In thematically focussing 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 determinants, 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 facade 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 readers anywhere in the modern world.
Since 1975, Dr. Sheila McDonough has been Professor of Religion at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.
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 phenomena. 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 understanding would be gained from a serious attempt to study the life of the Prophet of Islam. Why did he think this?
We will also look at his use of religious symbols, as for example 'Satanic system', as characteristic of his style of religious 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 education? 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 possibilities 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 and Sample Pages**
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