Islam’s encounter with other religions was quite violent. The history of Crusades launched by Christian powers is well known. It was Hinduism alone that provided Islam with a fertile ground for growth, something it had denied for long centuries even to indigenous Buddhism. Muslims’ treatment of Hindus, too, was quite considerate and in keeping with the Islamic spirit of Lakum Deenakum Waleya Deen (For you your religion, for me mine, the Koran -109:5). As Hindus had the reputation of being polytheists and idolaters, Muslims could have treated them as Kauffar and Mushrekeen (religious deviants). Instead, the very first Muslim to conquer parts of India—Sind and Multan in 711 AD—Mohammad bin Qasim, accorded them the special status of Ahl-e-Kitab (people who follow divine books brought by messengers of God before the Prophet Mohammed) that was at first thought to be meant for Christians and Jews alone. (Muslims are permitted to have the best of social, including marital relations, with the Ahl-e-Kitab). Even the Central Asian bandits who invaded and looted India could not disturb the growing and deepening spiritual ties. A number of Sufi saints spent their lifetime in India, spreading the message of Islam, that literally means peace, that comes with total surrender to God. The Prophet Mohammed, too, is believed to have felt an attraction for India.
The Indian sub-continent’s pre-eminent poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal wrote:
Meer-e-Arab ko aaee thandi hawa jahan se,
Mera watan wohi hai, mera watan wohi hai.
(From where the Prophet Mohammed received a Cool Breeze,
That is my motherland, that is my motherland.)
Hindus as Ahl-e-Kitab
Some primordial spiritual connection must have been at work. For only recently have Muslim scholars learnt that Hindus indeed constitute the fourth major group of Ahl-e-Kitab mentioned in the Holy Koran repeatedly. For some mysterious reason, the Holy Koran had left this question vague. It mentioned a major religious group as ‘Sabe-een’ as the ummah (community) of a prophet who had brought a divine book bearing God’s revelation to the world. It also mentioned Hazrat Nooh (Prophet Noah of the Bible) as a major prophet ranking with prophets like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. But who the followers of Hazrat Nooh are was left a mystery.
Painstaking research has been going on seeking the fourth major Ahl-e-Kitab. From Hazrat Shah Waliullah, Maulana Sulaiman Nadvi and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi to a contemporary scholar from Uttar Pradesh, Maulana Shams Navaid Usmani, a number of scholars from the sub-continent, too, contributed to this effort. It is now clear that Hindus are indeed the lost ummah of the Prophet Nooh, whom they know as Maha Nuwo. Evidence from Markandaya Puran and several Vedas, and their description of ‘Jal Pralaya’ (devastation caused by the Flood, as in the biblical and Koranic stories of Noah’s flood) has been most helpful in this search.
The authenticity and finality of the above-mentioned research has not to be accepted by any one, however, to be able to know that the Hindus do indeed constitute a major Ahl-e-Kitab ummah (religious community). According to the Holy Koran, there is not one nation in the world in which a prophet has not been raised up: “There are not a people but a prophet has gone among them” (35:24). And again: ‘Every nation has had a prophet’ (10:47). And again: ‘And we did not send before thee any but men to whom we sent revelation [Divine Book]’ (21:7).
We are further told that there have been prophets besides those mentioned in the Holy Koran: ‘And we sent prophets we have mentioned to thee before [in the Koran], and prophets we have not mentioned to thee [in the Koran]’ (4:164).
It is, in fact stated in a famous Hadees (also written as Hadith, meaning sayings of the Prophet, as distinct from the Holy Koran, which is believed by Muslims to be the word of God revealed to the Prophet) that there have been 124,000 prophets, while the Holy Koran contains only about 25 names, among them being several non-Biblical prophets. Prophets Hud and Salih came in Arabia, Luqman in Ethiopia, a contemporary of Moses (generally known as Khidzr) in Sudan, and Dhu-i-Qarnain (Darius I, who was also a king) in Persia; all of which is quite in accordance with the theory of universality of prophethood, as enunciated above. And as the Holy Koran has plainly said the prophets have appeared in all nations and that it has not named all of them, which in fact was unnecessary and not even feasible. Thus a Muslim must accept the great luminaries who are recognized by other religions as having brought light to them, regardless of the terminology used to describe them, as the prophets that were sent to those nations.
The Koran, however, not only establishes a theory that prophets have appeared in all nations; it goes further and renders it necessary that a Muslim should believe in all those prophets. In the very beginning we are told that a Muslim must ‘believe in that which has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Issac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and in that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make distinction between any of them’ (2:136). The word ‘prophets’ in this verse from the Koran clearly refers to the prophets of other nations.
Again and again, and in different contexts, the Holy Koran speaks of Muslims as believing in all the prophets of God and not in the Holy Prophet Mohammad alone: ‘Righteousness is this that one should believe in Allah and the last day and the angels and the books and the prophets’ (2:177). And again in the same surah (chapter): “The Prophet believes in what has been revealed to him from His Lord and so do the believers; they all believe in Allah and His angels and His books and His prophets: And they say ‘We make no distinction between any of His prophets'” (2:28).”
Sultan Shahin, Asia Times Online, Dec 6, 2003
Sages mentioned in the Vedas were already ancient to its composers living in 4000 B.C.E.!
One of the great ironies of religious history is that, although the religions that came out of the Near East—Judaism, Islam, Christianity—adamantly reject most of Hinduism’s fundamental teachings, their mystical traditions—the Kaballah, Sufism, and Christian Gnosticism—reflect Hindu insights in almost every detail. Numerous students of comparative religion, from Muslim scholar Al Buruni in 1000 C.E. to the world famous writer Aldous Huxley nearer our own time, have expressed their amazement at the parallels between the major mystical traditions of the world and Hinduism…
Hinduism is by far the most complex religion in the world, shading under its enormous umbrella an incredibly diverse array of contrasting beliefs, practices, and denominations. Hinduism is by far the oldest major religion. It has had more than enough time to develop a diversity of opinions and approaches to spirituality unmatched in any other tradition.”
Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism, pages 76-77
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Alpha; 1st edition (October 11, 2001)
“The Eternal Religion
Hinduism is so ancient its origins are lost in the mist of prehistory. Many sages are associated with it, but none claim to be its first prophet. Hindus believe their religion has existed forever, even before the universe came into being. They say the truths of their faith are inherent in the nature of reality itself, and that all men and women peering into the depths of their inner nature will discover the same truths for themselves.
The image too many outsiders have of the Hindu tradition is of primitive, superstitious villagers worshipping idols. As we get to know the Hindus better, we’ll see that their understanding of who and what is God is incredibly sophisticated. In fact, their view of the world and our place in it is so stunningly cosmic in scope that our Western minds start to boggle!
Let’s enter the universe of Hinduism, an amazing world where inner and outer realities reflect each other like images on a mirror, and the loving presence of the divine is as close as the stillness behind your own thoughts…
You might think it takes a lot of chutzpah (if I may borrow a Jewish term) to claim that your religion is eternal. What Hindus mean when they say this is their tradition doesn’t come from any one founding father or mother, from any single prophet towering over the bastion of hoary antiquity. In fact, the first few verses of the Veda, an incredibly old book, parts of which were composed 6,000 years ago, acknowledge the sages who were already ancient to its composers living in 4000 B.C.E.!
Very old Hindu texts speak of a time when it became almost impossible to survive on Earth because of ice and snow. This could be a reference to the last Ice Age, some Hindu scholars believe. Archaeologists have unearthed small statues of goddesses from 10,000 years ago (that’s about the time the Ice Age was ending) like those being worshipped in Indian villages today. So even if we’re not willing to grant that Hinduism is eternal, we still have to admit it got a jump on the other major religions…
I’d really like to bring home to you the vastness of the time scale Hindus are talking about here. One area where Hinduism and Judeo- Christian tradition agree is in saying that at the moment we’re in the seventh day of creation. But according to the Hindu sages, a day for God is a bit longer than our human day of 24 hours.
The following schema was taught to me by Swami Veda Bharati, a renunciate who lives in a tiny ashram in Rishikesh in northern India. He’s a devotee of the Divine Mother. (The Goddess is a major league player in Hinduism, and you’ll soon see.)
Swami Bharati’s time frame, preserved in the Hindu mystical tradition, starts with a day and a night in the life of our local creator god. Years here mean human years:
– One day and night in the life of Brahma is 8,640,000,000 years.
– The lifetime of Brahma is 311,040,000,000,000 years.
– One day and night in the life of Vishnu equals 37,324,800,000,000, 000,000 years.
– The life of Vishnu is 671,846,400,000,000,000,000,000 years long.
– One day and night in the life of Shiva lasts 4,837,294,080,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000 years.
– Shiva’s lifetime corresponds to 87,071,293,440,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000 years.
– One glance from The Mother of the Universe equals 87,071,293,440, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
It might surprise you that Hinduism speaks of gods dying. Not to worry—they’re reborn again later like the rest of us! According to Swami Veda Bharati’s tradition, at any one moment there are trillions upon trillions of Brahmas, Vishnus, and Shivas manifesting their universes within the endless expanse of the Divine Mother’s awareness.
This, folks, is Hinduism’s Big Picture…
But the thought I’d like to leave you with is that for many millennia the Hindu sages have claimed that if we purify our minds with spiritual practices and open our hearts to learn from her, The Mother of the Universe begins to share her secrets with us.
In the West, we peer into space with powerful telescopes hoping to learn the origin of the universe. The Hindu approach is to couple astute observation of the world outside us with a self-disciplined inner journey. Peering into the depths of consciousness in our own minds, we connect with the consciousness that underlies the entire cosmos. Truths other cultures need radio telescopes to ferret out simply present themselves to our concentrated inward attention.
To India’s mystics, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are not just characters invented to make a good story. They represent actual states of divine awareness that are available to devotees, provided only that the devotee is prepared to do the spiritual work to access them.
In fact, in Hinduism the point of doing spiritual practices is to attain jnana, living knowledge of Divine Being. it’s an ambitious agenda! (Jnana means knowledge, specifically knowledge that you know in your soul, not just your brain. it’s related to the English words gnosis or gnostic.)…
The BIG Picture
Why did God create the universe? Hinduism offers several suggestions:
1. He was lonely. He looked around and saw He was by Himself. He desired to become many. And whatever God wants, God gets. The moment that wish entered His mind, an infinite number of souls emerged from His limitless intelligence to keep Him company.
2. She likes to play. The Goddess can’t sit still for a moment. She’s always got to be doing something. All these worlds are Her game, or “Her sport” as Hindus like to say.
3. The Divine Being is so brimming with bliss, He/She spills over. Shiva/Shakti (God and Goddess who are both two and one in Hinduism) spontaneously generate cosmic after cosmos. Creative energy simply pours out of the Divine. it’s the nature of the Supreme One to create, as it’s the nature of light to shine.
In the Western religious traditions, God creates us out of nothing. In Hinduism, Divine Being creates us out of itself. This means we are literally one with the divine, one with everything else in the universe, and one with each other.
Hinduism is about finding our place in an immense universe. It shows us how to deal with suffering and where to find joy. It reveals how learning to know our own inner Self is the key to entering the consciousness of God.
In the Western world, until very recently, there’s been a tendency to consider Hindus ‘primitive’ and ‘supertitious’ because they believe there is a living spirit everywhere. What I hope you remember is that Hindu thought isn’t primitive at all. In fact it’s fantastically sophisticated. Hindus look at reality through a different lens than Westerners do, but in the context of Hindu culture, their understanding of who God is, how His laws operate, and what our position is in relation to him is just as insightful as the Western viewpoint.
The least you shouls know:
– The Hindu tradition is extremely mystical.
– Hindus consider their faith to be “The eternal religion.”
– Time doesn’t end; it spins on in cycles through eternity.
– Direct personal experience of God is the purpose of life.
– Everything arise out of consciousness.
If you had been around in the third millennium B.C.E., India is where you would have wanted to be. The quality of life was higher there than practically anywhere else in the world. In fact, the towns of North India in 2600 B.C.E. were more comfortable and technologically advanced than most European cities till nearly the time of the Renaissance!
Religious life was vibrant in ancient India. Some of the oldest surviving spiritual writings came from this part of the world. They reveal a religion that was both boisterously earthy and transcendently mystical—not unlike Hinduism today.”
Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism, pages 1-17
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Alpha; 1st edition (October 11, 2001)