A. Faizur Rahman
This book is about the catholicity of the divine message found in all religious scriptures and its power to not only unite people but bring them closer to their Creator provided they — as Raza suggests quoting Mirza Ghalib — cast aside “the self-limiting veil” (hijab-e-ta’yyun) that blinds them to the glorious revelations in every faith. Although Raza does not negate the ritualistic aspect of religions, he argues that proximity to God can result only when one goes beyond the ritual. He is absolutely right because “worship” cannot be reduced to the dogmatic appeasement of a personal god or gods through superstitious rituals. It is about the actualisation of ethical prescripts in divine scriptures. To drive home this truth Raza cites the famous Quranic verse (2:177) which states that piety does not lie in turning one’s face to the East or West but in submitting to the natural law of God, materially supporting the overall development of society, honouring treaties, and exhibiting calm resoluteness during times of distress.
Raza recalls his English teacher Prof. Ramaswamy’s discourse on the philosophy of nishkaamakarma — action without expectation of rewards — advocated by the Gita in verse 2:47; “You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action (evadhikaras te ma phaleshu). Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.”
The Quran in its own inimitable style describes this as carrying out societal obligations exclusively for the Countenance of Allah (li wajhillah). It exemplifies righteous people as those who “feed the destitute, the orphans and the captives overcoming their own love (for material possessions) saying, ‘We feed you seeking Allah’s Countenance only; we expect neither rewards nor gratitude from you’.” (76: 8-9). Indeed the Quran goes a step further (in 41:34) and points out to its followers that doing good to even rivals who have done harm (idfa billati hiya ahsan) would result in their antagonism dissolving into intimate friendship. This precept finds its axiomatic echo in the Bhagavad Gita and the Gospels too where Krishna (Gita 11:55) enunciated to Arjuna the idea of nirvairah sarva bhuteshu (enmity against none), and Jesus taught his disciples; “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6: 27-28).
But why do differences exist between religions despite these remarkable commonalities, asks Raza. He finds his answer in the explanation offered by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who was also a great Islamic scholar. Religion, says Azad, has two aspects; a) its spirit described by the Quran as deen , and b) its outward or ritualistic manifestation known as shar’a, minhaj or nusk. The hermeneutical wrangling between partisans of different faiths is the result of an overemphasis on the second aspect at the expense of the first one which is common to all religions. Azad derives this view from the Quranic verse: “For every nation We have prescribed rituals (manasak, plural of nusk) which they perform. Let them not dispute with you in this matter.” (22:67). Therefore, the best way to bring about inter-faith harmony is to highlight the presence of deen in all religions and play down the ritualistic differences.
This may, for instance, be done by giving currency to the basic fact that just as the Quran considers humankind as one (ummatan waahida) and guides it to live in harmony with all living beings including nature, the intention of Sanatana Dharma is to make every member of vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the family of humanity) act in such a way as to promote the well being of society. And just as Islam wants mankind to understand and recognise the Oneness (tawheed) of the Evolver and Originator of all creation, Theistic Vedanta, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism exhort their followers to acknowledge the existence of a unique incorporeal Creator whom they call Brahman, Ek Oankar and Ahura Mazda respectively. Raza’s book celebrates this commonality.