The Hindu religion has been characterized by caste system since the ancient times. Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu included some rules and principles that establish this system. The effects of caste system are still pervasive in Indian society, especially among the Hindus. A lot of oppressions happen on the lower castes by the so-called upper castes in Indian society. Here we take a quick look at the caste system in Manusmirti comparing them with the principles of Islam concerning equality and impartiality.
An introduction to the Caste System
There are mainly four castes (Varna) in Hinduism:
1) Brahmin: the priest caste.
2) Kshatriya: (Rajanya) Ruler or Warrior Caste.
3) Vaishyas: those who have been assigned to work in agriculture and cattle-rearing but over time they came to be landowners, traders.
Moreover, there is a category that includes out-caste people, like: untouchable, Dalit, Chandal, Chamar and Dhobi (bleacher).
There are also many subsets in each caste, like Dvija or twice-born (twice-born are the upper three castes or sometimes just Brahmin caste particularly).
What is Manusmriti?
Through Hindu point of view, Manusmriti is so valuable religious theology that has worldwide fame. Not only in India but abroad as well, decisions have been made and still are made according to its Laws. That is why the theology of Manusmriti has been considered an invaluable treasure. Its religious value comes just after the most recognized and practiced scriptures of India, Vedas. The four castes, four ashrams, sixteen additional state system of values and creation of the nature, King’s duty, rulings on different types of disputes, army management etc have been elucidated in Manusmriti. Religious suggestions and opinions based on Vedas regarding all those issues that may occur in the lives of human beings have been provided.(1)
However, details concerning the life and the biography of Manu and the history of his mythology are not clear. But, all are unanimously agreed with one voice and accept that Manu was the earliest ancestor and his law is the ancient scripture. Alongside his complete authority, the true values of Manu id free from the limits of country, age and race.(2)
This scripture was compiled and written quite late, c. 200 CE in India.(3) Its opening verses narrate how the great sages approached Manu, the descendant of self-existent Brahman, and asked him to explain the sacred law. Manu agrees to their request, and gives them an account of the creation as well as of his own origin from Brahman. After mentioning that he learnt these Institutes of the Sacred Law from the creator who himself produced them, and that he taught them to the ten sages whom he created in the beginning.(4) Some Hindus have a delusion that caste is not promoted by any of their holy books. Is that really true? Let us examine.
Caste System in Manusmriti
A Hindu scripture says: “By his very birth a Brahmin is a deity even for the gods and the only authority for people in this world, for the Veda is the foundation in this matter.” (Manusmriti 11:85)
And Chandogya Upanishad says in this context: “People here whose behavior is pleasant can expect to enter a pleasant womb, like that of a woman of the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, or the Vaishyas caste. But people of foul behavior can expect to enter the unclean womb, like that of a dog, a pig, or an outcaste woman.” (Chandogya Upanishad 5:10:7)
The Manusmriti or Laws of Manu says: “If a man of one birth (Shudra) pronounces cruel words at one of the twice-born, his tongue should be cut out, for he was born from the rear-end. If he mentions their name or caste maliciously, a red-hot iron nail ten fingers-long should be thrust into his mouth. If he is so proud as to instruct priests about their duty, the king should have hot oil poured into his mouth and ears.” (Manusmriti 8:270-272)
Moreover, the Manusmriti says: “If a man of inferior caste tries to sit down on the same seat as a man of superior caste, he should be branded on the hip and banished, or have his buttocks cut off.” (Manusmriti 8:281)
Also the Manusmriti says: “If in the process of negotiating betrothal (engagement) there are first ten suitors of the non-Brahmana caste for a woman (the marriageable girl), all of them lose their claims of marriage and only the Brahmin, the learned one, if he grasps her hand would be her husband and only he. Not even the man of Ksatriya caste and not even the man of Vaishyas caste but only the Brahmin is the husband of the bride in such cases of claimants of engagement, and the sun, as it appears, revealing this fact to the people of five classes (4 castes and the fifth caste) rises up.” (Atharva Veda 5:17:8-9)
Furthermore, the Manusmriti says: “If someone born in a Kshatriya, Vaishyas, or Shudra womb should be unable to pay his fine, he may absolve himself of the debt by labor; a Brahmin should pay little by little. The king should have women, children, madmen and the old, the poor and the ill chastised with a whip, a bamboo cane, a rope and so forth.” (Manusmriti 9:229-230)
The Manusmriti defines the duties and rights of every caste and says: “The Shudra’s duty and supreme good is nothing but obedience to famous Brahmin householders who know the Veda. If he is unpolluted, obedient to his superiors, gentle in his speech, without a sense of ‘I’ and always dependent on the Brahmins and the other (twice-born castes), he attains a superior birth (in the next life).” (Manusmriti 9:334-335)
The Manusmriti exaggerates the status of Brahman and says: “A Brahmin is a great deity whether or not he is learned, just as fire is a great deity whether or not it is brought to the altar. The purifying fire with its brilliant energy is not defiled even in cremation grounds, and when oblations of butter are placed in it at sacrifices it grows even greater. Thus Brahmins should be revered in every way, even if they engage in all kinds of undesirable actions, for this is the supreme deity. If the Kshatriyas become overbearing towards the Brahmins in any way, the Brahmins themselves should subdue them, for the Kshatriyas were born from the Brahmins.” (Manusmriti 9:317-320)
The Manusmriti explains the nature of four castes and their creation: “His (Purusa’s or the Supreme Personality of Godhead) mouth became the Brahmin; his arms were made into the Kshatriya, his thighs the Vaishyas and from his feet the Shudra was born.” (Rig Veda 10:90:12)
It is noteworthy that Shudras in comparison are as low as feet and out-castes (Avarna) are even below that status of course.
The Caste System Defies Islamic Faith
These inequitable principles were amongst the causes that lead people to desert Hinduism and embrace Islam, since they found in Islam a salvation from the burden of the caste system and its unbearable hardships as if Islam has represented for them a light after thousands of years of darkness, or a savior from drowning or a life after death.
Everyone can conclude through a hasty comparison between inhuman laws of Manu and between the Islamic principles of equality. Do you not see that the rich and the poor, the ruler and the ruled, the ignorant and the educated, all stand in the same row in the same mosque for prayer. There is no difference between the rich and the poor in front of Allah. How beautiful are the words of the great Muslim poet, `Allamah Iqbal (1877–1938) when he described this Islamic equality in his poems:
“(The king) Mahmud and (his servant) Ayaz stood in the same row (in prayer), hence no difference remained between the king and his servant. The slave and the owner, the needy and the rich became similar; when they came to Your Blessed Court (O Allah!) they all became one and same.”
How can human mind even imagine the unfair Laws of Manu as the revealed Message of Ishvar! The divine message and the divine religion always are based on the principle of equality. When the sun shines it does not discriminate in the distribution of rays and heat and lights, and when the rain comes down it does not discriminate in the distribution of its pure water. Likewise, when the moon rises it does not discriminate in the distribution of its light. All these favors are from Allah the Almighty and by His permission, and such is the nature of the true divine revelation with its principles and rules, they never could be based on racial segregation or ethnic discrimination. And this confirms that the scriptures that differentiate between people on the basis of race, color or birth can not be divine teaching.
On the contrary, in Islam there is no such merit for a certain race, Allah (Glory be to Him) says:
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. (Al-Hujurat 49:13)
This blessed verse of the Glorious Qur’an refutes the Hindu caste system because this verse makes the basis of virtue and honor the quality of piety, righteousness and pure faith, not country, color or race as was mentioned in the Laws of Manu.
On the other hand, this blessed verse eradicates the doctrine of some Hindu scriptures that stated that Brahmin caste was created from the mouth of Brahma and Kshatriya from his arms and Vaishyas from his thighs and Shudra from his feet.
The blessed verse has stated clearly that people were created from single male and female, i.e. Adam and Eve, not from the body of Brahma who is regarded as Hindu god.
This verse has a miraculous nature that refutes the concept of creation and the caste system of Hinduism in a clear and patent manner fourteen centuries ago. We should bear in our mind that the doctrine of the Hindu caste system and the creation of people from the body of Brahma may not have been so famous at that time in the Arabian Peninsula as it is in our modern time. It denotes the genuineness of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who was unlettered and never came to India and who was even unable to read any book of Hindu faith. Indeed, the Glorious Qur’an is a true revelation from Allah the Almighty Who is All-Knowing and All Seeing.
Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“O people, your Lord is one; there is no merit for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor is there merit for a non-Arab over an Arab; and there is no merit for a white person over a black person, nor for a black person over a white person; except by measure of [piety and good actions]. Indeed, the most noble among you in the Sight of Allah are the most god-fearing.” (Ahmad)
I conclude that if Manusmriti was a revealed book or was compiled by an impartial and fair person, it has never been included such cruel principles. So it may have been compiled by an intolerant colonist Aryan who invaded India in ancient times(5) and constituted such rules against the original inhabitants of India in order to suppress them.
(1) Culture Promotion Council of India, Diamond Pocket Books, May 3, 2004, p. 1.
(3) http://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/hinduism/dharma/manusmriti.asp. (Last accessed on 2-11-2013)
(4) Georg, Buhler (1837-1898), The Laws of Manu, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1886, p. 12.
(5) Dr. Gastavali Ban, Urdu translation by Syyid `Ali Bilgrami, Steem Press, Hyderabad, India, 1943, p.10.