This free-flowing narrative illuminates the journey of the author, a devout Muslim, through sacred books and holy men of all religions-starting with his own-in search of a personal god and faith, and his coming upon the Bhagavad Gita. Examining commentaries on this text, from Sankara to Abdur Rahman Chishti, alongside some renderings of the Quran here, Moosa Raza finds many common threads: summoning God through sadhana or dhikr; reaching God through daan or giving and the service of the destitute; and seeking ecstasy through self-mastery, detachment and surrender.
These original observations are complemented by his encounters with people practicing these values, like his ailing school teacher who felt God was always beside him or his friend, a senior civil servant, who, trusting in Allah’s providence, kept an open home for the poor and the homeless. Through these experiences and his own striving, Raza celebrates the oneness and power of faith and spirituality, showing a path for other seekers.
Moosa Raza retired from the IAS, is a polyglot and a respected scholar of Islam. He has been principas secretary of the chief minister of Gujrat, chief secretary in Jammu and Kashmir an adviser to the Governor of Uttar Pradesh and secretary to the Government of India in the Cabinet Secretariat and in the ministry of Stel. Currently, he is the chairman of the South India Educational Trust, which runs Six educational institutions, and of the Executive Committee of Coastal Engergen Pvt. Ltd. In 2010, he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan. He lives with his wife in chennai.
In the aftermath of the destruction of the twin towers in New York in 2001, there was a wave of anti-Muslim feelings all over the world. Its momentum has not abated yet. The pogroms in Gujarat in February-March 2002, subsequent to the earlier event, led to anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic feelings in some sections of the Indian society. There were even discussions about finding a final solution to the ‘Muslim problem’. Sometime during 2002, I was approached by Ms Sudhamahi Regunathan, the then vice chancellor of the Jain Vishva Bharati University of Rajasthan, in a rather perturbed state of mind. As a believer in the Jaina concept of Anekantvad, she felt that the misunderstandings that existed between various religions, especially among the elite of India, require to be actively addressed. She wondered if I would be willing to address a group of senior executives of various corporate houses in Delhi and professors from other universities and talk to them about Islam. I gave a series of three lectures on Islam in the auditorium of the National Museum in Delhi. Since the audience consisted almost entirely of non-Muslims, mostly Hindus, my lectures necessarily placed Islam and its founder in the context of India, Hinduism, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the great epics of India. I also touched briefly on the Sufi interpretation of Islam and the role the Sufis played in the religious life of Islam. Sudhamahiji, I am told, later produced a CD based on these lectures.
Since I had quoted profusely from the Bhagavad Gita and the Sufi texts to explain the basic beliefs, the philosophy and mysticism of Islam, she later wondered whether I would be willing to give a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita to another set of people. I was quite reluctant to do so as I believed, and continue to believe, that my knowledge of the Gita is not of a level worth exposing to the scholarly and the erudite. However, she somehow persuaded me and I gave a lecture on the Gita with the title ‘The Bhagavad Gita and I’. I chose this title to make it clear that I was planning to speak on the Gita on the basis of my personal encounter with that song and with some of the people who had integrated its teachings in their personal lives. The title helped me escape any criticism of my lack of in-depth knowledge of the great book.
Many friends who heard the lecture later wanted me to expand it, giving more details of the encounters which could not be covered in a one-hour lecture. That was how this book was conceived.
It is very unfortunate that though the Hindus and the Muslims in India have been living together for more than a thousand years, knowledge about each other’s religious books is often absent and, if present, it is generally superficial. After Al Beruni’s book on India, the Kitab-al-Hind, and the fourteen chapters he devoted to the Indian religions, hardly any Muslim writer has studied Sanskrit and read the Hindu texts in the original. Similarly, I am yet to come across a Hindu writer who is capable of writing authoritatively on Islam and the Islamic texts-the Quran and the Hadith in particular. European scholars have devoted considerable attention to Islam and its religious text as well as to Hinduism and its texts. They have produced well-researched and erudite works for at least over a hundred years. Sometimes, of course, their gaze is orientalist, in the sense that Edward Said meant it. Even so, of late, I have noticed this attitude changing. My effort here is to clear the misunderstandings around the two great books of Indian religions-the Bhagavad Gita and the Quran. My deep study of these books and related literature has shown me that instead of typifying Samuel Huntington’s classic clash of civilizations, they are so close to each other, both in spirit and in language, that they promote a sense of unity rather than of separation.
The famous Dr Hans Kung, professor of ecumenical theology and president of the Global Ethic Foundation, writes:
No peace among nations
Without peace among the religions.
No peace among the religions
Without dialogue between the religions.
No dialogue between the religions
Without investigation of the foundations of the religions.
The establishment of global peace demands an understanding and a civilized dialogue among religions, especially among the great religions of the world.
This book is a small attempt to understand the foundations of these two great religions-their followers constitute one-third of the world’s population-which have been investigated by the savants of both. It would be too much to claim that there are no differences between the religions. Islam is distinct from the other religions, with its own beliefs, rituals and customs and so are Hinduism and Christianity. For that matter, so are Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and the other religions of world. However, a civilized and rational approach to all these religions throws up the fact that they all have a common denominator. It therefore behoves us to recognize the dignity of difference, as Jonathan Sachs would have it, and move towards that underlying denominator.
The word ‘tolerance’ has been much abused in the last few decades. Everybody preaches that we must tolerate Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and so on. The word ‘tolerance’ implies that there is something unpleasant which requires to be tolerated, with forbearance and patience. In the present context, when tensions mark the relationship between various religions, this word has become outmoded. What is required is not tolerance but respect for each other, born out of understanding and appreciation. This is a much higher level of understanding than mere tolerance. Hindus and Muslims of India especially must recognize, understand, appreciate and respect the religious texts of each other.
One is reminded of what Ghalib said in one of his Persian verses, more than a century and a half ago.
Sar az hijab-e-tayyun agar berun aayad
Cheh jalwaha keh b’har kish mitawan kardan.
If man were to come out of the self-limiting veil that covers his eyes, what glorious revelations he will see in every faith.
This book therefore seeks to inculcate that feeling of respect for each other’s belief and thoughts which the sages, rishis and Sufis have tried to over centuries.
The Bhagavad Gita, one of the significant religious texts of the Indian subcontinent, has been read, paraphrased, expounded on and translated many times by Islamic scholars, beginning with Al Beruni, whose paraphrases of the Gita sound almost like a commentary on the Quran, to Abdur Rahman Chishti’s commentary on the Gita. Chishti claims the text to be Krishna explaining to Arjuna, by analogy, the secrets of tawhid-the oneness of God. ‘To God belongs the East and the West. To whichever direction you turn, you face the countenance of God. For God is All Embracing and All Knowing,’ says the Quran. ‘Call “Allah” or call “ar-Rahman”, whatever the name you call, to Him belong the most beautiful names.’ Much earlier, the Rig Veda had said ‘ekam sat, vipra bahuda vadanti’-truth is one and the wise call it by many names.
There have been many translations of the Gita in Urdu, mostly in prose. I have even read a paraphrased version of the book in Arabic. However, my coming across Dil Mohammad’s translation in verse was an altogether different experience. It was obvious that he had translated the Gita into Urdu verse not because he was trying to convey a message. It was not a tour de force. Dil Mohammad was obviously deeply impressed by the message of the Gita and touched by the lessons taught to Arjuna by Krishna. The simple words-a mixture of Urdu and Hindi-used by Dil Mohammad and a rhythmic flow he maintained in the rhyming verses impressed me no end. I read out passages from his translation to a number of my friends who were equally impressed and subsequently bought copies of their own to read.
So, apart from citing Sanskrit and English passages, I shall be using Dil’s Urdu translation extensively, for it is a translation done with the heart, not with the mind. Perhaps some of my readers who know Urdu would be encouraged to read the Gita, if the passages cited in this long essay touch their hearts.
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