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Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism in Louis Massignon's appropriation of Gandhi as a modern saint.

Louis Massignon (1883-1962) has been called "the single most influential figure [in the twentieth century] in regard to the church's relationship with Islam." (1) He is responsible, among Catholics, for designating Islam an "Abrahamic Faith,"(2) and there is growing consensus among scholars that his tireless research, esteem for Islam and for Muslims, and cultivation of key students in Islamic studies largely prepared the way for the positive vision of Islam articulated in Lumen gentium and Nostra aetate at the Second Vatican Council. (3) His efforts have inspired not only academic but also spiritual initiatives in Christian-Muslim dialogue, (4) and his name continues to be associated with projects dedicated to hospitality, to justice, and to concern for the immigrant or stranger, all virtues central to his project. (5) Less well known are Massignon's reflections on religions outside the Abrahamic community, especially his indebtedness in the last years of his life to the work and activism of M. K. Gandhi (1869-1948), a man he considered a saint.

There is no doubt about the centrality of Gandhi in Massignon's life. As Mary Louise Gude noted, "if Charles de Foucauld had exemplified how to live out the radical faith which had first attracted Massignon to Hallaj, the life of Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated how to integrate such a faith with the struggle for political and social justice." (6) In this sense, it was fitting that Guy Harpigny referred to the final years of Massignon's life and work as his "Gandhian cycle." (7) Therefore, drawing upon Massignon's several texts on Gandhi and building upon an earlier piece by Paolo Dall'Oglio, this essay focuses on the complicated dynamics of the invocation of Gandhi, an Indian Hindu, by Massignon, a French Latin (later Melkite) Catholic who was concerned for Catholic-Muslim understanding, in his later writings. (8)

It does so in seven sections. After providing as background a brief account of Massignon's meetings with Gandhi, I address two aspects of Gandhi's program that particularly inspired Massignon, namely, his emphasis on the notion of "vow" and his efforts toward interreligious fraternity. (9) Because Gandhi was working toward Hindu-Muslim fraternity, and because it was largely Gandhi's hospitality toward Muslims that endeared him to Massignon, I next include a few words about Gandhi's connections to Islam and then examine the key attribute of God for which both Gandhi and Massignon, through Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, expressed keen devotion, namely, truth. I then address Gandhi's actual lived Hinduism vis-a-vis Massignon's efforts to see in Gandhi a monotheist, perhaps even a sort of latent Muslim. Finally, I conclude by acknowledging the limitations of Massignon's "orientalism" but assert that one can still draw lessons from the Massignon-Gandhi relationship about the potential for affirming some, if not all, of the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of one's interreligious interlocutors. My overarching concern is to establish how it was that "Louis Massignon ..., in his final years, found in Mahatma Gandhi ... a complete and complementary expression of his own views on a truly 'evangelical' attitude towards Islam, in the framework of a comprehensive view of the entire history of humanity." (l0)

I. Background

Massignon first learned about Gandhi in 1919 when some Indian Muslim students presented him with the text of Gandhi's Satyagraha pledge. Massignon was so struck by it that he asked Jacques Maritain to publish it, and he even reproduced it himself in 1921 in the journal he edited, Revue du Monde Musulman, "showing its main accordance with Islam." (11) Massignon finally met Gandhi at Paris twice in 1931, and then, on a trip to India in 1945, he tried to visit Gandhi again. However, because the latter had been imprisoned, the meeting was denied. It is clear that Massignon was profoundly affected by the example of Gandhi. He published at least five articles on his ideas or biography, and in 1954 he accepted the position of President of the Friends of Gandhi (Les Amis de Gandhi), an institution dedicated to disseminating the views of Gandhi throughout Europe. (12) It is also clear that Massignon paid close attention to the events of Gandhi's life, (13) as well as to his works. (14) Although he never offered a detailed commentary on any one of Gandhi's writings (at least to my knowledge), he often cites several Gandhian themes--for example, vow, justice, truth, nonviolence, hospitality--as being of great importance to him. One must presume that it was his reading of Gandhi's writings (cited in note 11, above) and their two meetings at Paris that informed his understanding of those themes. One awaits a fuller and properly historical study in order to establish key details, including when exactly Massignon was reading particular texts by Gandhi.

II. Vow as the Basis for Hospitality

The importance of vow in Massignon's thought is unmistakable. It grounds his understanding of personal sanctification, which always involves both an interior and an exterior process and which is exemplified in the case of the saint who gives his or her life completely in self-sacrificial love. The interior process is that by which God prepares and effects the vocation of the saint. Vocation is expressed via a vow, which opens one to the unexpected and begins the "feminine sacralization of the soul," which means the soul is ready to consent to and to receive both God and "her" destiny. Hence, the soul is opened to the "beyond." The exterior process involves the conditions or destiny in which that vocation unfolds and by means of which the vocation is revealed. Destiny is expressed via an oath; it is "virile," and it culminates in a "legal sanction." The essential thing is that in the extreme, and therefore saintly, case the two processes join in sacrificial death (mort sacrificielle). (15) For Massignon there is a spiritual Law, corresponding to the interior and exterior processes just described, inherent in the universe. Jesus is the archetype who reveals "the Law," which is explained entirely by the mysterious sign of the Cross, but others may participate in the Law, even non-Christians. (16) Gandhi was one such example. His life fit the trajectory sketched by Massignon, and the vocabulary he used to describe his own spiritual life--particularly his emphases on vow and hospitality--was in part adopted by Massignon.

According to Massignon's reading of Gandhi, "'technique' is contradictory to 'vow.' As compassion, the vow is essentially desire for God, and God alone can satisfy it in us. Beyond the Law (dharma), there is Grace (bakhti), which alone can deepen our return to our origins in the One." (17) Elsewhere, he elaborated, "God is the essence of the vow," for "God, who is immortal, renders incorruptible the fragile body [and] the timid word of he who believes in Him alone." (18) For Gandhi, and thus for Massignon, vow is an essentially religious category, which is akin to "vocation." Gandhi's work on behalf of justice was a "calling," and, in Massignon's opinion, Gandhi's vow of Satyagraha, his commitment to nonviolence in the face of injustice, was, like Mary's response to the divine fiat, both a consent to and cooperation with God. A vow is never a means to escape the world (as a caricature of Catholic monastic life might suggest); rather, if authentic, it plunges the subject headlong into the world in order to meet and to be a vehicle by which God heals suffering. It is also effective: "Gandhi audaciously proved to me, by his brilliant moral victories, that the vow of Satyagraha was viable, and that non-violence was the virtue, not of cowards, but of heroes. That is his exemplarity as a Hindu. He revealed to the world the secret of India." (19)

That last sentence suggests that the idea of vow, vrata in Sanskrit, is a profoundly Indian concept, one that Gandhi came to realize in much the same way that Massignon--and the early Sufis whom he studied--came to understand the importance of key qur'anic concepts, namely, by meditating on key words, by experimenting with and interiorizing their meaning, by a process of istinbat. ("chewing" and "swallowing") (20): "Usually one thinks that words have only tactical meaning, and are slogans. In the case of Gandhi he did not use or invent such new words. He discovered the real meaning of the traditional words. He proceeded by a kind of interiorization: the fundamental way of thinking." (20)

Massignon included the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita as two of Gandhi's favorite sources for meditating on "the traditional words"; he also mentioned Gandhi's practice of reciting mantras as his method of interiorization. (22) In the Sufi/Muslim-Arabic tradition, key words are more than referents; in their very spelling and/or vocalization they embody spiritual realities. For example, the Sufi quest to embody and to manifest the divine attributes, classically identified with the ninety-nine qur'anic names for God, is typically enabled by the repetition of those names during ritualized dhikr Allah, remembrance of God, which occurs either privately or in a group setting. This seems quite close to Gandhi's understanding of and relationship to the Hindu-Sanskrit traditional words. (23)

Massignon was convinced that there was an ancient religious wisdom in India that could benefit European societies:
   We should have the old principle, the old Indian principle that is
   written in the Manava Dharma Shastra--the idea of the Atithi--of
   hospitality to the guest; the Caranya Dharma or the right of
   protection for the man who is a refugee, as for the Buddhist
   mendicant. Asking for this protection was a sacred right among the
   Buddhists. If we could grasp the full meaning of this old Indian
   principle, and also get others to share it, then something could be
   done [toward world peace]. (24)

Massignon often expressed frustration with the lack of hospitality among scholars of Islam and among Christians toward Muslims, and here he criticizes Europeans in general:
   In Europe we do not have the steadfastness or the hope that the
   guest may be really of God. We are afraid the guest may be of the
   Devil, that he may be a spy, of the Intelligence Service and too
   often it happens so. That is one reason why most of the Eastern
   people are fed up with European peoples, who break their pledge as
   easily as they give it. (25)

He was convinced that Gandhi's popularity and effectiveness might prove a key ingredient in European renewal: "We in Europe have lost the sense of the sacred in social life, but through people like Gandhi we can regain it." (26)

Gandhi's influence was not, according to Massignon, theoretical. It was first and foremost practical: "Gandhi was not a genius intellectually, but he was a moral genius. It was he who understood the world. He did not care about dogmas and philosophies. He cared more about purity in manner and behaviour. He did not wish to have a philosophy of his own. His was the old philosophy." (27) Gandhi showed that undertaking a vow--in this case the pledge of Satyagraha--has enormous practical consequences that can only be navigated or understood through personal experimentation:
   The singularity of Gandhi consists in this; instead of explaining
   this worldwide message of India by some grand mythology or immense
   and unruly metaphysical treatise, in the manner of his compatriots,
   he gave to us, in his writings, lived cases of conscience [that is,
   moral dilemmas], where his "inconsistencies" as he called them--his
   "repentances" a typographer would call them--betray his guileless
   passion for the experimental truth to which he held more and more
   closely. (28)

That is the example that Massignon most took to heart. Among the aims of his Badaliya, the sodality he founded with Mary Kahil, was to move beyond theoretical understandings of Christian-Muslim reconciliation, beyond "dogmas and philosophies" (though not rejecting them), and actually to live, to experiment with, and to trust his own vow of substitution on behalf of Muslims; to re main faithful to his vocation as a guest among Muslims; and to work always for "purity in manner and behaviour" in self and others. Gandhi provided the concrete example for the possibilities generated by a decision to give oneself to God's cause.

III. Interreligious Fraternity

Massignon was especially inspired by Gandhi's ability to unite people of various confessions: "For perhaps the first time in the world, there was a man having influence on people of other religions with great social results." (29) He was equally inspired by Gandhi's confidence in the unity of all believers, at least at the level of acts of hospitality:
   Gandhi thought that the believers of diverse confessions must
   intensify their participation in works of mercy toward all their
   human brethren, by renouncing in good faith all confessional
   jealousy that hindered emulation of the good in others [and] by
   discovering together the principle of their final unity in a
   perfectly transparent loyalty toward their words of welcome,
   hospitality, and peace, fixed in the secret [self-]abandon of their
   faith in God. [He believed] God would sanctify their vow to work
   together for others and would render their efforts efficacious.

It was precisely "confessional jealousy" that Massignon sought to undermine in Christian-Muslim relations.

It was through the Badaliya--by living as a guest among Muslim hosts and by extending the hospitality of the church to the excluded branch of the Abrahamic family--that Massignon sought Christian-Muslim unity in their common proclamation of faith in God. One must remember that, for Massignon, the ability to unite divided people in a community--even if that meant unifying others in their opposition to a just witness--was evidence of sanctity. That was the case with al-Hallaj, who united competing factions within the Muslim community in their legal condemnation of his blasphemous utterance, and it was the case with Gandhi, who was assassinated by a fellow Hindu for having conceded too much in post-partition Hindu-Muslim negotiations. Like al-Hallaj, Gandhi's concern was for unity. Interestingly, just as Gandhi opposed partition until the very end, when he reluctantly agreed in order to avoid more violence, Massignon opposed complete Algerian independence until the end, when he was convinced it was the only way to secure peace.

IV. Gandhi's Connections with Islam

The most significant event of Gandhi's life, for Massignon, was his last fast and pilgrimage that he shared with a group of Muslim women:
   I was yesterday at Mehrauli and visited Kutbuddin Bakhtyar's
   shrine. Gandhiji, as you know--visited it, it was his last
   pilgrimage, four days before his death, together with some Muslim
   ladies of Delhi, who had ... shared his last fasting and broken it
   with him. He found the shrine damaged, promised to have it repaired
   ..., prayed with the worshippers, vowed with them a pledge of
   brotherhood, that Delhi might solve the problem of unity of India
   through nonviolence. But four days later, he was killed. It was his
   last social act; he wanted to make unity between Indians, between
   Hindus and Muslims. It was a sacred place for Muslims. He wanted to
   atone for others, for his brethren who had broken the shrine. (31)

Massignon reports that on that day Gandhi recited several verses of the Qur'an, as he apparently did each evening at his Ashram and, "convinced of the profound unity of all religions," addressed the Muslim crowd with these words: "I ask you, as blood-brothers, to vow with me never to pay any attention to the voice of Satan by abandoning our way of fraternity and peace." (32) There is no doubt that this symbolic action endeared Gandhi to Massignon. Gandhi's taking upon himself the guilt of his fellow Hindus for the damage done to the Muslim shrine as well as his spiritual identification with the Muslim women there made him one of the abdal, the substitute saints whose holiness heals and protects a wider, broken, sinful community and whose primordial exemplar is Abraham, who interceded with God and secured protection for sinful Sodom if ten just persons could be found. The example of Gandhi demonstrates that substitutional sanctity is alive in the contemporary world:
   To which [that is, the example of Abraham] you may say to me: That
   happened a thousand years ago, are there still analogous cases?
   Yes, for in a real sense Gandhi was killed for the sake of justice,
   after a long exalted life, having taken upon himself all the pain
   and misery of the Hindu people. In the person of this man of pain
   and suffering these people now recognize themselves. It little
   matters that after ten years this name should enter a momentary
   period of silence in India. In other countries, by an apotropaion
   substitution, the reflection of his torch has lighted other kindred
   souls. Thanks to the example of this old man grown thin by so many
   fasts and sacrifices, poised like a flaming target in front of the
   circle of suffering faces which his fire continues to light and to
   search out, the spiritual values of man are not defeated by the
   totalitarianism of nations. (33)

V. Truth as Interreligious Orientation

I mentioned the symbolic connection between Gandhi and al-Hallaj, the tenth-century Sufi mystic and martyr whose life and teachings Massignon studied throughout his entire working life. (34) Both were representatives of the abdal, the substitute saints, but there was an important historical, philosophical, and linguistic connection between them as well. Each expressed his deepest longing as a commitment to truth:
   The Sanskrit term for "truth" is Satya, and it is quite clear that
   in Hinduism, love of truth is elevated to a kind of cult, as much
   among the Shaivites (for example, the legend of Raja Harichandra,
   who always told the truth, even at the risk of having to execute
   his wife before the Visvamitra king, had Siva not saved her) as
   among the Vaishnavites (for example, the cult of Satya Narayana at
   Murghanj, in Orissa; the cult of Satya Pir in Eastern Bengal), and
   Gandhi himself referred his own "Satyagraha" to the legendary
   example of Prahlad.

      But in the Hindu-Muslim syncretistic milieus, for centuries one
   has observed--under the influence of Muslim mystics, who, in the
   apostolates of the Turkish, Persian, and Hindu lands, constantly
   designated the God of Abraham, "Allah" in Arabic, under the name of
   "Truth," "Haqq"--that the ... term "Haqq" was translated by its
   Sanskrit equivalent "Satya." "Satya" became the "true God," par
   excellence, among the Kabirpanthis, and the paradise promised by
   Him was named, according to them, "Satyaloka." There is more: In
   Eastern Bengal, beginning in the sixteenth century, under the
   influence of the emperor Hussein Shah (1493-1519), the Vaishnavite
   cult of Satya Pit ("the Master of the Truth") was confused with the
   cult of the Muslim martyr-saint from Baghdad, Mansur al-Hallaj (d.
   922), because while dying high upon the gibbet, he cried out the
   apocalyptic cry of the announcer of Judgment: "I am the Truth,"
   "Ana'l-Haqq." Currently ... the Muslim Hallajian cult of the Truth
   persists, with dramatic festivals, in two cantons of Bengal, at
   Shureshwara (in Faridpur) and at Maij Bhandar (in Chittagong).
   Peasants, butchers, and wool-carders, these Muslims, seven years
   ago, prayed for the [Indian] Congress and for Gandhi (against
   Jinnah and Pakistan), in the name of a demand for social justice
   and for the truth that united them. For mystical Islam, justice is
   a call of the divine Truth itself, inviting us to witness in public
   life, which is exactly what Gandhi did, contrary to the antisocial
   eremitism of most Hindu ascetics.

      Since 1920, Dr. Abdulmajid has underlined the link between the
   Gandhian "Satya'" and the Muslim term "Haqq," the divine Name. (35)

It would be worthwhile subjecting Massignon's linguistic and historical arguments for the connection of Satya and Haqq to the scrutiny of scholars of Islam, Arabic, Hinduism, and Sanskrit. However, in the absence of such an analysis, one thing is clear. In Massignon's mind the Satya-Haqq connection is sufficiently strong to conclude that Gandhi's attachment to Truth, Satya, was akin to al-Hallaj's attachment to Truth, Haqq, and that makes Gandhi--who, like al-Hallaj, was killed for his public proclamation--a witness of Truth, one of the apotropaic or substitute saints, even, as Massignon wrote, "the last of the saints." (36) Gandhi was, for Massignon, in the company of other saintly figures in history, including Abraham, Mary, al-Hallaj, and Francis of Assisi, all of whom participated in the life and mission of Jesus. Thus, one could argue that Gandhi, for Massignon, beyond being one of the abdal, beyond being a witness for Truth, was actually a Christ-figure:
   I felt most that Gandhi had always tried to console the
   broken-hearted. The broken-hearted recognised in him one who would
   help them truly and efficiently. Men in their misery went to him
   and got help and guidance. Gandhi was a man of sorrow, and it is
   only the man of sorrow who discovers God. He discovers Him in the
   humble weavers, in the nakedness of the untouchables. By becoming
   naked himself, he tries to make their sorrows clothed. (37)

The christological references are clear. God identifies with the poor, the naked, the broken-hearted, and it is one's response to the lowly that determines the degree to which one "discovers" God therein. Massignon extended the reference, explicitly invoking Abrahamic faith:
   Beyond the banal intellectualist syncretism of ordinary Hinduism,
   Gandhi pushed his passion for Unity until he realized unity with
   the Stranger, which is called hospitality, and which is the
   consummation of the "works of mercy," because it contains all of
   them, abolishing the untouchability of the pariahs; sacrificing his
   privileges of caste with respect to the pariahs, he received in
   exchange, participation in the rites of salvation over which the
   Abrahamic monotheisms have had administration. (38)

Gandhi's practice of hospitality, the perfection of the works of mercy, obviously makes him an exemplar of Christ, but Massignon's astounding assertion that Gandhi participated as a reward in the Abrahamic monotheistic rites--which makes of Gandhi a sort of anonymous monotheist--as well as his blanket criticism of "ordinary Hinduism" raise an important question to which I now turn.

VI. What about Gandhi's Hinduism?

In their biography of Massignon, Christian Destremau and Jean Moncelon noted:
   It is striking to observe that to [Massignon's] eyes, "the greatest
   effort" [in modern times toward introducing sacred hospitality to
   political discourse] was accomplished by a personality that did not
   belong to one of the three monotheistic religions. How far can the
   author of Les trois prieres
   d'Abraham go, given that Gandhi denied nothing of the essence of
   Hinduism, even if he wished to reform it? [As Gandhi said], "I
   believe in the Vedas, in the Upanishads, in the Puranas, and in
   everything that enters into the sacred Scriptures of Hinduism. As a
   consequence, I believe in the divine incarnations and
   reincarnation." (39)

How did Massignon reconcile the particulars of Gandhi's Hindu faith with his inclusion of Gandhi among the apotropaic saints, all of whom (besides Gandhi) were explicit believers in the God of Abraham? Massignon was certainly aware of Gandhi's devotional life. He was impressed by the fact that Gandhi died reportedly chanting, "Ram, Ram." (40) He made a point of citing Gandhi's love for the great Hindu epic, the Ramayana, especially "the legend of Sita," the "pious spouse of Rama, pure as a flaming sword, [who] was captured and imprisoned at Lanka by the monstrous Rakshasa." (41) So, what did Massignon make of all this?

There are at least two answers to that question. The first is that Massignon seems to have celebrated Gandhi's commitment to the truth of justice over dogmatic truth per se. One saw in the quotation above that, for Massignon, Gandhi "did not care about dogmas and philosophies." However, as just shown, Gandhi did care about dogmas, at least about the fact of divine incarnations and reincarnation. Therefore, it is probably more accurate to say that, in the case of Gandhi, it was Massignon who did not care about dogmas and philosophies. He was attracted to Gandhi not because of his articulation of specific religious beliefs but because of his witness to hospitality, compassion, truth, and nonviolence in the face of violence, etc. In fact, Massignon wrote: "I have been deeply touched by Gandhiji's social work, and I think this disinterested action was his best message." (42)

The second answer to the question is that Massignon seems to have been convinced that Gandhi's faith was somehow on the way to exclusive faith in the one true God of Abraham. I mentioned that he described Gandhi as pushing past "ordinary Hinduism," and he was convinced that it was particularly Gandhi's contacts with Islam that facilitated his movement toward Abrahamic faith. Gandhi's devotion to Satya was equally a devotion to Haqq, which meant that, albeit unknowingly, Gandhi demonstrated a devotion to the God of Abraham, whom Islam often represents under the title "Haqq." In addition, Gandhi's solidarity with several Indian Muslim women put him in touch with the deeper meaning of canonical Islamic practices:
   [A]fter 1920, [the Muslim women of India] understood that the
   campaign of Gandhi for a recovery of the sense of the sacred
   resonated profoundly with the interiorization of the Islamic rites
   .... And even though a humble Brahman Hindu woman like Kasturbai
   (Mrs. Gandhi) could not convince her husband of the transcendence
   of the Unique God--Gandhi realized it at the end
   of his life because of the fasts and pilgrimages he undertook for
   justice in communion with Muslim women.

      Gandhi realized it unconsciously, so that his stereotypical
   phrases about the unity of all religions is only a simple repetition
   of the traditional polytheistic syncretism of Hindu religious
   thought. (43)

He continued:
      By religious rites such as the Fast and the Pilgrimage, Muslims
   take part in the via negativa of the most orthodox of monotheisms,
   tending toward the real, singular, revealed, and inaccessible God
   who is the God of Abraham. They conceive his perfections, exclusive
   of all else, in [their] ordered orientations.

      By the very fact that Gandhi vowed himself to fasts and
   pilgrimages with believers in the God of Abraham, his concepts of
   fasting and of pilgrimage--in Sanskrit "vrata" [Massignon's note 1
   reads: "'Vrata, literally 'vow,' practically 'fast'; the fast is the
   vow par excellence for it lives on God alone.] and "tirtha"
   [Massignon's note 2 reads: "Tirtha, literally 'ford,' practically
   'pilgrimage'; it is the expatriation that causes one to pass beyond
   the river.]--were deepened for him. The tradition of Hindu
   asceticism recommended the fast and the pilgrimage as voluntary and
   painful techniques toward the unification of Me, toward
   transformation of the personal egotistical Me into a universal
   idea--more virtual than living--because of the absence of all
   illusion. But it was the participation in Muslim fasts and
   pilgrimages, canonical acts prescribed by a revealed monotheist
   law, that brought Gandhi to realize what he previously learned only
   "verbally" from the Christian literature of Tolstoy and Ruskin,
   namely, the formidable imminence of an actual God at the depths of
   all our acts themselves, through the interiorization of these
   rites. And it was thus that Gandhi found himself before the supreme
   Sacrifice, because he performed the charity of hospitality (atithi)
   in his soul for these poor persecuted women. (44)

It is doubtful that a scholar of Hinduism would be satisfied with Massignon's presentation of Hinduism, especially Hindu asceticism, in that long quotation, not least because it lacks any references to primary sources. In that respect the contrast with his detailed and nuanced work on Islam is striking. Equally striking is the unidirectional confessional influence that he saw Islam exerting upon Gandhi's religious beliefs. Through his contacts with Islam, Gandhi, in Massignon's interpretation, gradually realized the truth of confession in the one, true, transcendent God of Abraham.

The Muslim women who partook in fasting and pilgrimage with Gandhi may have appreciated and may even have appropriated his commitment to truth and justice and to recovering the sacred in society, but there is no question of their having been influenced by his beliefs in divine incarnations and reincarnation or by his reading of the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, etc. The same would seem to be true of Massignon's experience. He learned a great deal from the generic aspects of Gandhi's faith, as well as from the very concrete steps that Gandhi took on behalf of authentic hospitality. He was convinced of Gandhi's sanctity. But, when it came to the specifics of Gandhi's Hindu faith, Massignon preferred to see in Gandhi a latent--his word was "unconscious," meaning only implicitly aware--Muslim and/or Christian faith. The degree to which Massignon's vision was open to the particulars of non-Semitic religions therefore remains an open question, (45) but the influence upon Massignon was real. In his annual letters to the Badaliya, Gandhi's name appears over and over again as an example of nonviolent witness, sanctity, and perseverance. In fact, it could be said that the Badaliya is permeated with a Gandhian approach to interreligious fraternity, in this case Christian-Muslim.

VII. Conclusion

As Dall'Oglio observed, "Massignon thought that at the end of Gandhi's life there was an Islamic element, when he opened himself to the relationship to the one, transcendent God, and, through fasting and pilgrimage, was made ready for the final, pure sacrifice." (46) It is tempting to see in Massignon's appropriation of Gandhi an imperialistic endeavor. He was openly critical of "the banal intellectualist syncretism of ordinary Hinduism," of Hindu polytheism, and of "the voluntary and painful techniques" of Hindu asceticism that strive "toward the unification of Me," (47) while simultaneously praising Gandhi, who, in his morality, virtues, and righteous example, seems, in Massignon's interpretation, to have transcended the inconvenient particulars of Hindu faith. He further emphasized that it was Gandhi's contact with Islam that purified his beliefs and practices, oriented him toward the God of Abraham, and introduced him to the Abrahamic monotheistic rites. In all of this there is a tinge of orientalism, negatively understood, such that Massignon set his preferred example from a given tradition, namely, Gandhi, over and against the tradition itself, namely, Hinduism, in order to celebrate the virtues of his own tradition, Christianity, or, more directly in this case, Islam. There is some merit to such a critique, as far as it goes, for Massignon was certainly a man of his times.

The orientalism just described has not escaped many interpreters of Gandhi. The most common expression of it is to see in the avowedly Hindu Gandhi a "near Christian." (48) He is "a saintly figure, lionized as the prophet of peace and as the supreme apostle of nonviolence in our times." (49) He is the "Christ of the Indian road." (50) He is also a return to "India's Golden Age," characterized by "non-idolatrous monotheistic faith, free from fertility goddesses, rites and rituals of contemporary Hinduism." (51) And, even though he accepted and inverted the categories, Gandhi is seen as representative of East-West dichotomies such that India is spiritual, while Europe is scientific; India is tolerant but vague, while Europe is committed and decisive. (52)

In all of these ways Massignon's interpretation of Gandhi was typical of his mid-twentieth-century (and beyond) orientalist colleagues. He certainly saw in Gandhi another Christ; he privileged Gandhi's monotheistic orientations over common Hindu practices, and he saw in Gandhi a chance to retrieve for Europe the "old Indian principle." None of this is entirely surprising to students of Massignori. He has been criticized for similar proclivities in his study of Islam. For example, Edward Said critiqued "Massignon's implication ... that the essence of the difference between East and West is between modernity and ancient tradition," (53) described Massignon's approach as representative of "the entire nineteenth-century tradition of the Orient as therapeutic for the West," (54) and voiced an oft repeated critique of Massignon's treatment of al-Hallaj: "Massignon's alHallaj was intended literally to embody, to incarnate, values essentially outlawed by the main doctrinal system of Islam, a system that Massignon himself described mainly in order to circumvent it with al-Hallaj." (55)

However, Said's reflections on Massignon are peppered with compliments, and typical is his assessment of "interpretations of an almost overwhelming intelligence," which led him to conclude that "one would be foolish not to respect the sheer genius and novelty of Massignon's mind." (56) Especially important is "his repeated insistence on the need for complex reading--injunctions whose absolute sincerity it is impossible to doubt." (57) Indeed, Louis Gardet once commented about his teacher's work: "[V]cry quickly one perceives that the interpretation of the text is strangely consonant with that of the most sure Muslim commentators." (58) Massignon had the ability to penetrate the basic meaning, emphasis, and orientation of a spiritual text, in part because he was a religious believer and practitioner himself. Nonetheless critical of Massignon's approach on methodological grounds, Jacques Waardenburg was convinced of his "genius" for empathizing with the intention of a religious-mystical text and its author. (59) I am, for such reasons, reluctant to abandon Massignon's understanding and appropriation of Gandhi.

Massignon could perhaps be forgiven for having understood Gandhi as an Islamicized Hindu, for Gandhi himself claimed, "We all believe in one and the same God, the difference of nomenclature in Hinduism and Islam notwithstanding" (60) Further, while "[s]ome Muslims claimed Gandhi was too Hindu, ... some Hindus saw him as too Muslim," (61) and at least one scholar has identified Gandhi's capacity for bringing together Hindus and Muslims with the fact that "Gandhi did not see himself as speaking as a Hindu on behalf of the Muslims," but "rather he identified himself as Muslim." (62) Another saw this religious identification as the key to Gandhi's program, which demanded "an equality of religions quite unlike that envisioned by what we usually know as the secular tradition. It entailed fighting religiously for the other's religion; it entailed the giving of oneself or daTa to the other who remained absolutely other." (63) For yet another it was precisely his "trans-religious concept of God" and focus on Truth as a key divine attribute that renders Gandhi a relevant figure in our religiously plural societies today. (64)

On the question of Gandhi's actually lived Hindu spirituality, it has been noted that his relationship with image veneration/worship was complex. He consistently defended its practice as an ancient and therefore integral part of Hinduism, but he remained personally uncomfortable with and perhaps even skeptical about its practice. (65)
   The point is not to whitewash Massignon's overtly Abrahamic
   presuppositions but, rather, to suggest that there is support--both
   in Gandhi's own words and in the opinions of contemporary
   interpreters, some of them Indian--for the creative ways in which
   he chose to appropriate the thought and life of Gandhi. There is
   even some evidence that Gandhi himself saw a connection among
   Hinduism, Islam, and Roman Catholicism, at least on the question of

   What is followed in the Roman Catholic church is also enjoined in
   Islam. The people who at present do evil things [in] the name of
   Islam have little understanding of it. Those, on the other hand,
   who go on praying in their own homes, certainly realize God. They
   give up all indulgences. One cannot indulge in pleasures and live a
   life of renunciation at the same time. If we understand the truth
   that we eat only to give the body its share, then we are fit to
   understand the Gita. (66)

Gandhi's emphasis on an ascetical unity among the three traditions resonates with Massignon's insistence that Gandhi's authentic and full commitment to Truth was consonant with al-Hallaj's own commitment to Truth and participatory in Jesus, who is Truth.

When asked to specify a saint in the modern period, Massignon named neither a Christian nor a Muslim but an Indian Hindu. It was Gandhi's appropriation of Islam rather than his reading of Christian authors that endeared him to Massignon. Although his knowledge of the Indian sources could not rival his familiarity with the Muslim material, still his convictions that there was a convergence between Gandhi's vow of satyagraha and al-Hallaj's cry of ana'l haqq and that both men came to their self-sacrificial commitments through meditation on particular words was based upon the results of (preliminary) research into the history of key terms, persons, and ideas in both the Hindu and Muslim contexts. He discovered that the commitment to truth, justice, and hospitality represented "the old Indian principle," and he discovered real historical connections between the Arab/Muslim haqq and the Indian/Hindu satya. His convictions as always were rooted in scholarship, and it was his study of the ancient sources that led him to discover in the major religious traditions, first Abrahamic but latterly Indian, real examples of sanctity: "Hindus call them mahatmas, Arabians abdal, and Christians saints." (67)

Massignon's love for and study of the Hindu-Muslim figure Gandhi was therefore an important step, if somewhat limited by orientialist presuppositions, a step to be followed upon by later scholars seeking a common referent in dialogue between the Indian and Abrahamic contexts. There is already at least one example of a Muslim who came to appreciate and even to follow Jesus as his primary guide through the writings and life of Gandhi. (68) The complicated Massignon-Gandhi relationship may therefore function as evidence that the saints of one tradition both can authentically serve as witness to the ideals of another and also ground fraternity between the two, or even three.


(1) Sidney Grifith [sic], "Sharing the Faith of Abraham: The 'Credo' of Louis Massignon,'" Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 8, no. 2 (1997), p. 193.

(2) See Louis Massignon, Les troisprieres d'Abraham (1935, 1949) (Paris: Cerf, 1997).

(3) See Christian Krokus, "Louis Massignon's Influence on the Teaching of Vatican II on Muslims and Islam," Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 23, no. 3 (2012), pp. 329-345; Robert Caspar, "La vision de l'Islam chez L. Massignon et son influence sur l'Eglise," in Jean-Francois Six, ed., Louis Massignon (Paris: Editions L'Herne, 1970), pp. 126-147; Anthony O'Mahony, "The Influence of the Life and Thought of Louis Massignon on the Catholic Church's Relations with Islam," The Downside Review 126 (July, 2008): 169-192; Neal Robinson, "Massignon, Vatican II, and Islam as an Abrahamic Religion," Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 2, no. 2 (1991), pp. 182-205; Christian Troll, "Changing Catholic Views of Islam," in Jacques Waardenburg, ed., Islam and Christianity: Mutual Perceptions since the Mid-20th Century (Leuven: Peeters, 1998), pp. 19-77; and Andrew Unsworth, "Louis Massignon, the Holy See, and the Ecclesial Transition from 'Immortale Dei" to 'Nostra Aetate': A Brief History of the Development of Catholic Church Teaching on Muslims and the Religion of Islam from 1883 to 1965," ARAM (Oxford), vol. 20 (2008), pp. 299-316.

(4) See Louis Massignon, Badaliya: au nom de l'autre (1947-1962), ed. Maurice Borrmans and Francoise Jacquin (Paris, Cerf, 2011); Paolo Dall'Oglio, Amoureux de l'Islam, croyant en Jesus (Paris: Les Editions de l'Atelier, 2009); and Dorothy Buck, Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Masstgnon (New York and London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 2002).

(5) See Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion, tr. Gil Andijar (New York: Routledge, 2002). The Roman Catholic lay association Sant'Egidio (Rome) established and continues to run the "Louis Massignon School" in Lazio, Italy; its primary mission is to offer free instruction in Italian for recent immigrants, especially those from Arab and/or Muslim countries.

(6) Mary Louise Gude, Louis Masstgnon: The Crucible of Compassion (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996), p. 127. An entire volume is dedicated to a compilation of the similar passages in the works of Gandhi and Massignon: Camille Drevet, Massignon et Gandhi: La contagion de la verite (Paris: Cerf, 1967).

(7) Guy Harpigny, Islam et Christianisme selon Louis Massignon (Louvain-la-Neuve: Centre de d'histoire des religions de l'Universite Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve, 1981).

(8) See Paolo Dall'Oglio, "Massignon and gihad in the Light of de Foucauld, al-Hallag, and Gandhi," in John Donohue and Christian Troll, eds., Faith, Power, and Violence: Muslims and Christians in a Plural Society, Past and Present, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 258 (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 1998), pp. 103-114.

(9) While J.E.S does not ordinarily use "fraternity" because of its policy of using gender-neutral language, the word is used regularly by Massignon and Gandhi, so will be employed in this essay. Eds.

(10) Ibid., p. 103.

(11) Louis Massignon, "'Gandhian' Outlook and Techniques" (1953), in Louis Massignon, Opera Minora, vol. 3, ed. Y. Moubarac (Beirut: Dar al-Maaref, 1963), p. 366.

(12) Massignon's articles on Gandhi include ibid., as well as "La signification spirituelle du dernier pelerinage de Gandhi," "L'exemplarite singuliere de la vie de Gandhi," "Allocution a l'occasion du treizieme anniversaire de la mort de Gandhi," and "Preface a l'ouvrage de C. Drevet, Gandhi et lesfemmes de l'Inde," all in Christian Jambet, Francois Angelier, Francois L'Yvonnet, and Souad Ayada, eds., Louis Massignon." Ecrits memorables, vol. 2 (Paris: Editions Robert Laffont, 2009), pp. 792-825. All are also included in Opera Minora III, pp. 339-387. Subsequent references to these include the pagination in Opera Minora, then that in Jambet et al.

(13) Massignon, "L'exemplarite," provides a biography of Gandhi, coordinating his spiritual/religious acts with the social/political effects he intended and often achieved.

(14) A scan of Massignon's articles shows that he read at least the following titles by Gandhi (publication dates in parentheses): Satyagraha Pledge (1919), An Autobiography (1925), Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita (1946), Young India (1919-1932), Harijan (1933-1942, 1946-1948), and From Yeravda Mandir (1933). He also seems to have read, or at least was familiar enough to mention, several Hindu texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Ramayana, Laws of Manu, and Manava Dharma Shastra.

(15) Harpigny, Islam et Christianisme, p. 168. See also the more recent publication: Patrick Laude, Louis Massignon: The Vow and the Oath (London: The Matheson Trust, 2011).

(16) Louis Massignon, Examen du "Present de l'homme letter"par Abdallah ibn Al-Torjoman (Rome : Pontificio Istituto di Studi Arabi e d'Islamistica [P.I.S.A.I.], 1992), p. 73. See Christian Krokus, "Louis Massignon's Secret of History Read in the Light of Bernard Lonergan's Law of the Cross," Lonergan Workshop Journal, vol. 24 (2010), pp. 203-226.

(17) Massignon, "L'exemplarite," p. 357/809); all translations from French are my own. Elsewhere, he wrote: "Vow is not meant to be against the law. It accomplishes the law. It is not against Dharma; it is an accomplishment of Dharma. Gandhi never wanted his followers to be timid while fulfilling their vows. He wanted them to possess all the qualities of a hero" (Massignon, "'Gandhian' Outlook," p. 371).

(18) Massignon, "L'exemplarite," p. 355/808.

(19) Ibid., p. 356/808; emphasis in original.

(20) Benjamin Clark, "Translator's Introduction," in Louis Massignon, Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of Islamic Mysticism, tr. and intro. Benjamin Clark (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), p. xxiii.

(21) Massignon, "'Gandhian' Outlook," p. 363.

(22) See Massignon, "L'exemplarite," p. 355/807. Gandhi apparently read Tulasidas's version of the Ramayana. Referring to his "deep devotion" to the Ramayana, Gandhi wrote, "Today I regard the Ramayana of Tulasidas as the greatest book in all devotional literature" (M. K. Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with the Truth [Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1956], p. 32).

(23) On the importance of language for Gandhi, see David Lelyveld, "The Fate of Hindustani: Colonial Knowledge and the Project of a National Language," in Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds., Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 189-193.

(24) Massignon, "'Gandhian' Outlook," p. 365. I am grateful to the referee of this essay who pointed out that "Atithi" is usually translated simply as "guest," rather than Massignon's more ambitious "hospitality to the guest."

(25) Ibid., p. 367.

(26) Ibid.

(27) Ibid., p. 373.

(28) Massignon, "L'exemplarite," p. 356/809.

(29) Massignon, '"Gandhian' Outlook,"p. 366.

(30) Massignon, "La signification," pp. 347-348/800.

(31) Massignon, "Gandhian' Outlook," p. 365.

(32) Massignon, "La signification," p. 342/795. For a fuller treatment of Gandhi's thoughts on Islam, see Sheila McDonough, Gandhi's Responses to Islam (New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1994); and M. K. Gandhi, Gandhi on Islam, ed. Michael Nagler (Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Hills Books, 2006).

(33) Louis Massignon, "The Notion of the "Real Elite' in Sociology and in History" (1959), in Herbert Mason, tr., Testimonies and Reflections: Essays of Louis Massignon (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), p. 63.

(34) See Louis Massignon, The Passion of al-.Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam, 4 vols. [The Life of al-Hallaj; The Survival of al-Hallaj, The Teaching of al-Hallaj, and Bibliography and Index, respectively], tr. Herbert Mason (Princeton, N J: Princeton University Press, 1982 [from: La Passion de Husayn Ibn Mansur Hallaj: martyr mystique de l 'Islam execute a Baghdad le 26 Mars 922; etude d'histoire religieuse, new ed. (Paris: Gallimard, 1975; orig., 1914, 1921)]).

(35) Massignon, "La signification," pp. 346-347/799-800.

(36) Massignon, "'Gandhian" Outlook." p. 374.

(37) Ibid., p. 375.

(38) Massignon, "La signification,'" pp. 345-346/798.

(39) Christian Destremau and Jean Moncelon, Louis Masstgnon: le "cheikh admirable" (Paris: Editions Le Capucin, 2005), p. 374.

(40) Massignon, "L'exemplarite," p. 355/807.

(41) Ibid.

(42) Massignon, "'Gandhian' Outlook," p. 374.

(43) Massignon, "La signification," pp. 344-345/797; emphasis in original.

(44) Ibid., p. 345/798.

(45) At the end of his life, Massignon began to explore more fully the religious traditions of India and Japan, including short articles on Shinto-Muslim correspondences and on the Hindu ascetic Cuka. See Louis Massignon, "Meditation of a Passerby on His Visit to the Sacred Woods of lse" (1959); and "The Temptation of the Ascetic Cuka by the Apsara Rambha" (1961), both in Mason, Testimonies and Reflections, pp. 165-172 and 173-178, respectively.

(46) Dall'Oglio, "Massignon and gihad," p. 110.

(47) See notes 37 and 43, above.

(48) James Taneti, "Gandhi and Protestant Missionaries in the 1930"s: Portraits of Gandhi in Missionary Literature," Bangalore Theological Forum 39 (December, 2007): 112.

(49) Vinay Lal, "Gandhi's West, the West's Gandhi," New Literary History 40 (Spring, 2009): 281.

(50) Eli Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1925).

(51) Anantanand Rambachan, The Limits of Scripture: Vivekananda's Reinterpretation of the Vedas (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), p. 14; quoted in Michael Hawley, "Getting Past Orientalism: Gandhi, Multiculturalism, and Identity," Religious Studies and Theology, vol. 27, no. 2 (2008), p. 197.

(52) Hawley, "Getting Past Orientalism," pp. 202-205.

(53) Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, Random House, 1978), p. 269.

(54) 1bid., p. 271.

(55) Ibid., p. 272.

(56) Ibid., p. 269.

(57) Ibid.

(58) Louis Gardet, "Esquisse de quelques themes majeurs," in Six, Louis Masstgnon, p. 75. Gardet also learned from Massignon that, contrary to the belief of many modern scholars, the achievement of any authentic objectivity was simply impossible without "at least a minimum of intellectual sympathy for the object studied" (Gardet, "Esquisse," p. 74).

(59) Jacques Waardenburg, "Louis Massignon (1883-1962) as a Student of Islam," Die Welt des Islams, vol. 45, no. 3 (2005), p. 335.

(60) Quoted by Sheila McDonough from S. Abid Husain, Gandhiji and Communal Unity (Bombay: Orient Longmans, 1969), p. 56, in Sheila McDonough, "The Qur'an in India I: Iqbal and Gandhi on the Qur'an," in Khaleel Mohammed and Andrew Rippin, eds., Coming to Terms with the Qur'an: A Volume in Honor of Professor Issa Boullata, McGill University (North Haledon, NJ: Islamic Publications International, 2008), p. 297.

(61) Hawley, "Getting Past Orientalism," p. 196.

(62) Ibid., p. 208; emphasis added.

(63) Ajay Skaria, "'No Politics without Religion': Of Secularism and Gandhi," in Vinay Lal, ed., Political Hinduism: The Religious Imagination in Public Spheres (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 206.

(64) A. Pushparajan, "Gandhi's Trans-Religious Concept of God," in George Karuvelil, ed., Romancing the Sacred? Towards an Indian Christian Philosophy of Religion (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2007), pp. 373-403.

(65) See Noel Salmond, "Both Iconoclast and Idolater: Gandhi on the Worship of Images," Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 31 (September, 2002): 373-390.

(66) Quoted from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 32 (New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, n.d.), p. 135, in McDonough, "Qur'an in India," pp. 307-308.

(67) Massignon, "The Notion of the 'Real Elite,'" p. 58.

(68) Paul-Gordan Chandler, "Mazhar Mallouhi: Gandhi's Living Christian Legacy in the Muslim World," International Bulletin of Missionary Research 27 (April, 2003): 54-59.

Christian S. Krokus (Roman Catholic) has been an assistant professor of theology in the Department of Theology/Religious Studies of the University of Scranton (PA) since 2009, having previously served as a teaching assistant and teaching fellow at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA. He holds an A.B. in religion and a B.S. in civil engineering from Lafayette College, Easton, PA; and an M. A. in theology and a Ph.D. (2009) in systematic and comparative theology from Boston College. His articles appear in Angelicum, Commonweal, the Lonergan Workshop Journal, and Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, as well as in edited books; his book reviews, in the Journal for Peace and Justice Studies and J.E.S. He has presented papers or responses at more than thirty meetings of professional societies and other symposia and conferences throughout the U.S. and in London and Amman, Jordan. He co-chairs the Comparative Theology Section of the College Theology Society (2012-).
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Date:Sep 22, 2012
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