Monday, October 31, 2005

Muslim Intellectual Perception of Hinduism

The establishment of Turkic rule in India opened up many opportunities for contact between Hinduism and Islam. A number of Muslim scholars had made some significant attempts to understand Hinduism. Al-Biruni, Amir Khusrau, Nakhshabi, Mir Gesudaraz, Abul Fazl and Dara Shukoh were among the Muslim intellectuals, who had given considerable contribution to Muslim understanding of Hinduism. Not only Muslim scholars, some Muslim rulers too took part in this attempt by encouraging the Muslim scholars of their time to translate Hindu books.

Al-Biruni (d. after 1050) translated Sanskrit classics into Arabic. He then wrote his “Kitab fi Tahqiq ma li al-Hind” in order to acquaint his Ghaznawid rulers with Hinduism. He admitted that there were many barriers separating Hindus from Muslims but claimed that they were based either on political reasons or on language barriers. He found the contemporary Hindus were full of religious prejudices, insularity, exclusiveness, national pride, and conceit. Al-Biruni admits that previous generations of Hindus were more liberal but stresses that prejudices against foreigners were universal. He also acknowledges the fact that, although the Hindus he met refused to enter into religious arguments, many Muslims forbade any discussion at all on religious matters.

Al-Biruni’s main thesis in the “Kitab fi Tahqiq ma li al-Hind” is that the beliefs of educated and uneducated people are different. The educated tries to conceive abstract ideas and to define general principles while the uneducated submit to derived rules and regulations. In the concept of God al-Biruni says that Hindu believe that the God is eternal, without beginning and end, acting by free will, almighty, all wise, living, giving life, ruling, preserving, unique, beyond all likeness and unlikeness. To substantiate this assertion, he quotes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the Bhagavad Gita and the Sankhya-Karika.

Being a mathematician and scientist, al-Biruni was hostile to mystical ideas. He refused sufi irrationalism and compared Muslim alchemy and Hindu rasayana (chemistry) with witchcraft. In his “Kitab fi Tahqiq” he explains Hindu caste, class and family organization, their cultural attitudes, folk customs, mores and prejudices in a historical context. He defines the Hindu color divisions as tabaqat (classes) and the caste (jati) as birth divisions (nasab). The Brahmans were created from the head of Brahma, the Kshatriya from his shoulder and hands, the Vaishiya from his thigh, while the Sudra from his feet. Below the Sudra were the Antyaja or casteless. Hadi, Doma and Chandala were outcast.

Amir Khusrau was deeply impressed by India, but his studies of Hinduism were not based on Sanskrit sources. He was impressed by by the depth of learning among Indians and their ability to speak any language. He greatly admired Brahmans, who could teach all subjects without having studied to overseas and who had devised the numerical system, invented zero, invented chess and written “Kalila wa Dimna”, on the art of government. He found Indian music has peculiar charm not only for human but to animals also. He admitted that the Hindus believed in the unity and eternity of God and were superior to materialists, star worshippers, and Christian. Although the Hindus worshipped stones, animals, plants and the sun, they believed that these things were god’s creations and they only imitated their ancestors. In his masnavis called “Nuh Siphr” (Nine Skies), he admired the devotion and enthusiasm of the Hindus for their religion and urged the Muslims to be as devoted to their faith as they were.

Nakhshabi, who has better better understanding of Sanskrit had translated two Sanskrit works, one of them Chintamani Batha’s “Suka-saptati”. Mir Gesudaraz also studied Sanskrit to defeat the Brahman’s arguments and convert them to Islam. On the basis of the translation of works on physics and astronomy, Izzuddin Khalid Khani compiled the “Dala’il Firoz Shahi”. Varahamihira, a celebrated Indian astronomer, translated “Brhatsamhita” from Sanskrit to Persian.

Abul Fazl gave a detailed description of Hinduism in the third volume oh his “’Ain –e-Akbari”. He urged his Muslim readers to study his account of Hindu learning with open minds. He was convinced that the Hindus followed their faith uncritically and were prey to superstition.

Dara Shukoh translated the Upanishads in order to discover any wahdatul wujud doctrines hidden in them. He accused the Hindu pandits oh hiding the upanishadic truth from both Muslims and Hindus in order to keep their teachings on the wahdatul wujud secret. Dara Shukoh believed that his translation would help mystics of both faiths, although he stressed the primacy of the Quran, the translation proved to be of universal interest.

Several Muslim rulers also ordered the translation of various Sanskrit works into Persian in order to satisfy their own intellectual curiosity and to increase Muslim understanding of Hinduism. Firoz Shah Tughlug commissioned Sanskrit scholars to translate some 1,300 books from “Jwalamukhi” temple into Persian. Sultan Zaynul ‘Abidin of Kashmir and Sultan Sikandar Lodi also ordered the translation of Sanskrit books into Persian. In order to heal the religious differences amongst his subject, King Akbar opened translation bureau (the maktab khana), which considerably change the Muslim perception of Hinduism. The most remarkable productions were the translations of the “Mahabharata”, “Ramayana” and “Yoga Vashishta”.

Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi, a sufi of Naqshabandi order, considered that prophets had come to India, although the Indians generally ignored their teachings. He did not believe that Rama and Krishna were prophets nor they were divine names. Mirza Mazhar Jan-I-Janan, in contrary, accepted both Rama and Krishna as prophets.

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11 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:12 AM

    How did you arrive at these "historicalfacts"??

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  2. Bravo, It is an admirable attempt to shed light on Islam and its impact on India. Please continue your yeoman endeavours and it will help in forging good relations between the Hindus and the Muslims and may even help the Westerns in enlightening them about the Islam, which is a religion of peace.
    M.L. Sharma

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