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By Maulavi Wahed Husain

Continued from last issue…

Taking his stand on the doctrines of the Vedanta philosophy, Rammohun Roy sounded the clarion note of the Divine Unity and invited his countrymen to the pure worship of the Supreme Being discarding the rites of idol worship. In its rejection of idolatry, his movement was revolt in the Hindu society, and he led it boldly with all the resources at his command. This religious revolt was akin to the similar revolts led by Kabir, Nanak and other reformers, who rose like shining stars in the firmament of India during the Muslim Rule and tried to reconcile the Vedanta philosophy of India with the teachings of Islam. Like Raja Rammohun Roy, those religious reformers also founded their own religious institutions, and broke away from the current Hinduism of their times.

The religions revolution brought about by Raja Rammohun Roy in the Hindu society did not cease with the Foundation of the Brahmo Samaj His luminous writings and convincing arguments gave impetus to further religious movements in the Hindu society. Other religious reformers (such as Dayananda Saraswati) rose, and founded new societies of their own. If we compare all the religious movements that have arisen in India since contact with Islam, we find that the teachings of Kabir, Nanak and Rammohun bear a very close resemblance to those of Islam. It will not be far from truth to say that the religious institutions which they have founded are a blending of Islam and the Theism of the Upanishads; while the Arya Samaj and certain other offshoots of Hinduism bear a closer resemblance to the Vedic religion and differ in many respects from the fundamental doctrines of Islam. To the credit of those reform movements it must be said that they all strive to establish the Divine unity and restore the pure adoration of the Supreme Deity.

The writings of Rammohun as also of Kabir and Nanak clearly show to what extent they were influenced by the philosophy of the Upanishads, on the one hand, and the teachings of Islam on the other. Their expositions and elucidations of the doctrines of the Vedanta philosophy clearly show that they tried to make them consonant with the doctrines of Islam, and to remove all religious conflict. Raja Rammohun, besides being well versed in Hindu Sastras, was a Parsian and Arabic scholar. No less were the great Kabir and Guru Nanak. It is no wonder then that they were greatly influenced by the Islamic culture and the doctrines of Al-quran. Numerous passages may be quoted from the writings and sayings of Raja Rammohun and Guru Nanak which bear a close resemblance to the teaching of Islam; while the poetic effusions of the great Kabir tend to produce an impression in our minds that a Hindu mystic is pouring out his heart in Hindu rhapsody in the strain of a Sufi.

But of all Hindu religious reformers, Raja Rammohun Roy stands on a distinct footing. His Pisgah is the high pedestal of universalism and not the narrow sphere of the Vedic religion. His object was to establish a brotherhood of all religious creeds, and assimilate the noble thoughts and ideals of all religious. With this object in view he opened a common Hall where people of all denominations could meet for the worship of One God, and for interchange of views and assimilation of the higher and nobler ideals of one another. Except in respect of idolatry, he never assumed militant attitude. This peaceful attitude and wide vision of his, devoid of all racial prejudices or religious conceits have given to the Brahmo Samaj a distinctive feature not to be found in the other Samajes which may be called the off-shoots of Hinduism. This feature consists in its wider religions outlook, its belief in the truth of all established religions its veneration for all prophets and religions teachers, and its desire for establishing a brotherhood of all creeds and sects.

The question is sometimes asked. Is Rammohun Roy’s Universalism a form of eclecticism? I am assured, it is not. Eclecticism is good in some respects, but leads to vain wandering and often degenerates into latitudinarianism, which in turn leads to laxity of moral and spiritual responsibility. Eclecticism is not free from danger. In the sphere of religion, it often proves deceptive, as the mind is left to revolve round a shapeless flexible circle bereft of a centre or a pivot, which an uncompromising and firm faith in a personal moral God only may supply. Though Rammohun Roy revered all religions, he never meant to make eclecticism a rule of worship or spiritual culture for his theistic Church. At the same time it appears that he preferred eclecticism to a dogmatic and narrow system of religion.

The universalistic ideas and sentiments of the Brahmo Church are but echoes of the emphatic declarations of the Al-Quran fifteen centuries ago. The main object of Islam has been to establish a Universal Religion by declaring that all established and revealed religion of the world are based on truth, and that all prophets are the chosen men inspired by God to teach mankind religious truth, and are therefore entitled to our respect. The Quran, in numerous passages, confirms the truth contained in previous scriptures and makes no distinction between them. It looks upon all prophets as inspired messengers of God and upon all scriptures given to other prophets of the world as receptacle of revelations successively made in different ages for the guidance of mankind. I can make room here for only two such passages:-
(1) “We believe in God, and that which hath been sent down to us, and that which hath been sent down to Abraham and Issaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which hath been given top Moses and to Jesus, and that which was given to the prophets from their Lord. No. Distinction do we make between any of them and to God we are resigned”.
(2) “They who believe not in God and His apostles and want to make a distinction between God and His apostles and say, ‘we believe in some of the apostles, and reject others of them, and seek to make a middle path in this matter’, -they are really unbelievers: and we have prepared for the unbelievers and ignominious punishment. But they who believe in God and His apostles and make no distinction between any of them, unto these we surely give their reward; and God is gracious and merciful.

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