Why should Secularism be the burden of Hindus only?
Truth and reconciliation commission, reparation and, at least, a humble apology, are the accepted ways of redressing historic injustices. Nothing like this happened when Mughals lost their empire. It was the moment for a new beginning in Hindu-Muslim relations. But Muslims let the moment pass. The historic injustices done to Hindus during the long Muslim rule were not addressed. Rather, the Muslims, though now ruffled by the end of their rule over Hindus, continued to nurture their earlier exclusivist and supremacist attitudes towards them, largely because such attitudes were at the core of Muslim identity construction in India. Zeya Al-din Barani underlined it when he said: ‘the Muslim king’ should not limit himself to imposing jaziya and kaharaj. ‘He should establish the supremacy of Islam by overthrowing infidelity and by slaughtering its leaders [imams] who in India are Brahmins’, Fatawa-ye-Jahandari, Eng. Tr. The Political Theory of the Delhi Sultanate, Allahabad, Kitab Mahal, 1972, p. 46.Muslim nostalgia for empire days and the socio-cultural primacy they enjoyed then was at the centre of Hindu-Muslim relations. A famous historian, Professor Mushirul Hasan, recently wrote: “The heritage of the past stood forth as a symbol of community pride and distinction; in fact, everywhere Muslims were told to look to their own glorious Islamic past as the source for their inspiration, identity and unity’ and added, ‘the unifying powers of religious symbols – mosque, hajj, Sufi shrine – fostered a sense of belonging to a common fraternity of Islam and thus made it easier for pan-Islamic notion to permeate Muslim consciousness.” [“Pan-Islamism versus Indian Nationalism: A Reappraisal”, EPW, June 14, 1986, pp. 1074-1079].
A result of such political disposition was that Muslim leaders, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i- Azam Jinnah, ‘ended up finally at threshold of Muslim nationalism ‘and this only during a brief span of fifty years 1880s and 1930s [Sharif al Mujahid, ‘Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Muslim Nationalism in India’, Islamic Studies, 30, 1999, p.87]. Even after more than two hundred years since the end of the Mughal Empire, their public expression of arrogance had been still there. Recently in the third week of February of 2020, at the AIMIM conference at Bangalore, Waris Pathan, AIMIM leader, blurted out what was at the core of this attitude when he said: “15 crore Muslims can be a bigger force than 100 crore Hindus.” During Muslim rule, not only the rulers but even ordinary Muslims enjoyed arbitrary power over Hindu subjects. At the same time, being members of a minority community, they needed Hindu support to bolster their supremacy and dominance. As a strategic posture, they would put on a poker face and draw on Hindu talents both in war and peace. They secured Hindu cooperation, not through their democratic participation in the affairs of the Empire, but by rewarding talented Hindus for their loyalty. They encouraged Hindu-Muslim sociality to filter out loyalty as a resource. For the same reason, they practised select Hindu rituals also. It was a political fad or just mimicry. The aim was not to advance religious syncretism. It was a process of acculturation for gaining political support. Hence it varied from one ruler to another. The Hindu-Muslim relations thus waded through sequences of violence, subordination and play. This was the way Indian Muslims moved steadily towards the last act of redemption, ghazwa-e-hind [the final battle for conquering India, as ordained by Hadith 3177].
India’s sense of history was forged by successful foreign challenges spanning the whole lot of India’s history from ancient to modern times. What explained India’s repeated defeat at the hands of the foreigner? This was first and foremost an academic issue. The academics addressed it by side-stepping a possible explanation located in the historical context. The focus was not on ‘historical sociology’ either: how Hindus were pulverized as racial and religious other of Muslim rulers who inflicted unprecedented violence on them for more than a thousand years. Was it not imperative to consider its effects as a cause of India’s weakness? Rather, the academics pushed it outside the purview of their consideration. The post-Mughal colonial context was understood by them within an ‘orientalist framework’: a framework which constructed the East as different and inferior to the West. An explanation for India’s defeats was thus offered in terms of ‘Hindu socio-political conditions’, with Hindu ideas and institutions playing a major role in producing India’s military weakness. This orientalist conclusion was accepted without first grounding it on sound theory. This amounted to waging an ‘academic war’ on Hindus. [Clausewitz described ‘war as primarily a socio-political process’. A ‘political war’ was the Clausewitz an approach towards an internal opponent conducted through innovative measures comprising in totality a gridlock of control over the target population without using arms]. Eventually, an answer to India’s humiliation at war-front came to this: India should learn from ‘the foreigner’ and draw on his ‘superior rationality’ to become strong itself.
Historiography being thus politically contingent and not organic to a people, it was possible to visualize social transformation in a preferred direction by using the agency of higher education especially humanities and social sciences and forging their link to public policy. This was not possible to do without a measure of autonomy to decide what to teach and what not. For example, it was decided that the story of the atrocities committed by Muslim rulers against Hindus, which in Will Durant’s words, signified ‘the bloodiest story in history’, should not be narrated probably because it was thought to damage nation-building effort by putting a strain on inter-community relations. Apart from massacres there were ‘abductions and deportations to harems and slave-markets’. Sir Henry Elliot, a British historian, included the atrocities in his eight-volume history of India . Some Indian authors have also chronicled them. Even these narratives failed to illuminate the atrocities as they were visualized within taxonomy of regime violence and did not bring to life their historical context.
Was this ‘black out’ approach counter-productive in the long-run? Was there an option to this approach? Probably a better option was to confess the wrongs and rectify them. That would have been a more thoughtful way of reconciling difference with equality. That would have strengthened the nation. As this option was never placed on the table, the issue of Hindu-Muslim unity was more a talking point than a serious political question.
The goal of making India strong was conceived within a binary understanding of India’s future. Either take the invader as model and re-frame the Hindu identity by accommodating into it the invader’s superior rationality and political culture, or articulate an alternative sense of history foregrounding majoritarian Hindu nationalism as an autonomous historical trend capable of spontaneous and organic evolution of Hindu politics and power while being open to learning from all sources but equal to every other similar trend in human history.
The ‘foreigner first’ dynamic was situated within higher education. Culture, humanities, social sciences and historiography were harnessed for changing ideas and social practices. A brief reference to American higher education was relevant for understanding the situation in India. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Failed Democracy and Improvised the Souls of Today’s Students, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987, would probably be a useful starting point. The author’s central concern is with the effects of a shift from Socratic rationality to modern rationality within American universities. The university prioritized its role in the emerging world order and so the academia opted for pursuit of national interest in relation to America’s opponents.
India imported some of these concepts and strategies into its university system with a view to articulate the ‘foreigner first’ approach to making India strong. Eventually, the approach narrowed down to a message to Hindus, there was a lot in Muslim rule for them to learn from. A corresponding expectation from the academics was to groom the ‘foreigner’ as a flawless model worthy of emulation by the locals. Historiography as a pillar of this strategy fell in line with the requirement and followed it up by ‘blacking out’ the ‘black box’ of Muslim rule. They also decided to ‘black out’ the working of any religious injunction to decimate non-believers or the working of any motivation to convert them to Islam. The invaders were driven by no faculty other than their superior rationality to satisfy their needs, their voracious appetite for sex and wealth. The plunder of wealthy Hindu temples was not an expression of animus against non-believers. Anybody in their place would have behaved in a similar way. They did not signify a ‘civilizational conflict’ with Hindus. Hindus should acknowledge that Muslims were of ‘foreign’ origin, no doubt, but they were a part of the non-Western brotherhood. The religious difference with them was ‘non-antagonistic’. Ideas and culture flowed across differences encompassing both the communities within the boundaries of Indo-Islamic unity. But India’s relations with the West were on a different plane. They were ‘antagonistic’ in nature. Hence the universities in India should not teach Western social science as it originated in response to Western need for colonial domination. India’s needs were different. Why should Indian students waste their energy by reading them? They should focus on disciplinary roll back by seeking inter-disciplinary solutions to India’s problems. The problem of economic backwardness should be addressed through foreign policy. The communal problem should be addressed by attacking colonial policy of divide and rule. The problem of Muslim historic injustices should be addressed by democratizing Hindu society.
Such historiographical reconstructions of Muslim rule with the objective of isolating behavioural features of those who were then in command and to present them as worthy of factoring into Hindu society for making India strong, did not reconcile with social science analysis. The denial of religious motivation behind Muslim invasions was challenged by citing the invasion of Sind as sanctioned by Umayyad Caliphate, the religious leader of the Islamic world. Similarly the Somnath temple was destroyed repeatedly, not just for pillage. Above all, religious domination became a more pressing necessity when Muslim settlements were institutionalized through establishment of Delhi Sultanate and later of Mughal Empire.
A relevant reference was Catherine Asher’s paper titled as “Pre-Modern Islamic Palaces” in ARS Orientalis [published by Freer Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institute and Department of Art History, University of Michigan] vol. 23, 1993, pp.281-302. The author shows how the injunction of taking the Prophet’s message to the world motivated the Mughals to build architectural marvels in India with a view to generate among local Hindus a delusion of their power and a willing submission to it.
She says: The Mughal palaces were intended as metaphors of control. [sic.] It is no surprise, then, that one was located at the site of his victory over the last independent sultan of Delhi [Lodi Garden]. The fort of the third Mughal, Akbar, in Agra was identified in official chronicles with the Centre of Hindustan recalling the Abbasid Caliph Manure’s conception of Baghdad. [sic.]. The Allahabad fort established by Akbar to protect his eastern hinterlands [sic.] was positioned to overlook India’s most sacred site Tribeni [sic.]. The fort is clearly a statement of Mughal authority over earlier traditions and thus at the same time a link with the past [p.281].
The author further writes: Vital to the flow of Mughal power as well as the execution of justice were its palaces both imperial and sub-imperial [sic.]. In Delhi, the Din Panah of Humayun was adjustment to the Chisti shrine of Nizam al -Din Auliya, furthermore on the side of Indraprastha associated with the epic Mahabharata thus linking the Mughals with both religious authority and an ancient pre-Islamic Indian past [p. 281].
The Muslim rulers focussed on promoting the grandeur of the realm. It dovetailed into their messianic drive for turning the whole world into Dar ul-Islam, a world which was based on Islamic way and its normative principles of social order. Muslim invasions of India were an expression of such a drive. But the obverse of such a drive was a collective loss of self-esteem by Hindus. The situation found expression in cultural practices and identity markers. Such cultural representations were popularly experienced in religious terms. For example, the Hindu weakness was identified with vegetarianism and brahmacharya while Muslim power was glorified as non-vegetarianism and masculinity. A few empirical studies of vegetarianism, published recently in EPW reveal that such representations of religious polarization were losing out to differentiation based on choice between robust rationality and its other, which in popular perceptions continued to be a choice between ‘being Muslim’ and ‘being Hindu’. One should therefore not get upset when a smart public school student reacted to ‘being Hindu’ as a derogatory description probably because he was organizing his concerns around Muslim identity markers [generally by pursuing ‘chicken and girls’ and telling lies to his guardians]. The consolidation of religious difference and otherness was being intersected by increasing differentiation between ‘good things of life’ and ‘good life’.
The authenticity of behavioural markers was now suspected. They pragmatically switched from one to the other. Where Muslims constituted a minority, they formally stood by liberal conceptions of citizenship but, in Muslim majority areas, they were quick to undermine liberal norms as was the case when they collectively burnt Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993 helps in understanding such context-oriented behaviour. Likewise, Nehru submitted to Hindu rituals at the midnight hour: ‘Nehru and his colleagues sat cross-legged around a sacred fire in Delhi while Hindu priests – arrived post-haste from Tanjore for the ritual – chanted hymns and sprinkled holy water over them while women imprinted their foreheads with vermilion’ [Perry Anderson, The Indian Ideology, Gurgaon: Three Essays Collective, p.103].
The post-Empire Muslims feared the subordination of their identity to Hindu majority and turned anti-majoritarianism into a political platform. And they went ahead with the setting up of outfits for advancing Muslim interests in India and the world. These outfits were: Deoband Seminary, Tablighi Jamaat, Ahl-e Hadith and Jamaat-i- Islami. They empowered Indian Muslims with a pan-Islamic reach. A Deobandi leader, Mahmoud al-Hasan, for example, networked with leaders of other Muslim countries to mobilize support in favour of an expanded Caliphate incorporating South Asia. And Side Abu Al Muddy did not like the idea of putting Indian Muslims into nationalistic isolation and, to counter such a possibility, he founded Jamaat-i-Islami for cultivating their close relations with Islamicist groups in other countries. Irfan Ahmad elaborates this in his paper ‘Between Moderation and Radicalization: Transnational Interactions of Jamaat-i-Islam of India’. Global Networks: A Journal of transnational Affairs, 5, 2005, pp 279-299. Similarly, Tablighi Jamaat [a Deobandi Sunni Muslim proselytizing group] networked with Muslim umma in more than one hundred countries and favoured revival of the Caliphate. These India-based bodies were hoped to pad up India’s tolerant and secular presence in world affairs and have a sense of gratitude towards the Hindu majority for reposing trust in them for playing such a role. Instead, they fostered socio-religious divisions in world society and saddled themselves with an anti-Western agenda and sought to problematize India’s friendly and cooperative relations with Western countries. They embarrassed India with their reported role in Muslim countries as cover for recruitment of militants for jehadi organizations. See, Shireen Khan Burki, ‘The Tablighi Jama’at: Proselytizing Missionaries or Trojan Horse?’, Journal of Applied Security Research,2013. Such cross-border networking enhanced the reach of Muslim politics and saddled it with an anti-Western agenda. The Jamaat was therefore suspected in cases of jihadi violence in Western countries. In 2001 a number of articles appeared on this subject in the NYT. Islamic scholars such as Sayyid Qutb and Wael Hallaq even justified jihadi violence against post-Enlightenment Western modernity.
Should India regard them as behavioural markers of superior rationality and culture which Indian students across all religious and other differences, say, in major Central Universities of North India, learn from to make India strong enough to successfully counter future invasions including Ghazwa-e-Hind?
Maulana Azad’s pan-Islamic orientation was different. He opposed the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. He supported the Caliphate and mobilized opinion against its abolition by launching the Khilafat Movement. He opposed Sir Syed on the future of Muslims in India. The Maulana went along with Jamaluddin al-Afghani’s ideology of pan-Islamic unity and Islamic rejection of nationalism and secularism. He chose al-Afghani’s theistic route to popular mobilization of Muslims against the West. [The theistic approach to mass mobilization in the case of Hindus was condemned as communal, not so when Maulana sahib prescribed it for popular mobilization of Muslims].Radical Islamists treated it as his support for ‘a mythical reading of the Prophet’s militaristic and Islamic teachings’ A paper in Pakistan Horizon  titled as ‘Syed Jamaluddin Afghani’s ideas blaze the trail’ said ‘Islamic monotheism established its supremacy [over Hindu polytheism with the Prophet himself as the head of the state’, and counselled Muslims to practise [say, in relation to Hindus] a little craftiness ‘suited to requirements of time and space’.] Sir Syed and the Maulana, juxtaposed Muslim nationalism [supported by Sir Syed] against pan-Islamic solidarity [supported by the Maulana]. The fault line was their divergent approach towards modernity and the West. Sir Syed was not opposed to British rule [he did not participate in the national movement]. He wanted economic and educational development of Indian Muslims. The Maulana, on the other hand, gave a call for Hindu and Muslim convergence and merger into one nation for throwing the British out of India and, to weaken British war effort, even supported the Gadhar Party. The track record of Muslim modernity and Hindu-Muslim unity was not very encouraging, though of course the Maulana’s call for Hindu-Muslim unity deserved him a Bharat Ratna.
Coming to the present situation, was there any hint of superior rationality at work in crying wolf and quoting Ajaz Ashraf that Jinnah’s ‘dark fantasies’ were coming true. [NYT, Aug.,17, 2017]. Nor was it visible in [media reported] engagement with pan-Islamic networking for opposing the Indian state. The Islamic NGOs were in focus especially the Scientific Studies Association at Istanbul. This was the English translation of the name in Turkish language, Ilmi etudler dernegi,[ ILEM]founded in 2002. It organized IISS Seminars on themes which addressed the problems of an evolving Islamic community. The theme for IISS Seminar-2019 was ‘Transnational Islam and the Challenges of Being Muslim Ummah’.Pan-Islamic radicals took it as a call for treating the ummah as an undifferentiated unity for challenging the state-based identity of its members. This strategic posture probably gave lead to radicals in India for engineering recent political disruptions. These disruptions featured student populism, public debate and civil society activism.They were generally led by energetic and motivated individuals who could mobilize a critical following on an issue of public interest and who could present themselves before the masses as avant-garde ‘proletariat’. They imagined themselves as ‘neo-ummah’, a community of self-chosen radicals. Their orientation was localized, not linked to known radical ideologies such as Salafism, Wahhabism, Qubtism, Jihadism or Islamicism, nor did they appear as inspired by the writings of Wael Hallaqor Sayyid Qutb. One thing was certain: the disruptions were not a rational discourse of nation-building.
Those who closed their eyes to the past were blind to the present. Muslims closed their eyes to their past by not rectifying the wrongs done to Hindus. Societal healing and moral accommodation between estranged communities had no place within the consequentialist logic and de-ontological rationality which animated Partition talks. When therefore Muslims told Hindus ‘we gave you Taj Mahal’, they trivialized the issue and overlooked the fact that the artisans who built Taj Mahal had their hand chopped off on royal orders because the singular grandeur of the building was hiding within it a desire to stand above others. This supremacist complex of Muslims was the cause of all their problems in relations with Hindus. During their long rule in India, they behaved like agents of political and moral chaos which diverged completely from a rationally ordered cosmos visualized in Islam. Even after the end of the Empire, they continued to hold on to their earlier practice. They were not open to realization that in a democratic and rational political order, the Hindu majority should rightfully be in power. Like Macbeth in Shakespeare, they thought that as a result of conclusive subordination of Hindus to their will, they would not see ‘Banquo’s ghost’ sitting on ‘kings chair’. They were tormented by their conscience for injustices done to Hindus and their inability to ground political order on virtue, was persisting. They used reason in pursuit of their political goals and used it effectively, but their ability to realize liberal human goals in relation to other religious groups or their political opponents was compromised by their simultaneous disbelief in reason which was an effect of theological practices and scriptural injunctions. They might better contemplate reform within rather than presenting themselves as objects of emulation by others. Rebellious Muslims might show them the way forward.
Irshad Manji was one such Muslim. She shot into prominence by her book The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith . A few years later she lectured at India Today Conclave and published another book Allah, Liberty and Love . She also produced a film Faith without Fear and was selected as a Young Global Leader. The enthusiasm of the young lady was, no doubt, commendable though, as the CSDS, Delhi, scholar, Hilal Ahmed, thought it was deeply immersed into the post-independence debate on good-bad Muslims, initiated by Nehru himself and which continued to dominate the Muslim question in India. A good Muslim was labelled as a sarkari man who was into mainstream politics and conformed to official norms of public behaviour. Was such behaviour dictated by political necessity? Mahmood Mamdani thought so in his book Good Muslims, Bad Muslims [New York: Harmony Books, 2005]. For true Muslims, Islam and politics were joined together and constituted ‘political Islam’. Islam was always political Islam. ‘Secular Muslim’ was an oxymoron. In Hindu –Muslim relations therefore the burden of secularism was on Hindus alone. This structure of communal-secular politics impacted Hindu-Muslim relations in such a way that inter-religious relations emerged as a historical site for Indo-Islamic cultural development signified by necessity to incorporate select Islamic values into Hindu belief system and, on the part of Muslims, to imitate select Hindu cultural practices such as sticking a bindi on the forehead or celebrating Diwali. This was the historical background for initiating the concept of ‘composite culture’ with its integral relationship to Islam. A Deobandi Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Husain Ahmad Masani wrote a book titled as Muttahida Qaumiyyat aur Islam [Composite Nationalism and Islam, Delhi, 1938].The historical essence of ‘composite culture’ for Hindus was different from that of its historic meaning. It was presented to them as an analytic concept. The historically constructed concept of composite culture did not point to a re-calibration of the relationship between dominant Muslims and subordinated Hindus. The relationship articulated discourses on hegemonic issues such as ‘why I am a Hindu’ or ‘why I am not a Hindu’. The nineteenth century ‘Islamic concept of composite culture’ could be traced back to the ninth and tenth centuries when the Caliphate nurtured hegemonic ambitions in relation to India and fanned out Islamic influence to bring about an Indian renaissance. The Sufis and Hindu Saints emerged as a consequence of it and promised to transform the religious scene. Their melodious songs soothed frayed nerves even today but the contemporary Hindu society had no relief from the murderous behaviour of Muslim predatory invaders and rulers. The innovations were intelligently disembodied from their historical context of origin [the context of Islamic influence on them] and shown as Hindu innovations inclining the faith on monotheistic omnipresence of divinity. But they did not transform the two belief systems and their mutual relationship. The social ordering of the two communities, originally structured by ruthless use of Muslim military power, did not change. This view was reinforced when Queen Victoria as the new Empress did not oust the Mughal social order. Rather, she inherited it. The social ordering of the Mughal Durbar including that between the religious communities was re-framed and reflected in public ceremonies organized by the Raj. It was allowed, probably by default, to continue, more or less, unchanged even after independence. This could be a factor which prompted a large number of Muslims in India to stay back after the Partition and silently expected support from those who moved away if ever the Hindus sought to change their position. Tentatively one could say that India’s social ordering was an unbroken continuity to-date since the Muslims established their rule.
Naseeruddin Shah might decide to see this reality through the eyes of a theatre artist. He might decide to reflect on the murderous path of Muslim rule to a downfall and as a descendant of medieval Muslims open his palm to see a ‘blood stain’ on it. He would allow himself to shout in embarrassment, ‘Out, damned spot!’ He would rub his hands but it would not go away. And when desperation would take over, he would mutter, ‘Will all great Neptune Ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?’ Not really and he would go to sleep with ‘eyes wide open’, ‘all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this hand’. [Muslim conscience should bleed like that of Lady Macbeth].Such consciousness should have been the starting point in Hindu-Muslim unity efforts.
The relations would undergo a structural transformation by bringing Islamic piety to centre stage to offer an apology to Hindus for the bloodshed in the past. Apologise, and the stain would go away. For a moment, Naseeruddin Sahib please play the role of a small boy when The Sarkari Mussalman [your elder brother who addressed himself like that in his autography].was driving his bicycle and you, his younger brother, a boy, was the pillion rider. Being younger to him was not your choice but to be a pillion rider was part of the etiquette. Likewise, being a member of the minority community was not your choice. As a younger brother, an accident of birth, you were a pillion rider. Why don’t you continue that way now also? As for your safety, you should take care that the bicycle tyre under your back seat would not burst out with the weight of your unseemly flab. An arrogant younger brother was more intolerable than an arrogant elder brother, because the latter was expected to be arrogant. Theatre teaches everyone that wearing talent modestly was better culture and there was no one who could excel you in this. Nation-building was not possible unless social difference was presented endearingly by all especially by those who were loved, appreciated and cared for like you.
Rectification of historic injustices was an important aspect of political studies. Compensatory rectification of harm done to lower caste Hindus by upper castes has been an important object of scholarly attention. In international relations it never crossed the border of colonial relations. Muslim injustices against Hindus were blacked out in ostrich-like search for security and national power. Paraphrasing Golding in Free Fall, one would say: “Your yesteryears walk with you. They keep step. The grey faces that peer over your shoulders.” Muslims demanded [and rightly] apology for Jallianwala Bagh but sealed their lips on their own killings earlier. Hindu-Muslim moral equality was an essential condition for intuition-based counter-factual thoughts to produce alternatives to lived Hindu past. Muslims need to heed the advice of Maulana Azad, who was a great scholar in Islamic studies, to reform themselves and, if necessary, even the faith, for joining Hindus as moral equals. They should give priority to national loyalty, and not to religious identity. They should stand by an ‘inclusive and solidarity model of nationhood’. This required them to offer a collective apology for the harm done to Hindus and build memorials in honour of the victims. This would imply that discipline-based probing should complement counter-factual musing in scholarly exercises for discovering solutions to India’s problems.
By: Sushil Kumar
(The writer was Professor at JNU.)