The Islamophobic Saint, Vivekananda!

Vivekananda (Reuters)

Vivekananda (Reuters)

Some months back I had written a piece titled “Indian Icons whose perspective of Muslims and Islam will shock you.” The concerned write-up was published by Youth Ki and attracted exceptional controversy primarily because of the controversial nature of the subject. A learned law graduate and an acquaintance of mine has written a rebuttal to my piece in which he has alleged that my piece is so biased that it, “has the potential to make Hindus lean towards being anti-Muslim and Muslims lean towards being anti-Hindu, and in the context of Indian Muslims, even make them lean in favour of being anti-national and help Pakistanis engage in anti-India propaganda.” The fact that the author through his own words exhibits the same sickening bigotry of associating Muslims with anti-India propaganda and helping Pakistan shows that he himself suffers from considerable Islamophobia in regards to Indian Muslims. He cites Islamist terrorists of the Indian Mujahideen and Muslim youth who burn crackers after India’s defeat to Pakistan in a cricket match as a proof of a “large number of Muslims” who are not loyal to the country. While there is no denying that Indian Mujahideen is certainly an anti-India terrorist outfit, there is also no evidence to suggest that Indian Mujahideen comprises of even 100 Indian Muslims. Similarly, the figure of those who celebrate after Pakistan’s triumph over India in cricketing ties might not even reach 1000. I wonder how this negligible lot who doesn’t even comprise 0.1% of the population of Indian Muslims be deemed as “large”. The Sachar Committee itself stated that the Indian Muslim community had never as a whole indulged in anti-national activities.

In his write-up the author has claimed that my write-up tries to portray that only Muslims are victims of prejudice. I would like to bring this to everyone’s notice that my articles on “Anti Semitism Among Arabs” and “Hinduphobia Among Misguided Muslims” have been appreciated by individuals of the likes of Economist and Former Economic Policy Advisor to Rajiv Gandhi, Dr Subroto Roy and Canadian Author Mr Tarek Fatah, respectively. I have also written a piece exposing the communal speeches made by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Founder of the Aligarh Movement. It is therefore preposterous to suggest even for a moment that I am over protective towards what Mr Thadani describes as “my Muslim community”. I would have certainly liked to spend time on the issue of Partition of India as Mr Thadani seems to suggest that Muslims were primarily responsible for the Partition along with the Muslim League. I wonder how come he found out that the bulk of the Muslims supported Muslim League and not Congress at a time when Universal Adult Franchise didn’t exist and only 11% or so of the population was entitled to vote during the 1946 elections in undivided India and only half of them exercised their right. Also, I find it hard to decipher as to why the majority of the Muslims chose to stay back in India and not go to Pakistan, something which they supported in large number as claimed by Mr Thadani. I recommend that he read Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar’s book titled, “Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist” in order to find out who actually partitioned India: The Muslim League or Muslims. There are several other books too based on official documentary records of the transfer of power which took place between the British and India. “Partition of India: Legend and Reality” by HM Seervai and “The Sole Spokesman, Jinnah, The Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan” by Dr Ayesha Jalal shall certainly help Mr Thadani in understanding the subject better.

Without wasting much time, I would now like to address the core issue. In my earlier write-up, I had furnished quotations which showed that Vivekananda, Tagore, Ambedkar, Gandhi, Patel and Nehru had certain wrong perceptions about Muslims and Islam.  Mr Thadani agrees with me in regards to the Islamophobic views of Mr Patel and Dr Ambedkar and has hence made my job easier. In Part 1 of his rebuttal to my piece, he has only defended Vivekananda. Perhaps, he shall defend others in a later piece which has not yet been published. Nevertheless, through this write-up of mine I shall try to puncture the counter arguments put forth in order to absolve Vivekananda of harbouring any form of Islamophobia. While talking about Vivekananda, I had stated in my piece, “The great saffron saint, Vivekananda, stated in the World Parliament of Religions that he hails from a civilization which holds all religions as true but astonishingly, the same Vivekananda while answering a few questions of the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat said, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.” Vivekananda did not even hold Prophet Muhammad in high regards. He said, “He (Muhammad) was not a trained yogi and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Muhammad did to the world and think of the great evil which has been done through his fanaticism.” Vivekananda’s perception about Islam can be judged from his comments about the Quran. Vivekananda stated that the Quran advises Muslims to kill the Non Muslims if they did not become Muslims.” Mr Thadani began his argument by stating that I concede that Vivekananda held all religions to be true in their own way and that his teacher, Ramakrishna was for a brief period of time a practising Muslim and a practising Christian. I must clarify that I never conceded that Vivekananda held all religions as true. It is something which only he can answer. I just quoted what Vivekananda said at the World Parliament of Religions and then I went on to mention the shocking statements given by Vivekananda only to expose the hypocrisy which was associated with his remarks. Also, it does not matter what Ramakrishna did as I did not even mention him during my discourse.

I must admit that Mr Thadani has been most intellectually dishonest in his rebuttal. I had raised three points in connection with Vivekananda’s Islamophobia and Mr Thadani has not been able to bust even one. Firstly, Mr Thadani has stated that Vivekananda’s controversial quote, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more” is “more in the context of Christian missionaries being propagated under British rule and their misrepresentation of Hinduism than having anything to do with Muslims.” I think that it is my duty to inform the readers that Mr Thadani has invented a lie to defend Vivekanda. I will reproduce a part of the conversation where this statement was made by Vivekananda to the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat. Here is the conversation: (as published in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 5, Pages 233-4)

Interviewee: “I want to see you, Swami”, I began, “on this matter of receiving back into Hinduism those who have been perverted from it. Is it your opinion that they should be received?”
Vivekananda: “Certainly,” said the Swami, “they can and ought to be taken”. He sat gravely for a moment, thinking and then resumed, “Besides” he said, “we shall otherwise decrease in numbers. When the Mohammedans first came, we are said – I think on the authority of Freishta, the oldest Mohammedan historian – to have been six hundred millions of Hindus. Now we are about two hundred millions. And then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less but an enemy the more.”

I think the Muslim connection with this shameful quote of Vivekananda has been well proved. It’s amusing to see a man who used to claim that all religions are true, worry about the demographic growth of a community which might outnumber his own community soon. This frustration drove him to label all converts from Hinduism as enemies of Hindus. Over here, Vivekananda sounds more like a Muslim fanatic Mullah who would recommend death for apostasy as is carried out in Islamist countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Mr Thadani has tried to justify Vivekananda’s comments by stating that, “an apostate of any religion would tend to be an ideological enemy or opponent of his former religion”. His euphemistic analogy hasn’t impressed me. Vivekananda’s tone clearly implied what he meant. In fact he went on to say, “Again, the vast majority of Hindu perverts to Islam and Christianity are perverts by the sword or the descendants of these. It would be obviously unfair to subject these to disabilities of any kind. As to the case of born aliens, did you say? Why, born aliens have been converted in the past by crowds, and the process is still going on.” These words are indicative of two things. First, Vivekananda held that majority of conversions from Hinduism to Islam and Christianity were through the sword which is factually incorrect (although forced conversions did take place) and second, Vivekananda’s contempt for Hindu apostates as he labelled them “Hindu perverts” and people of other faith whom he called “born aliens”.

We again get a glimpse of Mr Thadani’s intellectual dishonesty when he addresses the issue of Vivekananda’s comments regarding the Prophet. I wrote in my piece, “Vivekananda did not even hold Prophet Muhammad in high regards. He said, “He (Muhammad) was not a trained yogi and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Muhammad did to the world and think of the great evil which has been done through his fanaticism” but Mr Thadani has only addressed the issue of Muhammad not being a trained yogi and has ignored other aspects of the quote. I will again quote Vivekananda to prove his disdain for the Islamic prophet, “He was not a trained yogi, and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Mohammad did to the world, and think of the great evil that has been done through his fanaticism! Think of the millions massacred through his teachings, mothers bereft of their children, children made orphans, whole countries destroyed, millions upon millions of people killed! So we see this danger by studying the lives of great teachers like Mohammad and others. Yet we find, at the same time, that they were all inspired. Whenever a prophet got into the superconscious state by heightening his emotional nature, he brought away from it not only some truths, but some fanaticism also, some superstition which injured the world as much as the greatness of the teaching helped.” The quote which I have presented clearly shows that Vivekananda considered Muahmmad a fanatic and held his teachings and not rather misinterpretations of his teachings for being responsible for the massive bloodshed caused in the name of Islam.

My third argument was in regards to Vivekananda’s comment about the Quran. Vivekananda disparaged Quran and Muslims in one go when he stated, “And so also with the race. That race which is bound down to itself has been the most cruel and the most wicked in the whole world. There has not been a religion that has clung to this dualism more than that founded by the Prophet of Arabia, and there has not been a religion, which has shed so much blood and been so cruel to other men. In the Koran there is the doctrine that a man who does not believe these teachings should be killed; it is a mercy to kill him! And the surest way to get to heaven, where there are beautiful houris and all sorts of sense enjoyments, is by killing these unbelievers. Think of the bloodshed there has been in consequence of such beliefs!” In this quote we see Vivekananda calling Muslims the “most cruel” and “most wicked” race in the whole world. He has also gone on to suggest that the Quran advises Muslims to kill Non Muslims. When I had brought a similar statement of Mr AB Vajpayee to the notice of Mr Thadani in the past, he had said that “he did not know that Vajpayee passed such irresponsible remarks about the Quran”. I wonder how he would now defend Vivekananda’s remarks on the Quran. Perhaps, this is the reason why he chose to ignore this issue in his long rebuttal. Vivekananda made the mistake of making wrong claims about the Quran multiple times. He said, “The Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran, Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans. They must be put to fire and sword. Now if we tell a Mohammedan that this is wrong, he will naturally ask, “How do you know that? How do you know it is not good? My book says it is.”

Mr Thadani has presented certain quotes to show that Vivekananda wasn’t Islamophobic. The fact is not that I am not aware of those sayings; the fact is that Vivekananda was acting like a hypocrite while passing these statements. On one hand, he was acting like a universalist, on the other a communal bigot. Today, the world is suffering from the scourge of Islamist terrorism. People are killing in the name of Islam and destroying places of worship claiming that it is the Quran and Islam itself that has validated it. We need to ideologically destroy such kind of assertions as is being done by liberal moderate Pakistani cleric Tahir Ul Qadri. But if we read someone like Vivekananda then we’ll think that the Islamist terrorist is the true representative of Islam since the views of Vivekananda and the Islamist extremist regarding Islam are the same. Mr Thadani has quoted Vivekananda and mentioned that he said, “Nevertheless, among these Mohammedans, wherever there was a philosophic man, he was sure to protest against these cruelties. In that he showed the touch of the Divine and realized a fragment of the truth; he was not playing with his religion, he was talking, but spoke the truth direct like a man.” Should we absolve Vivekananda of the sin of Islamophobia just because he stated this? Certainly not! Because before stating this, he said, “Some Mohammedans are the crudest in this respect, and the most sectarian. Their watchword is: There is one God, and Mohammad is his Prophet. Everything beyond that not only is bad, but must be destroyed forthwith: at a moment’s notice, every man or woman who does not exactly believe in that must be killed; everything that does not belong to this worship must be immediately broken; every book that teaches anything else must be burnt. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, for five hundred years blood ran all over the world. That is Mohammedanism!” Through his words, Vivekananda makes it clear what he considers to be Mohammedanism.

I would not waste my time further by elaborating on Vivekananda’s sickening teachings regarding Islam. I would like to end by presenting a few more quotations of Vivekananda which expose his Islamophobic view of Muslims as being violent and butcher-like and his biased understanding of history. Vivekananda said, “To the Mussulman, the Jews or the Christians are not objects of extreme detestation; they are, at the worst, men of little faith. But not so the Hindu. According to him, the Hindu is idolatrous, the hateful kafir; hence in this life he deserves to be butchered; and in the next, eternal hell is in store for him. The utmost the Mussulman kings could do as a favour to the priestly class — the spiritual guides of these kafirs — was to allow them somehow to pass their life silently and wait for the last moment. This was again, sometimes considered too much kindness! If the religious ardour of any king was a little more uncommon, there would immediately follow arrangements for a great yajna by way of kafir-slaughter.” According to Vivekananda, we Muslims, consider Hindus as merely objects of slaughter in this life. Vivekananda held Islam and Muslims responsible for initiating violence in India. Probably he did not read about the treatment meted out to the Shudras or the persecution of Buddhists by Brahmin rulers like Pusyamitra Sunga. He said, “”You know that the Hindu religion never persecutes. It is the land where all sects may live in peace and amity. The Mohammedans brought murder and slaughter in their train, but until their arrival, peace prevailed. Thus the Jains, who do not believe in a God and who regards such belief as a delusion, were tolerated, and still are there today. India sets the example of real strength that is meekness. Dash, pluck, fight, all these things are weakness.” There is no point arguing any further. If people do not recognize Vivekananda as an Islamophobic even after reading these quotes, then they will never accept the truth and can continue worshipping him as a saffron saint.

Vivekananda’s interview with the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat:

Arun Shourie’s twin articles regarding Vivekananda in which he flaunts Vivekananda’s hateful perceptions regarding Islam with great pride:

Islamophobia in the West, Dhimmitude in Arabia

An elderly Muslim man walks through the streets of America (AP)

An elderly Muslim man walks through the streets of America (AP)

In 2010, it was Pastor Terry Jones who made international headlines for his plans of publicly burning the Quran on the 9th anniversary of September 11 attacks on the United Sates. Recently, an Islamic school in Britain was reduced to ashes in an arson attack executed by British teenagers as retaliation for beheading of a soldier by Islamist terrorists. The Boston bombings carried out by Muslim immigrants in America led to a series of revenge attacks on Muslims including desecration of a site which was supposed to be the standing point of a mosque in the coming future.

It was only after some hours that Ed Husic became the first Muslim Minister in an Australian Cabinet to swear in using the Holy Quran that he was flooded with hate mails and intense criticism for carrying out such an “un-Australian” act. Islamophobia in the West is a direct result of persecution of minorities in the Muslim-majority countries. For the ones involved in anti-Muslim attacks in the West, their actions are nothing but a fitting reply to the ones carrying out similar sort of barbarism in Islamist countries. This kind of “excuse making” exists on both the sides – be it Arab land or the West.

Universalization of human rights is the way towards taming hate mongers and violent activists whose agenda is to institutionalize persecution of religious minorities by means of law. Another step which is vital towards greater integration of immigrants and minorities is through adequate representation in government offices and legislatures. In 200 years of American democracy, only one Muslim American has made it to the Congress. Same applies to American Hindus and American Buddhists both of whom have had just 1 representative each in the Congress. In the Arab World, there are countries like Iran and Egypt who reserve parliamentary seats for people belonging to recognized religions like Judaism and Christianity but representatives from non recognized faiths like Bahai Faith don’t stand a chance to get elected.

While organizations like the OIC ie Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League are becoming powerful proponents for putting an end to discrimination against Muslims in the West, there doesn’t appear an organization of equivalent stature to demand rights for Non Muslims in the Arab World. Yohunna Qulta, Deputy Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt claimed in a television interview that the United States has done anything for the Christians of Iraq, Lebanon, Rwanda and Burundi. He said that more than a million Christians have died in the region due to genocidal violence and churches have witnessed destruction. While some might argue that America being a secular nation has no business regarding Arab Christians, the fact that the biggest Christian nation in the world chooses to overlook Christian persecution and continues to meddle its nose in the affairs of other countries in the name of human rights is in itself an oxymoron.

India’s Islamophobic Icons

If you happen to be a staunch secular Indian then it is but obvious that you happen to be wary of the growing tide of Islamophobia in the country. India as a civilization has always been synonymous to openness and multiculturalism. But another aspect of the Indian civilization which has been grossly under-represented is the fierce bigotry which Islam and Muslims have had to face in this land since the 19th century. Equating Islam with violence and barbarism is something which is not nascent. The late great Edward Said had stated in an interview to the Time Magazine in 1979 that some 60,000 books had been written so far disparaging Islam and Muslims. To many, Islam appears to be a religion of hate and what is baffling is that this is one prejudiced mindset which is not only shared by millions of educated Indians but also some iconic figures in our history who have now assumed a larger than life figure and have been placed above criticism. This has led to a natural inclination among Non Muslims to think that Islam essentially preaches hatred, Muslims are taught to kill Non Muslims in the Quran, they happen to extremely aggressive and Muhammad was a fanatic who spread his religion at the tip of the sword.

The great saffron saint, Vivekananda, stated in the World Parliament of Religions that he hails from a civilization which holds all religions as true but astonishingly, the same Vivekananda while answering a few questions of the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat said, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.” Vivekananda did not even hold Prophet Muhammad in high regards. He said, “He (Muhammad) was not a trained yogi and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Muhammad did to the world and think of the great evil which has been done through his fanaticism.” Vivekananda’s perception about Islam can be judged from his comments about the Quran. Vivekananda stated that the Quran advises Muslims to kill the Non Muslims if they did not become Muslims.

Rabindranath Tagore is a household name in India but he too had some extremely unfortunate notions about Islam (as well as Christianity) which earn him a place in this list of Islamophobic Indians. In a letter written to Sri Kalidas Nag, Tagore stated, “There are two religions on the Earth which have distinct enmity against all other religions. These two are Christianity and Islam. They are not satisfied with just observing their own religions but are determined to destroy all other religions. That’s why the only way to make peace with them is to embrace their religion.” Tagore’s flawed analogy if repeated by a political leader today would earn him the title of being ‘communal’.

Dr BR Ambedkar, the Father of the Indian Constitution, is generally remembered for his no holds barred attacks on Brahmanism but he also made some exceptionally negative comments about Islam in his book “Pakisan or the Partition of India”. He wrote, “To the Muslims, a Hindu (and any Non-Muslim) is a Kafir. A Kafir (Non-Believer in Islam) is not worthy of respect. He is a low born and without status. That is why a country ruled by the Kafir (Non-Muslim) is a ‘Dar ul Harb’ (i.e. the Land of War) to a Muslim, which must be conquered, by any means for the Muslims and turned into ‘Dar ul Islam’ (i.e., Land of Muslims alone). Given this, not further evidence seems necessary to prove that the Muslims will not obey a Hindu (or for that matter any Non-Muslim) government.” Dr Ambedkar also wrote, “Those who are outside the corporation (of Islam) there is nothing but contempt and enmity.” Unfortunately, Dr Ambedkar could not see through the most obvious stereotype about Islam and died in a state of Islamophobia.

Sardar Patel, the Iron Man of India, was a known Muslim basher and had a habit of making communally charged and insensitive comments. When the Direct Action Day led to the now infamous Calcutta killings, Sardar Patel wrote a letter to C Rajagopalachari in which he said, “A good lesson for the League because I hear that the proportion of Muslims who have suffered death is much larger (than the Hindus).” Mr Patel frequently questioned the patriotism of Muslims and during one of the debates in the Constituent Assembly, he advised those who were demanding reservations for Muslims to go and live in Pakistan.

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was largely a secularist but he too cannot be absolved of Islamophobia. In his book, The Discovery of India, while discussing about Crusades, Nehru labeled Islam and Christianity as “aggressive religions”. He also stated that by the time the Turks and Mongols had taken over the mantle of Islam from the Arabs, “Islam had become a more rigid faith suited more to military conquests rather than the conquests of the mind.” Nehru held the opinion that, “The Muslims who came to India from outside brought no new technique or political or economic structure. Inspite of religious belief in the brotherhood of Islam, they were class bound and feudal in outlook.”

Mahatma Gandhi, The Father of the Nation and the one who raised the slogan of “Sarva Dharma Sambhava” was also a bit ill informed about Muslims. Although he consistently praised the Prophet but his writings do not indicate much fondness for the Muslim community. In an article titled, “What May Hindus do”, Gandhi wrote, “Though the majority of Musslamans of India and the Hindus belong to the same ‘stock’, the religious environment has made them different. I believe and I have noticed too that thought transforms man’s features as well as character. The Sikhs are the most recent illustration of this fact. The Mussalaman being generally in a minority has as a class developed in a bully. Moreover, being heir to fresh traditions he exhibits the virility of a comparatively new system of life. Though in my opinion non violence has a predominant place in the Quran, the thirteen hundred years of imperialistic expansion has made the Musslamans fighters as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit. The Hindu has an ages old civilization. He is essentially non violent. His civilization has passed through the experiences that the two recent ones are still passing through. If Hinduism was ever imperialistic in the modern sense of the term, it has outlived its imperialism and has either deliberately or as a matter of course given it up. Predominance of the non violent spirit has restricted the use of arms to a small minority which must always be subordinate to a civil power highly spiritual, learned and selfless. The Hindus as a body are therefore not equipped for fighting. But not having retained their spiritual training, they have forgotten the use of an effective substitute for arms and not knowing their use nor having an aptitude for them, they have become docile to the point of timidity and cowardice. This vice is therefore a natural excrescence of gentleness.” Gandhi’s words are indicative of his views. While on one hand he lays heavy praise and kind criticism on the Hindus, on the other hand, he labels the Muslims as having “an aggressive spirit”, accuses them of having “as a class developed into a bully” and says they are “fighters as a body”.

The objective behind bringing to light the bigoted opinions of such icons is to fuel introspection. There is a general tendency among people to hold Muslims responsible for each and everything which goes wrong be it partition or terrorism. And when the Muslims begin to defend themselves, they are accused of “self-ghettoization” and portraying themselves as “victims”. It’s time that the Indian society sheds silly stereotypes about Islam. The Quran does not sanction violence against Non Muslims. Instead it states that, “There is no compulsion in religion” and “To you, your religion; to me, mine.” It is in India’s self interest that it realizes the mistakes which it has committed in construing Islam and accepts Muslims as patriotic citizens of the land without any skepticism.