Dr. Bhagwandas, father of Shri Prakash, sometime Governor of then Bombay State, wrote a voluminous book by name “Essential Unity of all Religions”, published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. It is said that Dr. Bhagwandas took 30 years to produce this book. It was immediately after partition when the injuries of Hindu-Muslim riots were still fresh. If it was the intention of the author to bring about the two communities, it has miserably failed, though it got him “Bharat Ratna”. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is essentially a Hindu revivalist body, though occasionally it publishes non-revivalist books.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan of Delhi has rightly pointed out that basic principles of all religions are different and are mutually exclusive; it is incorrect to say that there is unity of all religions. Maulana was commenting on a judgment of the Supreme Court which upheld the election of Manohar Joshi. He was pointing out that “Hinduism was a way of life” was an erroneous statement. In an earlier case, the Court pointed out several parameters which, according to it, would dub a person as a Hindu, though not all Hindus believed in Vedas and Upanishads. In fact, there were atheists who were embraced by the term ‘Hindu’.
If you go through the book by Dr. Bhagwandas, you will notice that he does not refer to the original scripture of religions. He consulted some Muslim scholars to understand what is there in Islam. Dr. Bhagwandas himself has not studied the original books of other religions, let alone Muslim. He has taken some stanzas, as given to him, from other religions and finding that they sound similar concludes that there is unity in all religion. Take for example words like “God”, “Truth” which will be found in all religions, though in Jainism and Buddhism God has no place.
In order to find out the unity of all religions, one must go back to their basic tenets. If Quran says that truth has been dictated by Allah, though differently, that will not show unity. Let us see the things that are essentially followed by different religions.
- The Prophet;
- A book;
- A holy place;
Let us begin with the Prophet.
According to Concise Oxford Dictionary, prophet means a teacher or interpreter at God’s will. It is through him you know what is expected by God from him. God does not speak to the people. It is the Prophet that tells you what is expected from you.
Among Jews, you can take Moses as a prophet because he brought from Sinai the Ten Commandments. Moses did not write any treatise, his sayings constitute the teachings of Jews. “Sabbath” is one of the commandments. Fasting a day in a week, because after creating the world in six days, God took rest on the seventh. Fasting is observed in different ways in different religions, but that is not Sabbath. Is this commonality? Is this unity among the religions? No other prophet teaches fasting, that Quran – through Mohammed – does. Buddha and Jesus do teach fasting.
Then there is the Book among the Jesus, Talmud, which includes Old Testament, regarded as a sacred book. It prophesies a Messiah who will free the Hebrews. That was long before Jesus Christ was born to expiate the sins of mankind – at least the first sin when Adam ate the forbidden fruit. This is the belief of Christians. Jews, of course, did not agree nor do they agree that Jesus was a Messiah. For claiming to be a God and for other blasphemies, he was crucified. Christianity was not born immediately. The Prophets of Hebrew and of Christianity are totally different. The former does not admit the divinity of Jesus. There is no similarity or unity between Judaism and Christianity.
Buddha can be called a Prophet. But what he taught was entirely his own. No God’s will. Jainism has no prophet. Mahavir, a contemporary of Buddha and the last of Tirthankaras, taught what is now called Jainism.
Now we come to Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. He did not interpret the will of the God. He tells the will of the God conveyed to him through angel Gabriel. The number of things Mohammed speaks of in the Quran are too many that cannot be easily summarized in this article. Circumcision, borrowed from Jews, what to eat, what not to eat, when to marry and whom not to marry – they are all ordained in the Quran which is binding on all Muslims. For the sake of record, the following are the essentials for a Musalman:
- There is only one God and Mohammed is his messenger;
- Five times Namaz;
- Thirty days fasting during day time (Ramzan);
A Persian couplet says that one can talk of ill of God; but not Mohammed. Worship anyone, but Allah, is a taboo. But Mohammed is sacred, though like all of us, he is a man and mortal. Quran says that he is a Prophet and he is the seal of Prophet – he is the last of prophets. There is no prophet after him. Guru Nanak or Basaveshwar, though they are founders of religions, are not prophets. Quran says Islam is for entire mankind and not merely for Arabs. Islam was born in the 7th Century, but it is only second population-wise in the world – 14 thousand years it was born.
What is the similarity among these three Semitic religions? Hinduism has no prophets. They are non-human (“apouresheya”). Upanishads are mostly commentaries and interpretations of Upanishad. Idol worship is galore among the Hindus. There is not one book for Hindus. For some there is no book at all. In Hinduism there is no hatred of other religions. In Hinduism there can be sub-religions – like Veerashaivism. Though confined to Karnataka, does this religion have similarity with any other? Essential unity?
Then there is a question of Holy Place. For Jews it was the Temple which also is no more. For Christians it is Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. Mecca is the Holy Place for Muslims – Mohammed was born there. Quran says that every Musalman must perform Haj (i.e. pilgrimage to Mecca) at least once in his lifetime (provided it is possible). Hindus regard pilgrimage to Kashi (Varanasi) as a sacred duty, though no book confirms it. Buddha did not recommend any Holy Place but Buddhists regard Bodha Gaya a sacred place. Jains have no Holy Place. So some religions have no Holy Place. Can one regard this as unity of religions?
The Prophet, the Book and the Holy Place are different for different religions. Though there is similarity among them, there is no unity. One shocking thing must be told. Though there are sects among religions, there are no castes. To our lasting shame, we had Harijans and Mahars who were untouchables. In no other religion you could find untouchability, though now it is not there in India also. How did Dr. Bhagwandas find essential unity among all religions when untouchability was there among Hindus?
There are certain other things which must be touched. Fasting – Muslims must fast for thirty days (Ramzan) during days. Jews fast on Sabbath days though there is no religions. So also Christians who fast on some days. For Jains and Buddhists, there is no fasting. For Hindus things are peculiar. On the eleventh day of each half of each month, fasting is recommended. On Mahashivaratri day, Shaivas fast, Vaishnavas feast. Births and deaths are observed in different ways in different parts of the country. It is only among Jews and Musalmans that circumcision is religiously compulsory.
Read in detail, the religions throw up different and, sometimes, mutually inconsistent principles and practices. There is no unity among different religions. In the Constitution of India, Article 14 says that all citizens of India are equal. But that is political equality and not religious.