This is the first of a two part article by Sri Arun Shourie (former editor of the Indian Express, Magsaysay award winner and presently Minister for Disinvestment) published in the Sunday on 31st Jan 1993.
Of course, he said, Hindus who became Muslims must be taken back into the Hindu fold. Otherwise our numbers will keep dwindling -- we used to be around 600 million by the reckoning of Ferishta, the oldest Muslim historian, now we are just 200 million. "And then", he continued, "every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more."
That is the new darling of the communists and secularists, Swami Vivekananda, answering questions put to him by the editor of Prabuddha Bharat. Not only what he goes on to say but the word he uses for the converts is bound to stick in the secularists� throat. "Again," says Swami Vivekananda continuing his reasons for accepting them back as Hindus, "the vast majority of Hindu perverts to Islam and Christianity are perverts by the sword, or the descendants of these. It would be obviously unfair to subject these to disabilities of any kind. As to the case of born aliens, did you say? Why, born aliens have been converted in the past by crowds, and the process is still going on..." (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume V, pages 233-4. In all subsequent references to these books, the number of the volume is given first followed by the page number.)
That is the trouble with rushing into the charge with a quotation or two, without immersing oneself in the thought and world view of the person. Not just the CPI and CPI(M), but a host of fellow-travellers, too, have suddenly alighted upon Swami Vivekananda as if he can be a handy instrument. They forget -- or at least would have us forget -- what they used to say about Ramakrishna and Vivekananda till the other day. If one were to just reproduce today what they used to allege about the relationship between the two, that would be enough to start a riot in Bengal. There are two other ways to weigh their sudden fondness for him.
The central premise of Swami Vivekananda�s entire life was that the essence of India lay in religion; that the religion of our people was the Hindu dharma; that this was not the just the lever by which India was to be reawakened, the truths the Hindu seers had uncovered were the goals to which that reawakened India had to be turned, and that these truths were that pearl of inestimable value which it was India�s mission to give to the world. Which red-blooded communist or secularist will own up to this credo? The other way to assess their quotation mongering is equally telling: before you launch on your hunt for serviceable quotation from the Swami, consider what he said on Islam. Considering that you suddenly find him to have been a man of such insight will you accept his views on that too?
The Swami on the Prophet
There is the embarrassment to start with that, unlike Jesus and the Gospels, the Swami never thought it worth his while to devote time to studying the Prophet�s life and teaching in any depth. When he recounts the life of the Prophet (see for instance, I. 481-3) it is in extremely simplistic terms: number of wives and all. His general view of the Prophet seems to be that the Prophet was an inspired but untrained yogi, and the Swami uses him as a warning. This is how he puts the matter in his treatise on Raja Yoga:
On The Book
The central claim of Islam, as of Christianity, is that it has been given The Book, that it alone has been given The Book, that therefore it alone possesses The Truth. That there was The Book- the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran- the Swami said had one effect; it helped the adherents to hold together. But apart from that the effect of The Book � whichever this happened to be � was baneful. Our communists will not find the Swami�s verdict palatable, not the least because the Swami�s words apply to them and the fetish they made of their Book just as sharply as to Islam etc.!
"One of the great advantages of a book," the Swami says, "is that it crystallises everything in tangible and convenient form, and is the handiest of all idols. Just put a book on an altar and everyone sees it; a good book, everyone reads. I am afraid I may be considered partial. But, in my opinion, books have produced more evil than good. They are accountable for many mischievous doctrines. Creeds all come from books, and books are alone responsible for the persecution and fanaticism in the world. Books in modern times are making liars everywhere. I am astonished at the number of liars abroad in every country." (IV. 44).
Moreover, the Jew, the Christian, the Muslim each has his own book. The Books are at variance. Each says his books alone are right. How is the contest to be settled? Surely it cannot be settled by using any of the Books themselves as the yardstick. It can only be settled by subjecting all of them to reason (I. 368, II. 335) -- the very procedure the faithful will not allow!
The Book itself is but a specific example: an instance of the claim to being the sole possessors of Truth. That is the central claim of every Semitic religion, of Islam most of all. Again I doubt if our communists will reproduce what he had to say about this claim, if for no other reason than because once again the words apply so very aptly to their own claim to being the sole possessors of The Revelation. Here it is:
On Universal Brotherhood
The claim of Islam, as of every other Semitic religion right up to and including Marxism-Leninism, that it is the doctrine of Universal Brotherhood, the Swami punctures on this count: these religions talk of Universal Brotherhood even as they divide the world between believers and non-believers, not just consigning the latter to external damnation, but binding the believers to exterminate them altogether.
"The more selfish a man," says the Swami in words that the communists will certainly not quote, "the more immoral he is."
"And so also with the race. That race which is bound down to itself has been the most cruel and the most wicked in the whole world. There has not been a religion that has clung to this dualism more than that founded by the Prophet of Arabia, and there has not been a religion, which has shed so much blood and been so cruel to other men. In the Koran there is the doctrine that a man who does not believe these teachings should be killed; it is a mercy to kill him! And the surest way to get to heaven, where there are beautiful houris and all sorts of sense enjoyments, is by killing these unbelievers. Think of the bloodshed there has been in consequence of such beliefs!" (II. 352-2).
The consequence is inevitable. "Now", says the Swami, "we all shout like these drunken men, �Universal Brotherhood!� We are all equal, therefore let us make a sect.� As soon as you make a sect you protect against equality and equality is no more. Mohammedans talk of universal brotherhood, but what comes out of that in reality? Why, anybody who is not a Mohammedan will not be admitted into the brotherhood; he will more likely have his own throat cut. Christians talk of universal brotherhood; but anyone who is not a Christian must go to that place where he will be eternally barbecued." (II. 380).
The scorn Islam has for idol worship and the enthusiasm it has for smashing idols and temples meets with more than scorn from the Swami. Pratika and Pratima have a deep meaning, the Swami explains again and again. They are aids to gathering our wayward minds, devices for imbuing ourselves with higher attributes -- over the ages the idols are endowed with these attributes through lore, and tradition, and association, and then by contemplating the idols and attributes we imbibe them. The iconoclasts don�t just miss the significance of the idol. They become idolators of the lowest kind themselves.
People -- Muslims no less than others- find it difficult to worship the Spirit as Spirit. They therefore revert to the same forms of worship one way or another. But not having been taught, and not having reflected on the true and higher significance of the idol or mental image, they get stuck at the lowest level, at worshipping the object "in itself but not as help to the vision" (Drishtisaukaryam) of God", so that it remains "at best only of the nature of ritualistic Karmas and cannot produce either Bhakti or Mukti." (See, for instance, III. 61, 362; VI. 59-60) Worship of saints, worship of their graves (all entirely forbidden by the Prophet) are examples that the Swami often gives of Islamic idolatry, as in the following typical passage:
In view of such reversions the Swami scoffs at the claims of Christians against pagans and of Muslims against idolators. He puts all of them at par, saying that they are all at the same preliminary stage all must pass through. Here is how he puts it:
Central teaching and consequence
Islam is the religion of peace, we are told again and again. Sufis -- their thought, their music -- are presented to us as the hallmark of Islam. That is certainly not the reading of the one our communists and secularists suddenly find so quotable.
"Why religions should claim that they are not bound to abide by the standpoint of reason," Swami Vivekananda writes, "no one knows. If one does not take the standard of reason, there cannot be any true judgment, even in the case of religions. One religion may ordain something very hideous. For instance, the Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran, �Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans.� They must be put to fire and sword. Now if we tell a Mohammedan that this is wrong, he will naturally ask, "How do you know that? How do you know it is not good? My book says it is�. " (II. 335)
It is not only philosophic among them who have objected to this thrust of the teaching, the Swami says:
Little seems to have come of the remonstrations of the philosophers however. For in Swami Vivekananda�s reading, the influence of Islam was determined by its central teaching -- to kill or be killed in the war to bring peace to the world.
The Hindu more than others, and the Hindu priests more than ordinary Hindus, Swami Vivekananda recounts, became the targets of slaughter:
History accordingly turned gory with the coming of Islam to India, the Swami says: