Swami Rama Tirtha's meeting with the Muslims"Swami Rama went on to expound the special place of OM as a universal name of God, but the Muslims objected that they had never seen any mention of OM in their own holy scriptures and asked him (if what he said was true) whether he could quote any reference to OM in their Koran. Rama replied gently: 'Please listen to what is now being said. In the very beginning of your Koran, at the top, are three letters, alif (A), lam (L) and mim (M). Can any of you or any learned Mulawi of Islam explain what these three letters mean?' The Moslems replied that this was a secret which Allah had kept to himself. Swami Rama laughed heartily at this remark and said: 'When God has revealed the entire Koran for the benefit of mankind, as the Muslims claim, it is very strange that he has kept its very heading a secret. No. It is not so. If you, the Muslims who put full faith in the Koran do not know the secret of the letters A, L, M, Rama will tell you what they signify. Alif, lam and mim are nothing but alif (A), wao (O) and mim (M), that is, AOM or OM.'"
Swami Rama Tirtha's meeting with the Muslims
This article first appeared in the Winter 2002 edition of Self-Knowledge Journal when Swami Rama Tirtha returned from his years in America, his fame as a man of God became widely recognized in India. He had demonstrated his power to appeal to those brought up in a completely different tradition and had shown the validity of his vision of truth outside the Indian tradition. Like Shri Dada before him, his teachings were universal in scope. In the hands of both these enlightened Jnanis the spiritual teaching had become a means of reconciling and uniting those of all faiths rather than a divisive force. And in India, as in Europe, history gave all too ample proof of the divisive potential often exerted by religion in the history of the people. In India itself the conflict between the Moslem and the Hindu traditions was a simmering cause of unrest in the two communities which had often flared up into major civil disturbances, as it was destined to do again, on a scale unprecedented hitherto, when India was given her independence after the Second World War.
There are many examples of Shri Dada's meetings with the Christians or the Muslims in the pages of The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, but equally interesting and instructive is the account we have of the discussion between Swami Rama Tirtha and the Muslims held over two days in Lucknow in the year 1905. It provides a perfect example of the way in which the clear vision of the holy truth of non-duality can dispel the prejudices and misunderstandings of the unenlightened mind. In the course of these discussions Swami Rama was not only able to break down many of the prejudices of his Muslim questioners but also to give them a much deeper understanding of the teachings of their own religion.
The confrontation between prejudice and truth, and the consequent dissipation of the narrow view by the light of the universal truth, like the dissolving of the morning mist by the rising sun, was exemplified from the first moments of the meeting, when the Muslims entered the room and offered Swami Rama the traditional salutation (Adab `Arz). The Paramahansa responded by saying 'OM' in serene and peaceful tones. To this the Muslims at once took exception. They wanted to know why Rama had not returned their greeting in the same way and what was the secret reason for which he was saying OM in reply to their greeting.
Swami Rama answered them with great love and told them that he had no mysteries to hide and no mental reservations; plain talk (he said) was easily understandable, while complicated talk was only likely to be misunderstood. The truth was (he said) that a person can give to others only what he possesses and that Rama himself only possessed OM and that alone. That OM, which was Rama's sole possession, represented the non-duality of Vedanta.
Pressed to explain what he meant, Swami Rama replied that God is really nameless, although people call him by various names such as Ishvara or Allah. Men of different faiths and persuasions feel their oneness with God by establishing some sort of relationship with him. It can be any relationship, but the truth or reality is only one. He is what he is, one without a second, indescribable and far beyond being circumscribed in words. But the ancient Rishis and Saints have called him and known him through the significant symbol OM.
Swami Rama went on to expound the special place of OM as a universal name of God, but the Muslims objected that they had never seen any mention of OM in their own holy scriptures and asked him (if what he said was true) whether he could quote any reference to OM in their Koran.
Rama replied gently: 'Please listen to what is now being said. In the very beginning of your Koran, at the top, are three letters, alif (A), lam (L) and mim (M). Can any of you or any learned Mulawi of Islam explain what these three letters mean?' The Moslems replied that this was a secret which Allah had kept to himself.
Swami Rama laughed heartily at this remark and said: 'When God has revealed the entire Koran for the benefit of mankind, as the Muslims claim, it is very strange that he has kept its very heading a secret. No. It is not so. If you, the Muslims who put full faith in the Koran do not know the secret of the letters A, L, M, Rama will tell you what they signify. Alif, lam and mim are nothing but alif (A), wao (O) and mim (M), that is, AOM or OM.'
The Muslims objected that the letter L is not the same as the letter O, but Swami Rama pointed out to them that in Arabic grammar L is pronounced O when it falls between a vowel and a consonant, as in the names Shamsuddin, which is written Shamsaldin, or Nizamuddin, which is written Nizamaldin. The letter lam (L) becomes silent and gives the sound of the Arabic letter pesh (O or U). Therefore ALM is no secret; it is clearly and unambiguously OM and nothing but OM. It is Kufra, heretical or a sin, to blame God for keeping it a secret.
The Muslims (who did not know Arabic or the rules of its grammar) were clearly impressed by Swami Rama's explanation, but they caught on to his use of the word 'Kufra', meaning sin or heresy, and asked him to explain the meaning of that word and the related word 'Kafir', which to a Muslim means an infidel. Swami Rama was at first unwilling to say anything about them, maintaining that they were the special words peculiar to Islam, and that as Muslims they should understand them better than any non-Muslims. But when they pressed him on it, he then said: It would have been better if you had not put this question to Rama, because whatever he says would be according to his own notions. Rama likes neither to flatter anybody, nor to injure the feelings of anyone. Truth cannot be crushed. There is some truth in every religion. Rama is, therefore, not only a Hindu, but also a Muslim, a Christian and a Buddhist. In answer to your question Rama will speak politely and with love, but he may also have to indulge in some plain speaking, without the least intention to hurt your feelings. Rama loves all, like his own self. As such there should be nothing to hide from his own self. Dear ones, the truth is that the followers of Islam have very wrongly interpreted the words 'Kufra' and 'Kafir', and they have also made a very wrong use of these words.
Swami Rama went on to point out to them with great love that Islam literally means 'religion of peace', but that instead of preaching love for God seated in the heart of each man and the brotherhood of all men, the so-called leaders of Islam, on account of their superficial knowledge or ignorance, had injected a spirit of hatred and alienation into the hearts of the ignorant Muslims. As a result, the history of the Muslims testified to the fact that thousands of non-Muslims had been butchered in wholesale massacres in the name of Islam. Instead of teaching mankind how to live in peace with others, Islam had earned a bad name for itself in world history by spreading its religion by tyranny, oppression and despotism. This was because of the selfishness, love of personal gain and narrow outlook of the Muslim autocrats, intoxicated with their own domination and conquest in the name of Islam. It was all due to the wrong interpretation of the words 'Kufra' and 'Kafir'. Dear friends, [he said], the meaning of Kufra [sin or heresy] is to hide. What? To hide the truth or reality is Kufra, and he who hides the truth is Kafir [infidel]. But how does a Kafir hide the truth? He hides it behind the curtain of his Khudi or ego, which has its roots in selfishness. In other words the person who asserts his ego or selfishness as against truth is a Kafir. And what is this truth? Truth is that which remains the same, yesterday, today and forever. But truth or reality is only one. It is only God who is immortal, eternal and imperishable. Therefore the person who does not implement this truth in daily life and who instead lays stress on his ego or selfishness in his worldly dealings is as if hiding God, the truth, behind the curtain of his egoism. In other words, he remains unconcerned with God, as if there is no God for him. By such an attitude he commits Kufra and deserves to be called a Kafir.
It is very painful to note that the protagonists of Islam, due to their blind faith and bigotry, have brought a bad name to their simple and unostentatious religion, causing havoc and devastation in the world, on account of their misinterpretation and the wrong use of the words 'Kufra' and 'Kafir'. According to them, a non-Muslim is a Kafir, however God-intoxicated or truly religious-minded he may be. As such, it is said that a so-called Muslim has every right to do away with a non-Muslim, if the latter does not believe in the prophet Mohammed or the Koran...as if the non-Muslim had not been made by the same God. It is also said that a Muslim will be forgiven by God for his sins just because he is a formal Muslim. All this misbelief or blind faith is against the fundamental principle of Islam.
It is now for you to say how reasonable, just and fair it is to preach to the ignorant Muslim masses segregation in the name of Islam, which is obviously done for political reasons with vested interests. Religion, you will concede, teaches universal love, sympathy, fellow feeling, unity, etc., and not disunity or hatred. It is, therefore, most essential for all of us, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and so forth, to live together with love and unity...
Rama regrets very much to have to say all this. But since Rama has great respect and regard for Islam due to its simplicity and direct faith in God and since he takes Muslims as his own self, he does not feel any hesitation in speaking frankly and fearlessly to his own self.
Swami Rama Tirtha was next asked about the Kalma, which may be called the Muslim creed. And he said that the original Kalma consisted simply of the phrase: 'La Ilah Ill Illah', which means 'there is nothing but Allah or God.' It expressed (said Swami Rama) that God is limitless. Nothing can limit his limitlessness. Nothing could be beyond God. He is everything, and everything is in him. The Koran also says that God is nearer to you than your own aorta. The interpretation of the Mulawis that it means 'there is only one god' is not correct; it really means that there is nothing but one omnipresent God in this universe.
The present Kalma has two portions. The second part is 'Mohammed Rasool Allah' meaning that 'Mohammed is the prophet of God.' Swami Rama said to the Muslims: You may or may not agree with Rama, but it is generally felt that this portion has been added after the death of Mohammed Saheb... As you all know, Hazrat Mohammed Saheb was a very simple God-intoxicated person. He never liked ostentation and individual advertisement. He himself belonged wholly to God. And he had totally surrendered himself to him. He was all God's. Nothing of his was separate from God. As such, he could not have allowed during his life-time his individual name or identity to be added to the original Kalma, but emphasised 'there is nothing but Allah.'
Then again, according to Islam, God is 'Wahduhoo-La-Sharik', that is, he is one without any partner or sharer. How then could Hazrat Mohammed have allowed his name to be added to God, even as a friend or prophet, when God is all in all, when he is said to be limitless?... It therefore appears that the latter part of the Kalma has been added by his devotees and admirers out of their intense love for Mohammed Saheb after his death in order to perpetuate his memory, so long as Islam continues to flourish in this world.
Swami Rama did not try to force his views on the Muslims. He told them it did not matter whether they agreed with him or not, because he had no desire to force his ideas on anybody. Everyone had the right to act according to his own views. Rama had indicated his point of view simply because they had expressly asked him to do so.
The Muslims were impressed by Swami Rama Tirtha's exposition, but they said to him: Being a Sufi, the flight of your vision is high. Therefore you measure the life incidents of Hazrat Mohammed with the same yardstick. Our intellect may accept your version, but our hearts are reluctant to do so. As Muslims, we cannot go against what our forefathers have been telling us. You may call it blind faith, but Hazrat Mohammed deserves all our respect... You are a Sufi (Vedantin), and, as such, you may be entitled to say 'Hamaost' (I am He). But we have not yet been able fully to define our relation with God, as his devotees. Will it not be a sin or Kufra for us to say 'Anal hacq' (I am God) as the Sufis (Vedantins) do? We cannot even dare to change the present form of the Kalma.
To this Rama replies: The truth is that Rama, being a Vedantin, is convinced that there is nothing but God and that 'I am God, as all others are.' The reality is only one. God is infinite. That which is infinite cannot be rendered finite by anything separate from him. He covers everything, and therefore it is not a sin to say: 'I am God'; but it is certainly a great sin to reject the reality just to project yourself as separate from or other than God.
In this way in discussions which he had with the Muslims over two days in 1905 the holy Paramahansa demonstrated clearly the true message of the Prophet Mohammed and its identity with the essential truth of Advaita Vedanta: 'Sarvam Khalvidam Brahman' (Verily, all this world is nothing but a phenomenal creation of God the Absolute).