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On the conversions of Gandhi's son to Islam

On the conversions of Gandhi's son to Islam

(Selected writings of Gandhi)
compiled by SUNIL SHARMA
Published by Gandhi Book center, Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal, Mumbai- 400 007.


The newspaper report that about a fortnight ago my eldest son Harilal, now nearing fifty years, accepted Islam and that on Friday last 29th May in the midst of a large congregation in the Juma Masjid at Bombay he was permitted to announce his acceptance amid great acclamation and that after his speech was finished, he was besieged by his admirers who vied with one another to shake hands with him. If his acceptance was from the heart and free from any worldly considerations, I should have no quarrel. For I believe Islam to be as true a religion as my own.

But I have the gravest doubt about his acceptance being from the heart or free from selfish considerations. Every one who knows my son Harilal, knows that he has been in the habit of visiting houses of ill fame. For some years he has been living on the charity of friends who have helped him unstintingly. He is indebted to some Pathans from whom he had borrowed on heavy interest. Up to only recently he was in dread of his life from his Pathan creditors in Bombay. Now he is the hero of the hour in that city. He had a most devoted wife always forgave his many sins including his unfaithfulness. He has three grown up children, two daughters and one son, whom he ceased to support long ago.

Not many weeks ago he write to the press complaining against Hindus- not Hinduism- and threatening to go over to Christianity or Islam. The language of the letter showed quite clearly that he would go over to the highest bidder. That letter had the desired effect. Through the good offices of a Hindu councilor, he got a job in Nagpur municipality. And he came out with another letter to the Press about recalling the first and declaring emphatic adherence to his ancestral faith.

But, as events have proved, his pecuniary ambition was not satisfied and in order to satisfy that ambition, he has embraced Islam. There are other facts which are known to me and which strengthen my inference.

When I was in Nagpur in April last, he had come to see me and his mother and he told me how he was amused by the attention s that he were being paid to him by the missionaries of rival faiths. God can work wonders. He has been known to have changed the stoniest hearts and turned sinners into saints, as it were, in a moment. Nothing will please me better than to find that during the Nagpur meeting and the Friday announcement he had repented of the past and had suddenly become a changed man having shed the drink habit sexual lust.

But the Press reports give no such evidence. He still delights sensation and in good living. If he had changed, he would have written to me to gladden my heart. All my children have had the greatest freedom of thought and action. They have been taught to regard all religions with the same respect that they paid to their own. Harilal knew that if he had told me had found the key to a right life and peace in Islam, I would have put no obstacles in his path. But no one of us, including his son now, twenty-four years old and who is with me, knew anything about the event till we saw the announcement in the Press.

My views on Islam are well known to the Mussalmans who are reported to have enthused over my son's profession. A brotherhood of Islam has telegraphed to me thus, " Expect like your son you truth-seeker to embrace Islam truest religion of world."

I must confess that all this has hurt me. I sense no religion spirit behind this demonstration. I feel that those who are responsible for Hiralal's acceptance to Islam did not take the most ordinary precautions they ought to have in a case of this kind. Harilal's apostacy is no loss to Hinduism and his admission to Islam a source of weekness to it, as I apprehend, he remains the same wreck that he was before.

Surely conversion is a matter between man and Maker who alone knows His creatures' hearts. And conversion a clean heart is, in my popinion, a denial of God and religion. Conversion without cleanness of heart can only be a matter for sorrow, not joy, to a godly person.

"Yaadon ke Jharokhe se" (Through the Windows of Memory)
Shivnath Sharma, Page 28-29
(Translated from original Hindi.)

This incident dates back to 1936-37 when I was a student in Kanpur's DAV college and was preparing for the law examination. I used to live in the college hostel.

Inter-community relations in Kanpur of those times had reached their nadir. People still had fresh in their minds the memories of the big Hindu-Muslim riots. The embers of communal hatred were being fanned by the so-called "community leaders" on both sides.

On one side there was this Maulana Bukhari, fond of giving long speeches, thoroughly quenched in communal venom. People of a certain community used to regularly attend his meetings and encourage him at intervals by shouting incendiary slogans. Typically, these meetings concluded with the bringing of a few persons, purportedly Hindus, on the podium, wishing to embrace Islam. They were made to recite the Kalama (affirmation of faith, required of those embracing Islam), and were thus ceremonially inducted into the ranks of the believers.

Often times, Hindus too used to convene retaliatory meetings, which were equally inciting.

Not only did the authorities make absolutely no effort to curb such gatherings, but in actuality they tacitly encouraged them. The reasons were clear. The independence movement was in full swing, and the calculated policy of the government was to weaken it by keeping Muslims and Hindus in a perpetual state of warfare.

Just about that time Mahatma Gandhi's son Hiralal Gandhi was making news. Whether it was because of his illustrious father's indifference towards him, or any other reason, he had fallen into the abyss of degradation. He had become addicted to alcohol and women. His moral character had plummeted to the gutter level. Some Muslim fanatics saw their opportunity to slander the Mahatma, fanned the fires in the son by assisting him in his evil desires. A a prelude, he was coaxed into Islam and given a new name: Abdullah Gandhi. Then he was made a show-piece at Muslim gatherings all over India. Wherever he was exhibited, the Muslim slogan used to be: "Today the son has known the true religion of Islam, tomorrow we shall make Gandhi (M.K.) recite the Kalama."

How could Kanpur be immune to this malady? As expected, with great fanfare Abdullah Gandhi, alias Hiralal was brought to Kanpur and was show-cased in a mammoth meeting. The same slogans- "The Son Today, the Father Tomorrow" were repeated. Then in accordance with the usual routine of previous meetings, some imposters and hired characters posing as Hindus took the Islamic oath, and were ceremonially inducted into Islam. The meeting then formed into a procession. I had the chance to watch this procession with a few of my friends from a close angle.

The procession was fairly big, and passed raucously through the important thoroughfares of the city, shouting inflammatory slogans. The centerpiece was, of course, Abdullah Gandhi sitting in an open 'Buggy' (horse drawn carriage). On either side of him was a man holding him for support because he was heavily drunk. He was wearing a pair of loose pyjamas, black 'sherwani' topped by a Sheikh Abdullah style fur cap. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was swinging under the influence. When the procession passed through Moolganj (the red-light district of Kanpur) the scene became hilarious. On both sides of the road, on the balconies and rooftops, the prostitutes turned out to watch the spectacle. Our 'hero' Abdullah Gandhi bowing to them, was sending his 'Salaams' through the air, which were profusely reciprocated to by the ladies of the night. At one spot, while doing his Salaams, Abdullah lost his balance and rolled to the floor of the carriage. His facilitators somehow lifted  him up and put him back in his seat.

Needless to say, my heart filled with grief and indignation over the tragic fall of a great man's offspring.

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