By Yasser Latif Hamdani
In response to my article in Daily Times where I spoke about the menace of Maududism and its sordid history in Pakistan, several sections in India took umbrage to that part of the article in which I wrote about Mahatma Gandhi’s role in bringing Islamic religious clerics into the forefront of political struggle in South Asia. This is the same section that would rather I had drawn a line linking Islamic extremism to Pakistan’s creation. I would have done so gladly but that would be tantamount to denying history.
The problem with nationalist histiography is that it is unable to fully grasp or articulate nuanced realities that don’t fit in with the binary of good v. evil. Indian nationalist mythology is no different. The naive view amongst those Indian authors taking only a very superficial view of history is that Indian partition was brought about by Muslim religious fanatics and those who opposed it were somehow secular and moderate. This binary then affects their entire view of history where they seek – quite unconvincingly- to imagine an unbroken link from Akbar to Darashikoh to Maulana Azad as a strand in South Asian Islam committed to Hindu Muslim Unity. This again bears no semblance to actual history.
The truth is that Mahatma Gandhi – himself more a conservative and a revivalist than a reformer- chose, very consciously, conservative Islamic clerics from amongst Muslims for his political struggle against the British. He deliberately sidelined the more secular minded members of the Muslim intelligentsia and bourgeoisie because he did not find them as forthcoming in his struggle against the British which revolved around provoking and invoking ancient passions in aid of the hatred for all things English. Thus for Mahatma Gandhi the Turkish Imperial Project of Khilafat with its Pan-Islamic connotations became a stepping stone against the British. In this effort, Jinnah- as the foremost Indian from the Muslim community and a secular liberal in the Congress- trenchantly opposed Gandhi and warned against bringing “unwholesome” elements into politics. These are all undeniable facts of history. In his passion to rouse the masses, Gandhi lost all control and balance. Ultimately – as Jinnah had warned – the movement fell flat on its face and Gandhi- along with the Islamic Khilafatists- was utterly humiliated but not before releasing the genie of identity politics in South Asia.
Achyuth Patwardhan, one of the Socialist stalwarts in the Congress, has given a remarkably candid and self critical analysis of the Congress Party vis-a-vis Khilafat:
‘It is, however, useful to recognise our share of this error of misdirection. To begin with, I am convinced that looking back upon the course of development of the freedom movement, THE ‘HIMALAYAN ERROR’ of Gandhiji’s leadership was the support he extended on behalf of the Congress and the Indian people to the Khilafat Movement at the end of the World War I. This has proved to be a disastrous error which has brought in its wake a series of harmful consequences. On merits, it was a thoroughly reactionary step. The Khilafat was totally unworthy of support of the Progressive Muslims. Kemel Pasha established this solid fact by abolition of the Khilafat. The abolition of the Khilafat was widely welcomed by enlightened Muslim opinion the world over and Kemel was an undoubted hero of all young Muslims straining against Imperialist domination. But apart from the fact that Khilafat was an unworthy reactionary cause, Mahatma Gandhi had to align himself with a sectarian revivalist Muslim Leadership of clerics and maulvis. He was thus unwittingly responsible for jettisoning sane, secular, modernist leadership among the Muslims of India and foisting upon the Indian Muslims a theocratic orthodoxy of the Maulvis. Maulana Mohammed Ali’s speeches read today appear strangely incoherent and out of tune with the spirit of secular political freedom. The Congress Movement which released the forces of religious liberalism and reform among the Hindus, and evoked a rational scientific outlook, placed the Muslims of India under the spell of orthodoxy and religious superstition by their support to the Khilafat leadership. Rationalist leaders like Jinnah were rebuffed by this attitude of Congress and Gandhi. This is the background of the psychological rift between Congress and the Muslim League’
This was also the beginning of what I call the sordid “Mahatma-Maulana-Alliance” (MMA) in South Asian Islamic History. No where did it become clearer than in Modern India, when Gandhi’s Congress Party struck a dastardly blow to the rights of Muslim women when it overturned Indian Supreme Court’s “Shah Bano Case” judgment which was to grant an old woman alimony. Shah Bano’s lawyer who had won her the landmark judgment was Daniyal Latifi- a progressive leftist lawyer. Daniyal Latifi had been coached in politics and law by Mahomed Ali Jinnah and had played a pivotal role in the creation of Pakistan and in Muslim League’s triumph in 1946 elections.
In 1940s, two very different Muslims came to represent two very different forces – Jinnah was the public face of Muslim Nationalism and Maulana Azad was the poster boy for Composite Nationalism. So far so good but truth is stranger than fiction. History tells us that Jinnah was once known as the best ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity while Maulana Azad had around that time given a Fatwa for all Muslims to leave India or take up arms against it. It tells us Jinnah’s life was shaped entirely by European rationalism, Edwardian traditions and modernity whereas Maulana Azad was steeped in Islamic tradition and was an orthodox Sunni Muslim scholar. While Jinnah’s trainees and associates include men like Daniyal Latifi and M C Chagla in India, Azad taught and inspired Islamists like Maududi, Israr Ahmed and Agha Shorish Kashmiri in Pakistan.
Jinnah – to quote Alex Von Tunzelmann- was a bad Muslim in practice who didn’t care much for religious taboos and lived a very anglicized and secular lifestyle, a lifestyle that Jinnah never made any effort to hide. Unlike most good Muslims, Jinnah enjoyed his whiskey, cuban cigars, relished his ham sandwiches and loved his dogs which he kept till the end of his life. As a self made lawyer- the best in the British Empire it was said- he knew how to live with class – owning several cars and houses at a time. He also sent his only daughter to study in England and made little effort to teach her about the Islamic faith. With origins heterodox Shia Islam of Khoja variety (which meant that his community follows Hindu family law), Jinnah was the most irreligious Muslim leader and head of state since Akbar the Great himself.
In contrast Maulana Azad- it will shock Indians who wish to imagine the non-existent unbroken link between Azad and Akbar- considered Akbar the great a heretic. Azad drew his inspiration from Shaikh Sirhindi who had opposed Akbar’s attempts at finding common ground between Hindus and Muslims through his Din-e-Ilahi. Sirhindi’s project was to cleanse and purify Islam of “Hindu traditions”. Maulana Azad also drew his inspiration from Ibn-e-Taimiyya – a scholar Azad greatly admired and quoted. Ibn-e-Taimiyya is also cited as inspiration by the globally Salafi movement that is also closely linked with global Jihad.
This is not to impugn Maulana Azad’s reputation. Azad was no doubt a first rate Islamic scholar and his commitment to United India was genuine. Indeed impartial historians will credit Azad for having devised the scheme that came to be known in its more refined form as the Cabinet Mission Plan. His book “India Wins Freedom” shows him as an honest man who did not hesitate from the telling the truth. However a liberal heterodox he was not. To imagine otherwise would be a grave injustice to history and the man himself.
Partition of India was not the result of an ideological Islamic movement. It was the result of a rising Muslim business and professional class which Congress – as predominantly the guardian of the entrenched Hindu capitalist class despite its secular protestations- could not accommodate. Instead the Congress chose to go over the head of these Muslim classes and speak directly to what it thought were representatives of the Muslim masses i.e. the religious and clerical classes of Islam. The apparent paradox of secular and westernized Muslims championing Muslim separatism while the religious and devout Islamic minded clerics opposing the creation of Pakistan appears less a paradox and more a logical outcome of the forces at play. The rising Muslim business and professional classes then found in the Muslim League a vehicle for their political and economic aspirations.
Thus the inability of two great representative bourgeoisie movements to agree on a constitution for United India led to partition in 1947. Given these facts, I must ask those in India who try and imagine Darahikoh in Azad and an Aurangzeb in Jinnah, the ultimate what if- if by time travel, Darashikoh and Aurangzeb were brought to the India of 1940s, who would be on what side of the divide? Dara Shikoh would no doubt be a Muslim Leaguer like all his kin- the Sufis, Barelvis, Ahmadis and the heterodox Shias. Aurangzeb would be a camp follower of Maulana Azad and Maulana Maududi, trenchantly opposed to the creation of Pakistan.
All major Islamization pushes in Pakistan, starting with the 1953 anti-Qadiani movement , have come from Islamist groups that had directly opposed the creation of Pakistan. This fact alone should give some pause to those in India and Pakistan who weave imaginary tales of secular and Islamic nationalisms. Indeed for secular India this could only be of tangential importance but for Islamic Pakistan this realization is a matter of life and death for it is Pakistan which has been choked by its Islamic nationalism.