By Sudhakar Raje
SHRI M.S.N. Menon'sDesert in the Life of the Arab (Organiser, May 8, 2005) shows how effectively Muslim Arabs have erased their pre-Islamic past from the world'smemory. His claim that ?the Arab had no past to think of, or to be proud about? is astounding, and it is necessary to put the record straight, because Arabia has had an astonishingly long and rich Hindu history.
How far back into the dim past it stretches can be seen from the strange belief that when Hajrat Adam came down from the Garden of Eden (that is, heavens), he first descended into India, from where he journeyed to Arabia. Having provided this amazing tit-bit Bharatiya Sanskriti Kosh (Marathi, 1982) uses it as the basis to observe, ?Therefore the Arabs consider India their fatherland, Pitru Bhumi.? (Unfortunately, more than a thousand years of Islamic aggressions on India have belied this pious statement. Rather, they stand testimony to the fact that Muslims have always looked upon India not as a land to be revered, but as a land to be ravished.)
Such fantasies apart, evidence exists to show that there was a strong Hindu presence in pre-Islamic Arabia, which, in turn, was reflected in an equally strong presence of Hinduism itself. This evidence is available in an anthology of ancient Arabic poetry titled Se?-arul Oqul. Page 197 of this anthology contains a poem praising the Vedas composed by a poet named Labi bin Akhtab bin Turfa, who lived 2300 years before Mohammed, that is, about 4000 years ago.
Much later, yet five centuries before Mohammed, there was a poet named Jarkham bin Tai, who wrote a beautiful poem on Lord Krishna. Then there was another pre-Islamic Arab poet by name Noman bin Adi, who has written a poem in praise of the great ancient Hindu king Vikramaditya. An article in the commemoration issue of a journal of Ujjain published on the occasion of the 2000th anniversary of the Vikram Era contains a description of Vikramaditya'srule over Arabia. Seven such poems of pre-Islamic times are still extant, says Bharatiya Sanskriti Kosh.
Coming down to Mohammed'sown time, a poem by Umar bin Hashsham eulogises Lord Shiva, specifically mentioning him by the name ?Mahadeva?. This poem appears on page 265 of the Se?-arul Oqul anthology. Hashsham was also known as Abul Haqam, which was his family name. He was Mohammed'suncle, but there were sharp religious differences between the two. Because of this hostility Mohammed'sfollowers changed his name from Abul Haqam, which means ?father of knowledge? to Abul Jahal, which means ?father of fools?. Hashsham refused to become a Muslim, and was finally killed in a battle with Muslims.
This Literary evidence is strengthened by social evidence in the form of a prosperous trading community called Sabaeans that lived in the South of Arabia. These Sabaeans practised ?an ancient natural religion?, in which ?the sun, the moon and the planets? figured prominently. They ?believed in the migration of the soul and in great world periods…..? (Encyclopedia Americana.) Rebirth and Yugas are both prominent Hindu tenets.
Then there was another pre-Islamic Arab poet by name Noman bin Adi, who has written a poem in praise of the great ancient Hindu king Vikramaditya. An article in the commemoration issue of a journal of Ujjain published on the occasion of the 2000th anniversary of the Vikram Era contains a description of Vikramaditya'srule over Arabia.
Even the First Encyclopedia of Islam attests to the high standard the Sabaean civilisation had achieved. It says archaeology has uncovered ?sculptures and remains of colonnades, palaces, temples, city walls, public works, specially water works etc., which confirm the brilliant picture of Sabaean culture?. (Vol. VII.)
Whether dating from Sabaean times (800 b.c. onwards) or even earlier, there are pink or saffron-coloured stone structures and remains of deserted cities of pre-Islamic times scattered in the desert wastes of Arabia. In his book With Lawrence of Arabia Lowell Thomas gives a graphic account of one such city called Petra, where ?several hundred thousand people must once have lived…?. He describes a magnificent temple near the city, which looked like ?a delicate and limpid rose?, and ?was carved from the cliff almost 2000 years ago?.
And this leads one to the question of questions: was Kaba, the present holy of Islamic holies, a former Shiva temple? In his well-researched book Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them Sita Ram Goel has dealt with this subject in some detail. He begins by saying that initially he had rejected the claim, but some facts that he came to know later had compelled him to revise his opinions, and, although still unsure about the Shiva temple, he ?cannot resist the conclusion that it was a hallowed place of Hindu pilgrimage?.
The tradition of Kaba being a Shiva temple was very much alive in the times of Guru Nanak, and is preserved in the Makke-Madine di Goshati (ed. Dr. Kulwant Singh, Patiala, 1988). During his travels in the Middle East Guru Nanak visited Mecca, where he had religious discussions with Islamic theologians, and he reportedly told them, ?Mecca is an ancient place of pilgrimage, and there is a Linga of Lord Mahadeva here?.
Famous Chinese traveller Huen Tsang has also written that during the glorious reign of King Harsha India'sinfluence, culture and religion had extended upto Mecca, where Shiva'sblack Linga was revered by the Arabs. The late Dr S.B. Varnekar, a reputed Sanskritist, had written to this writer that he had heard the term ?Meccashwar?, though not seen it used.
There is a clear presence of Sanskrit words in the Arabic language, albeit in Arabicised form. More than a score such words can be identified without much trouble. In fact, Dr N.R. Waradpande, a scholar of Sanskrit, wrote to this writer: ?If I get a dictionary of Arabic with pronunciation of Arabic words in Romen or Nagari script, I will be able to find more Sanskrit words in Arabic than in English.?
?Hind? was a popular name among pre-Islamic Arabs. Many years ago Arabic Scholar Dr Jeelany had written in this journal that many Arab women had this name. One of Mohammed'swives, as well as one of his aunts, were named Hind. The original name of Laila of the well-known Laila-Majnu love story was also Hind.
Finally, the Hindu history of Arabia far pre-dates the comparatively recent times when most of the Arab peninsula became Saudi Arabia, while a small stretch of the southern coastal region became a group of small states known as United Arab Emerates (UAE). This needs to be stated because Bahrain in the UAE was clearly an outpost of the Vedic civilisation. Scholars surmise that Bahrain was called Dilmun in ancient times. In his book In search of the Cradle of Civilisation David Frawley speculates that Dilmun was probably ?a colony of the Indus-Saraswati civilisation?.
All this should suffice to show that Shri Menon'scritique of the Arabs is not valid for Arabs per se, but only for Muslim Arabs. The Arabs certainly had a past, and it was glorious enough to be proud of?had not Islam taught them to hate anything pre-Islamic as anti-Islamic and to wipe it off their collective consciousness.
And even this hatred for the infidel took time to take root. Actually the early Arab Muslims were eager learners, and they did not hide their admiration of the Hindus, from whom they sought to learn as many things as the Hindus could teach them. This admiration is amply evident in the accounts of contemporary travellers, chroniclers and historians, such as Sulaiman the Merchant, Abu Zaid Saifi, Abu Dulf bin Muhalhil, Burzurg bin Shahriyar, Masudi, Istakhari, Ibn-i-Hauqal Muqaddasi, al-Biruni, and Ibn-i-Battuta. Their records reveal the admiration the Arabs had for Indian/Hindu arts and sciences, and their influence on Arab civilisation?even after the advent of Islam. Equipped by their Hindu mentors, they became a conduit for the transmission of Hindu knowledge to the West. How well they learnt from the Hindus what they taught to the West is demonstrated by a tiny but tell-tale detail?the Hindu numerals they taught the Westerners became known in the West as Arabic numerals.