Meet these Muslim ‘pandits’ of Sanskrit
The students of Banaras Hindu University who were protesting against Dr Feroz Khan’s appointment as Sanskrit teacher because “a Muslim can’t teach Sanskrit” should meet Pandit Ghulam Dastagir Birajdar.
The 85-year-old Mumbaikar, former general secretary of Vishwa Sanskrit Pratisthan in Varanasi, and presently chairman of committee to prepare school textbooks for Sanskrit in Maharashtra, has such command over language that he is often asked by Hindus to solemnise marriages, preside over pujas or perform last rites. Even though he declines such requests, he has taught many Hindus to perform Hindu rituals.
“All my life I have promoted Sanskrit and taught it at different places, including at BHU where I have delivered many lectures. Nobody ever told me that Muslims should not teach it,” says a shocked Birajdar on telephone from Pune where he is attending a textbook committee meeting. “On the contrary, big scholars of Sanskrit admire and applaud me for my love for the ancient language.”
A certified pandit who also received a citation from former President Dr K R Narayanan, Birajdar is among several Muslims in India who have bucked the trend and studied and taught Sanskrit. To them, the Vedic principle ‘Ekam brahma dutia nasti’ (God is one and there is none except Him) is the truth also enshrined in the Quranic declaration of ‘La illaha illallah’ (there is no God but God).
Bitten by civil services bug, Dr Meraj Ahmed Khan had studied Sanskrit in college and university, topping Patna University in both BA and MA. Today, this son of a police inspector is an associate professor of Sanskrit at Kashmir University.
“What we teach in universities is modern Sanskrit which has nothing to do with religion,” says Khan, adding he was never discriminated against for being a Muslim scholar of Sanskrit. “Since the original sources to understand India’s cultural heritage is in Sanskrit, many Muslims learn it. Over 50% of students in our department are Muslims. There has been no discrimination in appointment of teachers here,” says Dr Khalid Bin Yusuf, a former head of Sanskrit at AMU. “My Muslim students are teaching at different universities.”
AMU Sanskrit department’s chairman, Prof Mohammed Shareef, says Sanskrit is perceived as a “scoring” subject for UPSC exams and, hence, the interest. “If they don’t qualify in UPSC, there is always the chance to become a teacher,” says Shareef, one of the first Muslims to have received a DLitt in Sanskrit (from Allahabad University). “No one has a divine right on learning any language.”
Many Muslims also learn Sanskrit because they want to use the knowledge of it to bring Islam and Hinduism closer through comparative studies of the Quran and Hindu scriptures and to know about Indian civilisation. Dr Mohammed Haneef Khan Shastri says former President Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma was so impressed with his Sanskrit that he gave him the title of Shastri. He retired as associate professor from Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan in Delhi in 2016.
Shastri says he wanted to find the commonalities between Sanatan Dharma’s books and the Quran and Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad).
“If I had not studied Sanskrit, I would not have truly understood and appreciated the meaning of vasudhaiva kutumbkum (entire world is a family). The Prophet also said that there should be no discrimination among people on the basis of colour and creed,” says Khan. +Shastri says it’s unfortunate that some think it’s their birthright to study Sanskrit. “It is the same mindset which is at work in the protest against Feroz Khan.”
Courtesy : TNN