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Gandhi, Islam and more

Madhur Tankha
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New arrival:Vice-President Hamid Ansari (second from left) releasing a book titled “Faith and Freedom: Gandhi in History” authored by Professor Mushirul Hasan (left) along with former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi (second from right) and renowned author Ashis Nandy (right) in New Delhi.Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
New arrival:Vice-President Hamid Ansari (second from left) releasing a book titled “Faith and Freedom: Gandhi in History” authored by Professor Mushirul Hasan (left) along with former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi (second from right) and renowned author Ashis Nandy (right) in New Delhi.Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

“There are three or four chapters in my book on Mahatma Gandhi’s understanding of Islam and his interpretation of the communal question. The book brings out his assessment and perception of Islam. There is a difference between how Gandhi read Islam and others. This aspect has not been adequately examined,” said eminent historian Prof. Mushirul Hasan here on Wednesday.

Introducing his book, Faith and Freedom: Gandhi in History, on the occasion of the death anniversary of the Father of the Nation, Prof. Hasan, who has researched for the past five years on how Islam influenced Gandhi and dwelt on other unexplored facets of his work, said: “I felt the theme has not been adequately examined. We principally assume that Gandhi was influenced by Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. But his thinking about Islam has been neglected. So I have explored how Islam influenced him right from his days in South Africa. The book dwells on the influence of Islam on his understanding of the communal question.”

Earlier, Prof. Hasan, whose book was launched by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, said summarising the book of this size in a mere five minutes would be an awesome task. “Whenever friends used to ask me what all I was researching, I would tell them it had to do with Gandhi. Immediately their faces would fall as they presumed that I was wasting my time because enormous literature has been written on him. I decided not to shut up.”

It was literally a labour of love for Prof. Hasan, who despite his wealth of knowledge went through various books and scouted for unread ones in different libraries. “The scope of the work is expansive. I could not limit myself to one personality. I could not focus only on Nehru. There is one chapter on Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru. I wanted to draw other personalities from England, who influenced his career and those from South Africa. I wanted to get a clear idea of how he evolved some of his ideas.”

Noting that the book was centred round Gandhi’s personal encounters, the former Jamia Millia Islamia Vice-Chancellor said it explores the connection between the personal and the political. “Those who knew him or have gone through his works know what I am articulating,” he said.

The author has provided insights into Gandhi’s vehement opposition to the two nation theory and uncovers the root of his differences with M.A. Jinnah.

Sociologist and author Ashis Nandy, who has been in the eye of a storm over his controversial comments on OBCs, SCs and STs, said he could not read the book because of certain circumstances. It brought out guffaws among the gathering comprising distinguished bureaucrats and academicians. “If you push me at the point of a gun then I would say that Gandhi did not believe in the primacy of history. He was a critique of history. History is a legitimate way of construing the past. But there are other ways of construing the past in societies like India,” said Mr. Nandy.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari said the book sheds light on Mahatma’s life and work. “Everyone knows about them but no one has analysed.”

Former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi also spoke briefly.

Published by Niyogi Books, Faith and Freedom: Gandhi in History examines Gandhi’s reading and interpretation of Islam, his relationship with Muslim communities and his strategy of dealing with them. It also compares and contrasts Gandhi with other leading Muslim political actors of that time.


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