Islamism or Political Islam are ideas that emerged in the early twentieth century and were formulated in different parts of the world mainly in response to fall of the Ottoman Caliphate. Two major figures that contributed to this debate immensely were Syed Qutb from Egypt and Abul Ala Maududi from India. The practical expression of this ideology came to fore in the later part of twentieth century and at the start of the twenty first. Browsing through the archives of history, one encounters figures that have been all but forgotten for the roles they played in the grand scheme of things. One such character that needs to be resurrected or at least identified for his role in popularising Islamism is that of Raja of Mahmudabad.
Amir Ahmad Khan (his given name) was a prominent landlord from United Provinces (U.P.). He received education from Lucknow and later from England. He was the youngest member of the Central Working Committee of All India Muslim League and its National Treasurer. He was the chief organizer of the Muslim League National Guard (till 1944) and the chief patron of the All India Muslim Students Federation (AIMSF) formed by Muslim students till August 1946. Despite his aristocratic background, he cultivated an austere personal style. He habitually wore khaddar, was known for his generosity towards his tenants, and his piety as a practicing Shia.
Two major figures that contributed to this debate immensely were Syed Qutb from Egypt and Abul Ala Maududi from India
He personally took interest in popularisation of Muslim League in U.P. after the party’s disastrous performance in the provincial elections held in 1937. Due to difference of opinions on the matter of nationalism and safeguards for minority rights in a future state, he didn’t participate in AIML’s historic meeting in March 1940. In a letter he wrote to Mr. Jinnah at the end of March 1940, he sought clarifications regarding safeguards that Shias would be granted in the Muslim nation. He compared the relations between Sunnis and Shias in India to the relations between Catholics and Protestants in early Modern Europe. He lamented in the letter that “even today as we sit together and talk of unity among Muslim ranks, the candidates find it extremely difficult to counter Sunni sectarian propaganda in the time of election to legislative or local bodies. Even those among them who successfully entered legislatures did not feel free to express the true sentiments of the Shias for the fear of the electorate.”
Raja of Mahmudabad was ultimately sold on the idea of Pakistan, but he chose to see the future state in a different light than – Mr. Jinnah
He was ultimately sold on the idea of Pakistan, but he chose to see the future state in a different light than Mr. Jinnah. He claimed that the Lahore resolution possessed global—and not just regional—significance. He exclaimed in a speech that it had been passed not just for Muslims in India but for Muslims in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan and indeed the whole Islamic world. He held half-baked ideas about democracy and an ‘Islamic political system’ which he articulated in the following words: “When we speak of democracy in Islam it is not democracy in the government but in the cultural and social aspects of life. Islam is totalitarian — there is no denying about it. It is the Quran that we should turn to. It is the dictatorship of the Quranic laws that we want — and that we will have — but not through non-violence and Gandhian truth”.
He outlined some features of ‘Pakistan’ as he envisioned it in his Presidential address to Bombay Muslim League in May 1940: “There will be prohibition, absolute and rigorous, with no chance for its ever being withdrawn. Usury will be banished. Zakat will be levied. Why should not we be all allowed to make this experiment? In treading this path, we will not be crossing the path of any right-minded individual”.
Among contemporary ideologies, he found socialism to be compatible with Islam by and claimed that socialism was first inaugurated by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Arabia long before it came into existence in Russia under the Bolsheviks. To the Raja, socialism just like Islam was based on a new vision of the world where there would be no discrimination based on colour, class, sect, region, or language. Before the Peoples’ Party of Zulfikar Bhutto appropriated the slogan of ‘Islamic Socialism’, Raja of Mahmudabad (and even Liaqat Ali Khan) had blown this trumpet.
Mr. Jinnah was not in favour of an overt theocracy at any time in his career and was irked by the frequent outbursts of Raja of Mahmudabad. An anecdote from Isha’at Habibullah’s unpublished autobiography demonstrates this attitude perfectly: “The Raja started the conversation by saying that since the Lahore resolution had been passed earlier that year, if and when Pakistan was formed, it was undoubtedly to be an Islamic State with the Sunna and Sharia as its bedrock. The Quaid’s face went red and he turned to ask Raja whether he had taken leave of his senses?
Mr. Jinnah added: Did you realize that there are over seventy sects and differences of opinion regarding the Islamic faith, and if what the Raja was suggesting was to be followed, the consequences would be a struggle of religious opinion from the very inception of the State leading to its very dissolution. Mr. Jinnah banged his hands on the table and said: We shall not be an Islamic State but a Liberal Democratic Muslim State.”
Major differences between Mr. Jinnah and Raja of Mahmudabad developed in 1946, due to the Raja’s espousal of violence in North West Frontier Province (NWFP)
Major differences between Mr. Jinnah and Raja of Mahmudabad developed in 1946, due to the Raja’s espousal of violence in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and his opposition to the Third June Plan that laid the way for partition of India. On the eve of the Partition, the Raja was in Hyderabad but refused to visit Karachi for the 14th August Independence ceremony.
He was appalled by the violence that accompanied the Partition and left for Iran with his family soon after India was divided.
They travelled from there to Mashhad, then Tehran and finally to Karbala. The Raja and his family stayed in Iraq for ten years. In 1957, the Raja went to Pakistan and changed his Indian passport for a Pakistani one. He had thought of going into politics but then Pakistan was a different country. He was a Mohajir, a refugee in Pakistan, a Shia in a predominantly Sunni country. The Raja left Pakistan again and travelled to London where he finally settled down and passed away in 1973.