From Arun Kumar in Bangalore
An Inter-Religious Dialogue for Spiritual Enlightenment by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Art of Living) and Dr Zakir Naik (Islamic Research Foundation)
The event was organised by the Islamic Research Foundation, which was widely publicised through hoardings and newspapers in Bangalore. The place was heavily crowded and majority of the crowd (95 per cent) was Muslim.
While delivering his speech, Dr Zakir Naik exhorted the crowds with Islamic (Arabic) greetings. He gave briefs about the names of both the religions and their respective scriptures?Holy Quran for Islam and the Shruti (Vedas) and Smriti (Puranas, epics, dharma-shastras, Gita) for Hinduism. He gave trivia about all these scriptures. His talk was academic in toto and he ?religiously? quoted from ?the Books? giving chapter number, verse number, etc, for every quote, reminding one of the lawyers quoting the rule book in courts.
He defined a criterion from the Quran for the ?candidate for God?. And he declared that idol worship is banned in Hindu scriptures also and Hindus better stop that.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also asked people to take good things from all religions and traditions. Just like you don'tbecome Danish by eating Danish cookies, you would not lose your religion, if you understand or honour other'straditions. Tolerance is old-style, what we need is ?respect? for each other's traditions.
He said Muslims are fine with such definitions of God but have a problem with definitions of God having four hands and if any man is praised to be God. He said the English word God is not appropriate as you can make it as Gods, Goddess, and Godmother by playing ?mischief.? So Allah is the appropriate word which is free of all this identities. He spoke of the 99 names of God in Islam and the thousands of names (sahasra-naama) given by Hindu sages. Stating that ?Hinduism thinks everything is God, Islam thinks everything is God?s,? he said Islam does not recognise creation as God but only the creator. In a tone of ridicule towards the concept of avatar which means God taking human/other forms, he said the all powerful God need not become a human to create/save/protect human beings. He further said, certain Hindu books say that idol worship is for people with lower consciousness who cannot comprehend formless God, then Muslims have already reached higher consciousness and don'tneed idols.
Thus, he went on about the greatness of Islam, its book, its version of God, fully befitting a zealous religious preacher. With a heavy dosage of mockery and ridicule towards image worship of Hinduism, he cried in the end, holding the Holy Quran in one hand, turning towards Sri Sri: ?The greatest book on earth, on the art of living is here, given by the last and only prophet of the world… and to be followed by everyone. I am presenting this to you.? He ended the talk with some more Arabic phrases.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar started his speech with the Kabir couplet pothi padh padh jag muaa (meaning the world is drained by reading books after books, no one became wise. Only he who reads the one-and-half letters of prem is wise). He said he'sno scholar, but just a dhai-akshar-wala who loves everyone, unconditionally.
He went on to elaborate the Hindu concept of God and said that the idea of God can only be indicated and not ?defined? and ?specified? with limited human intellect, as the Upanishad said: ?Yato vaacho nivartante apraapya manasaa saha? (the mind and speech return helpless while trying to describe That). He explained that all idol/image worship is for joy and entertainment where you play with God and this helps the heart to blossom in love.
He mentioned that if you have a concept of God lying somewhere above and outside of the world, rewarding believers and punishing non-believers on judgment day, that is a limited and misguided notion. The idea of God as all-pervading (sarvaantaryaami) is the most beautiful, like you appreciate the painting as well as the painter, all of God'screation is divine and worthy of admiration. The grace of God is something to be experienced and is not found in books alone. He gave examples of congregation of doctors debating about ?pain? whereas none had actually experienced it! The true spirituality is to transcend words and books and experience God.
Stating that the age-old spiritual practices of Yoga and pranayam can help the whole of mankind, he mentioned about how Art-of-Living volunteers brought mental peace to people traumatised by war and violence in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He requested people to unconditionally love all of humanity in the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (all of earth is one family).
Sri Sri told the crowd that there is no point in condemnation and let us honour each other'straditions. Image worship is going on in this country for thousands of years?how can you condemn it? Love and mutual understanding are the need of the hour.
In his characteristic, mellifluous voice, Sri Sri told the crowd that there is no point in condemnation and let us honour each other'straditions. Image worship is going on in this country for thousands of years?how can you condemn it? Love and mutual understanding are the need of the hour. He also asked people to take good things from all religions and traditions. Just like you don'tbecome Danish by eating Danish cookies, you would not lose your religion, if you understand/honour other'straditions. Tolerance is old-style, what we need is ?respect? for each other's traditions.
After Sri Sri'stalk, Zakir again came to the stage. The organisers announced, this is for being ?neutral? and providing platform to Zakir to give his counterpoints. Here again, Zakir said: ?I love Sri Sri Ravishankar. Because I love a child, I can'ttolerate the child falling down from the building and want to save it.? He again went on condemning idol worship and said since he loves Sri Sri, he openly invites him to the great religion of Islam which is the best form of art-of-living on earth. This was greeted with applause from audience.
But Sri Sri remained calm. He said: ?No agenda, please absolutely no agenda. Before you think you?re doing good to others, just try to understand and see if the person is really in need of help. In the quest of saving the child, you?ll jump on its neck and kill the child.?
And then there was ?open? question and answer session. From the questions that were coming, it appeared clear they were all ?planted? questions which the designated persons started asking one after the other. One such planted question was ?Is Prophet Mohammed prophesised in Hinduism?? directed at Zakir, to which he said an emphatic ?yes? and quoted some obscure verses from Bhavishya Purana and said that these verses talked abut a future mahapurush from Vahleeka Pradesh (Sanskrit name for Arabia) and the details mentioned in those verses resembled Mohammed.
There were other questions to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar like ?You said so much about love, but did not Krishna ask Arjuna to fight in the Gita? Is that not violence and enmity?? He replied: ?Yes, but Krishna asked Arjuna to fight because it was his duty, but not with hatred and anger. Arjuna was like a policeman of dharma who has to punish wrong-doer. Krishna never preached hatred and terror.?
After observing some of the rigidity and fixated thought process, coupled with fundamentalist streak, one is left wondering, ?if this is the liberal Islamic view, what would be orthodox Islamic view? What about hard-liner Islam??