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|June 28, 2002||
Kalam and Islam
Several rediff.com readers have asked me to write about A P J Abdul Kalam's nomination for President in the light of Dr Rafiq Zakaria's comment, 'What's Muslim about Kalam?' Thanks to all of you, especially Sheetal Kiran from IITM.
In that sense, it is a religion that has unification at its core. Historically, Hindus have asked themselves the intriguing question at the highest level of human intellect: 'Has god made man in his image, or has man made god in his image?' The answer lies in the question, which goes to show the power of our culture, the Indian culture that we have been blessed with.
There has also been a general notion amongst many of us, especially from India at lower levels, that Islam is against nationalism; that most Muslims are anti-national; that Islam preaches intolerance of other faiths and violence against the infidels. Again, judging from the behaviour of a few Muslims and a large Muslim leadership, that notion would not seem to be without a basis.
But a true Hindu, just as a true Muslim, knows there is inherent danger in generalising that to all Muslims. The existence of Abdul Kalam is just one example. I know many, many more, lesser-known Muslims who have understood Islam at the highest level, a level where the traditions of Islam and the concepts of heaven and hell assume an entirely different meaning and significance. These are the Muslims who have full respect for other faiths, who have unification at the core and humanity at the very top.
Abdul Kalam is one of those intellectuals who has crossed the boundary of religions and has entered the zone where one recognises and reveres the laws and principles of nature by freeing oneself from the bonds of traditions. I am sure that his early association with Hinduism and the impact of Hindu philosophy must have helped. It is hardly surprising that he reads the Bhagvad Gita more than he may read other scriptures, which many may feel he should have, based on his name. I have nothing but very high regard for such men.
Ideally, the purpose of education should be to elevate an individual to the 'merger zone' of all religions where he/she can see the commonality amongst them and recognise the higher purpose of life. But unfortunately the success rate is very small. Many people, even highly educated ones, remain tied to the base of their religions, where, guided by their narrow interests and wider differences, they continue to divide. This happens amongst the followers of all religions, including Hinduism. Criticism of Kalam on that account from several Muslim blocks is very much understandable.
But Dr Zakaria is an eminent writer and I very much admire his views. I would have been forced to change my opinion about him had he said in his column that following the Hindu Dharma is wrong. He did not say that. What he did say was that there was nothing wrong for a Muslim to follow other traditions and beliefs, especially Hinduism. I think his article has more to do with presenting the facts than passing judgment. In my opinion, Dr Zakaria is one of those Muslims who have understood Islam at the highest levels and put that understanding into practice.
The dignity, the respect, and the reverence that Kalam earns from Hindus and Muslims alike is essentially because of his success. As we all know, success has many fathers. It's little surprise that Muslims are proud of Kalam, even if they know that his apparent association with them is just based on his name and nothing else. Indian intellectuals, both Hindu and Muslim, like him because he has what it takes to be a proud nationalist, an advocate of Indian values and culture, and a true son of the motherland. Radical Hindus from the Hindutva brigade like him because besides his patriotism and success, they also see in him the signs of transition or deviation from Islam to what they believe is Hinduism. Everyone has something likeable in Kalam.
The timing of his nomination by the BJP, however, does cast some shadow on the nobleness of the gesture, raising suspicions in many minds that there is obviously a lesser noble motive behind making Kalam the President of India. The Hindutva brigade vociferously supporting that nomination only furthers those suspicions. The elements of this brigade, after all, are responsible for bringing down Hindu philosophy from its moral high ground of the tranquillity and unity of all religions to the lows where religious differences are strong, obvious and confrontationary. All this put in the background of Gujarat and the BJP coming up with Kalam's name as a second thought also helps little to cast away those apprehensions that Kalam's nomination is only clever politics than due recognition or reward for his services to his country and the people.
Just as Hindu concerns about an average Muslim mindset are not without basis, in the circumstances Muslim concerns about using Kalam's Islam as a licence for putting a curtain on Gujarat, if not carrying Gujarat to other states in India, will not appear to be without a basis.
Najid Hussain teaches at the College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware, Newark.
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