Tagore on Islam
Pan-Islamism is a political tool that gives primacy to religion Ummah and excludes culture, ethnicity, and country. The Khilafat movement showed how pan-Islamism played out in India. Pan Islamism poses a threat to the unity and integrity of the country. In an interview to the Times Of India (18-4-1924), Tagore states: “A very important factor which is making it almost impossible for Hindu-Muslim unity to become an accomplished fact is that the Muslims cannot confine their patriotism to any one country. I had frankly asked (the Muslims) whether, in the event of any Mohammedan power invading India, they (Muslims) would stand side by side with their Hindu neighbors to defend their common land. I was not satisfied with the reply I got from them… Even such a man as Mr. Mohammad Ali (one of the famous Ali brothers, the leaders of the Khilafat Movement-the compiler) has declared that under no circumstances is it permissible for any Mohammedan, whatever be his country, to stand against any Mohammedan.”
In his article titled “Samasya”, Rabindranath Tagore quoted from the report of Dr. Munje, submitted to Jagat Guru Sankaracharya of Sringeri Sharada Peeth Math, on the Mopla riots of 1921 thus: “The Hindus of Malabar are generally speaking mild and docile and have come to entertain such a moral fear of the Moplas that the moment any such trouble arises; the only way of escape the Hindus can think of is to run for life leaving their children and womenfolk behind, to take care of themselves as best they could, thinking perhaps honestly that if the Moplas attack them without any previous molestation, God, the Almighty, and the Omniscient, is there to teach them a lesson and even to take a revenge on their behalf.”
Delving deep into the cause of the riots, Tagore notes, “In another portion of the report, Dr. Munje briefed that 800 years back, Hindu king of Malabar allowed the Arabs to settle in his state, following the advice of Brahmin ministers. Muslims were encouraged to convert Hindus to such an extent that, the king directed every fisherman’s family to allow one of their family members to be converted into Islam. The reason was very simple, the adherent king and his ministers considered the voyage as against religion. They delegated the responsibility of coastal security upon the Muslims, those who used believe in their common sense and not in ‘Manu’.”
Those, whose nature is to practice idiocy rather than common sense, never enjoy freedom even if they are on the throne. They turn the hour of action into a night of merriment. That’s why they are always struck by the ghost at the middle of the day.”
In the same article, Tagore writes: “The king of Malabar once gave away his throne to idiocy. That idiocy is still ruling Malabar from a Hindu throne. That’s why the Hindus are still being beaten and saying that God is there, turning the faces towards the sky. Throughout India we allowed idiocy to rule and surrender ourselves to it. That kingdom of idiocy—the fatal lack of common sense—was continuously invaded by the Pathans, sometimes by the Mughals and sometimes by the British. From the outside, we can only see the torture done by them, but they are only the tools of torture, not really the cause. The real reason for the torture is our lack of common sense, our idiocy, which is responsible for our sufferings. So we have to fight this idiocy that divided the Hindus & imposed slavery on us. If we only think about the torture we will not find any solution. But if we can get rid of our idiocy, the tyrants will surrender to us.”
Tagore was concerned about the lack of unity among Hindus and argued that unity was the bulwark against the destructive tides of Semitic religions. In an article titled “Swamy Shraddananda” in “Kalantar”, Tagore writes: “Whenever a Muslim called upon the Muslim society, he never faced any resistance—he called in the name of one God ‘Allah-ho-Akbar’. On the other hand, when we (Hindus) call, ‘come on, Hindus’, who will respond? We, the Hindus, are divided into numerous small communities, many barriers, provincialism—who will respond to overcoming all these obstacles? We suffered from many dangers, but we could never be united. When Mohammed Ghouri brought the first blow from outside, the Hindus could not be united, even in the days of imminent danger. When the Muslims started to demolish the temples one after another and to break the idols of Gods and Goddesses, the Hindus fought and died in small units, but they could not be united. It has been provided that we were killed in different ages due to our discord.”
According to Tagore, meaningless rituals keep Hindus divided. In a letter to Hemantabala Sarkar, quoted in Bengali weekly “Swastika” (21-6-1899), the Nobel laureate states: “The terrible situation of the country makes my mind restless and I cannot keep silent. Meaningless rituals keep the Hindus divided into hundreds of sects. So we are suffering from series of defeats. We are tired and worn out by the fortunes of internal-external enemies. The Muslims are united in religion and rituals. The Bengali Muslims the South Indian Muslims and even the Muslims outside India—all are united. They always stand united in face of danger. The broken and divided Hindus will be again humiliated by the Muslims.
In the article Swamy Shraddananda, Tagore writes: “So, if the Muslims beat us and we, the Hindus, tolerate this without resistance—then, we will know that it is made possible only by our weakness. For the sake of ourselves and our neighbor Muslims also, we have to discard our weakness. We can appeal to our neighbor Muslims, ‘Please don’t be cruel to us. No religion can be based on genocide’—but this kind of appeal is nothing, but the weeping of the weak person. When the ow pressure is created in the air, a storm comes spontaneously; nobody can stop it for the sake of religion. Similarly, if weakness is cherished and be allowed to exist, torture comes automatically—nobody can stop it. Possibly, the Hindus and the Muslims can make a fake friendship with each other for a while, but that cannot last forever. As long as you don’t purify the soil, which grows only thorny shrubs you cannot expect any fruit.”
Tagore believed that Universalism preached by Hindutva is the only solution to divisive and destructive influences of religions that emerged from the Western thought process. He wanted India to hold on to the Hindu ethos and believed that other religious visions were detrimental to the intellectual and moral progress of humanity.
“There are two religions on earth, which have distinct enmity against all other religions. These two are Christianity and Islam. They are not just satisfied with observing their own religions but are determined to destroy all other religions. That’s why the only way to make peace with them is to embrace their religions.”
- original works of Rabindranath Vol. 24 page 375, Vishwa Bharti; 1982.