And Indian Nationalism
By Yoginder Sikand
18 August, 2006
In both radical Islamist as well
as Hindutva discourse, Islam and Indian nationalism are seen as w0 holly
compatible. Radical Islamists consider nationalism as an 'idol', demanding
the loyalty which they say is due to God alone. They see Islam as the
only defining feature of Muslims and deny the legitimacy of other identities,
such as nationality and ethnicity. Some even go to the extent of claiming
that nationalism is a 'conspiracy' hatched by what they label as 'enemies
of Islam' to divide the worldwide Muslim ummah or community of believers.
For their part, Hindutva ideologues see Islam as intrinsically hostile
to love for the country, claiming that it leads Muslims to identify
with Muslim-majority countries rather than with India.
The claim that Muslims cannot
be loyal citizens of India because of their faith, articulated in different
ways by both Hindutva and radical Islamist ideologues, has been stoutly
refuted by a major section of the Indian ulama or Muslim clerics. In
fact, numerous ulama, particularly those associated with the Deoband
madrasa, played a major role in the Indian freedom movement, opposing
the British, critiquing the Muslim League and its 'two nation' theory
and its demand for Pakistan, and supporting the cause of a united India
where all communities would enjoy equal rights. Although these ulama
were conservative in religious and social matters, they were unflagging
in their commitment to a form of Indian nationalism that transcended
religious boundaries. In doing so, they insisted that there was no contradiction
between being Muslim and Indian at the same time.
A recently reprinted Urdu
booklet, bearing the revealing title of 'Hamara Hindustan Aur Uske Faza'il'
('Our India and Its Glories'), brilliantly articulates this commitment
of leading Deobandi ulama to the cause of composite Indian nationalism.
It was first published sometime in the early 1940s, in response to the
Muslim League's demand for a separate Muslim state and to counter the
claim, articulated by Hindu chauvinist ideologues, that Indian nationalism
was necessarily synonymous with Brahminical Hindu nationalism. Challenging
the League's claims of speaking for Islam and on behalf of all the Muslims
of India, the booklet employs Islamic arguments to advocate the cause
of a united and free India and also to oppose the Pakistan demand. At
the same time, it stridently questions the Hindu 'nationalist' insistence
that Muslims had no place in the free India unless they agreed, for
all practical purposes, to abandon their allegiance to Islam and be
submerged in the Hindu fold.
This use of religious arguments
to advocate the cause of united nationalism is brilliantly illustrated
in an essay contained in the booklet penned by a leading Deobandi scholar,
Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni, then rector of the Deoband madrasa and head
of the Jami'at ul-'Ulama-i Hind. Madni's essay, titled 'Hamara Hindustan'
('Our India'), draws upon narratives contained in the works of classical
Islamic scholars to illustrate the 'glories' of India in order to exhort
Muslims to support the demand for Indian freedom and unity. He writes
that Islamic tradition has it that God directed Adam, the first man
and the first prophet, to be sent down to earth to India.
It was thus from India that
the human race sprang from Adam's progeny. This implies, Madni argues,
that the Indian Muslims must consider India as their 'ancient home'.
In addition, Madni refers to the Qur'an as mentioning that God has sent
prophets to every nation, and Madni takes this to mean that prophets
must have also been sent to India as well. This, he says, is further
suggested by the fact the numerous Muslim saints have 'discovered',
through 'spiritual encounters', the graves of various prophets in India.
Since, as the Qur'an says, the religion (din) taught by all the prophets
of God, including those who were possibly sent to India, was one and
the same-al-Islam ('The Surrender'), it is obvious that from ancient
(i.e. pre-Muhammadan) times onwards Islam has been present in India.
In fact, Madni argues, 'it is an unchallengeable fact that from the
very beginning India has been the land of Islam'.
No community can claim a
monopoly of Indian patriotism, Madni insists, challenging Hindu assertions
to the contrary. Just as the Aryans, the Huns and the Greeks came to
India and settled here and made this their home, he writes, so did the
early Muslims. The only difference between the Muslims and the others
is that the former arrived in India earlier. Hence, he asserts, it is
completely misleading to claim that India is not the land of the Muslims
or that it belongs to the Hindus alone. The welfare of all the communities
of India, including the Muslims, depends on the overall welfare of the
country, and this is yet another reason why the Indian Muslims must
love and serve their country.
Madni insists that the Muslims
cannot not leave India and depart for any other country, nor would any
other country accept them. The Indian Muslims would have to live and
flourish in India itself. While recognising that the Indian Muslims
have a spiritual bond with Muslims elsewhere owing to adherence to a
common religion, Madni argues that this does not come in the way of
their patriotism. Nor are the Indian Muslims alone in sharing such spiritual
ties with their co-religionists elsewhere. The Indian Hindus, Madni
notes, are linked through a common religion with Hindu communities outside
India, such as in South Africa,
Mauritius and Fiji. If that does not lead to their patriotic credentials
being questioned, he asks, why should the Indian Muslims' spiritual
links with Muslims elsewhere be regarded as suspect?
Another essay contained in
the booklet, penned by Maulana Syed Muhammad Miyan, a leading Deobandi
scholar, echoes the spirit of Madni's article. Titled 'Sarzamin-i Hindustan
Ke Faza'il' ('The Blessings of India'), it, too, argues that Muslims
are bound to love and serve India because Islam itself commands them
to do so. Like Madni, Miyan claims that India has been accorded a special
status by God Himself. Hence, he argues, Muslims are required by their
faith to work for India's unity and welfare. His refers to an Arabic
text written by the eighteenth century Indian scholar, Ghulam Azad Bilgrami,
which puts together Hadith reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad
and Qur'anic verses that are said to refer to the 'glories' of India.
Quoting Bilgrami, Miyan writes that while undoubtedly Mecca, Medina
and Jerusalem are the 'most holy' places in the world, Islamic tradition
has it that India, too, is a 'blessed land' According to such revered
Muslim figures as Imam 'Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, Ayesha,
one of the Prophet's wives, and leading companions of the Prophet, Adam
was sent down to earth to India, to the island of Serendip or modern-day
Sri Lanka, while Eve was sent to Jeddah. Adam then travelled to Arabia,
where he met Eve at a place near Mecca.
After building the Ka'aba
at Mecca, Adam took Eve with him and returned to India, where they settled
down and had children. The famous incident involving the sons of Adam,
Cain (Qabil) and Abel (Habil), occured, or so Miyan says, in India.
After Abel was killed by Cain, Adam had another son, Seth (Sheesh),
who, according to some accounts, is buried in the town of Ayodhya, which
is sacred to many Hindus today. Adam is said to have undertaken forty
pilgrimages from India to Mecca on foot. He is also said, some ulama
claim, so Miyan tells us, to have died in India and to have been buried
This close connection between
Adam and India points to what Miyan claims to be the obvious fact that
Islamic tradition accords to India the status of a 'blessed land'. This
suggests, Miyan writes, that India had a special place in God's scheme
of things for the world, which Muslims living in the country need to
recognise. The fact that Adam first appeared in the world in India means
that the world's first dar ul-khilafa ('abode of the Caliphate) was
India, because this was where God's first khalifa or deputy was sent
down. The island of Serendip, which can be said to be, in some sense,
a part of 'greater India', was the first place in the world where God
sent his revelation. Adam, the first man and the first prophet, was
made out of Indian soil. Since Adam is the father of all human beings,
including all the other prophets and the saints, the rest of humanity
was also fashioned out of the mud of India, or so Miyan claims.
Echoing a view held by many
Sufis, Miyan writes that the first thing that God created was the nur-i
muhammadi or the 'light of Muhammad'. This light was first put into
Adam and was then transferred through all the prophets till it reached
Muhammad when he appeared in Mecca. Because Adam lived in India, the
first time that the 'light of Muhammad' appeared on earth was in India,
and the last time that it appeared was in Arabia, this establishing
a firm spiritual link between the two lands. Miyan adds that some Muslim
scholars believe that Noah built his ark in India, and that India was
unaffected by the Great Flood in Noah's time. In addition, several companions
of the prophet, thousands of Muslim saints, martyrs and pious ulama
made India their home and died and were buried here. All these facts
clearly suggest, Miyan contends, that from the Islamic point of view
the 'greatness' of India is 'undeniable'. Hence, he stresses, it is
the religious duty of the Muslims of India to work for the sake of the
unity and prosperity of the country as a whole.
Madni and Miyan were far
from being isolated voices among the Indian ulama of their times. While
some ulama did oppose them and supported the Pakistan demand, numerous
others spoke in similar terms, forcefully opposing the Muslim League,
radical Islamists as well as Hindu chauvinists. These voices cry out
to be retrieved and highlighted today.