by Lala Lajpat Rai

PART 4 -- [Narrow sectarianism holds us back from obtaining Swaraj]

[A] The observations made in the last article raise several cognate questions, which may profitably be discussed before we come to the political and economic aspects of the problem. Are the Hindu and Muhammadan religions and cultures so fundamentally different, or to be more exact, so antagonistic, as to make their followers naturally and instinctively hostile to each other? If so, what chances are there of our being able to bring about a unity between the two? It is said that Hinduism is not a dogma, that it is almost impossible to define it, that it is a system of life of which caste is an essential feature; and that as long as caste is there, it is impossible to make it sufficiently tolerant and progressive, so as to make unity and co-operation with other religious communities either easy or even possible.

Yet it is an admitted fact that in spite of a rigid caste system and a rigid code of social morality, Hinduism is the most tolerant of all the great religions of the world. Hinduism does not ridicule or despise other peoples' beliefs or faiths: nay it does not question other peoples' right to foIlow their own faiths and attain spiritual satisfaction thereby. It lays no exclusive claim to be the only royal road to salvation. It is not out to convert other people and thereby save them from hell or perdition. In fact it expressly lays down that for different people, in different stages of physical, mental, and spiritual developments, there are different ways of approaching God and obtaining satisfaction and salvation. To its own followers it allows the fullest freedom to believe what they like and to worship as they please.

[B] [[185]] Even its rigid social code and its caste system are in the melting pot. While formerly Hindu society allowed its members to go out of it, nay actually expelled and outcasted them on the slightest pretext and on the flimsiest possible ground, at the present moment it is prepared to make all kinds of allowances for the disregard of its social code by its members, and is anxious to keep them within its fold. There was a time when high-caste families, rich, influential, and cultured, were outcasted and thrown out of Hindu society on the most intangible grounds, out of sheer suspicion and bigotry. Now even open beef-eaters are tolerated, excused and honoured. There are numerous men and women in Hindu society, honoured and respected members of it, who openly defy and violate the most important canons of its social code–men who have not only married out of caste but even foreigners, men who eat prohibited food and make no secret of it, who take prohibited drinks without any efforts to conceal the fact, men who ridicule the Vedas and are atheists. We find that amongst these latter are some of the most notable leaders of Hindu society.

How can we explain this strange change? To what is this due, and what does this signify? To my mind the change indicates the realization by the society and its members of a higher Hindiusm which is above forms and formalities–a culture that is more of the mind and of the spirit than consisting in eating, drinking, or even marrying, along certain accepted lines. It is this realization which makes men and women who have risen above forms and formulas to still feel proud of Hinduism, to be anxious for its assured continuance in their country for the benefit of their children and their children's children. It is this realization which explains the phenomenon of beef-eaters, husbands of foreign women, scoffers of the Vedas, in short, extremely unorthodox and outwardly un-Hindu people, champion[ing] the cause of Hinduism, standing shoulder to shoulder with the orthodox in the defence of their temples, shrines, festivals, customs etc., and resenting as strongly as the latter, the attacks of non­Hindu missionaries, preachers, and proselytizers on Hinduism and [the] Hindu community.

But there is another reason also which explains the phenomenon. The material and political prospects of his class are bound up with those of the rest of their community. It was not so very long ago that many of these people dissociated themselves from the great bulk of the Hindus, while [[186]] some of them openly said, rather with pride, that they were not Hindus. The recognition by Government of the communal system changed the situation. They found that except as Hindus they had no status, and their children would have none, unless they chose to adopt Islam. This they were not prepared to do. So, willy-nilly, they had to declare themselves Hindus and seek elections from general non-Muslim constituencies, basing their claim on their championship of Hindu rights.

[C] Unlike Hinduism, Islam is a faith of dogmas and doctrines. Every Muhammadan must believe not only in the existence of God without a second (La Allah Il Allah) but also that Muhammad was His prophet ,and that the Quran is his final word. He must also believe, according to the orthodox school, that Muhammad was the last of the prophets and whatever he said and did is binding on all his faithful followers. There have been expounders of Islam who have tried to raise it to a kind of high occultism, but their efforts have not met with any considerable success, and Islam remains, to all intents and purposes, with the majority of its followers, what it has been all through centuries past. My Muslim friends will pardon me if I venture to say that too great an insistence on dogma has been the bane of Islam, the cause of its political downfall, and that unless it is given up, it will stand in the way of Islam ever regaining its lost position as a world-wide political factor. Islam is as much divided and sub-divided into sections and factions as Christianity once was and perhaps to this day is.

[D] The division and sub-division of Hindu society into sects have one redeeming feature. The general tolerance of Hinduism prevents them from destroying each other. History shows that this cannot be said of Islam.

[E] Religious intolerance of the severest kind has been a handmaid of chivalry, bravery, zeal, learning, and piety among the Muslims throughout Muslim history. Three out of the four first Khalifas were murdered by theIr feIlow Muslims. The pages of Muslim history are full of similar acts done by religious zealots or political adventurers. One would have thought that recent events in Turkey and Egypt/8/ would have chastened Islam at least in this respect. But the stoning to death of an Ahmadia by the orders of the Government of Kabul, and the approval of that barbarous act by some of the most prominent and educated leaders of Muslim India, have [[187]] shown that the canker is still there and has not lost an iota of its original violence.

Egypt and Turkey, however, seem to be in a different mood. It appears that they, at any rate, have realized the necessity of marching with the times and making a clear distinction between essentials and non-essentials. The Indian
"Maulanas" may call them "bad Mussalmans," but they do not care, as long as they can retain and protect their political freedom. A religiously "bad Mussalman" (a Turkish Nationalist told me that an Indian Mussalman once called him a bad Mussalman because he occasionally took a peg [=an alcoholic drink]) is an infinitely better person than a Mussalman who bows his head to a foreign power and who prates of his "Sharia" to perpetuate. his bondage. The "bad Mussalmans" of Turkey are in my eyes infinitely superior to those pious Mussalmans of India who, though professing great regard for the most insignificant and minor details of "Sharia" and "Hadis,"  are willing tools of a foreign bureaucracy, and are purchasing places and preferments for themselves and their feIlow Mussalmans by resorting to various questionable means.

It is a sign of the times that while [the] Mussalman's piety finds such eloquent expression in its fights with Hinduism, it is dumb and powerless in the presence of leaders who openly defy, by acts of omission and commission, some of the most sacred canons of Islamic Law. Is it not a fact that just as in the case of Hindus, Muslims accept as leaders, men who do not believe in the infallibility of the Quran, who disclaim any faith in "Hadis" and "Fiqah," who openly and undisguisedly drink wine, eat bacon, do not say prayers, and do not observe fast in the month of Ramzan, not to mention minor matters, such as their opinions about purdah, keeping [a] beard, etc?

It comes to this: that while Hindus and Mussalmans are prepared to be led by men who openly flout all the sacred canons of their respective faiths, they are not prepared to relax by a hair's breadth the severity of their customs and rituals and observances, in order to live in peace and neighbourly goodwill with one another. A united India will mean freedom for both Hindus and Mussalmans, but they prefer the strict observance of the most futile and non-essential elements of their respective faiths to freedom. Is this not a sight for the gods to weep over?

[F] I am firmly convinced that we cannot create a united India and cannot win Swaraj in any shape, unless the religious canker [[188]] is removed. "Mazhab" (in its narrow sense), as my beloved friend Stokes/9/ often reminds me, is the curse of India, and as long as it rules supreme, there is no hope for India. The idea that we can remain "good Hindus" and "good Mussalmans" in the narrowest sense of these terms, and yet win Swaraj, is in my judgment, an absurd one. It has done a lot of mischief within the last fout years. I still believe that we do not need to depart in any manner or degree from the true and essential spirit of Islam and Hinduism in order to be free and united. There are good and true Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants, Presbyterians and Anglicans, Jews and Gentiles, in Great Britain, France, and Germany, but the earnestness of their religious faith does not prevent their being free citizens of their respective countries. A hundred years ago, who could have imagined that a Jew would one day be the Prime Minister of Great Britain, another a Secretary of State, and a third a Viceroy of India?/10/

[G] The Jews are perhaps the smallest religious community in Great Britain. They never claimed any special representation in Parliament or any specific share of Government posts. In fact about 150 years ago, the communal consciousness of the Roman Catholics and Protestants in Great Britain was as keen and exclusive as that of the Hindus and Mussalmans today. For a long time the Roman Catholics were excluded from Parliament and could not be employed in any Government office, and still they never claimed any special representation. Now all these disabilities have been removed, and Roman Catholics, equally with the Protestants, hold the highest positions in the State. In this matter the example of Great Britain has been followed in all the great countries of Europe and in the United States of America, and the result is what we see. I am certain in my mind that Turkey, Egypt and Syria are going to do the same thing; and if they do not, they will never be free. Does anyone expect India to be the only exception to the rule?


/8/ Turkey was declared a Republic on 29 October 1923 under Mustafa Kamal and on 3 March 1924 the Great National Assembly of Turkey abolished the Caliphate. This was an important step in the process of secularization of the State and modernization of Turkey.
        A new constitution was promulgated in Egypt on 19 April 1923 and a Parliament was established. The new constitution was based on principles of liberal nationalism which formed a radical departure from traditional Islamic doctrines. The secularization of Turkey under Kamal Ataturk had a deep impact on Egypt and under Zaghlul Pasha, who assumed power in 1924, Egypt too started on the road to gradual secularization of the State.
/9/ S. E. Stokes, an American missionary, who became [a] naturalized Indian and accepted Hinduism. He settled at Kotgarh in Simla Hills and was imprisoned during the Non-co-operation movement.
/10/ The reference is to three eminent British Jews–Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Britain, 1874-80 and 1898; E. S. Montagu, Secretary of State for India, 1917-22; and [the] Earl of Reading, Governor-General of India, 1921-25.

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