How does E. M. Forster respond to India's religious complexity in A Passage to India?
E. M. Forster responds to the religious complexity of India in much the same way that he responds to its racial and social complexity. He presents two paradigms, one of conflict and the other of connection and mutual understanding. For instance, Hamidullah's committee drawn from various religions never achieves anything:
Hamidullah had called in on his way to a worrying committee of notables, nationalist in tendency, where Hindus, Moslems, two Sikhs, two Parsis, a Jam, and a Native Christian tried to like one another more than came natural to them.
Forster notes wryly that the committee can never agree on anything except the iniquity of the English, so that if the English ever left India, the committee would have to disband.
This squabbling, however, is in direct contrast to the spirit of ecumenism and understanding between characters of different faiths which is displayed throughout the book. An early instance is Mrs. Moore's visit to the mosque. Aziz has been reflecting on the mosque and on Islam:
A mosque by winning his approval let loose his imagination. The temple of another creed, Hindu, Christian, or Greek, would have bored him and failed to awaken his sense of beauty. Here was Islam, his own country, more than a Faith, more than a battle-cry, more, much more...Islam, an attitude towards life both exquisite and durable, where his body and his thoughts found their home.
When he sees Mrs. Moore in the mosque, Aziz is angry because he is used to being treated disrespectfully by English women and cannot bear his religion to be treated in this way. He shouts at her to take off her shoes, but Mrs. Moore has already done so. When he apologizes, he explains that most ladies do not trouble to remove their shoes, especially as they assume no one is there to see. Mrs. Moore replies,
That makes no difference. God is here.
The Christian and the Muslim can agree that God is present in the mosque. This is Forster's ideal solution to religious complexity.
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