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The prophet motive

M J Akbar
Filed on April 17, 2006

THE RSS chief, K S Sudarshan, has made the very interesting suggestion that Muslims should accept Lord Krishna "as one of the prophets" sent by Allah. If this is all it takes to unravel the complexities and ease the tensions of the Hindu-Muslim relationship in India, then consider the problem solved.

This is the easy part, particularly since the RSS chief, very wisely, did not ask Muslims to accept the divinity of Lord Krishna. Muslims believe that Allah is the Creator of the entire universe, and it is axiomatic that He sent His messengers to all the people since Creation, and not only to Muslims.

The 47th verse of the Surah Yunus in the Quran says: "To every people (was sent) a messenger: when their messenger comes (before them), the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged." Since transliteration into English is never completely adequate, Abdullah Yusuf Ali explains this verse: "Every people or generation or nation had its message or messenger: Allah revealed Himself to it in some way or another. If that messenger was ignored or rejected, or his message was twisted or misused, the Day of Reckoning will come, when perfect justice will be done and the whole truth revealed."

The 36th verse of the Surah Al Nahl (The Bees) says: "For we assuredly sent amongst every people a messenger (with the command), ‘Serve Allah and eschew evil’." Yusuf Ali adds a footnote: "Even though Allah’s signs are everywhere in nature and in men’s own conscience, yet in addition Allah has sent human messengers to every people to call their attention to the good and turn them from evil."

The 78th verse of Surah 40, known as both Ghafir (Forgiver) and Al Mumin (The Believer), says: "We did aforetime send messengers before thee: of them there are some whose story we have related to thee, and some whose story we have not related to thee." Yusuf Ali elaborates: "Allah sent messengers of His Truth to every people. There are some whose names are known to us through the Holy Quran, but there are a large number whose names are not made known to us through that medium. We must recognise the truth wherever we find it."

The fourth verse of Surah 14, Ibrahim, says: "We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them." Yusuf Ali explains: "If the object of a message is to make things clear, it must be delivered in the language current among the people to whom the messenger is sent. Through them it can reach all mankind."

There is repeated affirmation in the Holy Book that Allah sent prophets before the last of His messengers, Muhammad (peace be upon him) across generations and nations, and to "every people". India has always been a great cradle, nursery, school and university of human civilisation, and it is therefore inevitable that messengers must have come to this land and its people as well.

Some Islamic scholars believe that there is a direct reference to Gautam Buddha in the Quran. Verse 85 of Surah 21 speaks of "Ismael and Idris and Dhu al-Kifl; all were the patient ones". Verse 48 of Surah 38 lauds the last-named further: "And make mention of Ismail and Al Yasaa and Dhu al-Kifl, for they were among the best". Dr Zohurul Hoque, who has translated the Quran, believes that Dhu al-Kifl is the Dweller (Dhu) of Kapil, or Kapil Vastu and refers to the Buddha, who was of course born in Kapilavastu. There are other interpretations, but at least Buddha is included among the options.

The verse from Surah 14, on the languages spoken by prophets, is particularly relevant since it clarifies that prophets did not speak only Arabic or Aramaic; they spoke the language of the people they were sent to. They were enjoined to take the message to all mankind, and mankind, united in ancestry, is divided by language. This verse extends the ambit and specifies it as well. There is no reason why a prophet could not have spoken Sanskrit.

Take another look at this verse: "We did aforetime send messengers before thee: of them there are some whose story we have related to thee, and some whose story we have not related to thee." In other words, while the narrative of some prophets (Moses or David or Solomon) is told in detail in the Quran, the story of other prophets has not been told. In other words, there are prophets of Allah who have not been included in the narrative of the Quran. It is entirely plausible that a prophet sent to India has not been mentioned in the Holy Book, but that does not diminish either his role or his prophecy.

Krishna lived at least two millennium earlier than the Prophet of Islam. This is important, because if he had come after Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) then Muslims would never have found Sudarshan’s idea acceptable. In Surah 33, Al Ahzab, verse 40, Muhammad is described as "the messenger of Allah, and the seal of the prophets". The metaphor of a seal is self-evident. The seal marks the completion of a document; there can be no further additions. Islam is also very clear that no man can be considered divine, and this is one of its principal arguments against the Church, which made Jesus a part of the Trinity. Allah is indivisible, and His creation must be ipso facto inferior to the Almighty. However, Sudarshan has not demanded that Muslims consider Lord Krishna a god. So once again, there is no argument.

But I wonder if such happy agreement, always very welcome, is sufficient. Muslims revere Jesus as one of the greatest prophets of Islam; the Quran (Surah 6:47) reaffirms the immaculate conception of Mary, and says Allah created him as He did Adam. But this has not prevented hostility between Muslims and Christians.

While religious identity is an important and often vital component of mass mobilisation, faith and its nuances have rarely been a source of continued conflict between men. Occasional war, yes; but continuous war is fought over material possessions, like land and natural resources and tax revenues. One of the more remarkable facts of India is that while Hindus and Muslims may have been derogatory about one another, they have never insulted each other’s faith in a thousand years of literature. They have vilified or glorified kings and heroes, but there has been no slander against the deeply revered symbols of faith. Secularism does not mean that we abandon religion. Secularism is the right of every faith to co-exist as an equal, on its own terms. Secularism is the ability to leave space for the other.

The true problem is not what happens in the after-life, but what happens in this life. There are two key words. One is security: Muslims have every right, as equal citizens of a proud nation, to physical and economic security. An Indian economic boom must be equally their economic boom. The second is violence. No Indian, irrespective of creed or caste, whether Muslim or Hindu, has a right to seek answers through communal violence. No Indian politician, Hindu or Muslim, must be allowed to wash his hands in the blood of innocent victims to lubricate his passage upwards on the career ladder. These are the problems that need the attention of not just Sudarshan but every leader who claims to have the concern of the country in his mind. The merits of Sudarshan’s idea are psychological, but that does not make them a negative. He is at least attempting to place one stone of a difficult bridge over an unhappy divide.

To judge where this thought might come, look at where it has come from.

Eminent intellectual and author M J Akbar is editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chroicle newspapers. He can be reached at mjakbar@asianage.com


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