Gandhiji's views on religious conversions in India - He calls conversions from Indian religions is evil

Gandhiji’s views on religious conversion were published in Harijan, 22.3.1935 under
the heading – ‘Deploring Conversion’.

“Conversions are but one small result of the disease. Remove the cause, and the
conversions will cease, as also many worse results.” (60:327)
* * *
Excerpts from the speech delivered at School of Indian Languages, Darjeeling, for
missionaries serving in India, on 6-6-1925.

“Today we see competition and conflict among different religions for counting the
number of their followers. I feel deeply ashamed of this and, when I hear of people’s
achievement in converting such and such number to a particular faith, I feel that, that is
no achievement at all, that on the contrary it is a blasphemy against God and the self.”
* * *
In a speech at Solapur on 20-2-1927, Gandhiji said :
“As I said at Nasik, I fail to understand the shuddhi, tabligh, and proselytization as they
are carried on today. I cannot understand a man changing the religion of his forefathers
at the instance of another. But that is my personal conviction. No one need stop
shuddhi, tabligh or proselytization at any instance. My own duty is clear. I must go on
purifying myself and hoping that only thereby would I react on my surroundings. It is
my unshakeable conviction that penance and self-purification are the only means for
protection of Hinduism." (33:100-101)
* * *
Members of the Council of International Federation held a discussion, on 15-1-1928, on
'The fundamental objectives of the fellowship', where they also discussed the question
of conversion. Gandhiji defined his position on conversion in following words.
"Hinduism with its message of ahimsa is to me most glorious religion in the world — as
to me, my wife is the most beautiful woman in the world—but others may feel same
about their own religion. Cases of real, honest conversion are quite possible. If some
people for their inward satisfaction and growth change their religion, let them do so."
* * *
During an interview with Gandhiji, which was published in Young India on 21-3-1929,
Dr. John Mott asked him - "Do you disbelieve in all conversions?" Gandhiji replied :
"I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another. My effort should never be to
undermine another's faith but to make him a better follower of his own faith. This
implies belief in the truth of all religions and therefore respect for them. It again implies
true humility, a recognition of the fact that the divine light having been vouchsafed to all
religions through an imperfect medium of flesh, they must share in more or less degree
the imperfection of the vehicle." (40:60)
* * *
At the conference of Missionary Societies of Great Britain and Ireland, on 8-10-1931 in
London; missionary Mr. F. B. Meyer asked Gandhiji whether he had found peace without
acknowledging the message of Christ. Gandhiji replied in affirmative.
"Religion is a personal matter, and I am not going to ask another man to become a
Hindu or a Parsi. I would be doing something contrary to my belief. I am sharing with
you my own experience, and trying to show you as fellow-workers that probably, if you
could see eye to eye with me, your work would flourish more and more. You have
amazing self-sacrifice; you are great organizers; you are good men. I want to multiply
occasions for your service. I want to work closer with you, but I do not want you to get
India to change her faith." (48:126)

* * *
In his letter to Premaben Kantak, 22-4-1932 he wrote,
"Regarding conversion, I don't mean that it is never justified. But no one should invite
another person to change his or her religion. In my view, the belief which underlines
such practice, namely, that one's own religion is true and another's is false is an error.
When, however, a person has changed his religion under compulsion or in ignorance,
there should be no objection to such a person rectifying his error, that is returning to
his original religion, on the contrary, he should be encouraged to do that. His action is
not conversion. If I think my religion is false I should give it up. And I may, I ought to
accept what seems to me good in any other religion. If my religion seems to me
imperfect it is my duty to make it perfect. It is also my duty to try to rid it of any evil
which I may see in it. I regard Miraben as Christian and now she also regards herself as
Christian. I see no inconsistency in her being Christian and reading the Gita with
devotion. Persons belonging to other faith also join in our prayers with sincere feeling."
* * *
A speech at Parsi meeting, in Karachi, on 11.7.34.
"Just as men have different names and faces, these religions also are different. But just
as men are all human in spite of their different names and forms, just as leaves of a tree
though different all leaves are the same as the leaves of the same tree, all religions
though different are the same. We must treat all religions as equal." (58:177)
* * *
In an interview to a missionary, on or before 22-3-1935, Gandhiji complained that
missionaries were preaching the gospel of Christ with some motive behind it.
"One sordid motive violates the whole preaching. It is like drop of poison, which fouls
the whole food. Therefore, I should do without any preaching at all. A rose does not
need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon ...The
fragrance of religious and spiritual life is much finer and subtler than of the rose."
* * *
Defining his position on conversion, Gandhiji wrote in Harijan, 28-9-1935.
"I believe that there is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the
accepted sense of the term. It is highly personal matter for the individual and his God. I
may not have any design upon my neighbour as to his faith, which I must honour even
as I honour my own. For I regard all the great religions of the world as true at any rate

for the people professing them as mine is true for me. Having reverently studied the
scriptures of the world, I have no difficulty in perceiving the beauties in all of them. I
could no more think of asking a Christian or a Mussalman or a Parsi or a Jew to change
his faith than I would think of changing my own." (61:457)
* * *
The statement issued to the Press on 2-6-1936, under the title "To My Numerous
Muslim Friends", regarding Harilal's conversion to Islam, was published in Harijan.
"Harilal's apostasy is no loss to Hinduism and his admission to Islam is a source of
weakness to it if, as I apprehend, he remains the same wreck that he was before.
"Surely conversion is a matter between man and his Maker who alone knows His
creatures' hearts. And conversion without a clean heart is, in my opinion, a denial of
God and religion. Conversion without cleanness of heart can only be a matter for
sorrow, not joy, to a godly person.
"My object in addressing these lines to my numerous Muslim friends is to ask them to
examine Harilal in the light of his immediate past and, if they find that his conversion is
a soulless matter, to tell him so plainly and disown him and if they discover sincerity in
him to see that he is protected against temptations so that his sincerity results in his
becoming a godfearing member of society. Let them know that excessive indulgence has
softened his brain and undermind his sense of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. I
do not mind whether he is known as Abdulla or Harilal if, by adopting one name for the
other, he becomes a true devotee of God which both the names mean."(63:7)
* * *
Talking to a Polish student on or before 12-6-1936, Gandhiji explained that if
conversion was of intellectual and spiritual level then he would bless the conversion. In
this context he gave the example of his son Harilal's conversion to Islam.
"If he (Harilal) had become a Muslim from a pure and a contrite at heart, I should have
no quarrel with him. But those who had helped him to embrace Islam and are enthusing
over his apostasy simply exploited his weaknesses. They are no true representatives of
Islam." (63:47)
* * *

When Amtul Salaam, Gandhiji's follower, was apprehensive that Kanti, grandson of
Gandhiji, would adopt Islam while in Bombay, Gandhiji wrote to Kanti from Seagaon on
"To me all the religions are equal, so I would not feel unhappy if one changed one's
religion with deliberate knowledge and in a sincere spirit in order to cultivate more
detachment and attain God sooner. However, there is one thing: one who believes that
all religions are equal will have no need to change his religion as it includes other
religions. One who has grasped this has no need to change his religion." (64:96.)

Conversion to Christianity
When Gandhiji was asked by Christian Missionaries, whether he would allow Christians
to continue with their conversion activity without any hindrance, Gandhiji replied
(Young India 27-10-20.)
"(And) if a change of religion could be justified for worldly betterment, I would advise it
without hesitation. But religion is matter of heart. No physical inconvenience can
warrant abandonment of one's own religion." (18:376)
* * *
Gandhiji's views from Bihar notes (8-10-1925) indicate that:
"Christian missionaries have been doing valuable service for generations, but in my
humble opinion, their work suffers because at the end of it they expect conversion of
these simple people to Christianity ...How very nice it would be if the missionaries
rendered humanitarian service without the ulterior aim of conversion." (28:295-96)
* * *
Replying to the question asked by a student regarding evaluation of the work of
Christian missionaries in India, (Young India on 17-12-1925) Gandhiji said :
"I'm against the modern method of proselytizing. Years' experience of proselytizing
both in South Africa and India has convinced me that it has not raised the general moral
tone of converts who have imbibed the superficialities of European Civilization, and
have missed the teachings of Jesus .. .The indirect contribution, on the other hand, of
Christian missionary effort is great. It has stimulated Hindu and Mussalman religious
research. It has forced us to put our houses in order." (29:326)
* * *
Speaking about the Bhils, the tribe from Central India, Gandhiji said (Navjivan 18-4-
1926) :
"These so-called uncivilized communities are bound to attract the attention of
missionaries, for it is the latter's duty to get recruits for the Christian army. I do not
regard such proselytization as real service to dharma. But how can we blame the
missionaries if the Hindus take no interest in the Bhils? For them anyone who is
brought into the Christian fold, no matter how he has become a Christian, has entered a
new life and become civilized. If, as a result of such conversion, converts rise spiritually
or morally, I personally would have nothing to say against their conversion.
But I do not think that this is what happens." (30:311-312)
* * *
In reply to the question about the work of the missionaries in India, Gandhiji said :
(Young India 14-7-1927)
"It is customary to decry other religions to offer their own as the only one that can bring
deliverance. That attitude should be radically changed. Let them appear to people as
they are, and try to rejoice in seeing Hindus become better Hindus and Mussalmans as
better Mussalmans. Let them start work at the bottom, let them enter into what is best
in their life and offer nothing inconsistent with it. That will make their work far more
efficacious, and what they will say and offer to the people will be appreciated without
suspicion and hostility. In a word let them go to the people not as patrons, but as one of
them, not to oblige them but to serve them and to work among them." (34:164)
* * *
Gandhiji clarified his views on the role of foreign missionaries in India. (23-4-1931)
"(If) instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work such as education,
medical services to the poor and the like, they would use these activities of theirs for
the purpose of proselytizing, I would certainly like to withdraw. Every nation considers
its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly, the great faiths held by the
people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversion from
one faith to another.

"Let me now amplify the bald statement. I hold that proselytizing under the cloak of
humanitarian work is, to say the least, unhealthy. It is most certainly resented by the
people here. Religion after all is a deeply personal matter, it touches the heart. Why
should I change my religion because a doctor who professes Christianity as his religion
has cured me of some disease or why should a doctor expect or suggest such a change
whilst I am under his influence? Is not his medical relief its own reward and
satisfaction? Or why should I, whilst I am in a missionary educational institution, have

Christian teaching t^mist upon me? In my opinion these practices are not uplifting and
give rise to suspicion if not even secret hostility. The methods of conversion must be
like Caesar^ wife above suspicion. Faith is imparted like secular subjects. It is given
through the language of the heart. If a man has a living faith in him, it spreads its aroma
like the rose its scent. Because of its invisibility, the extent of its influence is far wider
than that of the visible beauty of colour of the petals.
"I am, then, not against conversion. But I am against the modern method of it.
Conversion nowadays has become a matter of business like any other. I remember
having read a missionary report saying how much it cost per head to convert and then
present a budget for 'the next harvest'.
"Yes, I do maintain that India's great faiths all suffice for her. Apart from Christianity
and Judaism, Hinduism and offshoots, Islam and Zoroastrianism are living faiths. No one
faith is perfect.

All faiths are equally dear to their respective votaries. What is wanted therefore is living
friendly contact among the followers of the great religions of the world and not a clash
among them in fruitless attempt on the part of each community to show the superiority
of its faith over the rest. Through such friendly contact it will be possible for us all to rid
our respective faiths of shortcomings and excrescences.
"It follows from what I have said above that India is in no need of conversion of the kind
I have in mind. Conversion in the sense of self-purification, self-realization is the crying
need of the times. That, however, is not what is ever meant by proselytizing. To those
who would convert India, might it not be said, 'Physician heal thyself' ? (46:28)
* * *
Gandhiji sent a telegram to the Editor of Daily Herald, London, (after 23-4-1931) stating,
that the report about the foreign missionaries was distortion of his views.
"Am certainly against the use of hospitals, schools and the like for purposes conversion.
It is hardly healthy method and certainly gives rise to bitter resentment, conversion
matter of heart and must depend upon silent influence of pure character and conduct of
missionaries. True conversion comes imperceptibly like aroma of rose. Thus, am not
against conversion as but am certainly against present methods. Conversion must not

be reduced to business depending for increase upon pounds, shillings, pence. I also hold
that all great religions are of equal merit to respective nations or individuals professing
them. India is in no need of conversion of type described. Whilst under swaraj all would
be free to exercise their own faiths. Personally, I would wish present methods adopted
by missionaries were abandoned even now and that under conviction not compulsion."
* * *

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