At the outset, some clarifications would indeed be in order. Firstly, I am a Hindu who does identify with and largely appreciate Hindu lore and Hindu philosophy. Secondly, Muslims not subscribing to Sufi schools of thought are not necessarily extremists, and most of them too believe in religious tolerance, at least of the ‘live and let live’ variety. One of the most liberal and modernist Islamic preachers in South Asia, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi in Pakistan (who has faced many death-threats), is, for example, not a proponent of Sufism. Likewise, Sufism too is not uniform, and there are multiple Sufi orders (and multiple points of view within a certain Sufi order), all of which cannot be held to be equally liberal, and the Naqshbandi school of Sufi thought, for instance, has elements opposed to music (not every Naqshbandi is anti-music either), as was the case with our nationalist leader Maulana Azad’s father Maulana Khairuddin, who was even averse to modern education. A certain Hindu-rightist critic of Sufi Islam, in an article that got many Facebook shares, cited some Naqshbandi clerics’ antipathy to the Sikh Gurus, but overlooks that the Sikh Gurus themselves incorporated poetry by non-Naqshbandi Sufis like Baba Farid, and requested Mian Mir, a Qadri Sufi, to lay the foundation of the Golden Temple, to which Mian Mir consented. On the other hand, it is indeed true that while acts of bombings or shootouts classified as terrorist attacks (of which innocent Muslims, even in Muslim-majority countries, are also becoming victims) are indeed seldom to be seen among adherents of Sufi Islam, it is not as though communal attitudes are nowhere to be seen among them, and many of them too actively campaigned, at times even violently engaging in riots, for the partition of India on religious lines, and one of India’s most communal Muslim politicians allegedly involved in riots, Azam Khan, is from the Barelvi sect of Sufi Islam, as is Mumtaz Qadri, assassin of liberal Pakistani Muslim politician Salman Taseer, Taseer having raised his voice against the blasphemy law being misused against Pakistani Christians. Besides, while the Quran or even the quotations of Prophet Muhammad do not prohibit women from joining worship congregations with men, most mosques in our subcontinent disallow women (not the case in Egypt, Turkey etc.), and even many Sufi shrines don’t allow women in the sanctum sanctorum. So, steep classifications of Sufi and non-Sufi as translating to liberal and illiberal respectively are not always appropriate, though it can be indeed broadly said that the more dangerously violent and illiberal trends may be seen more in the puritan, non-Sufi sects of Sunni Islam.
Now, coming to what this article is about, India’s religious syncretism is a matter of concern for the very communal puritans in all religious groupings residing in this pluralistic nation, and the most obvious opposition to the argument of any stereotypical notions about the practice of Islam necessarily always being “intolerant” to others lies in the all-embracing approach of Sufi shrines present across India. Thus, it is only natural that this annoys the ultra-rightist elements among the Hindus, and so, they tend to explain this phenomenon, which they can’t buy as intrinsic to Islam, by way of either appropriating Sufi Islam as uniquely Indian and borne out of only Hindu influences or by way of suggesting Sufism to be a smokescreen for a sinister agenda. Of course, many ignorant and gullible people buy either of these two contentions.
Let’s take the former contention of appropriation first. The idea that Indian Muslims are “different” from Muslims elsewhere in terms of being more liberal is one that is put forth not only by Hindu rightists but even by many other people, but is hollow chauvinism. Implicit in this contention is the idea that Muslims in all parts of the world other than India, while not necessarily being supporters of terrorism, are necessarily very regressive and sexist in their thinking, and are not very accommodating towards people of other religions, and certainly not of questioning mainstream Islamic beliefs and practices, leave alone Islam itself. This hypothesis actually smacks of baseless chauvinistic nationalism to say the least. While it is true that most Muslim-majority countries have theocratic constitutions (though many of them in Central Asia, Africa and Europe have secular constitutions too) and Islam being a relatively recent religion in world history as compared to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and the likes, is yet to undergo, to borrow a usage of Lt Gen (Retd) Ata Hasnain of the Indian Army, as much churning from within as compared to older religions to have a more broad-based consensus among its adherents on embracing modern human rights values in totality, the position of women and non-Muslim minorities in Bosnia, Malaysia, Chad, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or even the UAE cannot be equated with that in Saudi Arabia or the erstwhile Talibanised Afghanistan. And within Saudi Arabia too, for example, women, supported by gender-sensitised men, have flouted the driving ban imposed on them, and people like Raif Badawi are facing lashes for boldly espousing secular democracy, and many such people exist in our western neighbour Pakistan too, by the way. Also, the phenomenon of criticizing and rejecting Islam by people from Muslim families has historically existed even in the Middle East. Take, for example, Al Maari (whose statue in Syria was recently beheaded by ISIS terrorists) and Ibn al Rawandi. Besides, many secular Indians are indeed blissfully ignorant of extremism among sections of Indian Muslims, and the intolerance of many Muslim rulers in the Sultanate period and thereafter debunks the idea that Indian Islam was always tolerant till before some Gulf money started pouring in over the last few decades, and a dichotomy of Islam in India and the Middle East as liberal and illiberal respectively would actually be a bit too generalised.
However, it’s not just the scepticism of religion, as expressed by the likes of Ghalib, being confined to Indian Muslims that is alluded to but that the mystical, syncretic Sufi Islam was born in India and exists only here. This is simply not true, and it exists among Muslim communities ranging from Morocco to Turkey to Iran to China (and is still practised by some even in Saudi Arabia), and some of the most well-known Sufis, like Rumi from Turkey and Omar Khayyam from Persia, were not Indian. Some other prominent Sufis who were Arab or North African are Dhun Nun Misri, Haris al Muhsaibi, Abul Hasan Sari Saqti, Bayazid Bistami, Sahl ibn Abdullah Tustari, Abul Hasan Nuri, Junayd of Baghdad, Mansur al Hallaj, Abu Bakr Shibli, Abu Al Hasan Khaeqani, Abu Said ibn Abi Khair, Al Ghazali and Ibn al Arabi, among very many others.
Coming to Sufi Islam being a tool for conversions, it was not born in India, and came to India from the Middle East (though influenced by Indian philosophy even in the Middle East, as also Greek and Persian philosophies), and here, like elsewhere, sought to emphasise the pluralistic and accommodating side of Islam, given Islam’s emphasis on every nation having been sent its messenger by God (Prophet Muhammad being the last), thus implying the validity of all religions inasfar as basically containing the same divinity, even if corrupted over a period of time. Very many mainstream Muslims do indeed believe that Islam is the only religion that can lead to God since the advent of Prophet Muhammad, as mainstream Christians believe the same for Christianity since the advent of Jesus, but that doesn’t entail intolerance towards those of other faiths. To explain this with an analogy, if a certain coaching centre (analogous to Islam or Christianity, going by the mainstream interpretation) claims it is the only one that can get students admitted into say, IIT (analogous to heaven), and even encourages its students to get students of other coaching centres and those not taking any coaching to join that particular coaching centre, it cannot be equated with forcing others to join their institute or killing those not willing to do so. In fact, both the Bible and the Quran preach the message of peaceful coexistence with other religious groups (verses 2:256, 5:2, 5:8, 5:32, 6:108, 6:151, 10:99, 49:13, 60:8 and 109:6 in the context of the Quran and Rom. 12:18 and 1 Tim 2:2 in the context of the Bible). If many practitioners of Sufi Islam held this view (of Islam being the only religion leading to heaven, and while the Bible and the Quran have violent verses, they are taken by peace-loving adherents of the religions as contextual, as has been discussed here), and even sought to peacefully convert others to Islam from this standpoint, even employing symbolism from local lore, as Peter did in Athens, that should not be seen as problematic, so long as there was no luring or coercion, and the form of Islam advocated preached tolerance to others. While Hinduism is not a proselytising religion in the conventional sense, when ISKCON and other such outfits have propagated Hindu beliefs and practices overseas, many Christians, Jews etc. have converted to Hinduism too, which is indeed completely valid even from a modern human rights standpoint, and Sufis did not have to engage in idolatry or other Hindu practices if they didn’t subscribe to them to prove their tolerance. There is this interesting anecdote of a Sufi saint Baba Farid of telling his disciple who gifted him a pair of scissors to gift him a sewing needle instead, for he preferred things that join over things that cut.
However, some of the adherents of Sufi Islam have even controversially suggested that all religions, given their basic divinity, can lead to God. In support of their argument, the following Quranic verses have been cited (the reference to ‘people of the book’ is to Jews and Christians, whose prophets are also regarded as prophets by Muslims)-
“Paradise is not [obtained] by your wishful thinking nor by that of the People of the Book. Whoever does a wrong will be recompensed for it, and he will not find besides Allah a protector or a helper.” (4:123)
“And they say, ‘Never will the Fire touch us, except for a few days.’ Say, ‘Have you taken a covenant with Allah ? For Allah will never break His covenant. Or do you say about Allah that which you do not know?’ Nay, but whosoever hath done evil and his sin surrounds him; such are rightful owners of the Fire; they will abide therein. And (as for) those who believe and do good deeds, they will be among the people of Paradise wherein they will live forever.” (2:80-82)
“Say (unto them): If the abode of the Hereafter in the providence of Allah is indeed for you alone and not for others of mankind (as ye pretend), then long for death (for ye must long for death) if ye are truthful. But they will never long for it, because of that which their own hands have sent before them. Allah is aware of evil-doers.” (2:94, 95)
“And among the People of the Book is he who, if you entrust him with a great amount [of wealth], he will return it to you. And among them is he who, if you entrust him with a [single] silver coin, he will not return it to you unless you are constantly standing over him [demanding it]. That is because they say, ‘There is no blame upon us concerning the unlearned.’ And they speak untruth about Allah while they know [it].
But yes, whoever fulfills his commitment and fears Allah – then indeed, Allah loves those who fear Him.”
“They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Book is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer].
They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to good deeds. And those are among the righteous.
Indeed, those who disbelieve – never will their wealth or their children avail them against Allah at all, and those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” (3:113-116)
Thus, it is clear that as per the Quran, not all Jews and Christians will burn in the hell-fire! Furthermore, the Quran reiterates this for even others identified as non-Muslims in the following verse-
“The believers, Jews, Sabeans, and the Christians who believe in God and the Day of Judgment and who do what is right will have nothing to fear nor will they be grieved.” (5:69)
The following verse also hints in this direction-
“Indeed, those who have believed and those who were Jews and the Sabeans and the Christians and the Zoroastrians and those who associated with Allah – Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Indeed Allah is, over all things, Witness.” (22:17)
Thus, the 15th century Indian Sufi poet Abdul Quddus Gangohi wrote-
“What is this unwholesome uproar that one is a believer and the other a disbeliever? One is obedient and the other a sinner; one is on the right path and the other has gone astray; one is Muslim and pious and the other is a heretic and pantheist. The truth is that all submit to Supreme Lord like flowers of different colours integrate into one garland.”
Earlier, a 12th century Persian Sufi poet Sanai had written-
“What can be done with quarrelsome fellow travelers, boastful marketplace morons?
If you were really a lover you’d see that faith and infidelity are one…
Oh, what is the use? Nitpicking about such things is a hobby for the numb-brained!”
And Al Arabi, a 13th century Arab Sufi poet, wrote-
“A garden among the flames!
My heart can take on any form
A meadow for gazelles, a monastery for monks,
For the idolaters, it is temple, for devout pilgrim, it is the Kaba,
The tables of the Torah, the scrolls of the Quran
My creed is Love; wherever its caravan turns along the way,
That is my belief, my faith.”
Perhaps, the interpretation of the usage of the term ‘Islam’ in the Quran by such ultra-heterodox Sufis in the context of being the only valid religion to attain heaven is taking ‘Islam’ not as the denominational religion it came to be, but its literal meaning as a regular Arabic word, implying ‘peace’ or ‘submission’.
Next, we may discuss the line of argument that Sufism is only a smokescreen, a device, an advertisement to eventually bring people to an intolerant version of Islam, which is the end product, or a way to make non-Muslims accept second-class citizenship in a Muslim theocracy at the very least. A very simple rebuttal to the idea that proponents of Sufi Islam don’t mean what they’re saying and actually are acting at the behest of intolerant Muslims is the simple fact that adherents of Sufism have fallen prey to the intolerant brand of Islam as have non-Muslims, be it historically, with the assassination of Sufi saints like Sarmad in India and Mansoor in Baghdad, the detention of Dhun Nun Misri (who claimed to decode secrets of the Egyptian Pharonoic faith that predated Islam) or the Taliban and ISIS targeting Sufi shrines even today. If Sufis were actually agents of the extremists, this wouldn’t have been the case and this is, as I see it, indeed the most irrefutable argument.
In India, Sadia Dahlvi has written about about Prince Dara Shikoh executed by his brother Aurangzeb on the charges of heresy (no one has questioned or countered this)-
“Prince Dara Shikoh, son of emperor Shahjehan and disciple of Mullah Shah wrote to Shah Muhibullah, a reputed Sufi of Allahabad enquiring whether discrimination between Hindu and Muslim subjects is permissible in state matters. The Chisti Sufi replied in the negative, explained that God sent Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. as ‘Rahmat al Alameen’, Mercy for all of creation and not for Muslims alone. Dara Shikoh translated the Upanishads into Persian with the help of learned Hindu scholars.”
And while idol-worship is not a prerequisite for tolerance to Hindus (Arya Samajis and Brahmo Samajis among Hindus reject it) and most Sufis don’t engage in it, a Sufi from Sindh, Shah Abdul Latif, even engaged in idol-worship in a Hindu temple, justifying it saying that the spirit was correct and Allah had punished Satan for not bowing before man, Allah’s finest creation. A Sindhi Hindu writer who also believes in Sufism, like many other Sindhi Hindus (who even often recall being protected by many Sufism-following Sindhi Muslims during the horrendous partition riots), Motilal Jotwani, has described it in the following words-
“Shah Habib probably took Abdul Latif to be a kafir (non-believer) for the latter had showed respect for the idol at Hinglaj. But Shah Abdul Latif saw the idols as symbols. He looked up to his father with awe and admiration, but very often would show him his own will and wisdom. He, therefore. did not acquiesce to his judgement, and was reminded of Azazil (later, Satan) who had disobeyed the command of God by not bowing before the idol of Hadrat Adam (man) and forfeited his high position. Had he shown flexibility of mind and done it running contrary to the provision of shariah for a while he would have been close to God like all other angels who had obeyed him. Abdul Latif says: ‘To be one with Him/ set aside the chapters of the shariah and be a kafir’.”
Sufi interpretations of the Quran have room for such heterodoxy owing to their esoteric nature, as discussed in some detail here. Indeed, many Sufis have even suggested that the ritualistic fasts and prayers of Islam were not as fundamental once one really touches the spiritual and mystical side of oneself, though many scholars like Ghazali and Waliullah tried to suggest that this was going too far in terms of heterodoxy, and their version of Sufism was relatively less heterodox. Yes, such Sufis subscribing to mainstream Islamic customs also subscribed to an Islamic legal system (sharia), and this was in a period of history when religion and state were yet to be separated even in Europe, but it matters that their version of the sharia wasn’t necessarily rooted in the writings of Muslim jurists who interpreted the Quran and the quotations of Prophet Muhammad in a very orthodox fashion stifling rights of women and non-Muslims, as the example of the Sufi saint Muhibullah referred to above, clearly demonstrates. The sharia has multiple interpretations and versions, on which no consensus has been arrived on in the Islamic world till date.
Yes, it is also true that many Sufis had good relations with several Muslim rulers and gave them their blessings when it came to military conquest, but military conquest was the norm before the world wars of the 20th century, with even Hindu lore referring to Ram engaging in the ashwamedh yagya and Yudhishthir in the rajsui yagya geared for military conquest with the support of sages, and Ashok in India and Akhenaton in Egypt advocating respect for some kind of state sovereignty were exceptions in pre-modern world history.
Some have accused the Sufi saints of not opposing intolerant policies by many Muslim rulers, but many Sufis stayed aloof from matters of governance, that was not a democratic era with such freedom of expression to defy the rulers and heterodox Sufis like Sarmad were also assassinated by intolerant rulers. However, there have been instances of even non-Sufi Muslim clergy advising rulers to not desecrate Hindu temples, the most noted example being such advice having being given to Sultan Sikandar of Kashmir. That way, even many Bhakti saints of the Hindus haven’t left many accounts of Muslim intolerance. By the way, several ancient Hindu rulers like Mihirakula and Pushyamitra Shunga too have been accused of anti-Buddhist intolerance in historical records.
Speaking of apostates of Islam (“ex-Muslims”) criticising their former religion, there is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, levelling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites. Indeed, as you can see here and here, there are several other apostates of Islam who have stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are correct and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), they have equally explicitly emphasized that that does not in the least mean that they believe that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people.
And in fact, even speaking of the West, a report submitted by Europol, the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, showed that only 3 out of the 249 terrorist attacks (amounting to about 1.2%) carried out in Europe in 2010 were carried out by Muslims. Even in the United States, most terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005 were not carried out by Muslims. And no, I am not in the least seeking to undermine the heinousness of the crimes committed by some in the name of Islam by pointing to others having committed similar crimes under other ideological banners, for a more highlighted wrongdoing is no less of a wrongdoing than a less highlighted wrongdoing, but only to point out that viewing only Muslims as villains, and that too, all or even most of them, would indeed be grossly incorrect. However, despite jihadist terrorists being a microscopic minority of Muslims, Islamist terrorism has become a bigger global threat for its well-coordinated international network since the 1990s, with the US-backed Islamist resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan having signaled its rise. And, let us not forget that when we had the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the victims included Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who died fighting the terrorists (and by the way, there are more French Muslims in the local police, including those who have died fighting jihadist terrorists, than in the Al Qaeda unit in their country), Mustapha Ourad, a Muslim who was one of the magazine staff members killed in that attack and there was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shopkeeper who gave sanctuary to many innocent civilians during the hostage crisis in Paris that followed. Even in the context of the more recent attacks in Paris, a Muslim security guard Zouheir, risking his own life, prevented one suicide bomber from entering a packed football stadium. More recently, Kenyan Muslims very laudably protected fellow bus commuters, who were Christians, from jihadist terrorists, and Kurdish, Emirati, Iraqi and Syrian Muslims have also been fighting the ISIS. In India too, most of the terrorism is not by Muslims, as you can see here and here.
It is not as though communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, demonstrates, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country. It is also not as though Muslims are another species that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists almost make them out to be, portraying Muslims in general as cruel, slimy, backstabbing and aggressive (many Muslims whom the non-Muslim readers would know personally would not exhibit such traits if the non-Muslim readers were to analyze dispassionately, rather than making baseless presumptions, and indeed, most Indian Muslims are of Hindu ancestry and so, they share the same genes as the Hindus – Hindu religious lore also refers to treacherous human beings like the Kauravas wanting to burn the Pandavas in a wax palace; so, treachery was not unknown to India before the advent of Islam, as royal family feuds among the Nanda and Gupta rulers also demonstrate, and some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who were not Muslims, nor was Chengiz Khan who was an animist), but like many people in other communities in different contexts, some (not all) Muslims are in the stranglehold of anachronistic ideas like a global pan-Muslim fraternity and the upholding of Islamic law, other than having prejudiced notions in the form of an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and I have dealt with how to ideologically combat Muslim extremism in some depth in this article.
Sacrificing animals as a religious ritual is indeed not exclusive to Muslims, and ‘bali’ has existed among Hindus too, something Gautam Buddha (who lived centuries before Jesus and Muhammad) had opposed (and even Emperor Ashok the Great consumed meat of peacocks, which he stopped after embracing Buddhism, though interestingly, Buddhists in China, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam etc. do consume meat, as do most Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Parsis, and what is halal for Muslims in terms of dietary regulations and the mode of slaughtering some animals is identical to what is kosher for Jews and several sects of Christians, and that is true for the practice of circumcision for males as well, which even has health benefits), and still continues in many Hindu temples across India, especially in West Bengal during the Navratri season. (By the way, vegetarians among Muslims, though few and far between, do exist, and some Indian Sufis like Hamiduddin Nagauri in Rajasthan and some others in Kashmir practised vegetarianism.) Also, it may interest some to know that the story of Prophet Abraham associated with Id-ul-Zuha is found in the Old Testament of the Bible too, which the Jews and Christians also believe in (those regarded as prophets by the Jews are regarded as prophets by the Christians too, with the addition of Jesus, and those regarded as prophets by the Christians are regarded as prophets by the Muslims as well, with the addition of Muhammad). And obviously, not all of Arab cuisine is non-vegetarian either, with Arab vegetarian dishes like strained yogurt using labneh cheese and sweet dishes like zlabia, popular in South Asia as jalebi!
There are also misplaced notions of Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India, though the Muslim population growth rate is declining (not the population itself, which cannot decline usually for any community), and the population growth rate of Keralite Muslims is less than UPite Hindus, for instance, and yes, even otherwise, if someone sees Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India as a real problem, they should appeal to the Indian government to legally impose a two-child norm for all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion, rather than just generate unnecessary hatred for an entire community and divide the nation. Many Hindus criticize Muslims for having many children because they practise polygamy as permitted by their faith (though census reports have established that Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims, even though it is illegal for the former, and I myself know a Hindu electrician in Delhi who has engaged in bigamy), even though that actually doesn’t make a difference to the number of children as long as the number of reproductive women remains the same. Four women would respectively give birth to the number of children they would, irrespective of whether they are married to one man or four different men! In fact, polygamy is not prohibited by Hinduism as a faith (and, in fact, it was outlawed for Hindus only after independence, and Nehru faced stern opposition for the same from orthodox Hindus). The Puranic lore is full of multiple marriages by a single man – to quote some prominent examples, Krishna had thousands of wives, prominent among whom were Rukmini, Satyabhama and Jambvati; his father Vasudev had two wives, Devki (Krishna‘s mother) and Rohini (Balram‘s mother) and Ram‘s father Dashrath had three wives, besides even Bheem having a wife other than Draupadi (Gatodkach‘s mother) and Arjun too had several, including Krishna‘s sister Subhadra. In fact, the law mandating monogamy for Hindus was introduced only after independence! Also, Islam mandates a limit of four wives and a responsibility of the husband to look after his multiple wives (if he has multiple wives in the first place) equally well, though I do agree that even this is anachronistic today. As for harems, these too have not been a monopoly of Muslim rulers, and the practice has existed among Hindu rulers too, such as in South India, and even among Buddhist rulers in Sri Lanka. And there are indeed many Hindus too, particularly in rural areas and in several cases, even among the urban educated class, who have several children even if they are monogamous. Many educated Hindus who have been public figures, like former president V.V. Giri, former prime minister Narasimha Rao and our very own Lalu Prasad Yadav have all had many children, and even Narendra Modi is the third of his parents‘ six children.
Also, there are some who accuse Muslims of being the only community that carries out inter-cousin marriages, but that is true for Parsis as well and Hindu lore mentions Abhimanyu marrying his maternal uncle Balram‘s daughter (though this is a South Indian folk adaptation not to be found in the Puranic lore, it shows that the idea hasn‘t always been abhorrent in Hindu societies) and Rajasthani folklore has it that Prithviraj Chauhan too eloped with his cousin and while even this is contested by historians, he has never been looked down upon for the same, and even today, this practice exists in South Indian Hindu societies.
And for those suggesting any marriage between a Hindu boy and Muslim girl as amounting to “love jihad”, they may note that many Muslim women too have married Hindu men, like Katrina Kaif, Sussanne Khan, Zohra Sehgal (formerly Zohra Khan), Neelima Azim (Pankaj Kapoor’s wife), Nargis and leading Mumbai cyclist Firoza, and some have even converted to Hinduism upon marriage, like famous sitarist Annapurna Devi (formerly Roshanara Khan), fashion model Nalini Patel (formerly Nayyara Mirza), Maharashtra politician Asha Gawli (formerly Zubeida Mujawar), South Indian actress Khushboo Sundar (formerly Nakhat Khan) and Bollywood actress Zubeida.
Recently, even the Modi sarkar conceded that there is no evidence whatsoever to justify the Hindu rightist conspiracy theory of the Taj Mahal having been a temple of Lord Shiv. One may add in this context that there is this totally incorrect notion that Muslims are the only ones who stop non-Muslims from entering some of their holiest places of worship like the Kaba in Mecca, but actually, several Hindu temples, like the Pashupati Nath temple in Nepal, too bar non-Hindus from entering them, while many mosques and Sufi shrines have absolutely no problem with non-Muslims visiting them or even praying there. Also, the conspiracy theory about the Kaba being a Shiv temple have their basis in the writings of one Mr. Oak, who was not even a historian, and he is actually not even taken seriously even by those historians, Indian or of other nationalities, who have saffron or other religious right-wing leanings, and in fact, some votaries of this theory claim that Lord Shiv has been ‘imprisoned’ by Muslims, which refutes the logic that God is all powerful! Oak also said that Christianity is Krishna-Neeti (though ‘Christianity’ as a term does not exist in Hebrew, and came about much later in history!) and many other such ludicrous things! There are websites making claims about non-existent Arabic texts to prove their point. While such propaganda (except the bit about Lord Shiv being ‘imprisoned’!) may please the Hindu chauvinist who desperately wishes to imagine ancient India to be the only centre of human civilization, impartially speaking, one ought to thoroughly dissect it before taking it seriously. These are just completely baseless rants being circulated on the social media that don’t have the backing of any serious historian, not even the most right-wing ones. These conspiracy theories are typical of loony religious rightists, including Muslim rightists in Pakistan attributing 26/11 to RAW and many genuine liberal Muslim intellectuals in Pakistan are dismissed by conspiracy theorists as agents of the CIA, RAW and/or Mossad!
For all residual resentment against Muslims, I’d request you to peruse (not skim through and judge based on one’s preconceived notions) this e-book of mine available for free download.
Thus, many of the arguments advanced against Sufi Islam or denying it of its Islamic nature by Hindu rightists don’t really hold much water.
(Image Courtesy: Flickr)