Muslims against the Muslim League: Critiques of the Idea of Pakistan

* Metcalf's article on Hussain Ahmad Madani brings out in sharp relief the Maulana’s amazingly progressive views on nationalism

A topic greatly under researched is finally attracting the attention of scholars: the opposition to the Muslim League, its idea of Pakistan and the partition of India that was inevitable were the idea to Pakistan materialise as a separate state for Indian Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. In this regard mention must be made of Shamsul Islam’s, Muslims Against Partition (2015), which has pioneered this trend.

For too long, sublime confusion has been generated by the colonial school of history centred on Cambridge and Oxford where a novel idea was pedalled – that Jinnah did not want partition; it was the Congress leaders who did. It found supporters in India as well, notably among right-wing individuals wanting to make India a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu State) which is “secular” the same way as Jinnah’s Pakistan was Islamic and secular.  Jinnah and his relentless demand for partition leading to partition was thus blamed ingeniously on those who opposed it and languished in jails for years against it: the leaders of the Congress Party. What the colonial school of history and its products have also tried to prevent is to identify the British as the villains of the piece: without them deciding in favour of partition and implementing it in great hurry there would be no Pakistan and no partition and most certainly not the bloodshed and forced migration it caused.

However, with time the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle are now falling into place. It is an insult to common sense to deny that Jinnah and the Muslim League were the ones who demanded partition and got Pakistan. This credit which the Pakistani historians claim for him and the Muslim League is fully justified and heavily documents. However, they do not recognize that the creation of Pakistan was a Britishdecision because Pakistan fitted the role of a frontline state against Soviet Communism. I have demonstrated that in my two recent books, The Punjab Bloodied Partitioned and Cleansed, and Pakistan: The Garrison State. A political scientist had to step in to fill in the gaps historians are unable to or unwilling to fill.

The editors Ali Usman Qasmi and Megan Eaton Robb and other contributors to this impressive volume of essays having taken us one huge step forward in bringing to light the opposition among Muslims to the Muslim League and Pakistan. Any partition of India to create Pakistan would always leave one-third of the 90-100 million Muslims in India, effect a rupture in historical continuity of a thousand years of Muslim presence in the subcontinent and thus destroy a unique culture in which all communities had space and were bound to negotiate a pluralist order. That it would evoke opposition from Muslims on theological, cultural and political grounds should not surprise anyone. This book opens new vistas and provides unique insights into the multifarious opposition among Muslims to the Muslim League and its demand for Pakistan.

The book comprises 16 chapters, most of them very interesting, well-researched, informative and scholarly. I shall focus on a few which I liked particularly but would strongly recommend that all contributions should be read by the academic community and the wider public eager to know our recent past.

There are two masterpieces. Barbara D. Metcalf’s article on Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani brings out in sharp relief the amazingly progressive views of Madani on anti-colonial, anti-imperialist nationalism: inclusive and pluralist.  More interestingly he argued that an Islamic state in the twentieth century would be impossible to establish given the sectarian and other divisions among Muslims.Consequently,if such a state were on a population consisting of only Muslims it would be possible only by force: such reasoning is fully vindicated with what is happening in Pakistan today. enlightened tradition of Deoband has been eclipsed by the extremism and terrorism which some sections of the Deobandis have adopted, nurtured and practised in Pakistan.

The second masterpiece is by Ali Usman Qasmi who has painstakingly researched Syed Abul Ala Maududi’s opposition to the Muslim League and Pakistan. Maududi objectified faith as the sole criterion of loyalty to the state reaching the alarming conclusion that a Muslim could only serve faithfully in an Islamic state and not any other. On such a basis he ruled out loyalty to a secular state based on territorial nationalism which the Indian National Congress stood for; hence his notorious opposition to the freedom struggle led by Congress. Interesting, he notes that Maududi considered the Muslim League the lesser evil. His objections to the Muslim League and his leaders was that they were only nominal Muslims; not pious and practising Muslims and the Pakistan idea they stood for was not about the establishment of the supremacy of Allah in the state but of Muslims – who could be tepid and secular. Maududi opposed Pakistan and called it naPakistan. However, Pakistan did come into being and like any power-seekers Maududi had no problem in now embarking upon a concerted and relentless campaign to make Pakistan an Islamic state. That his views have virtually captured the state calls for a political scientist to explain how and why.

Megan Eaton Robb argues in her chapter on Ashraf Ali Thanavi that the maulana was critical of the Muslim League. Venkat Dhulipalia’s detailed study, Creating a New Medina, where he contrasts Thanavi’s support for Pakistan as opposed to Madani’s support for Congress suggests a different role of Thanavi than what she has set forth. Thanavi and Madani, both leading scholars of Deoband, had drawn diametrically opposite interpretations of the Misaq-e-Madina (Charter of Medina). Thanavi, according to Dhulipalia, argued that only when a state is ruled by Muslims can an alliance with non-Muslims against a third party is permissible. He was therefore in favour of Pakistanunder the rule of sharia as compared to a united India ruled on secular principles and with the Hindus in the dominant position. Eaton Robb focuses on reservations that Thanavi had (and by that token other ulema too) about the lack of religious piety among Muslim League leaders. She acknowledges that Thanavi preferred the Muslim League and wanted to act as the spiritual guide for the Muslim League so that its leaders become good Muslims.

Ali Raza has written an intriguing chapter on Mian Iftikharuddin, the maverick leftist, who joined the Muslim League but was a fish out of waterin that party since his training and intellectual orientation was radical nationalism of the Indian Congress Party to which he belonged for most of his political life before the partition. The Communist Party of India had concluded – in complete negation of what Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and even Trotsky had written on nationalism – that a nation should not be based on religion but on territory, language and other such factors. Polish and German Jews were excluded from the blood and religion based mainstream Polish and German nationalism and Marxism had instead advanced territorial nationalism. In India this was reversed. Iftikharuddin and other leftists were never accepted by the Muslim League despite them having added a battery of class-based slogans besides the Islamist rhetoric of the ulema to the Pakistan campaign of the Muslim League.

Tahir Kamran’s article on Choudhary Rahmat Ali provides more details of Ali’s failed exams and that he was a perennially over-aged student. Kamran found some new material in Cambridge University of Ali’s writings, in addition to what K. K. Aziz has already presented in the collected works of Ali long time ago. The main documents at Cambridge are already known and discussed. One would have liked the new material to be highlighted specifically.

M. Raisur Rahman chapter on the impact partition had on the Muslims of qasbahs (hamlets or small towns) brings out the human angle of the partition tragedy. Interesting articles by Markus Daechsel on Allama Mashraqi; by Safoora Arbab on Abdul Ghaffar Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgars; and Justin Jones on Shia response to Pakistan as Sunnistanalso attracted my attention. In a book with 16 chapters some are bound to be excluded in a review limited to a word limit. For that I am sorry.

Published in Daily Times, November 11th 2017.