Composite nationalism (Hindustani: mushtareka wataniyat or muttahidah qaumiyat) is a concept that argues that the Indian nation is made of up people of diverse cultures, castes, communities, and faiths. The idea teaches that "nationalism cannot be defined by religion in India." While Indian citizens maintain their distinctive religious traditions, they are members of one united Indian nation. This principle opposes attempts to make Hindu nationalism, or any other religious chauvinism, a supposed requisite of Indian patriotism or nationalism. Composite nationalism maintains that prior to the arrival of the British to the Indian subcontinent, no enmity between people of different religious faiths existed; and as such these artificial divisions can be overcome by Indian society.
Bipin Chandra Pal put forward the idea of composite patriotism in colonial India in 1906, promulgating the idea that "Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and other religious minorities (including the 'animistic' tribals) should preserve their distinctive religious cultures while fighting together for freedom." David Hardiman, a historian of modern India, writes that prior to the arrival of the British in India, "there was no profound enmity between Hindus and Muslims; the British created divisions." Mahatma Gandhi taught that these "artificial divisions" could be overcome through Hindu-Muslim unity as "religions are different roads converging to the same point." Earlier, Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani Asadabadi advocated for Hindu-Muslim unity in India as opposed to unity between Indian Muslims and foreign Muslims, holding that Hindu-Muslim unity would be more effective in supporting anti-British movements, leading to an independent India.
Annie Besant, a supporter of both Indian and Irish self-rule championed the concept in 1917, teaching that "Indian youths should be brought up so as 'to make the Mussalman a good Mussalman, the Hindu boy a good Hindu ... Only they must be taught a broad and liberal tolerance as well as enlightened love for their own religion, so that each may remain Hindu or Mussalman, but both be Indian."
The All India Azad Muslim Conference was established in 1929, by the Chief Minister of Sind, Allah Bakhsh Soomro, who founded of the Sind Ittehad Party (Sind United Party), which opposed the partition of India. Allah Bakhsh Soomro, as well as the All India Azad Muslim Conference, advocated for composite nationalism:
Whatever our faiths we must live together in our country in an atmosphere of perfect amity and our relations should be the relations of the several brothers of a joint family, various members of which are free to profess their faith as they like without any let or hindrance and of whom enjoy equal benefits of their joint property.
After Gandhi returned to colonial India he expanded the idea of composite nationalism to include not only religious groups, but castes and other communities. Hardiman writes that this led to a "massive expansion of the nationalist movement in India" with people from all segments of society participating in it.
Composite nationalism was championed by the Islamic scholar and Principal of the Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Sayyid Hussain Ahmed Madani. Asgar Ali summarized a key point of Madni's 1938 text Muttahida Qaumiyat Aur Islam, which advocated for composite nationalism in a united India:
Maulana Madani, who wrote a book Muttahida Qaumiyat Aur Islam persuasively argued in favour of composite nationalism by profusely quoting from the Quran the prophets shared the same territory with the unbelievers and hence their Qaumiyal was not different from those who did not believe in their message. According to Maulana Madani, the very spirit of the Koran is to encourage harmonious co-existence in a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious world.
Fellow Deobandi scholar Mohammad Sajjad, along with Islamic historian Tufail Ahmad Manglori, campaigned for composite nationalism and opposed the Pakistan separatist movement in colonial India, with the latter authoring Rooh-e-Raushan Mustaqbil (Hindustani: روحِ روشن مستقبل (Nastaleeq), रूह-ए-रौशन मुस्तक़बिल (Devanagari)) to convey these Indian nationalistic views.
Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Pashtun Indian independence activist, along with his Khudai Khidmatgar, heralded composite nationalism, emphasizing the fact that Muslims were natives of the Indian subcontinent as with their Hindu brethren.
Saifuddin Kitchlew, a Kashmiri Indian independence activist and president of the Punjab Provincial Congress Committee supported a united Indian movement against British colonial rule and preached that a divided India would weaken Muslims, both economically and politically.
On 15 December 2018, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind gathered in the National Capital Territory of Delhi to affirm composite nationalism. The Islamic organisation launched one hundred meetings starting from that date "around the theme of freedom, nationalism and how the organisation can the minority community contribute to nation building."
Parallels in other nations
The concept of composite nationalism as advocated by Gandhi has parallels with the shaping of unified nations in other countries whose peoples comprise subsets of multiple ethnic and religious nations. Especially diverse examples include the shaping of a unified American national identity in the United States centered on democracy and the U.S. Constitution (across many ethnicities and religions) and the shaping of a unified national identity in the Soviet Union according to the ideas of Vladimir Lenin regarding socialist patriotism in a context of proletarian internationalism and the national question in the Soviet Union (as ideas such as those explored in Marxism and the National Question would shape national delimitation in the Soviet Union). Both Gandhi and Lenin sought to unite various nations within a diverse empire to dethrone a ruler that was seen as oppressive, and both would need a vision for why those various nations should remain united once the former state was overthrown (lest they instead form multiple nation states in its wake). Composite nationalism differs from Lenin's theories in that Gandhi maintained that each group should be able to follow their own way of life after Indian independence from British colonial rule had been achieved, whereas Leninism prescribes many political positions that all citizens are bound by.
- Bahadur, Kalim (1998). Democracy in Pakistan: Crises and Conflicts. Har-Anand Publications. p. 33. ISBN 978-81-241-0083-7.
One of the two was the dominant ideology of composite nationalism represented by the Indian National Congress. It was based on the belief that India with its vast diversities of religions, creeds, castes, sub-castes, communities and cultures represented a composite nation.
- Sajjad, Mohammad (2014). Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-55982-5.
This chapter argues that, as far as Bihar is concerned and unlike the areas just mentioned, strong voices were raised by Muslim communities against the separatist policies of the Muslim League. The Muslims in Bihar displayed far more affinity for mushtareka wataniyat, that is, common/composite nationalism--the expression used by one of the Muslim leaders of the Bihar Congress, Shah Mohammad Umair (1894-1978), in his Urdu autobiography (1967), Talaash-e-Manzil (In Search of Destination), as also for muttahidah qaumiyat, that is, united/composite nationalism--the expression used by the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, the organization representing the clerics of the Deobandi school.
- Hardiman, David (2003). Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas. Columbia University Press. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-231-13114-8.
- Bennema, Cornelis; Bhakiaraj, Paul Joshua (2011). Indian and Christian: Changing Identities in Modern India. SAIACS Press & Oxford House Research. p. 157. ISBN 978-81-87712-26-8.
Both these approaches are shown to be within the framework of 'composite nationalism', where Indian Christians maintained their communal distinctiveness while aspiring for national integration.
- "AFḠĀNĪ, JAMĀL-AL-DĪN". Encyclopaedia Iranica. 22 July 2011.
In Hyderabad 1880-81 Afḡānī published six Persian articles in the journal Moʿallem-e šafīq, which were reprinted in Urdu and Persian in various editions of Maqālāt-e Jamālīya. The three major themes of these articles are: 1. advocacy of linguistic or territorial nationalism, with an emphasis upon the unity of Indian Muslims and Hindus, not of Indian Muslims and foreign Muslims; 2. the benefits of philosophy and modern science; and 3. attacks on Sayyed Aḥmad Khan for being pro-British. On nationalism, he writes in “The Philosophy of National Unity and the Truth about Unity of Language” that linguistic ties are stronger and more durable than religious ones (he was to make exactly the opposite point in the pan-Islamic al-ʿOrwat al-woṯqā a few years later). In India he felt the best anti-imperialist policy was Hindu-Muslim unity, while in Europe he felt it was pan-Islam.
- Aslam, Arshad (28 July 2011). "The Politics Of Deoband". Outlook.
Much before Madani, Jamaluddin Afghani argued that Hindus and Muslims must come together to overthrow the British. Husain Ahmad would argue the same thing after five decades.
- The Indian Year Book. Bennett, Coleman & Company. 1942. p. 866.
The Azad Muslims' Federation was started in 1940 just as the All-India Muslim Conference was started in 1929 to distinguish the bulk of the Indian Muslims from the attenuated League of those days.
- Grover, Verinder (1992). Political Thinkers of Modern India: Abul Kalam Azad. Deep & Deep Publications. p. 503. ISBN 9788171004324.
Within five weeks of the passage of the Pak resolution, an assembly of nationalist Muslims under the name of the Azad Muslim Conference was convened in Delhi. The Conference met under the presidentship of Khan Bahadur Allah Bakhsh, the then Chief Minister of Sind.
- Ahmed, Ishtiaq (27 May 2016). "The dissenters". The Friday Times.
However, the book is a tribute to the role of one Muslim leader who steadfastly opposed the Partition of India: the Sindhi leader Allah Bakhsh Soomro. Allah Bakhsh belonged to a landed family. He founded the Sindh People’s Party in 1934, which later came to be known as ‘Ittehad’ or ‘Unity Party’. ... Allah Bakhsh was totally opposed to the Muslim League’s demand for the creation of Pakistan through a division of India on a religious basis. Consequently, he established the Azad Muslim Conference. In its Delhi session held during April 27–30, 1940 some 1400 delegates took part. They belonged mainly to the lower castes and working class. The famous scholar of Indian Islam, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, feels that the delegates represented a ‘majority of India’s Muslims’. Among those who attended the conference were representatives of many Islamic theologians and women also took part in the deliberations.
- Mayaram, Shail (1997). Resisting Regimes: Myth, Memory, and the Shaping of a Muslim Identity. Oxford University Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-19-563955-1.
To counter the Lahore Resolution, the Jamiat convened the Azad Muslim Conference that promulgated the Jamiyat formula in 1942 that supported United Indian Nationalism or muttahidah qawmiyat and the protection of Muslim communal rights.
- Peers, Douglas M.; Gooptu, Nandini (2017). India and the British Empire. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192513526.
Madani, head for several decades of the Deoband training centre for theologians, strongly supported Congress nationalism and the ideal of a 'composite nationalism' within an united India, which he thought would be more conducive to the spread and prosperity of his community over the entire subcontinent than any religious partition.
- Chitkara, M. G. (1998). Converts Do Not Make a Nation. APH Publishing. p. 240. ISBN 9788170249825.
- Ashraf, Ajaz (6 September 2016). "The forgotten story of two Maulanas who mocked Jinnah's idea of Pakistan". Scroll.in. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
- McDermott, Rachel Fell; Gordon, Leonard A.; Embree, Ainslie T.; Pritchett, Frances W.; Dalton, Dennis (2014). Sources of Indian Traditions: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Columbia University Press. p. 457. ISBN 978-0-231-51092-9.
- Sharma, Unnati (9 October 2019). "Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, the freedom fighter who is hailed as the hero of Jallianwala Bagh". ThePrint. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
- Pandit, Ambika. "Composite Nationalism key to counter divisive forces: Jamiat". The Times of India. Retrieved 6 April 2020.