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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Talking Tall- A peep to Muslim History in India

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The roots of the modern-day Hindu-Muslim antipathy in India and sectarian violence in Pakistan lie not in the distant past, but a mere 150 years back in history; or soon after the failure of the 1857 Indian Mutiny.

As the British became a lot more imposing after the failed mutiny, they also began introducing a greater number of modern ideas and technology, some of which suddenly awakened the Muslims to a stark reality. Muslims realised that they were actually a minority in India, something that was ignored by them due to hundreds of years of Muslim rule in India.

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 tackle this dilemma. Four strains of such reforms emerged: The conservative Deobandi movement, the puritanical Ahl-i-Hadidh movement, the ‘folk-Islam’ of the majority Berelvi creed of Islam and the modernist Islam.

The conservative as well as modernist reformers, though disagreeing on a number of issues, agreed that to tackle their community’s sudden minority mindset, Muslims of the region must now start identifying themselves as citizens of a worldwide Muslim ummah. It is also interesting to note that in spite of the fact that many among the modern-day Pakistani clergy and sectarian elements insist that their actions are tied to ideas of the first communities of Islam, a lot of literary material used in Pakistan ever since the 1980s in the shaping of various ‘Islamic’ laws and the rhetoric used to fan sectarian/communal hatred first emerged among the subcontinent’s Muslims not more than 200 years ago.

For example, the Mughals and the Muslims of the subcontinent weren’t all that bothered by the whole concept of the caliphate or for that matter the imposition of Sharia. 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 major Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, there are only a handful of documented episodes involving any serious physical clashes between the Hindu majority and the ruling Muslim minority.

Compared to the communal violence between the two groups in India and sectarian violence in Pakistan today, relations between the two communities and between Islamic sects were largely harmonious—especially during the reigns of Akbar and Shahjehan. What’s more, even after the emergence of the 18/19th century Islamic reformist movements, some of which attempted to reorganise India’s Muslim identity through a more strict and puritanical theology, tolerance between various competing sects amongst Muslims was a lot greater—until (beginning in the 20th century) the intellectual battles between these sects began degenerating into sectarian violence.

As tensions between Muslims and the Hindus and between Muslim sects began to grow, conservative Muslim scholars started reshaping Muslim history of the region as well. To them Mughal kings in general, and Akbar in particular, became villains, mainly for their ‘liberal views’ and detachment from the Ottoman caliphate (which ironically was largely secular and based on kingship). Yet, according to such scholars, it led to the downfall of Islam (secular Mughal rule?) in India.

Of course there was nothing academically or historically sound about such theories, and the scholars espousing them simply failed to look into the obvious political and economic reasons behind the fall of the Muslim rule, but the emotionally-charged claims in this respect 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, 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.

The legacy of communalism in India and anti-Hindu sentiment in Pakistan today are a product of two main historical events: The suddenly discovered political majority status amongst the extremist Hindu fringe, and the Utopian intellectualisation of the Muslims’ minority complex, who were urged to look outside India for inspiration and somewhat ignore the brilliant legacy of (the supposedly Hindu-friendly) Muslim rulers of the region.

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

If we study the recent trend of intransigent thinking and of denials doing the rounds, we will notice this denial has now become 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 that it is a minority. Thus, it can be suggested that this class too seems to be suffering from the same kind of a minority complex that Muslims of the subcontinent suffered from after 1857.

Perhaps that’s why, comparatively speaking, it is this class that is today enthusiastically responding to all the retro-Islamic paraphernalia (Caliphate, Sharia, etc.), anti-democracy sentiment and empty, rhetorical muscle-flexing based on glorified fables and myths of “Muslim power” doing the rounds today in the drawing rooms, the popular media and cyber space.

Smokers’ Corner: Talking tall, Nadeem F. Paracha 
http://www.dawn.com/2011/07/10/smokers-corner-talking-tall.html
Some Comments:

Sir Nadeem Paracha sahib gi….now that you have finally decided to examine history ..deeply ..HERE is what you should & must study deeply…..the British & Imperial technique used to achieve their END…Divide & Rule ….Typically, imperial powers depend on the inability of oppressed local populations to muster a unified resistance, and the most successful occupiers are skilled at exploiting the differences among the occupied. Certainly that was the story of the British Empire’s success, and its legacy of nurtured local hatreds can be seen wherever the Union Flag flew, from Muslim-Hindu hatred in Pakistan and India, to Catholic-Protestant hatred in Ireland, to, yes, Jew-Arab, hatred in modern Israel. Ancient Rome was as good at encouraging internecine resentments among the occupied as Britain ever was…..Some argue that the development and propagation of the Bahai faith in the 1920s and onwards was a distinctly British tactic designed to add another “religious minority” to the Muslim fabric of the Middle-East, most notably in Iran and other lands with an Iranian populace….I can go on & on….the idea is SIR gi Nadeem sahib , don’t ignore..the real issue & stop tracking off track..it want get u anywhere……lol
best wishes & regard as always Sir Gi
URS truly
Sheedagandasa….lol


Nadeem has happily forgotten that The Rise of Marathas and Several other Hindu Powers – Jats (Under Suraj Mal), Bundelas (Under Chattrasal) and Sikhs lead to this insecurity among Muslims. Shah Waliullah quoted many bad words against Surajmal Jat as he plundered Delhi. More than 70% of territory was already under Hindus. Britishers came later. At the time Brits came, Mughals were confined to Delhi only. Other Muslims states in Continent were Awadh – Shia Siraj ud Daulah and Tipu Sultan- Ruler of Mysore. Please reflect the true history.

Jack says:
There have been clear tilts and a certain glorification of ancient Indian (almost completely Hindu of course) as well as medieval Hindu rulers; however, I do not think that the Mughal Empire has been painted as demonic (as mentioned below.Sher Shah Suri was an extremely gifted administrator ruler, and the Mughals (and India as well) benefited from his many contributions – civic administration, the Indian postal system, and the Grand Trunk Rd to name a few. That he was Muslim somehow never even comes to mind. Akbar is seen in the same light as Ashoka – as one of India’s greatest rulers. He must have also been a brilliant strategist, because his reaching out to nearby Hindu kingdoms and his famed religious tolerance did not come in the way of the growing empire. Aurangzeb, on the other hand, is seen to have been the pinnacle of intolerance, and Hindu-Muslim amity (or peaceful co-existence) in future centuries has been marred by his excesses. However, despite this dark period and the subsequent decline in the fortunes of the empire, the longevity of the greater Mughals ensured their wide acceptance as the rulers of India – which is why Bahadur Shah Zafar was the consensus choice if the 1857 mutiny had succeeded.
I humbly agree that misinterpretation and misuse of the system by ‘higher castes’ resulted in the alienation and deprivation of a large section of the Hindu population, and made a strong case for their eventual exodus into the arms of more accepting religions. I also agree that conversion back to Hinduism (a fatuous suggestion by someone just now) is ridiculous on many levels – not the least being that the same ills still plague our society, albeit to a far lesser extent than is gleefully reported in Pakistani media. On the other hand, that conversion was also encouraged by many Muslim rulers can be estimated from the number of years of uninterrupted Muslim rule within a region (take any region of erstwhile India till CE 1857) and the estimated growth in percentage of Muslim population within that region.
I feel pained that Pakistan disavows so much of its history in its unbridled dislike for all things Indian – unlike other Muslim nations like Iran and Egypt which are proudly laying claim to their pre-Islamic past. We (Pakistan and India) must accept that while we are not the same, we have much in common, and highlight our shared history and heritage (of which very little has purely religious overtones), rather than magnifying our differences.

MSalik says:
JAWAHARLAL NEHRU said in his “THE DISCOVERY OF INDIA” (Page 37): “HINDUISM as a faith is vague, emorphous, many sided, all things to all men. It is hardly possible to define it, or indeed to say definitely whether it is a religion or not, in the usual sense of the word. In its present form, and even in the past, it embraces many beliefs and practices, from the highest to the lowest, often opposed to or contradicting each other.”
    • Rag says: