From A’daab → Khuda Hafiz → Allah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?
By Ahmed Kamran
In Parts 1 & 2 we discussed an Indo-Persian culture that evolved in India, and how this Ganga-Jamni Tehzib responded to the collapse of Muslim political power and the rise of European powers. We have seen how the frustration of the Muslim intelligentsia gave rise to an aggressive Jihad culture and an inverse reflection led it to the pursuit of modern knowledge and secular progress. Let’s see how Indian Muslims slowly drifted towards a new path of social and political isolation.
In the face of all-round defeat and damage to the past glory of Muslims all over the world, Altaf Hussain Hali’s Mussadas was probably the first modern and powerful literary expression of harking back to the simple and no-frills life of early Islam in Arabia – implicitly blaming and rejecting the extravagance of an ornate but decadent Persianized culture of the Indian Muslim elite.
By 1870’s, the Muslim bitterness against the British reached its climax. Chief Justice of Bengal, John Paxton Norman, was stabbed to death by a Muslim on the steps of his court in 1871. The same year Viceroy Lord Mayo was assassinated in the Andaman Islands by a Deobandi Muslim convict, Sher Ali. A Persian paper of Calcutta expressed the Muslim sentiments in 1869 thus: “All sorts of employment, great and small, are being gradually snatched away from the Muhammadans.” Up to 1838, Muslims in service were almost as numerous as the Hindus and the English put together, the proportion being six Muslims to seven Hindus and Englishmen together. From 1851 the scene changed. Out of 240 Indians admitted from 1851 to 1868, 239 were Hindus, and only one was Muslim. The Muslims were particularly absent from higher professions like medicine and legal practice. In 1869, out of 104 medical licenses issued, there were 98 Hindus, 5 Englishmen and only one Muslim (Ram Gopal, 1959).
But we must not fall victim to the common fallacy of believing that the Muslims were a monolithic body and the conditions and responses of the entire Muslim community were the same. Like any other community of India, Muslims also had variance in their conditions and responses. In their frustration and anger it was the Muslim aristocratic elite that had initially opposed and stayed away from English education. Contrary to common belief, Muslim commoners practically did not show any such aversion. Apart from colleges of higher professional learning, British also opened government schools at tehsil (sub-district administrative unit) and smaller town levels to impart basic modern education. Muslim boys freely entered these Government-run schools in adequate numbers even before the Sir Syed’s movement; at times, their number proportionately exceeded that of others like Hindus. Education statistics from 1880-81 Census show 769 Hindu students and 112 Muslims in colleges in North-West Provinces (modern UP) whereas the numbers for ‘Anglo-vernacular’ middle schools were 170,478 and 32,619 respectively. The Education Commission of 1882 concluded that the number of “children under instruction to total population is larger respectively for the Muhammadan than for Hindu community.”
The issue also had a significant class and economic dimension; the poorer segments of Muslim population, who educated their children up to the high school or at best intermediate level, could not pay for higher education. They usually dropped out during or after high school. As the Muslim aristocracy, angered with this social and economic revolution completely reversing their fortunes, stayed away from English education, the proportion of Muslims in higher and professional education dropped sharply. Little wonder, when in 1878 Sir Syed tabulated the numbers there were only 30 Muslim Bachelor of Arts among a total of 1,373. The proportion of Masters (326 to 5) and Graduates of law, medicine, and engineering put together (3,155 to 57 Muslims) was even more shocking for poor Sir Syed.
Interestingly, this upper class isolation was not limited to Muslims in the North-West provinces. The Hindu landlords of the region were also way behind the Hindus of Bengal, Madras, and Bombay provinces where apparently the severity of the great rebellion of 1857 and its aftermath was much less. Similarly, the Muslims of Bombay and Gujrat (mainly coming from trading and merchant background) exhibited different responses and fared relatively well compared the Muslims of the North-West. On the other hand, Muslims of Bengal province were probably the lowest in the social and education index because of their more precarious economic situation.
Of the two organized cultural and educational efforts of the Indian Muslims in response to their general decline, both Dar al Uloom Deoband (students mainly coming from the middle and lower middle classes) and MAO College Aligarh (students mainly coming from the upper middle and upper classes) attempted to raise the general education level of the Indian Muslims. They both, in varying proportions, combined the European knowledge with religious education. Though the paths were significantly different yet the outcome of the two was not fundamentally different from each other. At the end, both led them to an extra-ordinarily heightened independent social consciousness for the Muslims. Both set of people lived aloof from the common men and remained confined to elite upper and upper middle classes of the Muslims of India. They did not reach out to the common Muslim men and women as it was not their need of the hour. Their objective was to elevate their own economic status and regain the lost social prestige for themselves. Whatever approach they made to the common men was for collecting funds and gathering support for their own cause like today’s elite periodically going out to the people seeking votes for them to reach to the legislative assemblies. During those days it was the question of seeking jobs in the colonial administration and obtaining nominations for the advisory councils and lately for the participation in the municipal and local governments.
The political and social trends that we observe among Indian Muslims of the period, however, were not unique or peculiar to the Muslim community alone. Identical trends were visible among the rest of the Hindu population as well. In fact, in their fight for the colonial spoils, there was clearly a growing trend among both Hindus and Muslims to divert the focus from essential issues and each other blaming for their respective plight and deprivations.
The turn of the 19th century is specially marked by a rapid decline and disintegration of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. With it the spoils of lands falling apart from the Ottoman Empire were divided among various European nations with open support from Great Britain. Independence of Greece was already wrested from Turkey in 1832 and the Caucasian region in the north and Central Asia was encroached in successive Russo-Turkish wars. Algeria was conquered in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881 by France; Britain directly took over Egypt as its de-facto protectorate since 1883. Crete was taken away by Greece in 1896, Morocco was snatched by France and partly by Spain in 1905, and Italy conquered Libya in 1912. With Balkan Wars in 1912, Turkey was almost completely expelled from the Europe (except for a small enclave of Adrianople across Bosphorus that was later recovered by the Turk army). Arabs in Hejaz, Palestine, and Iraq were openly seduced by the British to rebel against Turks in return for false promises. During World War 1 from 1914 to 1918 these activities for re-drawing the world map among top European powers were accelerated and with the eventual defeat of the Axis powers, including Ottoman Empire, in the war almost completely assured the dismemberment of Turkish domains. This gave rise to an acute sense of global injustice among Muslims all over the world. In spite of these countries being from different regions and speaking different languages the common bond was that of all of them being Muslim nations. Indian Muslims being the largest and most politically active group, and already experiencing the brunt of the British colonial subjugation, were the most restless.
This gloomy international picture led Indian Muslims to Khilafat Movement in protest against Turkey’s dismemberment and a general quest for finding solutions of their common ills with a new global perspective. Pam-Islamism of Jamaluddin Afghani, Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi of Deoband (in fact, a Sikh convert from Punjab) and the drift of Allama Iqbal (from Sare jahan se acha Hindustan Hamara and singing songs for Himalya to Ek hon Muslim Haram ki pasbani ke liye / Neel ke Sahil se Lekar Ta ba Khak-i Kashgar) emanated from this exclusive Muslim consciousness under distress. Extra-ordinary attention was drawn and efforts were made to identify Indian Muslims’ old links with Turkish and Arab lands in the past. Fatwas were yet again revived declaring India a Dar al Harb and some twenty thousand Muslims in large bands were induced to emigrate to Afghanistan as Dar al Islam. An Indian Muslim published a weekly paper Jahan-i-Islam (Muslim World) from Constantinople with articles in Turkish, Arabic and Urdu to influence Muslims in Arab lands, India and Central Asia advocating a global Jihad against British and European powers. Sultan of Turkey’s name was included in the Juma prayer Khutbas in India. Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shoukat Ali in India were interned on charges of treason for speaking in favour of Turkey. The Comrade and Hmadard’s press was confiscated. Powerfully agitated, a group of students from Lahore – eight from Government College, four from King Edward Medical College, and one each from Aitchison and Islamia Colleges – joined and fled to Kabul in February 1915 to participate in Jihad on the side of Turkey. Once again a Jihad Camp was set up in the Pukhtun tribal areas. A Provisional Government of Independent India was set up at Kabul with Raja Mehender Partap Singh (President), Barkatullah (Prime Minister), and Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi (Foreign Minister) as key leaders. Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi in his enthusiasm for an independent united multi-national India even went to the extent of subscribing to the proposal of Muslims abandoning the Arabic script in favour of a common Latin script for Indian languages. He even traveled to Moscow to seek support from Russia’s V.I. Lenin and his Bolshevik revolutionary party for the independence of India. This was the time when Maulana Mahmudul Hasan, principal of Deoband, planning for a global Jihad, himself went to Arabia and sent Ubaidullah Sindhi to Afghanistan. He was later arrested by Sharif of Mecca from Jeddah and was handed over to British police in Palestine when Sharif rebelled against Turks at the behest of famous British agent ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. On account of some of these peoples’ secret plans communicated through letters written on yellow silk cloth pieces, this movement also came to be known as Reshmi Rumaal Tehrik (Movement of Silk Handkerchief).
Starting from the great rebellion of 1857 to vigorous Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Civil movements were a series of national efforts that were jointly conducted by Hindus and Muslims of India. The perspective and motives of two communities might be partly different but apparently their ultimate goals and larger objectives were the same – freedom from the colonial rulers. The failure of the Khilafat Movement and the abrupt calling off of the Civil Disobedience Movement by the Congress leaders – after violent incidents of Chuara Chauri in Gorakhpur, UP in 1920 and Moplah Rebellion in Kerala in 1921 – were the most significant turning points in the political and social history of India. The honeymoon of Hindu and Muslim politicians during a common national struggle came to an abrupt end.
From here the great drift of the Indian Muslims started on a path leading towards social and political isolation from the mainstream, with both pull and push forces simultaneously working in this direction. In the backdrop of a series of political events taking place in the 1920’s and 1930’s ignoring Muslim sensibilities at a critical moment in their political life and harassed by aggressive Hindu religious movements like Shuddhi and Sanghtan, the Muslim’s perspective, particularly in the Muslim minority areas of India was getting seriously narrowed down to a communal identity and a separatist perspective. The Muslims of India faced a gloomy political situation where apparently options visible to them were extremely limited and their leaders were not willing to take visionary perspectives and bold positions.
Initially, this separatist tendency was limited to seeking special quotas and constitutional guarantees for adequate power sharing for Muslims in a larger Indian framework. The Muslim League’s leadership by now was in the hands of essentially non-religious individuals steeped in secular ideas of English parliamentary system. This was the time when Muhammed Ali Jinnah, then the most outstanding Muslim leader at the all-India level was engaged for his Herculean efforts to cleanse and revitalize the stables of the Muslim League. He insisted in 1935 that the Muslim community “as an entity wants safeguards. Surely, therefore, we must face this question as a political problem’” For him, clearly the issue was not yet that of ‘Islam in danger’. He was showing his willingness to “forget the Communal Award and to apply our mind to larger questions affecting India” (Bombay Chronicle, 3 April, 1936).
In terms of popular politics, the Muslim League at that time had an extremely narrow and limited support base confined to the Muslim elite in the urban centres of Muslim minority provinces of India like UP, Behar, Madras, and Bombay. Out of 144 resolutions passed by Muslim League during 1924-26 only 7 touched upon social and economic problems and its Council decisions were taken by an extreme minority quorum of 10 out of 310. Punjab’s powerful Unionist leader Sir Fazli Hussain almost snubbed him, advising to “keep his finger out of the Punjab’s pie.” No wonder, Muslim League suffered a crushing defeat in 1937 elections, more particularly in Muslim majority provinces. It secured 43 out of 272 Muslim seats, obtaining only 4.8 per cent Muslim votes. Muslim League won 37 out of 117 seats allotted to Muslims in Bengal and that was its best performance; it won only 3 seats out of 33 in Sindh; and, it chose to contest only 7 seats out of 84 Muslim seats in Punjab but barely managed to win 2.
At this point a seemingly unimportant event took place in Bundelkhand, CP, that, in fact, heralded a significant change in the Muslim politics in India. In June 1937 a by-election was held on Jhansi-Hamirpur seat due to a Muslim League member’s death. The Indian National Congress fielded a Muslim candidate, Nisar Sherwani, and backed him by a strong electoral campaign to wrest the seat from an already beleaguered Muslim League. Muslim League put up a fight with its back on the wall. Syed Wazir Hasan (father of Syed Sajjad Zaheer), President of the last Muslim League session in April 1936, appealed to the Muslims to join the struggle led by the Congress. On the eve of by-election, two Vice Presidents of Jhansi Muslim League resigned their posts and advised Muslims not to support the League’s candidate, Rafiuddin. At this turning point Maulana Shaukat Ali raised the famous cry of ‘Islam in danger’ for the first time, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah issued his first openly communal statement published on 30 June 1937 in Urdu paper Khilafat appealing Muslims to “unite in the name of God and his prophet” for saving the “Shariat Islami, special rights of Mussalmans and their culture and their language.” Though Jinnah later denied the authorship of the statement but, significantly, he never condemned the clever exploitation of religious sentiments for political ends. The Muslim League candidate, Rafiuddin, finally emerged victorious by a big margin.
Meanwhile, the side attempts of Muslim League leaders Nawab Ismail Khan and Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman at building collaboration between Muslim League and Congress on the condition of including them as ministers in the future cabinet were spurned by the Congress leaders including Nehru, G.B. Pant, Rafi Kidwai, and Abul Kalam Azad.
An astute political analyst and keen observer as he was Mohammed Ali Jinnah soon realized that the narrow electoral support base would not help Muslim League at all to be an effective political force on the Indian political stage. All along his political career, Jinnah had always stood for secular political ideals and had opposed the Gandhian tendency of mixing religious ideas into national politics. But it was quite obvious that without winning a mass support in the Muslim majority areas, Muslim League could not build the required ‘power’ and ‘strength’. Jinnah, over time, took a full 180-degree turn; he apparently made a tactical compromise with the traditional Islamic forces of Ulema, Mashaikh, and Peers holding immense influence over the Muslim masses in rural hinterlands of Punjab, Bengal, the NWFP, and Sindh whom he had always despised. At times, he had even publicly opposed them. Coming from an urban and different social background, he had clearly seen that in terms of electoral politics Indian Congress was not willing to give him space and his public expressions of secular ideals were not going to take him anywhere near his cherished yet still secular goal of a ‘Muslim majority state’ within or without India.
Without leveraging the religious sentiments of the mass of the population the dream of Pakistan was apparently never to come true. This was like changing the ‘means’ for achieving the ‘objective’. From 1940 onwards, we witness a subtle change in the public dressing, demeanor, and religious idiom of Jinnah’s public addresses. Muslim League’s apparatus more openly geared itself to unleash a genie of Ulema, Mashaikh, and Peers fanning out in the rural Punjab, NWFP, and Bengal gathering mass support for Pakistan. The effectiveness of the new clever ‘means’ was undoubtedly astounding. The momentum gathered in the rural hinterland of Muslim majority areas was more than apparent in the landslide victory of the Muslim League in Muslim-majority provinces only eight years later in the 1945 elections. This was a sea change – a great turning point for the Muslims of South Asia. It was the beginning of a journey that eventually put them on a track away from their own cultural heritage. In the upcoming parts we will examine the course of this drift and the significance of its drivers.
To be continued in Part 4 …