Early Indian Islamists (An Overview)

Part 1

Islamism or Political Islam are ideas that emerged in the early twentieth century and were formulated in different parts of the world mainly in response to fall of the Ottoman Caliphate. Two major figures that contributed to this debate immensely were Syed Qutb from Egypt and Abul Ala Maududi from India. The practical expression of this ideology came to fore in the later part of twentieth century and at the start of the twenty first. Browsing through the archives of history, one encounters figures that have been all but forgotten for the roles they played in the grand scheme of things. One such character that needs to be resurrected or at least identified for his role in popularising Islamism is that of Raja of Mahmudabad.

Amir Ahmad Khan (his given name) was a prominent landlord from United Provinces (U.P.). He received education from Lucknow and later from England. He was the youngest member of the Central Working Committee of All India Muslim League and its National Treasurer. He was the chief organizer of the Muslim League National Guard (till 1944) and the chief patron of the All India Muslim Students Federation (AIMSF) formed by Muslim students till August 1946. Despite his aristocratic background, he cultivated an austere personal style. He habitually wore khaddar, was known for his generosity towards his tenants, and his piety as a practicing Shia.

He was ultimately sold on the idea of Pakistan, but he chose to see the future state in a different light than Mr. Jinnah. He claimed that the Lahore resolution possessed global—and not just regional—significance. He exclaimed in a speech that it had been passed not just for Muslims in India but for Muslims in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan and indeed the whole Islamic world. He held half-baked ideas about democracy and an ‘Islamic political system’ which he articulated in the following words: “When we speak of democracy in Islam it is not democracy in the government but in the cultural and social aspects of life. Islam is totalitarian — there is no denying about it. It is the Quran that we should turn to. It is the dictatorship of the Quranic laws that we want — and that we will have — but not through non-violence and Gandhian truth”.

He outlined some features of ‘Pakistan’ as he envisioned it in his Presidential address to Bombay Muslim League in May 1940: “There will be prohibition, absolute and rigorous, with no chance for its ever being withdrawn. Usury will be banished. Zakat will be levied. Why should not we be all allowed to make this experiment? In treading this path, we will not be crossing the path of any right-minded individual”.

Among contemporary ideologies, he found socialism to be compatible with Islam by and claimed that socialism was first inaugurated by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Arabia long before it came into existence in Russia under the Bolsheviks. To the Raja, socialism just like Islam was based on a new vision of the world where there would be no discrimination based on colour, class, sect, region, or language. Before the Peoples’ Party of Zulfikar Bhutto appropriated the slogan of ‘Islamic Socialism’, Raja of Mahmudabad (and even Liaqat Ali Khan) had blown this trumpet.

Mr. Jinnah was not in favour of an overt theocracy at any time in his career and was irked by the frequent outbursts of Raja of Mahmudabad. An anecdote from Isha’at Habibullah’s unpublished autobiography demonstrates this attitude perfectly: “The Raja started the conversation by saying that since the Lahore resolution had been passed earlier that year, if and when Pakistan was formed, it was undoubtedly to be an Islamic State with the Sunna and Sharia as its bedrock. The Quaid’s face went red and he turned to ask Raja whether he had taken leave of his senses?

Mr. Jinnah added: Did you realize that there are over seventy sects and differences of opinion regarding the Islamic faith, and if what the Raja was suggesting was to be followed, the consequences would be a struggle of religious opinion from the very inception of the State leading to its very dissolution. Mr. Jinnah banged his hands on the table and said: We shall not be an Islamic State but a Liberal Democratic Muslim State.”

Major differences between Mr. Jinnah and Raja of Mahmudabad developed in 1946, due to the Raja’s espousal of violence in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and his opposition to the Third June Plan that laid the way for partition of India. On the eve of the Partition, the Raja was in Hyderabad but refused to visit Karachi for the 14th August Independence ceremony.

He was appalled by the violence that accompanied the   Partition and left for Iran with his family soon after India was divided.

They travelled from there to Mashhad, then Tehran and finally to Karbala. The Raja and his family stayed in Iraq for ten years. In 1957, the Raja went to Pakistan and changed his Indian passport for a Pakistani one. He had thought of going into politics but then Pakistan was a different country. He was a Mohajir, a refugee in Pakistan, a Shia in a predominantly Sunni country. The Raja left Pakistan again and travelled to London where he finally settled down and passed away in 1973.

Part 2

Browsing through the archives of history, one encounters figures that have been all but forgotten for the roles they played in the grand scheme of things. One such character that needs to be credited for Islamist tendencies was Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, a political figure from United Provinces (UP).

Early in his political career, he had visited Turkey as part of Red Crescent Society’s medical mission to Turkey led to Dr. M.A. Ansari during the Balkan Wars (1912-13). During the First World War, Ottoman Turkey (ruled by Pashas) decided to side with Kaiser Wilhem’s Germany (part of the Central Powers). Following the defeat of Central Powers, Ottoman Turkey was deprived of its territories and this sparked a furious reaction amongst Muslims in India. A ‘Khilafat Movement’ was led by clerics from India to pressurise the British Government into restoring the Ottoman territories. Khaliq was actively involved in the movement during the early 1920s and led Indian Muslim delegations in the 1930s to international conventions organised to defend Palestinian Arab rights in the face of the Zionist movement and the perceived British attempt to appease world Jewry.

In 1935, British Government introduced the ‘Government of India Act’ which proposed a Federal Structure for running the country under limited Indian rule and elections in provinces. Khaliquzzaman was a member of All India Congress for many years before officially joining All India Muslim League (AIML). He was the Secretary of Muslim Unity Board (MUB) comprising mostly of Muslim politicians with close links to the Congress party, and Ulema belonging to the Jamiatul Ulama-i-Hind. He was involved in a power struggle for leading the Muslim League Parliamentary Board in UP with Raja of Salempur. Before the 1937 Elections, Khaliquzzaman, was parleying with the Congress leadership over ministry making, against Mr. Jinnah’s wishes. He started an Urdu newspaper named Tanveer for propagating pro-AIML’s message.

Speaking at the Pakistan session of the Punjab Muslim Students Federation conference in March 1941, Khaliq said that, “Just as the Prophet had created the first Pakistan in the Arabian Peninsula the ML now wanted to create another Pakistan in a part of India.”

Addressing a gathering in his hometown of Lucknow, he explored the relationship between territorial nationalism and Islam. The Hindus, he noted, saw nationalism as a Hindu Goddess (Devi) that needed to be worshipped. This practice was abhorrent to a Muslim for even though he loved his nation, he could never worship this Devi and become a slave of nationalism. In May 1942, he stated his Islamist goals in following words, “Pakistan is not the final goal of the Muslims. We want more. Pakistan is only the jumping off ground. The time is not far distant when the Muslim countries will have to stand in line with Pakistan and then only the jumping ground will have reached its fruition.”

Soon after the Lahore Resolution, Nawab Ismail Khan convened a conference of Ulema and prominent Muslim intellectuals to draft a blueprint for an Islamic Constitution that would inaugurate an Islamic state in Pakistan. The first meeting was held at the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow and was attended by Ismail Khan, Khaliquzzaman, Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, Azad Subhani and Abdul Majid Daryabadi. He firmly believed that a solution to the communal problem can be found by use of force. At a public meeting at Fyzabad, he said: “If the Musalmans of India pursue the policy of tooth for tooth, eye for an eye, nail for a nail, no power on earth can dominate them.”  On the question of the Muslims in the ‘minority provinces’ such as the U.P., Khaliq subscribed to the ‘Hostage population theory’ which he explained in the following words: “After Pakistan is established, the Hindu majority provinces will think a hundred times before they resort to any tyrannical act. They know the Indian Muslim who can shed his blood for his Muslim brethren of Turkey can also do something to save his Indian Muslim brethren of the minority provinces.”

He was fond of recalling past Muslim victories in the subcontinent for furthering political causes. Before the 1946 Elections to the UP Assembly, Khaliq asked Muslims to win the fourth and fifth battles of Panipat corresponding to the central and provincial assembly elections, by casting their votes in favour of the All India Muslim League. After the elections, Khaliquzzaman joined the Constituent Assembly as the leader of the opposition and pledged his loyalty to the Indian Union (although he resigned and left for Pakistan after Partition. Once in Pakistan, he resumed his Islamist activities. He was a founding member of the ‘Islamic World Brotherhood’ alongside Molana Shabbir Usmani. They convened a ‘World Muslim Conference’ in January 1949. A brochure at the conference titled ‘Muslims of the World Unite’ stated that ‘it was but natural that such an effort is made by Muslims of a country who do not subscribe to the theory that a nation is based on geography or race, but whose country’s very foundation is laid on a theory of religious nationality.’

Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman was appointed the President of Pakistan Muslim League a year after he moved from UP. Khaliq affirmed the World Muslim Conference promoted by Shabbir Usmani, as the first step in the creation of a permanent world organization, which would have branches not only in Muslim countries of the world but also in countries with Muslim minorities. It could soon be extended to become an organization similar to the Organization of American States. Expressing the long term aims of the Conference, he noted that in the context of the failure of the Arab League and Arab racial sentiment, he expected the ‘natural reaction’ of Muslims in Arab countries to work for the creation of a ‘central authority for Muslim States which can protect them against further political and economic inroads of other powerful States.’ He conceived this supervening authority in terms of the ‘Quranic State’, which he believed could be brought about through ‘political associations, social contacts, economic co-operation, and linguistic changes.’ This state would embrace any and all Muslim countries that wished to join and would be structured as ‘a loose federation of autonomous states bound together alike by adherence to the principles of Islam and mutuality of interests.’

His last political appointment was to the Governorship of East Pakistan. He passed away in 1973, two years after East Pakistan seceded. Religion did not play the role of ‘glue’ between the two halves of Pakistan, despite the claims of Islamists from UP.

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