On Hindus and Muslims
First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page, Nov 6 2005, www.thestatesman.net
The one practical contribution made to India’s polity by the Hindu Mahasabha was to thwart the Sarat Bose/Suhrawardy idea in 1946-1947 of a “United Bengal”, which inevitably would have led to Kolkata andWest Bengal becoming part of Pakistan. The one practical contribution made to India’s polity by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was to help defend against the Pakistani attack upon Jammu & Kashmir which commenced on 22 October 1947 and included the Rape of Baramulla a few days later. The RSS contribution may have been more than what Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference or Jawaharlal Nehru and the Government of India cared to admit because it had had an offensive aspect as well; RSS attacks on Muslim civilians in the Mirpur-Pooncharea later formed the basis of Pakistan’s justification for the October 1947 attack and the origins of the “Azad Kashmir” idea. Practical contributions were also made by individuals like Shyama Prosad Mookerjee, who, for example, as a member of Nehru’s Cabinet, responded immediately to information received from a young Government of India officer in Karachi in September 1947, sending ships and Navy frigates from Bombay to retrieve thousands of Hindu refugees in danger of being massacred. The one theoretical contribution made by the Hindutvadi organisations in India has been to establish that it is not a matter of shame and can be a matter of pride to be a Hindu, or, more generally, to be an Indian in the modern world. This is important, even though most RSS and BJP members today may have altogether failed themselves to understand its nature and significance. Indeed, the small handful of Muslims who have been part of their organisations may have understood it rather better.
To be Muslim, a person has only to believe that God is One and Muhammad is the last of the prophets, i.e. to pronounce the Kalma. Nothing else is either necessary or sufficient. Praying daily, facing Mecca (or Jerusalem before it), going on pilgrimage, fasting during Ramzan, giving to the poor, circumcising boys, polygamy, inducing the modesty of women though seclusion or the veil, have all been part of Muslim practice for ever because they were aspects of the Prophet’s life. But if a Muslim did not pronounce the Kalma, everything else he/she might do is rendered meaningless. The Kalma is necessary and sufficient for Islamic belief. All else is incidental and logically superfluous.
The first half of the Kalma is a commitment to an austere monotheistic ontology; the second half is an oath of fidelity to the Prophet because he was the original exponent of this ontology (in Arabic). Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without a doubt among the greatest of men, as may be measured by his vast impact on human history. His total self-effacement and abhorrence of adulation was signified when at his death it was famously said “If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”.
Abul Kalam Azad understood well that there was no contradiction between being Muslim by faith and Indian by nationality. “My ancestors came to India from Herat in Babar’s time…” is how he began his autobiography. No one could think Azad anything but a proud Indian nationalist. No one ~ certainly not MA Jinnah ~ could think of Azad as anything but a Muslim and a scholar of Islam. Yet Azad’s respect and admiration (like that of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) knew no bounds for the only reformer since Vivekananda that Hinduism has seen in the 20th century: a Congress politician by the name of MK Gandhi,who came to be murdered by Hindu fanatics. By contrast, Jinnah, the political founder of Pakistan, could see Congress only as a Hindu party and Gandhi the Hindu leader using Hindu symbols against whom he was juxtaposed in a struggle for power after the British left: “Congress leaders may shout as much as they like that the Congress is a national body. But …(the) Congress is nothing but a Hindu body,” he declared in 1938. Jinnah’s ambition, and that of the separatist Muslim elite, demanded that they rule themselves in isolation in corners of India.
Throughout the period of Hindu Westernisation in response to the opening to the world presented by the British Raj, the Muslim elite were instead chafing under the idea that an India free of British rule could possibly have Muslims living under governments composed of people who were not “People of the Book” mentioned in the Muslim scriptures. Even if British rule had been almost intolerable in Muslim eyes ~ rendering India’s territory dar-ul-harb at worst or dar-ul-aman at best ~ the British were at least “People of the Book”. After a British departure, rule over Muslims by a Hindu majority, supported by the much-feared Sikhs (“kaffirs with beards” in Muslim popular perception), was felt to be psychologically intolerable. Not only were Hindus, in Muslim eyes, polytheistic believers in idol-worship and practitioners of a caste-system, but everyone knew that the vast majority of India’s Muslims had been themselves converts from the same Hindu social and cultural origins, and there would be constant danger of relapse of Muslims into Hindu beliefs and practices if the country was governed by a Hindu majority. The slogan “Islam in danger” has always had substance in the sense that the faithful have constantly had to mind the dangers of yielding to temptations around them, including scepticism, syncretism and pantheism. Hence, insularity and communalism ~ a psychological circling of the wagons in terms of the American Wild West ~ was a natural political response of Muslims to the Hindu (and Parsee and Christian) modernisation of India in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Such were the implicit unspoken premises driving the Pakistan Movement which Iqbal and Jinnah came to lead in the 20th century. The origins lay in the thoughts and deeds of Shah Wali Allah (1703-1762) and his Arab contemporary in Nejd, Mohammad Ibn Abdal Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism. It continued with men like Sayyid Ahmed Barelvi(1786-1831), and Titu Mir (1782-1831), until we reach the Islamic “moderniser” Sayyid Ahmed Khan who, while being the founder of Muslim higher education at Aligarh, was also the fountainhead of the separatism that led to the Muslim League’s creation in 1906. “We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride,” Wali Allah had said. Barelvi after him declared: “We must repudiate all those Indian, Persian and Roman customs which are contrary to the Prophet’s teaching.” “In the later 1820s, (Barelvi’s) movement became militant, regarding jihad as one of the basic tenets of faith. Possibly encouraged by the British, with whom the movement did not feel powerful enough to come to grips at the outset, it chose as the venue of jihad the NW frontier of the subcontinent, where it was directed against the Sikhs. Barelvi temporarily succeeded in carving out a small theocratic principality which collapsed owing to the friction between his Pathan and North Indian followers; and he was finally defeated and slain by the Sikhs (at the battle of Balakot) in 1831,” points out Aziz Ahmed, in AL Basham’s A Cultural History of India. Barelvi’s jihadi proto-Pakistan state near Peshawar was named Tariqa-yi Muhammadiya; it may have survived at Sittana until the First World War. Leaving to one side Rahmat Ali’s lonely scheming from England and invention on the top floor of a London bus of the name “PAKSTAN”, such was the genesis of Iqbal and Jinnah’s Muslim state.
Azad, on behalf of scores of millions of Muslim Indians including Sheikh Abdullah and Zakir Hussain and Ghaffar Khan among the most prominent, candidly raised objections to this entire exercise: “I must confess that the very term Pakistan goes against my grain. It suggests that some portions of the world are pure while others are impure. Such a division of territories into pure and impure is un-Islamic and is more in keeping with orthodox Brahmanism which divides men and countries into holy and unholy – a division which is a repudiation of the very spirit of Islam. Islam recognises no such division and the Prophet says `God made the whole world a mosque for me’.”
Azad had seen that India is or can be dar-ul-Islam or at least dar-ul-aman and not dar-ul-harb, because the Muslim in this land of ours –bounded by the mountains and the seas, with the rivers in between them, all of which the Hindu finds sacred and imagines to be the home of the Hindu pantheon – is in fact able to practise his/her faith freely despite the majority culture superficially being or seeming to be one which is polytheistic and pantheistic. The majority culture in India has had no theoretical or practical difficulty with the recitation of the Kalma anywhere or anytime in the country. The handful of Muslims in the RSS and BJP today may have understood something of the same. Visiting Pakistanis today are amazed by two things in India: the presence of women in public life and the fact that Muslims are free to practise Islam. Muslims may privately believe their Hindu compatriots or cousins to be hopelessly ignorant of the truth, and vice-versa, but nothing in public life needs to hinge on such mutual beliefs people have aboutone another. That is what was meant when the present author said in the Introduction to Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy that Jinnah’s address to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly was as secular as any that may be found.