[Advaita-l] Advaita and Islam

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Mon Dec 3 17:44:37 CST 2012

The 72 durmata-s described as being destroyed by the debates (in the Sankara digvijaya) between SankarAcArya and various others all operated within the broader canvas of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. All these faiths were native to the Indian context. 
The Abrahamic faiths are, at their root, totally alien to the common ethos of the various Indic faiths. However, vast numbers of people following the Abrahamic faiths have lived in India for a long time in history. I don't understand what you mean by saying that Mathadhipatis recognized Islam as a bonafide religion. Certainly, they had to deal with the social and political reality of the land being ruled by various Sultans, Nizams and Nawabs, and then by the British. In an earlier past, they had to deal with the social and political reality of the rule of Rajas and Nayakas belonging to the veda denying jaina religion, or the varNASrama-dharma denying Veerasaiva persuasion, or the non-vaidika Saiva siddhAnta or vaishNava varieties. As such, the fact that they had to live and operate their Mathas under the rule of Muslim or Christian rulers does not in any way mean that the avdaita maThAdhipati-s certified Islam or Christianity as bona fide religions. Nor does it mean that they had to keep putting a disclaimer about their non-recognition of these religions in every single thing they did.
The Sankaracharyas of today do not have an easy job at all. There are several Muslim and Christian individuals who seek advice from them at a personal level. Should a Sankaracharya forgo his dharma as a guru and turn away these people by holding Islam and Christianity against them? They do not, and in my opinion, they should not. A jagadguru is a guru to whoever goes to him, no matter what. And then, there are and have been Muslim and Christian people of very high saintly character, so should one withhold respect and honor from these individuals by holding their religion against them?
Next, take the fact that traditionally Sankaracharya Mathas have close associations with ancient temples. No temple festival is complete without music provided by the Shehnai or Nadaswaram. For historical reasons, a significant number of those who play these instruments at the major temples throughout India have had to convert to Islam. Should a Sankaracharya today take it upon himself to sever these traditional community associations or to attempt to reconvert them out of Islam? I hope you can appreciate how complicated such a situation is.
So, in raising an issue like the below, one needs to be very particular about the goal of the discussion. Is your concern political Islam (the kind that leads to jihad and taliban and al qaeda) or political Christianity (the kind that once resulted in the Crusades then and leads to sundry missionary activity now)? Or is it the philosophical and scriptural underpinnings of the Quran and the Bible?
If it is the former, I would venture to suggest that this is not the domain of the Sankaracharyas at all. It is up to those non-Muslims and non-Christians of a political bent of mind to address political Islam and political Christianity at a political level. It would be best to leave the Sankaracharyas and the traditional mathas out of it. At a personal level, one could ask for their advice, but note that by and large, the Sankaracharyas will try to give you advice that is tailored to your individual life and needs. They usually tend to keep away from generalizations and they do not like to prescribe things for all people at all times. 
If it is the latter, namely, the philosophical and scriptural angle, then my personal view is that this is almost impossible to even begin. If you start with the premise that Islam and/or Christianity are inherently adharma, then you are at an impasse before you begin. Conversely, if a Muslim or a Christian starts with the premise that Hindu ways of religion are inherently evil or ungodly, then they are equally at an impasse before they begin. This situation has existed for centuries. What should a Sankaracharya do about it today? 


> Date: Sat, 24 Nov 2012 11:57:57 +0000
> From: rajaramvenk at gmail.com
> To: advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
> Subject: [Advaita-l] Advaita and Islam
> Dear Scholars,
> If we read Shankara DigVijaya, we learn that Shankara was very strong in
> attacking what he considered as adharmic paths. He is said to have
> destroyed 72 durmathas through intense campaign. But when we read the
> anecdotes in the lives of later mathathipathis, we see that they recognized
> Islam as a bonafide religion. If one reads the life of Muhammad and
> foundations of Islam (
> http://www.amazon.co.uk/Truth-about-Muhammad-Intolerant-Religion/dp/1596985283/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353757088&sr=1-10#reader_B000RH0C5E),
> we see if such a favourable position to an adharmic path is right. I
> understand the risks he followers of tradition if they spoke strongly
> against Islam especially under Islamic rule. But I dont see the need for
> approving a path that does not espouse dharma. Can someone clarify?
> Best Regards
> Rajaram Venkataramani
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