North India’s Persian- and Urdu-speaking aristocracy and literati, known as the Ashraafia or noble-born of putative foreign ancestors, was overly represented in the Mughal Empire and princely states ruled by nawabs. They were employed as military commanders, advisers and custodians of Islam and experts of Islamic law, the sharia and in various state services. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mughal Empire was beset with irreversible decline and decay. Inevitably the Ashrafia suffered loss of power causing considerable consternation and anxiety amongst them.
The majority population of India had remained Hindu despite centuries of Muslim rule, while the more numerous Muslim converts from modest backgrounds were looked down upon by the Ashraafia. With the British becoming the paramount power in India and upper castes Hindus becoming the harbingers of nascent nationalism, the fears of the Ashraafia increased that with the advent of elections and democracy, their privileges would become increasingly untenable.
Famously Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advised the angst-ridden Ashraafia to align themselves with the British against the Indian National Congress, although the Congress from the onset was an open, secular party which only in the 1920s radicalised and became a mass party. Those wedded to such a strategy were to become the vanguard of Muslim separatism, which from the late 1930s, rapidly became a movement for the Partition of India to create Pakistan in the north-western and north-eastern zones of India.
Among the literati, the ulema of the Sunni majority were divided on a sub-sectarian basis. Among Deobandis a majority organised in the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind decided to hitch their future to the freedom movement of the Congress Party on the grounds that as a secular party it would keep India and the Muslims united. However, a minority aligned itself with the All-India Muslim League. The much larger Barelvi ulema initially remained quietist shunning politics but were later to become the vehicles for the Muslim League’s electoral campaign of 1945-46 for Pakistan and their support was crucial for the Muslim League’s great electoral victory. For them, Pakistan would mean the resuscitation of Islamic glory and power.
In this background we shall look at the objections to the demand for Pakistan by two leading scholars of Islam. Both were convinced that the Muslim League was dominated by Muslims who had never opposed British power in India, and that the British were using the Muslim League to oppose the freedom struggle being spearheaded by the Congress Party.
The theoretical Islamic basis for opposing Pakistan was set forth by both Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was the most famous Muslim leader of the Congress Party; as well as by Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, the head of the Deoband seminary and president of the Jamiyat Ulem-e-Hind.
We first take up Madani’s standpoint and predictions and then the more detailed thesis which Azad advanced against Pakistan. Madani had propounded the theory of wataniyyat (common homeland) and muttahida qaumiyat (composite nationalism), in which all Indians, including Hindus and Muslims, would be equal partners. The only proviso was that Muslim personal law would continue to apply to Muslims. The Congress had in 1931 agreed to the demand for Muslim personal law to remain operational in free India.
He further made the interesting argument that even if Muslims were to establish an Islamic state, such a state would be authoritarian because of bitter sectarian differences prevalent among Indian Muslims. He presciently observed any attempt to impose Islam in a purely Muslim majority state – given the deep controversies of doctrines and beliefs – would require the use of force and generate intra-Muslim conflicts and would thus be a tyranny. Madani therefore favoured a secular state which would retain the unity of India as well as of Muslims.
It must be mentioned that Madani was attacked fiercely by Allama Iqbal, who ridiculed Madani as an ignoramus who was neither a scholar of Arabic nor of Islamic theology and law. This became famously manifest in Iqbal’s scathing condemnation of territorial nationalism in his polemics with Hussain Ahmed Madani, who had, on the basis of wataniyat, or shared homeland, argued that Hindus and Muslims could be equal partners in a freedom struggle to liberate India from British rule. For Iqbal, such an idea was anathema. Therefore, he believed territorial nationalism was subversive and equated it to the belief of the Qadianis (Ahmadis) that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet.
We first take up Madani’s standpoint and predictions and then the more detailed thesis which Azad advanced against Pakistan. Madani had propounded the theory of wataniyyat (common homeland) and muttahida qaumiyat (composite nationalism)
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad started his political career as a diehard pan-Islamist. He was one of the ideologues of the Khilafat movement and the disastrous Hijrat movement, but his reasons were essentially anti-colonial and anti-imperialist for supporting the Khilafat movement. Most notable is that after the humiliating Treaty of Sevres of 1920 which the British forced on the captive Ottoman sultan-caliph who wrote away most of remaining Turkey to the Western occupying powers Abul Kalam Azad issued a ruling in favour of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk urging the Turks to support Ataturk who was fighting for the liberation of Turkey from Western occupations.
Azad joined the Indian National Congress and became the most steadfast leader of Muslims fighting with all other Indian communities for the freedom of India from British rule. Although an erudite scholar of Islam he was essentially a man of the modern period of mass power, democracy and secularism. In the Congress his closest relations always remained with Mahatma Gandhi while with Nehru and Patel he different on many points.
In July 1940, as president of the Congress Party he wrote to Jinnah inviting him to form a coalition government of the Congress, Muslim League and other parties which would demand the British to transfer power to Indians. Jinnah replied by denigrating him a renegade to Islam and a poster boy of the Hindu Congress. At the Simla Conference in June 1945 called by Viceroy Lord Wavell to find out if Indians could agree on an interim government before elections were held and a proper government formed, Jinnah not only refused to shake hands with Azad who was president of the Congress he claimed as president of the Muslim League the exclusive right to nominate Muslims to an interim government.
The Defence Journal of 15 August 2011 printed an interview Azad gave to prominent journalist and writer Agha Shorish Kashmiri which was published in Chattaan of April 1946. Azad made some predictions about Pakistan which have proven to be deadly accurate.
Here is a summary of the main points of the case they made:
- The creation of Pakistan would be no solution to the so-called Hindu – Muslim problem. It would leave 35 million Muslims in India in a most vulnerable situation in an India by a solid 90% Hindu-majority state. In a united India with Muslims concentred in the north-western and north-eastern zones of India and overly representation in the armed forces the fears of a Hindu domination were grossly misplaced and misrepresented.
- Islam’s universal message of brotherhood would lose its appeal. During the British period the percentage of Muslims had been increasing but once the partition takes place conversions to Islam will suffer a serious setback. Muslims in India would become a powerless, small minority.
- The Muslim League leaders have used Islam to gain power and the ulema who are supporting them are also power hungry. There are deep-seated sectarian and sub-sectarian disputes prevalent among Muslims. Those will be gravely sharpened as they compete with one another to impose their version on others. Pakistan will become a hotbed of sectarian and sub-sectarian disputes and conflicts.
- Inevitably conflicts between Muslims migrating to Pakistan from India and the locals in the different provinces will take place because claiming Pakistan in the name of Islam would not suffice to overcome the sectarian, ethnic and linguistic divisions among them.
- It would become impossible for Hindus and other non-Muslims in Pakistan to feel safe in a state founded on hatred of them as propagated by the Muslim League. It would result in the exodus of non-Muslims. That in turn would greatly embitter relations between India and Pakistan.
- After Jinnah and Liaquat, incompetent political leadership will pave the way for military dictatorship, as it has happened in many Muslim countries.
- Pakistan from the onset will be easy prey to Western imperialism which will use it to further their own nefarious designs in South Asia and elsewhere in the world.
- Absence of friendly relationship with neighbours will increase the possibility of war.
- Pakistan’s national wealth will be looted by the neo-rich of Pakistan.
- Islam’s moral appeal will drastically weaken among the youth, and it will become instead a fanatical ideology. I can add that when Syed Ahmed Saeed Kirmani who was a leader of the pro-Muslim League Muslim Students’ Federation met Azad in 1946, Azad told him, ‘There will be “Muslims” in Pakistan but no Islam’. I have reported this in my book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed.
- Azad made this incisive observation, ‘We must remember that an entity conceived in hatred will last only as long as that hatred lasts’.
Both Madani and Azad were prophetic about the type of problems a state based on a confessional ideology would create. Azad referred to the bloody wars which had broken out among Muslims after the death of the Prophet (PBUH) and the history of Islam in India was also replete with sectarian tensions and conflicts.
However, the followers of Sir Syed had won the case for Pakistan because of the outstanding services of Mohammad Ali Jinnah who as a lawyer outwitted Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Patel and all others.