Wednesday, January 9, 2002
Letter from a Hindu Reader
In December 1999, Bilqis answered a question from a young Muslim woman who was thinking about converting to Hinduism. In her response, Bilqis explained that this would be a big mistake, and compared Hinduism to Islam (you can read that column here).
Recently a Hindu reader wrote us to say that we had misrepresented Hinduism's beliefs. Of course, as Muslims we believe that Islam is the true religion of Allah, and we do not believe as the Hindus believe; however, in order to be free of the claim of misrepresenting someone else's beliefs, we have printed the letter from the Hindu reader below:
I was checking out your site here. Pretty good. When all of a sudden I came to this column about a Muslim girl who wanted to marry a Hindu guy... I'm not really writing about the specific example of those two people, but rather because I was offended with what you said about Hinduism.
It was all out of context, and simply not true. There a lot of people with misconceptions about Hinduism, and my friend, you are one of them. Now I understand that you want to prevent that girl from converting, but demeaning other religions should not be a tactic to use. Some of the things you wrote are really hurtful to Hindus, such as:
"Islam is monotheistic, Hinduism is polytheistic."
Not true. Hinduism believes that Brahm - the infinite, formless, spiritual and conscious energy - is God. This conscious energy can take on any form it wills and has created out of itself this entire world and everything you see. All idol forms in Hinduism actually represent some specific aspect of this energy. God has many attributes and the Hindus decided to pay homage to all of them by revering each one as a deity. For example, the goddess of knowledge is Mother Saraswati; the god of preservation is Vishnu, etc. Ask any Hindu and he will tell you these idols are not thought of as God but a personification of God's qualities. Hindus use such images and idols as reminders of these qualities as it is kind of hard to concentrate on formless God - something which no one can imagine. Just like a photograph reminds us of a person, even though it is not the real person, images and idols are intended to do the same.
In the ancient Hindu culture a good way teaching the beauty of God from generation to generation when often text and paper was not available, was through images. Now, I totally agree with what Muslims say - that idol worshipping is wrong and that an image is not God. Hindus also believe this; they don't pray to these images, they only see them as representations of something greater (like a map to the city, not the city itself).
"Muslims worship a single God who is merciful and commpassionate, while Hindus worship many gods, including such gods as Kali, goddess of destruction and cruelty."
This one hurt the most. Hindus believe in a God that is loving, merciful and kind. Several representations of this are in the form of the idols of Shiva, Mother Parvati, etc. However, we also understand that God has the power of destruction - or do you deny that God, who works through nature, does destroy all that He creates sooner or later? Even this solar system will one day end as indeed the universe will. Mother Kali is just a representation of that aspect of God. She is by no means cruel.
"Islam fights against racism, classism and sexism, while Hinduism is predicated on a caste system which is inherently unjust."
The caste system has become corrupted. I agree it is unjust in its present form. But what religion has not been corrupted in some way? Even Islam has been corrupted by some people. Terrorists use the name of Allah to brainwash and use people for their own power games. Originally the caste system was meant to stratify society according to the type of work you do, not by how much cash you have as we see these days. In so doing, society would keep its moral fabric by holding virtue as a higher value than wealth. The priestly caste were the highest, followed by the kings and warriors, then came the businessmmen, then your burger flippers, then people who weren't motivated to do anything apart from clean streets, etc. All this was based on profession, not birth. Then things got corrupted by power-hungry individuals who wanted to keep themselves and their families on top. Modern Hindus dislike and reject the caste system, but its original thinking is correct.
"Islam encourages re-marriage for widows and divorced women; while Hindus until recently burned widows alive because without the husband, the wife's existence was considered meaningless; even though this practice has diminished in modern times... poor widows in countries like India still suffer a terrible plight."
Yes this all is true - but it has less to do with Hinduism and more to do with Indian culture. Even some Muslims in India carried out these practices in those days. I could say that in Islam, female infanticide was practiced and women were married forcibly by their parents to those they do not wish. This is of course not true. There is a difference between Islam itself and Middle Eastern culture. Similarly, the practice you mentioned above was more a result of an ignorant society at that time than because of the religion itself.
I am writing all this to you because I feel it is my duty to bring understanding of different religions to people. That is why I was visiting your site - I was trying to understand Islam better. I will not make a judgement on Islam before I know much about it - otherwise I could easily say that Islam encourages terrorism and murdering innocent civilians. But I won't make those quick judgements. I ask the same of you. Understand Hinduism before you make a judgement. If you know what Hinduism really is and still think its nonsense, then go ahead by all means and keep that opinion, but don't do so without even knowing what it is. That is all I ask.
A great book that explains Hinduism is "A Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism" by Linda Johnsen. Also read the Upanishads and the Vedas for a better understanding. Then please feel free to knock my religion down. You might teach me something, but not without knowing it first. That's unfair and whatever you say will simply not be true.
Thank you for reading my message. I hope you will do the right thing and in future understand more about Hinduism before you knock it down.
Your faithfully, Rahul Dixit