Inclusion of the topic of “religion & morality” in school curricula of Bangladesh has prompted Mr. Avijit Roy to write an article in Bangla Blog of Mukto Mona on 22.01.2014. In the present article I have tried to share some of my thoughts in this respect. I wish I could have written this piece in Bengali for Bangla Blog.
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The subjugation of women by men is due to men’s hedonistic possessiveness and control freak attitude over women for their stronger physical power. Dozens of references can be given from religious texts of Hinduism and Islam to justify that they describe/advocate and preach sexual, economic, emotional, social and physical exploitation of women by men. In the question of morality and social behaviors in other spheres also many references can be given to hang these two religions as main culprits. Thus religion and morality are neither interdependent nor interlinked.

The obvious intention ingrained in such criticism is to show that religions are notorious for exploiting women and propagate many immoral concepts and activities. The actual situation today is not as plain as table top. I find it difficult to accept these simplistic explanations. At times, such explanation gives a feeling that the present situation is as has been quoted from the religious texts of Hinduism and Islam.

If looked at closely, the whole human society functions within the basic frame work of power game. We are basically animals who can talk, write, think; co-operate and kill each other. Social life is nothing special or exclusive to humans. Lower animals also have social lives. Mutual benefit, better sustainability with prospect of developmental progress made humans social. So, society reflects the realization of the survival, propagation and progression instincts in humans.

Governance in different forms like village council, tribal leadership, city state, religious leadership/theocracy, kingship etc., has been governing the different human societies since time immemorial. Democracy and dictatorship are comparatively recent. But in the power structure of society, only the powerful can dominate. The power may be physical, intellectual or both. The powerful people always had their dominance felt in the society arguably for its betterment. One thing is for sure that all leaders (religious, social or political) have all along been ‘control freak’ with ‘vested interest’ and ‘dominance urge’. The difference between one and another has been the difference in degree only. Thus all religions have been governing or influencing the lives of their respective followers through different forms of power games.

Starting with Hindus, the Hindu women did not have any property right till independent India made an Act to allow Hindu women equal share in property as their brothers. Hindu widows were burnt alive at the funeral pyre of their dead husbands as “Satis” till British raj abolished such practice legally. The Hindus practiced human sacrifice (Nara Bali) as religious act. The Hindus practiced polygamy. Hindu Brahmins practiced ‘Kulin Prathaa’ to marry away a young unmarried daughter to an old and terminally ill ‘Kulin’ Brahmin. The Hindus threw live child in ‘Ganga Sagar’ as religious practice. All such inhuman activities by Hindus had some or other, direct or indirect religious approval. Even today the Hindus practice ‘caste system’. However, independent India officially rejects ‘caste system’.

So far Muslims are concerned; I shall first take the issue of ‘Kafir’ and ‘Jihad’. Qur’an revealed that ‘Kafirs’ are non-believers in Allah. They are wicked, hell goers and can be killed if they do not become Muslims. On the other hand ‘Jihad’ means to lead life in the way of Allah. Islam recognizes two types of ‘Jihad’, viz: ‘internal Jihad’ to overcome bad things within self and ‘external Jihad’ to fight and exterminate all ‘Kafirs’. A third issue can be polygamy and divorce. As per Islam, a Muslim male can have four wives at a time, if certain conditionality is fulfilled. In case of divorce, husband has more liberty and easy path to follow than wife. It is true that Islam offered property right (whatever proportion could it be) to women 1400 years back.

Though religion may have shaped and influenced the society, the value system, customs, traditions and social mores kept on changing and evolving with the passage of time. And will do so in future also. What we find bad, immoral and obnoxious practices today might had some place in older times.

So I am less concerned as to what Hinduism or Islam said and practiced as religiously moral in earlier times rather than what is the present scenario with the followers of these two religions. Our past malpractices in the name of religions are definitely important for understanding our histories but this does not reflect today’s picture. Moreover I tend to look at religions more in terms of its adaptability in theory and practice over decades and centuries than their histrionic descriptions.

The whole question has come up as the topic of ‘religion and morality’ has been included in the school curricula of Bangladesh. As I know, this subject is already there in the schools of Pakistan. Now Bangladesh has introduced this. So, in Indian sub-continent, only India is the odd man out in this matter. The reason is simple: majority people, as well as, ruling class of Pakistan and Bangladesh are religion (Islam) minded in nature, practice and politics. In Bangladesh, teaching of ‘religion and morality’ in secular schools, we are talking about, is an extension of three “M”s viz: Maktab, Madrasa and Maulavi (Alim/Ulema) in Bangladeshi Muslim society.

Practicing and outward showing of rituals are not compulsory in today’s Hinduism. No Brahmin can compel any Hindu to practice different rituals of the religion today. Hindus can openly criticize their religion without the fear of being blasphemous and excommunicated from Hinduism. A Hindu has no fear that some priest will declare his marriage null and void for criticizing Krishna as womanizer. Hindus can afford to be atheists publicly without the fear of any injury from other fellow Hindus. Inter-caste marriages are happening (though not common place) in educated middle class urban Hindus. Hindus are not very much pre-occupied with ‘Swarga-Narak’ these days. What I say in above lines is a general picture. Some exceptions are definitely there as human society and religion are not pure sciences.

In case of Islam, there are many Muslims who reject the concept of hating non-Muslims as Kafirs, do not accept ‘external Jihad’, and cannot dream of polygamy or divorcing wife at the drop of hat. There are many Muslims who are not obsessed with Jannat and believe in peaceful co-existance in a pluralistic society. But, this is not the general picture. Hujurs, Madrasas and Ulema (along with Jamaat and Hefazot) call such Muslims as apostates or enemies of Islam. Most of the Ulema want Muslims to be dogmatic and intolerant towards all non-Muslims. Ulema have the authority of issuing Fatwa to excommunicate or even murder any Muslim for doing or telling something un-Islamic as per Alim’s or Ulema’s interpretation. The situation is claustrophobic for many Muslims. But they cannot help. As per most Ulema ‘external Jihad’ is Jaiz and Sharia, as well as, Ummah will be realities in near future. I have expressed a number of times that prescriptive nature of Qur’an, Hadith and Sunnah, as per most Ulema, has made Islam stagnant. Whereas Hinduism has come a long way.
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Disclaimer: I, under no situation, am even hinting for propagation of Hinduism. To me, Hinduism is as bogus and false as any other religion.