Interfaith dialogue: Similarities in Islam and Hinduism

Similarities in Beliefs and Practices between Hinduism and Islam

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam, 09 December 2017

The general perception of the Muslims is that Hinduism and Islam are poles apart. The basis of this perception is the external differences in the way of worship in both the religions.  Islam believes in unity of God and rejects idol worship while image or idol worship is the main tenet of Hinduism.

But the fact that both Islam and Hinduism are based on divine revelation and in essence both worship the Supreme Being is generally ignored. The foundation of Hinduism is the Vedas comprising of different scriptures revealed to Rishis (prophets) over a long period of time. Islam is also based on the Quran which is a reminder of the messages and commandments revealed to prophet before Muhammad pbuh. The Vedas and the Upanishads sing the glory of the Supreme Being (Nirgun Brahman), the Formless God, the Creator of all. The Mundakya Upanishad VI says:

“He is the lord of all. He is the knower of al. He is the inner Controller. He is the source of everything from Him all beings originate and in the end disappear into Him.”

Vedanta is the theoretical and philosophical part of the Vedas which deals with the Creation and knowledge of the Supreme Being (Brahman). Different parts of the Vedas are ascribed to different Rishis or prophets to whom that part was revealed. About the revelation of the Vedas, Swami Vivekananda has said:

“When you hear that the Rishi (sage) of such and such portion of the Vedas is such and such, do not think that he has written that portion or has created that portion through his own imagination. He is merely a discoverer of the knowledge already existent. That knowledge was latent in this universe since infinity. The Rishi only discovered that knowledge.” 1

From the extract above, it is evident that Hindus do not use the word revelation for the Vedas but believe that the Vedas are not authored by human beings and are divine knowledge revealed to prophets (Rishis) by the Supreme Being, the Brahman.

God in Hinduism and Islam

Hinduism has two concepts of the Supreme Being: Sagun Brahman (Personal God) and Nirgun Brahman (Formless God). Since the ultimate realization of the Supreme Being can be achieved through meditation, the spiritual adept needs to meditate on God by concentrating on Him. To achieve this concentration he needs to conjure the image of a personal God (Sagun Brahman). This concentration on Sagun Brahman leads him to the realization of Nirgun Brahman or the Supreme Being. This concept of Sagun Brahman or personal God represented by an image or idol gave way to idol worship. Initially, this concept of Sagun Brahman was only used by spiritual adepts to acquire concentration but gradually it became common practice and people began to worship idols and idol worship became central to Hinduism. The same can be said about Islam. Many un-Islamic practices have crept in among Muslims which are called Bid’at (innovation) due to wrong or erroneous interpretations of Islamic principles or Quranic verses.

The concept of Sagun Brahman and Nirgun Brahman can also be found in the Quran. The Quran at one point says:

“Nature of God is that upon which He is created man”. (Al Rum: 30)

Here the Quran gives an idea of a personal God (Sagun Brahman). In another verse the Quran says:

“No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things “(Al An’am:103)

Here the Quran gives an idea of Nirgun Brahman who is subtle and formless. However, Islam did not permit the creation of the image of Sagun Brahman. That’s why idol worship did not originate in Islam.

This idea of Fitratallah (Nature of God) helps Sufis to concentrate on God. The Vedanta has three stages of meditation according to degree of concentration and duration of meditation; Dhaaran, Dhyan and Samadhi. The Quran also mentions three stages of realization of truth which comes with deep meditations: Aynal Yaqin, Ilmul Yaqin and Haqqul Yaqin. Indian Sufis took some practices from Vedanta and Hindu scriptures to develop physical and mental faculties that helped them attain greater concentration during meditation.  Especially Shattari order introduced Hindu meditation practices into Sufi order. The practices of the Nath Panth, the founder of the Yoga influenced Indian Sufi practices.

Sufism has borrowed a lot from the Advaita philosophy of Vedanta. Non-Dualist philosophy of Vedanta (Advaita Vedanta) gave birth to the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wajood among Muslims. The greatest exponent of this philosophy was Ibn-e-Arabi who had read  Bahrul Hayat, an Arabic translation of the Vedantic treatise in Sanskrit called Amrul Kund. The philosophy of Wahdat ul Wujud also preached that only God was real (Wajib ul Wajud) and all the universe including man was only a reflection of the Supreme Being. All creation emanated from him and was a part of God. For example, the waves of an ocean do not have any independent existence out of the ocean. In the same way, man or the universe did not have any independent existence out of God. God is imminent in the universe or is all encompassing.

Though Iqbal was against the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wajud since he considered this philosophy against the principles of Islam, he did not criticize Ibn-e-Arabi because Ibn-e-Arabi brought his arguments in favour of the philosophy from the Quran. The attributional names of God —– Zahir, Batin, Awwal, Akhir, and so on describe the all pervasive nature of God. Whatever is manifest is God and whatever is hidden or within the creations is God. This concept is in line with the concept of Advaita Vedanta which is summed up in the four Mahavakyas (great statements) of the Upanishad.

1)    Aham Brahmasmi (I am God). This can be translated as Anal Haque.

2)     Tat twam asi . Thou art That.

3)    Ayam Atma Brahma.  This indwelling self is Brahman.

4)    Praganam Brahma —— Supreme Knowledge is Brahman.

Thus, Brahman (the Supreme Being) dwells within man and he can attain His knowledge through devotion and meditation.

In Sufism too, Marfat (divine knowledge of the Supreme Being) is attained through meditation and devotion.

God Is Light 

God, the Supreme Being, is described as light in the Upanishads. His light shines everywhere and lights up the universe as well as the inner soul of man. K.P. Aleaz writes:

“The Supreme Lord (Parameshvara) is the self-effulgent self (Svayamjyotiratmaiva) and self-effulgent means ‘being’ – Pure Consciousness. The manifestation noticed in the case of all these names, forms, actions and results is caused by the existence of the Light of Brahman. The light of Brahman is implied by the light seen in things born from it.  Through the various kinds of effulgence in the effects, it is known that luminosity is intrinsic to Brahman. Whatever, things shine —- the sun, moon, stars, lightning fore etc — shine because the Supreme Lord shines.”  2 Now, let’s find out similar concept about God in the Quran. The Quran says, “Allahu Noorus Samawate Wal Arz’. God is the light of the earth and heavens. (Al Nur: 35) It is a long verse and echoes the views present in Vedanta about God as light and His reflection in man and the universe. Another sentence in the same verse says:

Noor un ala Nur (Light upon Light).

The exegetes of the holy Quran have not been able to give satisfactory or acceptable explanations of this beautiful verse in figurative and symbolic language. But when we study the verse in the light of the Bhagavad Gita, the meaning of the Quranic verse becomes crystal clear. ‘Light upon Light’ is ‘Light united to Light’ in Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. When the spiritual adept or Sufi attains union with the Supreme Being, Light present within man is united with Light of Brahman. Swami Mumukshananda in his article “Vedanta Concepts and Application through ‘light united to light’ in the light of Advaita philosophy in the following words:

“That meditation on God (Sagun Brahman)gradually leads to the realization of Absolute (Nirgun Brahman) is supported in both the Srimad Bhagvatam and the Bhagavad Gita. In the former Shri Krishna tells Uddhav how by starting his meditation on God with form a devotee can realize  God as Pure Consciousness simultaneously present within him and all pervading — as “Light united to light.” In the Bhagavad Gita (XVIII.55) Sri Krishna says to Arjun,, “Through devotion (the devotee) knows Me in reality as to what  and who I am. Then having known Me in truth, he enters (Me).3

In Islamic Sufism governed by the philosophy of Wahdat ul Wajud as in Advaita Vedanta, the spiritual adept unites with God through devotion and meditation. Thus Light is united to Light.

The divine light within the Sufi unites with the Supreme Light. The light present inside the devotee is engulfed by the Light of the Supreme self effulgent; all pervasive Being like a candle is guarded by the Fanoos.

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