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Gandhi's Responses to Islam
Gandhi's Responses to Islam
Description

From the Jacket

Look at him as we may: whether as an exceptional human being, a modern-age prophet, a unique politician, or a charismatic leader of non-violent movement, Gandhi's many-sidedness is proverbial. And, then, he was a religious genius as well -with genuine tolerance and respect for all mankind's faiths. Here is the first ever study exploring exclusively Gandhi's attitude to Islam, from his childhood to the last years of his phenomenally eventful life.

In thematically focusing on his responsiveness to Islam, Dr. Sheila McDonough addresses a vital question: "Why did Gandhi say the things, he did, about Islam?" Which leads her to meticulously trace, among other determinates, the intellectual influences that had helped shape Gandhi's vision of Islam - the vision he particularly shared with many of his Indian contemporaries. The author, a widely known authority on Islamic Studies, puts together many of Gandhi's observations about Prophet Mohammed, the holy Qur'an, and the Islamic faith to emphasize that his positive, respectful response to Islam was not a matter of political pragmatism, nor a façade to unify Indians at a critical period of their history, but it went far beyond - to a philosophical understanding of the very essence of Islam.

Unfailingly convincing, Prof. McDonough combines, in her writing, a rare scholarship with readability that makes her book at once fascinating to both specialists and common reader anywhere in the modern world.

About the Author

Sheila McDonough, a McGill's Ph.D., is an internationally known scholar specializing in Comparative Religion, more particularly Islamic, Her numerous research papers/articles apart, she has already published four books, including The Authority of the Past (1970) and Muslim Ethics and Modernity (1985) - which have evoked enormous interest not only in South Asia, but North America as well. She has also contributed chapters in as many as nine books, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, new edition, 1972. among her other faculty, department and external administration position, she held, in 1972, the office of Resident Director, Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, New Delhi.

Since 1975, Dr. Sheila McDonough has been Professor of Religion at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

Introduction

IN Montreal, where I live, I recently discovered in a paper- back bookstore a volume entitled the Sayings of Muhammad with a foreword by Mahatma Gandhi. This means that young Canadians, who are interested in discovering something about the Prophet Muhammad, might have their first intro- duction to that subject in a book with a foreword by Gandhi. It seems probable that Gandhi himself would have been both surprised and pleased by that fact. He says in this introduc- tion:

There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but even to respect the other faiths as our own. A reverent study of the sayings of the different teachers of mankind is a step in the direction of such mutual respect.

In my own academic discipline, History of Religion, we also consider respect an important element in the attitude re- searchers should take when approaching religious phenom- ena. The reason is that an open, non-judgmental attitude is a valuable tool when attempting to comprehend religious meaning. We might say that Gandhi's concerns about respect are essential to any serious attempt, in the academic world or in daily life, to grasp the significance of the explicit and implicit meanings persons find in their religious traditions. In approaching religious phenomena, we will understand very little unless we begin with respect. Respect from this perspective implies that we are open to the possibility of learning something we did not know before. Gandhi thought Hindus and others should approach the Prophet Muhammad in this way. This means that he believed that useful under- standing would be gained from a serious attempt to study the life of the Prophet of Islam. Why did he think this?

In attempting to answer that question, we will consider some of the references made to the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, and Islam in Gandhi's many speeches and writings. I begin with the assumption that Gandhi was the kind of reli- gious genius whose explorations into his own consciousness went far beyond what any outside observer could do, and that no one could hope to understand him better than he understood himself. He also intensely wanted to communicate. Thanks to the devoted efforts of many of his admirers, we have available to us the thoughts and reflections of every period of his life, and we can, with a little imagination, follow him almost daily in the course of his many struggles.

I am not going to try to outguess Gandhi himself in inter- preting what he meant by what he said. I will try, however, to put together many of his observations about Islam, and to discern patterns in his thought on this subject. One question is whether there is consistency in his various statements, and whether there is significant change and development over time? Who were the Muslims he knew, and how did he interact with them? Primarily, therefore, we need to listen to what he said in order to try to comprehend what it was he wanted so much to communicate. Listening in this respect is itself a form of discipline which requires not taking words and phrases out of context, and not leaping to quick conclusions. The more thoroughly we know all that he had to say, the more easily we may begin to discern patterns in his thought.

Although in certain respects religion and politics are inex- tricably mixed together in Gandhi's life and work, my intention is to try to disentangle, as much as possible, the religion from the politics. As Margaret Chatterji has written, Gandhi was the type of religious thinker who responded to events. His religious consciousness was focused on an interacting with the immedi- ate realities of his situation. His fundamental religious crisis involved a struggle in the depths of his soul with courage and fear in the face of racist arrogance. He came alive as a great religious reformer in response to oppression which hit him personally. It would be impossible to have any significant appreciation for the reality of that religious crisis without grasping the context in which it occurred. In trying to unravel the meaning of the religious language he used, we have to remember that his language always involved responses to situations. In order to comprehend the responses;the contexts must be understood, as Gandhi understood them.

We know that he did not particularly like being regarded as a Mahatma, because he well understood that deifying and demonising a person are both ways to avoid taking seriously what the person is actually saying. He was deified and demonised a lot in his lifetime, and his struggles to communicate are consciously aimed at trying to break out of those constricting molds in order to penetrate the minds of the many who re- sponded to him only as a god or demon. It must be very trying to be deified and demonised when all you want to do is get people to listen to what you have to say. But listening with respect, as we indicated, requires being ready to change, and deifying and demonising are both ways to avoid that challenge.

Our approach to the question of 'why did Gandhi say the things he did about Islam?' will focus on his statements and also on the contexts in which he spoke and wrote. We will pay attention to the particular Muslims he knew and worked with, and the conceptions of Islam characteristic of those persons. This involved some awareness of the attitudes and concerns of Gandhi's educated Muslim contemporaries. When he talked to his Muslim friends about religion, what are they likely to have told him? What books about Islam were his Muslim friends reading? What books on that subject did Gandhi himself read, and what evidence do we have of what he thought about those books? How did he envisage the Prophet Muhammad, and what did he think were the significant teachings of the Qur'an? What kinds of responses did he get from Hindus and Muslims to his teachings about Islam?

We will also look at his use of religious symbols, as for example 'Satanic system', as characteristic of his style of reli- gious reflection. In addition, we will consider the modes of religious practice and religious education which he invented as ways to communicate his insights. How did his understanding of Islam influence his ideas about religious practice and educa- tion? How did his ideas about the Qur'an and the Prophet fit into his view of the religious history of humanity as a whole? What was his attitude to religiousness in general?

It will be necessary to pay some attention to the particular contexts of all Gandhi's various statements on these subjects. What were the origins of his first introductions to Muslim life and thought? In Chapter One! we will consider the Islamic influences which had entered into shaping the culture of his childhood. Then in Chapter Two, we look at his experiences with, and statements about Muslims in the context of the struggle he initiated in South Africa. In Chapter Three, the context will be the non-cooperation and Khilafat movements of 1919-22. This will be followed by a discussion in Chapter Four of the collapse of the revolutionary struggle, and Gandhi's statements about Islam in the context of increasing disaffection between the Hindu and Muslim communities. In Chapter Five, we will consider the hopes of freedom and horrors of communal violence which characterised the last twenty years of his life. Hope and horror seem the appropriate phrases to indicate that his last years were dominated by awareness of future possibili- ties both liberating and terrifying. Finally, in Chapter Six, we will consider more fully the intellectual influences that had helped shape the particular vision of Islam which Gandhi shared with many of his Indian Muslim contemporaries.

Contents

Introduction1
1.First Impressions of Islam5
2.Challenge in South Africa17
3.Challenge in India33
4.On the Brink of Independence57
5.Reponses to Terror83
6.Gandhi's Image of Islam99
Bibliography125
Index131

Sample Pages









Gandhi's Responses to Islam

Item Code:
IDD139
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1994
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9788124600351
Language:
English
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Pages:
133
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From the Jacket

Look at him as we may: whether as an exceptional human being, a modern-age prophet, a unique politician, or a charismatic leader of non-violent movement, Gandhi's many-sidedness is proverbial. And, then, he was a religious genius as well -with genuine tolerance and respect for all mankind's faiths. Here is the first ever study exploring exclusively Gandhi's attitude to Islam, from his childhood to the last years of his phenomenally eventful life.

In thematically focusing on his responsiveness to Islam, Dr. Sheila McDonough addresses a vital question: "Why did Gandhi say the things, he did, about Islam?" Which leads her to meticulously trace, among other determinates, the intellectual influences that had helped shape Gandhi's vision of Islam - the vision he particularly shared with many of his Indian contemporaries. The author, a widely known authority on Islamic Studies, puts together many of Gandhi's observations about Prophet Mohammed, the holy Qur'an, and the Islamic faith to emphasize that his positive, respectful response to Islam was not a matter of political pragmatism, nor a façade to unify Indians at a critical period of their history, but it went far beyond - to a philosophical understanding of the very essence of Islam.

Unfailingly convincing, Prof. McDonough combines, in her writing, a rare scholarship with readability that makes her book at once fascinating to both specialists and common reader anywhere in the modern world.

About the Author

Sheila McDonough, a McGill's Ph.D., is an internationally known scholar specializing in Comparative Religion, more particularly Islamic, Her numerous research papers/articles apart, she has already published four books, including The Authority of the Past (1970) and Muslim Ethics and Modernity (1985) - which have evoked enormous interest not only in South Asia, but North America as well. She has also contributed chapters in as many as nine books, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, new edition, 1972. among her other faculty, department and external administration position, she held, in 1972, the office of Resident Director, Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, New Delhi.

Since 1975, Dr. Sheila McDonough has been Professor of Religion at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

Introduction

IN Montreal, where I live, I recently discovered in a paper- back bookstore a volume entitled the Sayings of Muhammad with a foreword by Mahatma Gandhi. This means that young Canadians, who are interested in discovering something about the Prophet Muhammad, might have their first intro- duction to that subject in a book with a foreword by Gandhi. It seems probable that Gandhi himself would have been both surprised and pleased by that fact. He says in this introduc- tion:

There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but even to respect the other faiths as our own. A reverent study of the sayings of the different teachers of mankind is a step in the direction of such mutual respect.

In my own academic discipline, History of Religion, we also consider respect an important element in the attitude re- searchers should take when approaching religious phenom- ena. The reason is that an open, non-judgmental attitude is a valuable tool when attempting to comprehend religious meaning. We might say that Gandhi's concerns about respect are essential to any serious attempt, in the academic world or in daily life, to grasp the significance of the explicit and implicit meanings persons find in their religious traditions. In approaching religious phenomena, we will understand very little unless we begin with respect. Respect from this perspective implies that we are open to the possibility of learning something we did not know before. Gandhi thought Hindus and others should approach the Prophet Muhammad in this way. This means that he believed that useful under- standing would be gained from a serious attempt to study the life of the Prophet of Islam. Why did he think this?

In attempting to answer that question, we will consider some of the references made to the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, and Islam in Gandhi's many speeches and writings. I begin with the assumption that Gandhi was the kind of reli- gious genius whose explorations into his own consciousness went far beyond what any outside observer could do, and that no one could hope to understand him better than he understood himself. He also intensely wanted to communicate. Thanks to the devoted efforts of many of his admirers, we have available to us the thoughts and reflections of every period of his life, and we can, with a little imagination, follow him almost daily in the course of his many struggles.

I am not going to try to outguess Gandhi himself in inter- preting what he meant by what he said. I will try, however, to put together many of his observations about Islam, and to discern patterns in his thought on this subject. One question is whether there is consistency in his various statements, and whether there is significant change and development over time? Who were the Muslims he knew, and how did he interact with them? Primarily, therefore, we need to listen to what he said in order to try to comprehend what it was he wanted so much to communicate. Listening in this respect is itself a form of discipline which requires not taking words and phrases out of context, and not leaping to quick conclusions. The more thoroughly we know all that he had to say, the more easily we may begin to discern patterns in his thought.

Although in certain respects religion and politics are inex- tricably mixed together in Gandhi's life and work, my intention is to try to disentangle, as much as possible, the religion from the politics. As Margaret Chatterji has written, Gandhi was the type of religious thinker who responded to events. His religious consciousness was focused on an interacting with the immedi- ate realities of his situation. His fundamental religious crisis involved a struggle in the depths of his soul with courage and fear in the face of racist arrogance. He came alive as a great religious reformer in response to oppression which hit him personally. It would be impossible to have any significant appreciation for the reality of that religious crisis without grasping the context in which it occurred. In trying to unravel the meaning of the religious language he used, we have to remember that his language always involved responses to situations. In order to comprehend the responses;the contexts must be understood, as Gandhi understood them.

We know that he did not particularly like being regarded as a Mahatma, because he well understood that deifying and demonising a person are both ways to avoid taking seriously what the person is actually saying. He was deified and demonised a lot in his lifetime, and his struggles to communicate are consciously aimed at trying to break out of those constricting molds in order to penetrate the minds of the many who re- sponded to him only as a god or demon. It must be very trying to be deified and demonised when all you want to do is get people to listen to what you have to say. But listening with respect, as we indicated, requires being ready to change, and deifying and demonising are both ways to avoid that challenge.

Our approach to the question of 'why did Gandhi say the things he did about Islam?' will focus on his statements and also on the contexts in which he spoke and wrote. We will pay attention to the particular Muslims he knew and worked with, and the conceptions of Islam characteristic of those persons. This involved some awareness of the attitudes and concerns of Gandhi's educated Muslim contemporaries. When he talked to his Muslim friends about religion, what are they likely to have told him? What books about Islam were his Muslim friends reading? What books on that subject did Gandhi himself read, and what evidence do we have of what he thought about those books? How did he envisage the Prophet Muhammad, and what did he think were the significant teachings of the Qur'an? What kinds of responses did he get from Hindus and Muslims to his teachings about Islam?

We will also look at his use of religious symbols, as for example 'Satanic system', as characteristic of his style of reli- gious reflection. In addition, we will consider the modes of religious practice and religious education which he invented as ways to communicate his insights. How did his understanding of Islam influence his ideas about religious practice and educa- tion? How did his ideas about the Qur'an and the Prophet fit into his view of the religious history of humanity as a whole? What was his attitude to religiousness in general?

It will be necessary to pay some attention to the particular contexts of all Gandhi's various statements on these subjects. What were the origins of his first introductions to Muslim life and thought? In Chapter One! we will consider the Islamic influences which had entered into shaping the culture of his childhood. Then in Chapter Two, we look at his experiences with, and statements about Muslims in the context of the struggle he initiated in South Africa. In Chapter Three, the context will be the non-cooperation and Khilafat movements of 1919-22. This will be followed by a discussion in Chapter Four of the collapse of the revolutionary struggle, and Gandhi's statements about Islam in the context of increasing disaffection between the Hindu and Muslim communities. In Chapter Five, we will consider the hopes of freedom and horrors of communal violence which characterised the last twenty years of his life. Hope and horror seem the appropriate phrases to indicate that his last years were dominated by awareness of future possibili- ties both liberating and terrifying. Finally, in Chapter Six, we will consider more fully the intellectual influences that had helped shape the particular vision of Islam which Gandhi shared with many of his Indian Muslim contemporaries.

Contents

Introduction1
1.First Impressions of Islam5
2.Challenge in South Africa17
3.Challenge in India33
4.On the Brink of Independence57
5.Reponses to Terror83
6.Gandhi's Image of Islam99
Bibliography125
Index131

Sample Pages









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