Swami Ramatirtha had a discussion with Muslims in Lucknow in the year 1905. When the Muslims entered the room and offered Swami Rama the traditional salutation (Adab ‘Arz), he responded by saying ‘OM’ in serene and peaceful tones.
To this the Muslims took exception. They wanted to know why Rama had not returned their greeting in the same way and why was he saying OM in reply to their greeting.
Swami Rama answered them with great love and told them that he had no mysteries to hide and no mental reservations. The truth was (he said) that a person can give to others only what he possesses and that Rama himself only possessed OM and that alone. That OM, which was Rama’s sole possession, represented the non-duality of Vedanta.
Pressed to explain what he meant, Swami Rama replied that God is really nameless, although people call him by various names such as Ishvara or Allah. Men of different faiths and persuasions feel their oneness with God by establishing some sort of relationship with him.
It can be any relationship, but the truth or reality is only one. He is what he is, one without a second, indescribable and far beyond being circumscribed in words. But the ancient Rishis and Saints have called him and known him through the significant symbol OM.
Swami Rama went on to expound the special place of OM as a universal name of God, but the Muslims objected that they had never seen any mention of OM in their own holy scriptures and asked if he could quote any reference to OM in their Koran.
Rama replied gently: ‘Please listen to what is now being said. In the very beginning of your Koran, at the top, are three letters, alif (A), lam (L) and mim (M). Can any of you or any learned Mulawi of Islam explain what these three letters mean?’ The Muslims replied that this was a secret which Allah had kept to himself.
Swami Rama laughed heartily at this remark and said: ‘When God has revealed the entire Koran for the benefit of mankind, as the Muslims claim, it is very strange that he has kept its very heading a secret. No. It is not so. If you, the Muslims who put full faith in the Koran do not know the secret of the letters A, L, M, Rama will tell you what they signify. Alif, lam and mim are nothing but alif (A), wao (O) and mim (M), that is, AOM or OM.’
The Muslims objected that the letter L is not the same as the letter O, but Swami Rama pointed out to them that in Arabic grammar L is pronounced O when it falls between a vowel and a consonant, as in the names Shamsuddin, which is written Shamsaldin, or Nizamuddin, which is written Nizamaldin. The letter lam (L) becomes silent and gives the sound of the Arabic letter pesh (O or U). Therefore ALM is no secret; it is clearly and unambiguously OM and nothing but OM. It is Kufra, heretical or a sin, to blame God for keeping it a secret.
The Muslims asked him to explain the meaning of Kufra and the related word ‘Kafir’, which to a Muslim means an infidel.
Rama said: Dear ones, the meaning of Kufra is to hide. What? To hide the truth or reality is Kufra, and he who hides the truth is Kafir [infidel]. But how does a Kafir hide the truth? He hides it behind the curtain of his Khudi or ego, which has its roots in selfishness. In other words the person who asserts his ego or selfishness as against truth is a Kafir.
Excerpted from an article which first appeared in the Winter 2002 edition of Self-Knowledge Journal. The 143rd birth anniversary of Swami Ramatirtha will be observed on October 22.