Monday, December 17, 2018


-         Dr. Ishanand  Vempeny
This is what THE TIMES OF INDIA (TOI) reports about the U. H. Court order: “The Bench comprising Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh observed, ‘The Corporations, Hindu idols, holy scriptures, rivers have been declared legal entities and thus, in order to protect and promote greater welfare of animals including avian and aquatic, animals are required to be conferred with the status of legal entity/legal person. The animals should be healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour without pain, fear and distress. They are entitled to justice.” (APOORVA MANDHANI, JULY 4, 2018)
The columnist Robin David comments on this U. High Court order: “In the first order on July 4, the court declared all animals as legal persons, effectively blurring the line that separates humans from other animals. A division bench declared the entire animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic species, as legal entities with rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.” (“Are Animals People?”(TOI), Ahmedabad Saturday. August 25, 2018 P.14)
The Implications of Giving Rights and Duties to All Animals
What does the U. High Court mean by this order? It would mean, by implication, that cats and rats have their own rights and duties, the one for killing and eating rats and the rats for getting themselves protected from cats. Who can do this Job? Who can tie the bell on the necks of the cats? Certainly not the democratically elected ministers since they represent human beings who elected them, not animals. What is the rationale for such an order? No serious reason is given for this unheard-of declaration. What about the rights of the carnivorous animals like lions and tigers to kill and eat other animals? What about the rights of the victims like cows and buffalos? Can anyone protect these animals without infringing the naturally given rights of lions and tigers, panthers and the like to get the food suited to their carnivorous nature?      
After Louis Pasteur practically all the allopathic treatments are in terms of anti-biotics (anti+bio=anti-life). It means killing of all sorts of germs and bacteria. And practically all the doctors would become criminals since they have to prescribe anti-biotic remedies. Indeed brushing one’s teeth would be a criminal action since it would ‘murder’ thousands of germs. For the same reason, the use of soap for washing and bathing would be legally punishable.
A.             The Three Radically Different Realms of Life:
(Vegetable – Animal – Human)
Sensation and Feeling in The Vegetative Kingdom
          Many years ago a Brazilian botanist with international repute, gave a few lectures, often with experimental demonstrations, in De Nobili College, Pune. He wanted to point out that plants have some sorts of sensitive knowledge and feeling. He placed three plants in the same environmental conditions. He blessed one, cursed another and remained neutral to the third. After a week he took the students to the plants and showed how the plant which was blessed was growing with special energy, which was cursed was beginning to wither away and the third one appeared in its usual way. According to this scientist, all the three plants had some sort of sense-knowledge and feeling.
In India J. C. Bose, has proved that the plants too posses sensation and feeling. Some schools of Ayurveda and some sects of Jainism too believe in sensation in plants. If so, if you eat vegetables which have also sense knowledge and feelings, why don’t you eat animals with a little different type of sense knowledge and feelings? If life, feelings and sense-knowledge are the reasons for non-violence towards the animals we should stop eating vegetables because they too have sense-knowledge and feelings.
The Types of Knowledge in Brute Animals and Rational Animals
Now let us come to the distinction between ‘rational animals’ (human beings) and the brute animals. This distinction is very different in the West and in the East. In spite of the theory of evolution, the Western world maintains great gap between these two realms. The problem of vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism depends very much on this distinction. We need some rational thinking on the basis of science and philosophy to get into the truth of these distinctions.
Aristotle defined in his book on the human soul that man is “a rational animal”. This means that man has the animal nature with rationality. Many Western philosophers, influenced chiefly by Aristotle and Aquinas, say that man, unlike brute animals, does make progress. For example, the animals in thousands of square miles of the Amazonian forests have remained the same for millennia without any cultural progress. Human culture–civilization is usually built one over the other. Why?  One of the reasons for this is that man makes tools or instruments with growing sophistication enabling him to progress faster and faster. .
Now, making tools implies rationality and intelligence. Why? The answer leads us to a little involved reasoning. A tool is made in terms of means and end or purpose. Let us take the example of a knife for cutting. When a knife is made, the idea of cutting must be in the mind of the maker of the knife. Every action of the maker of a knife (black-smith) such us choosing the metal, shaping it, giving it sharp edges etc. are controlled and guided by the idea of an instrument or tool for cutting. The idea of the tool and its purpose (end and means) of cutting have to be together, simultaneously in one mind, in one intellect. The simultaneous existence or rather co-existence of two material things in one intellect implies the immateriality or spirituality of the intellect. Material things are extended things and two extended things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant calls human beings “ends in themselves” and it would be against the moral imperatives (“Categorical imperative”) that they should be used as means or tools. This is what the extreme forms of slavery do. Kant and his followers consider human beings this way because they have rationality, intelligence or ability for self-reflection.
Another Argument For Man’s Rationality in A Spiritual Nature
Why don’t the animals use ‘conceptual language’? Conceptual language implies the use of ‘universal concepts’ like ‘man’, ‘humanity’, ‘animal’ and ‘animality’. Without rationality such concepts cannot be formed. These concepts are beyond the three dimensions of a material substance. The concept ‘humanity’ or ‘man’ have no colour, no length, no breadth and no height. These concepts are abstracted from concrete material things and are made matter-less or immaterial. Because of man’s rational-spiritual nature they can form such matter-less concepts. Though the animals do make noise to express their emotions and needs, they do not communicate with one another through conceptual language. A parrot can mechanically utter some concepts without conceptual knowledge. Animals act on instincts. These explanations would suffice, I presume, for a journalistic article like this.                             
This Sanskrit adage (saying) is a very realistic and practical one. The moment we accept its meaning that any living being is the food of other living beings, the contradictions with regard to the eating habits in our country and all over the world, will slowly disappear.
How to understand this saying? There are certainly many vegetarian animals. Elephants, buffalos, giraffes, etc. are vegetarians. Many wild animals, especially the canine, the feline, the serpentine groups etc. are carnivorous. These facts pave the way to understand the above adage.
The vegetative kingdom seems to confirm the above saying. What is the food for trees, plants and grass? Their food is called manure. What does the most common manure, the compost manure, consist of? The decomposed forms of living things from the animal and vegetative kingdom.
C.   The Geographical Determinants of Food and Drink
Some year ago an Alaskan Scholar, an expert in anthropology, visited St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. When we asked about the eating and drinking habits of the Aalaskans,  he replied saying: “We usually eat fish and drink fish-oil”. He said that in some parts of Alaska one could travel hundreds of kilometers without seeing any vegetation, indeed, even a blade of grass. There are large areas covered with thick layers of snow without the availability of water. This will explain why the natural food and drink of the Eskimos, the indigenous people of Alaska, are fish and fish-oil.
Once an Ayurvedic doctor (Vaidya-raj) told me that according to Ayurveda, one should eat food that is available within the radius of 40 miles. He being a famous ‘vaidyaraj’, I did not dare to question his authority. But here I want to make a point relevant to our discussion. According to Ayurveda, the food most suited to the Alaskans in large areas of Alaska is fish and the most suited drink is fish-oil.
A Creator God And the Carnivorous Animals
Most religions, including the Indic ones, believe in a Creator God, except some of the Jain and Buddhist Sects. This implies that the Creator intended that the naturally carnivorous animals like lions and tigers, would live on the bodies of other animals like cows, buffalos, and deer, as their natural right. In other words, God Himself wanted that some animals should kill some other animals for their food and drink. Indeed the Creator God intended the killing of some animals by some other ones for their food and drink as a law of nature. These animals are not ends in themselves unlike human beings. According to Immanuel Kant, only rational animals (human beings) alone are ends in themselves not brute animals. At least, from the time of Aristotle, most Western Philosophers taught that only rational animals have intelligences and spirituality, and so, they alone are immortal.  
To Conclude:
In this article our interest has been to point out the problems, difficulties and the contradictions to which the order of U. High Court leads. When the U. High Court spoke about the personal rights and duties of animals, it included all animals, not only cows. We have seen how such an order makes our life almost impossible.
In practically all the cultures, the killing of innocent human beings is considered murder, except for some special reasons like self-defense. The reason for making this exception is that only man is an end in himself, man alone has a rational soul with the ability for self-reflection. Hence, man alone has personal rights and duties.
This is not the case with regard to brute animals including cows and buffalos. These animals do not have rational knowledge with self-reflection and cannot use conceptual language. Hence they cannot be considered as persons with rights and duties. Therefore, according to most religions and cultures only man has personal rights and duties. It cannot be said that for selfish reasons man has invented and articulated these laws, which give man a privileged place and status over and above other animals. God, the Creator, has established these laws of rights and duties in human nature itself. Hence these laws are called Natural Laws both in the West and in the East.

Friday, February 10, 2017


 Part 1.

Bandhu Ishanand Vempeny, S. J.

          One of the most attractive “Jumbo Movies” often shown in the History Channel is ‘St. Peter.’ In this movie the old Peter gets a message through St. Mark from the Pauline Roman Christians. Mark tells Peter that the Christians in Rome are eagerly waiting to hear the precious teachings of Jesus from the mouth of the very leader of the Apostles. Peter in meditation gets the same message from Jesus Himself that he should go to Rome. Peter, the totally dedicated and generous disciple of Christ that he is, still remains the same old impulsive man. Walking rather nervously with his swollen feet Peter shouts at the top of his voice, albeit reverently and prayerfully: “Jesus, you do not seem to know the problems of an old man like me. Remember, Rome is not in our neighbourhood.” Peter must have thought that Jesus, crucified at the peak of his youth, could not know from his own experience, the problems of the aged people.

When we look into Christian spirituality we hardly find anything serious about the spirituality for the ageing or the old. Both the Latin and the Cappadochian Fathers experienced the problems of old age. But their spiritual treatises were written mostly during their middle age or pre-old age situation. Hence, we see very little in their writings something specially valuable for the old. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect inspiring spiritual writings for posterity from the pens of senile, doting, cranky, weak, and sick old people. But the great medieval and post-medieval spiritual writers like Bernard, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Catherine of Sienna, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila and Francis de Sales handed down their precious spiritual legacy in their late adulthood, middle age or pre-old age. With my limited knowledge of the teachings of these great saints and so, at the risk of being accused of presumptuousness, I venture to state, in terms of random sampling, that the massive writings of these saintly & learned persons do not seem to offer much materials for a spirituality for the aging clerics and religious. I was, however, pleasantly surprised recently to see some enlightening articles for the eldering religious in the Jesuit news magazine Jivan (May-June 2008) and in the Malayalam Theological magazine Karunikan (May 2008).

In the first part of this paper we shall have a close look at the reality of old age and the elderly. We shall do this first in a general way through some facts and figures. Looking at the eldering people from the points of view of physiology and psychology will follow. Then we shall get into the ashrama system of Hindu tradition that can make valuable contributions to the spirituality of old age. These views, especially the psychological ones emphasizing the “self-realization” or similar ideals and the ideals of the ashrama, system help us to focus on the final destiny of our ‘life-journey.’ It is on the background of these facts and data about the old that we are going to articulate our views on the Christian spirituality of the elderly religious. At the beginning of the second part some descriptive statements will be made about our concept of spirituality. We shall spell out the this-worldly (historical) and the other-worldly (eschatological) dimensions of Christian spirituality. I will make a few practical points when we deal with its this-worldly dimension. In the final part I will give a few exercises hoping that these or similar ones would help one to grow into healthy old age.



A. Some General Considerations with Facts and Figures

          When we speak of old people we are tempted to think of them as a small minority. Four or five decades ago in a village of hundreds or even thousands of people we could point out just a handful of village-elders. Due to various factors like improved socio-economic structures, welfare systems and up-to-date medicines, life expectancy has been growing by leaps and bounds. Let us have a look at the statistical data on the growing population of the aged.


According to the statistics given by the UNO, by the year 2050 there will be 200 crores of people who are above sixty.[i] An article by N. Suresh in the Nursing Journal of India (Octobet 2002) states: “It is estimated that there are 416 million old people (aged 60 years and above) around the globe and by 2020, 11.9% of the world’s population will be above 60 years. In India also the trend is the same: 7.5% of the total population is above 60 years and the life expectancy is increasing gradually.”[ii]


Dr. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, concentrating on USA gives some other interesting data about the growing number of old people: “In 1776, a child born in the United States had an average life expectancy of thirty-five. In a little more than two centuries, thanks to medical breakthroughs, public health campaigns and lifestyle changes, Americans have more than doubled that figure to seventy-five. By the middle of the next century, the National Institute of Aging projects that life expectancy will be eighty-six years for men and nearly ninety-two years for women. One hundred years ago, only 2.4 million Americans were over sixty-five, making up less than 4 percent of the population…. Throughout most of recorded history, only one in ten people could expect to live to the age of sixty-five…. Today, nearly 80 percent of Americans will live to be past that age.”[iii]

According to these data, old people constitute a large portion of the population today. As children deserve special care and consideration in welfare planning, the same could be said about the old, especially when it is guided by a value system, which respects human rights and dignity. This consideration has to be on the micro level of the family or of the Religious houses and on the macro level of the states and Religious Congregations as well.

In Gujarati there are two words to express old age: Ghadpan and Vrudhhavastha. The first comes from the word ghatavum which means to get diminished, to become smaller, to shrink, etc. This term expresses that in old age, man’s physical abilities and psychological aspirations, adventurism and dare-devilry, intellectual depth and achievements get diminished and become less and less. The latter word comes from vruddhi which means growth, expansion, etc. These two terms bring out the positive and negative approaches to old age.


          Today we live in a youth-centred culture very much influenced by Americanism. About this culture Zalman writes: “Everywhere you look, old age suffers from a bad reputation. Because of negative images and expectations shared by our culture, people enter the country called ‘old age’ with fear and trembling. Feeling betrayed by their bodies and defeated by life, they believe they’re condemned to lives of decreasing self-esteem and respect. As citizens of this oppressed nation, they expect to suffer from reduced vigor, enjoyment and social usefulness.”[iv]


Influenced by this youth-centred culture, many elderly people refuse to acknowledge their age and disabilities. Often elderly and even old people try to disguise their age and pretend to be young in their style of speech, dress and various other behavioural patterns. These people often look really ridiculous, or shall I say, old wine in ‘new’ wine-skins.


According to the positive point of view, an elder stood for self-control, impartiality and wisdom. Dr. Zalman writes: “Throughout most of history, elders occupied honored roles in society as sages and seers, leaders and judges, guardians of the traditions and instructors of the young. They were revered as gurus, shamans, wise old men and women who helped guide the social order and who initiated spiritual seekers into the mysteries of inner space. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on technological knowledge that often was beyond their ken, elders lost their esteemed place in society and fell into the disempowered state that we now ascribe to a ‘normal’ old age. Today, as the Age Wave crests all about us and we confront existential questions about the purpose of our extended longevity, we are searching for new myths and models to ennoble the experience of old age.”[v]


In the ancient civilizations, the Greeks and the Romans could be contrasted to highlight the negative and positive attitudes towards old age. Dr. Zalman writes about the Greeks: “Since the Greeks valued youthful heroism, physical perfection and beauty, it’s not surprising that they looked upon aging as a catastrophe, a form of divine punishment. ‘The gods hate old age,’ says Aphrodite in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite…. Greek literature reveals how pessimistic people felt about growing old. The poets Homer and Hesiod describe old age using epithets such as ‘hateful,’ ‘accursed,’ and ‘sorrowful.’ In general, poets and playwrights lampooned the elderly as ugly, feeble and worthy of social rejection…. In fact, in the Rhetoric, Aristotle rails against old people, accusing them of being cowardly, selfish, suspicious, talkative, avaricious and ill-honoured.”[vi]

          Now look at the Roman culture in contrast to the Greek. One of the most respected ancient Roman institutions was the Roman Senate. The words ‘senate’ and ‘senator’ come from the Latin word ‘senex’ which means old man, elder. In the senate, elders actively guided public policy following Cicero’s maxim, ‘Young men for action, old men for counsel.’ Indeed, it was this Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero who wrote the well-known book De Senectute glorifying old-age, perhaps one of the first and finest books on old-age from the ancient West.

[i] cf. Karunikan, May 2008, p. 24.
[iii] Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, New York: Warner Books, 1995, p. 4.
[iv] Z. Schachter-Shalomi, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, p. 12.
[v] Z. Schachter-Shalomi, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, p. 6.
[vi] Z. Schachter-Shalomi, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, p. 61.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Dr. Ishanand Vempeny
I congratulate P. V. Sindhu for her silver medal and Sakshi Malik for the bronze. It is not because I am averse to gold but rather because we were far from getting one in Rio. True, the 10th rank Sindhu defeated Carolina Marin in the first game. But the Spanish girl won the following two games to win the match rather decisively both in the physical and psychic aspects of the games.
Certainly Sindhu and Sakshi deserve our congratulations. Indeed, Dipa Karmakar too has to be appreciated for her medal-less 4th place since she was the first Indian to dare to compete in the Olympic Gymnastics with reasonable success. One might wonder why the land of Yoga with many of the asanas (postures) resembling some of the wonder-postures of gymnastics, could not get even a bronze medal.
There is however a hitch. Many of the sports persons and sports loving nations began pointing out insulting fingers at India. One of the English TV channelists, twittered: “Stop India celebrating your bronze medal. Is it not a matter of shame for you, with your 1.3 billion people and the seventh largest economy, to celebrate this small victory? It is high time for you to find out what ails your sports-sector.” If the English look down on our poor performance in Rio one might find some justification for their insults. UK is smaller in geographical area and in population than a number of states in India; but it stood second in the number of medals surpassing even a sporting China. Neither the American social media were sparing in their contemptuous expressions against the corrupt and incompetent sports federations of India. In the Rio Olympics too the Americans kept up their number one status as the most sporting nation in the world. The Americans celebrated their Rio victory by bringing back their medal winners in a costly decorated plane with the giant caption, VICTO (r) – RIO – US (Victorious).
Many days of celebrations in India of a single bronze medal has this advantage: the youth of India begin to realize the great appreciation, admiration and adulation even for small victories in sports other than cricket. Such a realization can help the youth to take seriously sports and to struggle against all sorts of odds to get national and international recognition. It has however a disadvantage. As the past Olympics fiascos prove, we Indians are tempted to live on the laurels of a couple of medal-winners. Besides, the prolonged celebrations of a bronze and a silver medals can make the Indian youth minimalistic in their ambition in sports and can lead them to the ‘conclusion in the unconscious’ that Olympic gold medals are beyond their reach. The triple three gold of Usain Bolt would be reduced to the heroics of the mythical heroes. Similarly Michael Phelps with his total 23 gold medals in various Olympics would be lost to an Indian ‘Joseph Schooling’ to dream, like the Singaporean Joseph to beat the American at least in the 100m Butterfly.
Our Stakes in continuous Sporting Fiascos
i. National and Personal Prestige
Ayaz Memon wrote: “Nothing raises the prestige of a nation as excellence in sport. It reflects a country’s health, state of mind, sense of purpose. At the Olympics, particularly, this gets a tangible definition in number of medals won.” (TOI, “Scrap the Sports Ministry”, August 22, 2016, p.12).
The prestige and good name of a nation affects all its citizens. It is said that the victory of England in the world cup (football) in 1966 and of France in 1998 had worked as catalysts in their economic performance, not to speak of other fields. After the 1966 world cup victory when an English man changed his plan to migrate to Australia, somebody asked the reason for this change. He said in reply: “We damn English men can still do something great. So let me stay on in this country which has the stuff to make its citizens great.” The Chinese know this. They could not get a single medal in 1962. From then on they abstained from taking part in the Olympics while taking intense measures to improve the state of sports in their country. In the 1980s they came back with a bang. In 2008 in the Beijing Olympics, they stood first in the number of medals.
ii. The constructive use of youth-energy in India
            The young people posses incalculably great energy which can be used constructively or destructively. Sports (not ISIS membership or Naxalite activities) can channelize the energy of youth for nation building. Struggling for achievements in sports with sportsmanship can bring out the very best in the youth. Such a struggling person in the field of sports usually posses the basic character structures for nation building like focusing on objectives and ideals, wholehearted commitment with do-or-die attitudes for achieving the ideals, nationalism without chauvinism and the like.    
iii. The contribution of sports for physical and mental health
            There is no point in elaborating this fact well-known in the underdeveloped and developed nations. 
iv. Discipline and Sports
            It is through uncompromising discipline that the youth energy is channelized for constructive purposes. Achievements in sports pre-suppose discipline in various fields. If we ask Sindhu about her training with Gopichand in his Hyderabad Centre she would say that it was a life of unsparing discipline. Food, drink, rest, physical exercises, etc. are regularized with great discipline.
v. Infra-structure for constructive and creative citizens for the future
Let us take the example of football. A good Centre Back like Iniesta of Barcelona, with his ability to concentrate his attention on all the players and pass the ball to the players at the right time for the team, with enormous intensity, can be trained as a great statesman. A footballer or a hockey player with team spirit can be trained to be a citizen with extraordinary social consciousness.
Indian Sports towards Tokyo and Beyond
            Soon after the Indian fiasco in the Rio Olympics numerous suggestions have been made by experts for improving the pathetic situation of sports in India. One can write a booklet or even a book comprising the ideas for improving sports in India, proposed by the written and visual media. The ideas were meant for short term and long term implementation. Here we shall present very briefly just a few of them.
i. Sporting Culture
Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote about the need of a sporting culture as the main objective for sports policies: “It is the inevitable consequence of our never having had a comprehensive sports policy aimed at developing a sporting culture to make ours a sporting nation.” (Indian Express, “Olympic letdown”, August 19, 2016, p.8). This sporting culture can be achieved when sports become part of the regular curriculum in schools and colleges making performance in sports as one of the conditions for promotion. Besides, there should be preference for sportsmen in getting appointed for jobs. To this we may add the need for a nationwide search for budding sports talents by promoting sports centres in the rural and the urban areas. The khelmahakumbh initiated by the then Chief Minister N. D. Modi can contribute much to the establishment of sports culture. His recent plan to constitute a “Task Force” for improving sports could go very well with khelmahakumbh for the spread of “Sports Culture” all over India.
ii. If the Sports Federations fail to deliver goods, the leaders and at least some of the non-performing members should be sacked. One of the most obvious examples for carelessness in sports officials, is the case of the Indian Marathoner in Rio who got dehydrated and fell unconscious.
iii. The sports federations must be constituted primarily of sports persons and the know-hows in sports. In the Indian delegation to Rio, quite a few officials were ignorant of most of the sports events. If anything worse than this, is the fact of our sending a dentist for the Para-Olympics to take care of the overall health of the sports persons.
iv. Parental patronage: Sindhu, Saina, Krishanans, Amrutraj, Leander Paes, Sania and many other Indian sports persons climbed the heights in sports chiefly because of their parental patronage. Therefore the sports federations and the coaches should be in touch with the parents of their wards.
v. Let the government officials and the coaches say an uncompromising ‘NO’ to forbidden drugs. Taking drugs is diametrically opposed to sportsman’s spirit. This type of cheating takes away all the benefits and values of sports enumerated above.      
To Conclude
The question of sports in India is not merely a matter of ‘CHILD’S PLAY’ (ramat ni vat – Gujarati). It is a question of the healthy growth of the Indian youth, indeed, a question of the very future of India. ‘Sportsmanship’ is a central value for nation-building. As we have pointed out earlier, sports, especially team games like football can lay the foundation for civil values. Politicians, public figures, educationists, social activists and the like lament for the lack of basic values in the modern generation. But very few of them seem to think that sports and games can lay the infrastructure for these values.

After doing many years of research in the Western and in the Eastern philosophies I venture to say that only in the Indian philosophy there is the assertion that the Ultimate Reality created the world by an act of Leela (Play – Sports). But the strange truth is that many-sports-experts in India affirm that India has no SPORTS – CULTURE

Thursday, August 18, 2016

ISLAMOPHOBIA AND ISLAMIC TERRORISM - Conclusion - Dr. Ishanand Vempeny


Dr. Ishanand Vempeny

(Published in Jeevadhara, Vol.XLVI, No.273, May 2016, pp.66-85)

To Conclude

We began writing this article in the context of the contagious disease of Islamophobia spreading far and wide and of the ever increasing number of Islamic terrorist attacks like the sporadic invasions of a powerful enemy as though a premonition to a Third World War. Our article is a wake-up call to all and sundry and the powers to be.

In the first part we have described rather extensively the disease of Islamophobia which is victimizing thousands of innocent Muslims and which has the potential to victimize millions more all over the world. The fact that the Muslim refugees are flooding the Western countries and the rumors that this flood contains large number of Islamic terrorists make the host nations overcome with anger and fear. While the Western nations show their unwillingness to welcome any more of the stranded refugees the rich Muslim Arab nations refuse to accept them. The continued Islamic terrorism is not helping to arrest this world wide tension and fear.

In the third and fourth parts of this article our effort has been to analyze this deteriorating situation. As in other religions, in Islam too there are seeds of fundamentalism, exclusivism and terrorism. We have seen also the numerous seeds in the Quran that promote inter-religious openness and dialogue. We have been critical of the Western liberal and Islamic self-righteous attitudes which put blame on individuals or group of individuals rather than on some of the Islamic teachings and structures. We do agree with Thomas Friedman that we have to call this phenomenon with its right name rather than ignoring the challenging reality.

We have pointed out how this situation especially of fundamentalism and exclusivism existed in Christianity and to some extent in Hinduism. We gave these two religions as samples. Though Islam had a tradition of interpretation and re-interpretation of the Quran until quite recently, influenced by petrol rich Wahhabis and other fundamentalists, this re-reading of the texts are neglected.

To respond to the crying need of reform in Islam, a hermeneutical re-interpretation of the Holy Quran is the need of the day. The Islamic tradition has many examples of re-interpretation and reform as in the cases of Avicenna and Al-Ghazālī who were real Mujaddids. Such a reform should not be left to the fundamentalistic groups like the Wahhabis, supported by Saudi Arabian petro-dollars. It needs a council of scholars both in religious and secular matters. Today’s Islam does not lack Mujaddids, Imams of the like of the Imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque connected with the university. It could be somewhat like the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council which saved to a great extent Christianity from fundamentalism and exclusivism. For reform the principle that the context changes the text has to be studied deeply in the Islamic context. The principle of re-reading the scriptures have to be followed taking seriously the contextual challenges of universally growing Islamophobia and irrepressibly growing Islamic terrorism. Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim. - - - Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016



Dr. Ishanand Vempeny

(Published in Jeevadhara, Vol.XLVI, No.273, May 2016, pp.66-85)


a.       Islam and Inter-religious Dialogue

In inter-religious gatherings, the Hindus and Christians often ask whether the Muslims are interested in the welfare of people outside Umma, outside the Islamic fold. The works of Aga Khan Trust for universal welfare is looked upon as an exception rather than the rule. Of course nobody called into question the universal love of the Sufis. But the truth is that the Quranic Justice includes all, including one’s enemies.

“O ye who believe  stand out firmly for God as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just - that is next to piety - and fear God.” (Quran 5:8).

“It is part of the mercy of God that thou dost deal gently with them. Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over (their faults), and ask for (God’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment).” (Quran 3:159)       

“Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!” (Quran 41:34)

At the beginning of Islam, it came in contact with the Jews and the Christians whom the Quran calls the “People of the Books”. Since these two religions are monotheistic the Muslims found it easy to be open and collaborative towards them. The Quran says in the context of the Jews and Christians: “Our God and your God is One; and it is to whom we bow (in Islam)” (Quran 29:46). We read in the Rigveda, Ekam Sat vipra bahudha vadanti” (=Truth is one but sages interpret diversely (Rg. 1:164:46) and “Ekam santam bahudha kalpayanti” (=though truth is one, it is diversely imagined (Rg. 10:1l4:5). The Vedic Hinduism is basically monotheistic though the Ultimate Reality is imagined diversely during the different stages of its evolution. With this understanding of Hinduism Muslims may find easy to cooperate with the Hindus also. The tolerant attitude towards other religions is pretty much obvious in the following texts: 

“O ye that reject faith. I worship not that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship.” (Quran 109:1-3)

“To you be your way and to me mine.” (Quran 109:6)

“There shall be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands our clear from error.” (Quran 2:256)

“If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed, - all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!” (Quran 10:99)

To each among you have prescribed a Law and an open way. If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute (Quran 5:48).

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair), of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. (Not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all these things) (Quran 49:13). (Cfr. Also 2:213; 10:19; 30:21)

The Persian mystic Sa’di (AD.1292) gives the following mystical interpretation of this universalistic spirit of the Quran:

“Adam’s posterity is like the members of a body, since they are all made of the same matter. If fate gives pain to one, all the others get to feel it too. You who do not feel sympathy for the pain of another, you cannot be called human.”[1] 

The Muslim call for prayer is for falah (welfare): “Come ye unto the salat. Come ye unto the falah”. Kenneth Cragg in his well-known book The Call of the Minaret Explains falah thus: “Falah is not then, some pietistic abstraction, nor the indulgence of a private sanctity. It is the true state of welfare, the prosperity of the people of God, fulfilled in communal existence and realized in social life.”[2]
In the context of Inter-religious dialogue these concepts for universal welfare are rightly interpreted to include not only the ‘People of the Books’ but also all the children of Adam and Eve, created in God’s own image. In Islam there is the prescription of legal almsgiving (zakat), one of the five pillars of Islam, and of ribaa (prohibition of interest), an invitation to practice the values of the Universal Family. Asghar Ali Engineer says:

“However, many radical thinkers among Muslims rightly feel that ribaa should not be taken to mean interest only but exploitation in general. Any practice which leads to exploitation of man by man including unjust profit (industrial as well as commercial) should be treated as ribaa.[3]
It is obvious that there are a number of texts in the Quran which give universal openness and concern beyond the Umma, though we cited just a few texts.[4] The Prophet himself and the early Caliphs like Umar Ibn-al-Khattab and Harun al-Rashid were concerned about the welfare not only of the Muslims but also of that of the conquered people. Here we have not given the true interpretation of jihad which is an injunction to fight against evil as perpetrated by certain tyrants who chase out poor and helpless people from their homes (Quran 2:39-40). Even in such jihads too there should be justice. “And fight in the way of God with those who fight with you, and do not exceed, for God does not love those who exceed the limits (Quran 2:190).

b. Two Basic Principles for openness to Other Religions

1. The Axiom ‘The Context Changes the Text’

One of the chief assumptions of contextual theology, especially of Liberation Theology is the saying that context changes the text. This assumption is today accepted almost as an axiom. The context of a person is not just his mind-set but some sort of mental category, a la Kantian Categories, through which the subject tries to reach the Noumenon. Let us take the example of a film like The Bandit Queen. In this film what would strike the high-caste Hindus and what would strike the oppressed caste of Phoolan Devi herself must have been very different. The high-caste Hindus might not have found anything abominable or even strange in the approving looks of the wives of the men who were raping her or parading her naked through the length and breadth of the village. How different must have been the perception, both in details and in substance, of the women of the caste of Phoolan Devi! One might say that in films people would perceive what they are interested in, on the conscious or the unconscious level. This is the psychological aspect of the influence of the context. 

Oxford Companion to Mind says: “…the direct realism of immediate experience of the object world has been abandoned. It is now, however, fairly, generally accepted that stored knowledge and assumptions actively affect even the simplest perceptions.” There is a hymn in the NT sung by Mary, the Mother of Jesus. After citing a few verses we shall point out the problem:

        ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
        and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
        because he has taken upon his lowly handmaid.
        He has shown the power of his arm,
        he has routed the proud of heart.
        He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
        The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. (Lk. 1:46,47,51,52)

According to the Liberation Theologians, a poor and downtrodden person would see in the above well-known Biblical hymn called Magnificat, the challenging cry for justice by an oppressed and unjustly treated woman rather than the lyrical song of praise by a leisurely, rich lady thanking God for her abundance. In the past it was the elite of society who interpreted this hymn and sung solemnly in five voices. But for persons who suffer oppression and injustice it is a revolutionary song, which needs completely a new revolutionary tune and a thoroughly new interpretation. But there are other epistemological aspects too in the above-said axiom that context changes the text. 

From the time of Heisenburg even scientists began to take for granted the subjective elements even in the most ‘objective’ physio-chemical sciences. It is much more so in human sciences like history and sociology. William James used to say that in Love, Politics, and in Religion people prove what they want to prove because they have to prove it. The same thing happens to the terrorists. They interpret the Quranic texts according to the needs of their terroristic activities.

2. Re-reading the Scriptures according to the Contextual Challenges

Some time back, I had the privilege of attending an international seminar organized by a group of secular persons from different parts of the world. One of the main topics of this seminar was The Humane Face of Socially Engaged Hinduism. The participants including those from the West, were well aware of the common and uncritical understanding of Hinduism, as a world-denying religion with no concern for the sufferings and miseries of fellow human beings, be it poverty, disease or caste-discrimination.

They were also aware of another uncritical assumption about Hinduism. It is that because of the Hindu belief in Sanchit Karma (accumulated evil effects of the actions of the previous birth) the victims of contagious diseases, social marginalization, economic injustice etc. suffer in the present birth as a just punishment for their sinful deeds in the previous birth. Hence, others would have no serious responsibility of trying to alleviate their sufferings since they suffer what they deserve. Some would go so far as to say that Hinduism does not consider society or evil social structures having anything to do with man’s present miseries. 

        Not only the Hindu participants but also the Non-Hindus felt that such views are downright exaggerations. All the same, most were aware that there is a grain of truth in these assumptions. It is precisely the awareness of this grain of truth, which made some Hindu and Non-Hindu scholars come together and organize this seminar for discovering and exposing the compassionate and socially engaged face of Hinduism.

During the reading of a number of scholarly papers and during the discussions that followed, we could come across a number of traditions, rituals, festivals etc. which showed the deeply compassionate face of Hinduism. There were scholars who could parade numerous scriptural statements from the Vedas to the mediaeval and modern bhakti literature (sacred writings of the saints and mystics like Jnaneshvar, Manickvasagar and Kabir), which teach compassion and concern for fellow human beings. Here we had the experience of what the Liberation Theologians call “hermeneutical suspicion and re-reading the scriptures from the context”. This was followed by an action plan highlighting these traditions and scriptural injunctions, which promote compassion and socio-economic justice.

A Word more on this concept of re-reading the scriptures in a situation of religious pluralism is in order. The ISIS and other terrorist groups pick up a few Quranic verses which are challenges to other religions. But they ignore many other texts which are open to other religions. But to be open to such texts we should have desire for peace and unity. If we are approaching other religions with hatred and revengefulness and carrying AK-47, we can never find the friendly texts in the Quran or the similar texts in other religions. When the Christians and the Muslims begin their inter-religious dialogue, both groups should develop openness towards each other and desire to be a true “child of God”/to be a “true witness to Allah”.

[1] Quoted by Dr Sebastian Vempeny, Minorities in Contemporary India, New Delhi: Kanishka Publishers and Distributors, 2003, p.361
[2] New York: OUP, 1956, p.140
[3] Justice, Women and Communal Harmony in Islam, New Delhi: 1989, p.20
[4] For a more extensive study, Cfr. Sebastian Vempeny, Op. Cit., pp.354-67