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(Madan L.Goel is Professor of Political Science in Florida. He lectures and writes on topics related to India, Hinduism and international conflict.)
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That “Hindus are cowards” is a theme which has been repeated ad nauseam. Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “Hindus are cowards and Muslims are bullies.” A large number of Hindus themselves accept this epithet. Nothing could be farther from the truth. History does not bear out the conclusion.
A brief review of Islamic expansion is necessary.
Islam may be dated to 610 AD, when Mohammad began having conversations with Archangel Gabriel. Mohammads message one true God named Allah attracted a number of followers. But the leaders of Mecca rejected his new teaching. Conflict ensued. In 622, Mohammad was forced to flee to Medina, some 240 miles to the North. Mohammad became the leader of Medina and within a few years felt emboldened to raid Meccan caravans. Mecca signed a treaty of friendship and allowed Muslims to enter the city for pilgrimage. This treaty, however, was abrogated two years later. Muhammad captured Mecca in a bold move. He was now an unchallenged leader. By the time Mohammad died in 632 AD at age 62, he had become the supreme figure in all of Arabia.
Muslim conquests did not stop with the death of Mohammad. Within two years, the holy warriors attacked and conquered the two very powerful empires of the period: Byzantium and Persia. It seemed that, armed with faith in Allah, nothing could stop the soldiers of Islam. In 712, Arabs captured a slice of Sindh on the frontiers of India. In 715 they took Spain after decimating North Africa.
In less than 100 years after Mohammad”s death, the Islamic rule stretched from the frontiers of India all the way to Spain. Victories resumed after a hiatus of three centuries. Believers captured Anatolia (Turkey) in 1071, the throne of Delhi in 1201, and Constantinople in 1453. The Ottomans, once established in Constantinople, took over the countries of Eastern Europe including the Balkans. Only in 1683 did the clock turn when the Turks failed in their siege of Vienna and retreated.
Islam”s rapid rise from insignificance to vast international empire had a touch of the miraculous. How could the Muslims have attained all this if God was not on their side? The fabulous military victories demonstrated to the faithful God”s pleasure with their ways and displeasure with the ways of the infidel.
Islam’s conquest of India was incomplete. The South in India never fully fell under Islam. Majority of the Indians continued being Hindu and maintained their culture even though they labored under Islamic weight. Contrast the situation in India with Islamic conquest of Byzantium, Constantinople, Persia, Egypt, North Africa and Eastern Europe (Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc). Here, the local cultures and indigenous religious groups (Pagans, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians) could not and did not withstand Islamic pressure and they succumbed. Arab imperialism imposed a new language and a new culture. For example, the Berbers of North Africa (the dominant ethnic strain in Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, etc) have come to believe that they are ethnically Arab, which they are not. Similarly, Africans in northern Sudan identify themselves as Arabs.
The Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul (Beyond Belief, 1998) observed that the Arabs were the most successful colonizers in the world. Arabic becomes a sacred language for over a billion people. Bowing towards Mecca five times a day must surely count as an ultimate symbol of Arab cultural imperialism.
The failure of Islam in India was lamented by Altaf Hussein Hali (1834-1914), who otherwise sang the praises of Islam. In his famous poem called Mussadas, which now is a required reading in many Pakistani schools, Hali lamented as follows. I give the lines in both Urdu and English translation (stanza # 113).
Voh Din e Hijazi ka bebaak bera
Nishan jis ka aksay alam me pahuncha
Mazhaam hua koi khatra no jis ka
Na Oman me thithka Na Qulzum (Red Sea) me jijhka
Kiye paar jis ne saton sumundar
Voh duba dahane me Ganga ke akar
That fearless fleet of Hijaz (Bagdad),
Whose mark reached the extreme limits of the world
Which no hesitation could obstruct
Which did not falter in the Gulf of Oman or in the Red Sea
That Hijazi fleet which spanned the seven seas
Lies shattered in the mouth of the Ganges
Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal (1873-1938) also lamented that Hindus (Kafirs) prospered while the Muslims were backward and poor. In his long poem Shikwa (Complaint), Iqbal penned the following famous lines:
Tujh ko maloom hai leta thaa koi naam tera
Qavat e buzoo e Muslim ne kiya kaam tera
. . .
Qahar to yeh hai ke kafir ko mile Hur-o-qusur
Aur bichaare Muslmaan ko faqt vada i Hur . . .
Allah, do you know that none sang your story
It is the strength of the Muslim that spread your glory . . .
The shameful thing is that Kafirs enjoy Houries in this life
But Poor Muslims have only a promise of Houries in after life
When temples and shrines were being destroyed, Hindus turned within and produced the most lyrical devotional poetry. Mirabai, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Surdas, Ravidas, Tulsidas, these and many more composed their poems during Muslim ascendancy in India. It is easier to bring down temple walls. How do you bring down the shakti encased in shlokas and bhajans? Who survives after 500 years? Mighty Babar or Guru Nanak?
Hindus should give up the false notion that they succumbed miserably before the Muslim or British colonization. Shivaji defeated a Mughal army in 1660; Europe followed in defeating the Turks in 1683 (on 9/11/1683, mark the date) at Vienna. India was the first country in all of Asia and Africa to throw off the British colonial yoke in 1947. Independence in Afro-Asia followed only after India succeeded.
Today the headlines dominate the threat from monotheistic, closed ideologies, especially radical Islam. Quietly without firing a shot, however, Indian ideas are resurgent in the globe. From 10 to 20 percent of the American populace subscribe to New Thought spiritual philosophies derived largely from Vedanta. The 21st century may well be an Indian century, not because of India’s growing economic might, but because of its perennial philosophy. The clock has begun to turn in favor of ideas that first took root in India some 2,500 years ago: Oneness of Godhead, inherent divinity of man, pluralism, religious freedom and non-violence. See the last part of author’s article Oneness in Hinduism
This however will not happen automatically or without joining the fight against obscurantism. The strikes against Hindu civilization arise from several quarters: importation of cheap westernization, materialism, sectarian divides, paucity of great leaders, India being targeted for conversions, and inability of Hindus to come together. The brief historical account given here should provide confidence that the challenges facing the Indian civilization can be met.
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