When Sarojini Naidu taught Ideals of Islam to Muslims

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(Following is the text of a talk given to the Young Men’s Muslim Association, Madras, 1917 by Sarojini Naidu)

Even at the risk of being considered egotistical and conceited, I acknowledge that whenever I go to a new city, I always look for my special welcome from the Mussalmans of the place. Never have I been disappointed or defrauded of my right. It is my right, because I come from the premier Mussalman city [Hyderabad] in India. The premier Mussalman power in India [the Nizam of Hyderabad] rules over the city from which I come, and there the tradition of Islam has truly been carried out for two hundred years, that tradition of democracy that knows how out of its legislation to give equal rights and privileges to all the communities whose destinies it controls. The first accents I heard were in the tongue of Amir Khusru. All my early associations were formed with the Mussalman men and Mussalman women of my city. My first playmates were Mussalman children.

Though I stand side by side with you as a Kaffir, I am a comrade in all your dreams. I stand beside you in your dreams and aspirations, because the ideals of Islam are so essentially and supremely the progressive human ideals that no human soul that loves progress can refuse allegiance to those ideals. One has to look back to see how the vision of tomorrow may be linked with the vision of the past; and therefore if, in speaking of the ideals of Islam, I take you through a long journey into the past, it is only that you may realise, what only the other day it was my privilege to say to the young generation: that it is only in her ideals that we find seeds of immortality, and that if there be today vitality in the Muslim people, it is because the seed was sown into the Desert, and the Desert blossomed with roses.

Come with me into the Desert where the sun is dazzling, where the people are brave, simple, quick to revenge an insult, strong to defend honour. What is it that the youngest of the religions has given to the world? Of the old religions, some have died and some are still living. When we come to the religion of the Desert, we find that wonderful adjustment between the spiritual and the temporal, for it was the religion of Islam that built up political empires. Comparatively modern, as measured by the older civilisations, the civilisation of Islam is young indeed. What does the golden age of Islam represent? What was lacking in the golden age that the modern age has been able to evolve for itself? What was lacking in the intellectual splendour and achievement, and what was lacking in the political policies, in its colonising powers?

Brotherhood is the fundamental doctrine that Islam taught: –Brotherhood of civic life, of intellectual life, of spiritual life in the sense of leaving other religions and creeds free to offer their worship. This is what we call modern toleration, the larger outlook, this is what we call civilisation; this is what we call the real understanding of human characteristics, the real understanding of those sources that bind human hearts to one another.

Ancient Hindu India laid the foundation of her civilisation on the position and responsibility of woman. In modern times, the legal status given to woman is supposed to be a great test of civilisation. Islam, coming centuries later than the Hindu religion, revealed the old world truths in a new language through a new medium, and once more asserted the abiding verity that gave woman her responsibility and her place in the National life, by giving her not merely her honour due as wife and mother, but as citizen responsible and able to administer her own property, to defend her own property, because it was hers and she was not dependent as mere goods and chattels on husband’s and brother’s bounty.

[The] sense of justice is one of the most wonderful ideals of Islam, because as I read the Koran, I find those dynamic principles of life: not mystic, but practical ethics for the daily conduct of life, suited to the whole world. We are fond of saying that we belong to a rational age, that we belong to a practical age. If you belong to a practical and rational age, what more shall you find than those codes of ethics laid down so clearly for your daily conduct? How far-seeing was the wisdom that laid down as religious law those great principles that tended to conserve the Brotherhood that the religion taught!

What was the meaning of the Haj? Did it matter to God that thousands of Mussalmans went to one place or another, since He is everywhere? No. The meaning was that streams of pilgrims from various lands, speaking various tongues, having various traditions and customs, should meet together in one common place, and through one common association and memory, to consolidate the Brotherhood that Islam preached.

The meaning of fast in Muslim religion is that man needs in his busy life some moment to himself when his children might say, “We have set apart this time to contemplate upon Him who is always with us, but we forget that He is always with us.”

When we look at the lego-religious [sic] law, what is laid down there is the outcome of the prophetic vision that realises that civilisation would tend more and more towards democracy. It was the first religion that preached and practised democracy, for in the mosque when [from] the minaret [the call to prayer] is sounded and the worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and the king kneel side by side and proclaim, “God alone is great.”

I have been struck over and over again by this indivisible unity of Islam that makes a man instinctively a brother. When you meet an Egyptian, an Algerian, an Indian, and a Turk in London, what matters that Egypt was the Motherland of one, and India the Motherland of another? It was this great feeling of Brotherhood, this great sense of human justice, that was the gift of Akbar’s rule to India; because he was not only Akbar the great Moghul but Akbar the great Mussalman: that he realised that one might conquer a country, but that one must not dishonour those whom one conquered. You may be a king, but your subjects are co-parceners with you in the defence of the country. It was Akbar who laid down the fruitful policy of unity, of that peace which is the greeting of each other.

Salaam — the National symbol of peace — was the gift of Akbar to the India over which he ruled. The intellectual thought that evolved out of this sense of fundamental oneness found its beautiful expression in that spiritual Sufism which is blood-kin to Vedantism. What is the teaching of the Sufi doctrine, except the Vedanta which we Hindus inherited — the love of mankind, the service to the world, ecstasy in which self is annihilated into the universal life of humanity?

Go to the poetry of Islam. What is there so beautiful in all the wide and manifold realms of literature as that immortal lyric [poetry] of Hafiz, Rumi — that in the language of man there too in his higher manifestation the lyric genius of Islam, of India, has been not less than the epic genius of India or of Europe. When we analyse the evolution of that great literature, and when we find the two meeting through one religion, we find indeed the inheritors of that dual culture — the blending of mysticism with the semetic [=sign-based (?); Semitic (?)], dynamic, logical, practical power of life. There, the dreaming and the action become united, because one religion has bound them, and we in India are the richer for our Indian descent.

When we come to deal in its national aspect with the ideals of Islam, having journeyed first into the Desert and found not the mirage but the revelation, we must always come back home, for like a lark we must be true to the kindred bonds of home; and the home of the Indian Mussalman is in India. His endeavour, his destiny, his hope is bound up with the endeavour, destiny, hope of India. How should the ideals of.lslam enrich National life? What are the special qualities and gifts that Muslim India has to contribute to united India?

I shall always recognise with pride that what the Hindu Mazzini gives to India, that [the] Muslim Garibaldi gives to India, and they make a perfect type to make an Indian patriot. We want the mystic power of dreaming that is the special inheritance of the mystic Hindu; we want the direct, fearless power of action which is the special gift of the children of the sword. It is [the] spirit of the sword that we want to be brought to this great land. We want that courage — that a soldier kept the sword swift in defence of the country, to revenge any insult to the honour of manhood or womanhood that it defended. [The] young Muslim is to put his contribution — not the sword made of steel, but the sword of the Islamic spirit which has been re-tempered in the older fires of [the] Vedic cult; the sword of Muslim love dedicated to the Service of Vedic India. That is going to be your contribution to the India of tomorrow.

Your poet laureate Dr. Iqbal has done immense service that can never be recompensed adequately, perhaps never even fully recognised by those in other provinces who did not know the National awakening that is coming. It was his patriotic songs that burst like the clarion call when there was strife between two communities. What the poet has done, a poet’s race can do. What a Muslim poet can do, a young Islamite can do in always sending out a clarion call, that cry for unity which has been the one safeguard of Islam in the past and is coming to be the one hope of Islam in the future, because Islam has recognised the fundamental duties of Brotherhood.

Islamic Brotherhood must not confine the ideal of Brotherhood to those alone that profess their creed, but must expand the interpretation of that ideal of Brotherhood till every community within this land has learnt the lesson that Muhammad was born to teach in the Desert 1300 years ago. We want to feel today, we who are not merely dreaming the New India but shaping the New India with our hands; we want to be sure of the other manifold substances that are going to mould the great vessel which is to contain the elixir of the hope of the India of tomorrow, what kinds of earth are going to be moulded into a shape to hold the water of life to refresh and regenerate India.

That is the clay that came across the seas — the clay from the Desert to be mingled with the Vedic clay; not only the clay that came from Persian Zoroastrians or from the European Christians in the shape of this National life; but we want, more than all other clays to be mingled with the Vedic clay, that clay which is the Desert clay of Islam, because we feel that unless and until these two great elements are blended together [and] unified, so that they can never be separated, there can be no vessel of National life that can last for time and centuries.

You who are young Muslims — the hope of Muslim India — I speak to you and to you alone to-night, you who have yet to live your lives, and hold the destinies to be co-trustees with your Hindu brethren. The battle-ground of animosities has become the flower-garden of unity. They in the north who are so eager to unite with the Hindus for National unity are building it up day by day with great sacrifices. I want you, young Muslims in the south, to take your share in that great work here, and that unity will come when you too spend your energies in manifold directions.

A group of young men who have the world before them have turned their backs on personal gain, personal joy, and personal recognition, and made themselves into a band of Muslim volunteers to bring the light of education to their poor Muslim brethren. Nothing is so significant today as the Sultania College, where groups of young men have dedicated their lives on the fruitful principles of self-sacrifice which makes Fergusson College the living heart of Maharashtra. I want you to make your southern institution in Vaniyambadi the true centre where the ideal of Islam is practised — not only to teach the young Muslim of the south the duty of prayer, but also to teach the duty of service to the community.

Having already embodied the symbol of your ideals in the south, what limit is there to the dream that you can realise within that centre? What limit is there to the ideals of Islam that can be re-born over and over again into a higher and wider life, because you dream true, you dream fine, you dream in accordance with the right to dream what your religion taught you, what your culture has given you, what your faith entitles you in the future, what your strength empowers you to achieve?

Do not allow anyone to say to you that for the preservation of the prestige of Islam, there must be separatism, sectional difference, aloofness, division. Those are the teachings of those who have forgotten the fundamental ideals of Islam. If you are true to your prophet, if your are true to your land, listen to no voice except the voice within your heart, as a great mystic poet has said, and remember that one of the great duties of those who follow the ideals of Islam is to say to yourself what Muhammad said to Himself: “I am a man even as other men.” There is summed up the entire ideal of Islam. I want you to print that text upon your heart. When one who was building up a great religion said to himself, “I am a man even as other men” — what one man can do in the Desert, shall not the manifold united heart of Islam be able to achieve in this wonderful land?

Hindus and Muslims are martyrs for the same liberty, they dream the same dream, they are the deliverers of the same India. We Hindus and Muslims are [have] set out together on the common journey, the common pilgrimage to the combined Benares and Mecca of our lives, and that is Indian unity. Our pilgrim race must carry that ultimate shrine some gift worthy of the goal. The twin comradeship in the pilgrimage will bring unity nearer and nearer to the hearts of the pilgrims, and when at last the pilgrim streams, starting from different associations and creeds, find themselves at the journey’s end, even she to whom we go shall not be able to say, “Was that my Hindu son, and that my Muslim daughter?” I want you to revitalise all those ideals in Indian life by those things that enriched the past as the special gift of Islam, so that we too with you shall join in praising your God who is our God, and we [shall] praise the compassionate Master of life, of time, of faith.

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Saquib Salim

Saquib Salim is a well known historian under whose supervision various museums (Red Fort, National Library, IFFI, Jallianwala Bagh etc.) were researched. To his credit Mr. Salim has more than 400 published articles on history, politics, culture and literature in English and Hindi. Before pursuing his research and masters in modern Indian History from JNU, he was an electrical engineering student at AMU. Presently, he works as a freelance/ independent history researcher, writer and works at www.awazthevoice.in