Swami Rama Tirtha
Born in the family of Goswami Tulsidas, in the Gujaranwala district of ( western ) Punjab, Sri Tirth Rama got himself initiated in asceticism ( Sannyasa ) at the age of 28 years, leaving his job as a lecturer in a college, and became well known as Swami Rama Tirth. He undertook performing the enormous task of preaching Vedanta through wayfaring in India and abroad. Like Swami Vivekananda he went abroad and had many Western disciples from there. He had mastery over Urdu and Persian languages from the very beginning, studied Sanskrit, and of the Mathematics he had been a college lecturer. He performed strong penance in a jungle near
Hrishikesh. Along with the Advaita Vedanta he preached fearlessness and patriotism. Living a life of faith in spirituality and devotion to God, Swami Rama Tirth after lightening the lamp of Vedanta in the country and abroad entered in Jala Samadhi in Ganga at the age of 33 years.
Swami Rama Tirtha (1873-1906) was one of the greatest spiritual figures of modern India. He also visited the United States from 1902-1904 and was one of the first great Swamis to bring the Vedantic teaching to the West, following in the footsteps of Vivekananda. Though his teachings are on par with Vivekananda-indeed often more poetic and inspiring-since he formed no organization they are not as well known. Rama did not even care to collect his own writings. He was such a God intoxicated person that the entire manifest universe did not count for anything more than straw for him. His greatness has been recognized by many great people including Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Shivananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Anandamayi Ma. He is lauded in yogic circles as a Jnani or man of spiritual knowledge.
Mahatma Gandhi himself said, "Swami Rama's teachings have got to be propagated. He was one of the greatest souls, not only of India but of the whole world".
Rama was a very learned man, a great poet and scholar. He knew many languages including Hindi, Urdu, English, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, French and German. He was not only a great Vedantin, he was also a Sufi, studies the Persian Sufi works and the Koran, which works he often quoted in his talks and writings. He spoke in Arabic to Islamic groups in Egypt during his world travels. As he was a child of the Punjab and knew the Hindu and Islamic religions intimately, his statements about Islam are worthy of note.
In 1905 he had several conversations with the Muslims in Lucknow, which has always been one of the more liberal centers of Islamic thought, largely owing to the influence of Shia Muslims, who until recently tended to be less militant and more tolerant than the main Sunni Islamic groups. These talks are recorded in the sixth volume of Rama's works, In Woods of God Realization. Though they are nearly a century old, they remain quite relevant today as Hindu-Muslim conflicts still prevail throughout India. The following is only a partial excerpt from these conversations which were meant to explain the validity of the Hindu religion to Indian Muslims.
Rama replied, "It would have been better if you had not put this question to Rama, because, whatever he says will be according to his own notions. Rama likes neither to flatter anybody, nor injure the feelings of anyone. Truth cannot be crushed. There is some Truth in every religion. Rama is, therefore, not only a Hindu, but also a Muslim, a Christian and a Buddhist. In answer to your question Rama will speak politely and with love, but he may also have to indulge in some plain speaking, without the least intention to injure your feeling. Rama loves you all like his own self. As such, there should be nothing to hide form his own self".
"The truth is that the followers of Islam have very wrongly interpreted the words Kufr and Kafir (the first meaning heresy and the second meaning heretic or infidel) and they have also made a very wrong use of these words
As you know, the heart of a man is the seat of God. It is a great virtue to be kind to others". "But, unfortunately, on account of superficial knowledge or ignorance,the so-called leaders of Islam injected hatred, alienation, prejudice and violence into the hearts of ignorant Muslims, instead of preaching love for God or brotherhood of man".
"The history written by the Muslims alive. They did not spare even the women and the children. History says that they buried in a brick wall even the young sons of Guru Govind Singh of only eight and ten years of age, when they resolutely refused to accept Islam. They rode rough shod over all those who ever dared challenge the autocratic and dictatorial bigotry of the Muslims. With only a few noble exceptions, a very great majority of Muslims treated the non-Muslims as Kafirs (heretics). This is against the very tenets of Islam which literally means the 'Religion of peace'."
"Yet in the very name of God and His peaceful religion, Islam, His own creation has been annihilated and mercilessly cut down, under the sword of bigotry and fanaticism of ignorant Muslims. Lakhs of non-Muslims were taken prisoners and made to say goodbye to their hearths and homes, to be sold in Muslim countries as slaves to serve their masters for their whole life. Lakhs of helpless were made into widows. They were raped and used to satisfy the lust of the guardians of Islam. By the misuse of the words Kufr and Kafir, millions of innocent children were rendered orphans and forced to lead a life of immorality by the soldiers of Islam.
"What is all this for? Is this your Islam which you call the Religion of peace? Is terrorism the only way to make people accept Islam? This is what your own history says. This is what the world has seen of Islam. This is what the Indians have experienced. And this is what the Muslims are even today practicing in India on the smallest pretext, during the communal riots, said to be engendered at the behest of our alien rulers. But no. This is not the teaching of Islam, the Religion of peace. It is due to the wrong interpretation of the words Kufra and Kafir."
Rama has no ill will against any one of you, because he knows that the Muslim masses are misinformed and that, taking advantage of their ignorance of the Arabic language in which the holy Koran has been written, they are still being misled by their fanatic and selfish leaders."
"Rama's heart aches when he sees all this in the name of Islam and against the Farman of the Prophet who was a true and sincere devotee of God. He could not have allowed his followers unjustly and ruthlessly to butcher the innocent creation of his own God in his very name and in that of Islam, the religion which is said to establish peace on earth. But alas, after his death, not only non-Muslims but his own son-in-law, Hazrat Ali, and his (Prophet's) grandsons were mercilessly and unjustly, under the abominable intoxication of their false pride and prestige,"
"Rama has great respect and regard for Islam. But he is extremely pained to see its fall to such a depth of degeneration that its followers, the Muslims, especially in India, have not only misused the words, Kufr and Kafir in the name of their peaceful religion, but have also indulged in all sorts of sins, murders, butchery, bloodshed, rape, hatred, jealousy, spite, prejudice, etc. against the non-Muslims, their own fellow beings and the creation of their own God or Allah."
"It is not the non-Muslims but the so-called Muslims themselves, who have defamed and vilified their own simple, veracious and unfeigned religion which is said to be preaching peace on earth. They have themselves presented an ugly image of their God-fearing and simple religion before the world."
"According to the Indian Muslims in general, Kafir is one who is not a Muslim. But this interpretation is absolutely wrong. It is for this reason that wherever they went, they, in their zeal to spread their religion, perpetrated tyranny, bloodshed and oppression. All this is against the fundamental principles of Islam, peace and total resignation to the all-pervading God."
"The person, who asserts his ego or selfishness, as against Truth is a Kafir. And what is this Truth? Truth is that which remains the same yesterday, today forever. But Truth or Reality is only one. It is only God who is immortal, eternal, and imperishable.”
"According to the Muslims, a non-Muslim is a Kafir, however God-intoxicated or truly religious-minded he may be. As such, it is said that a so-called Muslim has every right to do away with a non-Muslim, if the latter does not believe in the Prophet Mohammed, or in the Koran, as if he, the non-Muslim, has not been created by the same God. It is also said that a Muslim will be forgiven by God for his sins just because he is a formal Muslim. This is a popular belief among the Muslim masses. All this misbelief or blind faith is against the fundamental principles of Islam. From the point of view of Rama, cruelty due to narrowmindedness, does not become those who profess that Islam is the religion of peace."
"It is now for you to say, how reasonable, just and fair it is to preach to the ignorant Muslim masses, segregation in the name of Islam, which is obviously for political reasons with vested interests. The entire universe is one due to direct connection with God, the universal creator. If your own God has made people take birth into non-Muslim families, who are you to shed their blood, annihilate them or hate them after taking them to be Kafirs? How do you justify yourself in finding fault with God's doing? How dare you interfere with his planning."
"Oh dear friends, according to your own Koran, all are equal in the eyes of God who is the Rabbul-Almin, the Lord of all the worlds. We all emanate from Him. We all are His sons. Will God be ever pleased with you to see His sons being massacred by you in His very name? No father can be happy to see this cruelty of yours. Who are you, then, to create differences and disunity in the so-called Kafirs and the Muslims, when God is common to all? Please reflect and say honestly, if you yourself are a real Muslim? Are you not a Kafir yourself, when you deny God, by acting practically all the time with selfish motives? This is certainly not the teaching of Islam, the religion of peace."
"Rama regrets very much to have to say all this. But since Rama has great respect and regard for Islam, due to its simplicity and direct faith in God and, since he takes the Muslims as his own self, he does not feel any hesitation in speaking frankly and fearlessly to his own self. Rama says with love and good intentions only what he thinks to be right from his own experience and observation, because it is sin to hide anything from his own dear ones. If he is wrong he may be corrected, Rama will not have the least objection to this."
Swami Ram Tirtha does not criticize Islam, not its prophet nor its book. In this he follows in the wake of other Hindu religious teachers and thinkers. What is exceptional about him is that he knows so much about Islamic history and speaks about it with such frankness, exercising no negationism about it. And that is the most significant part of this essay. His knowledge of Islamic history does not however make him change his views of Islam as a religion. He thinks that all that the best of Muslim heroes did and Muslim teachers taught was "against the fundamental principles of Islam." And in this way, he is able to retain his "respect and regard for Islam." In this respect too he follows in the wake of other Hindu savants and students of Islam who think they know Islam better than the best of Muslim theologians, and cannot resist the temptation of speaking "not only as a Hindu, but also as a Muslim and as a Christian."
But if a truthful account of Indian history is made, we need not accuse those who give such accounts as being prejudiced against Muslims because such history does not show Islam in a Positive light. If we do we will have to throw the likes of Swami Rama Tirtha into such a category.
Rama also stated to the Indians: "Please study your own history with care and attention, you will please mark that, so long as we were strictly following the basic tenets of our Sanatana Dharma, which is based on mutual love, unity and selfless discharge of our moral duty, with faith in God, no outside power could dare look at us with evil designs." Hindus today need to look at their history in that light of dharma. Only then will emerge the true way to develop the country for the future.