by Jayaram V
Islam originated in the desert sands of Arabia as a reaction
native traditions based on the revelations received by
Prophet Muhammad. Hinduism originated in the temperate climate of
the Indian subcontinent as a result of the synthesis of different
indigenous and foreign traditions and in continuation of the prehistoric
religious beliefs of lost civilizations. Although founded by a prophet,
in Islam we find echoes of ancient Judo Christian beliefs, with
some deviations that are unsettling for both. If in Islam we find
the vibrancy of a young and recent religion that is intent upon
conquering the world in its zeal to embrace the humanity, in Hinduism
we find the patience and tolerance of an ancient tradition, which
is willing to let the world takes its own time to appreciate its
wisdom and understand its universal appeal.
Definition and Antiquity
The word "Islam" is derived from the Arabic root word "salaama,"1
meaning peace, obedience, purity, and
submission. Islam means abiding peace and unconditional obedience
to the will of God and His divine law. While other religions derive
their names from either a tribe (Judaism), or a geographical area
(Hinduism), or a founder (Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Christianity),
Islam derives its name from its central doctrine of peace and submission
to God. Thus the chief message of Islam is hidden in its very name.
While the followers of other religions may call themselves as Christians,
Jains, Buddhists etc., the followers of Islam refer themselves as
Muslims or Mussalmans, but never as "Muhammadans," which
some non-Muslims however tend to call them erroneously.
Islam by all means is a religion founded by a prophet. Hinduism,
in contrast, is a group of religious traditions, established over
a period of time, through the revelations received by innumerable
saints, seers, incarnations and emanations of God. It contains various
traditions such as Saivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism that are religions
by themselves. In Hinduism personalities do not count as much as
the divine law or the dharma. So it is in Islam, where the message
of Islam is far more important than the person of Muhammad himself. Muslims
therefore do not worship their prophet, unlike the Christians.
The word "Hindu" or "Hindoo" is derived from
the Sanskrit root word "Sindhu" and used by Persians,
ancient Greeks and many foreigners to denote the people who lived
beyond the river Indus, whom Alexander could not conquer. During
the medieval period, Islamic scholars and Muslim travelers referred
the Indian subcontinent as Hindustan or the land of the Hindus.
The word stuck for several centuries and throughout the Islamic
Caliphate. During the British rule, the word Hindu was used to distinguish
the native Indians who were not Christians, nor Muslims, nor Sikhs,
nor Jains, nor Buddhists. The word Hinduism was coined in the 1830s
by British scholars to denote the religious traditions of the native
Indians to distinguish them from other recognized religions. While
they are now popular all over the world under the generic name Hinduism,
for generations Hindus recognized their religious traditions as
aspects of one eternal Truth that went by the name "sanatana
dharma" or eternal law. It is interesting that for over 6000
years, Hinduism went by many names but Hinduism.
Sources of Doctrine
The message of Islam came to Muhammad for the first time through
the angel Gabriel, when he was 40 years old, in the year 610 AD,
on Mount Hira, near Jabal alNur, the Mountain of Light, in a cave,
where he usually used meditate. He continued to receive the revelations
for the rest of his life, which were compiled into the Qu'ran, the
chief holy book of Islam. The word Qu'ran means something that is
read or recited. For the Muslims, it is the inviolable and unchangeable
law of God. Every word in it is believed to be the "actual
and literal" word of God that cannot be interpreted other than
what it is. Divided into 114 chapters (surahs), containing 6000
verses (ayats) and composed in beautiful poetic Arabic, it is recited
in every household of the Islamic world and memorized by many by
heart. The second most important text of Islam is Hadith, which
contains the sayings and deeds of Muhammad, known popularly as Sunnah
(the well trodden path). While the Qu'ran is indisputable, the statements
of the Hadith often pose problems to the Muslim scholars with regard
to their interpretation. Another important source of Islamic practice
is Sharia, the Muslim law, which is derived from both the Qu'ran
and the Hadith.
Hinduism considers the Vedas (knowledge) to be the revelations
of God, which are inviolable and eternal, revealed to the mankind
in every age for their welfare and spiritual liberation. It constitutes
the very foundation of Dharma, or the Law of God, upon which rests
the entire creation. The end part of the Vedas are the Upanishads,
which constitute the philosophical base of Hinduism known as Vedanta
and which contain the elements of monotheism and descriptions of
God as the Supreme Lord of the universe. Perhaps if there is one
scriptural source of Hinduism that sums up the vision of Islam concerning
God and His glory, it is the Vedanta. Other important sources of
Hinduism are the works explaining the six schools of Hinduism, the
Vedangas or the limbs of the Vedas, the Puranas or the chronicles
of ancient legends and history, the Bhagavadgita, the Agamas or
the scriptures of Saivism, the Tantric texts, the epics like the
Mahabharat and the Ramayana and the works and sayings of many seers,
sages, masters and great souls such as Sri Shankaracharya, Sri Ramanujacharya,
Sri Madhavacharya, Abhinvagupta, Lakulisa, Ashtavakra and so on.
The Dharmashastras such as Mansusmriti, Apastamba Sutras etc., constitute
the chief law books of Hinduism, which prescribe code of conduct
for the preservation of social order and promotion of virtue and
welfare of people
The Chief Practices
Central to the practice of Islam are the five pillars, namely
Shahada, Salat, Saum, Zakat and Hajj.
- Shahada is the daily recitation of the declaration
(tawhid) of Islamic creed concerning Allah and His messenger,
based on the firm conviction that there is no God but Allah
and that Muhammad is His messenger.
- Salat is the observation of ritual prayers to be
performed five times a day (at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset
and night). The prayers are in conformity with the Islamic belief
that worshippers can communicate with God directly without the
intervention of intermediaries such as priests and mullahs.
- Saum is fasting every year from dawn to dusk during
the month of Ramadan which include abstinence from food, liquids
and sexual union between married couple.
- Zakat is payment of charity tax as a specified percentage
of one's earnings to the poor and the needy in order to accomplish
inner growth and purification of ones possessions.
- Hajj is making a pilgrimage to Mecca, to pay a visit
to the Ka'ba, the holy shrine, at least once in a life time.
Together these five pillars constitute the Islamic way of life
and provide an opportunity to the faithful to adhere to the principles
and practices of Islam as established in its sacred texts. The main
festivals of Islam are Id al-Adha, which is celebrated to commemorate
the end of the Hajj and Id al-Fitre, which is used to celebrate
the end of the Ramadan month.
In Hinduism God is worshipped in many different ways. It is essentially
by honoring the dharma or the law of God, which consists of performing
obligatory duties that are specific to the caste, profession, gender
and the age of a person, and the pursuit of the four chief aims
of human life (purusharthas), namely dharma (virtue), artha (wealth),
kama (sensual pleasures) and moksha (liberation). Public and domestic
sacrificial rituals are prescribed for various castes of Hindus.
These rituals are either daily (nitya) or occasional (naimittaka),
as prescribed in the Grihya Sutras and Srauta Sutras. The daily
rituals are performed by an individual during different times in
a day, in which offerings are made to the gods, the elements, one's
ancestors, animals and the humans. The occasional rituals are performed
by an ordained priest according the procedures established in the
scriptures. In addition, there are several rites of passage or sacraments
(samskaras), performed during different periods of a person's life,
starting from his conception till his death. Not all Hindus however
practice these rituals and sacraments. Many follow the devotional
path and offer prayer and worship to their personal deities, either
by visiting a temple or in their own houses.
Pooja is the most popular form of worship in which prayers, chants,
flowers, incense and other ritual material are offered to one's
personal deity, considering Him or Her to be the highest and the
supreme. Pooja is the means to communicate with gods directly, with
or without the intervention of an intermediary. Devout Hindus also
participate in satsangs or religious gatherings, devotional singing
or chanting and recitation of the names of God. They also spend
time listening to religious discourses in public gatherings. Hindus
who are on the path of spiritualism, practice some form of yoga
and meditation, usually under the guidance of an adept guru. Many
Hindus practice fasting on specific days in a week or on some specific
occasions such as festivals. In Hinduism, the paths to God are many
and each path demands its own code of conduct. The most popular
- karma-marg, the path of good actions,
- bhakti-marg, the path of surrender and devotion,
- jnana-marg, path of knowledge and wisdom and
- sanyasa-marg the path of renunciation.
Hindus make pilgrimages to various temples and sacred places
that are associated with the lives, legends and miracles of various
gods, goddesses and saintly people. A visit to Varanasi for a dip
in the Ganges is considered very auspicious, purifying and spiritually
uplifting. Hindus celebrate many festivals, with zest, all the year
around. Some of the most popular ones are the Diwali, Dassehara,
Ganesh Chaturdhi, Maha Sivarathri, Holi and so on. There are some
festivals which come once in several years such as the Kumbh festival.
Important Beliefs and Concepts
Muslims worship and submit themselves to none but Allah, the
one and only God, who is Merciful, Eternal, Mighty and Infinite.
He is the Creator, the Provider and Sustainer of all creatures and
the entire creation. He is considered to be not just the highest
God of Muslims, but of all the people in the world, including the
Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and others.
Allah is the ruler of the heavens, the earth and all that is between
them. Yet He is closer to His pious and thoughtful worshippers,
to whom He responds with overflowing love, forgives their sins and
grants peace, happiness, knowledge and abundant wealth. Although
He is known to most by His popular name Allah, He has 99 other names,
which are enumerated in the Qu'ran. According to the Hadith, he
who memorizes all the names of Allah, would go to paradise.
Islam acknowledges the succession of prophets and messengers
of God, starting from Adam and Noah. Also included in the list are
Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus. Muhammad is considered
to be the last of the prophets and messengers of Allah. Islam perceives
all the prophets and messengers as human beings, chosen by God for
the specific purpose of passing on His revelations for the benefit
of the mankind. Islam also recognizes the presence of Angels, who
are believed to be invisible and never tiring, requiring neither
food, nor rest, nor drink, and who spend their time in the service
of Allah, obeying His commands and implementing His will. Gabriel,
the Angel who passed on the messages of Allah to Muhammad, is considered
to be the only messenger Angel. Other important aspects of Islam
- Belief in the resurrection of the dead and the Final Judgment
- Belief in fate and free will. God is the only source of
everything that happens in the world. He uses Qadaa and Qadar,
eternal knowledge and mighty power, to execute His will. He
knows everything that happened, that has been happening and
that will happen. He is responsible for all that happens or
not happens. Yet He has endowed the humans with free will and
thereby made them responsible for their actions and choices.
- Belief in Jihad or the struggle for a divine cause. The
struggle involved in leading a pious Muslim life, building Muslim
community, exercising self-restraint and defending Islam or
a Muslim nation, are considered to be Jihad.
- Conversion to Islam is easy. According to Islamic tradition,
any one who sincerely proclaims the glory of Allah and declares
Muhammad to be His messenger becomes a Muslim.
- Islam does not recognize the intervention of middle agents
between God and His followers. Islamic faith is a matter of
individual faith and commitment to the will of Allah. A follower
of Allah can communicate with Him directly through his prayers
and virtuous actions.
Hinduism believes in the existence of Brahman, the supreme Lord
of the visible and invisible universe, who is eternal, stable, unchanging,
indestructible, unborn, blissful, and who goes by many other names
such as Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. He is both manifest and unmanifest,
known and unknown, high and low, envelops
every thing, contains every thing and also resides in everything.
He is the Supreme Lord, the Highest Self, the only Truth, who is
the creator, sustainer and destroyer of all that is and that will
ever be. He manifests Himself as everything and in every thing.
He is both the material and instrumental cause of the universe.
He creates Rta, the universal order, Dharma, the universal divine
law and many divinities to uphold them and manage them. The three
gods, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva are but His three highest functional
aspects, endowed with the responsibilities of creation, preservation
and destruction. Nature or Prakriti is His dynamic energy and primal
matter, in which He becomes involved partially to manifest all the
beings and objects of His creation. He maintains and upholds Dharma,
the eternal law through His various aspects, dimensions, divinities,
incarnations, emanations and also through many great souls, who
come to the earth from time to time to spread the message of God.
During creation, Brahman, the Supreme Self, who is absolute,
subjective consciousness, diversifies Himself, in the form of an
objective relative reality, into innumerable beings and objects
and enters into them as individual self or Atman. Atman is Brahman
in its essence, but, because of its involvement with the elements,
qualities and principles of nature, it becomes deluded and suffers
from the impurities of delusion or ignorance, desire oriented actions
and egoism. It remains chained to the cycle of births and deaths
and the law of karma, till it becomes free through the grace of
God or by its own good deeds and inner transformation. A person
may go to either heaven or hell or the world of ancestors, depending
upon his or her deeds upon earth. However afterlife in these worlds
are temporary. Upon exhausting their good or bad karma, beings have
to return to earth to continue their existence. True liberation
comes only when they transcend their limitations, realize their
supreme Brahman nature and become one with Him in consciousness.
According to Hinduism, God can be worshipped and approached in
various ways. Because He is unconditional love, He grants free will
to the beings and makes Himself visible to them in whatever form
He is envisaged. Most Hindus worship Him as a personal deity of
their chosen form, which may also include His feminine forms and
aspects. However of all the forms of worship, He considers the path
of single minded devotion, self-surrender and inner purity to be
the best and the most effective. Out of unbound love, He also manifests
Himself in the images men make to worship Him. Depending upon who
created them, how they are created and where they are installed,
the images of God contain the potency and presence of God Himself,
rendering them worthy of worship and adoration. Thus Hinduism sanctions
the worship of the living presence of God in an image or a statue
or a symbol or an object.
Similarities Between Hinduism and Islam
1. Both Hinduism and Islam accept God as the Supreme Being and
Absolute Lord of the universe. He is the creator and sustainer of
all creatures and the entire creation. He is the source and cause
of the divine law (dharma in Hinduism) which He upholds through
His inviolable will.
2. Both religions acknowledge that while God has the knowledge
and the power to execute and enforce His will, by which everything
in the universe moves or moves not, God is generous enough to endow
human beings with free will, so that they become responsible for
their actions and the choices they make.
3. The Allah of Islam is known by 99 names. The Brahman of Hinduism
is also known by several names and by knowing them and chanting
them one can attain Him.
4. Both Hinduism and Islam acknowledge that God responds to the
prayers and aspirations of His followers and grants them peace,
happiness, success and knowledge. He loves those who love Him dearly
and forgives them for their ignorant and sinful actions.
5. In Hinduism there is a belief that God is the Supreme Self
and that the entire creation is His body. Islam believes that the
believers of God are like a body who share the same experiences
in their love, mercy and kindness towards one another.
6. Both religions believe that God rescues the faithful in times
of distress and responds to their calls for help according to their
faith and devotion.
7. Both religions believe in the moral responsibility of each
individual towards others and in the practice of such virtues as
charity, doing good, righteousness, forgiveness, moderation in eating
and drinking, tolerance, mercy or compassion, self-control, brotherhood,
friendliness, patience and gratitude.
8. Hinduism believes in the law of karma. Islam believes in God's
reward for good deeds and punishment for bad deeds. Thus declares
the Qu'ran, "Whoever does good deed, he shall be repaid ten-fold;
and whoever does evil, he shall be repaid with evil." (5.32)
9. Both religions advocate non-violence and non killing of human
life. Says Qu'ran "According to Jewish tradition...whoever
kills a human life...it is as thouh he kills all mankind; and whoever
saves a life, it is as though he saved all mankind." (6.160).
10. Both religions believe in the company of the pious and not
responding to evil. "And when they hear slander against them,
they turn aside from it and say: 'We shall have our good deeds and
you shall have your deeds. Peace be on you, we do not desire the
company of the uninformed." (28.54).
11. Hinduism is a tolerant religion. Hindus believe that each
individual has a choice to pursue a path in accordance with his
or her inner inclination and religious beliefs and interfering with
it would tantamount to taking responsibility for another's salvation
and also karma. In Hinduism pursuit of Truth is far more important
than belief or disbelief in God or a particular divinity. Islam
does not recognize other religions, unless they are specifically
mentioned in the Qu'ran. But it truly respects all those whoever
believe in God, who are pious, who are not evil, irrespective of
the religion to which they belong. Following are some of the quotations
from Qu'ran in support of this view:
- There is to be no compulsion in religion. (2.256)
- When those come to you who believe in Our signs, Say: "Peace
be on you. Your Lord hath decreed mercy for Himself." (6.54)
- Be courteous when you argue with the people of the Scriptures,
except for those who do evil. Say to them, " We believe
in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and
our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit."
12. Both Hinduism and Islam believe in the efficacy of prayers
and in remembering and reciting the names, words and deeds of God,
for inner purification, God's forgiveness and mercy.
13. Barring the differences in the details, both religions believe
in the ultimate destruction of the world and the rescue of the pious
and the pure by God.
Dissimilarities Between Hinduism and Islam
I. Muslims believe in none but Allah, the one Supreme God and
follow only Qu'ran. Hindus worship one God, but in many forms, aspects,
incarnations and emanations. They are not particular about the name
or the method of worship. They also worship the various gods and
goddesses either as the highest God Himself or as an aspect of Him
or even as a separate entity. They follow not only several scriptures
but also the sayings of several saints and seers.
2. A person converts to Islam by proclaiming faith in the supremacy
of Allah and accepting Muhammad as His messenger. Technically, a
firm declaration of faith in Allah and the prophet is sufficient
to convert to Islam. In contrast, a person becomes a Hindu either
by birth or by personal choice, but without the need to confirm
his faith in any particular God, scripture or messenger. A Hindu
may be a theist or an atheist, a believer in absolute God or a local
deity. Whatever path he may choose, he needs to be a seeker of Truth
and upholder of Hindu Dharma.
3. Islam does not recognize any intermediary between man and
God. A worshipper can reach out to Him directly through his prayers.
In Hinduism there is a choice. A person can worship God directly
or seek the intervention of a priest or a Guru for assistance.
4. Hinduism believes in the law of karma. Islam acknowledges
that God rewards people for their good deeds and punishes them for
their evil actions. However Islam does not recognize any law other
than the law of God which is declared in the Qu'ran. Unlike Christianity,
Islam does not proclaim that men are born in sin. Men are born pure,
free of sin, by the grace of Allah and shall remain so as long as
they have abiding faith in Him, follow His law and worship Him,
practicing virtue and avoiding evil. Hence no need to seek forgiveness
through a priest.
5. Islam does not recognize any hierarchy of priests, bishops,
monks and Popes. In Hinduism there is no central authority like
that of a Pope. But it has priests, Shankaracharyas, guru sampradayas
(traditions of gurus), ascetic traditions and sectarian organizations
that regulate the religious affairs of the individuals, who follow
them or seek their help. The Muslim Imams are but religious scholars
with no particular divine authority and pious servants of God, serving
the faithful as His true followers.
6. Islam does not believe in rebirth, but only resurrection and
the Last Judgment Day. In contrast to Islam, Hinduism considers
life in heaven and hell as temporary. A soul regains freedom forever
only through self-realization.
7. Hinduism does not have a concept of prophets and messengers,
but incarnations, seers, sages, gurus and divinities who pass on
the revelations of God to the mankind.
8. Sharia, the Muslim law, is imposed through Muslim clerics,
well versed in Qu'ran and Hadith, to punish those who disobey the
commands of Allah as declared by Him in the Qu'ran. Hindu religious
law is presently not imposed through an independent religious authority,
but, portions of it, through the government judiciary, according
to Hindu civil code.
9. Islam considers God and his creation to be two distinct things.
God exists everywhere in His creation. But in a theological sense
He is not His creation. So is the case with creatures and the people
He creates. He is closer to them and ever watchful and heedful,
but He is separate from them and never unites with them. He may
reward them for their faith and good deeds by ensuring them a place
in heaven, but there is no such concept as liberation through self-realization.
Many schools of Hinduism, however, consider God and His creation
to be the same. There is either no distinction or very little.
God is both the material and instrumental cause of His creation.
He exists as the Supreme Lord of the entire creation and also as
the individual self (atman) in all beings and objects. The individual
self is the same in essence as the Highest Self and when it regains
its true consciousness it has the same consciousness as that of
10. Hindus consider the world in which we live to be illusory
and unreal. It exists in relation to the senses and to the extent
they can grasp it and make sense out of it. It is unreal in the
sense that it is ever changing, destructible, impermanent, created
and relative. We are not sure whether what we see is the reality
or the truth, because the senses are such imperfect and unreliable
instruments of truth. The best means to arrive at truth are direct
experience, the experience of others, the inferences based on the
things that exist or do not exist or may exist and may not exist,
and scriptural authority. The concept of maya or illusion, the existence
of Prakriti or nature, either as a dependent or independent aspect
of God, and the role of senses in the delusion of the individual
beings are alien to Islam. According to Islam the word here is as
real as the heaven or hell. They are God's creation and rest in
11. Hinduism do not see much distinction between man and the
rest of the beings. Man is but one stage in the liberation of soul
from the bondage to the cycle of births and deaths. In Islam there
is a clear demarcation between humans and animals. Only man can
be a true believer and follower of God. The rest of the creatures
in the world are created by God for the benefit of man.
12. Like Christianity, Islam believes in a Devil known as Iblis.
But unlike in Christianity, he is not considered a fallen angel,
but a Jinn. In Hinduism there are Asuras who are fallen gods and
who are forever in conflict with gods. There are also demonic beings
called Rakshasas who are cruel and mischievous and defy the authority
of God at the slightest pretext, although they chose to worship
Him for selfish and egoistic reasons and try to misuse their power
for doing evil deeds and causing unrest. In the highest sense, in
Hinduism as in Islam, God is the ruler of all the worlds and evil
is but an instrument of God to punish the wicked and if possible
reform them. However, unlike in Islam, the Hindu hell is ruled by
a pious god known as Lord Yama, who is considered to be an epitome
of justice and virtue.
13. The Islamic cosmology essentially consists of the heaven,
the hell and the earth. The Hindu cosmology is more complicated.
Hinduism recognizes innumerable worlds and planes of existence.
God is all these and also beyond them. No one can truly fathom His
worlds or the extent of His manifestation.
14. In Islam there is no concept of Trinity. God is one and indivisible.
Hinduism recognizes three highest functional aspects of God in the
form of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, who are called the Three Deities
(Trimurthis), depicted either as one or separate deities, who carry
out the three primary functions of God's manifestation, namely creation,
preservation and destruction. Each of these three are also recognized
as God Himself by their followers.
Comparison of Hindu and Islamic Practices
Apart from the above, following are some important differences
between the two religions, with regard to their respective religious
- Despite the tradition of polygamy, Hindus are now strictly
monogamous. Islam permits polygamy.
- Muslims celebrate mainly two festivals, Id al-Fitre and
Id al-Adha. Hindus celebrates many festivals throughout the
year. They have festivals in every season, for every planetary
configuration, auspicious occasion and for every major god or
goddess. Perhaps no other religion has so much cause to celebrate
as Hinduism. In a way it is a celebration of time itself and
the journey of man upon earth. In worldly matters Islam is an
austere religion and Hinduism liberal.
- Islam prescribes a specific dress code for Muslims based
on the principle of modesty. They are advised not to wear clothes
that are too thin or too tight. Women are expected to wear burkha
in public. In Hinduism there is no specific dress code either
for men or women, except on specific occasions or to perform
certain rituals. Widowed women are expected not to wear ornaments
or colorful dresses. Obscenity and public nudity are not tolerated.
- Both Hinduism and Islam do not approve of close and intimate
mingling of opposite sexes outside marriage and family relationships.
Kissing in public is a taboo. Dating is considered both irreligious
and immoral. Both religions proclaim marriage as a bond between
a man and a woman, established through mutual consent, with
God as the witness. In Islamic society there is no disrespect
for eunuchs. In fact, in medieval India they were an important
part of royal harems and court politics. But gays are regarded
as contemptible and liable for punishment. Premarital sex, extra
marital relationships and adultery are considered immoral in
both religions. In Islam they attract physical punishment. Married
people can seek divorce on certain valid grounds and the aggrieved
parties are entitled for compensation.
- Both religions prescribe a code of conduct with regard to
food and drinks. For the Hindus the cow and the bull are sacred
and should not be slaughtered. So they are forbidden from eating
beef. For the Muslims, the pig is an unclean animal. So pork
is forbidden. Islam explicitly prohibits intoxicating drinks
and substances. As in Judaism, Muslims cannot eat meat unless
it is prepared in accordance with prescribed rules.
- In Islam abortion is equated with murder and not permitted
unless the mother's life is in danger. In Hinduism also abortion
is equated with murder. According to the Vashishta Sutras, "He
is called Bhrûnahan who kills a Brâhmana or destroys an embryo
(the sex of) which is unknown." The notorious practices
of sati (widow burning on the funeral pyre of her husband) and
drowning of girl children for economic or religious reasons
are now, thankfully, things of the past. Male children usually
enjoy more privileges in Hinduism than female children, because
of the religious duties assigned to them towards their parents
and ancestors and for continuing the family lineage, which is
so important for the continuation of dharma upon earth. In Islam
the distinction between men and women is mostly social and economic
rather than religious in nature.
- Hindu society is characterized by caste system. The distinction
is based not so much according to racial or social differences,
but birth and family status. In Islam there is no distinction
based on the birth or family status of a person. All believers
are equal and equally dearer to Allah. If there is any distinction
among people, it is between believers and non-believers, those
who acknowledge Allah and His messenger and those who do not
and the pious and the evil.
Confrontation and Consequences
Hinduism and Islam confronted each other during the medieval
period, with little scope for possible reconciliation between the
two, because of some irreconcilable differences that could not be
just wished away, especially when one of the two factions involved
in it were as uncompromising in their beliefs and practices as the
Islamic rulers and nobility. Islam came to India as the religion
of the conquerors, while Hinduism remained for centuries as the
religion of the vanquished. Most of the Muslim rules who ruled India
pursued a policy of religious intolerance, either for the sake of
petty and personal politics or to receive the appreciation of other
Muslim rules or to present themselves to the Muslim world as upholders
of Islamic faith. They indulged in the wanton destruction of many
Hindu temples, large scale massacre of Hindus and conversion of
many through force and fear. Not all Muslim rulers were cruel. But
some of them were excessively so. While the Islamic rulers succeeded
in creating pockets of Muslim influence, they failed comprehensively
in reaching out to a large section of the Indian population and
converting them the new faith, either because the latter shunned
them for fear or prejudice or because they remained under the protection
of Hindu rulers who still managed to retain political power in areas
where the Muslim rulers could not reach.
To the early Muslim rulers, the native Indians presented themselves
as an arrogant and uncompromising lot, who believed themselves to
be morally and ethically superior, while to the Hindus the Muslim
rulers appeared as perpetrators of religious monstrosity. However
such was the political and social conditions of the times and the
need for prudence that the barriers to communication and the distrust
between the two groups could not be maintained for long. The situation
is well described by a modern historian in the following words, "The
arrogance of Hindu was gone during course of thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, that of the Muslim by the beginning of the fifteenth.
Both were ready to meet each other, and both sat at the feet of
masters like Kabir and Nanak to learn that their quarrels were futile
and in the ultimate analysis the essence of all religions was but
The Muslim rulers played an important role in shaping India and
its cultural and social milieu for nearly a thousand years. They
also saved the subcontinent from the more destructive and cruel
invaders like the Mongols. It is difficult to estimate the course
of Indian history had they failed. The confrontation between Hinduism
and Islam resulted in two significant developments within Hinduism.
The intolerant policies of Muslim rulers made the Hindu caste system
very rigid and uncompromising. Secondly, some democratic aspects
of Islam found their way into Hinduism in the form of social and
religious reforms, which aimed to eliminate social and caste based
distinctions within Hindu society and the procedural and scriptural
complexity involved in worshipping God.
Hindu Muslim Integration
India is perhaps the only country where a very large section
of Hindus live in harmony with a large section of Muslims, without
the compulsion of making any significant adjustments and sacrifices
in their beliefs and practices. There are still many issues between
the two that remain to be resolved, but overall it is not a gloomy
picture, especially when we view it in the context of what has been
happening in the other parts of the world. This understanding and
synthesis of ideas between the two communities is a product of centuries
of interaction and mutual adjustment. It culminated in the development
of a distinct culture that is peculiarly Indian. Since it is built
on a strong foundation, without coercion, over a long period of
time, it survives the vicissitudes of the present day conflicts,
which are usually ignited by the uninformed and the ignorant, who
are unfamiliar with the ethos of the Indian psyche. Some of the
features, concepts and practices that emerged out of the process
of integration between the two religions are described below.
- The bhakti movement. One of the most notable developments
in Hinduism during the medieval period was the rise of bhakti
movement, which emphasized devotion and surrender to God as
the best means to salvation. The bhakti movement was not based
on new ideals, but age old concepts of Hinduism, well emphasized
as early as 10th century BC in the scriptures such as the Puranas
and the Bhagavadgita and the sectarian movements like Saivism
and Vaishnavism. It played an important role in helping Hinduism
to face the challenges posed by the monotheistic Islam, with
its emphasis on a personal relationship between man and one
God, through prayers, surrender, cultivation of virtues, performance
of good deeds and obedience to His law. Bhakti movement
refined Hinduism, strengthened its roots and prepared it for
a challenging and prolonged confrontation with Islam on a level
- Indo-Sarcenic architecture. The early Muslim rulers
relied upon local talent and used the material from the temples
they destroyed to build monuments, as their focus was mostly
on expanding their empires and consolidating their power, rather
than undertaking large scale projects and elaborate structures.
However as the time passed by, they began inducting Persian
architects, along with native builders, in the construction
of their buildings and mosques. This resulted in the emergence
of distinct architectural styles that are collectively referred
as Indo-Islamic or Indo-Sarcenic architecture, which can be
seen in many medieval structures that are still intact in places
like Delhi, Multan, Bengal etc. The synthesis of Indian and
Islamic architectural styles reached its culmination during
the Mughal period, in the form of numerous buildings and monuments,
including the famous Tajmahal, the Agra Fort, the buildings
of Fatehpur Sikri and the Mausoleum of Shersha Suri at Sasaram.
The Indo-Sarcenic architecture is a prime example of the willingness
on the part of Muslim rulers to come to terms with Indian culture
and its religious value and on the part of the Hindus to participate
in the creative expression of sublime catholicity, setting aside
their personal beliefs and religious ethos.
- The spread of Sufism. The Sufi movement placed more
relevance upon personal and mystic experience in receiving the
knowledge and truth about God, rather than upon the codified
laws of Qu'ran. The philosophy and practices of Sufi saints
were similar in many ways to those of many ascetic traditions
of Hinduism, especially Saivism of the kind that prevailed in
Kashmir and parts of Northern India. The Sufis practiced rigorous
asceticism, under the guidance of a master, for intense purification
leading to an awakening or enlightenment called marifah, that
would eventually culminate in mohabbat or love for God and fanah,
annihilation of the individuality by its dissolution in the
all consuming love for God. Because of its similarities with
the ascetic traditions and the bhaktimarg of Hinduism, Sufism
gained widespread popularity in India and played an important
role in bridging the gulf between the two communities.
- The tradition of Satyapir. Veneration of Hindu saints
by Muslims and Muslim peers by Hindus resulted in the common
tradition of worshipping Satyapir or a True Saint.
- Growth of Urdu. One of the significant developments
in medieval India during the Islamic rule was the emergence
of Urdu as a popular language of common people in many parts
of India. It is a synthetic language which evolved out of the
mingling of many words and ideas from Persian, Arabic, Turkish
and many Indian languages of Sanskritic origin. It is still
being used as the medium of communication in both India and
Pakistan, as the language of the elite as well as common man.
- Purdah System. Centuries of Muslim rule and frequent
abduction of Hindu women by Muslim soldiers and Mongolian invaders
led to the practice of purdah by Hindu women in certain parts
of northern India like Gujarat and Rajasthan. It consisted of
segregating women from public view and the use of a veil to
cover their heads and faces in the company of men and
- Exchange of ideas. Hindus borrowed ideas and concepts
from Muslim astronomy, calendar (Zich), medicine, metullargy,
and a special branch of horoscopy called Tajik, while the Muslim
scholars studied Hindu scriptures, Vedanta and the Hindu medical
science of Ayurveda, Hindu astrology and the techniques of Yoga
and meditation. Many of these ideas traveled far and wide to
Persia, Central Asia and beyond up to Europe. Many Indian scriptures
and ancient sciences were translated into Persian.
- The founding of Sikhism The integration of Islamic
and Hindu ideas through Bhakti movement reached its zenith in
the teachings of Guru Nanak, which eventually led to the formation
of Sikhism as a separate religion, under Guru Arjun Singh, the
fifth Sikh Guru. Sikhism combines the best of both Hinduism
and Islam. Many of its concepts and practices are similar to
those of either Islam and Hinduism. Sikhism considers the distinction
between the God of Hinduism and of Islam to be in name only.
God is the one and the only Truth. He has many names and powers
and can be reached through prayers, good works, selfless service,
intense longing and devotion, not only in direct communication
with God as in Islam but also with the help of a Guru.
- The Din-Ilahi of Akbar. Known for his religious tolerance
and interest in the comparative study of world's major religions,
Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal rulers, promulgated a new
religion called Din-i-Ilahi or Tauhid-i-Ilahi in 1581, a religion,
which he believed, would be acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims.
According to Dr.Ishawri Prasad, the Din-i-Ilahi "was
an ecclectic pantheism containing the good points of all religions
- a combination of mysticism, philosophy and nature worship.
Its basis was rational; it upheld no dogma, recognized no gods
or prophets, and emperor was its chief exponent." Whatever
might be the consequences of Abkar's folly or wisdom, the Din-i-Ilahi
was a fine example of the vision of religious harmony, amity
and understanding, the enlightened minds of medieval India on
both sides wished to see. As a religion it failed, but as an
ideal vision of the finest of the Indian minds it stayed in
the core of India's collective wisdom.
- Political implications. The continuous Islamic rule
in the subcontinent and the conversion of many native Hindus
to Islam resulted in the creation of sizeable Muslim population,
culminating in the formation of Pakistan and Bangladesh and
a sizeable Muslim minority community in India that is perhaps
the largest Muslim population in any nation in terms of sheer
numbers. The presence of large population of Muslims in
the subcontinent enabled the British to implement the policy
of divide and rule with far reaching consequences, the effect
of which still linger on.
Over the centuries, Hindus and Muslims learned to live in peace
and amity with each other to the extent possible, despite the gulf
that stands between them, in the form of uncompromising religious
beliefs and practices that are difficult to ignore. Each side recognizes
the onerous responsibility that rests with them in maintaining peace
and harmony, in the common interests of all and in the interests
of India as one nation. The process of adjustment is still
going on. The occasional communal violence that flares up in parts
of India between the two communities is a product of the pent up
frustrations and mutual animosity in an economic environment of
scarcity and poverty, that struggles to survive in the hands of
a few fanatics from both sides, in a sea of brotherhood, tolerance,
adaptation. mutual appreciation and incredible understanding. There
are festivals in which both communities participate with equal zeal.
There are Dargas to which Hindus and Muslims pay visit. There are
some sects of Saivism with sizeable number of Muslim following.
There are traditions in the field of arts, dance, poetry music and
singing, in which it is difficult to trace where contribution of
one side ends and the other begins. The Indian film industry is
an epitome of Hindu Muslim harmony and cooperation, where one can
see an astonishingly high level of cooperation and understanding
on the part of the writers, directors, producers, actors, musicians
and singers from both sides. The world perhaps does not know that
whatever animosity that exists between India and Pakistan is mostly
political, created by the politicians on either side and perpetuated
by them for their own political ends and that there is a great deal
of appreciation and understanding among the people in both countries
towards each other. The cooperation and true conciliation between
the two nations may perhaps have to wait for longer due to the turn
of events in the last few decades, but inevitable.
Hinduism and Islam are two of the worlds major religions, with
sizeable following in various parts of the world. They have some
core ideals and flashes of a grand vision which they share. If we
accept religion as a product of the environment in which it arises,
chosen by God to deal with certain predominant problems of human
existence peculiar to the times and the place in which they originate,
we will understand why both Hinduism and Islam remained unfamiliar
to each other till they stood face to face. Yet God has not rendered
them entirely new so that He could keep the theologians on both
side busy and arguing, but made provision for bridges of understanding.
Hidden in the bosom of Islam are some of the finest and the best
ideals of human life and religious aspiration, which also find their
unmistakable expression in the core concepts of Hinduism, pulsating
with vibrant energy, that are difficult to ignore even by a superficial
glance. The differences are in relation to practice, code of conduct
and interpretation of scriptures and traditions that should not,
if we want to live in peace and harmony all over the world and fulfill
the will of God for peace and universal amity, interfere with the
process of normalization that began sometime in medieval India and
still continuing, despite the challenges of mutual distrust and
animosity that still linger on in some vicious minds of both communities.
Hindus and Muslims can coexist, wherever they are, if they are willing
to accept religion as an instrument of peace and human salvation
rather than as a conduit through which they can compensate their
feelings of inadequacy and pent-up animosity, the very vices that
seem to contradict and negate the Divine Law which every religion
proclaims to uphold. To achieve proper unity, there is also
a need for give and take and appreciation of mutual differences
without being threatened by them. As remarked by Rabindranath Tagore, "The
world-wide problem today is not how to unite by wiping out all differences,
but how to unite with all the differences intact; a difficult task,
for it permits of no trickery and calls for mutual give-and-take...The
Muslims in our country are striving for advancement as a separate
community. However disagreeable and disadvantage that may be for
us for the time being, it is the only right way to achieve genuine
unity someday in the future."
Suggested Further Reading
1. It is transliterated
as 'salāma' and in some versions simply
as s-l-m (sin-Lam-Mim) which is also the root of many Semitic
words such as 'shalom' in Hebrew, 'salimu' in
Akkadian, 'saliem' in Maltese, 'shlama' om Aramaic
and 'šlama' in Syriac. The word is interpreted variously
in the Quran. It is also the root of the word 'Muslim'
an essay on the Hindu University written in 1911 and as published
in The Universal Man by Rabindranath Tagore, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan,