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Muslim Fundamentalism in India: hostage to medieval concepts

Paper No.  351               31.10.2001

by R.Upadhyay 

Religion is by and large known as a path in search of spiritual truth but religious fundamentalism begins where spiritualism ends.  Islamic fundamentalists in their interpretation of the faith have put full stop without even a provision for comma and claim to have achieved the ultimate truth.  They do not allow any moderation on the issue and as a result some confusion is created in the non-Muslim world about this fourteen hundred years old religion.  They suggest strict adherence to the precepts of Quran and Hadith practised during the period of Prophet Mohammad and his Caliphs known as classical age of Islam ('622 AD to 845 AD').   

Historically Islam entered India through Muslim invaders, who carried the faith in one hand and sword in other.  They ruled over this country for centuries and continued their  persecution against the people in the name of Islam.  Since the infidels were under compulsion to choose between sword and Quran, they accepted the latter.  Such barbaric designs for fulfillment of worldly ambitions in the name of religion is contrary to the modern worldview of civilisational evolution and its spiritual interpretation.  The Islamic fundamentalists however, glorified this history of Muslim rule as triumph of the faith and attributed its downfall to the failure of the community in literal adherence to Islamic scriptures.  This approach of Islamic thinkers gave birth to Muslim fundamentalism in India. 

In the eighteenth century, when the glory of Muslim rule in India started fading, two Islamic thinkers namely Abd-al-Wahab (1703-1787) of Saudi Arabia and Shah Waliullah of Delhi (1703-1762)  launched movements to generate Islamic extremism in Muslim mass.  Abd-al Wahab, the founder of Wahabi movement in Saudi Arabia "regarded the classical Muslim law as sum and substance of the faith, and therefore, demanded its total implementation" (Qamar Hasan in his book - Muslims in India -1987, page 3).  Waliullah on the other hand, wanted the community to go to the age of Quran and listen to its literal voice sincerely to ensure that the Muslims maintain their distance from the cultural mainstream of the sub-continent.  Qamar Hasan in the same book (page 4) further said:- "Waliullah did not want the Muslims to become part of the general milieu of the sub-continent- he wanted them to keep alive their relation with rest of the Muslim world so that the spring of their inspiration and ideals might ever remain located in Islam and tradition of world community developed by it". 

The Wahabi movement also influenced Waliullah but his main concern was how to re-establish Muslim rule in India so that the glory of Islam could be revived.  He therefore, preferred to use Islam as religio-political concept to fulfill his ambition for restoration of the lost glory of the Muslim power in Indian sub-continent and accordingly interpreted the decline of Moghul Empire as a danger signal to Islam.  He was of the view that the lost glory of the faith could be restored if the Muslims adhered to the  fundamentals of Islam literally.  

The spiritual side of religion is a fight against unseen enemies of individuals from within, but Waliullah philosophised the barbaric persecution of non-Muslims in medieval India as glory of Islam.  He was therefore, known as the father of Islamic fundamentalism in the Indian sub-continent.  He did not believe in Indian nationhood or any national boundary for Muslims and therefore, invited Shah Abdali, Amir of Afghan to attack India (Third battle of Panipat 1761), when Marathas were defeated.  In his letter to the Afghan king he said, "…All control of power is with the Hindus because they are the only people who are industrious and adaptable.  Riches and prosperity are theirs, while Muslims have nothing but poverty and misery.  At this juncture you are the only person, who has the initiative, the foresight, the power and capability to defeat the enemy and free the Muslims from the clutches of the infidels.  God forbid if their domination continues, Muslims will even forget Islam and become undistinguishable from the non-Muslims" (Dr. Sayed Riaz Ahmad in his book 'Maulana Maududi and Islamic state' - Lahore People's Publishing House, page 15 - 1976).  

Even though the defeat of Marathas by Abdali could not halt the downfall of Mogul Empire, the third battle of Panipat made Waliullah the hero of Indian Muslims and he emerged as the father of Islamic fundamentalism in this country.  His Islamic thought was regarded as saviour of the faith and its impact left a deep imprint on Indian Muslim psyche, which continues to inspire them even today.  Most of the Muslim fundamentalist organisations in this country are known to be the followers of his ultra fundamentalist concept of Islam. 

India continued to face violent communal disorder for decades even after the death of Waliullah in 1762.  But his disciples, when tired with their failure in re-establishing Muslim rule preferred to keep their movement in suspended animation for about a century, when the Britishers established their firm grip on this country.  This was a tactical move on the part of the Islamic radicals.  

The Sepoy mutiny or first war of independence of 1857 was a turning point in the history of Islamic fundamentalism in India.  The Muslim fundamentalists, who had been maintaining a distance from the Hindus, joined hands with the latter against the Britishers but could not achieve any success.  They rather became suspects in the eyes of the Britishers.  

Since the mutiny was a flop, the Islamic fundamentalists turned towards institutionalised Islamic movement.  Accordingly, some prominent followers of Waliullah like Muhammad Qasim Nanauti and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi set up an Islamic Madrassa at Deoband in U.P. on May 30, 1866, which grew into a higher Islamic learning centre and assumed the present name of Dar-ul-Uloom (Abode of Islamic learning) in 1879.   For last 135 years Dar-ul-Uloom, which is more a movement than an institution carried the tradition of Wahabi movement of Saudi Arabia and of Waliullah of Delhi and successfully kept the fundamentalist spirit of Islam alive even today.  Restoration of pure Islam through Islamic institution is an attempt with political designs to rehabilitate the historical glory of the faith. 

Dar-ul-Uloom is known as the 'mother institution of pure Islam'.  Its present vice-chancellor, Mohtamim Maulana Marguhul Rehmani had no inhibition to say, "True, Dar-ul-Uloom is the ideological fountainhead of Taliban".  He was replying to a question -why Dar-ul- Uloom is called Taliban factory? (Pioneer dated October 21,2001). 

Contrary to the ideology behind setting up of Dar-ul-Uloom, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan known for his modern outlook was of the view that backwardness of Muslims could be eradicated only through western education.  With the help of Britishers, he set up a school for Muslims at Aligarh in 1875 with a view to impart western education along with Islamic knowledge.  This was later known as Mohamedan Anglo-Oriental College and finally Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in due course of time.  But, the influence of Wahabi movement and the Islamic thoughts of Waliullah were so deep in the mind of the Muslims that the attempt of Syed Ahmad Khan to generate an urge for modern and scientific education among the members of the community got frustrated.  As the situation stands today, the AMU also turned into a breeding ground for Muslim politics, which continues to have its ideological backing from the Islamic thought of Waliullah.  

According to Dr. Sayed Riaz Ahmad, a Muslim writer, the Muslim leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Mohammad Iqwal, Abul A'la Maududi and others, who participated in freedom movement were followers of Wahabi school and carried the tradition of Waliullah with slight re-adjustment.  Thus, the nostalgic appeal to Muslim fundamentalism had a direct or indirect influence of Waliullah on the overall psyche of Indian Muslims. Unfortunately, the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam by Waliullah gradually widened the gap of mistrust between Hindus and Muslims of this sub-continent. 

There is a general impression that Dar-ul-Uloom was an Islamic Institution led by nationalist Muslims, who supported the freedom movement against the Britishers and opposed the partition of the country.  It also set-up Jamai'at-ul-Ulma-I-Hind (JUH-Association of Indian Ulama) with an objective "to guide the followers of Islam in political and non-political matters from religious point of view" (Islamic Fundamentalism in India by M.S.Agwani - 1986, page 22).  

It is a fact that during the pre-partition years of turbulence in India, the JUH opposed the two nation-theory of Muslim League and partition of the country.  It is however said that Dar-ul-Uloom was not happy with the western educated leadership, which was controlling the movement in favour of a  separate homeland for a part of Indian Muslims. For Dar-ul-Uloom, division of Muslim population of Indian sub-continent was detrimental to the unity of the community, which would ultimately weaken the movement for establishing Dar-ul-Uloom.  This was known to be the main reason for opposition to partition. 

Creation of Pakistan was against the pan-Islamic concept of institutionalised fight for restoration of pure Islam.  Dar-ul Uloom hardly made any attempt to abandon its pan-Islamic ideology and therefore, nationalist forces viewed its opposition to partition as a tactical move to ensure the growth of the institution by aligning with the freedom movement.  Since Wahabi movement and Islamic thoughts of Waliullah did not sanction the concept of Indian nationalism, the claim of Dar-ul-Uloom that its leaders were 'nationalists' is not based on sound logic, as they always considered Islam above the nation.  Anti-colonial nationalism of Dar-ul-Uloom therefore, does not mean that this Islamic institution was committed to Indian nationalism, which is contrary to the pan-Islamic concept of Wahhabi movement. 

After independence, JUH remained associated with Congress but maintained its obsession towards its Islamic ideology and tradition of Dar-ul-Uloom.  The trauma of Partition made a demoralising affect on Indian Muslims as a result Indian Union Muslim League, which was instrumental in the creation of Pakistan, became weak.  Thus, the common Muslims, who were by and large supporters of two- nation theory turned towards JUH for political guidance.  The Congress exploited this situation for its vote bank politics but on the other hand the JUH ensured that the Congress Government does not take any step to dilute the fundamentalist ideology of Islam.  The JUH demanded deletion of Article 44 of the constitution, which stipulates:- "The state shall endeavour to secure for the citizen a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India". 

Apart from Dar-ul-Uloom, other prominent Islamic institutions or organisations like Nadwat-ul-Ulama Lucknow, Tabliqi Jama'at and Jama'at-e-Islami (JEI) also influenced the Muslim psyche in India.  The basic philosophy of these Islamic outfits was to influence the Muslims for literal  adherence to Quran and other Islamic scriptures with an ultimate aim to restore the historical glory of their faith. 

Nadwat-ul-Ulama was set up in 1893 as an updated version of Dar-ul-Uloom with an objective to co-ordinate religious fundamentalism of Wahabi movement with those of western educated Muslim scholars of AMU.  This was also an attempt to radicalise the Muslims going for scientific and modern education.  

Tabliqi Jama'at was founded by Maulana Mohammad Iliyas in 1924 after the collapse of Khilafat movement with the abolition of Caliphate in Turkey.  Taking pride of his "intellectual link with Shah Waliullah", Iliyas became quite popular in mobilising the common Muslims for their group march from village to village and stay in mosque to propagate Islamic preaching. 

Jama'at-e-Islami (JEI) was founded by Abul A'la Maududi in 1941 with an extreme interpretation of Islam.  His thesis drew inspiration from Islamic scriptures, which according to him consider the whole earth as the sole domain of Allah and it is the supreme duty of every Muslim to establish an Islamic rule there even through Jihad (holy war).  Initially, he was also opposed to creation of separate homeland for Muslims due to his pan-Islamic ideology, but he shifted to Pakistan immediately after partition that exposed his real design.  

The sum and substance of the discussion is to show that the Muslim scholars are solely responsible for their active encouragement for centuries in misleading  Muslim society.  By infusing the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam among the common Muslims, who are mostly illiterate and are ignorant about the rational interpretation of their faith and producing thousands of disciples every year to carry forward this tradition, they have kept the common Muslims away from modern and scientific outlook.  The forces of Islamic fundamentalism have all along been found challenging the civilised world order through their own interpretation of Islam, which suits their personal interest.  They present 'hakimiyyat Allah' (Rule of God) as the only alternative to the global polity and reject democracy as 'hall Mustawrad' (imported solution).  However, if they think that they can install the rule of Allah as per their own interpretation in India in particular and world in general, they perhaps may not allow the people of their community to enjoy peaceful life, as democracy does not function on dictatorial concepts.  

Osama bin Laden, the contemporary hero of the Islamic fundamentalist forces has declared India as one of his target countries.  What to talk of general Muslims, even the vice- chancellor of Dar-ul-Ulool as quoted earlier considers Deoband as 'ideological fountainhead of Taliban'.  The situation is alarming and the Muslim intellectuals should take an active lead to free the common Muslims, who are hostage to a handful of clerics and their mentors.  The need of the hour is to return to modern concepts from medieval mindsets. 

(The analysis is the personal view of the writer.  E-mail  ramashray60@yahoo.com)

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