belief in the friendliness of the Quran: “I have read the Koran and I do not share the lady's belief that the Koran ordains the killing of the infidels. I consulted Badshah Khan and Abdus Samad Khan who recited the Koranic passages so beautifully today and they also confirmed that the Koran did not ordain the killing of non-Muslims. No Bihari Muslim told me that since I was a nonbeliever they would kill me. Nor did the Maulvis in Noakhali say any such thing. On the contrary, they allowed the Ramdhun to the accompaniment of the dholak. All that the Koran says is that an infidel would be answerable to God. But God would demand an explanation from everyone, even from a Muslim. ...There is nothing in which good and bad are not mixed up. Why, our Manusmriti talks of pouring molten lead into the ears of untouchables! But I would say that that is not the true teaching of our scriptures. Tulsidas gives the essence of all Shastras in his statement that compassion is the root of all religions. No religion teaches us to kill anyone.” 9
Did Gandhi – or does anyone else – truly expect a Muslim to have told him directly that Islam requires him to be killed? Especially when we consider that Gandhi was traveling the country urging Hindus to let Muslims kill them. Why would they want such an ally to gain an accurate understanding of Islam? However, even while lying to Gandhi, they did hint at the truth. For what they conveniently forgot to mention - in relation to unbelievers being answerable to God - that Allah’s ‘answer’ to such disbelief was an eternal punishment, as “they who deny Our revelations and scorn them - each are rightful owners of the Fire; they will abide therein.” (Quran 7:036) Unbelievers are despicable in the eyes of Allah, doomed to hell, for "those who disbelieve from among the followers of the Book and the polytheists shall be in the fire of hell, abiding therein; they are the worst of men.” (Quran 98:006) Thus if the common Muslim is indeed answerable to Allah, with punishment determined by the content of his life and the strength of his belief, the outcome for the unbeliever is predetermined to be severe.
Gandhi should have been aware of the Quran’s severity, for if he was able to describe the content of Manusmriti (a book of man-made laws pertaining to a particular time and place, not the final and binding revelations of the Divine the Quran is considered to be), then how did he miss the following explicit verse from the Quran, describing punishment awaiting the unbeliever in a fashion almost verbatim to the section of the Manusmriti referenced?
These twain (the believers and the disbelievers) are two opponents who contend concerning their Lord. But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, With it shall be melted what is in their bellies and (their) skins as well. And for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever they will desire to go forth from it, from grief, they shall be turned back into it, and taste the chastisement of burning. Quran 22:19-22
To partially answer why Gandhi never commented on such blatant cruelty is again to realize that regardless the verbal commitment to all religions being equal, Gandhi maintained different standards for the followers of each faith. Hinduism was to be placed under intense scrutiny for things overlooked in Islam. And Hindus were to give everything they could, even their lives, to Muslims. After all, Hindus were the majority and assuredly the function of a majority is to become slaves to the minority, giving without receiving, following the Sermon on the Mount. Such giving without receiving constituted ‘mutual generosity’ in the luminous mind of Gandhi!
My personal view is that, since numerically Hindus are in a great majority, and are, as they themselves believe, better-placed educationally, they should cheerfully concede to their Muslim brethren the utmost they can. As a satyagrahi, I am emphatically of the view that the Hindus should give to the Muslims whatever they ask for, and willingly accept whatever sacrifice this may involve. Unity will be brought about only through such mutual generosity. If the Hindus and Muslims observe, in their dealings with one another, the same principles that govern the relations of blood-brothers, there will be unbroken harmony [between the two communities], and then alone will India prosper. 10 - (said Gandhi)
Sensitive to the needs of the minority Muslims, Gandhi was averse to do anything to make them the least upset. So what if their religion demanded the execution of Hindus, and that Muslims were presently following such orders? Muslims were a minority, and it was the duty of Hindus to blindly accept the Quran as a docile text, never to associate it as the foundation behind killings and rapes of Hindus, let alone give any sort of violent response. Of course, many Hindus did not agree that the Quran, a book commanding the deaths of polytheists such as Hindus, ought to be read in Temples. Throughout partition protests were made against Gandhi’s recitation of Quranic verses, including one man who was physically led away during a nonviolent protest:
Today also a Brahmin objected to the recitation from the Koran, but the prayer continued. Two young men from the audience took him by the arms, made him sit down and tried to silence him. This created some disturbance in the meeting. When the police came in to take him away Gandhiji said: Please, constable, don’t take him away. let him sit where he is. Please only see that he does not create any more trouble. The recitation from the Koran is already over. Now we shall have some bhajans provide this gentlemen allows it. If he does not, we shall have no bhajans for the day. At this that Brahmin gentleman smilingly raised his elbow and said: "Just look, in this scuffle, I sustained these bruises. Is this your non-violence?" Well, forget about your bleeding. You just tell me whether I should continue the prayer. We shall have bhajans if you say "yes." If you do not agree, we shall have no bhajans today. The gentleman cheerfully agreed to listen to bhajans. 11 - (says Gandhi)
In the same speech, Gandhi made the rare admission that, incredibly, the Quran might have some unpleasant verses in it: “Now, why should we read only the Gita? Why should we not read the Koran too? Granted that there are some uncharitable things in the Koran. But is there any work which does not contain such things? I have lived in the midst of hundreds of Muslim friends. No one has ever told me that I was an undesirable person because I was not a Muslim.” 12 (says Gandhi)
Again, why would a Muslim directly say to him that he was undesirable? It was in their interests he remain a useful tool. The Ali brothers, collaborators with him in the Caliphate movement, were well aware of this, which is why they did not reveal their true opinion of him in person. That they saved for others, including one Lucknow meeting where Mahomed Ali was quoted saying, “Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Musalman to be better than Mr. Gandhi. 13” This was a natural belief for a Muslim to hold, since the Quran demands the believer never befriend an unbeliever, even if they are of closest relation: “O ye who believe! Choose not your fathers nor your brethren for friends if they take pleasure in disbelief rather than faith. Whoso of you taketh them for friends, such are wrong-doers.” (Quran 009:023)
Gandhi cannot be faulted for lack of effort in trying to negate this everlasting revelation of Allah. In the same speech (involving the nonviolent protestor) he debates going to Kashmir since Muslims there were having difficulties: “I could still go to Kashmir because there too the problem of the Muslims was involved. I would go there and befriend the Maharaja of Kashmir and work for the good of the Muslims. 14” And what of Hindus being slaughtered in Sindh and Punjab and other provinces? Well Hindus there were probably better educated thus it was necessary they accept their fate!
The frequent obstruction of Gandhi’s prayer sessions began to irritate him greatly. Perhaps this explains his misinterpretation of the motive behind such interruptions: “Obstructing the prayer has become a regular feature here. Now women have started writing letters to me. Today I have received a letter from a lady in Marathi. She says in her letter that she is not in favor of the recitation from the Koran in the temple. In other words she means to say that all of you are against it because the Muslims who recite the Koran have perpetrated atrocities on thousands of innocent women and children. 15” This is not an accurate portrayal, for the lady’s objection was primarily towards the content of the Quran. Maybe during a time of peace such protests would have been nonexistent, but Partition was raging, and Hindus were keenly aware of the absurdity of including Islamic prayers in Hindu settings.
Continuing in the same speech, Gandhi compared Hindu objections to Quran recitation with a hypothetical Bihari Muslim objection to reading of Hindu scripture (because of atrocities they suffered at the hands of Bihari Hindus):
In the light of the atrocities suffered at the hands of the Hindus of Bihar, if the Muslims started saying that they would not allow the recitation of Tulsi's Ramayana, the Gita and the Upanishads and the Vedas, would it be right? If there are any Muslims who talk like that I would ask them what harm the Ramayana or the Mahabharata had done them, and what crime the Vedas, the most ancient treatises, had committed. What harm had Ramachandraji done them? But the same argument would apply to the Koran and Mohammed Saheb. What harm have they done us? You will therefore realize that because I wish to read the Ramayana and the Gita, I also think it necessary to read the Koran. 16
If Gandhi had truly read the Quran (without averting his eyes or mental functions to particular portions), he would have realized Islam does not allow recitation of Hindu scripture at all, regardless of any atrocities committed. For Hindu scripture dares to state that the one Supreme reality, Brahman, can manifest in multiple forms as Gods and Goddesses (or Divine Powers and Energies), can declare himself multiple names, yet still remain the Indivisible and Eternal upholder of His own forms, most notably as the thumb-sized Purusha within each Human. Allah, on the other hand, divides himself, declaring eternal punishment to those who place other Gods before or alongside him: “Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers.” (Quran 5:072). Indeed, worship of other Gods is described as “A lie-- gods besides Allah-- do you desire?” (Quran 37:86) This explains why Muslims walked out during a Gandhi prayer – to the Hindu deity Rama – in Noahkhali:
According to the source Ramdhum was never stopped during prayers in Noakhali. A few Muslims did leave the prayer meeting when Ramdhun started, but the prayer did not stop. 17
Followers of other Gods such as Rama, all lies remember, are to be defeated by the followers of Allah: “He it is Who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, that He might cause it to prevail over all religions, though the polytheists may be averse.” (Quran 9:33) It was the prevalent Hindu reaction to this Islamic doctrine that helps explain the following encounter Gandhi had with a young Hindu:
After a passage from the Koran was recited, a young man shouted, "Stop it, Victory to Hinduism." Hearing this Gandhiji stopped the prayer and said: Very well, let his wish be granted. Gandhiji asked the man to calm down but he continued to shout. 18
In response to the shouting, Gandhi continued, “But ‘Victory to Hinduism’ cannot be won in this manner as he has said. He must realize that religion only declines by such acts. How can we protect our religion by preventing others from praying? But I do not blame him. Today the atmosphere is such. 19” Of course, Gandhi had his own method to protect and expand ones religion: "We have to remember that force cannot be employed in the furtherance of religion. There has been no religion in the world which did not call for the sacrifice of life. Only after one has mastered the art of laying down one's life does one's religion attain strength. The tree of religion is watered only by those who are prepared to die…No religion has grown by killing. It has grown only by dying. This is the basis of religion. Sikhism progressed only in this way…Prophet Mohammed also fled to Medina without fear in his heart and God saved him and Hazrat Ali from thousands of enemies because of their faith in him. Prophet Mohammed, as it were, strengthened the roots of Islam by risking death.” 20
He is right that many religions call for sacrifice of life under particular circumstances, but it is incorrect to say that a religion grows only by dying. Mohammed, by moving out of Medina, may have stabilized his group in a nonviolent fashion, but the growth of Islam, even in Mohammed’s time, developed by risking death through the use of violent force. Indeed, the importance Islam places on warfare is indicated by the Quranic punishment for those who cower in the face of battle with unbelievers: “O ye who believe! When ye meet those who disbelieve, in battle, turn not your backs to them. Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless maneuvering for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey's end.”(Quran 8:15-16) The Muslim soldier did not go into battle with the purpose of dying, even if he was to be rewarded posthumously should fate befall him. Thus even when dying, it cannot be said they “laid down” their lives, for any death they absorbed was done in the heat of battle, with intentions of killing. Gandhi, instead of focusing on such abounding violence in the Quran, the natural antithesis to his ahimsa, became concerned the Quran was becoming the subject of ridicule:
Explaining why he was late by 15 minutes Gandhiji said that he wanted the prayers to start 15 minutes later than scheduled because it was the time for namaz for the Muslims. he also said that even if the Muslims came in small numbers we must keep their namaz in mind.
We should respect all religions. In our prayer we also recited some portions from the Koran. I have heard that some boys ridicule the recitations from the Koran. We should not ridicule anybody's religion. If we do so, other people will ridicule our religion, too, and that would lead to strife. I cannot give up reciting from the Koran in the course of my prayer. The whole prayer consists of recitations from several scriptures. Not a single item can be omitted from it even if it comes to discontinuing the whole prayer. 21
Hindus were not alone in their opposition. Many Muslims were not pleased with his practice. In January of 1947 a group of Muslims visited Gandhi asking him to go to Bihar to protect the Muslims there. They also “pointed out that Gandhiji being a Hindu, recitation from the Koran at his prayer meetings was not appreciated by the Muslims. 22” Gandhi, to his credit, did not change his routine: “It was at the request of a devout Muslim friend that he included verses from the Koran...of course, he never wanted to go against the tenets of Islam but he could not also listen to one particular person of half a dozen persons to whom they might refer him as to whether he was going against Islam by reciting from the Koran. 23”
While the Quran may not have direct pronouncements against Unbelievers reciting, it states that – should the Unbeliever hear Quranic verses - Allah will prevent him from being cognizant of the Quran's message, in order the Islamic objective be fulfilled: “And when you recite the Quran, We place between you and those who do not believe in the hereafter a hidden barrier; and We place upon their hearts veils lest they should understand it, and in their ears a deafness; and when thou makest mention of thy Lord alone in the Qur'an, they turn their backs in aversion." (Quran 17:45-46)
In an April 7th prayer meeting, Gandhi responded to letters referring to him as ‘Jinnah’s Slave’ and ‘Mahmud Gandhi, 24’ by declaring, “I am a Sanatani Hindu and therefore claim to be a Christian, a Buddhist and a Muslim. Even some Muslims feel I have no right to recite from the Koran. They do not realize that religion cannot be confined within the boundaries of language or script. 25”
In this sense he is wrong, because religion, unlike spirituality, can be confined within boundaries, since religion is a human creation, deriving its foundation from its particular texts. And if these texts mandate strict adherence to its particular regulations, then a religion can be confined, especially if these laws include exclusivity of a God versus other Gods. However, some religions such as Hinduism allow for the diversity of Truth revealing itself in multiple human forms and thought (with the most possibility of expression through those who have attained to a Divine state), throughout Time, adding to the wider intellect and spiritual growth of the planet. This allows religions like Hinduism to expand beyond the Truths of its scriptures credited as the direct word of the Divine, and continue to absorb other scriptures or works, even those not considered the direct word of God. For Hinduism does not consider the Rig Veda or the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita the final word of Brahman; it does not see Brahman as so limited to be unable to continue revealing himself through human intellect and writing and speech. Hinduism maintains that God can express himself in all times and circumstances either behind the veil through the human intellect (these individuals are known as vibhutis), or directly through an individual soul with complete knowledge as to the eternal Spirit behind. Hinduism also acknowledges, since time and circumstance changes, that things said or written –even by someone of Divine realization – in the past, may not always (though it usually does) apply to present circumstances, even if there was an inspired Truth behind what was said. Brahman does not restrict himself to time and space, and his Truth often presents to Man in apparent opposition, such as the truth that Brahman is both above the Worlds yet remains director and enjoyer of all worldly movements.
Islam, on the other hand, holds the Quran as the final and most important revelation of God. Allah, unlike Brahman, has restricted himself to time and place, and there has been nothing left for Allah to say these past fourteen centuries. Restrictions were also given to the definition of a Muslim, and since all Quranic verses are final revelations, Muslims are required to follow all of them, regardless the relation to present time and place. The punishment for not doing so, is the dreaded fire: “Surely those who disbelieve in Allah and His messengers and (those who) desire to make a distinction between Allah and His messengers and say: We believe in some and disbelieve in others, and desire to take a course between (this and) that. These it is that are truly unbelievers, and We have prepared for the unbelievers a disgraceful chastisement.” (Quran 4:150-151) For once Allah has passed judgement, the believer has no choice but to follow that decision, no matter if it goes against the nature of the follower: “It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.” (Quran 033:036)
Gandhi, of course, refused to believe the Quran differentiated itself in such a strict manner, from other religions. Gandhi’s mentality was simplistic; to him if a religion was founded, its holy books assuredly preached the same message as the books of others: "I was born a Hindu, no doubt. No one can undo the fact. But I am also a Muslim because I am a good Hindu. In the same way I am also a Parsi and a Christian too. At the basis of all religions there is the name of only one God. All the scriptures say the same thing." 26 Curiously, for someone who equated himself as a Muslim and Christian because he was good Hindu, Gandhi chose to make a distinction between the Hindu and Sikh, saying in an April 3rd speech, “If I am a Hindu, I am also a Muslim. And the Sikhs are almost Hindus. 27” This particular prayer meeting also was disrupted by protest. On this occasion numerous persons arrived to halt the proceedings:
If somebody tells me not to hold the prayer or that, if I did, I may not include the recitation from the Koran, should I accept defeat and continue the prayer? I am not going to give up the prayer even if I have to lose my life. Those who stop the prayer in this manner do not advance Hinduism but harm it. Yesterday there were only two or three such persons; today there are many. 28
A few minutes later, Gandhi changed his mind, deciding that the number of protestors was not too few, not too many, but of appropriate quantity for him to stop the speech: “Please to do not take it to be cowardice on my part. Had you been in large numbers and had all of you insisted that I should not hold the prayer, I would have certainly carried on. I would have asked you to cut my throat and continued the prayer. But here in the presence of so many of you, a handful of persons want to stop me. 29” Since the number of protestors was just right, his neck was not to be smote, and his followers opposing the protestors all of a sudden became friends of the Devil!
If you suppress them and insist on my continuing the prayer it would be the act of a devil and I cannot follow the devil. He who is God's enemy is the devil. I cannot cooperate with the devil. ...I am a worshipper of this Rama. How can I ever worship Ravana? You may kill me, spit in my face but I shall go on repeating Rama Rahim and Krishna Karim till my last breath. And even at the moment you shower blows on me I shall not blame you. 30
Having said this, Gandhi queried the audience one last time, to find out if the prayer should go on:
Now I ask you to reply "yes" or "no." Do not argue. Shall I conduct the prayer? Crowd: Some thirty persons stood up and said: "Do not hold the prayer, we do not want your prayers" Gandhi: Well, so, all of you are against it? Crowd: Two to three hundred persons cried out: "No not all of us are against it. Do hold the prayer." 31
Gandhi, in reality wallowing in self-pity as opposed to making a strong ethical stand on the matter, replied, “No, there are too many people against it. I am defeated, you have won. Tomorrow more people can raise their hands. Even now your number is considerable. 32” If to him defeat was the equivalent of a 10 percent opposition amongst his audience, his addiction to being the object of blind worship was now total. For was it not enough that the vast majority of his audience did not mind his calls towards suicide? Such a need for complete acquiescence is one shared by arrogant Dictators, for it is pure ego to desire that all agree with ones every opinion, since all opinions, all philosophies, all paths, belong to the infinite variations of an Absolute Truth. The counterpart to this need, is the feeling that one is in exclusive possession of the Truth and is being persecuted for his beliefs, serving only to enlarge the ego. This is why Gandhi insisted carrying on with the prayer ifthe entire audience had been opposed, for such a situation would have heightened his sense of importance.
Gandhi, the follower of Rama, the man who claimed to be ready for death at any moment, who believed that being ready to die at a moments notice meant freedom from cowardice, continued on: “I can hold the prayer, but I have no desire to be killed at your hands. I want to live and work. 33” Perhaps all his bluster of being ready to die, of perfecting ‘the art of dying’ he had yet to experience, of telling Hindus that death at the hands of Muslims was good for them, was mere chatter to deny from himself the feelings of fear implicit in this speech.
Those who came to hear him were naturally upset over the premature exit, and the ensuing commotion forced Gandhi to return and address the crowd once more:
Gandhiji then started to leave. In the meantime the police tried to restore order. This created confusion in the meeting. Then Gandhiji returned to the dais. People started asking him to start the prayer. They offered to pacify those who were protesting. They said that they would all sit down, and that they were ready to abandon their lives for him, but he should not abandon the prayer.
Gandhi: "If you are going to die let it be on my condition. All my life I have been teaching the art of laying down life and learning it myself. If you want to lay down your lives, you should not do it with boiling rage. ...Right now these people are confused. They think that it is only Gandhi who is going about doing all the harm." 34
Fortunately, the majority of Hindus and Sikhs preferred to fight back. They preferred to take lives instead of handing their own on a platter, if the choice came down to one or the other. They were not averse to using traditional Islamic battle tactics on Muslim sites:
"I cannot help mentioning the fact that according to information received by me 137 mosques have been almost destroyed in Delhi during the riots. Some of them have been converted into temples. There is one such mosque near Connaught Place which can never remain unnoticed by anyone. Today there is a tri-colour flag flying over it. It has been changed into a temple by installing an idol in it. Desecrating the mosques in this manner is a blot on Hinduism and Sikhism. It is gross adharma in my view. The blot which I have mentioned cannot be wiped out by saying that even the Muslims in Pakistan have desecrated the Hindu temples or changed them into mosques. 35"
Clearly, there is some truth behind Gandhi’s critique of the individual actions of Hindu rioters who destroyed or converted mosques, even if the counter-argument relating these actions to the circumstances of the time holds more weight. However, why do these actions necessarily constitute a ‘blot’ on the Hindu and Sikh religions? While it is true that actions by men sometimes can be attributed to their particular religion, this is not always the case, even with Muslims. For instance, if Country X, which completely follows Religion Y, has the highest number of abused wives in the world, we cannot immediately declare it the problem of religion Y. It may very well be that religion Y is the cause (or at least condones) such abuse, but first we must study the religion (which initially includes study of scripture) to see if this is the case. This is precisely what many Hindus were doing when they wrote him; they were looking to the Quran (the foundation of Islamic religion) to see if it was the impetus for such hateful behavior on the part of Muslims. And they were concluding that the religion itself was the source of the problem. Gandhi, typical of his penchant for double standards, rarely declared Muslim actions to be a ‘blot’ on Islam or the Quran (he would only declare the individual Muslim a sinner), even if any form of Hindu retaliation was always a blot on Hinduism:
You might say that the Muslims have sinned against the Hindus. But have the Hindus lagged behind? You should know what the Hindus have done in Bihar. They killed women and children, set houses on fire and chased the Muslims out of their homes. Now if a Muslim came forward and said that the readers of the Bhagavadgita had committed great sins, what a travesty of truth it would be. To a certain extent I am willing to admit that the Muslims have committed atrocities, that they have sinned. But what is beyond my comprehension is the contention that because a reader of the Koran happens to be a sinner the Koran itself is sinful. That way, the Gita, the Upanishads, the Vedas, in fact, all religious books, can be proved to be sinful. 36
Just because a book is ‘religious’ doesn’t remove the possibility it contains objectionable passages or a general ideology of hatred. Gandhi spoke of killings of women and children committed by Hindus, but in the Islamic Hadiths these type of killings are granted by Mohammed, as long as the victims are polytheists:
It is reported on the authority of Sa'b b. Jaththama that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: They are from them. Sahih Muslim 19:4322
Such calls for mindless atrocities on nonbelievers are not seen in Hindu religious scripture, since there is no division between believers of different Gods. Not only are there different names for the one Absolute, all the Gods (here again we speak of Gods and Goddesses as Powers and Energies of the Divine, distinct entities yet upheld by Brahman) contain the other Gods within them, and derive their capabilities from the Supreme Being. One only needs to recall the Kena Upanishad, which relates how Gods Indra, Agni, and Vayu came to realize their powers as nothing but the powers of Brahman.
In the same May 7th speech, Gandhi responded to a written accusation of cowardice. This particular charge stemmed from his inability to read verses of the Gita in a mosque, even though he continued to read from the Quran in temple:
Saying that I have not read the Gita in a mosque only means that I am a coward, does it not? Granted that I am a coward and am afraid of saying my prayer before the Muslims in a mosque. But if I am a coward in one place, need I be a coward everywhere? Do you want me to be a coward here also? 37
There was little for Gandhi to be afraid of reading the Quran in temple; for though strong protests were being made during partition, it was not the first time he included Islamic prayers into his routine, and there is no written conjunction in Hinduism against such a practice. The Quran, on the other hand, from its inception has not allowed non-Muslims into its Mosques, let alone allowing recitation from polytheist scripture!
O you who believe! The idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing Wise. (Quran 9:28)
Gandhi would continue, boasting that although he had never recited the Gita inside a mosque, he had once done so in a building near a mosque! Such heroism on the part of a man who claimed never to fear death, a man who championed the causes of dying and suffering! If he truly lived to his word and religious philosophy, he would have gone into the mosque to recite his prayer, even if he offended, even if harm was done to him:
You ought to know that in many places I stay with the Muslims, where I regularly offer my prayers without hesitation. And, while I was touring Noakhali I often held my prayers very near the mosques although not actually inside one. Once I held the prayer within the enclosure of a mosque, in a building on its premises. And I used to have all the paraphernalia of the prayer with me. There used to be the beating of the drum and Ramdhan with the clapping of hands. We did not have the drum with us but we did have Ramdhun with clapping of hands in the premises of the mosque. I told the local Muslims that just as they took the name of Rahim, I would take the name of Rama. I said that it was not worthy of those who took the name of Rahim to stop people from taking the name of Rama. And they did not stop me from taking the name of Rama. 38
Regardless of him being allowed to take the name of Rama outside the mosque, the Quran still maintains exclusivity as to who can be considered a Muslim. A Muslim is not allowed to worship other religions, for the Quran states, “whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers.” (Quran 3:85) This is inimical to Gandhi’s Hinduism, which accepts all the religions as one, even though some of them practice exclusion: "The Hinduism of my conception is complete in itself. Of course, it includes the Vedas, but it also includes many other things. I do not think it is improper to say that I can proclaim the same faith in the greatness of Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism without any way impairing the greatness of Hinduism." 39
Proclaiming faith in the greatness of other religions was one thing, for it is in the nature of Hinduism to try and integrate foreign thought and religion into its realm without fear of losing its own luster, even if such religions have no desire for mutual exchange. It was another subject entirely when Gandhi began to declare his love and devotion for Mohammed during prayers, for now the generic statement of all religions being equal was turning into the exaltation of one religion in particular:
I do not see why I can't read from the Koran or consider Mohammed as my prophet. I have faith in the saints and prophets of every religion. I pray to God that I may not lose my head over those who accuse me; in fact I am ready to die at their hands. I firmly believe that if I am steadfast in my faith I shall be serving not only Hinduism but also Islam. 40 - (said Gandhi)
How is he serving Hinduism when he says Mohammed is his prophet? The same Mohammed who on his deathbed made it clear he wished the expulsion of Pagans from Arabia?
The Prophet on his death-bed, gave three orders saying, "Expel the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula, respect and give gifts to the foreign delegates as you have seen me dealing with them." I forgot the third (order)" (Ya'qub bin Muhammad said, "I asked Al-Mughira bin 'Abdur-Rahman about the Arabian Peninsula and he said, 'It comprises Mecca, Medina, Al-Yama-ma and Yemen." Ya'qub added, "And Al-Arj, the beginning of Tihama." (Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 288)
Gandhi went further in another speech, admitting that by saying Mohammed was the only prophet, he was hoping Muslims would accept him as one their own:
Now if I recite the Kalma I do not lose my religion. What does it matter if I say in Arabic that Allah is one and that Mohammed is His only Prophet! There is no sin in saying this and if by my merely saying this they accept me as a Muslim, I shall consider it a matter of pride. But if someone comes to me and wants me to recite the Kalma at the point of the sword I will never do so. I will defend myself with my life. I want to stay alive to prove this paradox. I do not wish to stay alive in any other way. 41
Its doubtful any Muslim would force him to recite the Kalma at sword-point, since he was already acknowledging the essential part of this Islamic doctrine, that Allah was one and Mohammed was his only prophet. What he somehow failed to realize in his diligent readings of the Quran, was that he was not allowed – if he truly wished acceptance as Muslim – to proclaim adherence to other Gods or religions. That is a primary characteristic of an exclusionary religion; a case of all or nothing. Gandhi wished to have it both ways. One cannot claim all Gods or all religions as one, subsequently to declare Allah as one (which in the Quran actually means that other Gods but Allah are a falsehood, and Allah is the only one) with Mohammed his only prophet.
Perhaps just as appalling to Hindus, was Gandhi’s aggrandizement of the Islamic cry, ‘Allah-o-Akbar:’
Gandhiji first referred to the cry of Allah-o-Akbar to which some Hindus had objected. He held that it was probably a cry than which a greater one had not been produced by the world. It was a soul-stirring religious cry which meant, God was only great. There was nobility in the meaning. Did it become objectionable because it was Arabic? He admitted that it had in India become a questionable association. It often terrified the Hindus because sometimes the Muslims in anger came out of the mosques with that cry on their lips to belabour the Hindus. He confessed that the original had no such association. So far as he knew, the cry had no such association in other parts of the world. 42
It is true ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ has its devotional context. However, the origin of Islam not only associates Allah-o-Akbar with the battle cry of a Muslim army against unbelievers, it clues us in to the true meaning of this famous Islamic cry:
The Prophet set out for Khaibar and reached it at night. He used not to attack if he reached the people at night, till the day broke. So, when the day dawned, the Jews came out with their bags and spades. When they saw the Prophet; they said, "Muhammad and his army!" The Prophet said, Allahu--Akbar! (Allah is Greater) and Khaibar is ruined, for whenever we approach a nation (i.e. enemy to fight) then it will be a miserable morning for those who have been warned." Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 195
We have here the cry used in battle describing Allah as ‘greater,’ not just ‘great,’ with the obvious conclusion that Allah was being glorified versus the Gods of other peoples. Even when cried out in civilian settings, it is still indicative of Allah being greater in relation to other Gods: “When you get up to pray, perform the ablution completely, and then turn towards the Qibla and recite takbir (Allah o Akbar =Allah is the Most Great)." (Sahih Muslim Book 004, Number 0782) The description of Allah being the ‘most great’ - with 'no partners' - is exemplified in another Hadith: “…as he reached the top of the hillock or upon the elevated hard ground, he uttered Allah-o- Akbar thrice, and then said: There is no god but Allah. He is One, there is no partner with Him.” (Sahih Muslim Book 007, Number 3116) Thus we have Allah-o-Akbar not merely as extolment of Allah, but as denigration of other Gods, creatures inferior and false to the one true God, Allah.
Little surprise then for the use of Allah-u-Akbar by Muslim armies and mobs from the inception of the religion; after all they were going to war against unbelievers who dared equate other Gods with Allah. It was their duty to subjugate the polytheist, making clear to them that Allah is the Greatest, greater than their false Gods. This cry was not the stirring of the soul, instead it was the arousing of hatred for the polytheist, of primitive vital desire for blood and loot and sex slaves to be gained if they emerged victorious in battle. 43
Little surprise also, that Hindus would be disturbed to hear Allah-u-Akbar emanating from Temple grounds. Gandhi, of course, believed it key to friendship with Muslims. If only the Hindus were to start yelling that Allah was greater!
If, therefore, there was to be lasting friendship between the two, the Hindus should have no hesitation in uttering the cry together with their Muslim friends. 44
- (said Gandhi)
One is aghast at the mere suggestion. The war cry of the Muslim, desiring blood, being shared by the object of that bloodlust! Perhaps the one letter describing him as ‘Mahmud Gandhi’ was more accurate than it appears, since he was repeating the same cry made by Islamic invaders. Why wouldn’t Hindus consider him their enemy45 when he was telling them to declare Allah as Greater than their very own Gods, while urging them to submit before the Islamic sword? And if ‘Allah-u-Akbar’ was a ‘soul-stirring’ cry to Gandhi, ‘Vande Mataram’ did not share such lofty praise. It served only a utilitarian purpose:
He then came to Vande Mataram. That was no religious cry. It was purely a political cry. The Congress had to examine it. ...It should never be a chant to insult or offend the Muslims. It was to be remembered that it was the cry that had fired political Bengal. Many Bengalis had given up their lives for political freedom with that cry on their lips. Though, therefore, he felt strongly about Vande Mataram as an ode to Mother India, he advised his League friends to refer the matter to the League High Command. He would be surprised if, in view of the growing friendliness between the Hindus and the Muslims, the League High Command objected to the prescribed lines of the Vande Mataram. 46
How one fails to realize the deeper aspects of Vande Mataram is normally difficult to explain. The best possible explanation is that he was once again trying to appease his Muslim friends, ever sensitive to complaints they might have. If they opposed Vande Mataram, he was going to placate them by describing it as a political cry, instead of asking on what grounds was the dispute. Because other than in an attempt to appease, there is no solid basis to claim Vande Mataram as anything but a deeply spiritual poem. Vande Mataram is not associated with the egoistic and tribal belief that one God is superior to others, or that one God is True and others are falsehoods. Vande Mataram is an ode to Mother India, as Gandhi said, but it is not specific to the material gifts India has, it goes beyond that. Vande Mataram is a song of worship to India the Divine Mother, a Godhead just as Sri Krishna is a Godhead, an immortal Shakti that upholds the nation. A poem that bows to India as “Mother and Lord,” “Durga, Lady and Queen,” and “Lakshmi lotus-throned” is far from a mere political cry.
Diminishing the importance of Vande Mataram and elevating the tribal cry of ‘Allah is Greater’ to that of a spiritual chant, was not enough to make his wish come true. He could never be accepted as a true Muslim, since he continued to place other Gods with Allah. And by declaring Mohammed the only prophet, he was trying to do the impossible - to be a Hindu and a Muslim at once. While it is true on a deeper level, we are all one, external divisions have their truth on the physical plane, especially with clear rules or other objective data laid down. One could argue, based on Quranic edicts, that Gandhi had in fact converted to Islam after declaring Allah as one and Mohammed the only prophet, because when Gandhi recited the Kalma in Arabic, he was actually saying “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad(PBUH) is the (last) prophet47”, only to relapse into polytheism by acknowledging other religions (for such apostasy, Islam prescribes death48). Indeed the Kalma indicates the reason for Muslim opposition to Vande Mataram, for how can a true Muslim recite a poem mentioning Lord Durga, Lord Lakshmi, and India as Lord?
Muslims were not the only group Gandhi wished to belong too. Another group he claimed apart of, were the Untouchables of India. The once fluid varna system solidified into a rigid caste based hierarchy somewhere in the past 1000 to 2000 years, with the creation of an Untouchable caste not previously seen in the varna based networks. By the 20th century, the status of this group was lower than centuries past, due to the draining of India’s vast economic resources and dismantling of social institutions (where communal living was the norm, in which each man had his basic needs taken care of by the community he was in) during the British colonial period, a process that only took a century. By Partition, the untouchables had a demeaning position in society, bringing plenty of people in support of uplifting them. Men like Dr. Ambedkar – himself an untouchable – were famed champions of their cause. Gandhi also made the plight of untouchables a major point of emphasis. Prayer speeches and intellectual theory were not enough for him, as he explained to a group of Indian socialists:
If you cast your lot with me, I shall call every one of you, top-rankers, to defy death with me. I own no party. But you will then be my party. Long before you were born I was a socialist. You are arm-chair Socialists. Your ideal is to provide a motor-car and a bungalow to everybody in India. Till that happens, you will continue to live as at present, without sacrificing any of your comforts. I, on the other hand, believe in putting myself on level with the poorest and the least here and now. My socialism is not of today. I began to live socialism while I was still in South Africa. Even then many labourite socialists, so called, used to come to me with their bedraggled ties of dirty red to invite me to join their ranks. But they remained to join mine instead. For they saw that true socialism can be based only on non-violence. 49
When discussing how he ‘put’ himself at the level of the poorest – in India this meant the untouchables for the most part – he was referring to his famous visits into poor areas to live and mingle. Arm-chair socialists did not do this, only real ones like Gandhi did. While it is true Gandhi did spend time dwelling in Untouchables areas, he did not really live as an Untouchable, for when in Untouchable colonies, Gandhi had his own bubble of existence. This was highlighted in an April 1, 1947 prayer speech from a Temple in an Untouchable locale. This speech, like others, faced interruption from members of the audience:
Today as soon as Manu Gandhi uttered the first word of the Kalma from the Koran a young man stood up, marched right up to the stage where Gandhiji sat and said, "You go away from here. This is a Hindu temple where we will not allow a Muslim prayer. You have been repeatedly telling this thing to us but our mothers and sisters continue to be slaughtered. We cannot tolerate it any longer." Gandhiji told him: You are free to go. If you do not want to pray let the others do it. This place does not belong to you. This is not the right way. …You did not do the right thing. You forcibly removed the young man from the meeting. You should not have done such a thing. It would give him a sense of triumph. He was very excited. 50
Continuing on, Gandhi revealed the person that made his extended stays in the slums a possibility:
"Auz-o-Billahi is the beginning of one of the verses of the Koran. You think that uttering this expression is an insult to Hinduism. But I am a true Sanatani Hindu. My Hinduism tells me that along with the Hindu prayer I should also offer the Muslim prayer and the Parsi and Christian prayer. True Hinduism lies in offering prayers to all religions because only he is a good Hindu who is also a good Muslim and a good Parsi. The young man said that this was a Hindu temple and such prayers could not be held here. But that is wild talk. This temple belongs to the Bhangis. Even a single Bhangi can throw me out of this place if he so desires. But these people love me. They know that I am a Hindu. Jugal Kishore Birla, on the other hand, is my brother. He is a big man in terms of money but he regards me an elder. He has put me up here because he considers me a pious Hindu. He also takes me to the big temple built by him. If in spite of all this the young man insists that I should go away and I cannot pray here, it is merely his arrogance." 51
Accusing the young man of arrogance, yet at the same time claiming that all the Bhangi’s (Untouchables) loved him? How could he be so sure of this? After all, the Untouchables did not invite him; it was the millionaire Jugal Birla who arranged everything. For Untouchables already faced with dense living quarters, having to house someone else not in true need of housing would have been a tremendous stress on space. That, along with disturbances at prayer sessions (potentially fatal in such closed areas) is why two days later, Gandhi was asked to leave:
"Yesterday there were only two or three persons who wanted to stop the prayers, but today the matter has gone further. I have received a letter written by the president of some scavengers' union. It says that I must not stay here. Just look at the ordeal an old man like me has to go through. But the president of the scavenger' union here is another person. After all I am a scavenger myself and all my scavenger friends listen to me. I have been staying here after consulting them and will continue to stay. Moreover, Jugal Krishna Birla is the boss here. He has put me up here. When the person who has accommodated me does not ask me to leave, why should I go? "52
The reason he had to leave – regardless the fantastical claim of being an Untouchable – was because accommodating him, and the people who kept an eye out on him, was too much for such enclosed quarters. Gandhi, as he admitted in the same April 3rd speech, did not have the strength to live in the very houses the Bhangi’s lived, thus living arrangements were created in the colony, which surely caused upheaval and unrest for peoples already struggling:
Let those who are at the root of this opposition at least come to me and talk. If all they want is that I should not stay here I shall go away. There are many people who would have me stay with them. But I am a Bhangi, and am content to put up in the Bhangi colony. I could even have all this accommodation here. They have only small holes to live in. I cannot stand it. I insist on cleanliness. If God grants me the strength, I shall start living in one of them. 53
In another speech he reiterated he could not actually reside in Untouchable housing because people were ‘packed like sardines:’
When I reached Shahadara Sardar Patel, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and others were there to welcome me. Instead of the Harijan colony where it was a pleasure to stay I was taken to the palatial Birla House. I was greatly pained to know the reason for this. Even so, I was pleased to stay in a house where I had often come and stayed on earlier occasions. Whether I stay with the Valmiki friends in the Harijan colony or at the Birla house, I am a guest of the Birla brothers. Even if I am in the Harijan colony their men look after me with total devotion. It is not the Sardar who is responsible for this. He can never be so weak as to be concerned about my safety in the Bhangi Colony. I am always very happy to be in the midst of the Harijans, though, I cannot live in the very houses in which the Bhangis, through the negligence of the New Delhi Committee, are packed like Sardines. 54
For all his talk about living amongst the poor, Gandhi admitted to needing more than the simple dwellings found in the Colonies:
One says that I am staying here in Birla House where people cannot enter; formerly when I was in Bhangi Colony poor people could approach me. What he says is true and I like it. I think I had referred to this the first time I came here. I came here at a time when Delhi was in the grip of communal rioting. The town looked like a graveyard. Bhangi Colony had also become crowded with refugees and it was feared that anything might happen anywhere. So the Sardar said that he would not allow me to live there. So they moved me to Birla House. I did not object because after all I cannot make do with a room. There had to be an office and a kitchen, and moreover there are many people living with me. Here I am also within easy reach of the ministers. They do not send for me. They themselves come to me. ...The Muslim brethren also find it easy to come here while they are scared of going to Bhangi colony. It will be a great thing if we can save such of them as are left. 55
At play here was the public illusion of a simple Holy man moving freely among the poor and oppressed, of the Saint suffering for all humanity. In reality, Gandhi’s movement was dependent upon the abundant wealth of his benefactors (who funded an artificial presence in poorer areas), the security concerns of the government (who did not want responsibility if harm was done to him), and restricted by his own inability to live the life of poverty he idealized.
This great Socialist, at once an Untouchable (who could not spend one night in an Untouchable house), returned to the luxurious confines of the Birla Mansion, which is a house for an Untouchable in the same way Aga Khan’s Palace is a prison. Gandhi, in his desire to help the Untouchables, erred in his glorification of their suffering, done provocatively through public visits. What was the Untouchable supposed to strive for, when his current condition was associated with austere spiritual qualities? It is one thing to continuously (even naming a journal after them) write in their cause as an outsider (because if Gandhi could mentally appreciated their plight, he did not have the experience of true poverty and humiliation, since the Untouchable did not have Millionaires as safety nets). It is another matter to insist in writing -yet not live in practice - this extreme poverty and degradation to be of the highest spiritual state. A better argument to this is that poverty and degradation tend to delay higher spiritual progress, since Man must first look after his basic needs before he absorbs himself in spiritual matters. In such an impoverished state, even if Man does turn to the Divine, it is in limited movements, not the breadth of direction characteristic to ancient India.
If Gandhi’s sojourns in Untouchable colonies were stage-managed to give the appearance of the Holy Saint uplifting the masses, his core religious philosophy was also of deceptive quality. On the surface, Gandhi’s religious philosophy – and here we focus on his belief in the equality of religions – can easily be accepted to the Hindu mind that tends to a live and let live attitude towards life. Indeed, this religious philosophy might strike one as being a worthy heir to the spiritualized mentality of ancient India. However, despite similarities it shares with Hindu scriptures, there is a subtle yet crucial difference.
Gandhi’s religious philosophy followed that because he believed in all religions being equal, he was not only a ‘true’ Hindu, but also a follower of all the religions, which only had ‘slight differences:’
I consider myself a follower of Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and every other religion because I am a true Hindu. All religions are equal and they are founded on the same faith. Various religions are like different leaves on the same tree, with slight differences in shades and shapes. Scriptures have said that one who condemns other religions, condemns one's own religion. I consider myself a representative of all the true religions...After all we are servants of the same God, by whatever name we may call Him. We may call him Rama or Rahim, Krishna or Karim. 56
Gandhi did get part of the equation correct, when he speaks of religions being founded on the same faith. It is of course true that religions are founded on the same belief in something higher than this material world; even a religion like Islam contains that elementary Truth. Since they are founded on this Truth, in that sense religions are equal – their source , not the manifestation or external principles written or verbalized. The same type of equality applies to creations of Nature; the Tree, the Animal, the atom, the Human, the plant, all contain the Divine within them, all are upheld by the Divine. However, the Divine manifests himself in different degrees according to the evolved state of each creation; he is latent in the Tree, passive and still, but in Humans the Divine manifests in multitude forms of power and love, beauty and knowledge. Essentially what this is means, is that the Divine is able to do more in the human form than can be done with lower evolved forms, even if he upholds all forms regardless of their evolution in Nature.
When we apply this idea to religions, using Gandhi’s analogy of the Tree, we can say that if the soil that each tree (religion) grows on is of equal value, the quality of the trees that grow from the soil may very well be of different Nature. Even though religions are equal in their aspiration towards some type of Divine state, the way they express this aspiration is varied, in some cases there are significant differences, not slight discrepancies. The Vedic ideal was that all paths (we can include religions, philosophies, etc in this) have Truth in them. This is not the same as saying that ‘all paths are equal.’ For some paths (or religions, ideologies, etc) contain only certain Truths to them, while others bask in the Light. Each religion does have truths to be absorbed, but some religions are more developed than others, even if no religion can claim to be the Absolute Truth or sole representative of the Truth, since the Absolute Truth itself cannot be expressed entirely by Human language or forms.
To further extrapolate, no religion can claim its particular God to be the sole reality while holding other names of God to be false, for as told by the Veda, “Truth is One. The wise call it by Different Names.” Thus, it would be a falsehood to claim the worship of one particular Deity alone, or the following of one particular path (with the exclusion of all other paths), or the following of one particular philosophy, as the only way to experience a Divine state. But this is what Gandhi, whose philosophy on the surface appears so tolerant and inclusive, claimed to the contrary:
My Hinduism is not sectarian. It includes all that I know to be the best in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. I approach politics as everything else in a religious spirit. Truth is my religion and ahimsa is the only way of its realization. 57
How would Gandhi know Ahimsa as the only way of realizing Truth, when – as he earlier admitted 58 – he had yet to experience the Supreme Reality. Without direct knowledge of the Truth, he could only claim belief that his ahimsa was the only way for realization. A belief he still had no subjective or objective proof of. To believe ones religious practice as the only way to realizing Truth is a delusion of the Ego that can only see things from its viewpoint, and believes itself the center of things and superior to others, just as the Earth was believed to be the center of the universe. Let us suppose Gandhi’s ahimsa actually led him to the Truth. Would that still make it the only way? Of course not, because each being has his own Svadharma, an inner law that he must follow, which will lead towards that higher state, through the use of different spiritual practices (such as Karmayoga, Hathayoga, Bhaktayoga, Jnanayoga) in various degrees according the Individual’s Nature. It was falsehood for Gandhi to claim his way (which was primarily a form of Bhaktayoga - the path of devotion) as the only one, and it was arrogant to declare himself the perfect Hindu, when he said, “Hinduism does not belong only to you. I am a Hindu too, and a perfect Sanatani.” 59
Since he was the perfect Sanatani, since his path was the only way to the Truth (that he had yet to realize), it follows that his Hinduism was the correct form of Hinduism. He said as much after a 1948 prayer speech:
I am a Hindu. I know that if the world were to adopt my Hinduism mankind would be free from all the worldly ills and man would live in a truly human manner. All this that I have dictated for you has just occurred to me after the prayer. 60
The irony is astonishing. Here is Gandhi, the man who claimed all religions equal, turning around to say his Hinduism had to be adopted for the world to be free from its ills. It is from this we see through the illusion of tolerance that Gandhi’s philosophy appears to be. The root of his philosophy is closer to Middle East faiths than it is to Hinduism, for he shares the same exclusiveness. His path was the only path, just as the Quran was the final word of God, just as Jesus was the only Son of God, just as the Jews were the chosen people. He should not be compared to the Sadhus of India, for whom Divine realization was accomplished, for whom the Reality pervaded all beings and forms and expressions. He was like the prophets of Arabia declaring their path the sole path to enlightenment, refusing to identify with Truth deeply felt in the hearts of others or the Truth seen by others through inner vision.
And to claim his Hinduism as the savior of man from worldly ills characterizes the hollowness of his words, because Gandhi was not free from worldly ills such as despair. It was despair Gandhi felt when he heard of continued acts of violence committed by Hindus towards Muslims. In particular, he despaired because he felt Hindus were disgracing the name of Hinduism by their actions. Could such a broad and ancient religion have been blackened beyond recognition simply because for a few months some of its members chose to defend their lives by force?
"For myself, I have now given up that desire. I can’t bear to see Hinduism being destroyed by Hindus. Even the so-called Mahatma seems to have become an alpatma (small soul) today." 61 - (said Gandhi)
The reason Gandhi declared Hinduism destroyed returns us to the belief that his Hinduism was the path for the world to free itself from bondage. Believing this, he associated acts committed by Hindus in relation to his beliefs as to what constituted Hinduism. Thus when the Hindu killed a Muslim, he was veering far from Gandhi’s path of ahimsa, and was disobeying Hinduism, since Gandhism had to be true Hinduism, for Gandhi was the perfect Sanatani, knower of the only way to the Truth. So what if the Hindus wanted to fight for their livelihood, that was unacceptable because it was not ahimsa, therefore by doing so they would no longer be considered true Hindus, since Gandhi was the sole decider as to who was a Hindu. Hence his shame with each act of Hindu violence, because believing his ideas to constitute Hinduism, he naturally expected followers of the religion to do as he said.
This is a base tendency of the lower ego, which once believing its thoughts and philosophy to be the only course for the rest of humanity, in some cases has an increased desire for everyone else to follow its beliefs. Especially amongst exclusionary religions, certain individual followers may believe themselves the truest believer, or at least take pride in denigrating other co-religionists for not following the religion 'properly'. Little surprise that the nature of the religions inception influences the individual ego, as its founders were men with an exaggerated sense of self, making it more likely their followers might absorb this inherent character, a trait of the ego used partially to help differentiate oneself from the mass, becoming more exclusive from an already exclusive group.
Another formation taken – rarely - by the ego is to not only consider itself the true devotee of its particular religion, but also to claim itself the true exemplary of other paths like socialism, or to include it as members of different social groups like the Untouchables. This is another way to delude itself into believing everyone shares its limited worldview, instead of respecting the multitude forms and realities of the Truth in its external expression. It was this delusion Gandhi possessed, believing himself born to reconcile the religions, a ‘representative’ who miraculously made the external divisions disappear. While his intent is credible, he erred in trying to harmonize such surface or external relations from that superficial level. For if he had paid less attention to being in the public eye, less attachment to his particular mental formations, maybe his sadhana would have yielded deeper results, enabling him to truly unite with Muslims and all others at a Divine level, at the level of the Soul; the only level where one can in complete totality claim unity with others. Instead he could only claim himself the true Hindu and Muslim based on mental affinity, instead of direct Soul-to-Soul identity (which first requires realization of ones own Soul). Mental affinity, let alone requiring a spiritual realization, does not require any rational basis, thus he was a true Muslim simply because he was a true Hindu, just like that:
"Then I went to the refugee camps at Diwan Hall, Wavel Canteen and Kingsway. I met the Sikh and Hindu refugees there. They had not yet forgotten my past services to the Punjab. But I noticed some angry faces in all those camps. Those people can be forgiven. They talked to me in sharp tones for being harsh to the Hindus. They said that I had not undergone the hardships that they did, and not lost my kith and kin. They said I had not been compelled to beg at every door. They asked me how I could comfort them by saying that I had been staying at Delhi to do my utmost to establish peace in the capital of the country. True I cannot bring back the dead. But death is a gift of God to all living things-human beings, animals. Being a true Hindu I also claim to be a true Muslim. I always recite the great Muslim prayer in which it is proclaimed that God is one and He protects the whole world by day and night." 62 - (said Gandhi)
Indeed just as his ahimsa was the truest, the only path to follow, just as the Hindus of Partition were doing a poor job of following (his) Hinduism, also was his Islam and his Christianity superior to the ones practiced by their (so-called) followers. After all, Mohammed and Jesus themselves were sure to have declared, he, the Great Mahatma, a True Muslim, and a True Christian:
Gandhi: Has England? Has it not still to grapple with the problems that baffle her? It is a very curious commentary on the West that although it professes Christianity, there is no Christianity or Christ in the West of there should have been no war. That is how I understand the message of Jesus.
A.Freeman: Would you say Islam has repudiated its teacher, as Christianity of today has its Jesus?
Gandhi: I have said so openly. Where is Mohammed and his message which is peace? I said recently at a public gathering that if Mohammed came to India today, he would disown many of his so-called followers and own me as a true Muslim, as Jesus would own me as a true Christian.
A.Freeman: How can we bring men back to God or to the teachings of Jesus or that of Mohammed?
Gandhi: I might give the answer that Jesus gave to one of his followers: "Do the will of my Father who is in Heaven, not merely say Lord, Lord (St Matthew VII. 21)" That holds true for you ,me and everybody. 63
For him to believe that Mohammed or Jesus would accept him reveals a curious mixture of naiveté and arrogance. Naive because neither Islam nor Christianity accept among their followers worshipers of other Gods, and to believe otherwise showed an inability to admit that some religions might not display the same acceptance he did. The intolerance of Islam regarding worship of other Gods has already been discussed. The Christian religion shares this character, enshrined in the Ten Commandments, that “Thou shall take no other Gods before me.” Jesus also had this message of intolerance, saying “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16) Gandhi, though admitting to being a Christian if the criteria was just the Sermon on the Mount64, was not baptized nor believed Christ to be the sole son of God, making it impossible for Jesus to own him as a Christian, if we are to follow Biblical scripture.
Arrogant because who is Gandhi to declare himself the ‘true’ this or the ‘true’ follower of that (at the same time denigrating practicing Muslims and Christians), since these declarations were based on subjective interpretation of Islamic and Christian scripture (interpretation revolving around his fascination with the Sermon on the Mount, some Jainism, and some externals of Hinduism). While it may have been easier for him to declare himself a (not the true) Christian, since he did follow the teachings of the Sermon, one Sermon does not make the whole Bible. And to read into Islam, of all religions, the message of nonviolent suffering, is to display a strong bias to willfully ignore passages not in tune with his thinking. While it is true Mohammed believed himself to be persecuted, and practiced a form of non-violent opposition towards the Pagans (only because he did not have the military capabilities needed to fight during the early period), this initial period of non-violence was followed by horrific persecution of those whom he believed the tormentors of Islam. Gandhi’s need to maintain his cherished idea of all religions being equal – or, that all religions preached his message – led him to deliberately repress awareness of the obvious, in order to maintain himself and his philosophy as the perfect example of all religious faiths. Believing himself born to spread this apparent equality, explains his curious inability to come across (or, at least, to comment upon) blatant and widespread hatred in the Quran, for an acceptance of facts might have shattered him, destroying five decades of his message that somehow, throughout different time periods and different areas of the globe, all religious scripture created preached solely the messages of absolute nonviolence and extreme suffering.
Even if he could not, by their definitions, become member of the two faiths, he would come to share certain characteristics within his own religious philosophy. Absorbed along with ‘turn the other cheek’ was the intolerance of other paths, the belief that the entire Truth could be possessed within one book or the world-view of one Human. For Gandhi believed less in the greatness of Christianity or Islam, than in the greatness of Gandhism. And if these faiths chose to spread their beliefs in overt or even physically violent ways, Gandhi had neither the means nor the desire to convert in a direct manner. However, physical violence is not the only form of violence, indeed the original idea of ahimsa was the practice of not harming oneself first, which meant that if by not using violence one was causing himself harm (whether of the physical or vital or mental type), it was himsa. Thus by blackmailing Hindus65 to go against what they felt and knew (according to their inner law) was the right course of action under the circumstances, Gandhi was imposing himsa on the nation, forcing them to wage a form of violence against their inner will, forcing them to turn against their Dharma in order to uphold the partial and exaggerated truths of ahimsa and the equality of religions.