Fusing faiths

THE VANDE MATARAM CONTROVERSY



As a devout Indian Muslim I love singing ‘Vande Mataram’. I have memorised its Sanskrit version. The obsolete and redundant controversy over ‘Vande Mataram’, a wonderful patriotic song, has again landed it into an unnecessary political quagmire owing to a diktat by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind at it’s annual conference in Deoband.

The acrimonious debate raging these days made me recollect my childhood when we would sing ‘Vande Mataram’ full throated. If I had not sung that song then, would I have been a better Muslim? What does it matter what a child sings? We should just allow our children to do what the teachers ask them to do. Even if the first two stanzas were against the tenets of Islam and if the children sang them, Allah would forgive the kids. Allah is ever clement, forgiving, merciful. So says the holy Quran.

Except for a few myopic rabble-rousing clerics, the song is a non-issue with Muslims. Muslims must follow the example of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was bold enough to propagate nationalism to Muslims at variance with the prevalent political consciousness based on communalised politics, while supporting the same with Islamic sanction. The Maulana saw in ‘Vande Mataram’ the fusion of the endogenic creativity, the Vedantic vision of many parts of truth with the Islamic doctrines of Wahdat-e-Deen (unity of religion) and Sulah-e-Kul (universal peace).

While listening to a rendition of ‘Vande Mataram’ in 1952 by a renowned maestro, Krishna Kumar, in Delhi, Maulana Azad admired it, saying that it was graceful and inspiring as great luminaries like Rabindranath Tagore, Surendranath Banerjee, Satyabhushan Gupta, R N Bose, H Bose and others had sung it.

On the occasion of the inauguration of the ICCR, the Maulana’s forehead was smeared with a ‘tilak’ at which ‘Dawn’, a Pakistani daily commented in a cartoon that he had converted to Hinduism. At that, the Maulana said that in fact by such participation his faith in his religion strengthened.

The tragedy of Muslims is that they have failed to project the true tenets of their faith which are far more open, broad-based and liberal than those of Hinduism. H G Wells, one of the worst critics of Islam, conceded: “Islam prevailed because it was the best social order that the times could offer. It was the broadest, freshest, and cleanest political idea that had yet come into actual activity in the world.”

The fundamentalist and obscurantist Muslim clerics and intelligentsia on the one side, while the opportunist BJP politicians and the calculating Congressmen on the other, have all have dragged the most charming, beautiful, patriotic and nationally-flavoured ‘Vande Mataram’ into a quagmire for mere political mileage. Muslims should not get carried by a few lines of the song as nobody is asking them to bow down.

Muslim voices of sanity aren’t loudly heard. Today, Islam is under the scanner owing to a multiplicity of voices stating that the religion seemingly advocates separatism, violence, etc. ‘Vande Mataram’ is the latest to be added to the list. I fail to understand why some of my co-religionists are trying to make a religious issue out of ‘Vande Mataram’ that has a universal appeal for all Indians irrespective of caste, creed and faith.

Giving life to dead issues

While the Jamiat passed a resolution supporting an earlier decree against the song, it drew fierce criticism from the Sangh parivar constituents — Shiv Sena, BJP and VHP — which called the move ‘anti-national’. Such moves by Muslim clerics actually rejuvenate otherwise sidelined redundant and dormant hardliners like Uddhav Thackeray, Praveen Togadia, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, etc. What is also unfortunate is that clerics like the Shahi Imam (of Jama Masjid), Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahli and others give Hindutva forces the handle to beat Muslims with. Why should we fault Togadia for airing anti-Muslim statements when our own clerics pour vitriol that give the impression that Muslims are less patriotic than the Hindus?

The media is also responsible for creating such an impression by repeatedly giving publicity to speeches by these clerics who are no more than bigots. My friend, scriptwriter and lyricist Javed Akhtar believes the controversy over the national song is obsolete and those who have any objection to it should simply not sing it. The voices of secular, patriotic and liberal Muslims never get a forum. We live in a liberal society where we are encouraged to know about one another’s religion. Does a Hindu become ‘ashudh’ (impure) by going to the Jama Masjid or a church? Don’t the Muslim children going to missionary schools, sing the psalms from the Bible during morning assembly? Do they come back home their faith lost?

Then how is ‘Vande Mataram’ un-Islamic? The lyrics “Mother, I bow to thee! Rich with thy hurrying streams, Bright with thy orchard gleams... Mother, to thee I bow...,” found to be objectionable, are nothing of the kind as we do not do ‘sijda’ (bow) before anyone except Allah. Where’s the controversy except in the minds of the misguiding fundamentalists?

As far as Muslims are concerned, true, as per the dictates of Islam, they can never worship or bow in front of anything other than Allah. But that doesn’t take from them the fact that they are loyal to the nation and that they do not need a certificate to prove this.
It is high time that Muslims in India understand that their existence is linked with that of Hindus and that they cannot separate themselves and think of living in their own outdated ghettos on the pretext of saving their religious identity. Befriending Hindus and striving to understand them is the practical approach. Muslims must explore, identify and enlighten themselves on the common grounds between Islam and Hinduism and their holy scriptures, though in different languages but sharing several common ways of life. If a sincere attempt is made, both Hindus as well as Muslims will discover that many of their roots are nurtured by similar philosophies, composite culture and thinking.

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