Updated: September 10, 2012 23:46 IST

Correct facts, wrong conclusions

A. Faizur Rahman
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COMMUNITY AND CONSENSUS IN ISLAM: Farzana Shaikh; ImprintOne, G-1, Press Apartments, 23, IP Extension, Delhi-110092. Rs. 750.
COMMUNITY AND CONSENSUS IN ISLAM: Farzana Shaikh; ImprintOne, G-1, Press Apartments, 23, IP Extension, Delhi-110092. Rs. 750.

Farzana Shaikh’s book is a poor attempt to read religion into Muslim politics

The partition, without a doubt, was the worst disaster to ever hit India. Its enormity can be guessed from the lamenting, unanswerable cry of a devastated victim: Khoon pani kis tarha hota hai tum jaano agar/Mere aansoo apni aankhon se bahakar dekhlo! (If you think you know how blood turns into water/Try shedding my tears through your eyes! )

Joining the long list of commentators and historians who have tried to unravel the truth behind this dark period in Indo-Pak history is Farzana Shaikh whose book Community and Consensus in Islam has just been re-published with an interesting foreword by the Director-General of National Archives of India, Mushirul Hasan. But it must be said that although her study is based on solid research it does suffer from the infirmity of drawing the wrong conclusions from an array of right facts.

Shaikh’s case is that India’s partition was the result of the sense of superiority of “a class of important political players” from among the “literate and well-born (ashraf) Indian Muslims” whose religious thought had convinced them of the greatness of the “Muslim moral community” and its separateness from the non-Muslims. Therefore, how could such a distinguished body of people (umma) imagine themselves living in a post-independence India where no “weightage” would be given to their “divinely endorsed” right to rule, and where “brute force of numbers” or “a fickle vox populi” would be the sole determinant in all decision-making processes?

In an attempt to prove that the idea of Muslim separatism had a basis in Islam, Shaikh embarks on an extensive hermeneutical expedition into contentious juridical concepts such as ijma, qiyas, sunna, shura and shariah. For instance, she claims, quoting poet Iqbal, that the shariah (which includes the other four aforementioned concepts) is the organising principle of Muslim collective life and the “inner core without which the Community is like scattered dust.”

It is obvious here that Shaikh has confused Islamic beliefs with Muslim politics. Mushirul Hasan does not mince words when he points out in his foreword that “some of Farzana Shaikh’s generalisations are overdrawn” and warns that unless they are “verified through regional and local studies, their accuracy will remain unknown.”

Separate electorate

It can be shown that in the context of partition politics Muslim dogma was never invoked although Shaikh tries to prove to the contrary. She claims, citing E.I.J. Rosenthal, one of the main reasons for even modernists like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Syed Amir Ali to oppose the British proposal of representation was their espousal of a political tradition that was grounded in the religious and ethical teachings of Islam.

This charge lacks credibility because there is no evidence of these reformist scholars ever having articulated their political views in terms of their religious faith. Sir Syed’s entire focus was on Muslim literacy because he felt that until his community acquired modern education it would not be in a position to take up any political responsibility in India. For this reason he did not want the Muslims to demand separate electorates also; and he was right.

After Macaulay replaced Persian with English as the official language — with a view to producing “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and intellect” — Muslims were so demoralised that they shunned English in protest. Ram Gopal in Indian Muslims: A Political History writes that in 1880-81 only 363 Muslim students studied in English high school as against a whopping 36,686 Hindu pupils! And in 1878 there were 3155 graduate and post-graduate degree holders among the Hindus but just 57 on the Muslim side.

On the questions of separate electorates and Hindu-Muslim parity in the government too Shaikh repeats her charges ignoring several controverting factors. She writes; “At the heart [of Muslim conception of political power] lay the belief that Muslims were endowed with superior moral attributes which derived from their unquestioned obedience to God’s Law and which qualified them especially for power.”

Once again, it is a poor attempt to read religion into Muslim politics. Perhaps the answer to the Shaikh thesis lies in H.M.Seervai’s Partition of India: Legend and Reality which uses, to devastating effect, the most authoritative evidence in the 12 volumes of Transfer of Power 1942-7 documents (published by the British government between 1970 and 1983) to explode myths about partition.

However, there is no mention in Seervai’s narrative of Islam being exploited by the Muslims to achieve their political goals. But Seervai does cite instances of anger against Gandhi for infusing religion into his politics such as the resignation of Annie Besant from the Home Rule League (HRL) on charges of it of having become “intertwined with religion”, and the walking out of Jinnah from HRL for the same reason.

Nevertheless, Seervai opines that partition became inevitable for the following reasons; a) Nehru’s refusal in 1937 to honour the Lucknow Pact his party had signed with the Muslim League in 1916 accepting separate electorates for Muslims, b) Gandhi’s rejection of Jinnah’s post-1937 elections appeal to facilitate an “honourable” Hindu-Muslim settlement saying that he (Gandhi) saw only an “impenetrable darkness” on that front, c) Congress’s repudiation of the Desai-Liaquat Ali Pact of 1945, d) Congress’s rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan.

Seervai writes that the idea of a separate state did not enter Jinnah’s mind till Nehru’s renunciation of the Lucknow Pact in 1937 which casts doubts on the theory that Muslim League’s politics was informed by religion. Mani Shankar Aiyar points out in his Pakistan Papers that when in 1930 Iqbal made the demand for a separate Muslim state there was not even the minimum quorum of 75 members present at the Muslim League session. In any case, Jinnah did not take Iqbal’s suggestion seriously till 1940 when he formally asked for Pakistan. It is no wonder that two prominent Hindutva ideologues, L.K.Advani and Jaswant Singh, considered Jinnah to be secular.

The answer to what made the secular-minded “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” to resort to petty communalism after 1940 can be read between the lines in Maulana Azad’s India Wins Freedom where he quotes Jinnah as arguing; “if the Congress could change so many times while the British were in the country and power had not come to its hands, what assurance would the minorities have that once the British left, the Congress would not again change and go back to the position taken up in Jawaharlal’s statement [of 10th July 1946 rejecting the Cabinet Mission Plan].” It is also Seervai’s argument that “Jinnah’s policies must be judged as a reaction to the policies of the Congress and its leaders.” What Jinnah was actually scared of was the Hinduisation of India. Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, concludes in his book Understanding the Muslim Mind that, “Congress’s inability to speak in an Indian rather than a Hindu idiom gave fillip to separatism.”

Finally, the biggest proof that negates Farzana Shaikh’s hypothesis is the presence of the world’s second largest Muslim population in India. This was possible only because the majority of Muslims at the time of partition did not allow religion to define their nationality and chose to remain in this country thereby affirming their belief in the concept of unity in diversity. It may not be inappropriate therefore to recall a pithy couplet by Faiz Ahmed Faiz which kind of captures the improbability of Farzana Shaikh’s assertions.

Woh baat saare fasaane

mein jiska zikr na tha

Woh baat unko bahut naa

gawaar guzri hai!

(She has found that issue to

be most offending

The one that did not figure

in the entire tale)

COMMUNITY AND CONSENSUS IN ISLAM: Farzana Shaikh; ImprintOne, G-1, Press Apartments, 23, IP Extension, Delhi-110092. Rs. 750.

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Rajmohan Gandhi doesn't understand that at that time ,between 1927 and 1947,Indianness was a vague concept.India was made up of 9 British controlled states and 552 other kingdoms.It is true that the mussalman middle class played the divisive role and was fully backed by British Establishment(Read Wali Khan's book on Partition)All the correspondence between DCs,Viceroy and Secretary for India office is there in black and white!

from:  Diva Das
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 16:03 IST

"a) Nehru’s refusal in 1937 to honour the Lucknow Pact his party had signed with the Muslim League in 1916 accepting separate electorates for Muslims,"

The assumption of the book reviewer that the Lucknow Pact was something good and worthy of accepting seems implicit. I am really glad that independent India did away with separate electorates. No modern country which believes all humans to be same will accept this. Pakistan has periodically experimented with this with disastrous results for its minorities.

In any case, it is true that most of the ML leaders (not necessarily the followers) were quite secular in their own lives including Jinnah and Fazl ul-Haq (Bengal premier who moved the Pak resolution). Many top leaders were not necessarily following the path of Islam but were just using religion to further their own politics. Even if they did not consider themselves superior, they found it convenient to consider themselves 'different'. The book reviewer cannot deny that.

from:  S Sundar Kumar Iyer
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 15:29 IST

This is a book review and a critical one at that. Whilst I think it's heartening to observe readers articulating arguments with the writer's opinions, I do not see the need to question his persuasion in drawing his conclusions. Especially when the persons asking the questions have by their own admission, not read the book.

from:  Dexter
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 15:23 IST

It is crystal clear that the political leadership of that time failed miserably to avoid Partition. Misery suffered by millions because of their failure is colossus. History will never pardon the persons who lacked the statesmanship.
We the people of India must read the history in the right aspect & know the real persons ("leaders") responsible for creating situation that led to a situation to no other way but Partition.

from:  Yusuf Shaikh
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 14:04 IST

The conclusions of Farzana are mostly correct (because):

1. Sharia is the essential kernal of Islam (ref H. A. Gibbs); there is no point in separating the religious and the political Islam.

2. Sir Syed's focus on literacy was not for personal development but for reviving the past glory of Islam. He never wanted to be part of Hindu majority (democratic) India. Both he, and later day 'reformed' ideologue - reformed because in his early days he was for Hindi-Hindustan - Allama Iqbal had similar views in this respect. Their rhetoric of past Islamic glory was not much different than the present day RSS rhetoric of 5000 yrs of glorious Hindu tradition.

3. Farzana's view can be understood if we know the difference between Abrahmic religions & non-Abrahmic Indic cultures. In Hinduism, there is a separation between the religious-cultural and the political (refer Arthashastra), while in Islam there is no such separation. (The result - India is secular while Pakistan is not).

from:  Ananta
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 13:50 IST

I am a ex muslim from Bhopal now residing in Pune for last 8 years.I have not read the book but from the review by Mr.Faizur I can identify with his response. This is a response of a typical common muslim who is fed on the notion of superiority of Islam over all other religions and the greatly enjoyed concept of victimhood. Our hujur in maddrassa used to cry and make us cry by his stories about how muslims are murdered all over the world because of their religion and the importance of staying together and reponding. As a growing up I remember only the hatred for 'other' that was taught in our mosques.It was my shifting to pune for education and job that I had to come in contact with 'others'.This movement from self created ghetto to a open society was initially a cultural shock to me . My world of supremacy and divinness was shattered when I saw that these 'others' were far more humane and loving than what we were taught. I advise Mr.Faizur to remove his head from the sand.

from:  Azad Murtad
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 10:42 IST

Jinaah was reluctant to the formation of a separatist state until he was humiliated in a convention in 1933.One of his political aides had given him the idea of the formation of Pakistan in 1927 ...
I totally agree with the statement of Gandhiji's grandson 'Congress’s inability to speak in an Indian rather than a Hindu idiom gave fillip to separatism.”
How much truth is there in the facts given in Ram Gopal's in Indian muslims : A political history is a good thing which needs introspection...
What exactly is the tone of the book should be left to its reader's as well..

from:  Saurav
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 08:41 IST

Quoting Rajmohan Gandhi out of context (.."Congress’s inability to speak
in an Indian rather than a Hindu idiom gave fillip to separatism.”)
tells me that it is Faizur Rahman who suffers "from the infirmity of
drawing the wrong conclusions from an array of right facts".

from:  Jay Ravi
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 06:17 IST

What is quite intriguing and not well studied is why the Muslim Majority province popular leaders like Ghulam Sayed of Sindh,Fazlul Rehman of Bengal,Unionist Party leaders from Punjab agreed to toe the line of mussalman leaders from Bombay,UP and CP who couldn't win many Muslim League seats.Why these leaders agreed to partition of Muslims when they(Mussalmans) were in majority?

from:  Diva Das
Posted on: Sep 11, 2012 at 01:15 IST
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