Newspaper Articles

Making sense of the distorted history of Muslims in India – by Nadeem Paracha

“Why do many Pakistanis spend more time celebrating Islamic history of regions outside India (especially Arabian), the ummah, and seem to show more concern in what is happening to their brethren in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir.” Writes Nadeem Paracha in his article titled “The minor majority” in Dawn (24 Jan 2010):

The Mughals and the Muslim population of the subcontinent weren’t all that bothered by the whole concept of the caliphate. As rulers they did not, or only superficially, recognised the Ottoman caliph. The Mughals, though Central Asian by decent, were deeply entrenched in the political and social traditions of the subcontinent and so was their Muslim polity.

Also, till even the reign of the last great Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, there are only a handful of documented episodes involving any serious physical clashes between the Hindu majority and their Muslim counterparts. Compared to the communal violence between the two groups in India, and the drummed-up anti-Hindu sentiment in Pakistan in the 20th century, relations between the two communities were largely harmonious — especially during the reigns of Akbar and Shahjehan.

Thus, the roots of the modern-day Hindu-Muslim antipathy lie not in the distant past, but a mere hundred and fifty years back in history; or soon after the failure of the 1857 rebellion started jointly by disgruntled Hindu and Muslim soldiers against their colonial British masters.

As the British became a lot more imposing after the failed rebellion, they also began introducing a greater number of modern ideas and technology, some of which, like democracy, suddenly awakened the Muslims to a stark reality which they had simply not been aware of. The idea of majority rule suddenly made the Muslims realise that they were actually in a minority.

As the region’s Muslims finally resigned to the fact that the age of Muslim kings was as good as over, a number of Muslim scholars and reformers emerged and attempted to undermine the Muslims’ minority status. Both conservative as well as liberal reformists, though disagreeing on a number of issues, agreed that to supplement their community’s sudden minority status, the Muslims of the region must now start identifying themselves as citizens of the worldwide Muslim ummah.

Soon, as India entered the 20th century, conservative Muslim scholars also started reshaping Muslim history of the region. To them Mughal kings in general, and Akbar in particular, became arch villains, mainly for their ‘liberal views’ and detachment from the Turkish caliphate, which, according to these scholars, led to the downfall of Islam in India.

Of course there was nothing academically or historically sound about such theories, and such scholars simply failed to look into the obvious political and economic reasons behind the fall of the Muslim rule, but the emotionally-charged claims resonated with a Muslim milieu ruing its lost status.

The rewriting of the history of Muslim India by such scholars soon saw the Muslims of India talking more about ancient Muslim conquerors (mainly Arab), and gleefully celebrating plunderers like Mehmood Ghaznavi and Muhammad Ghori, all the while downplaying Muslim rulers who had made India their home and played a leading role in uniting the region as a distinct and diverse empire.

As the British began introducing limited democratic reforms, a section of Hindu extremists too, excited by their majority status rose to glorify their own new heroes. And even though the Indian National Congress remained above such extremism, the Muslim League, however, at the behest of Muhammad Iqbal (and not Jinnah), gave a more intellectual context to what the conservative Muslim thinkers were propagating.

To Iqbal, Indian nationalism that propagated a joint Hindu-Muslim struggle against the British (and of which Jinnah too was once an advocate), was contrary to the concept of a united Muslim ummah. So, was Iqbal’s articulate tirade a Utopian critique of nationalism that only ended up in generating a struggling dystopia?

The legacy of communalism in India and anti-Hindu sentiments in Pakistan are a product of two main historical events: The suddenly discovered majority fascism amongst the extremist Hindu fringe, and the Utopian intellectualisation of the Muslims’ minority complex who were asked to look outside India for inspiration and somewhat ignore the brilliant legacy of (the supposed “Hindu-friendly”) Muslim rulers of the region. Ironically, the Congress, too, fell for this Utopian interpretation by supporting the Khilafat Movement, which the Muslim League did not back.

But today in Pakistan Muslims comprise a huge majority. So why do many Pakistanis spend more time celebrating Islamic history of regions outside India (especially Arabian), the ummah, and seem to show more concern in what is happening to their brethren in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir, while drowning out the havoc being perpetrated by fellow Muslims inside their own country?

If we study the recent trend of reactionary thinking and of denials doing the rounds, we will notice it is largely the vocation of the urban middle-class. In an era of populist democracy (mostly associated with the urban working class and the rural peasantry), the middle-class feels itself to be a minority.

Thus, it can be suggested that this class too seems to be suffering from the kind of minority complex of the early 20th century. Perhaps that’s why, comparatively speaking, it is this class that is today enthusiastically responding to all the retro-Islamic paraphernalia, anti-democracy sentiment and empty, rhetorical muscle-flexing based on glorified fables and myths of “Muslim power” doing the rounds in drawing rooms — the popular media and cyber space today.

Source: Dawn

About the author



Click here to post a comment
  • Shattering the myths — I —Elf Habib

    Punishments like stoning or boiling to death, burning at the stake, feeding to hungry lions, castration, amputation, even flogging and public executions have gradually been excised from the western statute books

    Some strange notions and irrationalities ingrained in several Muslim circles have unfortunately congealed into inveterate beliefs and phenomena and have become too infectious, disastrous and obstructive to the growth of modern, interactive, enlightened, pluralistic and peaceful societies. During the British sway in the subcontinent, for instance, religious lobbies denounced the acquisition of the English language and political institutions. Sir Syed’s struggle for a realistic and pragmatic approach, however, salvaged the situation to some extent, averting total Muslim alienation and economic ruin. But aversion, denial and fierce resistance to the inevitable evolution in human thought and behaviour have not only persisted, they have been further intensified and compounded by some new obsessions.

    Hating and labelling the west as evil and inimical to Islam, for example, is repudiated by the fact that most industrialised communities vilified by them are no longer officially or steadfastly Christian societies. The American constitution for example, explicitly prevents the state from establishing or barring any religion. The percentage of Christians there has been declining by ten percent each decade. About half of the adult population, as revealed by a recent survey by USA Today and a Gallup poll, do not practice any organised religion. The church in Britain bemoans the lack of any special privileges while merely a tenth of Christians actually go to church there.

    Some segments in these countries are undoubtedly ardently religious and certainly anxious to spread their faith. There may be some clandestine morbid cliques or fraternities as portrayed in Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Some circles, particularly in conservative streams like the GOP in the US, sometimes occupy the highest public echelons. Yet their wildest fantasies are mostly restrained by the constitution and state policies, which generally tend to be secular. Europe indeed experienced traumatic religious strife, intolerance, inquisitions and persecution and gradually became convinced that the religious states, despite their most virtuous and loftiest resolve, have, in practice, always failed to establish peaceful, pluralistic and all inclusive societies. So while endeavouring for equality and non-interference in various beliefs, customs and practices, these societies essentially strove for an egalitarian treatment transcending religion, race or roots. This is amply illustrated by the countless non-Christians, including avowed atheists, ascending to the highest art, science, business and power rungs. Nixon’s intervention in 1971 to shield West Pakistan from the Indian incursion with his famous ‘hands-off West Pakistan’ phrase and Clinton’s campaign for Muslims in Herzegovina, are some scintillating pro-Muslim endeavours. In view of these facts, the notions of western hostility against Muslims are hardly tenable.

    The perception about western animosity against Islam, in fact stems from its stress on the freedom of thought and expression to critically examine all forms of social, economic, religious and political beliefs, concepts and practices and defiance against unquestioned acquiescence to any authority or system. The scepticism, inquiry, rationality and the courage and freedom to expose and ridicule even the most established institution are essentially an inescapable evolution of human thought and behaviour and unfortunately, despite the best efforts of their antagonists, cannot be reversed.

    Science and technology have continuously altered the human routine, needs, ideas and culture which, in turn, fostered new attitudes, needs, ideas and development. The cycle has also transformed religions, cultures, social practices and criminal codes. Punishments like stoning or boiling to death, burning at the stake, feeding to hungry lions, castration, amputation, even flogging and public executions have gradually been excised from the western statute books. Even states that still retain capital punishment are striving for its relatively more dignified and least painful modes like lethal injection.

    History, similarly, also reveals that severity of punishment, contrary to fossilised wisdom, cannot reduce crime. In medieval Europe, for instance, pickpockets were publicly hanged to impart a warning to putative culprits. Yet pockets were routinely picked even in the crowd gathered to watch these executions. The thrust for crime mitigation thus gradually shifted from a more draconian retribution to effective reforms in the socio economic and psychological factors that breed crime.

    Emerging criminology is even searching to remedy the genetic factors responsible for delinquent tendencies. Given these sweeping changes, the human mind can in no way be moulded to accept harsh Biblical punishments like stoning, flogging or amputation. Even some Muslim jurists have emphasised the need to understand the practice of various punishments meted out in the in the earlier days of Islam as a convenient and logical continuation of the already existing and familiar tribal customs because no alternative or radically different system could be suddenly transplanted in a simplistic tribal society. The real quest and quintessence of religion, however, was to attain a peaceful, harmonious and crime-free society. Strategies to realise the same spirit and targets in currently complex and rapidly altering societies would evidently entail quite different techniques and their continuous modification.

    But some of our religious forces are not prepared to accept these changes and feel that stirring up violent hatred against the west would somehow thwart, or at least delay, the natural evolution of thought and practices. This is equally true for their approach towards gender quality. But one must remember that even the most recalcitrant Catholic circles are now accepting the inclusion of females into the clergy and the bias against women has been rapidly receding. Western researchers and planners are now, in fact, working far beyond gender and minority bias to realise a far broader and all-inclusive diversity management. These measures aim at affording equal satisfaction and motivation to employees varying in age, language, culture, capabilities and backgrounds. Competitive and viable enterprises and workplaces all over the world will gradually have to opt for and assimilate similar changes.

    The emerging social, cultural patterns and aspirations of the industrialised world are inevitably going to penetrate the developing world. Some countries like Turkey have systematically embraced the transition. Several Arab countries like Saudi Arabia tried to stem the tide through brute authoritarian strategies but were nonetheless forced to yield, at least to scores of these new patterns. The launching of a new coeducation university in Saudi Arabia, despite stiff opposition by ultra-fundamentalist lobbies, must be an instructive eye opener for the advocates of gender segregation. A high priest opposing the project was later sacked by the royals.

    The failure to stall various conceptual and cultural sweeps even with the firmest of faith, coercion or isolation evidently also illustrates that the cherished system of the early Caliphate can never be recreated in its original form and ambience. This system, still passionately touted as a panacea by several orthodox movements has, in fact, outlived its structural and functional relevance and utility. It soon lapsed into hereditary monarchies, was refuted by rising Arab nationalism and eventually discarded as irrelevant by the titular Turkish incumbent. Some Indian Muslim enthusiasts, interestingly, implored the disgruntled caliph to retain the nominal epithet despite the secession and defeat suffered by him.

    (To be continued)

    The writer, an academic and freelance columnist, can be reached at\01\25\story_25-1-2010_pg3_2

  • Shattering the myths — II —Elf Habib

    Religion is no longer the decisive or dominant factor in growing secular and pluralistic global trends. The world through repeated bitter, bloody and marathon religious conflicts has learnt the futility of religious wars

    Even if it is assumed that the
    revival of the Caliphate as some supranational institution parallel to the president of the European Union (EU) is possible, its entire edifice would have to be built on an elected representative basis. But most of the present preachers and proponents of the Caliphate cannot even succeed in local council elections.

    Still, despite the impossibility of reversing the current intellectual, socioeconomic and technological matrix, the ideals of human equality, care, dignity, harmony and social justice kindled by the Caliphate can be realised through the means and modes of the modern democratic social welfare state. The ideal of questioning and criticising the conduct and performance of the Caliph, for instance, has been streamlined into the existing systems of opposition parties, independent judiciary and freedom of the media and expression. The romance related to a Caliph carrying flour to some starving family or accepting his accountability even for the death of a dog on the banks of the remote Euphrates have culminated into the social welfare proffered by the western European states. They not only furnish victuals for all and sundry but also tackle health, housing, education, employment, communication, transport, old age and community care. Care and concern for animals has also become far more popular in western societies.

    These welfare systems, which someone more enthused with Muslim eminence may consider a replay of the wondrous welfare programmes prevailing during the pristine Caliphate, cannot be emulated without adequate economic and industrial resources which, in turn, cannot be generated without mastering modern education, manufacturing, marketing, management and service skills. Pillage of NATO containers, piracy on Somali shores or heroin smuggling certainly are not sustainable skills for resource generation. Modern battles, unfortunately, also do not bring booty and spoils. The skills required for resource generation in the present world evidently cannot be acquired without the help and cooperation of the advanced western world. For this, the prevalent Muslim attitude of angst and animosity towards the West has to be dispassionately altered. Yet another important prerequisite for achieving this desired social welfare system is that a larger part of the available resources must be continuously invested in social and economic development, eschewing non-productive ostentatious pursuits like mammoth armies and arms building. This immediately brings us to the cloying notion of conquests paraded by many Muslim preachers, particularly of the conservative and militant shades. The splendour of Islam in several circles, unfortunately, is equated with the grandeur of its armies, war victories and territorial extension. The argument, however, is contradicted by another claim that love and cooperation were more instrumental in its acceptance as it also spread to the territories never invaded by Muslims. If conquests and territorial annexations are accepted as the parameters for the greatness of a religion, then Christianity evidently supersedes, as its adherents like the British, Dutch, French and Portuguese not only conquered most of the Muslim territories but also commanded far larger regions. Numerically, it is still the largest religion on earth.

    Therefore, Muslims must reconcile to the fact that peace, prosperity, health, happiness and contentment of a community coupled with its excellence in skill, innovation and creativity plus its eminence in leading global efforts for the elimination of disease, deprivation and environmental degradation are the real criteria of the new grandeur and glory. Many nations, like Canada and the Scandinavian states that lead the world in the most coveted human development index, have persistently spurned the temptation of gargantuan arms and might. Larger Muslim endeavours or crusades thus ought to focus on the new realities and dictates. A new interpretation of jihad glorifying the scalpel versus sword, drug against disease, knowledge against ignorance, freedom against fetters, production against paucity and fairer and wider distribution of necessities against monopolies is needed in the emerging world. The mantra for the popularity or prevalence of some particular concepts, conduct or practices lies in their spontaneous appeal and efficacy.

    Religion is no longer the decisive or dominant factor in growing secular and pluralistic global trends. The world through repeated bitter, bloody and marathon religious conflicts has learnt the futility of religious wars. No religious wars, in fact, were waged by advanced industrialised nations during recent centuries. Even the crusades did not radically alter the relative strength of the two belligerent sets of believers. Religion similarly could not contain conflicts among its followers. The two greatest world wars during the last century were actually fought among the Christian faithful. In the First World War, Germany, a dominantly Christian country allied with Turkey, a prominent Muslim state. Iraqi incursions into Kuwait and kindred incidents corroborate how Muslims have slaughtered their fellow faithfuls for reasons other than religion. Preponderant historical evidence and records thus negate the fanatics’ dreams and forays to found religious empires or states in the present world.

    The receding role of religion in worldly affairs also exposes the naivety of our gargantuan notions about the Ummah so garrulously orchestrated by the fundamentalists and political leaders. Unity amongst the Ummah translates into uniting on the basis of something that has decidedly lost its binding forte. Religious identity may facilitate some interaction on the basis of some common cultural or culinary strands, but wielding it as an instrument of international cooperation can have some serious repercussions. It fuels an anachronistic signal to other mightier and advanced communities to follow suit and create the corresponding creed-centred power and trading blocs, reigniting the rivalries of the Crusade days. Imagine an extreme scenario if, in a quid pro quo rebuttal, modern knowledge and technology transfer are denied to the societies practicing or preaching discrimination. The days of religious, racial, regional or ideological supremacy are fast slipping away and the time, traditions and cultures are being continuously swept and scattered by the winds of change, just as the water once flowing under a bridge never returns.

    The writer, an academic and freelance columnist, an be reached at\01\26\story_26-1-2010_pg3_6