Tensions arising out of a growing sense of entitlement of religious places in the country have been eased a bit by the recent remarks of two influential ideologues—RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and president of Jamait-ulema-Hind Maulana Mehmood Madani. What they have said will certainly not quick fix bonding of the communities, but their assertions have certainly brought in a sense of reasoning in the ongoing debates on religious entitlements. The catharsis perhaps may pave the way for some convergence and meeting of minds in the near future. The conflict is arising due to victimhood claims of both Hindus and Muslims.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks have come at a time when the Indian Muslim community is restless. A large section of Indian Muslims believe that their religious identity is under attack and, therefore, there is a churning within the community.
In his Nagpur address, Bhagwat said that present day Hindus and Muslims cannot be held responsible for actions of the past by foreign invaders, who engaged in abominable acts of violence to further their political interests. The RSS chief’s statement helps take off the monkey from the back; people actually had no control over actions of the past 800 years. Therefore, they cannot and should not be asked to own up the acts. Nor should anyone be shamed for what happened even before they were born.
His remarks have released the tension of a direct confrontation. His words bring some relief among the Indians, a majority of whom don’t approve of divisiveness on the religious grounds. As a way forward, Bhagwat also suggested that disputes such as Gyanvapi Mosque, Mathura Eidgah and others could be resolved with out of court settlement; if that doesn’t work out then legal recourse is available. He also said that disputing the ownership of all mosques in the country doesn’t make any sense.
The RSS had mobilized people for reclaiming Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and that objective has been achieved and there are no further such plans, he had said. Interestingly, on the other hand, Jamait-ulema-Hind leader Maulana Mehmood, in his Deoband address to the community made some very interesting points. In a highly emotional speech, he said Muslims will not leave India and will not let any other country defame India.
Read between the lines, these statements suggest that he meant to say that Indian Muslims have the patience to resolve the issues even if there are challenges, but their attachment towards the nation cannot be challenged at any cost. Indian Muslims are emotionally connected to the great nation, which they call their home.
It is not surprising that Maulana Mehmood Madani’s speech was criticized by some Muslim political leaders, who said he projected Muslims as a weak community. Though Madani made a strong point that sense of entitlement of Indian Muslims is as good as anybody else’s. Several Muslim clerics welcomed RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement. They said what he said makes sense provided such statements rein in the Hindu fringe groups. In the past, they have complained this has not happened. And that the fringe elements should not be allowed to have their way. This is a fair point.
The fact that Bhagwat’s statement has had resonance and was welcomed by a majority of Muslim scholars and religious leaders is indeed quite significant in the prevailing tense situation. Hindus want to reclaim what they believe were their religious places of worship and were desecrated in the past by Muslim invaders.
On the other hand, a series of events which have played out over the last four years has given Muslims reasons to worry; therefore, they like to cling on to their religious identity, though their identity as Indian Muslims is very different from the Muslims in other countries of the world.
These two contrarian points of view are widening the gap, creating a rift, especially in the absence of any conciliatory statement from the politicians in power. Some Muslim political leaders, who don’t even represent the entire Muslim community, are making things worse by giving statements which have inverse reaction from the majority community. Such leaders are doing more damage than any good for the community.
Therefore, RSS chief Bhagwat and Jamait President Maulana Madani’s remarks appear to be an oasis in the desert and not a political mirage. Through their speeches, they built narratives which could be taken forward for meaningful dialogues.
Historical accounts suggest religious places were desecrated by the foreign Islamic rulers. These events were not unique to India; as per historical records, such events have happened in other parts of the world as well such as Umayyad mosque in Damascus. Ayasofia mosque in Istanbul, which was a Christian church, was converted into a mosque with remodeling and additions such as minarets and areas for ritual ablutions. Good sense prevailed some time back and now it has been converted into a museum.
In other instances, Arab leaders drew up plans for the first mosque at the center of a military camp. Historically, many Islamic dynasties have constructed immense monumental mosques to mark their authority, for example the Abbasids’ Great Mosque of Samarra, or more recently, the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.
It was perhaps more of a political compulsion for the Muslim rulers for domination as religion and politics in Islam are closely related. Whatever has been the reason, centuries down the line, their acts are seen with grave contempt. However, such destructive acts are not limited to the Muslim kings only. According Richard H. David, a Professor of Religion & Asian Studies, Bard College, in his essay states Jain and Buddhist shrines were destroyed by Hindu kings. Buddhist statues, stupas and viharas were demolished in India in the name of revival of Hinduism. Both literary and archaeological records speak volumes of the violent acts against Buddhism. A number of Buddhist viharas were usurped and converted into Hindu temples.
Historian Romila Thapar, which we have grown up reading in our school history books, has stated that Hindu ruler Pushyamitra Sunga demolished thousands of Buddhist stupas which had been built by Ashoka the Great. Similarly, several English authors from the British Raj period such as Murray T. Titus and Cunningham have given detailed accounts about desecration of the religious places by Muslim invaders who came into India from various parts of the world.
Indian author Prafull Goradia, in his book Hindu Masjids, has done in-depth research and has even drawn a clear distinction between a mandir converted into a masjid, in contrast to a mosque built with the rubble of a demolished temple. His book was published in 2002 and interestingly in the beginning of his book, he writes: “Friendship between the Hindus and the Muslims is essential if India is to catch up on its lost centuries.” He took the pains of personally visiting each and every disputed religious structure before he wrote his book. But he says his intention was not to humiliate fellow Indians who happen to be Muslims or to arouse anger which may lead to bloodshed. The author’s intentions, he says, were to unite the Indians.
Indian Muslims have rightly disputed that all mosques built in the past were made by demolishing temples or on the debris of Hindu religious places. In the present circumstances and conflicts, if such matters cannot be settled amicably outside the courts, best bet would be to enhance the capabilities of the scientists and the archeologists, their assessments would be most crucial in finding the truth behind the entitlement of the disputed religious structures. Aided by good investigation, Indian judiciary will certainly deliver justice.
Whatever may be the outcome, there are wonderful examples in the world to inspire religious co-existence. Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, has beautifully preserved the temples in Bali. Its citizens take pride in their multi-culture religion.
Until the disputes on the religious structures are settled in India, the state governments will have to ensure law and order is under control before and after the judicial processes are completed. Fringe groups from both the communities will have to be reined in. Politicians with extreme views, irrespective of their political parties, will have to hold their horses. We must not forget that whatever we do today will become history tomorrow, our future generations should not suffer for the actions we take today.
The fact that Bhagwat’s statement has had resonance and was welcomed by a majority of Muslim scholars and religious leaders is indeed quite significant in the prevailing tense situation. Hindus want to reclaim what they believe were their religious places of worship and were desecrated in the past by Muslim invaders. On the other hand, a series of events which have played out over the last four years has given Muslims reasons to worry; therefore, they like to cling on to their religious identity.