Sep 26, 2012

Gandhi and Quest for Truth

By Tara Delancey


Mohandas K. Gandhi is most famous for being the great leader of the non-violent revolution against British rule in India. However, he actually considered all of that to be secondary to his main mission in life which was finding and perfecting the practice of living Truth. In fact, he even titled his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. As this great non-Muslim thinker strove so passionately his entire life in search of Truth, how many of us as Muslims do not consider Truth to be the primary focus of our own lives? How many of us just go through the motions of our lives arrogantly assuming we’ve got it all figured out, never stopping to analyze our behavior? If we are to kick ourselves out of our own complacency, one place to start is with the beautiful advice of this great leader who made Truth his life’s mission. Gandhi writes:

‘The path of truth is for the brave alone, never for a coward.’ I realize the significance of this poem[i] more and more as days pass… This path has always been for the brave because a much greater effort is required to go up the steep slope of truth than to climb the Himalayas. If at all, therefore, we want to work in this direction and serve ourselves, we should give the first place to truth and march forward with unshakeable faith in it.[ii]

The same message is presented in the Qur’an:
Have We not made for him two eyes?- And a tongue and two lips?- And have shown him the two ways?- But he has not broken through the difficult pass.- And what can make you know what is [breaking through] the difficult pass? (Qur’an 90:8-12) 

Here Allah uses “he” to refer to mankind generally - it is a message that applies to everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. What is referred to as Al -‘Aqaba (the difficult pass) is, naturally, the path of truth, even though it is not explicitly stated in this verse. Indeed, it is a universal fact of life that the path of truth is always the harder path for a person to follow. It is this path that Allah challenges us, and invites us, to strive along towards righteousness and closeness to Him.

Gandhi frequently expressed the belief that Ultimate Truth is God and God is Ultimate Truth. As he says, “There is one absolute Truth which is total and all-embracing. But it is indescribable, because it is God. Or say, rather, God is Truth. All else is unreal and false. Other things, therefore, can be true only in a relative sense.”[iii] This is completely compatible with the Islamic understanding, in which one of the 99 names of Allah is Al-Haqq (Ultimate Truth). The path of living Truth is, therefore, the path to God. But how does one embark on such a difficult journey?

The best place to start the journey of living Truth is with oneself. According to Gandhi, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

· Do I deceive anybody knowingly?
· Do I try to show, in order to win people’s respect or esteem, that I possess certain virtues which in fact I do not possess?
· Do I exaggerate in my speech?
· Do I hide my misdeeds from persons to whom I should confess them?
· If a superior or co-worker puts me any question, do I evade him?
· Do I keep back what I ought to declare?
· Anybody who follows this practice even for a month will clearly observe a change having taken place in himself.[iv]

These are all questions that have been echoed, in so many words, throughout the Qur’an and Sunna.

 Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said: 
“The signs of the hypocrite are three: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is entrusted with something, he betrays that trust.”
(Narrated by al-Bukhari, 33; Muslim, 59) 

Living a Truthful life involves more than just speaking the truth. Truth is also knowing the difference between right and wrong and following your conscience. It involves searching within yourself and analyzing your pre-existing notions. Truth, like light, pervades everything and its absence creates a state of darkness. It involves earning and spending in halal ways that do not involve riba (interest), fitna (spreading chaos and violence), fasad (corruption) or khamr (alchohol and other intoxicants). It is manifest and spread (and also extinguished) by human beings in their every word, thought, and deed.

If we have the desire to see a better world, we must start with improving ourselves, for to attempt to reform others without first reforming ourselves is blatant hypocrisy. Though we may never realize the ideal of complete Truth in every action and every word, and will likely fall into sin over and over again, it is my hope that these words of a great Truth seeker will inspire us to strive every day to bring ourselves one step closer - one inch forward along the difficult path of righteousness. With such sincere effort we will earn the pleasure of Allah and, by his mercy, jannah inshaAllah.

[i] By Pritamdas (c. 1720-98), a Gujarati poet.
[ii] Gandhi’s contribution to ‘Madhpudo’, the manuscript magazine of the Ashram School, Sabarmati. July, 1920.
[iii] M.K. Gandhi., ‘What is Truth?’, Navajivan, 20 Nov. 1921
[iv] M.K. Gandhi. ‘How to Observe Truth’, MMU/II

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below! :)


The Truth about Gandhi was that he was a sick person in private, and this has been well researched and documented. Read the paragraph about the ashram he set up with boys and girls:
There are much better examples of people from any other faith who embody the "Quest for Truth", but Gandhi is a poor example.

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