Being Faithful to History

Opinion Editorial
The Tampa Tribune
February 1, 2003
"Defining Islam" (Tampa Tribune, January 11, 2003, Saturday Forum)
written by Mr. Mubarak was indeed a definition of Islam, but certainly
redefined what the purveyors of Islam did – use religion to justify
oppression.

The history that Mr. Mubarak thinks no one can dispute bleeds of
categorical statements such as "Muslims never forced non-Muslims to
accept Islam." Maybe tomorrow Christians will say that the Inquisition did
not take countless human lives and created a religious license for slavery.  
I want to know the history books that Mr. Mubarak is reading.

Mr. Mubarak says, "In Islamic conquests, some countries were conquered
by war, others peacefully.  If we inspect the first group, we find that such
countries were ruled by oppressive regimes."  I have read the history of
India written by native and international authors, and oppressive regimes
did not exist before Muslims started conquering her.  These invaders
plundered the temples for their gold and jewelry followed by destroying
them and building mosques to replace them.  Some of these mosques
were built on holy Hindu sites in India, and such actions of the past have
inflamed religious riots even in this decade.

Mr. Mubarak quotes, "It (Islam) differentiates between "People of the
Book" (Jews and Christians) and polytheists or idolaters."  That clearly
inflames a divide between the monotheistic religions and the rest.  Even in
his stealth attempt to make most of his audience inclusive to favor his
arguments, it is still a gratuitous effort to show that one religion is better
than the other is.  Based on his so-called "differentiation", several billion
Hindus and Buddhists must all be persecuted or whatever he thinks Islam
prescribes for them.

What floored me more was when Mr. Mubarak mentions "Muslims ruled
India for centuries (8th thru 16th century).  They did not force Islam on
Hindus, who still make the majority there."  Well, this is a fact, but for a
reader to think that only conversion implies oppression are missing the
point.  Have you ever considered that many chose the sword over
conversion?  Religious conversion is not simply changing one's religion, and
as V.S. Naipaul writes in his book Beyond Belief, "Converted peoples have
to strip themselves of the past; of converted peoples nothing is required
but the purest faith ………. It is the most uncompromising kind of
imperialism."

In the beginning of the Muslim rule in India, the invaders did not mix with
the commoners.  They thought they were of a better religious background
but just like the inquisitors who were more interested in making
themselves rich and live off other peoples' blood, sweat and tears, the
Muslim invaders intentionally wanted to maintain a large base of non-
Muslims as they were subjected to a heavy head tax called "jeziah".  
Conversions would have diminished their tax base.  Also, only the poor
willingly wanted to convert to Islam to build a better life for themselves,
but the invaders scorned them.

However, this is not to say that mass conversions did not take place in
India.  The 16th and 17th centuries are full of such events.  Majority of
these conversions happened in the border areas such as Kashmir, Sind
(Pakistan), and Bengal (now known as Bangladesh), and today these
areas still have a very high majority Muslim population.

Mr. Mubarak continues, "Saying that Christians are persecuted in some
Muslim countries is a fallacy."  I hope I was not watching a fictional movie
on recent riots in Nigeria on the Miss World controversy.  Although this
example may be considered anecdotal, let us look at Sudan.  Backed by
Muslim clerics, the National Islamic Front regime in the Arab and Muslim
north is forcing Islam on south.  Since 1983, 2 million people have died
from the war and famine.  Another 4.5 million have become refugees.  But,
who cares? They have nothing economical or political to offer to the rest of
the world. On a smaller scale, but in my own birth state of Kashmir, India,
cross-border terrorists trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan, have killed
tens of thousands of Hindus since 1990.  Again, who cares?  Pakistan is
our ally on the war on terrorism.

If we want to live in a better world, we should not be continually justifying
history.  As a Hindu, I will not justify that Asoka, a Hindu king, in what is
now known as the state of Orissa, in 260 BC, killed 100,000 people.  

Or, in 1984, when after the assassination of India's Prime Minister, Indira
Gandhi at the hands of Sikh bodyguards, thousands of Sikhs were
murdered by Hindus in the streets of Delhi.  In 2002, religious riots claimed
hundreds of Hindu and Muslim lives in Gujarat, India.  I hope no one
justifies the eradication of our own native Indians, whether through
murder or disease.  I hope no one proclaims that the Christian Inquisition
never happened.

What we should do is relentlessly examine the past and learn from it, and
realize how human beings cannot afford to continually perpetuate
oppression. We would be better off following the basic tenets of all
religions rather than making a few verses of holy books define it.
Religion has always been used as a smokescreen for political oppression,
and religion in the hands of oppressors always has had a timeless
gnawing capability of galvanizing people in lethal directions.

I agree with Mr. Mubarak that we should counter ignorance with education
and open minds.  However, if in the educational process, we are going to
revise history that discourages closed minds to open, a world of hatred will
never run out of fuel.

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