Yoginder Sikand


In this essay, Yogi Sikand writes how the Indian media ignores terrorist attacks by hardcore Hindu fundamentalist groups and leaders like Bal Thackeray but goes on and on against Muslims if a Muslim group is involved  or  the identity is unknown. He refers to a Urdu booklet, titled ‘Hamara Hindustan Aur Uske Fazail’ (‘Our India and Its Glories’),  by the late Maulana Syed Muhammad Miyan, which provides evidence that India occupies the status of a Holy Place in Islam,  which commands Muslims to revere India.


The arrest of some activists associated with the Sanatan Sanstha, a radical Hindu group, for planting bombs in theatres in two towns in Maharashtra recently, has barely been given any attention in the Indian media. Had the men behind these planned attacks been Muslims, obviously the Indian media would have reacted very differently-furiously, fervently. This clearly shows the sharply skewed manner in which the debate on ‘terrorism’ is being conducted. That the routine killings of Muslims, such as in pogroms orchestrated by Hindu groups, are never attributed by the media to Hindu ‘terrorists’ but simply to faceless and nameless ’emotionally charged mobs’ is yet another illustration of this greatly skewed perspective.


Bomb attacks that have occurred in numerous Indian cities in recent years are, without proper or full investigation, somehow automatically assumed to be the handiwork of Muslims. But, as the attacks that the Sanatan Sanstha volunteers had planned, as also the earlier attack planned by members of the Bajrang Dal, also in Maharashtra, clearly show, the range of those who might be behind the wave of bomb attacks in the country has to be expanded beyond some Muslim ultras to include their Hindu counterparts as well, who have obviously have a vested interested in promoting communal clashes and thereby consolidating Hindu votes. And, in addition, as numerous Urdu papers have been repeatedly suggesting, the possible role of other forces, such as the Israeli and American secret services, behind some of these attacks must also be investigated, for, clearly, these attacks aim at further dividing Hindus and Muslims and thereby promoting and inflaming anti-Muslim passions in the country, something that Israel and the neo-conservatives in America would probably warmly welcome as it would force India to enter more tightly into their deadly embrace.


Yet another clear instance of the completely warped way in which the Indian media and policy-making circles discuss terrorism is evident from their reaction to Shiv Sena supreme Bal Thackeray’s recent pronouncement calling for Hindus to set up killer suicide squads. The ‘mainstream’ media is not branding him a ‘terrorist’ for this, although he openly advocates terrorism;  nor will the state take any action against him under the draconian anti-terrorist laws that it has framed. Imagine if a Muslim leader had issued a similar call. That would have hit the headlines for well over a week and would have led to numerous arrests, but Thackeray’s outpourings merit just a corner in the middle pages of our ‘national’ newspapers.


My point is simple: we need an even-handed approach in discussing (and dealing with) ‘terrorism’. Turning a blind eye to one form of it, just because it claims to speak for the majority of Indians, can only make the situation even more precarious for all of us.  And, although of late most religious leaders have begun to depress me to no end, here I take inspiration from an essay I recently read by an Indian Muslim cleric whose passion for the welfare of his country, irrespective of religion, is something that every Hindu, Muslim or other sort of Indian could certainly emulate, and whose approach, if seriously adopted, could go a long way in countering all forms of terrorism, be it by radical Hindus or Muslims or others or by the state itself.


A recently reprinted Urdu booklet, titled ‘Hamara Hindustan Aur Uske Fazail’ (‘Our India and Its Glories’), contains a brilliant essay  by the late Maulana Syed Muhammad Miyan, who served for many years, before and after 1947, as the general secretary of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, a leading body of Indian maulvis primarily associated with the Deobandi school of thought (It is the same organization that vehemently opposed the Partition of India and that, in recent months, has organized literally dozens of public rallies against terrorism). The essay was first published sometime in the early 1940s in order to oppose the Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslim state and to counter the claim of many Hindus leaders that Indian nationalism was necessarily synonymous with Brahminical Hinduism.


Miyan’s essay, titled ‘Sarzamin-i Hindustan Ke Fazail’ (‘The Blessings of India’), argues that Muslims are bound to ‘love’ and ‘serve’ India primarily because Islam commands them to do so. Miyan claims that India has been accorded a special status by God Himself.  Hence, he argues, Muslims are required by their faith to work for India’s unity and welfare.


Miyan’s’s thesis is based on an Arabic text written by the eighteenth century north Indian Muslim scholar, Ghulam Azad Bilgrami, which puts together Hadith reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and Quranic verses that are said to refer to the ‘glories’ (fazail) of India. Quoting Bilgrami, Miyan writes that  while undoubtedly Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are the ‘most holy’ places in the world, Islamic tradition has it that India, too, is a ‘blessed land’ (mutabarruk sarzamin). According to such revered Muslim figures as Imam Ali (cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet), Hazrat Ayesha (one of the Prophet’s wives), and leading companions of the Prophet such as Hazrat Ibn Abbas, Hazrat Anas and Hazrat Abdullah ibn Umar, Adam was sent down to earth to India, to the island of Serendip or modern-day Sri Lanka, while Eve was sent to Jeddah.


Adam then travelled to Arabia, where he met Eve at a place near Mecca. After building the Kaaba at Mecca, Adam took Eve with him and returned to India, where they settled down and had children. The famous incident involving the sons of Adam, Cain (Qabil) and Abel (Habil), occurred, or so Miyan says, in India. After Abel was killed by Cain, Adam had another son, Sheesh, who, according to some accounts, is buried in the town of Ayodhya, which is sacred to many Hindus today. Adam is said to have undertaken forty pilgrimages (haj) from India to Mecca on foot. He is also said, some ulema claim, so Miyan tells us, to have died in India and to have been buried here.


This close connection between Adam and India points to what Miyan claims to be the obvious fact that Islamic tradition accords to India the status of a ‘blessed land’. This suggests, Miyan writes, that India had a special place in God’s scheme of things for the world, which Muslims living in the country need to recognise. The fact that Adam first appeared in the world in India means that the world’s first dar ul-khilafa  (‘abode of the Caliphate’) was India, because this was where God’s first khalifa or deputy was sent down. The island of Serendip or modern-day Sri Lanka, which can be said to be, in some sense, part of ‘greater India’, was the first place in the world where God sent his revelation. Adam, the first man and the first prophet, was made out of ‘Indian soil’. Since Adam is the father of all human beings, including all the other prophets and the saints, the rest of humanity was also fashioned out of the ‘mud of India’, or so Miyan claims.


To reinforce his argument of India being accorded the status of a ‘blessed land’ in the Islamic tradition itself, Miyan notes that some Muslim scholars believe that the oath (ahd) of ‘alast’, which the Quran refers to, also took place in India. On that occasion, God gathered all the souls of men who would appear in the world till the Day of Judgment and addressed them, asking them if He was not their Lord (alasto bi rabbikum). All the souls answered that He indeed was. This shows, Miyan writes, that India was the country where the ‘slaves’ (bande) of God first acknowledged Him as Sustainer, from which started the long chain of spiritual advancement of humanity. Through this incident the land of India was ‘brightened (munawwar) by the ‘light of all the prophets’, Miyan contends.


According to the Quran, Miyan adds, at the time of taking the above-mentioned oath, another oath was taken from all the prophets, in which each prophet testified to the prophet who would succeed him. Since the chain of prophets ended with Muhammad, every other prophet testified on that occasion to Muhammad being a prophet, reposing faith in him and promising to help him. This second oath, too, was taken in India, Miyan claims. Hence, Miyan writes, ‘India is that holy (muqaddas) land where the chain of religious instruction (rashd-o hidayat), and knowledge of the closeness of God (marif-i qurb-i ilahi) and salvation in the hereafter (nijat-i akhiravi)’ had their origins.


The claim of God having chosen India to send Adam to has other crucial implications, Miyan suggests, which reinforce the special place that India is said to occupy in the Islamic tradition. Miyan writes, echoing  a view held by many Sufis, that the first thing that God created was the nur-i muhammadi or the ‘light of Muhammad’. This light was first put into Adam and was then transferred through all the prophets till it reached the Prophet Muhammad when he appeared in Mecca. Because Adam lived in India, the first time that the nur-i muhammadi appeared on earth was in India, and the last time that it appeared was in Arabia, this establishing a firm spiritual link between the two lands.


In support of this argument, and to underline his assertion of India being a particularly ‘blessed land’, Miyan quotes a verse by Kaab bin Zaheer, a famous poet and a companion of the Prophet: ‘Undoubtedly, the Prophet is a light (nur) from which light is obtained. [He] is God’s sword which was made in India’. In this regard, and to further stress his point, Miyan refers to another story, one related by Abu Huraira, a companion of the Prophet, according to which the Prophet is said to have declared that when God sent Gabriel to comfort Adam, Gabriel mentioned to Adam the name of Muhammad, telling him that Muhammad would be the last prophet from among Adam’s children. This shows, Miyan writes, that it was in India that for the first time the Holy Spirit (ruh-i muqaddas) appeared on earth, that the glory (azmat) and unity (tauhid) of God was mentioned, and that Muhammad’s prophethood was announced.


This further stresses the need, Miyan says, for the Indian Muslims to recognise that ‘it is our good fortune that this India is our beloved country (watan-i aziz)’. Because India is said to have held a special place in God’s plan for the world, Miyan argues, God has blessed it with numerous assets. The source of all good things (nimat) is heaven, and whatever good things are found on earth are a limited reflection of their heavenly counterparts. All good things that are found in the world were first brought by Adam to India, from where they spread to the rest of the world, so Miyan claims.


This explains, Miyan argues, why India has the ‘largest store of heavenly blessings in the world’, including ‘sweet-smelling plants, spices and fruits’. Adam, Miyan tells us, was also taught various crafts, which is the reason why India has always excelled in these fields and hence can rightfully claim to be the ‘first teacher’ (ustad-e awwal) of the world in many crafts and industries.


Besides the alleged Adam connection, Miyan marshals other ‘evidence’ to put forward his claim of India’s special status in Islamic terms. Thus, he writes that some Muslim scholars believe that Noah built his ark in India, and that India was unaffected by the Great Flood in Noah’s time. In addition, several companions of the prophet, thousands of Muslim saints (awliya, abdal), martyrs (shuhada) and pious ulema made India their home and died and were buried here. All these facts clearly suggest, Miyan contends, that from the Islamic point of view the ‘greatness’ of India is ‘undeniable’. Hence, he stresses, it is the religious duty of the Muslims of India to work for the sake of the unity and prosperity of the country as a whole.Hence, too, he suggests, the claim of Hindu chauvinists that only Hindus can be genuine Indian patriots must be challenged and countered.


I personally do not necessarily agree with all that Miyan writes in praise of India and nor do I agree with all his interpretations of Muslim traditions about India, some of which I find quite outlandish. In some senses, privileging just a small slice of the earth as particularly ‘blessed’ by God, which Miyan seems to do with regard to India, strikes me as deeply troubling-either every bit of the world is equally blessed or not at all, I would believe. But, that said, I find Miyan’s concern for his country and its people to be genuine, passionate and deeply moving. It is something that terrorists, Hindu and Muslim and other, certainly lack, their radical rhetoric notwithstanding.

Top - Home