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Controversy

Vande Mataram and the Muslims
By A. Faizur Rahman
It becomes imperative to analyse the objections raised by the Muslim community against the recital of the Vande Mataram.


The controversy over the singing of Vande Mataram has once again threatened to divide the country on communal lines. The refusal of the Muslims to sing this song seems to have angered the Hindutva ideologues, who, without giving them an opportunity to explain their position, have accused them of being anti-national. Hence, it becomes imperative to analyse the objections raised by the Muslim community against the recital of the Vande Mataram. Islam, being a monotheist religion, forbids the apotheosis of any deity, animate or inanimate, except God, the Supreme Creator. In fact, ascribing divinity or any attribute of divinity to even Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) is considered an act of blasphemy negating the very purpose of Islam, that is, to promote the concept of unity of mankind through the worship of a common Creator.


In this context, those opposed to the Muslim point of view should know that, Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Vande Mataram contains verses which are in direct conflict with the beliefs of Islam. For instance, the fourth stanza of the song addresses motherland India as, “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned……..” When a Muslim sings these words he is forced to equate his country with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Lakshmi, thereby deifying the physical land of India and beseeching it to “arise and save.” This militates against the concept of Tawheed (oneness of God) according to which a Muslim cannot supplicate to anyone except God. Therefore, just as one cannot force non-Muslims to recite the Quran in their gatherings, it would be most unfair to force the Muslims to violate their Scriptural injunctions by questioning their patriotism.


The religious predicament of the Muslims was understood in the right spirit decades ago by Jawaharlal Nehru. In October 1937, when the Congress Working Committee met in Calcutta under the Presidentship of Nehru, it adopted a resolution which said, “The Committee recognizes the validity of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song. While the Committee has taken note of such objection insofar as it has intrinsic value, the Committee wishes to point out that the modern evolution of the use of the song as part of National life is of infinitely greater importance than its setting in a historical novel before the national movement had taken shape. Taking all things into consideration, therefore, the Committee recommend that, wherever Bande Mataram is sung at national gatherings, only the first two stanzas should be sung, with perfect freedom to the organisers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character, in addition to, or in the place of, the Bande Mataram song.” (Quoted by A.G. Noorani in the Frontline, Jan 2-15, 1999).


Based on the above resolution, the Hindutva brigade wants the Muslims to sing the first two stanzas arguing that there is nothing wrong in bowing to the motherland. This is a deliberate attempt to mislead the minority community, because, many Hindus elevate “Bharat Mata” or Mother India, to the status of a goddess as clearly seen in the traditional depiction of India as a lady dressed in a saree holding a red flag. In fact, in 1936, a Bharat Mata temple was built in Benaras by Shiv Prashad Gupt and was inaugurated by none less than Mahatma Gandhi. Then in May 1983, Swami Satyamitranand Giri founded a Bharat Mata temple in Haridwar which has a statue of Bharat Mata holding a milk urn in one hand and sheaves of grains in the other. According to the temple guide book, “the temple serves to promote the devotional attitude towards Bharat Mata, something that historians and mythological story-teller may have missed.” (Mc Kean, Lise. “Bharat Mata: Mother India and Her Militant Matriots”, in Devi : Goddesses of India, edited by John S.Hawley and Donna M.Wulff, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers, Delhi, 1998).


Moreover, not many know that Bharat Mata poojas are regularly performed all over India. The Hindu, on Jan 3, 2005 reported one such pooja by the BJP activists in a temple in Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh, during which there was a clash between the BJP and CPI (M) workers. The Chandigarh Tribune reported on April 13, 2002 that the employees of the Govt. Medical College and Hospital in Chandigarh performed the pooja of Bharat Mata “as per the Indian culture.” Also, the largest Hindu website dedicated to the freedom movement, www.freeindia.org, has posted an ancient Sanskrit Hindu verse glorifying Mother India as a goddess. It reads, “Ratnakaradhautapadam Himalyakirtitinim (I) Brahmara-jarsiratnamdhyam vande Bharatamataram (II)”. When translated it means, “I pay my obeisance to mother Bharata, whose feet are being washed by the ocean, who wears the mighty Himalaya as her crown, and who is exuberantly adorned with the gems of traditions set by Brahmarsis and Rajarsis.”


The aforementioned facts prove deification of India by the Hindus, which means that the Muslims, by singing the first two stanzas of the Vande Mataram, would be violating the basic tenet of Islam, that is Tawheed. It cannot be argued that saluting the motherland is harmless because the fourth stanza clearly identifies the land of India mentioned in the first stanza with goddess Durga and Lakshmi, and therefore, any salutation to motherland tantamounts to bowing before Hindu goddesses - an act unthinkable for a Muslim. The Muslims respect the right of the Hindus to worship any deity, but they cannot be forced to commit un-Islamic acts.


Another reason for the Muslims’ reluctance to sing the Vande Mataram is the fact that the novel Anandamath by Bankimchandra Chatterjee, in which it was first published, glorified the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims. As an example the following passage may be quoted. “The rural people ran out to kill the Muslims while coming across them. In the night, some were organised in groups and going to the Muslim locality, they torched their houses and looted their everything. Many Muslims were killed; many of them shaved their beards, smeared their bodies with soil and started singing the name of Hari. When asked, they said, we were Hindus. The frightened Muslims rushed towards the town in group after group. ( pages 161-162 of Abbey of Delight, the English translation of Anandamath , by Arabinda Das).


In any case, the Vande Mataram is a national song and not the national anthem of India, hence refusal to sing it cannot be construed as showing disrespect to the country. Given the fact that the Muslims have been singing the Jana Gana Mana ever since India attained independence, and the fact that they have laid down their lives for the country during and after the freedom struggle, their nationalist spirit cannot be doubted even for a minute. It must be understood that India being a secular democracy, every community has the right to profess and practice its faith so long as it does not challenge the unity and integrity of the nation, and therefore, the coercive imposition of the beliefs of one religion over another would only result in communal disharmony.


(The writer is a Peace Activist & Executive Committee Member, Harmony India Email: a.faizur.rahman@gmail.com)

The writer's Blog Address is faiz-engineer.blogspot.com