More about the Religious Conference

The Review of Religions (English), February 1908 Issue (Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 84–92)

The Arya Patrika, the official organ of the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, questions the justice of our remarks as to the use of scurrilous language concerning the holy prophets of God by the Arya lecturer at the Religious Conference. In its issue of 1st February [1908] it writes:

“Not a single proof has been advanced by our contemporary to substantiate his position. If the paper read by Dr. Chiranjiva Bharadwaja, F.R.C.S., at the Religious Conference, contained scurrilous remarks, why not quote them so that the Government may judge the justness or otherwise of the grievance. The paper will soon appear in the form of a book. The public will have then ample opportunities of judging how far these tirades against the Arya Samaj are justified.”

Had not the paper been read before a large gathering representing so many different religions and communities, the plea could no doubt have been urged with good reason in its defence that it had not yet been published and that any remarks as to its severity were premature. But such an excuse cannot be put forward in the case of a paper which has already been made public property, and it is absurd to ask those whose sacred leaders were abused in their face not to give expression to their offended feelings until the Arya Samaj had published the paper in book form. The public has no guarantee that the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha will publish the original paper as it was read out on the evening of the 4th December last [1907], and that it would take no advantage of the experience which it already has had. On the other hand, the merest common sense would compel it to soften down the vituperations of the original before giving it permanence in book-form. We do not deprecate any such action on its part only if it is honestly admitted. But if the object is to cast a slur upon the righteous indignation and just excitement which the paper has caused, the Arya Samaj would be only adding insult to injury.

That the excitement has not been caused artificially and that it was the natural and immediate effect of Mr. Bharadwaja’s paper, even the president of the Arya Samaj cannot deny, for immediately after leaving the lecture hall he witnessed signs of such excitement and softened it down at the time by saying that he had not been previously informed of the contents. On the other hand, there is the clearest evidence that the Ahmadis were not the only members of the audience who were offended by this unseemly conduct, but there was an excitement among all classes of Muhammadans [Muslims], and the Christians, though there were very few of them in the audience hall, also complained of the gratuitous offence given on this occasion by the Samaj lecturer. The truth of this assertion is made clear by the articles and letters that have appeared in numerous papers, among others in the Observer (Lahore), and the Morning Post (Delhi), by Muhammadans as well as Christians. Even the Brahmos have censured the conduct of the Arya Samaj. And these different communities now propose to start a religious conference, the management of which should be in the hands of representatives of different religions, and in which there should be a strict obligation upon the speakers to discuss the principles and not to speak disrespectfully of the great persons who are held in honour by any community. The very need of such a conference being felt immediately after the experience which these communities had at the Religious Conference convened by the Arya Samaj shows clearly that the conduct of the latter has given offence to the public at large.

The Arya Patrika denies the use of any offensive language by Mr. Bharadwaja, and I would, therefore, quote two particular examples. One of these is his reference to the birth of Jesus which, however guarded may have been the language used by him, was insinuated as being illegitimate. In this he was only following the founder of the Arya Samaj, and the words used by him were, if not entirely taken from the Satyarth Prakash, very similar to the words used in that book, and in substance they perfectly agreed with them. The following comment on Matthew 1:18–20, taken from the lecturer’s own translation of the scriptures of the Arya Samaj, would give the reader an idea of the language used by him at the Conference:

“No educated man can ever believe in such things as are opposed to all kinds of evidence (such as direct cognition, inference, etc.) and to the laws of nature. Only people in a state of barbarism can believe them. It does not become educated and civilized men to do so. Breathes there a man who could violate the laws of God? … If this story of the birth of Christ were held to be true, any unmarried girl that happens to conceive could say that she was with child of the Holy Ghost. She could also falsely say that the angel of the Lord told her in a dream that ‘that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost’! This story is as possible as that recorded in the Purans about Kunti being conceived of the sun. Only those who have more money than brains can believe in such things and fall an easy prey to superstition. It must have happened like this: that Mary cohabited with someone and thereby became enceinte.”

The Italics in the last line are mine, and my object in this is to call the reader’s attention to the fact how even the founder of the Arya Samaj has calumniated a holy woman who is considered as such by more than half the population of the world. It is true that others have denied too that Mary conceived of the Holy Ghost, but the whole difference lies in putting the matter in a particular way. He could have written “Joseph” instead of “someone,” and would thus have stated his objection against a particular doctrine of Christianity and Islam with full force, and yet without offending either Christians or Muhammadans, but to say that “Mary cohabited with someone” or that “any unmarried girl that happens to conceive could say that she was with child of the Holy Ghost” is to insinuate that Mary had an adulterous connection. It is true that atheists freely use such language about Mary and Jesus, but does it become a religious leader to use such words?

The other example I wish to state of the use of indecent and offensive language by the Arya lecturer is his reference to the Holy Prophet Muhammad. When he came to speak of him and depict his character, he told his audience that he intended to read this part from a printed paper which he had inadvertently left at home, and he referred the audience to an article on “Islam and Politics” which had appeared in the Arya Musafir for October 1907, stating that it was from that article that he intended to read certain passages depicting the character of the founder of Islam. It was very fortunate that he left that paper at home, otherwise a disturbance must have resulted. Now, this number of the Arya Musafir is incontrovertible proof in our hands as to the kind of language used on the evening of 4th December by the Arya lecturer, and in whatever manner the Samaj may now think it proper to modify Mr. Bharadwaja’s paper, the Arya Musafir would remain standing and incontestable testimony of the abuse hurled at the holy prophets of God by the Arya Samaj. The subject referred to not only shows what the lecturer intended to say about the Holy Prophet Muhammad, but it also casts a light upon his attitude in that lecture towards the other prophets of God, and we can easily conceive what he must have said about the other prophets, when we see that he did not hesitate to hurl the grossest abuse at the founder of Islam in the face of his followers.

We will now show with reference to “Islam and Politics” that Mr. Bharadwaja did not rise above the vulgar type of the Arya Samaj preachers and writers, in the Religious Conference at Lahore. The writer of the article at first states that the object of the Prophet was simply to attain to political power and that religious reforms were only made an excuse for attaining to this object, and then goes on to say:

“In short, setting this object before him, the Prophet Muhammad first desired to do some work of religious and social reform, but the rude barbarians of Arabia would lend no ear to such reforms till the conviction was brought to their hearts that the words spoken to them had come down from heaven and were from God. For this purpose, after a consultation with his most intimate friends in the valley of a mountain (the Hira), it was ultimately decided that a declaration of prophethood should be made … Out of the men who thus gathered round him, the most useful and reliable helpers at Mecca were the four companions, relations with whom had been strengthened by establishing marital connections with them, and outside Mecca there were several disciples at Medina who were ready to render every monetary assistance. But it must be borne in mind that the method of his preaching was not that of learned men following the manner of shastrarth [intellectual debate], but it was founded on imaginary fears and hopes. Hence it was that no learned man followed him, but mostly the ignorant masses and some men of a warlike character, such as Ali, Omar [Umar], Hamza, and others, became his followers, and it was these men who afterwards proved most useful and serviceable in the attainment of his political objects.”

In attributing the grossest motives to the Holy Prophet and his companions and in representing the claim to prophethood as the result of an aforethought plan on their part, the writer of this article had no other object but to give offense to his Muhammadan countrymen. It is the greatest insult that could be offered to the Muslims, and though they are suffering patiently all this vile abuse which is given vent to in the Arya Samaj papers, periodicals and controversial literature, yet we think that such remarks made in their faces in a meeting to which they were invited would have proved too much even for their patience, and it was very fortunate that Mr. Bharadwaja, purposely or inadvertently, left this part of his lecture at home. The reader will now see that it was such stuff of which Mr. Bharadwaja’s paper was made, and even a Hindu reader can easily conceive the grave injury which was done to Muhammadan feeling by speaking in such disrespectful terms of the holy prophets of God whose names are held sacred by them, for it must be remembered that though the lecturer did not actually read this portion before his audience, he read other portions in which the characters of other prophets of God were depicted with the same malignity, in the same mean spirit, and in the same gross and vulgar style.

Yet this is not all that is contained in the article on “Islam and Politics,” but the maliciousness of the spirit of the writer becomes grosser as he proceeds further. He represents the whole body of the companions of the Holy Prophet as a gang of dacoits who had no other object in gathering round the Holy Prophet but looting other people and committing the grossest crimes of violence to gain their living. Nay, he even likens the Holy Prophet Muhammad to the Marhatta robber Sivaji, and represents the essence of the mission of Islam to be nothing more than robbery. The paragraph next to that which I have already quoted goes on to say:

“In short, when this much had been effected, and, on the other hand, the opposition of the people of Mecca assumed a dangerous attitude, the Prophet with his relations and followers left Mecca and took up his abode in Medina. For some days all of them were the guests of the Ansar, that is, the new converts to Islam at Medina, but these poor men could not bear the burden of all these newcomers very long. At last, the difficulty became very serious, and to remove it, plunder and pillage were given out as commandments from heaven. No sooner this declaration was made than bands of poverty-stricken fellows and vagabonds, of whom there were not a few in Arabia, began to gather round the banner of the Prophet, for besides this worldly gain there was a further assurance given to them that as soon as they became Musalmans [Muslims] all their past sins would be wiped off and after death they would have all the means by which to satisfy their sensual desires. By and by, inclined by the great force of this gang and by the plunder and booty which fell into their hands, most of the warlike people joined it simply out of worldly motives and the political advantages that accrued from joining it or to save their lives.”

Further on, the writer says that

“at Medina the Prophet did his political work openly — a work which is very like the plunders of Sivaji.”

It should be borne in mind that in the beginning of his article the writer explains the word “politics” when used in connection with Islam to be the equivalent of

غداری ۔ ملکی انقلاب پسندی ۔ مغویانہ شورش، وغیره جیسی مجرمانہ افعال


“criminal deeds of such a heinous nature as base treachery, political revolution, mutinous disturbances, etc.”

The same writer tells his readers further on that

“the Prophet unscrupulously practised all kinds of deceit, villainy and tricks for the attainment of success — things which are farthest off from the character of a religious and social reformer.”

He calls the companions “bloodthirsty ghazis [warriors]” and accuses the Holy Prophet of having appropriated for his personal and private use the bait-ul-mal, that is, public funds which were raised either in the form of jizya [poll tax] from unbelievers, or in that of zakat or the legal fortieth from the believers, a statement which all history condemns as mischievously false. Again, he says that the object of the Prophet in marrying his daughters to Othman [Uthman] and Ali and himself marrying the daughters of Abu Bakr and Omar was that these four men who were his accessories in the crime of imposture might not divulge the whole secret and that thus the “talisman of Prophethood and revelation” might not be broken. I conclude this string of gross invectives with the following passage from this article:

“The deeds of the Prophet and his companions make one wonder as to how his mission deserves to be called a religious mission when its chief adherents had not a minute to spare from fighting, murder, pillage, loot, plunder, namaz, and the realization of zakat.”

With all this vulgar abuse appearing day and night in the columns of Arya papers and being thundered from the platform by the Arya speakers, the Arya Patrika feigns to believe in the innocence of his co-religionists, and with an audaciousness which is only surpassed by writers of articles like “Islam and Politics” puts the fault at the door of the Muslims. It was in words similar to those quoted above that Mr. Bharadwaja addressed an audience composed largely of Muhammadans, and yet we are told in the Patrika that the paper was couched in quite decent and proper terms. This is a strange sense of propriety in our Arya countrymen, and if the Patrika is sincere in its allegations, there is indeed a difficult problem of psychology here in the Arya bent of mind which must be solved by our loving countrymen. We assure our Arya friends that the deeds of Dayananda could be misrepresented in a similar manner, but they must remember that misrepresentation, false accusations and the attributing of ill motives are not religion, and writings like those of the Patrika are only emboldening the misguided writers and speakers in the reckless course they have taken, and widening the gulf of enmity between Hindus and Muhammadans which the lectures of a hundred Gokhales [referring to Gopal Krishna Ghokale] would not be able to bridge over.

We have again and again called the attention of the Arya Samaj leaders to this deplorable circumstance, but if it has had any effect, it is just the contrary of what we expected. We deem it our duty now, therefore, to call the attention of the Government to this matter. We do not deprecate religious controversy in general; nay, we know that strong statements must be excused when used in the heat of controversy, but even controversy must have its limits of decency. What the Samaj writings contain most often does not come within the purview of criticism, not even of unfair criticism, but it is a downright perversion of facts, and the words used are as abusive and contumelious as malignity can possibly suggest. Is there a Muhammadan whose heartstrings will not be broken on reading words like those quoted above? And are not such writings calculated to promote ill-feeling and hatred between the various communities?