Why did Gandhi believe in Satyagraha

Mahatma GandhiThe nonviolent jihadist

"I firmly believe that all of the world's great religions contain truth. There will be no lasting peace in the world until we learn not only to tolerate other beliefs but to respect them as our own," says historian Gita Dharampal -Frick from the Southeast Asia Institute at Heidelberg University. She quotes from the writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Already in his childhood in West Indian Gujarat, Gandhi experienced the maternal pranami belief as a popular mixture of Hinduism and Islam. So the Hindu priest read from both the Koran and the Bagavadgita.

Dharampal-Frick explains: "On the basis of this fundamental experience, Gandhi's Hindu-Muslim religiosity emphasized the common inner meaning of religion, which is expressed in the strength of individual worship and is less dependent on formal affiliation with a particular religion. It was orthopraxis instead of orthodoxy what was important to Gandhi. It was this popular interfaith piety, determined by the chanting of hymns, the use of symbols of both religions, that represented the religious poetry of India. Hence, hymn chanting was also included as a daily practice in Gandhi's prayer meetings, later in South Africa and India. "

Islamic equality versus the caste system

Both during his academic years in London from 1888 to 1891 and during his work as a lawyer in Johannesburg and Durban from 1893 to 1914, Gandhi received the most friendly reception, especially from his Muslim compatriots. Gandhi started reading the Quran and Hadith. He extolled the strengths of Islam. Gita Dharampal-Frick quotes from one of his articles in the South African press.

"The main idea of ​​Islam, however, was its balancing spirit. It offered equality to all as no other religion in the world did. The doctrine of equality could only appeal to the masses plagued by the caste spirit."

In South Africa Gandhi developed his concept of a Hindu-Islamic brotherhood and neighborliness against the South African racial segregation, and later against the English colonial rule in his Indian homeland. Gandhi's Satyagraha, the nonviolent force of truth, was always influenced by Muslims.

Jihad as an internal struggle

Dharampal-Frick says: "Indeed, one should not underestimate the Islamic influence on Gandhi's definition of satyagraha as a spiritual struggle against structural violence. Jihad as an internal struggle with one's own conscience, according to Gandhi's interpretation, inspired Gandhi's conception of satyagraha, an active pursuit for truth ... In this constellation, Gandhi could be viewed as a non-violent jihadist. "

Influenced by Thomas Carlyle and his book "Heroes and hero worship", Mohammed became a personal figure. Quote Gandhi:

"I read the chapter on the hero as a prophet and learned of the greatness, bravery and ascetic way of life of the prophet." Dharampal-Frick adds: "It was a happy coincidence that he got to know Carlyle's account from 1841, which was pleasantly different from the negative stereotyping of Mohammed as a liar and impostor by the Christian discourse in Europe. A man of truth and Faithful, reliable, brotherly, honest, passionate, just, open to the small, quiet voice. (He impressed) that the Prophet practiced consciously accepting suffering for himself as well as fasting and praying, and Gandhi assured: "I have learned from him that only he can fast who has an inexhaustible faith in God and receives divine nourishment. "

In search of non-violence and tolerance in the Koran

He established the closeness between Hindus and Muslims not only in the struggle for Indian independence. Gandhi also looked for theological similarities between the two world religions, as he wanted to regenerate and revitalize contemporary Islam just as much as Hinduism. So he tried to harmonize the Sufi concept of unity with the pantheism concept of the Upanishads. He also wanted to find the ideals of non-violence and tolerance in the Koran. Gandhi always tried to emphasize and combine the good of religions.

Dharampal-Frick: "The glory of Islam is not due to the sword, but to the suffering, renunciation and high disposition of its early followers of the early caliphs. Islam fell when its followers mistook good for good."

Unfortunately, the multi-religious concept did not work in the long term. The bloody separation between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan brutally shattered Gandhi's dreams. Ulrike Freitag, director of the Berlin Center for the Modern Orient, is therefore also cautious as to whether Gandhi's ideas can easily be transferred to today's problems.

"Every reform movement is strongly embedded in its time. Even if there is a discourse on the question of violence and nonviolence among Muslims today, it is against the background of the fight against the terror of September 11th, etc. At that time the fight was against British colonialism in the foreground. "

But Gandhi's idea of ​​a multi-religious coexistence should be an occasion to look at Muslim life in more distant regions of the world, says the Berlin historian Ulrike Freitag.