According to the Hindu tradition, we should not do what the holy figures do, but rather do what the holy figures ask us to do.
Indian citizens of Hindu and Muslim faith celebrate the verdict in the Ayodhya case at the Supreme Court in New Delhi on November 9, 2019. PTI
The Nupur Sharma controversy represents a crisis in Hindu-Muslim relations. It has been said, however, that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Because often a crisis also brings a great opportunity in its wake. Perhaps this moment of crisis in Hindu-Muslim relations can also be a great teaching moment. How could this be possible?
In the heat of the exchanges on the question of the putative discovery of the Shiva-linga in the Gyanvapi mosque, calumnies have apparently been thrown on the personality of the Prophet of Islam. However, no one disputed the accuracy of the statement made during the debate, for which the relevant chapter and verse of Hadith literature (Bukhari 5134) was quoted extensively during the debates. Some videos even show the Islamic evangelist, Zakir Naik, confirming the statement in question. Thus, while the motive behind the statement that was made is questionable, the same cannot be said of the statement, which is apparently textually accurate.
It should now be noted that similar accusations can and have been made against revered Hindu personalities. Sita, by a reckoning it seems, was six years old when she was married to Rama. The Puranas are replete with accounts of the gallantries of the many gods of the Hindu pantheon. Etc. How then does the Hindu tradition teach us to deal with such cases and help us to better understand the situation?
Hindu tradition does this by advising not to do what holy figures do, but rather do what holy figures interrogate it’s up to us to do (na devacaritam caret… devakathitam caret). It thus draws a distinction between the character of the person and the statement made by the person.
Is it a cop? I would like to suggest that a serious argument may be involved here. The reason we admire great figures in history is the contribution they have made in their respective fields. Thus, we admire Einstein for his famous theories of relativity (and not because he was not an ideal husband). We admire Mahatma Gandhi for devising a way to fight for justice without violence (not because he wasn’t an ideal father). We admire President Kennedy for making the right decision during the Cuban crisis (not because he was not a role model family).
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When we think of the Prophet Muhammad, we think of the founder of one of the main religions of mankind, under whose inspiration the hitherto unknown Arabs founded a vast empire less than half a century after his death. . When a Muslim thinks of the Prophet, he thinks of a person through whom the words of God became human words. To invoke the more mundane side of the lives of these major personalities is, in a sense, to diminish them, for we thereby divert attention from their great achievements, for which we cherish them, and compromise their role of inspiration in our lives.
The advice contained in the saying, that we must not do as the wise have done but do as they ask us, it seems to me, expresses this point in a folkloric way. If we take a similar attitude in this case, then we could argue that what really matters about the Prophet is that he was a channel for conveying the word of God to mankind, which he “uttered “the words of God, and that was the great miracle of his life, and that’s what you have to focus on.
My suggestion is however open to a serious objection from the Muslim side, namely that the Prophet is the ideal person whose actions Muslims are encouraged to emulate and that, in distinguishing his prophetic role (speaking for God) from his exemplary role, I am unfair to the Islamic tradition. This objection seems to me well founded and must be taken with the utmost seriousness. One cannot separate the private and public life of the Prophet as one would in the case of an Einstein or a Kennedy, or even a Gandhi, because the two Koran and the Sunna are major sources of sharia. And the Sunna represents what the Prophet said or did.
However, it is clear that Muslims are not supposed to follow the Prophet in everything respects. For example, the ordinary Muslim cannot imitate the prophetic function of the Prophet. Even the number of marriages permitted to a Muslim under Sharia, for example, is limited to four, compared to the many others recorded in the Prophet’s biographical accounts. Again, perhaps Hinduism could help us understand Islam. The Gandhian saint, Vinoba Bhave, points out in his writings that we admire the Maratha leader, Shivaji, for building many forts, which enabled him to become a military force in his time. But if we believe that the country should become a military force in our time, we will not build forts, but rather military training centers or airfields, or similar institutions suitable for a modern army. The obvious point is that when we decide to follow a great leader, we must adapt his model to the contemporary context in order to be loyal to the leader.
The provision for quadrigamy in the Islamic tradition could serve as an example. The revelation, which provides for four wives for one Muslim, came after the Battle of Uhud, in which the people of Medina fought the Meccans, under the leadership of the Prophet, and were able to defend themselves, but at great expense . to human life. This loss of life left many women and children in the Muslim community without support, and it could be argued that the provision for four wives was intended to enable the burden to be shared with the rest of the community. Perhaps the message here is to imagine the best way to achieve this in our time. That is to say: how to better provide for the needs of the widow and the orphan in our society.
How then could Hinduism help us to understand Islam? It could do so first by emphasizing that the details of the private lives of religious figures must not come in our way to heed their teachings; that, if the Prophet married Aisha at the age of six and the marriage was consummated at the age of nine, this fact need not be jeopardize his role as God’s messenger. And Hinduism also helps us to better understand Islam by fostering the awareness that the teachings of religious figures should not be followed blindly, that they should be viewed through a contemporary lens, and that is what that Koran perhaps involves emphasizing aql (its discriminative faculty), as a young Malaysian Muslim scholar once suggested to me at a conference.
The author, formerly of the IAS, is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he taught for over thirty years. He has also taught in Australia and the United States as well as at Nalanda University in India. He has published numerous articles in the fields of Indian religions and world religions. The opinions expressed are personal.
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