Iftar at the Pejawar Mutt – R. Jagannathan

Pejwar Swami

R. JagannathanShould Hinduism unilaterally accept the validity of all religions, or offer it only on a reciprocal basis? – R. Jagannathan

Some Hindu groups have protested against the Pejawar Mutt’s head, Sri Vishwesha Tirtha Swamiji, for allowing an iftar ceremony and namaz inside the mutt’s premises. The Swami himself sees nothing wrong in this, and affirmed that he knows what Hindu dharma is. “Hinduism always talks about being good with other religions,” he said, adding, “this programme gives a clear picture that the Hindu community wants to live together in peace. Namaz was not done in the temple; it was done in the dining hall.”

The Swamiji also mentioned that Muslims had called him to preach at mosques, and inaugurate mosques in Bhatkal, Udupi, Kasargod, Mangaluru and other places.

The Swamiji’s statement, quoted at length in The Times of India, is simultaneously a tribute to the open-mindedness of Hinduism and its seers and a testimony to its naivety and inability to accept the Abrahamic religions on their own terms.

Good neighbourly behaviour with all communities is absolutely necessary, but the Swamiji brings to the fore the classic contradiction Hindus face when confronted with aggressive and expansionary religions like Islam and Christianity.

Put simply, Abrahamic religions are exclusivist, and never, never accept the truth in any other faith or spiritual enterprise. Hinduism, being open to people following their own ideas of god, or even not accepting god, is essentially liberal in its attitudes; the Abrahamic religions are closed shops.

This makes the Hindu openness a vulnerability. A liberal is supposed to believe in freedom, and this freedom is available even to those who do not believe in being liberal. Thus the fascist can use the liberal’s openness to undermine him.

Democracies face the same problem. They have to, by definition, support free speech, even blasphemy and hate speech up to a point. But this same freedom allows an Islamic State to use media to canvass for jihadis and obtain cannon fodder for their violent and murderous cause. And everyone knows that if Islamic State ever gets around to running an actual state, it will not be a liberal state. There will be no place for any other religious freedom.

German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel noted that every proposition contains within it the seeds of its own destruction, and Hinduism’s open architecture—a term used by Indian-American author and Hindu activist Rajiv Malhotra—makes it vulnerable to religions that are not so open.

The Pejawar Swamiji should thus ask himself whether, as the head of a Hindu mutt, he should be busy opening mosques and delivering lectures there. If he is going to read the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas in those mosques, that’s a healthy sign of openness in the Muslim community; if he can gain one convert to Hinduism that will be a triumph. But if he is going to deliver homilies on good neighbourliness or some generic form of spirituality, it will be underwhelming. Every Hindu seems keen to acquire the tag of being “secular”, and the mutt’s chief seems equally vulnerable to this charm.

Hinduism has many vulnerabilities, including caste. It faces many challenges, including the aggressive conversion agendas of church and mosque.

The Swamiji should ask himself whether he should be focusing on the latter and strengthening Hinduism from within, or opening mosques to signal his secularism.

He could also ask himself: how open can Hinduism be when confronted with religions that are not open? Can Hinduism remain open if it does not counter conversion agendas with its own tools for retaining and expanding the Hindu population. Should Hinduism unilaterally accept the validity of all religions, or offer it only on a reciprocal basis?

The iftar at the mutt speaks of the large-heartedness of the Hindu approach, but it also underlines the limitations of one-sided large-heartedness. – Swarajya, 27 June 2017

Karl Popper