"Hindu and Muslim" is an occasional column which reflects on the Hindu-Muslim schism, its origins and ramifications. The writer of this instalment is a Karachi-based educationist and a student of Islam.

Community, or Communal?

With Babri Masjid and the ten percent increase in the defence budget of both India and Pakistan, with hawks on both sides gleeful that the future of war-mongering is so bright, is it true to say that Hindus and Muslims are fated to be enemies? Are they, historically and by karmic law, always meant to be on a collision course? Need they be that way?

The first thing to think of when considering the relations between the Hindu and the Muslim is a strange paradox: They are a community separated by the very people who claim to bring them together.

Let me explain. This point of view is based on the profound insight of a master of community relations: Professor Karrar Husain, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Balochistan and at present Director of the Islamic Study Forum. When asked about the future of the Muslim and the Hindu in the Subcontinent, he replied:

"Let us begin first with principles. To live together you must respect me for what I am. You must not flatten that which makes me unique into a formula of convenience. Then only will I feel safe in confiding to you that which keeps me awake at nights. And then, I will be better able to face it: knowing that I can count on you to understand. We may even discover that the fears that I felt, the dangers that I thought were out there, were not just for me but for both of us.

"In the beginning, the two communities lived together. The Hindu has a greater share of choot-chaat built into his culture. The Muslim, though coming from a different tradition, could understand that. The fact of a discipline was never an issue. It never is when the people live in a traditional society. At the folk level of the faith, certainly there was much less give and take. But at the higher levels, a Dara Shikoh could seriously argue for wahdatul wajud from Hindu texts; just as Kabir could bring about a singular rapprochement of the Bhakti movement with sufism. Thus, in an age when the Mughal King Akbar could laugh at the Brahmin of his Nine Jewels because he had not had his bath one morning, no one could say that the Hindus were getting ready for an ethnic riot. In spite of the differences, the untouchability, the reluctance to share food, when inter-marriages were simply not on, the two peoples lived together in far more peace than later."

In any relationship, the first thing is to accept that there are differences. Two friends do not merge into one absurdity. They become deeply interested in that uniqueness that keeps them apart, which they cherish; and rejoice in the other´s uniqueness. It is when there is evil behind the intention, when the speaker says "we are one" and there is a dagger in the smile, that you can be sure to expect mischief.

And so it was. When the tide of history turned, and the Angrez Bahadur was upon us, we found to our great dismay the strange appeals of oneness and unity. These led to a greater and greater reluctance to speak up for the irreconcilable difference that were staring at everyone in the face. This absurd merging into one made us unable to speak to each other as equals and as friends. This made some of us scream in protest. Then the Two-Nation Theory was spelt out, and the Nation was divided, not so much due to the insistence of the Muslims as the intransigence of the Hindus.

Today, the need is to understand that greater peril that we are both facing: our populations can ill afford another century longing for better days to come. The promise of which is before their eyes in the form of the images falling from the sky. We have to see to their needs as rights, not alms. Otherwise, all that we have saved is a burden on the wind.

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