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Islam 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 here.

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.









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