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Man…..When He is One of the Untouchables
75

Rajiv and Yousef entered the dialogue room before Michael, and Rajiv started the conversation by saying:

Rajiv: There is a matter I’d like to discuss and it’s important for me to know the view of Islam concerning it, because there is a relationship between it and the view that Islam holds.

Yousef: Please, go on.

Rajiv: In my home country, India, there once was a class that was called the Untouchables, but nowadays they go by the name the Harijan, or (God's children). This name was given to them by the historic leader of India, Mahatma Gandhi. Although the use of the word “Untouchables” was banned by the Indian government in 1949, reality shows and studies have reveale, that this untouchability still exists in rural areas and small towns.

Yousef: And what is the problem with this untouchability?

Rajiv: Actually, it's not a problem, but more like a tragedy... A human tragedy that reflects the denial of human rights in the worst form of denial.

At this point of the conversation Michael joined his friends and greeted them.

Yousef: Hello Michael, Rajiv began talking just a short while ago, I’m sure you will be able to pick up the subject while we carry on. Continue Rajiv please...

Rajiv: This has ensued due to the social stratification that originates from the Hindu religion. Those in the top class are called the Brahmins. According to their belief they are the ones who were created from the mouth of the god, Brahma, and it is from this class that teachers, priests and judges come. They are followed by the Kshatriyas, who were created from their god’s arms. They learn, make sacrifices and bear arms for defense. Then they are followed by the Vaishyas, who were created from his thigh. They plant, trade and collect money which they spend on seminaries. Then lying at the bottom of the classes are the Shudras, who were created from his feet. They, along with the aborigine Negro peoples, make up the Untouchables, and their work is limited to offering services to the three previous honorable sects, working in despicable and dirty jobs.

Yousef: I understand what you mean...

Rajiv: I’m not done, you haven't heard everything yet.

Michael: What? You mean there’s worse? And is this separation still in force now?

Rajiv: Yes, I mentioned to Yousef that the treatment of the untouchables in accordance with this separation still exists, especially in rural areas. There are practices one can't imagine that fall on this class. The Hindu laws of Menu that were composed in the third century BC are established on the Shudras and the Untouchables, as a way of showing contempt towards them. These laws inscribe that he who teaches a Shudra matters of the Hindu religion will accompany that Shudra in hell. Also the Untouchables have to dwell outside the village and they can't use ordinary, undamaged pots. They aren't entitled to possess cattle, except dogs and donkeys, and are only permitted to wear the clothing of the dead as well as only allowed to walk barefooted. The jewelry of their women folk should be made of iron, and all their relationships are limited to only those who are similar to them. They also can't marry except from among themselves. Those laws – which still control the Hindu community today – say that if one of the Shudras speaks in matters of religion, boiling oil must be poured into his mouth!! Even worse, in the villages and rural areas the Untouchables are still banned from leaving their homes before nine in the morning and after three in the afternoon, because during these hours there shadows are long and the Brahmins are afraid of being touched by these shadows which are seen as being impure, as the Brahmin can't eat or drink until he washes himself clean from the impurity of the shadow of an untouchable!!

Michael: My word! Unbelievable! Does this really still happen in our time? And what is the percentage of these classes in the Indian society?

Rajiv: The Untouchables make up approximately 45% of the total population of India, i.e., 80% of the Hindus, while the other three classes make up 11% of the Hindus.

Yousef: But you said that the Indian government has banned using the title “Untouchables” since the late forties of the last century, and of course these practices should be banned too by issuing a law against them.

Rajiv: That's right, but the problem is that there is the complex of viewing people as being racially pure or racially impure, and the distinction between human beings on this basis is one of the most basic principles of the Hindu religion, as they consider those who aren't Hindu, or don’t belong to the top three classes, as being dirty and unclean humans.

Yousef: It seems to be a system based on oppression and abuse of humans, and discrimination on grounds that are not in the hands of man. But what is the relationship between that and the statement you've made that the problem has to do with the view of Islam.

Rajiv: Well, most of the untouchables, especially before the issuance of the ban I've mentioned, turned to Islam and not to any other religion, though they were living under the British Christian occupation, and although there were many missionaries who preached the Christian religion.

Yousef: Perhaps this is due to what they could feel and see of the respect Islam has for humans; since he who recognizes the reality of Islam and the human rights in it, and that it equates between the old and the young, and the rich and the poor, and also recognizes the freedoms granted to human beings, must be driven to this religion and to embracing it. I expect that they sensed that during their interaction with Muslims.

Michael (Sarcastically and rhetorically): And you want to tell us that Islam respects freedoms and human rights?! Freedoms and human rights weren't defined by any religion, but were laid down by Western philosophers and thinkers, and it was gained by the peoples through a long struggle against injustice and the violation of their rights, and the confiscation of freedoms… And those rights don't exist in Islam! Where is freedom of belief and the right of conversion from Islam, in Islam? Where is the freedom of expression? Where are women's rights? Do not let the zealousness of your faith in your religion be a cause to hide the truth!

Yousef: You've just opened a broad front for intellectual debate my friend, and I notice that you talk in a victorious, confident tone, as if the West has been elevated to become a model in relation to human rights. If the West has really reached such a condition, how do you explain the numerous convictions that took place against more than one thinker, writer and historian, just because they (expressed their opinion and) questioned the Jewish Holocaust in denial of its existence or minimizing the number of its victims? Isn't that confiscation of the right of access to information and research, and freedom of thought, of opinion and of expression? Can one exercise his right to establish a Republican Party in monarchial Britain, or a Nazi party in Germany? In fact, can I, a Muslim, get officially married in Britain to a second wife, although my religion gives me the right to do so? Won't the authorities interfere to confiscate these rights and restrict these freedoms?

Michael: These freedoms and rights primarily conflict with human rights. They are settled, organized, and formulated in the form of laws and regulations to which all of us must adhere. Doubting the Holocaust involves anti-Semitism, which is a racist act that spreads hatred and goes against brotherhood and equality, which are constants and are sacred, and we can't just simply drift from them, even if it restricts other freedoms. The same can be said about prohibiting the formation of the parties that you've mentioned in these countries, and your marriage to a second wife does not fall under the right of freedom of belief, since it goes beyond the framework of personal emotion and conscience. Furthermore, it is a violation of the law and the social contract, and the system favored by most members of the community that you live in, because it is an infringement on the rights of other individuals (i.e. women, even if they consent to it). However, at the same time it is permissible for you, if you wish, to cohabite with other women out of wedlock, as long as it is consensual.

Yousef: Very beautiful...So, what I consider as being unjust and a confiscation of my rights and my freedom, you consider as a restraint and an arrangement that has no injustice in it! That's exactly what is being done by the Hindu clergy, the practices of whom our friend Rajiv have just mentioned and which we all considered as being horrendous. Do you think they consider what they do as being an impingement upon the rights of others? No, of course not!

Rajiv: (Confused) Your words seem to mean that they are right in their practices and their prejudiced class distinction.

Yousef: No my dear friend, absolutely not… My intention is to clarify that we cannot separate rights and freedoms from the value system that made them, nor from the general legislative framework which regulates and organizes them. If we are to really review these rights and freedoms, we must closely examine the values and principles upon which they were founded, not the applications or the practices of people. If we agree to that, we shall find a substantial difference between the Islamic and the Western theory that is reflected in the areas of human rights and freedoms. This difference is mainly due to the difference in the perception of what a human is, the reality of rights and the meaning of freedom, within the holistic vision of man, the universe and life. This is what has just happened with my friend Michael, when he projected the concepts of religion, brotherhood and equality, according to the Western system of thought, on rights and freedoms, and made it a constant and sacred, while these concepts are different in Islam.

If we talk about the principle of human rights in Islam, we find that it has advanced to become a necessity guaranteed by the entire society which is based on religion. Islam has developed a framework of rights based on public decency, compassion and good manners, in addition to its legal system. In fact, rights in Islam are not limited to humans, but extend to animals too.

Michael: I did not imagine that animal have rights in your religion.

Yousef: Islam forbids the harming of animals unless they cause real harm, or present a real threat. It forbids killing animals for entertainment and game - as is the case when animals are used as an object for shooting or for fighting in competitions. Islam commands that animals may not be slaughtered except for food. Moreover, when a Muslim does slaughter an animal for food, he should not do that without the permission of his Creator and in His name, in the way that has been prescribed by Him. The etiquette followed in doing that takes into account the psychological state of the slaughtered animals too, which is something we don't find in the slaughter of human beings by others who deviate from the divine path. The knife should not be sharpened in front of the animal, and an animal shouldn't be slaughtered in front of another. Do you think that a religion that gives such rights to animals would be unjust to human beings in their rights?

Rajiv: I think that that matter should be discussed in further detail in another meeting.