Entry of Islam into the Subcontinent: The embryo of Pakistan, for Mohammed Ali Jinnah, its founder, was conceived the moment the first Muslim set his foot on the subcontinent.1 That was in AD 712 when Arabs invaded Sindh for the first time. Islam got no foothold in the subcontinent with this invasion.
The next encounter with Islam took place 300 years later when Mahmud of Ghazni made several forays into northern India from Afghanistan. Mahmud’s principal objective was to loot. He also destroyed several Hindu temples including the one at Somnath. The destruction of Somnath temple traumatised the Hindu mind and created long abiding resentments.
Muslim power got established in northern India with the conquests of Muhammad Ghauri towards the end of the 12th century. A sultanate was set up by his successors at Delhi. The Lodhis and Mughals followed, extending Muslim power right up to Bengal.
The non-Muslim communities no longer identified themselves with the Emperor but the Muslims felt and behaved like the members of a ruling class. It is no wonder that in Pakistan, Aurangzeb is rated as the best Muslim ruler of the subcontinent.
Islam spread as Muslim power expanded. The new adherents to Islam from the local population came mostly from the followers of Buddhism, which was already under decline, and from the lower strata of Hindus, particularly the untouchable classes. Conversions were encouraged by the Muslim establishment to expand their constituency and increase their security.
Assimilation and Coexistence
The expanding Muslim population did not, however create watertight compartments for the Muslims and Hindus. The early Muslim leaders were alive to the need for securing the goodwill of their Hindu subjects and were keen to see Hindus and Muslims live in peace side by side. This promoted a synthesis despite the obvious differences between Hinduism and Islam: According to the historian Romila Thapar2 the communities exhibited a fair degree of assimilation in their pattern of living by the 16th century. Urdu is an excellent example of this assimilative process at the popular level, which enabled the ruler and the ruled to talk to each other in the same common language. North Indian classical music and the monuments built by the Muslim rulers in the north are other brilliant examples of the spirit of fusion, which also indicated that the Muslim rulers, whose ancestry lay in Central Asia, wished to be identified as the indigenous sons of the subcontinent and not as foreigners.
The sobriquet is given to him because he kept the ideology of Islam uppermost in his mind as he ruled India, much like Pakistan has tried to do after its formation.
No doubt, there were excesses also against the Hindu religion by orthodox Islamic preachers and some members of the Muslim establishments but genocidal tendencies were by and large, absent. Sikhism was another product of the effort at synthesis, with ideas borrowed from both religions, to reduce the gulf between them. The monotheism of Sikhism was akin to monotheism of Islam. The emphasis of Sikhism on the establishment of a non-casteist society was intended to be an improvement on Hinduism, which permitted castes. The emergence of Sikhism as a new religion in the 15th-16th century was influenced in no small way by the interaction between Hinduism and Islam.
Islam spread to the southern parts of India also through Arab settlements on the Malabar Coast and the rise of Muslim kingdoms in the south. Here also, this phenomenon did not lead to serious cultural clashes and by and large the adherents of the two religions lived peacefully side-by-side.
The process of synthesis reached its zenith during the rule of Akbar (1550-1605). While he expanded his empire up to the banks of the Godavari to the south and to the whole of north India including Afghanistan, he was mindful about showing due respect to ‘Hinduism. His desire to take the Hindus with him is displayed by his inclusion in key positions of several Hindu luminaries like Birbal and Todarmal. He married a Hindu princess and abolished the hated tax Jazia, levied on non-Muslims. He tried to propagate a new religion Deen-e-llahi, which represented an effort to smoothen the edges of antagonism between Hinduism and Islam.
“¦believing that the Congress would look after only Hindu interests. Adoption of this communal approach has been interpreted by some as amounting to a first overt step towards Pakistan.
The foundations of mutual tolerance and respect were rudely shattered during Aurangzeb’s rule (1658-1707). Aurangzeb ruled as a puritanical orthodox Muslim, discriminating against Hindus and their religious institutions, reimposing Jazia and closing the doors of state offices to them. Sikhs were likewise persecuted. Suddenly, the chasms between the communities began to widen. The non-Muslim communities no longer identified themselves with the Emperor but the Muslims felt and behaved like the members of a ruling class. It is no wonder that in Pakistan, Aurangzeb is rated as the best Muslim ruler of the subcontinent. The sobriquet is given to him because he kept the ideology of Islam uppermost in his mind as he ruled India, much like Pakistan has tried to do after its formation. Religious and political intolerance was the hallmark of his rule, much as it was to appear in Pakistani politics later. But if one were to search for evidence that Muslims and Hindus had started to look upon each other as people who could not coexist in this reign, one would be looking in vain. Despite the excessive religious zeal, which Aurangzeb displayed during his rule, India, under him and other Mughals, could not be called an Islamic state.
The Balance Changes
The decline of the Mughal power after Aurangzeb and its final disintegration with the arrival of the British colonial rule resulted in radical changes in the balance between the religious commupities of India. The Muslim upper classes were the principal losers in status and influence. To begin with, the British depended upon the serving members of the Muslim nobility and administrative cadres but trust did not develop as the British were regarded as usurpers. Hindus; played no role in intensifying the mutual distrust. Instead they also had negative sentiments towards the British who were viewed as foreigners. The War of Independence of 1857 was a combined effort of the Hindus and Muslims. In British eyes, Muslims were the larger culprits for the Mutiny as they termed it and consequently, their attitude towards the Muslims became relatively harsher.
This chain of events had the effect of sending the Muslim community into a shell. It became reluctant to accept westernised ideas and the modifications introduced in the fields of education, industry and trade. The community’s unwillingness to learn English, which was now to be the new medium of advancement in public life, shifted it by and large to the backwaters of national life. On the other hand, the Hindus and Sikhs did not display similar inhibitions and were able to progress much faster in all fields. Reform movements like the Arya Samaj and the Brahmo Samaj promoted by Raja Ram Mohan Roy helped the growth of liberalism among the Hindus in social and religious arenas, enabling them to take longer strides in their overall development. The Indian National Congress also started in the mode of a reform movement in 1885, and was seen to grow into a full-fledged national movement seeking self-determination and finally independence. The Congress was not structured on religious lines and included leaders from all communities and faiths, including the Muslims.
Focus on Muslim Community
At this point, however, the general backwardness of the Muslim community and the aloofness from the national mainstream had already become a cause for concern to the leaders of the community. The most important contribution towards the uplift of the community came from Syed Ahmed Khan (181798) who set up an institution at Aligarh in 1875, which was to become a university eventually. Syed Ahmed Khan was both a progressive as well as a devout Muslim. He wanted his community to embrace westernised ideas as well as English education so that it could march in step with other communities of the country but without losing its identity as a distinct presence in the country. To promote these objectives he favoured close links and cooperation with the British. His vision helped Aligarh grow into a major ideological and political centre of Muslim intelligentsia and its consciousness in later years.
Afghani operated on a wider canvas, with Muslims the world over in mind, particularly those in West Asia. Syed Ahmed Kahn really saw the Muslims as one Umma, which should jointly struggle against Western influences and ideologies.
Syed Ahmed Khan’s role in encouraging Muslim revivalism is of considerable significance. His real thrust lay in attempts to modernise Islamic practices and customs to conform to the currents and trends of contemporaneous times. There was no political dimension to it. In the words of one political commentator: “On the intellectual front Syed Ahmed’s mission was to emphasise the rational, secular and scientific dimensions in Islam and educate Muslims along modern lines, in order to enable them to comprehend the objective and secular correlates of the religious and spiritual dimensions and to incorporate these principles in their society and Iife.”3
Syed Ahmed Khan’s involvement with the interests of the Indian Muslim community was, thus, apolitical. He did not believe in an Islamic political movement or approve of the orthodox role of Ullemas. He supported Hindu Muslim unity but after the formation of Indian National Congress in 1885, moved away from the posture, believing that the Congress would look after only Hindu interests. Adoption of this communal approach has been interpreted by some as amounting to a first overt step towards Pakistan.4 Jawahar Lal Nehru, however, felt that Syed Ahmed Khan’s opposition to Congress grew out of his desire for British help and cooperation.5 Nehru quotes Syed Ahmed Khan “for having said that all persons in India, whatever their religion, belonged to one and the same nation.”
Shah Waliullah (1703-62) was an other Muslim reformer to cast an indelible impression an the Muslim mind in India. Like Afghani, Waliullah wanted to interpret the essence of Karan in the light of contemporary realities and synthesise it with advances in science, information and knowledge which had considerably moved a beyond the social and political environments of ancient Arabia when the Karan was given to mankind. He believed in ‘ijtihad’ which meant reflecting, reinterpreting and updating the Karanic injunctions, to bring them in line with the developments, which had since taken place.
Both Syed Ahmed Khan and later Mohammed Iqbal embraced the principle of ‘ijtihad’ and its compulsive logic that the care purpose of religious wisdom was not to be static but to progress dynamically to bring guidance to an evolving society and its pea pie. Syed Ahmed Khan’s concerns remained apolitical much to the chagrin of Afghani.
“¦these developments were proof of Muslim arousal in a political sense and whose leaders would not hesitate to use the communal card to press their advantage.
Syed Ahmed Khan strove to bring about a consciousness of identity among the Muslims of India, irrespective of where they lived in India, much like Waliullah who also wanted a consolidation of Muslim identity throughout India and Islam to became an effective cultural force. Necessarily, this caused communal overtones to creep in, which were later to acquire defining characteristics. Symbolism in the pursuit of independent identity assumed importance. Urdu became a tool of exclusive identification but it is important to remember that Urdu was not identified as the language of another national group.
However, this rising consciousness, which essentially was communal, also gave birth to a query in the minds of some people, whether it would be advantageous to have an exclusive area for practice of Islam and its cultural activities without fear of domination or pressure by Hindus, the majority community. As Muslim identification progressed to envelop issues like employment avenues, repressive landlords, schooling, political representation etc., the room for subjective and opportunistic exploitation of Islam became larger, widening further the fissures between the Hindu and Muslim communities.
Early indications by the British rulers of their desire to involve the locals in a measure of self-rule set the leaders of the Muslim community thinking how best to safeguard their interests. Thus arose the demand for separate electorates, which was conveyed formally to Lord Minto, Viceroy, in 1906 when a Muslim delegation led by the Aga Khan called on him. The Muslim League was also formed the same year. Both these developments were proof of Muslim arousal in a political sense and whose leaders would not hesitate to use the communal card to press their advantage.
Hindu Muslim unity, which had scaled remarkably high levels during Khilafat agitation, became a victim of politics of religion.
Communal electorates went against the liberal political thought as it prevailed in Britain at that time but its use in India was not vetoed. This concept served the British Imperial interests of Divide and Rule. The Muslim League had unequivocally come out on the side of the British by providing in its constitution that it would be promoting feelings of loyalty for the British among the Muslims of India.
Quest for Power within an Indian Framework
In its quest for self-rule the Congress grudgingly accepted the principle of separate electorates in the Lucknow Pact (1916) in return for Muslim support to the Congress. The Encyclopedia Britannica6 reports that Jinnah saw the development as the birth of a united Indian nation. At this point of time, Jinnah was a member of both the Congress and the League. The two-nation theory had obviously not entered his horizons, or for that matter those of any other Muslim leader of any stature.
The Government of India Act of 1919 enacted the separate electorates but other reforms did not measure up to the expectations of the Congress. A civil disobedience agitation was launched which converted the Congress into a mass movement. Another parallel exercise, the Khilafat movement, was launched by the Congress against the abolition of the Muslim Caliphate in Turkey.
“”¦I am a Muslim first, a Muslim second and a Muslim last and nothing but a Muslim “¦But where India is concerned, where Indias freedom is concerned, where the welfare of India is concerned, I am an Indian first, an Indian second, an Indian last and nothing but an Indian”¦”
The Khilafat movement of the 1920s offers an excellent insight for understanding the dynamics of the process of increasing communalisation in the relationship between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Muslim leaders in the movement like Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Mohammad Ali, etc. were both Pan Islamics and Indian nationalists and they succeeded in garnering general support for the cause among the Muslim masses of India. With Congress and Mahatma Gandhi also pitching in, the movement became a refreshing symbol of Hindu Muslim unity. However, the Khilafat movement did not succeed in its objective of preventing the demise of the Caliphate in Turkey and demonstrated that use of Islam as a political weapon could be counter-productive. Kemal Ataturk used the movement to banish forever the interference of Islam in matters of state and converted Turkey into a secular republic.
In India the mobilisation of Indian Muslims under the aegis of Khilafat, however, added to the strengths of communalism after the movement had fizzled out. Disagreements flared up on local issues, and ideological consolidation, which had been built up in Muslim opinion, came in handy to bring up vehemence in outbursts of alleged outrages. There were eruptions of communal violence. One major incident of this nature was when predominantly Muslim peasantry wreaked vengeance on Hindu landlords during the Moplah rebellion in the territory of present day Kerala, triggered by absence of long needed land reforms. There were actions and reactions in both communities by vested interests, each trying to safeguard and, if possible, to extend the frontiers of its own religious identification through religious propaganda and conversion. Hindu Muslim unity, which had scaled remarkably high levels during Khilafat agitation, became a victim of politics of religion.
The mass upsurge offered little opportunity to the Muslim League or Jinnah to consolidate their positions. Jinnah also did not subscribe to the non-constitutional tactics of a mass upheaval or to the use of politics for securing the narrow ends of religion. He resigned from the Congress in 1920. The League also withdrew from the Lucknow Pact in 1922, finding that it inhibited its opportunities for growth. Neither Jinnah nor the Muslim League at this point of time could claim to speak for the Muslims of India. The League’s communal politics had made the leaders of the Muslim community in the country examine the question of whether their Islamic religion conflicted with their Indian nationalism.
“¦the Khilafat movement did not succeed in its objective of preventing the demise of the Caliphate in Turkey and demonstrated that use of Islam as a political weapon could be counter-productive.
Most important Muslims like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were emphatic that no room for such a conflict existed, since religion operated in the personal sphere and nationalism in the political sphere. Their sentiment is best expressed by Maulana Mohammed Ali in the following words: “Where God commands …I am a Muslim first, a Muslim second and a Muslim last and nothing but a Muslim …But where India is concerned, where India’s freedom is concerned, where the welfare of India is concerned, I am an Indian first, an Indian second, an Indian last and nothing but an Indian, …I belong to two circles of equal size but which are not concentric. One is India and the other is Muslim… We belong to these circles… and we can leave neither.”7
While, thus, the nationalist Muslim leaders felt no dilemma between the needs of a personal religion and national destiny, the Muslim League and Jinnah remained bent on exploiting the communal card to secure political power. The Congress leaders were alive to such aspirations and were ready to offer adjustments. The Motilal Nehru Committee set up in 1928 to prepare an outline for an Indian constitution proposed that a balance should be maintained between the Hindu majority and Muslim majority province’s But the League now wanted 33 per cent reservations of all seats for the Muslims. The Nehru Committee was prepared to concede reservations proportionate to population only. Jinnah was dissatisfied by this formulation of the Nehru Committee but did not drive himself to the extreme position which he was to take later in 1940. He had not given up on the “necessity of a Hindu Muslim settlement… and of a friendly and harmonious spirit in this vast country of ours”.9
The results of the elections conducted in 1937 under the 1935 Government of India Act, which gave a Parliamentary democratic set up to the provinces within a federal structure led to an intense soul searching within the League leadership. Congress received absolute majority in all the provinces except Assam, Bengal, Punjab and Sindh. The League could secure only 104 out of the 489 seats under separate electorates. In the Muslim majority state of Punjab it managed to get only one seat out of 86 and in Bengal 37 seats out of 119.10
The poor results clearly proved that the League could not speak for the Muslims of the country, and that its agenda had not stirred the Muslims on the whole.
In keeping with its traditions, the Congress offered to include League representatives in the governments it formed in the provinces, provided they joined the Congress legislature parties. The League rejected the offer fearing ultimate self-liquidation, which would be totally contrary to its desire to capture power on its own. It, therefore, concentrated on using the communal approach to the hilt. It set about convincing the Muslim masses that in an independent India, there would be no way of escaping from an overarching framework, comprehensively dominated by Hindus.
In a report published in 1939, it sought to widen the distance between the Muslims and Hindus by accusing the Congress provincial governments of systematic suppression and oppression of Muslims. When these governments resigned abruptly at the beginning of World War II to protest against the Viceroy’s committing India to the war on the side of the Allies, without any prior consultation with the Indian political leaders, Jinnah called for the occasion to be observed as a day ‘of deliverance and thanksgiving’. The call amounted to a crude attempt to hurt the sentiments of the vast numbers of nationalists in the country, inflame Muslim opinion and convey to the British the support of the Muslims, as represented by the League, in the war against Germany.
To be continued…