By Dr. Shreerang Godbole
The events of 9/11 fuelled a spate of books on Islam in the West. However, the fact is that the West has a long tradition of Islamic studies beginning with Peter the Venerable (d. 1125 CE). In the last 100 years, western scholars applied the highest standards of objective, historical scholarship to study Islam. It is strange that in spite of co-existing with Muslims for the last 1300 years, Hindus have by and large ignored the study of Islam. Save for the critiques of Maharishi Dayanand and some Arya Samajis and more recently Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, Hindus have been woefully lacking in this sphere.
Sheshrao More'sopus on Islam is a landmark and an invaluable contribution to literature on Islam. Sheshrao More is widely respected in scholarly circles in Maharashtra for his meticulously researched books on Kashmir, Savarkar and Ambedkar. The present work is the English rendering of his Marathi original Muslim manacha shodh (Search for the Muslim mind) published in 2003. The original Marathi book won many prestigious awards including the Maharashtra State Award, 2002.
The behaviour pattern of any society is shaped by its thought-patterns. This is especially true of Muslim society which does not accept or adopt anything that does not have the sanction of Islam. To understand the Muslim mind, one has to understand Islam. The exploration of the Muslim mind thus entails the study of Islam. More has restricted himself to the three principle and decisive sources of Islamic thought-the life of Prophet Mohammad, the Quran and the Hadis (or Sunnah). The three are so intertwined that it is virtually impossible to understand one without the others. It is a daunting task to study and present these three sources in an integrated manner in a single book. To his credit, More has proved himself more than equal to the task. In 10 chapters, he has successfully presented a thorough account of these three main tenets of Islam.
The first three chapters are devoted to the biography of Prophet Mohammad. More gives a detailed account of the Prophet'sancestry, his early years and his prophethood which is divided into the Meccan and Medinan periods. Particularly worth reading is the author'saccount (pp 139-144) of the Treaty of Hudaibiya (628 CE) which to this day serves to guide Muslims to adopt strategic peace in time of adversity. The account (p 127) of the massacre of the Banu Kuraiza tribe (627 CE) has been described in all its gory details but in a detached manner. However, More has unquestioningly accepted the Muslim portrayal of pre-Islamic Arabs as singularly lacking in philosophical leanings (p 35). Fact is that the pre-Islamic Arabs were highly tolerant and worshipped several complementary gods and goddesses. It was Islam that brutalised them into an intolerant, patriarchial and closed society. More largely leans on the pious and totally unobjective traditions preserved by Muslims regarding the Prophet. He does not discuss the critical questions raised by western scholars regarding the reliability of early Arabic documents that supposedly attest to events in the life of Mohammad and his followers.
It is strange that in spite of co-existing with Muslims for the last 1300 years, Hindus have by and large ignored the study of Islam. Save for the critiques of Maharishi Dayanand and some Arya Samajis and more recently Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, Hindus have been woefully lacking in this sphere.
The next five chapters of the book are devoted to the nature, arrangement and essence of the Quran. More has painstakingly collected the relevant Quranic ayats on various issues such as belief and disbelief, truth and falsehood, forgiveness and punishment. Non-Muslims often fail to realise that words like truth, falsehood, love, justice and brotherhood have different connotations for a Muslim. More has underscored this point admirably in this section. His chapter on ?Peace, Brotherhood, Tolerance and Justice? (Chapter 9) is arguably the best chapter in the book. The detailed account of the past prophets, something that is ignored by most books on Islam, is another highlight of this book. However, in this section too, More has only mentioned in passing the debate over the Quran'shistorical roots. The scientific studies of the Quran by Theodor Noldeke, and the Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian sources of Mohammad's?revelation? as discussed by scholars like Caetani, Mingana, Geiger and St. Clair-Tisdall could have been mentioned in greater detail to place the Quran in perspective.
The last chapter deals with the Hadis or accounts of the sayings and doings of the Prophet. Here, More has quoted representative hadis regarding ?belief?, ?believer?, ?rccounts of the sayings and doings of the Prophet. Here, More has quoted representaticcounts of the sayings and doings ofccountsccounts of the sayings and doings of the Prophet. Here, More has quoted representative hadis regarding ?belief?, ?believer?, ?rccounts of the sayings and doings of the Prophet. Here, More has quoted representative hadis regarding ?belief?, ?belieccounts ccounts of the sayings and doings of the Prophet. Here, More has quoted representative hadis regarding ?belief?, ?believer?, ?rits value as a reference work. Interestingly, the book carries a detailed foreword by a Jamaat-i-Islami activist and journalist who has lauded the book and expressed his opinion that More ?may publish the book?-a telling comment on the constraints that scholars like More have to live with.
The book has been ably translated into English by Bhalchandrarao Patwardhan, A.P. Joshi, S.H. Deshpande and Bal Gadgil, all widely respected academicians. They have facilitated the access of the wider, English-reading public to a book that is in many ways unique. Use of diacritical marks in the English rendering would have enhanced the utility of their efforts. The author and the translators need to be commended for their stupendous effort. The book needs to be widely disseminated and welcomed.
(Published by Rajhans Prakashan; 1025 Sadashiv Peth, Nagnath Par, Pune 411030; [email protected]; Jan 2004, pp 664, Rs. 800; $30)