Bookreview By Manju Gupta
Islam, the Religion of Social Liberation (A Myth Debunked) by Rudrapratap Chattopadhyaya, Amrita Saran Prakashan, 100 pp, Rs 100.00
Chattopadhyaya, a professional chemist, who has been studying comparative religions for the past 12 years, is known for his penchant for writing controversial themes in history. His earlier works on Henri Derozio and Titu Meer raised a storm as he does not consider either of them as champions of social liberation and secularism. He is of the opinion that Derozio debunked Hinduism as the road to Christian conversion and Titu Meer preached the Wahabi version of puritanical Islam among the Bengal peasantry and thereby came in conflict with Hindu zamindars and the British Raj.
In the book under review, he has critically examined the claim that Islam is a religion of social liberation?a myth that was propagated by pseudo-progressives. He has shown that social hierarchy among Muslims clearly divided them into Ashrafs, Atraps, Ajlafs and Arjals, with the last named being the lowest in order. He begins by narrating how during his boyhood days, the poor Muslim artisans and petty traders like the raddiwala, mason, tailor, cultivator were actually the lower-caste Hindus who got converted to Islam because of oppression by higher caste Hindus, particularly the Brahmins. He is of the view that the concept of slavery was given birth by Islam. ?Slavery was a system in the Middle East from the beginning of recorded history. It was a prominent institution in the Babylonian code of Hammurabi of circa 1750 BC. Slaves were present in ancient Egypt and were known to have been murdered to accompany their deceased owners into their after life ?Slaves came to be regarded as regal property. Only the State became the legitimate authority to punish them,? says the author. It is true, if we were to study the history of India, we would find that slavery did exist in India, but that was an admixture with humanism. In the Rig Veda references to slavery do exist but not of oppression of slaves, confirms the author.
Arabic terms for slavery are ubudiyah, abd and mamluk. The term generally used for slaves in the Quran is ma malakat aimanukum, i.e. ?that which your right hand possesses?. Warriors defeated in a battle were reduced to slaves according to Arabian practice, and Islam sanctioned this practice and utilised the institution for the spread of Islam.
It was Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson who first propounded the concept that all human beings are equal. But author Chattopadhyaya through a careful analysis shows that biology, psychology and anthropology do not consider all human beings to be physiologically and psychologically equal. In a pluralistic society, equality is a mere myth. The West has always been critical of the Hindu caste system and it was Carlyle who wrote in the 19th century that ?all men according to Islam are equal? which gave birth to the theory of Islam as a religion of social liberation.
What troubles the author of the book under review is that Vivekananda'sideas on Islam ?in respect of both doctrine and historicity are incorrect?. He agrees that Vivekananda was ?a voracious reader in his short-lived life?, but he had inadequate information about Islam?. Considering his small life-span and the historic role he played in the socio-religious field of the world, ?let us forget about his shortcomings, as he had got the chance of modifying his view about Islamic egalitarianism?, says the writer. What causes still greater pain to him is that ?various intellectuals of sundry description propagated the myth (liberation of Islam) and that tendency is still in evidence. In the bandwagon there are Gandhians, Indian nationalists, Marxists, pseudo-secularists, Muslim vote-bank politicians, and westerners of deep-rooted Christian consciousness.?
He is critical of Muslims of South-East Asia and South Asia who propagated the myth that Islam believed in social liberation, particularly in the Indian sub-continent where the oppressed castes to escape ?tyrannical high-caste Hindus, especially Brahmins?, converted ?to Islam en masse?.
When analysing the statements of intellectuals and historians, he criticises Ram Gopal for his theory of Aryan invasion in deltaic Bengal, which ?is a mere travesty of history. The theory is illogical. It has attributed present-day values to people of the past. As if lower groups of people were aware that all human beings are equal.?
As the author has studied Islam essentially in the Bengal region, he says it was as pointed out by historian Asim Ray, the nascency and fluidity of the culture of East Bengal that is responsible for the emergence of Islam in East Bengal and not caste oppression as put forward by advocates of the religion of social liberation theory.?
Author Rudrapratap Chattopadhyaya has done a scriptural and historical analysis to conclude that not only is the age-old notion of Islam being a liberal religion wrong, inequality is the altar on which every God-based religion rests. No religion has the mechanism to make everybody soundly equal, he expounds. And he concludes that the Muslim society is also a divided society. There is a broad division into Arab Muslims and non-Arab Muslims wherein the latter are looked down upon by fundamentalist Arabs as ?impure? co-religionists. Azams are like second-class citizens in the Muslim world. There are also Sunni and Shia communities with sharp theological differences between them. ?So Islamic egalitarianism is nothing but an elaborate misconception instilled in the people who are ignorant of Islamic scriptures and the religious practices of different Muslim communities. The projection of Islam as a religion of social liberation is patently wrong, propagandist and a sham?It is thus a spurious theory, if not a stupendous bluff,? concludes the author.
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