गुरुवार, 17 मार्च 2011

Why Dr Ambedkar Reject Islam

The country has celebrated 119th birth anniversary of Dr. Babasahed Bhimrao Ambedkar on 14 April 2010. Babasaheb is remembered as chief architect of the Indian constitution, a social revolutionary and aDalit thinker. While the country feels indebted for his immense contributions in the nation building process, many other aspects of his multifaceted personality remains yet to be explored. In the process it may not be completely denied that his image is stereotyped around certain issues mainly looking at him as a Dalit icon and relegating his other contributions to background. Babasaheb was a mass leader, political and social thinker, academician, scholar and above all a nationalist rooted in the cultural ethos of Indian civilization. Apart from earning a number of doctorates from prestigious Columbia University and the London School of Economics for his study and research in law, economics and political science he wrote fearlessly on various issues as an academician and as a political activist. He was also spiritually motivated as he sought refuge in Buddhism in his last days and he was also regarded as a Bodhisattva by his followers.

Babasaheb was born on 14 April 1891, in a Mahar family then staying at Mhow, now in Madhya Pradesh. His family originally hailed from the town of Ambavade in the Ratnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. As a school going child he had to face various kinds of discrimination owing to low status of Mahars in the caste hierarchy but he remained undeterred in his resolve to pursue higher education. As a student from Elphinston College he was granted a scholarship of twenty five rupees a month from the Gaikwad ruler of Baroda, Sahyaji Rao III for higher studies in the USA. He went to USA for his doctoral studies and obtained degrees in economics and political science. On his return he joined service of Baroda state government and also started as a social activist fighting against caste discrimination and untouchability then widely prevalent in Indian society. His activism and scholarly espousal of the cause of the deprived and oppressed sections soon saw him emerging as a political leader of national stature.

So far Babasaheb writings in India have been selectively read within a particular framework showing him a champion of deprived and oppressed sections of Indian society. He is seen as a chief architect of Indian constitution who laid the foundation of liberal democracy in the country expecting the state to take welfare measures in the interest of weaker sections of the society. But other side of his personality remains unexplored. The academician and thinker in him, his advocacy for exchange of population at the time of partition, his concerns for preserving cultural contours of Indian civilization, his decision to embrace Buddhism not only as a political act but as a result of a honest spiritual quest, his rejection of Islam, Christianity and Marxism and his reading of India's past - and many more such other dimensions of Babasaheb's personality still awaits to be studied, researched and explored.

On receiving the news of the severe persecution of scheduled caste people in Pakistan and by the Nizam of Hyderabad he felt extremely agitated and helpless. He was aware of the fact that to rescue them from persecution and forcible conversion to Islam was a remote possibility given the nature of Muslim League and Islam. As a Law Minister in Nehru's cabinet Babasaheb issued a statement on 27 November 1947 urging all scheduled caste people in Pakistan to come over to India and not to embrace Islam under any circumstances. He issued an appeal to all the scheduled caste people in Pakistan writing, "As regards conversion to Islam, I ask all the scheduled castes not to succumb to it as an easy way to escape. I cannot say that they should die rather than be converted. What I say is that they must look upon it as a last resort forced upon them by violence. I say that they must not regard themselves as lost to the fold forever. Fortunately, for us we are not hampered by the rules of the Hindu Shastras. To all those who was forcibly converted I pledge my word that if they wish to come back I shall see that they are received back into the fold and treated as brethren in the same manner in which they were treated before the conversion."[1] It may be noted that Babasaheb had warned Jogendra Nath Mandal, a prominent scheduled caste leader from Bengal against supporting Muslim League in their demand for Pakistan. Lured by the offer of ministership in Pakistan he did not heed Babasaheb's advice only to repent later for his folly of having relied on Muslim League leadership.

When Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and his followers decided to reject hinduism for all the tyranny and the humiliations that the upper castes had heaped upon the lower castes over the centuries ,there were plenty of offers for him to convert to islam from muslim leaders eager to increase their fold .

These leaders held out the promise of equality that islam was supposed to give and promised that dalits would lead a life of equal rights if they converted to islam ,something that was denied to them in hinduism. But Babasaheb decisively rejected islam, because He said, '' No words can adequately express the great and many evils of polygamy and concubinage, and especially as a source of misery to a Muslim woman. Take the caste system. Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste.[While slavery existed], much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries. While the prescriptions by the Prophet regarding the just and humane treatment of slaves contained in the Koran are praiseworthy, there is nothing whatever in Islam that lends support to the abolition of this curse. But if slavery has gone, caste among Musalmans [Muslims] has remained. ''

He wrote that Muslim society is "even more full of social evils than Hindu Society is" and criticized Muslims for sugarcoating their sectarian caste system with euphemisms like "brotherhood". He also criticized the discrimination against the Arzal classes among Muslims who were regarded as "degraded", as well as the oppression of women in Muslim society through the oppressive purdah system. He alleged that while Purdah was also practiced by Hindus, only among Muslims was it sanctioned by religion. He criticized their fanaticism regarding Islam on the grounds that their literalist interpretations of Islamic doctrine made their society very rigid and impermeable to change. He further wrote that Indian Muslims have failed to reform their society unlike Muslims in other countries like Turkey.

Unlike the opponents of Hinduism who blame Hindus for the decline of Buddhism in India on baseless ground, Babsaheb considered Islam to be responsible for the fall of Buddhism. Dr. BR Ambedkar writes, "There is no doubt that the fall of Buddhism in India was due to the invasions of the Musalmans. Islam came out as the enemy of the ‘But'. The word ‘But' as everybody knows is an Arabic word and means an idol. Not many people however know what the derivation of the word ‘But' is. ‘But' is the Arabic corruption of Buddha. Thus the origin of the word indicates that in the Muslim mind idol worship had come to be identified with the religion of the Budhha." On the issue of destruction of Buddhist monasteries he writes, "The Musalman invaders sacked the Budhhist Universities of Nalanda, Vikramasila, Jagaddala, Odantapuri to name only a few. They razed to the ground Budhhist monasteries with which the country was studded." Babasaheb further writes, "Such was the slaughter of the Budhhist priesthood perpetrated by the Islamic invaders. The axe was struck at the very root. For by killing the Budhhist priesthood Islam killed Budhhism."


Unlike many apologists of Islam and Christianity, Babasaheb never got swayed away by their propaganda. Like a true believer in facts, analysis and research he had his own ideas which guided his own understanding and action. He was aware of the evil of purdah system among Muslims and the secondary status accorded to women by the Muslim law. He writes, "Muslim Law allows a Muslim to marry four wives at a time. It is unoften said that this is an improvement over the Hindu Law which places no restriction on the number of wives a Hindu can have at a given time. But it is forgotten that in addition to the four legal wives, the Muslim Law permits a Mohamedan to cohabit with his female slaves. In the case of female slaves nothing is said as to the number. They are allowed to him without any restriction whatever and without any obligation to marry them."[2]

Babasaheb was also aware of caste discrimination and untouchability practiced among Muslims. He never looked at Islam plainly on the basis of its claim but studied and tried to understand the social practice prevalent among the Indian Muslims. He found castes among Muslims to be divided into three groups viz. Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal. Ashraf were accorded higher caste status while Ajlaf were lower class Muslims. Arzal were considered most degraded ones in the caste structure. He refused to accept the claim of equality and brotherhood in Islam. He said that brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man - it is a brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. He writes, "Take the caste system. Islam speaks of brotherhood. Everybody infers that Islam must be free from slavery and caste. Regarding slavery nothing needs to be said. It stands abolished now by law. But while it existed much of its support was derived from Islam and Islamic countries. While by the prescriptions by the Prophet regarding the just and humane treatment of slaves contained in the Quran is praiseworthy, there is nothing whatever in Islam that lends support to the abolition of this curse."[3]

He also lamented the fact that Islam lacked the willingness to change and undertake reforms. He writes, "The existence of these evils among Muslims is distressing enough. But far more distressing is the fact that there is no organized movement of social reform among the Muslamans of India on a scale sufficient to bring about their eradication. The Hindus have their social evils. But there is this relieving feature about them - namely, that some of them are conscious of their existence and a few of them are actively agitating for their removal. The Muslims, on the other hand, do not realize that they are evils and consequently do not agitate for their removal. Indeed, they oppose any change in their existing practices."[4]

He further concludes, "The question may be asked why are the Muslims opposed to social reform? The usual answer given is that the Muslims all over the world are an unprogressive people. The view no doubt accords with the facts in history."[5]

Babasaheb was not willing to go out of the basic Indian culture. He felt that, "If the depressed classes embrace Christianity or Islam they not go out of the Hindu religion, but also they go out of the Indian culture. Conversion to Christianity or Islam would de-nationalise the depressed classes", he said.[6] On scrutiny, Dr. Ambedkar found that Christianity in India had not been able to do away with the evils of caste, the primary reason for the downtrodden to renounce Hinduism. Dr. Ambedkar writes: "Indian Christians like all other Indians are divided by race, by language and by caste. Their religion has not been a sufficiently unifying force as to make difference of language, race and caste as though they were mere distinctions. On the contrary, their religion which is their own cement is infected with denominational differences. The result is that Indian Christians are too disjointed to have a common aim, to have a common mind, and to put a common endeavour."[7]

It was basically due to Babsaheb's emphasis on the superiority of Indian civilizational ethos and tradition that he chose to convert to Buddhism while renouncing Hinduism as a mark of protest against caste discrimination and untouchability. Perhaps he was aware of the linkages between Buddhism and Hinduism and the fact that within Hindu pantheon also Bhagwan Buddha was regarded as a god incarnate. Probably he was also convinced of the fact that converting to Buddhism would not take his followers far away from Indian civilization and culture as he emphasized on the Indian version of Buddhism while starting the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha in 1955. Unlike the opponents of Hinduism who blame Hindus for the decline of Buddhism in India on baseless ground, Babsaheb considered Islam to be responsible for the fall of Buddhism. Dr. BR Ambedkar writes, "There is no doubt that the fall of Buddhism in India was due to the invasions of the Musalmans. Islam came out as the enemy of the ‘But'. The word ‘But' as everybody knows is an Arabic word and means an idol. Not many people however know what the derivation of the word ‘But' is. ‘But' is the Arabic corruption of Buddha. Thus the origin of the word indicates that in the Muslim mind idol worship had come to be identified with the religion of the Budhha."[8] On the issue of destruction of Buddhist monasteries he writes, "The Musalman invaders sacked the Budhhist Universities of Nalanda, Vikramasila, Jagaddala, Odantapuri to name only a few. They razed to the ground Budhhist monasteries with which the country was studded."[9] Babasaheb further writes, "Such was the slaughter of the Budhhist priesthood perpetrated by the Islamic invaders. The axe was struck at the very root. For by killing the Budhhist priesthood Islam killed Budhhism."[10]

There is a need to re-assess the legacy of Babasaheb so as to comprehend his multifaceted personality in a more meaningful manner. His writings may be broadly divided into various parts, viz. the writings of a political activist, an academician, a nationalist, a spiritual leader and so on. As a political activist and as a mass leader, Babasaheb was raising issues far ahead of his times, hence a radical approach was required to galvanise support for his agenda of social reform so as to bring the issue of caste discrimination and untouchability in the central focus. While as an academician he tried to frame scholarly and well researched responses on the burning issues of the day which remain relevant even today. As a nationalist he always attempted to keep national interest at the foremost. Speaking on the third reading of the draft constitution Babasheb said in voice choked with emotion, "Will the Indians place the country above their creed. I do not know. But this much is certain that if parties place creed above country our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. This eventually we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood."[11] As a spiritual leader he tried to rescue his followers from the clutches of Islam and Christianity as he tried to reorient his followers from one tradition to another within the vast and rich cultural traditions of Indian civilization. It is therefore that he is regarded as Bodhisattva by his followers for initiating them to Buddhism.



[1] Statement issued by Dr. Ambedkar, who was then Minister of Law in Nehru's cabinet on news of persecution of scheduled caste people in Pakistan; Quoted in DC Ahir: Why Dr. Ambedkar on Islam; Chapter V, Dr. Ambedkar Agaisnt Conversion to Islam; B;lumoon Books; P 41.

[2] Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar : Writings and Speeches; Unpublished Writings , Bombay, 1987, Pp. 229-233; Quoted in DC Ahir: Why Dr. Ambedkar on Islam; Chapter III, Social Reality in Islam; B;lumoon Books; Pp.25-26

[3] Ibid; P. 27

[4] Ibid; P. 32

[5] Ibid: P. 33

[6] Dnahanjay Keer,: Dr. Ambedkar, Life and Mission, Bombay, 1954, p.270 : The Times of India, Bombay, 24 July, 1936

[7] DC Ahir: Why Dr. Ambedkar rejected Christainity; B;lumoon Books; P. 66

[8] Ahir, DC; Dr. Ambedkar on Islam; Chap II; Muslim Onslaught on Budhhism; P. 17, Quoted from Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Unpublished Writings, Bombay, 1987, pp.229-233

[9] Ibid; P. 21

[10] Ibid.

[11]Ahir, DC; Dr. Ambedkar on Indian History; Chap V; On the Future of India; P. 72;Blumoon Books; Quoted from Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. XI, 25 November 1949, pp. 972-981, and, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 13, 1994, pp. 1213-1218

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