West and Islam

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: Pioneer:
Date: July 10, 2002

Boston, Massachusetts - American newspapers publish daily commentaries by eminent Muslims, who all want to prove that Islam is a tolerant creed, that the Taliban were an isolated aberration, and that Osama bin Laden is desecrating the scared non-violent tenets of Islam with his terrible deeds.

It is in such times that it is useful to remind the world, particularly the United States - which has chosen as a frontline state for its war on terrorism, a nation which breeds terrorism - that while Pakistan is an aberration of what Islam has stood for since its inception in the 7th century, India is a living example of a peace loving nation, tolerant of other creeds, ethnic groups and religions. Most Western history books, for instance, eulogise the Mughal period in India as a time of refinement and enlightenment, and many of them say that Aurangzeb was a strict but just emperor. What is the truth?

Aurangzeb (1658-1707) did not just build an isolated mosque on a destroyed temple, he ordered all temples to be destroyed and had mosques built on a number of cleared temples sites. All other Hindu sacred places within his reach equally suffered destruction. A few examples: Krishna's birth place temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujarat, the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Varanasi and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya. The number of temples destroyed by Aurangzeb is counted in 4, if not 5 figures. According to his own official court chronicles: "Aurangzeb ordered all provincial governors to destroy all schools and temples of the pagans and to make a complete end to all pagan teachings and practices." Aurangzeb did not stop at destroying temples, their users were also wiped-out; even his own brother, Dara Shikoh, was executed for taking an interest in Hindu religion and the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded because he objected to Aurangzeb's forced conversions.

We can see, Romila Thapar and Percival Spear's statement of a benevolent Aurangzeb is a flagrant attempt at negationism. Even the respectable Encyclopedia Britannica, in its entry on India, does not mention in its chapter on the Sultanate period any persecutions of Hindus by Muslims, except "that Firuz Shah Tughlaq made largely unsuccessful attempts at converting his Hindu subjects and sometime persecuted them".

Many orthodox Indian Muslims still cling to the Deoband school, which says that India was once "Dar-ul-Islam", the house of Islam, and should return to that status. The Aligarh school, on the contrary, led by Mohammed Iqbal, propounded the creation of Pakistan. What particularly interests us in the Aligarh school is the attempt by Muslim historians, such as Mohammed Habib, to rewrite the chapter of Muslim invasions in India. In 1920, Habib started writing his magnum opus, which he based on four theories: One, that the records (written by the Muslims themselves) of slaughters of Hindus, the enslaving of their women and children and razing of temples were "mere exaggerations by court poets and zealous chroniclers to please their rulers". Two, that they were indeed atrocities, but mainly committed by Turks, the savage riders from the Steppes. Three, the destruction of the temples took place because Hindus stored their gold and jewels inside them and therefore Muslim armies plundered these. Four, the conversion of millions of Hindus to Islam was not forced "but what happened was there was a shift of opinion in the population, who on its own free will chose the Shariat against the Hindu law (Smriti), as they were all oppressed by the bad Brahmins..."

Unfortunately for Habib and his school, the Muslims invaders did record with glee their genocide on Hindus, because they felt all along that they were doing their duty; that plundering, enslaving and razing temples was sanctioned by their religion. Indeed, whether it was Mahmud of Ghazni (997-1030) - no barbarian; although a Turk, he patronised art and literature and would recite a verse of the Quran every night after having razed temples and killed his quota of unbelievers - or Firuz Shah Tughlak (1351-1388) who personally confirms that the destruction of Pagan temples was done out of piety and writes: "On the day of a Hindu festival, I went there myself, ordered the executions of all the leaders and practitioners of his abomination; I destroyed their idols, temples and built mosques in their places." Finally, as Belgian historian Konraad Elst points out, "Muslim fanatics were merely faithful executors of Quranic injunctions. It is not the Muslims who are guilty but Islam."

It is not only Indian historians who are negationists, but also Western historians and India-specialists. We know that the first historians of India, the British, twisted India's history to suit their theory that they had come to civilise a race which was not only inferior to them, but was also supposed to have been heavily influenced in its philosophies or arts by European invaders (read the Aryans or Alexander the Great).

However, but what is less known is that today many Western historians not only still cling to these outdated theories, but also actually, more or less willfully, mislead their public, which is generally totally ignorant and takes these "knowledgeable" comments about India as the absolute truth. Many of these India-specialists are not only Left-leaning, but they are also specialists of the Mughal period of Indian history, which is to say that they are sympathetic to Islam's point of view on India, while they often consider Hindus fanatics.

It is time Indian historians looked again at their own history and wrote it based on the latest archaeological and linguistic discoveries, so that the West is better able to understand India.

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