HINDUISM STUDIES, DHIMMITUDE AND WENDY DONIGER
(PLEASE SEE JUNE, JULY, AUGUST & NOVEMBER 2010 POSTINGS ON THIS TOPIC)
(FOR CULTURALLY ACCEPTED MEANINGS SEE FEB.2010 INSTANT RAMAYANA & MAHABHARATA I&II)
(RECOMMENDED READING "WENDY DONIGER'S UNCONSCIOUS EXHIBITIONISM" NOVEMBER 2009)
Dr. M. Lal Goel
Professor Emeritus of Political Science and
Director of International Studies
The University of West Florida
(This article is published as is without editorial scrutiny by Sookta-Sumana Editor)
Pro-Islamic and anti-Hindu mindset known as dhimmitude (described more fully later) is prevalent in sections of the American academy. The case in point is the recent book by Dr. Wendy Doniger , The Hindus: An Alternative History, The Penguin Press, 2009.
Doniger’s 779-page tome is laced with personal editorials, folksy turn of the phrase and funky wordplays. She has a large repertoire of Hindu mythological stories. She often narrates the most damning story—Vedic, Puranic, folk, oral, vernacular—to demean, damage and disparage Hinduism. After building a caricature, she laments that fundamentalist Hindus (how many and how powerful are they?) are destroying the pluralistic, tolerant Hindu tradition. Why save such a vile, violent religion, as painted by the eminent professor? There is a contradiction here.
Doniger’s book is at odds with the increasing acceptance in the United States of key Hindu spiritual concepts. Lisa Miller (Newsweek, 31 August, 2009) reports that Americans “are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.” She cites the following poll data: 67 percent of Americans believe that many religions, not only Christianity can lead to eternal life, reflecting pluralistic Hindu ethos rather than monotheistic Christian view; 30 percent of Americans call themselves “spiritual, not religious;” 24 percent say they believe in reincarnation; and more than a third choose cremation rather than burial. http://www.newsweek .com/id/212155
This review focuses on Doniger’s discussion of Islamic incursions into India. Islam entered Malabar Coast in south India with Arab merchants and traders in the 7th Century. This was peaceful Islam. Later, Islam came to India as a predatory and a conquering force. Mohammad bin Qasim ravaged Sindh in 711. Mahmud Ghazni pillaged, looted and destroyed numerous Hindu temples around 1000 CE, but he did not stay to rule. The Muslim rule begins with the Delhi Sultanate, approximately 1201 to 1526.
The Sultanate gave place to the Mughal Empire, 1526-1707.
Wendy Doniger makes the following dubious points regarding the Muslim imperial rule in India (1201-1707).
1. Muslim marauders destroyed some Hindu temples, not many. Ch 16
2. Temple destruction was a long standing Indian tradition. In an earlier period, Hindus destroyed Buddhist and Jain stupas and rival Hindu temples and built upon the destroyed sites; “the Muslims had no monopoly on that.” P 457
3. Muslim invaders looted and destroyed Hindu temples because they had the power to do so. If Hindus had the power, they would do the same in reverse. Pp. 454-57
4. The Jizya—the Muslim tax on non-Muslims—was for Hindu protection and a substitute for military service. Pp. 448-49
5. Hindu “megalomania” for temple building in the Middle Ages was a positive result of Muslim demolition of some Hindu temples. P 468
6. The Hindu founders of the Vijayanagara Empire double-crossed their Muslim master in Delhi who had deputed them to secure the South. P 467
7. Hindus want Muslims and Christians to leave India for Hindustan is only for Hindus. Concluding chapter.
Let us take each point in turn to examine Doniger’s mistaken views.
1. Muslim invaders beginning with Mahmud Ghazni in 1000 CE looted, pillaged and destroyed not few but many Hindu and Buddhist temples. Muslim chroniclers describe the humiliation and utter desolation wrought by the Muslims on the kafirs (unbelievers). Alberuni, the Muslim scholar who accompanied Mahmud to India in 1,000 CE, describes one such event: “Mathura, the holy city of Krishna, was the next victim. In the middle of the city there was a temple larger and finer than the rest, which can neither be described nor painted. The Sultan was of the opinion that 200 years would have been required to build it. The idols included 'five of red gold, each five yards high,' with eyes formed of priceless jewels. . . The Sultan gave orders that all the temples should be burnt with naphtha and fire, and leveled with the ground. Thus perished works of art which must have been among the noblest monuments of ancient India.”
At the destruction of another temple, Somnath, it is estimated that 50,000 were massacred. The fabulous booty of gold, women and children was divided according to Islamic tradition--the Sultan getting the royal fifth, the cavalry man getting twice as much as the foot soldier. Numerous Hindu and Buddhist shrines were destroyed.
2. The esteemed professor asserts that during an earlier period, Hindus persecuted Jains and Buddhists and destroyed their shrines. She narrates the now discarded story about the impaling of Jains at the hands of Hindu rulers in the Tamil country. Then she says that “there is no evidence that any of this actually happened, other than the story.” (p 365). Then why narrate the story? Hindu sectarian violence pales in comparison to what happened either in Europe under Christianity or in the Middle East under Islam. The truth is that both Jainism and Buddhism were integrated into Hinduism’s pluralistic tradition. The Buddha was accepted as one of the Hindu Avatars (God in human form). Exquisite Jain temples at Mt Abu at the border of Gujarat and Rajasthan built around 1000 CE survive in the region dominated by Hindu Rajput rulers, falsifying notions of Hindu carnage of Jain temples.
3. Wendy Doniger suggests that Hindus would do the same to Muslims if they had the power to do so (p 457). Hindus did come to power when the Mughal rule rapidly declined after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707. The Hindu Marathas were the strongest power in Western and Southern India in the 18th and 19th centuries, as the Sikhs were in North India. There is no account of large scale demolition and looting of Muslim places of worship either by the Marathas or the Sikhs. If a copy of the Quran fell into the hands of Maratha chief Shivaji during a battle campaign, the same would be passed on to a Muslim rather than being burned.
4. Contrary to what Doniger says, jizya is a long held Muslim tradition. It was levied to begin with on the defeated Christians and Jews, the People of the Book, as a price for the cessation of Jihad. Hindus, not being one of the People of the Book, did not deserve to live by paying the special tax. If defeated in battle, their only option was Islam or death. This was the position taken by the leading Islamic clergy. Unlike the clergy, however, the Muslim rulers were practical men. If they had killed the Hindus en masse for failing to adopt Islam, who would build their palaces, fill their harems, cut their wood and hue their water?
5. Doniger argues that Hindu ‘megalomania’ for temple building resulted from Muslim destruction of some Hindu temples. In other words, because the Muslims destroyed some of the Hindu temples, the Hindus went on a building spree. If Doniger’s argument is accepted, Hindus should thank Islamic marauders for looting and desecrating their shrines. The truth is that in northern India which experienced 500 years of Islamic rule (1201-1707), few historical temples of any beauty remain. In contrast, temple architecture of some beauty does survive in southern India, the region that escaped long Muslim occupation.
6. That the Hindu founders of the Vijayanagara dynasty in the South double-crossed their Muslim master in Delhi is one among the innumerable editorial negative portrayal of Hindu character. One may ask: why wouldn’t a slave double cross his oppressor?
7. The view that Muslims and Christians should leave India is not one held by most Hindus, only by a small minority on the extreme fringes. Muslim population has increased in India from about 9 percent at the time of Independence to about 13 percent now (1947-2009). In contrast, in Pakistan, Hindu population has declined from 10 percent and now constitutes less than one percent. In Muslim Bangladesh in the same period the Hindu population has declined from 30 percent to less than 10 percent. People vote with their feet. Muslims hold important positions in government and business in contemporary India, which is 83 pct Hindu. Among the richest person in India is a Muslim, Premji; the most popular film stars are Muslim, Shah Rukh Khan being at the top; several states are led now or were headed in the past by Christian and Muslim chief ministers and governors. We should also point out that the single most important leader in India is an Italian-born woman Sonya Gandhi and the Prime Minister is a Sikh, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The past President APJ Kalam was a Muslim and before that K R Narayanan, a lower caste. In Federal and State civil service, 50 percent of the jobs are reserved for backward classes and Untouchable, in order to compensate for past discrimination. India has moved.
Let us look more closely. Doniger describes the invasion of Sindh by Arab soldier of fortune Muhammad bin Qasim as follows:
Qasim invaded Sindh in 713. The terms of surrender included a promise of guarantee of the safety of Hindu and Buddhist establishments. “Hindus and Buddhists were allowed to govern themselves in matters of religion and law.” Qasim “kept his promises.” The non-Muslims were not treated as kafirs. Jizya was imposed but only as a substitute for military service for their “protection.” He brought Muslim teachers and mosques into the subcontinent. (paraphrased)
From Doniger’s assessment, Qasim should be regarded as a blessing. Contrast Doniger’s description with that written by Andrew Bostom in “The Legacy of Islamic Jihad in India.”
The Muslim chroniclers . . .include enough isolated details to establish the overall nature of the conquest of Sindh by Muhammad b. Qasim in 712 C.E. . . . Baladhuri, for example, records that following the capture of Debal, Muhammad b. Qasim earmarked a section of the city exclusively for Muslims, constructed a mosque, and established four thousand colonists there. The conquest of Debal had been a brutal affair . . . Despite appeals for mercy from the besieged Indians (who opened their gates after the Muslims scaled the fort walls), Muhammad b. Qasim declared that he had no orders (i.e., from his superior al-Hajjaj, the Governor of Iraq) to spare the inhabitants, and thus for three days a ruthless and indiscriminate slaughter ensued. In the aftermath, the local temple was defiled, and “700 beautiful females who had sought for shelter there, were all captured.”
Distinguished historian R. C. Majumdar describes the capture of the royal Fort and its tragic outcome:
Muhammad massacred 6,000 fighting men who were found in the fort, and their followers and dependents, as well as their women and children were taken prisoners. Sixty thousand slaves, including 30 young ladies of royal blood, were sent to Hajjaj, along with the head of Dahar [the Hindu ruler]. We can now well understand why the capture of a fort by the Muslim forces was followed by the terrible jauhar ceremony (in which females threw themselves in fire kindled by themselves), the earliest recorded instance of which is found in the Chachnama. (Cited in Bostom.)
Doniger extensively footnotes Romila Thapar, John Keay, Anne Schimmel and A. K. Ramanujan as her sources for Islamic history, providing an impression of meticulous scholarship. Missing are works of the distinguished historians: Jadunath Sarkar, R. C. Majumdar, A. L. Srivastava, Vincent Smith, and Ram Swarup.
Doniger writes at page 458: when Muslim royal women first came to India, they did not rigidly keep to purdah (the veiling and seclusion of women). They picked the more strict form of purdah from contact with the Hindu Rajput women. Doniger finds much to praise in Muslim women during this period: some knew several languages; others wrote poetry; some managed vast estates; others set up “feminist” republics within female quarters (harems); some debated fine points on religion; some even joined in drinking parties (chapters 16, 20). Such descriptions are patently negated by other historians. See for example, The Mughal Harem (1988) by K S Lal, available free on the Internet.
If Hinduism is the source of strict purdah among Muslim women, as Doniger contends, how does one explain the strict veiling of women in the Middle East, a region far removed from Hindu influence? Or, the absence of purdah in southern India, a region that escaped extended Islamic domination?
Doniger writes at page 627, “the Vedic reverence for violence flowered in the slaughters that followed Partition.” And, Gandhi’s nonviolence succeeded against the British. But it failed against the tenaciously held Hindu ideal of violence that had grip on the real emotions of the masses.
Doniger blames only the Vedic tradition of violence for post-Partition violence that engulfed both India and Pakistan. What is one to make of these weighty pronouncements uttered in all seriousness by the author? These are an expression of the hurt feelings on the part of a scholar. While discussing the Hindu epic Ramayana in London in 2003, Doniger put forth her usual gloss: that Lakshman had the hots for his brother Rama’s wife Sita, and that sexually-charged Sita reciprocated these feelings. An irate Hindu threw an egg at her and conveniently missed it. This incident is her cause célèbre.
Doniger’s uncritical review of the Islamic marauding raids in India (712-1200) and later the Islamic rule (1201-1707) suggests dhimmitude.
The concepts of dhimmi and dhimmitude were developed by the Egyptian born Jewish woman writer, Bat Ye’or (Daughter of the Nile), who fled Egypt in 1958 in the wake of Jewish persecution following the Suez Canal crisis; she was a stateless person for a number of years and then acquired British citizenship through marriage (see Wikipedia). Her meticulous research puts to rest the myth of peaceful expansion of Islamic power in the countries of Near East and Eastern Europe.
Ye'or describes dhimmitude as the specific social condition that resulted from jihad. It is defined by the following attributes. Dhimmitude is a state of fear and insecurity on the part of infidels who are required to accept a condition of humiliation. It is characterized by the victim’s siding with his oppressors, by the moral justification the victim provides for his oppressors’ hateful behavior. The Dhimmi loses the possibility of revolt because revolt arises from a sense of injustice. He loathes himself in order to praise his oppressors.
Dhimmis lived under some 20 disabilities. Dhimmis were prohibited to build new places of worship, to ring church bells or take out processions, to ride horses or camels (they could ride donkeys), to marry a Muslim woman, to wear decorative clothing, to own a Muslim as a slave or to testify against a Muslim in a court of law.
Ye’or believes that the dhimmi condition can only be understood in the context of Jihad. Jihad embodies all the Islamic laws and customs applied over a millennium on the vanquished population, Jews and Christians, in the countries conquered by jihad and therefore Islamized.
She believes that dhimmitude was once the attribute of defeated Christian and Jewish communities under Islam. Now it is a feature of much of the Western world, Europe and America. Her theory of dhimmitude applies to many Hindus in India. Whereas dhimmitude in previous centuries resulted from real-life powerlessness and humiliation under Islamic rule, modern dhimmi syndrome results from some combination of the following.
• The corrupting power of oil money to influence think tanks, lobbyists and academic institutions in the West. Saudi Arabia has spent in excess of $80 billion to export Wahabism, puritanical Islam.
• De-Christianizing of Europe. Christianity is also declining in the U.S. See Pew research reports.
• Guilt feelings in the West on account of the Crusades to liberate the Holy Land (1095-1291).
• Multiculturalism: the belief that all cultural practices and ways of life are equally valid.
• Violence by radical Muslims is on account of being poor and exploited by colonial hegemony.
• Islam provided the West its basis for advancement in math and science.
• The rising number of Muslim populations in Europe and America.
• The rising level of alienation from one’s own culture in the West.
Doniger’s scandalous book on the Hindus makes sense only in the light of a larger global trend—a trend that seeks to re-package Islamic history as a force for tolerance and progress.
Doniger is not alone in holding such views. Dhimmi attitudes of subservience have entered the Western academy, and from there into journalism, school textbooks and political discourse. One must not criticize Islam. For, “to do so would offend the multiculturalist ethos that prevails everywhere today. To do so would endanger chances for peace and rapprochement between civilizations all too ready to clash.” See, http://www.dhimmitude.org/archive/by_lecture_10oct2002.htm
The field of Middle East Studies in the U.S. is now controlled by pro-Middle East professors, according to Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle Eastern Quarterly. “The crucial turning point occurred in the late 1970s when Middle East studies centers, under /Edward/ Said's influence, began to show a preference for ideology over empirical fact and, fearing the taint of the ‘orientalist’ bias, began to prefer academic appointments of native-born Middle Easterners over qualified Western-born students,” contends Kramer. The book is summarized at: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_17_119/ai_90989239/.
In contrast, the field of Hinduism studies is controlled by non-Hindus and anti-Hindus, with some notable exceptions of course. Hindu gods and goddesses are lampooned and denigrated. Hindu saints are described as sexual perverts and India in danger of being run over by Hindu fundamentalists. In these portrayals, Doniger is joined by Martha Nussbaum, Paul Courtright, Jeffrey Kripal, Sarah Caldwell, Stanley Kurtz, to name a few of the leading academicians. For a critique of the American academy, see Rajiv Malhotra at www.sulekha.com, and a 2007 book titled, Invading the Sacred.
Unhappily also, the American born Hindu youth choose lucrative careers in medicine, law, finance and engineering rather than in the social sciences and the humanities.
Doniger is quite harsh on the British record in India (1757-1947). She compares the British argument that they brought trains and drains to India to Hitler’s argument that he built the Autobahn in Germany (p. 583). Censuring Britain and giving a pass to the more draconian Islamic imperialism in India fits with the dhimmi attitude that I have described.
Consequently, attitudes of concession and appeasement are on the rise. A reversal of language occurs. Jihad is called ‘struggle within’ or struggle for liberation. Dhimmitude is called tolerance. Jizya is called protection. Tony Blair declares Islam is a religion of peace and that the terrorists are not real Muslims. Parts of London have been ceded to the control of radical mullahs. Sharia arbitration courts are now part of the British legal system. Melanie Phillips tells that London is becoming Londonistan. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. Yesterday’s “Christ killers” are now called Muslim murderers.
LOSS OF MORAL COMPASS
The destruction of life and property caused by Islamic extremists in the last thirty years is simply horrendous. Distinction must be made between moderate Muslims and radicals who wish to bring back the 7th century version of Islam. Of the twenty some hot spots around the globe, some eighteen involve radical Muslims. Radical Muslim violence is directed against moderate Muslims as well as against other civilizational groups, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Slavs. The Islamic world has “bloody borders”--Samuel Huntington.
Much is made of the partial destruction of the so-called Babri Masjid (mosque) in India by a certain group of Hindus. It was a dilapidated building, not actively used as a place of worship by Muslims. No temple has been raised in its place. At best, only a make-shift puja (worship) is held at the site. India has lost more people to Islamic terrorism after 9/11 than any other country. Some 300,000 Kashmiri pandits have been driven out of their homes by extremists and are refugees in their own country. Of the some 300 Hindu temples in Pakistan at its breakaway from India in 1947, barely 30 survive and these are in dire shape.
In the wake of the Arab-Israeli conflict, some 800,000 Jews have been forced to flee Islamic countries and are refugees. This Jewish tragedy goes largely unacknowledged by the world, whereas the plight of 800,000 Palestinian refugees is rightly condemned. The Jewish property, wealth and Synagogues are taken over by the Islamic state, not repatriated to the Jewish refugees. See Andre Aciman NYT op-ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/opinion/09aciman.html?_r=3&scp=1&sq=aciman&st=cse
Amid the rising level of alienation, multiculturalism, and the feelings of guilt, the moral compass is lost. The British helped abolish the horrible practice of Suttee (widow burning) in India in the 19th century. At its peak in the 19th century, the practice of Suttee claimed the lives of 500 to 600 women a year in India (the British were good bean counters). The honor killing of women, genital mutilation, and the caning of girls for minor sexual impropriety raises only a limited protest in the 21st century. No reliable count exists. Women are honor-killed not only in the Islamic world but also on occasion in the Western countries. See 6/26/2009 digest at: www.politicalislam.com
India and America
India and America are very similar in their commitment to pluralism. India has held the flag high for a pluralistic, multi-cultural civilization through history. Many ideas, ideologies, world-views, philosophies and religions competed in the market place. A thousand flowers bloomed. There were Vaishnavites, Shaivites, Buddhists, Jains, Tantrites, Shaktas, and even materialists and atheists called Charvakas and Lokayats in India. No books were burned or the minorities put to the torch. There were exceptions.
The Muslim rule reversed this tradition. People were killed in the name of religion and loot. The exception was Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605). Akbar was an exception to the otherwise long running vale of woe. His pluralism did not spring forth from Islam, but from his rejection of Islam. The Muslim clergy regarded him as an apostate and did not give him a Muslim burial when he died. For a critical account of Akbar’s u-turn from being a jihadi (soldier of Islam) to being its critic, visit Sarvesh Tiwari’s 5-part essay at: http://bharatendu.com/2009/03/31/akbars-transition-2/
Jews came to India soon after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Three separate Jewish communities have lived and flourished in India for two millennia: Cochin, Maharashtra and Calcutta. Dr. Nathan Katz tells us that India is one place where Jews were never persecuted. “The Indian chapter is one of the happiest of the Jewish Diaspora.” See Who Are the Jews of India? (2000), p. 4. The Parsees (a Zoroastrian community), who fled Persia in the wake of Islamic conquest in the 7th century, have done well in India and is among the richest of communities. The biggest industrial empire in India is controlled by a Parsee family, the Tatas.
In terms of cultural pluralism, contemporary America resembles older India. Many ethnic, religious and social groups compete for public attention. See Lisa Miller article in the August issue of Newsweek, referred to earlier: http://www.newsweek .com/id/212155. Christianity is divided not only among Protestants and Catholics, but also among some 20 Protestant denominations. There are also Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is in America. New Thought churches and Pagan groups are gaining in popularity. Every viewpoint finds an utterance.
Nearly 1,000 years ago, the Indian Acharyas (teachers) ignored the radical Islamic threat before it was too late. The great teachers (Ramanuja, Madhava, Abhinav Gupta, Vallabha and others) wrote thick treatises on spiritual subject matter but they said nothing about Islam, zilch. They were busy debating each other. Some even proclaimed “All religions are the same.” Let us hope that contemporary intellectual leadership will not repeat the error that the Hindu intelligentsia made in the last millennium by downplaying the extremist threat to civilization. For it has been said: Those who refuse to learn from History are doomed to repeat it.