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.