Taking cue from Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mssion, Indialogue Foundation organizes discussion on ‘Cleanliness in religions’
Indialogue Foundation organizes an annual iftar-dinner cum Interfaith Dialogue to enable followers of different faiths to talk, collaborate and live amicably, understand the views of different groups on various subjects, and share the common values and teachings, carried out in an atomospher of peace and openness, with love, respect and good intentions without any force or duress. Bilal Acikgoz, the suave dynamic president of Indialogue Foundation has, through his efforts, made this annual fixture an event to look out for. Foundation’s theme this year was ‘Cleanliness in Religions’, under inspiration form recently the most heavily highlighted campaign of ‘Swachh Bharat’. Needless to say, the luminaries and thinkers of religion and interfaith were present to express their views. Read on…
Cleanliness has become a buzz word today, courtesy Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Government through its various ministries is spending crores of rupees to achieve this task. Majority of people are hopeful we will be able to achieve our objective by the stipulated date of October 2nd, 2019. But the question that still lurks behind some of our minds is whether this task will indeed be achieved, considering the various impediments that rig the path.
Question is why we, a country with five centuries plus a great civilization and boasting of having followers of all the major religions of the world, have not moved ahead in this direction till now. Do our religions really focus on the subject of the cleanliness? If yes, where lies the focus? Discussion on this important subject was initiated at the behest of Indialogue Foundation in its Annual Interfaith Dialogue followed by Iftar Dinner, where scholars and experts of various religions spoke on the subject of ‘Cleanliness in Religions’, under inspiration from recently the most heavily highlighted campaign of ‘Swachh Bharat’. Indialogue Foundation seeks inspiration from US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is now having estranged relationships with present Turkish Government, which is seeking his extradition. The Foundation which works to facilitate interfaith understanding and communication has been organizing similar events since its inception in 2009.
Bilal Acikgoz, the President of Indialogue Foundation is of view that cleanliness is the major focus of most world religions and traditions. Quran highlights on purity of soul, heart and body. Islam has uniquely stressed on the subject of cleanliness when Prophet Mohammad said that purity and cleanliness is half of the faith. Islam gives great stress on both physical and spiritual cleanliness. From washing face, hands and feet five times a day as preparation for mandatory prayers, in the name of wudu, to various prescribed baths on various occasions, and keeping the surroundings clean, Islam also stresses on inner purification through seeking roohani or spiritual elevation and attaining purity through eradicating all evil thoughts and nature from mind in the name of Allah. It is the constant remembrance of the God in various acts that lead to spiritual elevation and thus spiritual purity. Roza or fasting is an example where the believer attempts to rid himself of all evils of body, mind and senses. Thus cleanliness has to take place in totality and not merely physically.
Cleanliness is very important facet that is highlighted in all religions. Being unclean is seen with contempt. Hinduism too has several prescribed ritual baths for various occasions. Hindus wash their feet before entering the temples. There are other rituals too that highlight cleanliness. Swachh Bharat campaign will really reach out to the masses when the campaign focusses through temples, mosques, madrasas, churches, synagogues and draws religious inspiration.
Swami Shantatmanand too is of view that the idea of cleanliness is centric to all religions. Swachhata or Cleanliness is one of the prerequisites of abhyasa yoga and a lot of stress has been put on it. Similarly the practice of taking bath before going to temple of before any important occasion or puja seeks to clean the physical body. Most religions talk of this journey from gross to subtle, so by way of observances, washing oneself, putting on clean clothes, similar rituals are followed by more and more inward journey towards attaining purity. Only the pure can really search God. Great emphasis is laid on internal purity. Similar to the practice of Karsewa, there is a similar practice among Hindus as well where devotees render service in temples. Physical purity like baths, putting on clean clothes, keeping the temples clean, etc. lead the adherent to inward journey towards purity.
In religious utterances, for example puja, stress is on cleaning external and internal parts. There are elaborate practices in various pujas, where different limbs of body are associated with different gods and goddesses and appropriate mantras are chanted thereby the worshipper becomes completely pure. Just as in Islamic concept of fasting, various fasts have been prescribed among the Hindus too. Fasting is not only to abstain from but it is to restrain the sense organs from their outward journey by making them inward-seeking. On Shivratri, the entire night of fasting is prescribed. Fasting is accompanied by lot many practices like meditating, prayers, japa, etc. Idea is that our body, which is the greatest impediment in self-realization, need to be conditioned through voluntary abstaining from food and we try to gain greater control over senses. Islam too prescribes lot of prayers, reading of Holy Quran and other such practices during fasting. All these practices are actually meant to help us evolve spiritually and move ahead in our inward journey.
Cleanliness of body is essential for cleanliness of mind, thus making us evolve as a spiritual person. It gives us insight to understand other religions which are actually trying to reach the same goal through various different paths. Ultimate goal is to reach supreme peace, supreme tranquillity and supreme contentment.
Dr. MD Thomas, Chairman and Director of Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, is of view that fasting makes us evolve as a better human being. It is an occasion to clean ourselves in mind, body, heart and spirit and also in our thoughts, words, sentiments and attitudes.
When we talk of cleanliness, normally our mind goes to ritual cleanliness. Though ritual cleanliness is important, Jesus has stressed more on internal cleanliness. He said, blessed are those who are pure in heart for they shall see God. Thus, to see God, purity of heart is essential. Cleanliness of body and mind is surely needed but also the cleanliness of concepts and understanding; that is why Jesus said what you do to other human beings, you actually do that to God.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is not just for government to achieve. Every human being has to contribute. Cleanliness will have to come out of the churches or places of worship like temples, gurudwaras, etc. and come to streets, parks, roads and our neighbourhood. Roughly half of our country is garbage. I wonder why religions, with their focus on cleanliness, have not inspired us to keep our surroundings clean. Religion will have to inspire and motivate us and come down to our ordinary lives otherwise it will only continue to talk of ritual purity whereas we will continue to live in filth and garbage.
Dr. MM Verma of Interfaith Foundation too opines cleanliness can be cleaning the physical body as well as the internal body. Roza or fasting is one means to achieve that. Clean mind and clean heart is absolute condition to achieve the desired goals. Kingdom of God is within us but God resides only in pure and clean hearts. So if we wish to see God, we will have to clean our heart.
Swami Nikhilanand of Chinmaya Mission is of view that one who has clean mind attain God. Cleanliness is next to godliness. It just does not mean outer environment but also cleanliness of our mind. If our mind is clean, it is easier for us to clean the outer world also. Cleanliness when it happens in the mind will lead to outer cleaning as well. We might talk of external dirt but real dirt is within our mind. If there is too much craving in the mind, it disturbs the outer environment also, resulting in pollution, and exploitation of nature. We want more and more, which is leading to severe societal problems. These impurities need to be cleaned. Fasting, not only prescribed among Muslims but in all other religions, is a beautiful means to clean body and mind. It helps us detach from various worldly lingering, and if truly practiced, may lead to cleanliness of heart as well as the surroundings.
Patanjali Yogshastra has talked of five niyams, one of which is ahimsa. Ahimsa could be being non-violent towards our environment and surroundings as well. The principle is that if we give something, it will return to us. Similarly, if we give uncleanliness, it will also return to us. Another basic principle is the thought that everything belongs to God. The air and water we take are not our creation. We should be grateful to God for these and one of the signs of being grateful is that we return it in the manner in which it was delivered to us. Hinduism talks of worshiping nature in the same sense. Worshiping means caring and being understanding. We remove the dirt from our homes and through it out because we feel it does not belong to us. But if we are grateful, we won’t do that. Another concept is aparigraha, not to won more than what is required. The fact that we are doing this is leading to imbalance of nature. One should try to possess as less as possible. If we develop this attitude, it will help environment as well. Worst thing that the humans have discovered is garbage. There is no garbage in nature. This creation of garbage too is consequence of our consumerist nature. Concept of Brahmcharya too means we must carry minimum in us, not only in outer possession but in the heart as well. If we do this, we will be able to see God and there will be happiness in our lives.
Mary Pat Fisher of Gobind Sadan, where people from different religions work, live and worship together, is of opinion that the aim of all activities prescribed by various religions is to clean our mind. The real temple of God is within us. The Noor or Light of God will shine and reflect in us only when we clean ourselves from within. As per the Sikh traditions, if the body is unclean it can be cleaned with soap but if the mind is dirty, it can only be cleaned with the colour of God i.e. the name of God. Cleaning with the colour of God is to be saturated with the love of God so much so that all external influences do not matter and the person’s starts showing the traits of godliness.
Prof. Akhtarul Wasey is of view that all religions in the world have come with only one express purpose, i.e. to clean. Cleanliness not only from outside, of roads and houses, but to clean the man of inferiority complex, satanic thoughts and bad behaviour. All religions are united on this. Islam stresses a lot on cleanliness. Prophet Mohammad even described it as half of the faith. Ramazan is an attempt to cleanse ourselves, to train ourselves not under the duress of Governmental pressure but to cleanse ourselves internally and externally for the sake of remembrance of God. Fasting in the month of the Ramazan is a training for acquiring righteous traits and good habits that help a man cleanse oneself of all things that create problems in the society.
Rabbi Malekar, the rabbi of Delhi synagogue talk of cleanliness by saying that when we get up early in the morning, before doing the prayers, we are commanded to wash our hands. Only then we seek blessings of God who has enjoined us with cleaning of heart. When Moss went on Mount Sina and God asked Moses to remove his sandals, it meant he had to go with clear heart removing all preconceived notions of mind and go to the heart with clean heart.
There is great stress on purity in Judaism. The bath during menstrual period and other ritual baths like when we visit the cremation or burial ground are examples. Judaism stresses on cleaning all food, even vegetarian food. Fasting too has been prescribed as a means to attain purity.
Government is talking of cleaning the Ganges. It is unfortunate that despite such a great stress on cleanliness, all the discharge from toilets and bathrooms of thousands of ashrams in Rishikesh and Haridwar end up going into the Ganges. As Gandhi ji said, if you want to see change in the world, you must bring the change.
Prof. J.S. Rajput avers of the need for attitudinal transformation, if success is to be attained in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It is not possible to attain attitudinal transformation by putting up hoardings or advertisements or giving speeches. Long term attitudinal generational transformation can be achieved only through education. And religion is one of the tools to bring about attitudinal transformation. That is why I am of opinion that basics of all religions must be taught to a child in school. He will not only know about need to achieve internal and external purity and will result in his transformation into a wholesome individual.
To sum up, RNI talked to renowned scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan to know his views on the subject. Says the Maulana: Cleanliness is a law of nature. Every part of nature is perfectly clean, for example the flowing water, flowers and trees. Islam is din al-fitrah, that is, a religion of nature. Therefore, Islam attaches great importance to cleanliness. Islam requires every man and woman to become Mr Clean and Ms Clean. They should strive to maintain cleanliness in their homes and society.
According to a verse in the Quran, “God loves those who keep themselves clean.” (2:222) Similarly, the Prophet of Islam has said: At-tuhur shatr al-iman (Sahih Muslim) That is, ‘Cleanliness is a part of faith.’ Another saying of the Prophet in this regard is: ‘Indeed God is pure and loves the pure. He is clean and loves cleanliness.’ (Tirmidhi)
In Islam cleanliness is a comprehensive concept—it involves purity of the heart, mind and speech and purity in dealing, in individual and social conduct. In other words, cleanliness includes everything from the body to the soul.
The culture of cleanliness first leads to a clean individual, then a clean family and society and finally, a clean nation. Thus, the entire human life becomes clean.
Cleanliness gives rise to clean ethics. Where there is cleanliness higher ethics automatically come into play—thus values such as good behaviour, honesty, and dutifulness find encouragement. The truth is that cleanliness is a comprehensive idea, one which covers all the activities of human life.
By Aziz Haider [for RNI/BureaucracyIndia.net]