At first, it may seem that the Hagia Sophia, a historical site of a dispute between Muslims and Christians all the way in Turkey is of little relevance to India. But it most certainly is. There are certain sympathies that extend well beyond national boundaries. Which is why Muslim majority Turkey wants to intervene in Kashmir. And the All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) talks about the Hagia Sophia even as it wags its finger at the Supreme Court.
On a side note, one wonders what would have happened if a common citizen had dared to describe a Supreme Court judgement as “unjust, oppressive, shameful and majority appeasing.”
On the face of it, Hagia Sophia seems like a typical symbol of Islamist triumphalism. A Christian emperor built a church there. Then, a medieval Muslim emperor converted it into a mosque. As Turkey remained relatively secular (by standards of the Muslim world) for most of the 20th century, the site became religiously neutral, serving as a museum. Now, Turkey has reclaimed the Hagia Sophia as a mosque.
One may therefore be confused by the comparison drawn by the AIMPLB between the Hagia Sophia and the Ram Janmabhoomi case. The Hagia Sophia used to be a church. Those who converted it by force are getting to keep it. In the case of Ram Janmabhoomi, the Hindus are taking back one of their most sacred places. How then are they similar?
To understand, you must read the reasoning of the AIMPLB carefully.
“…where a mosque comes up once, it remains a mosque till eternity“
Get it? It is not about natural justice, not about right or wrong. Once a mosque, always a mosque. End of argument.
The Hagia Sophia case is relevant both for the reasons that everyone is talking about and for reasons nobody is talking about. We already heard about the church vs mosque dispute. But what they don’t tell you is that there is a third party to the Hagia Sophia dispute.
Except that the third party is not around to argue its case either in Turkey or elsewhere in the world. They are unseen. They are forgotten. And it is this unseen third party that is most relevant to the Hindus of India.
One side says the Hagia Sophia is a church. Another side says it is a mosque. But the reality is that the Hagia Sophia is built on a pagan temple.
Where are those pagans who originally worshiped at the spot where Hagia Sophia stands today? What became of their culture?
Today the two powerful Abrahamic religions, Islam and Christianity are clashing over who owns the site. The elephants are fighting. The grass has been forgotten.
This is where we have to realize something. We Hindus are the last standing major pagan culture in the world. Many centuries ago, a project began to bring all of humanity under the God of Abraham. One by one, the inheritors of the world’s great ancient civilizations: the Greeks, the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians, the Romans, fell under the swoop of this imperial project. They signed a truce with Communism, which mimics the structure of Abrahamic religions by replacing “one true god” with “one true state.”
We Hindus are still here, worshiping our land, the forces and bounties of nature, our ancestors. Our beliefs and practices are diverse and colorful.
We are building a temple for Ram, but we have temples for Ravana too. In Uttar Pradesh, in Madhya Pradesh, in Rajasthan, in Gujarat, in Andhra Pradesh, everywhere. There are temples where Lord Ayyappa is worshiped as eternally celibate. Young women are not allowed in there. There are also temples where Lord Ayyappa is worshiped as a householder, with not one but two wives. And there are also temples where men are not allowed to enter.
The imperial project sees us as people who should not exist. Our loosely organized religion, infinitely adaptive to local and personal beliefs, free from moral absolutes, is anathema to them. And above all, they see it as weakness.
They want that we should be broken up and made to surrender to one of the brands of Abrahamic religion.
At this point, you will inevitably come up against some standard objections from Indian liberals. First, how could a billion Hindus ever be wiped out? What do we have to fear?
You should turn that argument on its head. There are one and a half billion Muslims in the world and they control 57 countries. How could 1.5 billion people with 57 countries under their control be marginalized? Then, how come we have to deal every day with the sob story about this thing they call Islamophobia?
Second, they will say : Muslims did not convert all of India in 800 years of rule. How can you say they will do it now?
Well, Hindus of India just happen to be the exception. The Abrahamic religions have wiped out pagan cultures all across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These cultures were not extinguished in a day, but step by step. We Hindus of India are the last remaining step. Don’t forget that the imperial project has already swallowed up Pakistan and Bangladesh. The tiniest remnants of Hindu culture have been scrubbed from there.
But the most important question you would face would come from within. The empires of the past are all gone. India is a secular democratic republic today. You have rights. What do you have to fear as a Hindu?
This is where you must come to the most devastating conclusion of all. Secularism is a scam and it does not protect you.
What is secularism? Secularism is the principle that establishes a free market of religion. It insists that all exchanges and trades in religion should be voluntary. And it puts the state in charge of making sure that nobody can use force.
It sounds great. But only if your religion is similar to a for profit corporation. You have these rules to ensure fair competition, to protect your profits and secure your investments.
But what happens if your religion has an altogether different orientation? What if your religion is not about delivering dividends to existing shareholders in terms of the quarterly number of new converts? What if your religions measures its success in terms of celebrating a cultural identity, history and traditions to be passed to the next generation?
I used the word “orientation” very deliberately. Here is a thought. What if I told you that every country in the world, including Saudi Arabia, already gives gay people the right to get married?
Think about it. Saudi law already allows all men (including gay men) to marry women. And Saudi law already allows all women (including gay women) to marry men. Fair enough?
No, not fair at all. Because gay people have an altogether different orientation. They have no use for their rights under Saudi law, which is fair in a literal sense but not in a meaningful sense. It’s the same thing when Indian secularism offers Hindus an equal right to convert members of other religions. We have no interest in it and no use for it. This “equal right” is a joke.
Secularism was set up for Abrahamic monopoly religions to carve out territory for themselves. Secularism does not protect the Hindu way of life.
You can observe this phenomenon easily. In secularism, the iron clad protections are reserved for the freedom to spread religion. It took decades for the judiciary to decide that a Ram temple could be built at Ayodhya. But if you want curb ways in which people celebrate Holi, Diwali, Janmashthami, or a practice such as Jallikattu, you can get a judgement on your PIL in a few afternoons.
It is important to divorce your feelings about individual cases from the general principle here. You may well be concerned about pollution caused by Diwali crackers and be happy that the courts are clamping down on them. That’s not the point. The point is how easy it is for the Indian legal system to curb practices of Hindu religion. Today it may be a practice you don’t like, tomorrow it could be something that is close to your heart. The Hindu religion is a diverse bundle of cultural practices. And the scary thing is that none of these is protected by law. That’s why secularism is a scam.
Let me make this formal. There is a legal term called “essential practice of religion,” which the judiciary uses to test whether some form of religious expression is protected by secularism. The Supreme Court defines it as “the core belief upon which a religion is founded.”
Do you see the problem here? What is the core belief upon which Hinduism is founded? Does Hinduism have one god, one book and one prophet? Can you show me something that actually qualifies as “essential practice” of Hinduism?
So which aspect of Hindu religion does secularism protect? In short, nothing.
Let’s say that again. Secularism does not protect Hindu religion in any way, shape or form. Secularism is a scam.