Gandhi and Islam: Their history and implications for Canada today

Jahanbegloo, Ramin (2017) Gandhi and Islam: Their history and implications for Canada today. In: Gandhi in a Canadian Context: Relationships between Mahatma Gandhi and Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, pp. 47-62. ISBN 1771122595; 9781771122597; 9781771122351

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Their History and Implications for Canada Today Ramin Jahanbegloo The “violent Muslim fanatic” has emerged a dominant stereotype since 11 September 2001. This aligns with the generalizations about Islam as a faith motivated and practised by bloodlust and violence, and with prevailing misunderstandings and misevaluations of Muslim diversity. Muslim experiences of peacemaking and non-violence have been swamped by more powerful media-generated images of Islam as a religion of conflict and war. The challenge, then, is to generate an account for Canadians of the possibility of a Gandhian Islam, one whose ethical values such as tolerance and non-violence can be brought to bear on political issues. In promoting the paradigm of non-violence in Islam, Canadian Muslims can look back to the contemporary examples of Muslim leaders influenced by Gandhi, leaders like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Through their readiness to collaborate with Gandhi, these prominent Muslims fostered a valuable legacy of non-violent Islam and helped us better understand the vision of a tolerant Islam that Gandhi shared with many of his Muslim contemporaries. Gandhi first encountered Islam at a very early age. He was born in Gujarat, where the geography situates Hindus next to Muslims. His family had, therefore, great experience in dealing with Muslims as part of the local community in Porbandar. Muslims were frequent visitors to the Gandhi home, and one of Gandhi’s closest childhood friends, who lived close to him and went to school with him, was a Muslim boy named Sheikh Mehtab. Mehtab, the son of a jailer employed by the British, had a very complex rela- 48 Ramin Jahanbegloo tionship with Gandhi, who describes him in his Autobiography as a young, hardy, and athletic man who kept him “under his thumb for more than ten years”1 and who invited him to eat meat and to take up the cause of meat-eating as a way of ridding India of the colonial presence. Gandhi was warned by his mother and his eldest brother about Mehtab’s evil influence on him, but he “claimed that the friendship was meant to reform Mehtab.”2 Although Gandhi failed to reform Mehtab, it is interesting nonetheless, and indicative of Gandhi’s later ties with Muslims, that in the lifelong fight against British domination, he viewed Muslims “as friends and allies.”3 The next significant phase of Gandhi’s encounter with Muslims came during his years in South Africa, where in 1893 he began working as a lawyer for a Muslim merchant from Porbandar, Abdullah Sheth, who had built a business in Durban. During his long stay in South Africa and his first political experiences, Gandhi was able to forge close ties with Indian Muslims . He felt familiar with their cultural identity, and he shared a common life with them. “When I was in South Africa,” he later recounted, “I came in close touch with Muslim brethren there … I was able to learn their habits, thoughts and aspirations … I had lived in the midst of Muslim friends for 20 years. They had treated me as a member of their family and told their wives and sisters that they need not observe purdah with me.”4 ItwasAbdullahShethwhosuggestedtoGandhithathereadSale’stranslation of the Qur’an. That first reading developed his basic understanding of Islam, an understanding he would later strengthen when he read it a second time while incarcerated in a Transvaal prison in January 1908. By then, Gandhi had forged a broad resistance movement against racial discrimination in South Africa based largely on an alliance of Hindus and Indian Muslims . In his very first week in Pretoria, he had called a meeting at a Muslim merchant’s house. “It was a largely Muslim gathering with ‘a sprinkling of Hindus.’”5 The bringing together of Hindus and Muslims in the Gandhian experience of satyagraha in South Africa was Gandhi’s first important step towards the idea of communal harmony. This experience strengthened in him a powerful motivation to foster a joint commitment among Hindus and Muslims to truth and justice irrespective of their differences.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: Social Sciences and humanities > Social Sciences > Social Sciences (General)
JGU School/Centre: Jindal Global Law School
Depositing User: Amees Mohammad
Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2022 14:49
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2022 14:49
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