A Convo Down The Lane (Part I)
While travelling from Delhi to Ahmedabad in the train I met a gentleman from Uttar Pradesh, Mr Manoj (name changed) who is a geophysicist from a premier institute and currently works in one of the best PSUs of the country. Shortly, after I finished offering Namaz, he called upon me for a chat. Actually, He had a few curious questions.
He started by saying;
Question: What is your nimaz all about? What do you read?
The question can be attributed to his curiosity to know more regarding a faith and a people that he has heard and perhaps wondered a lot about.
Answer: I read out the Sura-e-Fatiha, a chapter of Quran which is read out in every Namaz. Essentially I told Mr Manoj the meaning of the verses which emphasise the concepts of the Almighty, the sustainer of the universe, the day of judgement, that worship and divinity which belongs only to our Creator. That it is proper to only invoke Him, the Almighty instead of invoking of powerless objects which are themselves nothing but God’s creations. In our Namaz we seek the shelter of God from such absurdity in which there is absolute loss.
Question: Why are there so many conflicts between Muslims and other faiths. I see there are many issues between Muslims and Jews and Christians etc?
Essentially he is making his way to questions he is more curious about. The first question was just ‘a warm up delivery ‘as they call it in cricketing jargon. He seems more interested in material aspects of religion rather than spiritual.
Answer: You see my friend God created humans and bestowed them with intelligence making them the best of creation. He sends His messengers from time to time to the people to give them the code of life. To show people the righteous path and to lead them to salvation. Humans are always filled with awe by powers he cannot overcome. And they have been subjected to its furry since times immemorial. Lightning, fire, sun, rivers, these symbols of power have been made as symbols of worship, metamorphosed into deities. So humans got distracted from the path messengers had shown them. Also after a messenger would pass away his followers would gradually deviate from his teachings. They would alter them for their benefits, a slow process whereby rituals and elaborate religious practices crept in replacing the austere and simple guidance that the messengers brought. I gave him the example of pre-renaissance Europe. I told him how the clergy would give letters of reprieve to rich sinners in lieu of money. To sum it up all it I told him that the prophets of Jews and Christians are our prophets as well. Their love and respect is an essential part of our eman. That it is quite possible that the avatars and Bhagwan’s of your faith were messengers of the Creator. But since a lot of time has passed their teachings have been distorted. We see this process of distortion taking place amongst Muslims as well. Hindus made their noble men into Bhagwan’s ending up worshipping them and ascribing divinity to them. Christians did the same attributing godliness to Jesus Christ (as). Even in Muslims, we see deviant sects raising the status of the beloved Prophet (s.a.w) to the level of divinity.
Mr Manoj wanted a political conversation though. I don’t know whether he listened to my spiritual thoughts. As it turned out later spirituality to him was not a concern.
Question: Were not your ancestors Hindus?
He began telling me that it was during Aurangzeb’s era some Hindus converted due to the imposition of jizya. He asked me whether we ever talked about our Hindu ancestors in our family talks.” Don’t you ever think of converting to Hinduism again”, he asked. He claimed he had a friend who told him that they wanted to convert but wouldn’t due to societal compulsions.
Let me analyse the dynamics of his question a bit. It is essentially a typical saffron narrative. The narrative that makes the gentleman feel that the Muslims of India are either the progeny of invaders or of selfish unfaithful people of his nation who chose to imitate the invaders for economic or socio-political reasons or for other types of benefits. There is another narrative another vision that runs contrary to the one he subscribes to. One that views India as a crucible of civilisations where people of diverse origins came, kept coming and settling creating a composite Indian culture. More importantly, this narrative considers Muslims as a part of that crucible process who added their bit to the culture and glory of India. Which narrative of the two holds sway in today’s India? A question to ponder upon.
Answer: My answer was terse. Brother why should we ever think so. We consider ourselves lucky that we have been delivered from the darkness of polytheism to the light of monotheism. Hadn’t we got the blessing of Islam we would still be worshipping stones instead of our creator? And yes the jizya thing, we get to hear it again and again. It has been made a punching box by the so-called liberal intellectuals who specialise in Islam bashing. Jizya is a protection tax and nothing else. While military service was necessary for all Muslims of an Islamic state, if need be, it was not so for the non-Muslim citizens. Instead, they needed to pay a small tax to the state as the state was protecting them as well as their religious constructions. There is a great example from our glorious history of the same, from the time when Syria was liberated by Muslims from Romans, It’s non-Muslim inhabitants paid the jizya tax. When Romans gathered a huge army to take Syria back, it was decided that it was more prudent to meet the enemy in the open rather than garrisoning the cities. All the jizya tax was given back to the non-Muslims. They were told how the protection tax can be kept when they can no longer be protected. That is it. Jizya is not a monster that it is made to be. It is not a tax envisaged to encourage conversion as biased writers make people believe. Even its collection has been directed to be lenient. It can’t be levied on old and frail that is the people who can’t pay it.
In any case, jizya was not imposed ever in India except during a few and rare period, notably the reign of Aurangzeb. Thus it is utterly ridiculous to relate Indian Muslims to conversions allegedly due to jizya during Aurangzeb’s era. It is just a laughable proposition. To add I am from Kashmir, no Muslim army came to Kashmir. It was Muslim scholars who came and preached and our ancestors chose the path to salvation, mukti as you call it. In fact, the only path to salvation left in the world, with all other paths having been distorted over ages and their innate simplicity and beauty sacrificed at the altar of rituality. Islam is a faith that doesn’t need worldly incentives to attract people. It has attracted people out of intellectual and spiritual convictions to adopt it. It has been the case throughout history and continues to be so. Be it the celebrated Indian writer Kamla Das or the famous American musician Yusuf Estes or the South African cricketer Wayne Parnell or the English journalist Youne Ridley or the sister in law of Tony Blair, Lauren Booth. They all converted not for jizya but for other reasons, spiritual and intellectual ones.
The gentleman looked bemused at my answer. He was adamant that he had read about jizya in books. I agreed that there are authors who subscribe to this view but only out of their biases and prejudices, the same ones that shape his narrative.
Mr Manoj now moved to questions related more directly to politics than religion. These, along with the conclusion, will be covered InshaAllah in the next piece.
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