Politicization of Islam during Partition

The author explores with a wealth of detail about how Sub-continent Islam initially came to be politicized. With tensions mounting high pre-partition, religious parties emerged as political groups, and instead of supporting Jinnah and his vision, the mullahs and maulvis had an agenda of their own.

At the time of partition, India had dozens of Muslim religious parties, mostly based on different schools of Fikah and sects. Initially, only a few of them were active in politics. Some had their own madrasas while most used the mosque to teach religion. For the most part, they considered learning English and science a threat and labeled it as ‘haraam‘.

They also jealously guarded their right to tell the Muslims what was right and wrong by issuing fatwas. Controversial at best, these can be little more than personal opinions since the Koran does not approve of institutionalized clergy. (Please see ‘Fatwas for Cash‘ in Time Magazine of 21 Sept. 2006). 

The two main Islamic sects, Shia and Sunni, were divided into sub-sects. The predominant school among the Shias, who constituted a little over 10% of India’s Muslims, was Asna Ashri (Twelvers) and among the Sunnis it was the Hanafis.

Since there is no doctrinal difference as such, Muslims remained tolerant of each other and inter-sect marriages were considered acceptable among the more enlightened. Jinnah was a Shia yet he was revered by the majority of Sunnis.

Sunnis against Two Nation Theory

The main Sunni madrasa, Dar-al-Uloom, that was set up in Deoband, U.P has played a critical and, at the same time, controversial role in the subsequent history of Islam in India. Its founders denounced Sir Syed Ahmed’s efforts to ameliorate the lot of the Muslims in the aftermath of their collapse, branding him ‘a deadly poison’, ‘the modern Prophet of nature worshippers’, and worse.

They also rejected his assertion that the Muslims of India constituted a separate nation and later aligned themselves with the Indian National Congress in opposition to the Muslim League.

In the same vein, its scholars, led by the Shaikh-ul-Hind Hasan Ahmed Madani, bitterly opposed both Iqbal and Jinnah for their demand for a separate state for the Muslims. Jamiat-ul-ulemai-Hind, a political organization inspired by religion, owes its origins to Deoband. Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, who later founded the Jamaat-e-Islami, was one of the editors of its journal.

Maulana Shibli’s efforts to reform Islam

In a sharp reaction to the fundamentalist attitude adopted at Deoband, an eminent scholar of the time and a professor of Arabic at Aligarh, Maulana Shibli Naumani (1857 – 1914), founded Nadva-tul-ulama at Lucknow in 1894.

He dedicated it to reform, moderation and rapprochement between the various schools of Muslim thought. Its curriculum was broad-based and included the English language as well as other non-religious subjects but was by no means as modern in outlook as Aligarh. Shibli wished to reform Islam from within and viewed western values through an Islamic prism.

Were the Muslims against Jinnah?

Muslim League was formed as a political party for all the Muslims, under the chairmanship of Sir Agha Khan in 1906 but remained ineffectual. Subsequently, others also came into being like the Khudai Khidmatgars in NWFP led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan who was a devotee of Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress Party.

Khaksars, organised by the mercurial Allama Mashriki were viscerally opposed to Jinnah and even made two attempts on his life, wounding him once. There was also the Majlis-e-Ahrar with the fire-breathing Maulana Ata Ullah Shah Bokhari who was reputed to sell his services for a fee to anyone, true or false, one doesn’t know but there were many others like him. All of them had only one thing in common — the hatred of Jinnah and Muslim League.

Read more: Why Allama Mashriqi opposed the partition of India?

A separate state is a pagan state

Maulana Maudoodi declared that the Muslims in India do not constitute a national entity but rather a jamaat or community. He also claimed that a separate state as envisaged by Jinnah ‘would be a pagan state’ (Kafiristan), no different from the rest. The statement was disowned rather unconvincingly by Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan many years later, but not in other countries (Muslim Modernism in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent, by Fazlur Rahman, p. 97).

Maulana Madni expressed similar views as indeed did Maulana Azad and other Muslim leaders whom Jinnah referred to as the Congress Party ‘show boys’ and the Viceroy Lord Wavell less favorably as ‘stooges’ (The Last Days of the British Raj by Leonard Mosley, pp. 42-44).

In 1936, Jamiat-ul-ulama-e-Hind switched its allegiance to the Congress in exchange for some favors including making Hafiz Mohammed Ibrahim, brother-in-law of the Jamiat-ul-ulama leader Maulana Hafizur Rehman, a minister in the U.P cabinet. It was the same with Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and many others.

Did Jinnah introduce religion into politics?

It was this bizarre behavior that prompted Jinnah to comment during an address in Aligarh, What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish games are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of maulwis and maulanas ——‘ (Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan, by Ziya-ul-Hasan Faruqui, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1963, p. 79).

What these reactionary elements among the Muslims did not care about was what Jawaharlal Nehru had clearly stated in his autobiography for all to see: ‘Gandhiji, indeed was laying continuous stress on the (Hindu) religious and spiritual side of the movement. —- The whole Non-co-operation Movement was strongly influenced by this and took on a revivalist character so far as the masses were concerned. The great majority of Congress workers naturally tried to model themselves after their leader and even repeated his language. 

I used to be troubled sometimes at the growth of this religious element in our politics —-Even some of Gandhiji’s phrases sometimes jarred upon me —- thus his frequent reference to Ram Raj as the golden age which was to return. But I was powerless to intervene —-’ (pp. 72, 3).

How and why leaders of the Muslim religious parties chose to ignore this while making common cause with Gandhi is anyone’s guess. It is ironic that although not once did Jinnah base his claim on Islam, it is he who should most often be blamed for bringing religion into politics by the politicians and historians and seldom Mr. Gandhi.

Read more: Religion in world politics: Emergence of the concept of Ghazwa-e-Hind

Beginning of Ram Raj

Muslim League later split into three different factions and Jinnah left the country in disgust. In the 1935 election, Muslims performed very poorly. The newly installed Congress Governments in the provinces began to show their true colors.

They mandated the singing of ‘Vande Mataram’, a Hindu pseudo-religious hymn, in schools and official functions and replaced Urdu with Hindi as the medium of instruction. The Congress party flag was flown on all the government buildings and institutions and the offices were adorned with Gandhi’s portraits.

In addition to this, the killing of cows was banned. Government functionaries in the districts were ordered to ‘co-operate’ with the local Congress functionaries. Perhaps worst of all, Congress ministers started to systematically weed out and replace Muslims in government offices with Hindus.

Such actions were calculated to reassure and placate the Hindus and made clear that Congress was essentially a Hindu communal party.

Leaders of their religious parties did not realize it for whatever reasons but the Muslims knew it was the beginning of Ram Raj. At this rate, they expected, it will be time for shudhi (forced religious conversion) next. This is when Iqbal wrote the Prophetic letter to Jinnah on 21 June 1937) in which he stated: ‘You are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has the right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming.

Muslims renewed faith in Jinnah

He came and got to work organizing the Muslim League in every corner of India. Muslims trusted and supported him. This is evident from the results of the 1945 election in which Muslim League won every Muslim seat in the Central Legislature from every corner of India with 87% of the votes.

In a similar landslide, it also won 428 of the total 492 seats reserved for the Muslims in the provincial assemblies. Congress received only one percent of the Muslim vote. It was this result more than anything else that made the creation of Pakistan inevitable.

At its annual session in Lahore in 1940, it passed the resolution that called for the grouping of provinces where the Muslims were in majority in any future political arrangement in India.

Contrary to the propaganda being waged by the religious parties these days, it was not done in the name of religion for the simple reason that religion lives in the hearts and minds of people and does not need a piece of land to exist.

It also did not call for establishing any particular system of government nor does it mention the so-called two-nation theory anywhere as such. All it asked was for Muslims to have control over the provinces where they were in majority.

It is important to note that no leader of the religious parties took part in the discussions nor supported the resolution in any way after it was passed. On the other hand, some Christian leaders did participate and expressed their agreement with the demand.

Misuse of fatwas

The President of Jamiat-ul-ulama and premier Deoband scholar, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, went so far as to issue a fatwa in October 1945, on the eve of general elections, declaring it haraam for Muslims to become members of Muslim League.

Maulana Qasim Ahmad Nanotvi, also from Jamiat, issued a fatwa urging Muslims to join Indian National Congress and collected similar fatwas from other ulama that he published under the title, Nusrat al-Ahrar.

The Ahrar party was just as vehemently opposed to Pakistan. Mazhar Ali Azhar wrote that Jinnah was not Quaid-e-Azam but ‘Kafir-e-Azam’. As mentioned earlier, the Khaksaars even made two attempts on Jinnah’s life and in one these succeeded in wounding him at his home in Bombay.

Maulana Madoodi and his statements

The Ameer Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, wrote: ‘As a Muslim, I have no interest in their (Muslim) rule in those areas of India where the Muslims are in a majority. For me the primary question is whether in this “Pakistan” of yours the basis of government will be the sovereignty of God or, in accordance with the western idea of democracy, the sovereignty of the people.

In the first case it will certainly be “Pakistan”, otherwise it will be as much of “Na-Pakistan” as that part of the country where, according to your scheme, the rule will be that of non-Muslims: in fact, in the eyes of God it will be “na-pak” —- and damned. —– Isn’t that a foolish man who aims at Islamic revolution and yet endeavors for the establishment of such a democratic government which would stand in the way of that goal more than any “kafir” government?’ (Musalman aur Maujooda Siyasi Kashmakash, vol. III, Office of the Tarjman-ul-Koran, Pathankot, 1942, pp. 92, 108).

It is amazing that having written this he then accepts in his book, Khilafat-o-Malukiat that the Koran does not specify any particular system of government and ordains that it should be decided through mutual consultation and consensus (42:38). The same is also reiterated by the second Caliph, Omer (Al-Farooq by Maulana Shibli Naumani, p.575).

Twelve years after the Maulana made the former stinging observation; Pakistan framed the Constitution in 1954. It was entirely based on democratic principles. According to The Dawn of 15 October 1954, Maulana Maudoodi issued a statement that the Constitution was, to a very large extent Islamic in character and urged its adoption.

It is often hard to pin down where exactly in the eyes of these people does Islam stand on various political and other issues.

If Maulana Maudoodi wanted Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic theocratic state’, why condemn its establishment? The form of government it was going to take was not for one man to decide or impose. Jinnah never tired of repeating, ‘The Constitution and the Government will be what the people will decideThe party representing the vast majority of Muslims had given no indication in the Lahore Resolution that it was in favor of theocracy.

Along with the rest of the mullahs, Maudoodi had criticized Jinnah and Pakistan without offering a clearly defined alternative or paradigm for safeguarding the interests and rights of the Muslims in India.

Pakistan is not a theocratic state

The country was going to become independent soon. It could do so either as a unified state in which case it would be forever dominated by the overwhelming Hindu majority. Muslims had already had a foretaste of what it would be like under the Congress ministries in 1937.

The only other viable course open to them was that of a separate independent or autonomous homeland. How would it have furthered the cause of Islam more if the Muslims had lived under Hindu rule in a united India and not in independent Muslim Pakistan?

Jinnah was very clear on the issue. At a press conference in Delhi on 14th July 1947, he told a correspondent, ‘When you talk of democracy, I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learned democracy thirteen hundred years ago’.

About the constitution of Pakistan he said in 1948, ‘I am sure it will be a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam —– In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State —– to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis, but all are Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan’ (Glimpses of the Quaid-e-Azam, vol. II, by Jamil Uddin Ahmed, p. 463).

Read more: Jinnah’s Pakistan: An inclusive one

Mullahs and their quest for power

Since the politicization of Islam, mullahs have done everything to get the power which they have failed miserably to get through the ballot box. They have never gotten more than 10% or so of the vote and 3% of the seats in the center in any election.

What they are trying to do now is to infiltrate institutions like the police, military, and universities. At the same time, their cadres have mobilized gangs of unemployed and dissatisfied youth to disrupt public life when needed.

This is aimed at setting up an alternative power structure in the name of Islam that will pose a challenge to the writ of the state and lead to disunity, chaos, and instability. It is a dangerous development that needs to be watched very carefully, in particular, its sources of funding and control.

People who take them at face value are mistaken and need to think more deeply and clearly for this is no ordinary threat to national security. Hobnobbing with them can be dangerous to the health of the nation.

 

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