Several authors have written about the reasons behind the disappointment of secularism in post-independence India, as well as its failure to achieve religious unity in the country. A variety of remedies have been proposed for the same, ranging from philosophical debates concerning divine interpretation to humanitarian self-preaching. Using a basic sociological construct, this article retraces the dilemma of secularism in India and attempts to come up with one feasible rational and value-neutral solution. It is also stated that promoting syncretism as a unifying factor would not lead to religious unity and that it is critical to take a practical and scientific approach to solve this problem. It is argued that, while being an ideology based on the merging of several religious identities, syncretism can never be used to promote unity.

Image by Pexels - Anuj Bansal

Religious Intolerance and Potential Remedies

When seeking to solve a problem that impacts the general public, an analytic and logically conclusive method should be greatly preferred. The benefits of utilising a logical approach aren’t explored here because it isn’t the point of this essay, although they have been wonderfully described in the past work ‘Religion as a Subject for Sociology’ of Beteille in 1992. Despite our rising appeal to scientific techniques for resolving human systems, we remain creatures with a bias and inclination towards specifically chosen ideologies, even the highest possible logic cannot imply complete emotional detachment. Nonetheless, value-neutrality remains the most treasured avenue for any sociological conversation, even though it might be difficult to attain in practice.

Religious enmity is one such societal problem that demands a rational solution. Since the age of two, the subcontinent has been plagued with religious division issues. In the current environment, the wounds of a community’s previous exploitation are the primary source of its rage. Justification is sought because community A has previously been abused by B, A and now has the right to exploit B. While the author is perplexed as to how community B can be held responsible for the conduct of its predecessors, community A’s logic vindicates their aggression. As a result, the problem of healing the wounds of past conflicts that persist in the psyche of the exploited population remains unsolved. Because doing so would prevent them from acting caustic in the present.

The next question is how we should go about doing it. This article discusses four methods for achieving religious concord. The text’s major goal remains to attack three of them and explain why, but in this supersonic perspective, only the fourth is a logically coherent strategy.

Should we adopt the philosophical approach that many modern-day “saints” do? “Let the various faiths exist, let them bloom, and let the glory of God be sung in all languages, in a variety of tunes that should be the ideal.” Respect religious differences and accept them as valid as long as they do not quench the torch of unity.” This strategy is founded on the idea of keeping non-religious activities separate from religious activities. This has been debunked in a work ‘Secularism in Its Place’ done by Madan, which shows how the sacred-secular duality in Orient religions is impossible to establish since the holy always subsumes the secular. Furthermore, this approach appears to be based on mysticism as a way of life rather than a solid, rational structural foundation. For the Geachean view of goodness as attributive rather than predictive, namely that goodness is always a question of relative placement in specific sorts of comparison classes, the belief that all persons are intrinsically good by nature is a subjective thing in and of itself. This spoils an objective, value-neutral debate of the argument, and a subjective approach will never branch into a rational one.

Another strategy is to emphasise the parallels between Hinduism and Islam to bridge the gap between the two religions. The goal of such an approach is to instil in the public, a sense of shared tradition while trivialising religious distinctions. As a result, A begins to perceive B as a fraction of B, with the remaining component originating from A. And, because B isn’t all that different from A, the animosity toward him diminishes. It should be highlighted that, unlike the previous approach, this one considers religious ideological differences to be the source of conflict. Thus, in the sense that it uses a causative method to explain the cause of the dispute along with religious differences and attempts a solution by minimising religious differences in thought, this thinking is partially not right. That would suggest bringing all different religious beliefs closer together as much as feasible, with perfect convergence implying that all religions are the same. The significantly differing religious beliefs of different faiths show the argument as invalid if one assumes a high degree of convergence; if one accepts even a moderate degree of convergence, the argument is later proven to be flawed.

Image by Pexels Sahil Prajapati

Syncretism as a means of achieving Hindu-Muslim harmony has been employed as a third approach. “The rishis who flourished later during the rule of Zainul Abidin carried the torch of humanism, religious tolerance, and Hindu-Muslim amity,” Burman writes of syncretism through Kashmir’s rishis. The ‘rishis’ wielded immense authority over the educated and illiterate by living humble lives of poverty, humility, service, and simplicity, standing aloof from political debates or governmental authorities. Many of them had names that were both Hindu and Muslim, making it impossible to tell if they were Hindu or Muslim.” The power of syncretic places and saints to draw adherents of both faiths and therefore unite them is the foundation of this approach. The author supports Peter van der Veer's argument against this reasoning, which is explained in the next section.

Syncretism and Religious Harmony

A Sufi shrine, such as the grave of Nizamuddin Auliya, cannot be viewed in isolation from other Islamic institutions, according to Van der Veer. In addition, a Sufi shrine and any other Islamic institution must be viewed in the same light. Madrasas, traditional mosques, and any extra theological schools of Islam are among the “other” institutes. However, common experience reveals that non-Islamic tourists accord Sufi shrines substantially more importance and respect than these other institutes, with the former being viewed for a sociologically inferior aim such as tourism. Van der Veer’s reasoning may appear to be faulty at first glance, given this blatant and highly public behaviour. However, the author will seek to demonstrate that this is not the case.

Because these Sufi shrines especially the tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya, the dargah at Ajmer Sharif, and so on are frequently seen as syncretic and thus religiously neutral sites, we’ll look at them one by one from both Hindu and Muslim perspectives. Syncretism is a term that refers to the merging of religions neutrally and descriptively. Many alternative meanings exist, such as Merriam-Webster’s description of it as “the blending of various traditions of belief or practise.” As a result, a syncretic site is a location where such a fusion is perceived to exist. The shrine of the 14th-century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Aliya in Delhi is a syncretic site that we got the opportunity to see. Due to its popularity, several notable historians and sociologists have investigated this shrine in the past. As a result, the author refrains from discussing the shrine’s location and physical characteristics. Those who emphasize the importance of syncretism in promoting religious unity argue that the presence of such structures contributes to the narrowing of religious divides between Hinduism and Islam. In this part, the author demonstrates how these shrines are not religiously neutral venues, and hence do not promote Hindu-Muslim unity. However, the author does not rule out the possibility that one of the effects they have is to promote unity. This is an important aspect to consider. Neither Hindu nor Muslim pilgrims attend a shrine because it promotes unity; as will be seen shortly, their reasons for visiting are opposed to the unity promotion notion. The fostering of unity, if it occurs at all, is a subsequent and unintended consequence.

The Hindu link with shrines is presented first. Eaton observes that Hindus visiting Baba Farid’s shrine at Pakpattan (Punjab, Pakistan) gave alms not out of religious obligation as Muslims do, but out of respect for a local institution, such as civic responsibility. As a result, there are significant disparities in the emphasis accorded by Hindu tourists to Sufi sites versus Muslim visitors. Furthermore, van der Veer has demonstrated that no syncretic location can be considered theologically superior to canonical worship sites, implying that shrines are religiously secondary entities in both Hindu and Muslim “pure” theology. Any shrine is a place of saint worship because it is, by definition, a memorial for the saint whose body (and soul) is cremated there. The argument here is in favour of Hindu polytheistic ideas and against monotheistic Islamic practices. However, it is impossible to dispute that the majority of Sufi preachers were Islamic.

Furthermore, as van der Veer has demonstrated, Hindus prefer the name samadhi to the Muslim term dargah for such locales. Sufi is also a phrase that is mainly associated with Muslim saints; Bhakti is the Hindu equivalent (movement). Second, no Hindus have ever been seen performing the ceremonies associated with these sites. We noticed that the Qawwali singers, the gatekeepers of the possessed chamber, the monks waving punkahs, and everyone else involved in sustaining the shrine’s daily rituals was all Muslims at the Nizamuddin shrine. Third, it was observed that the majority of Hindu visitors did not execute the traditional rose petal touching in the shrine interior, which was performed by practically all of the Muslims present. This observation cannot simply be explained by a lack of knowledge of the local traditions, because the same persons rapidly comprehend the parochial rites of a region when visiting a so-called Hindu shrine. Common sense dictates that all religions participate equally in a religiously neutral platform, which is not the case. As a result, there is a clear distinction between Hindu and Muslim customs, making the shrine comparable to any other Islamic institution.

To contradict the aforementioned logic, one could argue that if Hindus do not regard the shrine as having “non-touristic significance,” why do they continue to visit it with such intensity and excitement regularly? We noticed a large number of non-Muslims at the Nizamuddin shrine. Although the Hindus attribute enormous power to these sanctuaries, this power is mostly concerned with curing any illness or tragedy that has befallen them. Furthermore, it has been noted that the majority of these temples contain dispensaries like masjids. Both Hindus and Muslims have been spotted attending the Nizamuddin shrine as well as Ajmer Sharif. But why would a Hindu seek treatment for his sickness in a purportedly “non-Hindu” medical facility? Many Hindus believe that Muslims have authority over the spirit realm and that the malevolent spirits that have allegedly landed on the patient are Muslim. As a result, some people believe that only a Muslim can heal them. In Hindu belief, untouchables were once associated with exorcism, making saint worship a low and filthy practice. As a result, the motivations for a Hindu visiting this site appear to be more focused on corrupting it than on lobbying for unity.

The arguments in favor of shrines as an institution that is not consistent with Islamic philosophy are now presented. The main counter-argument is that shrines are centers of saint worship and hence mirror Hindu polytheistic thought. If this remark is proven to be erroneous, a union between Hinduism and Islam will be weakened, and the promotion of unity thinking would be hindered once more. That is still the goal. The Islamic tourists, on the other hand, are adamantly opposed to this viewpoint, claiming that saint worship is an orthodox practice. These practitioners make no arguments in favour of Hindu-Muslim oneness, and they reject that saint worship in this form is syncretic. It should be noted that while it is not stated that such actions do not foster unity, the purpose of Muslims visiting a shrine is not to create togetherness. Surprisingly, these practitioners do not claim that such syncretic behaviors constitute deviations from canonical religion.

This justifies the author’s support for Van der Veer’s assertions that such syncretism and communal cohesion have nothing to do with each other. Also, as a result of the preceding explanation, any shrine, whether Hindu or Muslim, cannot be treated on a higher hierarchical level of religious institutions. Another complicating factor is that the activities performed in a shrine do not fit into the realms of textual Hinduism or Islam. As a result, a shrine cannot be classified strictly into Hindu or Islamic thought.

Shrine Activism in Qawwalis

It was discovered that Qawwalis are sung at the temple every Thursday evening. Qawwalis are typically sung in honour or praise of God, who is depicted as a loved one, and a novice may misinterpret them as a loving verse. The Qawwalis, according to Dalrymple, are sacred love hymns chanted in praise of a saint. When the singing is heard, the dervish whirls slip into a trance and begin to sway.

This result is comparable to that seen in rock concert mosh pits, as fans begin head-banging and colliding with one another. However, a spectator was observed to have gone into this trance as a result of the Qawwalis in our observations. Consider the example of a rock concert. The spectator is the same subject in both scenarios. The cause is likewise similar: a spectator hears music and begins to dance or sway to the beat. The dance form may differ, however, this is due to the diverse musical genres. Furthermore, the observer is the one who is having the influence. The reaction is ascribed to a religious connotation at the shrine and a feeling of enjoyment from the music in the rock concert. Both should be assigned the same level of sociological relevance, whether non-religious or religious. The latter makes little sense (in the context of a rock concert), hence this trance effect should be presented to students in a non-religious manner. Otherwise, the formation of a competitive transactional agency between man and God becomes an issue. The stronger the shamanistic effect created, the higher the god’s authority is attributed- and thus different sects compete for dominance, leading to religious conflict once more. To avoid misunderstanding, an appropriate, value-neutral explanation of an occurrence (ecstasy) that is the result of a greater religious event is required. This will be covered in greater depth in a later section of the research.

Image by Pixabay / Clker

Mirza compares the Qawwalis and Bhakti movements as rival agencies, with each attempting to acquire a larger number of adherents in his work ‘A case study of centuries-old animosity that culminated in the partition of India.’ “Thinking Hindus could only see with dismay that their policy of denying spiritual food to the lower classes was driving them into the Muslim fold in the changed circumstances, and they also realized that the Sufi approach, with institutions like Qawwali producing religious ecstasy and fervor, as well as Muslim congregational prayers, made a more powerful appeal to the masses than Hindu Rishis’ meditations.” As a result, Kirtan processions were held in response to Qawwali, and all castes of Hindus, as well as non-Hindus, were welcomed into the new spiritual life. With Chaitanya's extraordinary organizing brilliance and ability to motivate men, the movement quickly moved from defense to offence. The Sufi and Bhakti movements did not emerge as forces to pacify the ostensibly antagonistic connections between Hinduism and Islam, according to Hamza and Mirza's thinking. Mirza's ideas, on the other hand, argue that the Bhakti movement's shamanistic agency. Kirtan is a result of the Sufi movement's alleged popular appeal through the Qawwali. To put it another way, the Bhakti movement resurrected itself by adapting to Sufi Qawwalis.

Following that, an analogy with Hinduism is made for Islamic text and context studies, as Hinduism has already been discussed by Singer. Many Islamic customs are prevalent in India but are dubious according to canonical Islam. Singer coined the term Sanskritic Hinduism to describe Canonical Hinduism, but the author can’t think of a matching term for Islam due to the word’s Hindu connotation. We saw several practices at the shrine, including saint adoration, the use of charms and amulets, and belief in the power of malevolent spirits (the chamber for the possessed). Because it is impossible to describe all of the shrine’s activities in detail in this space, the author has limited himself to a description of Qawwalis. Whether canonical Islam prohibits music is a sensitive question that has been hotly disputed in previous studies. Saint worship is also considered a dilution of Islamic monotheistic philosophy due to the nature of Sufism.

As a result, Sufism and the shrine’s activities are either a diluted form of Islam or a form that predates “true” Islam. Which of these is the correct version is a difficult question to answer the answer, in the author’s opinion, is purely subjective. Muslim pilgrims to the shrine, as previously stated, think that this is traditional Islam. They reject that it is syncretic and insist on the form’s whole truth value. Historians who focus on writing religiously neutral history, on the other hand, argue that this style arose as a “steam let off” from aggressive Islam. According to Dalrymple, it was the hermits who converted to Islam and therefore spawned a new mystical type of Islam as a reaction to Islam’s strict orthodox certainty. The focus on the word reaction is the argument’s self-explanatory crux. Both sides have compelling reasons in their favor. What interests us is that this popular Islam has captured the imagination of a vast population including Hindus and Muslims who visit the shrine, partake in its rituals, and fervently believe in its holy powers. These features allow us to retain the shrines in the context text of Islam’s uniting space, rather than firmly in either.

Seeking Solution

Consequently, we conclude that syncretic structures are misrepresented as agents of Hindu-Muslim religious concord. As previously stated, some historians who support the other viewpoint argue that recapturing the peaceful occurrences of these religions’ mutual crossings is critical in stressing Indian religious unity. They argue that putting more emphasis on peaceful pursuits like Sufism will be beneficial. We’ve already touched on Dalrymple’s viewpoints. According to the study of Singh and Quraishi in 2010; millions of Indians turned to Islam not by the sword, but through the influence of Sufism on the masses. He goes on to say that other saints such as Kabir, Tukaram, and Guru Nanak arose from the Sufi tradition and that India has a religious brotherhood built into it. However, the reader is reminded of Hamza and Mirza’s points of view, therefore there is no clear-cut answer for origins here.

Another point of view is shared by Amin, who calls for a non-religious interpretation of history that includes struggle and conquest. He claims that if you don’t do so, you’re merely telling half of the story. He stresses, however, that he does not want history to be repeated in a “corrected” fashion, but rather to make it more intricate and complicated—full of facts, notable figures, and belief systems. It is important to note that such unbiased reporting of historical “facts” has serious consequences.

A religiously neutral and secular minority community is considered as taking an ethically wrong stance and engaging in political foolishness. Conversely, a majority community emphasising the same cannot distinguish between religion and politics. In India, history texts created by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have been accused of being saffronized with Amin’s ideals, but this has remained a distant fantasy and a recounting of history in concordance. Despite the author’s wish to go deeper into this topic, space constraints prevent him from doing so, and his focus is returned to Amin. Amin’s position on such a recounting of history is, once again, logical: to understand the violence perpetrated by today’s majority group, we must examine how their memories have been created in the past. As a result, it is a sound, coherent argument rather than a vaguely structured meaningless ideology. Amin, on the other hand, tells us how he wants history to be repeated, but he doesn’t explain how he plans to achieve so.

There are a few exceptions, such as warrior saints like Ghazi Miyan, but we cannot write history only on a tiny number of cases. Furthermore, the author seriously doubts that such a retelling will be realistic, as a big portion of our population may be unable to comprehend Amin’s tremendous depth of thought. As a result, it is a sound, coherent argument rather than a vaguely structured meaningless ideology. Amin, on the other hand, tells us how he wants history to be repeated, but he doesn’t explain how he plans to achieve so. There are a few exceptions, such as warrior saints like Ghazi Miyan, but we cannot write history only on a tiny number of cases. Furthermore, the author seriously doubts that such a retelling will be realistic, as a big portion of our population may be unable to comprehend Amin’s tremendous depth of thought.

For example, in the current environment, violent occurrences are justified by the dominant group by citing examples from the past, so ‘legalising’ their behaviour. In the aftermath of the ostensibly brutal history of Islamic conquests of India, the Sufi movement is considered a welcome relief. However, as we’ve seen, even this ostensibly neutral movement isn’t pursuing religious neutrality. “Despite the efforts of saints, Sufis, and savants like Amir Khusro, a Chinese Wall divided the two populations.” This raises several issues regarding the nature of religious harmony in India and what it takes to promote it. We cannot rely on philosophical solutions as sociology students who accept the basic sociological premise that any explanation must be logically clear. We can’t expect Deus ex-machine (god from the machine) to fix our issues; this precludes the idea of a period when all religions recognise one other as equals. There will never be a holy utopian time. Perhaps the only viable and rational option is a neutral retelling of the past, in which violent and passive behaviours are recounted without emotional content. This necessitates instilling in future generations a value-neutral, non-communalized Marxist perspective of history. Take, for instance, the rationale for Islam’s aggression in the Indian subcontinent throughout the middle Ages.

Here presents a very basic Marxist explanation of the violent events that transpired in North India from the 12th century onward. Since the beginning of time, Arabs have fought to survive in the harsh living conditions of the Middle Eastern deserts. As a result, production and subsistence methods in that area were difficult to come by. The wandering nomads, led by Prophet Mohammad, began to seek out areas with superior agricultural yields, resulting in global conquest. Their cry may have been for a subdual to a common religion, but religion is a secondary reality to the means of production, as Marx points out. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx writes, “The history of all human civilizations is a history of class battles.” When the Arabs rose to power, they naturally took advantage of the work of others. Exploitation now takes numerous forms, including massacres, rape, violence, brutality, and so on. However, the primary motivation behind this exploitation is to gain income from the surplus generated by the labouring class, with religion coming in second. As a result, a Muslim killing a Hindu is motivated by economic gain rather than religion. Mahmud Ghazni used his Muslim soldiers to kill “idolaters” in India, and he was just as willing to use his Hindu soldiers to slaughter Muslims in Central Asia

Without assigning fingers, the reasons for today’s religious hatred must be explained. The reasons behind various prohibitions, taboos, and social traditions in particular religions are critical to grasping this concept. If one has grown up reading school textbooks that do not justify why the “Let the various faiths exist, let them bloom, and let the glory of God be sung in all languages, in a variety of tunes that should be the ideal.” Respect religious differences and accept them as valid as long as they do not quench the torch of unity.” caste system is necessary or why there is a sense of protest against it, it is clear that any average thinking person who has not studied history beyond high school will take these facts for granted for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, anyone who advocates for a value-neutral history is labelled a Marxist author, and anything with a Marxist ring to it is viewed with suspicion. Modern medicine and science are not frequently taught with a prejudiced viewpoint, but they are referred to as modern or scientific medical (or science) rather than Marxist medicine. The argument is that the entire past should be taught in a professional, logical, rational, and causal manner, rather than distinguishing between history and religious history. According to the author, this is the only rational foundation for resolving religious disagreements.


My modest opinion is that syncretism is not a viable instrument for promoting religious neutrality, particularly in the adversarial Indian setting. We’ve seen how ostensibly neutral venues like a Sufi shrine aren’t truly neutral, and how just speaking about such activities can only lead to a faulty, illogical view of Hindu-Muslim cooperation. Proclaiming internal reforms or making rhetorical reasons like urging brotherhood are sermons, not sociological viewpoints. We will have achieved our goal of religious unification only when a student can present causative historical arguments without becoming religiously prejudiced or biased.

.    .    .


  • Amin, Shahid. “On Retelling the Muslim Conquest of North India.” In History and the Present, by Partha Chatterjee and Anjan Ghosh. Delhi: Permanent Black, 2002.
  • Assadi, Muzaffar. “Threats to Syncretic Culture: Baba Budan Giri Incident.” (Economic and Political Weekly) 34, no. 13 (1999).
  • Beteille, Andre. “Religion as a Subject for Sociology.” Economic and Political Weekly (Economic and Political Weekly) 27, no. 35 (1992).
  • Burman, J.J. Roy. Hindu-Muslim syncretic shrines and communities. Mittal Publications, 2002.
  • Communalisation of Education. Delhi Historians Group, 2001.
  • Dalrymple, William. City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. Harpercollins, 1994.
  • Gohain, Hiren. “On Saffronisation of Education.” Economic and Political Weekly (Economic and Political Weekly), 2002: 4597-4599.
  • Gort, Jerald D, Hendrik Vroom, Rein Fernhout, and Anton Wessels. Dialogue and Syncretism: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Eerdmans Pub Co, 1 989.
  • Hamza, el. Pakistan: a nation. Lahore: Islamic Literature Publishing House, 1946. Madan, T.N. “Secularism in Its Place.” The Journal of Asian Studies, 1987: 747-759.
  • Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1964.
  • Mirza, Sarfaraz H. A case study (712-1947) of centuries-old animosity that culminated in the partition of India. Lahore: Nazaria-i-Pakistan Trust, 2009.
  • Nayyar, Adam. Origin and History of the Qawwali. Islamabad: Lok Virsa Research Centre, 1988. Nehru, Jawaharlal. “The Afghans Invade India.” In Glimpses of World History, by Jawaharlal Nehru, 240245. Penguin Books, 2004.
  • Prothero, Stephen. God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World. HarperOne, 2010.
  • Qureshi, Regula B. Sufi Music of India and Pakistan: Sound, Context and Meaning in Qawwali. University Of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • Sen, Ragini, and Wolfgang Wagner. “History, emotions and hetero-referential representations in intergroup conflict: The example of Hindu–Muslim relations in India.” (Papers on Social Representations) 14 (2005).
  • Seubert, Virginia. “Sociology and value neutrality: Limiting sociology to the empirical level.” The American Sociologist (The American Sociologist) 22, no. 3-4 (1991).
  • Shiloah, Amnon. “Music and Religion in Islam.” (Acta Musicological) 69 (1997).
  • Singer, Milton. “Text and Context in the Study of Contemporary Hinduism.” The Adyar Library Bulletin, 1961: 274-303.
  • Singh, Khushwant, and Humra Quraishi. Absolute Khushwant: The Low-Down On Life, Death And Most Things In-Between. 2010.
  • Veer, Peter Van der. “Syncretism, Multiculturalism, and the Discourse of Tolerance.” In Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis, by Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw. Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, 1994.