Muslim nationalism in South Asia
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Rising from the first days of Islamic empires in South Asia, this article endeavors to explore and trace Muslim nationalism through medieval India and into the events of the 20th and early 21st century, within the modern nations of India and Pakistan.
The historical foundations of Muslim nationalist thinking derives inspiration from the years of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire in northern India. Those were the years when Muslim kingdoms were among powerful military groups in India, and an Islamic society that descended from the Middle East, Persia and the Central Asia and from areas which became modern day Afghanistan spread the religion amongst Indians.
The first Muslim uprising began with the Muslim Sultan, Tipu Sultan in 1766, whose famous armed resistance of Mysore, using bamboo Rockets, was the catalyst for the demise of the British from India and earned him the title Father of the Indian Rocket. In fact, the battle against the British in Mysore, 1766 seems to be at the pinnacle of unrest in the colonised lands of all the European colonisers.
The first organized expressions began with Muslim scholars and reformers like Syed Ahmed Khan, Syed Ameer Ali and the Aga Khan who had an influential major hand in the Anti-British Resistance movements during the "Indian Revolution".
Some prominent Muslims politically sought a base for themselves, separate from Hindus and other Indian nationalists, who espoused the Indian National Congress. Muslim scholars, religious leaders and politicians founded the All India Muslim League in 1906.
Muslims comprised 25% to 30% of pre-independence India's collective population. Some Muslim leaders felt that their cultural and economic contributions to India's heritage and life merited a significant role for Muslims in a future independent India's governance and politics.
A movement led by Allama Iqbal and ultimately Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who originally fought for Muslim rights within India, later felt a separate homeland must be obtained for India's Muslims in order to achieve prosperity. They espoused the Two-Nation Theory, that India was in fact home to the Muslim and Hindu nations, who were distinct in every way.
Another section of Muslim society, led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari and Maulana Azad felt that participation in the Indian Independence Movement and the Indian National Congress was a patriotic duty of all Muslims.
Independence of Pakistan
Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the Muslim League's call for Pakistan. As time went on, communal tensions rose and so partition won increasing support among many Muslims in Muslim-majority areas of the British India.
On August 14, 1947, Pakistan was created out of the Muslim majority provinces of British India, Sindh, the west of Punjab, Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province, and in formerly in the east with Bengal. Communal violence broke out and millions of people were forced to flee their homes and many lost their lives. Hindus and Sikhs fled from Pakistan to India and Muslims fled from India to Pakistan.
However, because Muslim communities existed throughout the South Asia, independence actually left tens of millions of Muslims within the boundaries of the secular Indian state. Currently, approximately 13.4% of the population of India is Muslim.
The Muslim League idea of a Muslim Nationalism encompassing all of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent seemed to lose out to ethnic nationalism in 1971, when East Pakistan, a Bengali dominated province, fought with support and the subsequent war with India helped them win their independence from Pakistan, and became the independent country of Bangladesh.
Pakistani nationalism refers to the political, cultural, linguistic, historical, religious and geographical expression of patriotism by the people of Pakistan, of pride in the history, culture, identity, heritage and religious identity of Pakistan, and visions for its future.
Unlike the secular nationalism of other countries, Pakistani nationalism and the religion of Islam are not mutually exclusive and religion is a part of the Pakistani nationalist narrative. During the late years of British rule and leading up to independence, it had three distinct supporters:
1) Idealists, such as majority of Muslim students and intellectuals, inspired by the Aligarh movement and Allama Iqbal, driven by a fear of being engulfed in "false secularism" that would assimilate their beliefs, culture and heritage and Islamic ideology into a common system that defied Islamic civic tenets and ideals while hoping to create a state where their higher education, reformist Islamist ideology and wealth would keep them in power over the other Muslims of India.
2) Realists, driven by political inflexibility demonstrated by the Indian National Congress, feared a systematic disenfranchisement of Muslims. This also included many members of the Parsi, and Nizari Ismaili communities.
3) Traditionalists, primarily lower Orthodoxy (Barelvi), that feared the dominative power of the upper Orthodoxy (Deoband) and saw Pakistan as a safe haven to prevent their domination by State-controlled propaganda. Although many upper Orthodoxy (such as Shabbir Ahmad Usmani and Ashraf Ali Thanwi) also supported the state in the interests of an Islamic Republic.
Muslim nationalism in India
According to official government statistics, India has 200 million Muslims spread across many states including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. It is the third-largest home to Muslims after Indonesia and Pakistan, and the third-largest home to Shia Muslims.
Since independence, there has been a great deal of conflict within the various Muslim communities as to how to best function within the complex political and cultural mosaic that defines Indian politics in India today.
All in all, Muslim perseverance in sustaining their continued advancement along with Government efforts to focus on Pakistan as the primary problem for Indian Muslims in achieving true minority rights has created a sometimes extreme support for Indian nationalism, giving the Indian State much-needed credibility in projecting a strong secular image throughout the rest of the world.
The creation of Pakistan and the subsequent exodus of a large number of Indian Muslim immigrants to that country has created a deep identity crisis for Muslim Indian. A small section of right wing Hindus in India resents the presence of the community who many believe sympathize with their Muslim arch-rival. This bitterness at times turns against Indian Muslims. Thus Muslim Indians although patriotic, resent their patriotism being questioned. Recent terrorist attacks like Mumbai Bomb Blast, Varanasi Temple bombing, Delhi Bomb Blasts, Akshardham Temple attack place the Muslim Indian community in an awkward situation as India accused Pakistan for the attacks.
But in the recent past, many modern educated Muslims have come forward and denounced the brand of Islam taught in the madrasas, and reaffirmed their patriotism. Also, Muslims are present in all the major fields. The Indian film industry popularly known as Bollywood has many popular Muslim stars. The Indian cricket team, has its share of Muslim players who play with zeal and patriotism as any other players.
The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a leading Indian Islamic organization has propounded a theological basis for Indian Muslim's nationalistic philosophy. Their thesis is that Muslims and non-Muslims have entered upon a mutual contract in India since independence, to establish a secular state. The Constitution of India represents this contract. This is known in Urdu as a mu'ahadah. Accordingly as the Muslim community's elected representatives supported and swore allegiance to this mu'ahadah so the specific duty of Muslims is to keep loyalty to the Constitution. This mu'ahadah is similar to a previous similar contract signed between the Muslims and the Jews in Medina.
South Asian Muslim leaders
- Freedom Fighters (primarily against the British)
- Pakistan Movement
- Arrow of a Blue-Skinned God by Jonah Blank
- Patel: A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi
- India and Pakistan in War and Peace by J.N. Dixit