Muslims’ self-imposition of the beef ban could be an endeavor to restore the religious syncretism in India

Ever since the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath sought to ban the illegal sale and consumption of beef in the state, a chorus of disapproval from the Muslim clergymen has emerged in various parts of the country. But for many, it would be hard to believe that heads of the prime Sufi shrines in India have urged Muslims to give up beef to “honour the religious sentiments of Hindu brethren”.

Recently, on the conclusion of the annual Urs (death anniversary) of Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisty in Ajmer Sharif, the spiritual head and the diwan of the shrine, Syed Zainul Abedin has stated: “On the occasion of the 805th Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisty, who all through his life strived for peaceful coexistence of Hindus and Muslims, we (Muslims) should give up eating beef to honour the religious sentiments of our Hindu brethren,” as reported in Hindustan Times.

The diwan of Ajmer shrine is also reported to have taken a pledge that he and his family ‘would never have beef for the rest of their lives’. This pledge is avowedly aimed at an ‘effort to stop communal disharmony’ in the country.

While the Sufi heads’ pledge to give up the consumption of beef connotes their adherence to syncretism, there is a dire need to debunk the importance of non-vegetarianism falsely attached to Islam. The reality is that it is neither obligatory (wajib) nor mandatory (fard) in Qur’an to consume the meat.

Remarkably, this came in a declaration endorsed and signed by the heads of numerous leading Sufi shrines who gathered in the six-day Urs ceremony of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer Sharif.

“Muslims should set an example by resolving to not consume beef in the interest of communal harmony in India” read the joint declaration by the heads of various Sufi shrines in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Delhi and other parts of the country, who were part of the congregation at the Ajmer Dargah to mark the 805th annual Urs of the Sufi mystic.

In a multicultural and densely diverse country like India, a variety of rituals and rites performed by different religious communities sometimes do come at the loggerheads. While in Hinduism and Jainism, it is exhorted not to slaughter or consume the meat, Muslims sacrifice animals on the occasions like Baqr-Eid (also called Eid-ul-Adha) as a ritualistic gesture to recall and celebrate the sacrifice of the Prophet Abraham or Ibrahim (pbuh). Given this, it is incumbent on the religious heads of the different communities to exert every possible effort to maintain religious syncretism and prevent communal discords. But without tolerance, acceptance and amicable understanding between the different religious communities, there is no way out in these circumstances.

For instance, in December 2015, two different groups of students planned to organize a “beef festival” and a counter “pork festival” at Osmania University in Hyderabad, as reported in The Indian Express. Thus, a communal clash was imminent. But it was fortunately averted by some sagacious people and the police which took a timely action.

It is in view of such instances, the Ajmer Dargah’s declaration and the Sufis’ pledge to give up beef consumption should be taken in good spirit. It can be seen as an example of spiritually inclined ‘self-restraint’ in an effort to prevent the communal rift.

An image of devotees at the Sufi shrine, Ajmer Sharif Dargah. Getty

An image of devotees at the Sufi shrine, Ajmer Sharif Dargah. Getty

 

Speaking to Firstpost, the Sajjadanashin (spiritual head) of the dargah, diwan Syed Zainul Abedin — the 22nd descendant of Sufi mystic Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti — said: “I have always believed that the cause of an issue that is creating a conflict among communities should be dealt with at the roots. Today (3 April) was the 805th annual Urs ceremony of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti and it is a very big occasion for us. In India, Sufi dargahs are the place where there is no difference between Hindus and Muslims and the rich and the poor. And, I think this is one place where important messages that could solve bigger issues can be conveyed. Hence we used this platform on such an occasion to convey the message”.

Thus, viewed from the Sufi perspective, Muslims’ self-imposition of the beef ban could be an endeavor to restore the syncretism of the composite Indian culture and peaceful religious coexistence. In fact, this is how the early Rishi-munis and Sufi saints in India led the path to peaceful coexistence without tampering or altering the core essence of their respective religions.

Let us not forget the remarkable and historic syncretic culture of the Kashmir valley. The age-old Rishi-Sufi tradition developed an understanding in the Kashmiri people that beef and pork are not served on the table. This norm was maintained by both Kashmiri Pandits and the valley’s Sufi-oriented Muslims. Even today, the Kashmiri cuisine uses sheep mutton and strictly avoids the beef.

In fact, not only the Rishi-Sufis of Kashmir but even the pioneers of Sufism in India who introduced Islam to the country were preferably vegetarians. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer Sharif, who is credited with the conception of the pluralistic Islam in India, exhorted his disciples in the Chishtiya Silsila (Chishti order) not to serve the non-vegetarian food at the dargah’s langar. Following this tradition, for the past 800 years, no non-vegetarian food has been served inside the dargah of Ajmer.

In his interview to Rediff.com, Haji Syed Salman Chisti, a noted Sufi activist and Gaddi Nashin at the Dargah Ajmer Sharif underlines the meaning and significance of this tradition in these words: “Thousands of people who eat at the dargah's langar are served vegetarian food. For the last 800 years the langars at the dargah have served only vegetarian food. It is done because no non-Muslim must feel that he or she cannot eat at the Khwaja’s langar. Everyone is welcome and no one asks anyone about his/her name or religion”.…“The official langar, which opens at 5 am, has never served non-vegetarian food. Even during the Mughal rule, when Akbar sent across his huge utensils to cook, he ordered only sweet rice to be cooked in it, and no non-vegetarian food. This place is the biggest example of secularism in India”.

While the Sufi heads’ pledge to give up the consumption of beef connotes their adherence to syncretism, there is a dire need to debunk the importance of non-vegetarianism falsely attached to Islam. Salafi Islamist televangelist in India, Dr. Zakir Naik debated with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for many hours merely on why it is important to be non-vegetarian in Islam. Inevitably, such rhetoric created the widespread wrong impression that non-vegetarianism has a great place in Islam. But the reality is that it is neither obligatory (wajib) nor mandatory (fard) in Qur’an to consume the meat.

Here is what it says with regard to food consumption: “Eat of the good things we have provided you” (Qur’an- 2:168). The Qur’an only permits, and does not necessitate the meat consumption. It says: "O ye who believe! Fulfill all obligations. Lawful unto you (for food) are all four-footed animals with the exceptions named." (5:1). Thus, the Qur’an clearly enjoins that meat consumption is not a necessity in Islam.

Hindus traditionally abstain from cow meat and revere the bovine animal. Getty Images

Hindus traditionally abstain from cow meat and revere the bovine animal. Getty Images

 

Throughout the world, the moderate Islamic scholars of both Sunni and Shia schools have endorsed this point. While the Sunni Islam’s globally renowned scholar, Shaikh Hamza Yusuf avers that “meat is not a necessity in the Islamic shari’ah, and in the old days most Muslims used to eat meat, if they were wealthy, like middle class — once a week on Friday. If they were poor — on the Eids”, Ayatullah Sayyid Khamanei, the Shia leader states in his fatwa: “according to Islamic law, there is no objection to vegetarianism. However, eating meat is permissible in Islamic law although eating too much is reprehensible (makruh).”

As far as the question of cow or bovine meat is concerned, it cannot be projected as part of Islamic identity by any stretch of imagination. Tellingly, while urging the Centre to declare cow the country’s national animal, the Ajmer diwan called for a ban on its slaughter and sale. He also welcomed the Gujarat Assembly’s Cow Protection Bill, which introduced life sentence as a punishment for those found guilty of cow slaughtering. Introducing the Bill, the Minister of State for Home said on 3 March, “Cows do not have only a religious significance, but also have an economic significance. It is utmost necessary to increase the punishment to deter those involved in slaughtering of cows.”

Clearly, the Ajmer Dargh’s stand may not go down well with a large section of the Islamic clergy and the intellectuals. But in the present circumstances, Muslims could recall the educative principles of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He was not in favour of the beef consumption. Throughout his life, Prophet himself is not known to have consumed the beef or bovine meat. Rather, he was very particular in his exhortation to abstain from consuming the cow’s meat, as it is reported in a Hadith (saying of the Prophet). On the contrary, not a single Hadith reports the Prophet partaking the beef or bovine meet. However, we do have a number of authenticated prophetic traditions (sahih hadiths) which tell us that he was fond of the vegetables like the pumpkin.

In his article for The Pioneer, KG Suresh has relayed an interesting account from the Islamic history in India: “From Fatwa-e-Humayuni to Durr al-Mukhtar to Maulana Hassan Nizami and Hakim Ajmal Khan, the message has been reiterated time and again that cow slaughter is not mandated in Islam, that sacrifice of sheep and goat are considered superior to cow slaughter, that poor Muslims are not obliged to offer sacrifice and that neither the Holy Quran or Arab traditions support cow sacrifice. There have been many instances related to cow protection during the life and times of Khwaja Gareeb Nawaz Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Hazrat Hamiduddin Nagori of Rajasthan is said to have been a vegetarian all his life and entry to the Dargah after eating meat is explicitly prohibited even today. The last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who led the first war of independence in 1857, had issued a decree declaring as his enemy any person who sacrificed any cow, bull or calf openly or otherwise and making such an act punishable by death, an order which bore strong resemblance to a farman issued by Emperor Akbar, whose love for cow finds elaborate mention in the Ain-i-Akbari written by Abul Fazal. French Traveller Francois Bernier, who closely studied the Mughal courts, also mentions in his works that cow slaughter was akin to man slaughter under the law. Sufi saint Baba Bangalori Mastan of Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, who passed away earlier this year, was not only a vegetarian but also ran a cow shelter. Such examples abound”.

(The author is a scholar of classical Islamic studies and comparative religion, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. He can be reached at grdehlavi@gmail.com)


Published Date: Apr 05, 2017 04:51 pm | Updated Date: Apr 05, 2017 05:14 pm

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