For the past few days I’ve been writing about all the good things about ISIL, how they are honestly trying to do God’s work and everything, as if this outfit should somehow become acceptable. By the modern standards, however, their complete disregard for human lives and exceptional cruelty should rule out any compromises whatsoever. Should we care about modern standards? Not really, but that doesn’t mean that we should be any less critical about ISIL’s barbarism. Ideally, we should be able to disqualify them on religious grounds but that is not so easy.
Well meaning atheists and their supporters apply a very simple logic – ISIL kills a lot of innocent people and therefore it cannot represent religion. Those atheists who won’t give religion any credit would argue that ISIL is a perfect example that religions, and especially Islam, are evil. We, as devotees, need to find a better ground for our judgment than that, preferably with śāstric quotes, but we don’t have any about Islam.
If ISIL was an offshot of Hinduism we would have nailed them down a long time ago but ISIL are Muslims, we have no idea what goes on in that religion and how to tell its real and sincere followers from their “apa-sampradāyas”. Our basic test of sincerity, starting with four regs, is too high and so no Muslim would ever pass it. After what people like Aurangazeb did to Vṛndāvana we will never have a soft spot for that religion, too. For us his rule was like what ISIL is for Middle East now. Whatever religious arguments he might have had for his destruction of our temples we will never find them acceptable.
So, is there any real spiritual component to ISIL and their brand of “varṇāśrama”? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, they talk about God. They might not use the “best” aspects of Godhead, in a sense that their version of God is too vengeful and cold hearted, but they still talk about God. Their God’s name might not be authorized in our scriptures but they still mean the creator and the controller of the universe who is beyond the perception of the material senses and who should be the sole object of human devotion. However crippled their understanding might be, it’s still God. So, how could this God allow His followers to commit such atrocities in His name?
As I said, the common answer is that that they can’t be doing God’s work and their version of Islam is a gross deviation. When I read explanations why it’s a deviation, however, I wasn’t totally convinced. They seemed to argue about details, pretty much like we would argue about implementation of the laws of Manu. And, as I said, we don’t know Islam well enough to pass our own judgment on what is true and what is false there, so we need a different approach.
I have a little theory that all successful deviations must split from the main tree very close to the roots. I have no proof of that, it’s just a theory, it explains some cases better than alternatives and that’s all I have.
It goes like this – when a sincere follower starts to deviate from the path Kṛṣṇa, at first, doesn’t take his mistakes seriously. We all are bound to do some stupid things under the influence of the modes of nature, no big deal, api cet su-durācāro and all that (BG 9.30). When, however, the living entity expresses deeper commitment to the pursuit of deviating ideas Kṛṣṇa actually helps them deviate (BG 7.21):
As soon as one desires to worship some demigod, I make his faith steady so that he can devote himself to that particular deity.
The verse says “demigod” but it’s the principle that matters. In the previous śloka Kṛṣṇa spoke about people who lost their knowledge because they have material desires, meaning deviants from the path of pure, selfless devotion. These people then surrender to other devatās, and that’s where “demigod” comes from in the just quoted verse.
The point is, when the living entity makes a conscious decision to pursue any other path but unadulterated devotion, Kṛṣṇa helps him to fulfill that desire. To succeed on that path takes time, karma doesn’t work instantly, so when we see a successful deviant we must keep that in mind. What we see at that moment is the fruit of his deviation, not its case, which we must trace further back in time, close to the roots.
Rittviks of Bangalore are now building the tallest temple in Vṛndāvana, for example (as far as I understand from the news). If their project is complete we might feel there’s something wrong with it but it won’t tell us what was wrong with rittviks in the first place. We could say “these dudes are so vain”, we could say “these dudes value money and material achievements over Vraja mood of devotion”, we could say so many things, but I bet we wouldn’t be able to figure out that they were actually rittviks just by looking at the temple.
I suppose we could conclude that vanity, pride, and desire to be better devotees than others is at the core of rittvikism and it would probably be correct because all these things are interconnected and feed off each other, it’s a chicken and egg dilemma, but my point is that to find the actual religious deviation we should look past the visible results and back into the history, close to the philosophical roots.
In case of ISIL, the success is obviously there because they achieved what no other Islamic group could achieve in hundreds and hundreds of years – start a caliphate. The last caliphate, Ottoman Empire, was a successor to the previous ones, they didn’t start it from scratch, so, perhaps, we are talking about something really unprecedented in history of modern Islam. The root of their deviation, however, is hidden from us and we don’t know Islam well enough to dig it up. I’m sure something went wrong, however.
One possible reason is that this group of Muslims is too concerned with ruling the actual world. They are too attached to varṇāśrama, so to speak, they see it as the ultimate goal rather than a first step which might not be even necessary. We have ideas like that in our movement, too, carried by the “fifty-percenters” – devotees who think that now, after building a world wide preaching movement, our next step should be building varṇāśrama, even though ideally it should be the other way around. The debate whether old rules like the ones found in laws of Manu should be followed or not, and if yes, then how, is also all too common.
There’s a similar split in the Islamic world, too, and that’s something I haven’t mentioned when I talked about recent Atlantic’s article about ISIL. Most salafist, the sect ISIL nominally belongs to, interpret Dar-al-Islam, the land of Islam, to mean spiritual place and spiritual practice, not necessarily an actual state enforcing paradise on Earth. They see the excesses of trying to establish control over the land and create this caliphate thing as being detrimental to their spiritual progress. They see this war and its associated killings as a loss of their spiritual purity, and that’s something they value more than transient control over a piece of land.
We can relate to this argument, too – we need to reject anything that is unfavorable to our service. I mean, varṇāśrama needs kṣatriyas and kṣatriyas have their own code of conduct that would be incompatible with ours. They are not vegetarians, they drink and gamble, too. We are not going to train our devotees to do any of that, no matter how dear and important varṇāśrama might appear to some of us.
So, if we were to pick up sides in this great inter-Islam struggle, we should, perhaps, pick those who say that all this brutal fighting over land and pride of being in the Caliphate are completely misplaced and detrimental to pursuit of actual spiritual progress. I could only add that it doesn’t mean siding with those who strive to make Islam compatible with comfortable lives in atheistic societies either, those Muslims are clearly wrong, too.