Indian Muslim nationalism

Indian Muslim nationalism

Indian Muslim nationalism refers to the political and cultural expression of nationalism, founded upon the religious tenets and identity of Islam, of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.

Rising from the first days of Islamic empires in Pakistan and India, this article endeavors to explore and trace Muslim nationalism through medieval India and into the events of the 20th and early 21st century, within the modern nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Indian subcontinent's Muslim population numbers around 460 million.

Historical foundations

The historical foundations of Muslim nationalist thinking derives inspiration from the years of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire in northern and central India. Those were the years when Muslim kingdoms were among powerful military groups in India, and an Islamic society that descended from the Middle East, Persia and the Cental Asia and from areas which became moderen day Afghanistan spread the religion amongst Indians.

Ideological foundations

The first Muslim uprising began with the Muslim Sultan-The Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan in 1766, whose famous armed resistance of Mysore, using bamboo Rockets, was the catalyst for the demise of the British from India and earned him the title "Father of the Indian Rocket". .In fact, the battle against the British in Mysore,1766 seems to be at the pinnacle of unrest in the colonised lands of all the European colonoisers.

The first organized expressions began with Muslim scholars and reformers like Syed Ahmed Khan, Syed Ameer Ali and the Aga Khan who had an influential major hand in the Anti-British Resistance movements during the "Indian Revolution"

Expression of Muslim separatism and nationhood emerged from modern Islam's pre-eminent poet and philosopher, Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal and political activists like Choudhary Rahmat Ali.

In politics

Some prominent Muslims politically sought a base for themselves, separate from Hindus and other Indian nationalists, who espoused the Indian National Congress. Muslim scholars, religious leaders and politicians founded the All India Muslim League in 1906.

Muslims comprised 25% to 30% of (pre-partition) India's collective population. Some Muslim leaders felt that their cultural and economic contributions to India's heritage and life merited a significant role for Muslims in a future independent India's governance and politics.

But after the rise of Hindu nationalism, a movement led by Allama Iqbal and ultimately Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who originally fought for Muslim rights within India, later felt a separate homeland must be obtained for India's Muslims in order to achieve prosperity. They espoused the "Two-Nation Theory", that India was in fact home to the Muslim and Hindu nations, who were distinct in every way.

Another section of Muslim society, led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari and Maulana Azad felt that participation in the Indian Independence Movement and the Indian National Congress was a patriotic duty of all Muslims.

Religious leaders like Maulana Maudoodi did not prefer a single nation over two or vice versa, but sought to propagate the religion and create an Islamic republic in India.

Partition of India

Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the Muslim League's call for Pakistan. Some historians have come to believe that Jinnah did not actually want the partition of the Indian subcontinent, but used it as a potent weapon to secure greater political power for Indian Muslims. However, as time went on, communal tensions rose and so partition won increasing support among many Muslims in Muslim-majority areas of the Indian subcontinent.

On August 14, 1947, Pakistan was created out of the Muslim majority provinces of British India, Sind, the west of Punjab, Baluchistan, the east of Bengal and the North West Frontier Province. Communal violence broke out and millions of people were forced to flee their homes and many lost their lives. Hindus and Sikhs fled from Pakistan to India and Muslims fled from India to Pakistan.

However, because Muslim communities existed throughout the Indian subcontinent, partition actually left tens of millions of Muslims within the boundaries of the secular Indian state. Currently, approximately 13.4% of the population of India is Muslim.

The Muslim League idea of a Muslim Nationalism encompassing all of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent seemed to lose out to ethnic nationalism in 1971, when East Pakistan, a Bengali dominated province, fought and won its independence from Pakistan, and became the independent country of Bangladesh.

Pakistani nationalism

Pakistan has more than 160 million Muslims. It is also the fastest growing population among the 10 most populated countries with greater than 2% population growth each year and is expected to become the most populated Muslim country in the world within 10 years.

Pakistani Nationalism has varied from the original idea in the early 1900s to the status quo, usually varying by socio-economic class and political ideology. Originally, it was a concept defined by the Western regions of British India and their religious affiliation of Islam. During the late years of British rule and leading up to Partition, it had three distinct supporters:

1) Realists, such as Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who driven by political inflexibility demonstrated by the Congress Party, feared a systematic disenfranchisement of Muslims (and not necessarily Islam). This also included many members of the Parsi, and Nizari Ismaili communities.

2) Technocratic Elitists, such as the majority of Aligarh students who were driven by a fear of being engulfed in "false secularism" that would assimilate their beliefs and values into a common system that defied Islamic tenets while hoping to create a state where their higher education and wealth would keep them in power over the other Muslims of India.

3) Idealists, primarily lower Orthodoxy (Barelvi), that feared the dominative power of the upper Orthodoxy (Deoband) and saw Pakistan as a safe haven to prevent their domination by State-controlled propaganda. Although some upper Orthodoxy also supported the state in the interests of an Islamic State.

Through the years this situation varied, however all parties secular and religious see Pakistan as a member of the global community, and Pakistanis as global citizens hailing from many different backgrounds including (and with great pride): Iran, Arabia, and India. Their primary purpose it to represent themselves as honest hard-working Muslims and provide safe haven to the millions of Muslim refugees from around the world such as Afghanistan and Burma.

In more recent times and through the efforts of Pervez Musharraf, there has been a distinctive U-turn on this policy, as the West sees this "Muslim melting pot" a manifest of Muslim Transnationalism which secular fundamentalists in the West see as a threat to Western society. Unfortunately, this effort has created strong rifts in Pakistani society with Westernized, classes benefitting from government patronage and support for their lifestyles have enjoyed the fruits of an economic boom while even the slightly religious classes of Pakistan have suffered from discriminatory treatment due to their unwillingless to change their lifestyles to European ones.

Many Pakistanis believe in the implementation of Shariah, in a way that respects their religion and does not compromise its ideals and tenets to appease outsiders. This includes controversial legislation such as Hudood, which even many strict Muslims realize, requires strong institutions to properly enforce. For the controversial nature of these ordinances, see the separate entry on them. There is a small smattering of secularists who, primarily educated in the West, believe in the separation of Church and State, and their power and influence is greater due to their knowledge of English and interest in politics.

Today Pakistan is a thriving nation-state but not without its fair share of problems. It is second only to Malaysia in terms of economic diversification, and is one of the "Next Eleven" nations that will drive the world economy, as determined by Goldman Sachs.

Bangladeshi nationalism

Bangladesh is home to more than 120 million Muslims. It is the fourth-largest Muslim community in the world. Originally the Eastern wing of Pakistan, it gained independence in 1971 following a bloody civil war that claimed the lives of many people.

The founding of Bangladesh is open to controversy. While many Indian analysts see it as proof positive of the failure of the two-nation concept as purported by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, its formation is more due to socio-economics and political feudalism than a strong desire by the members of the state to step away from the idea of a Muslim homeland.

After the founding of Pakistan, the dominant political parties within the Western block were controlled by Urdu-speaking Indian migrants (especially those from Aligarh), who were seen as the leaders of Muslims in British India and (right or wrong) the "champions" of Pakistan. Because of their fluency in the lingua franca of Muslim South Asia, Urdu, and desire to transplant the tried-and-true institutions of the old Indian state to newly-created Pakistan, Urdu became the National language. This caused great concern among native Western and Eastern Pakistanis, the majority of whom spoke languages such as Bengali, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Pashto, and Gujarati rather than Urdu. On the other hand, due to its neutrality, it was seen as the perfect language to build the nation-state upon.

Unfortunately, Urdu itself came under attack, to the chagrin of some prominent Bengalis who spoke it and believed in it as a means of bridging the many gaps throughout the newly-created Pakistan. Some Technocrats and Elitists saw Urdu as a means by which to retain power, keeping non-speakers out, alienating most Bengalis. This, along with the economic disparity between West and East Pakistan that saw massive transfers of capital from the West to the East, created a situation where Bengalis felt increasingly isolated and unable to participate in the new nation-state. Few West Pakistanis saw this and continued to participate in both sides of the country (many Memons and Gujaratis were living and building businesses in East Pakistan). This led to the creation of Bengali political parties that espoused greater regional autonomy and recognition of Bengali as a second National Language. This was ironic given that English, not Urdu, was the primary language of the State, and most analysts at that time were hard-pressed to believe that would change.

Following a stunning victory whereby Bengali parties captured the majority of the seats in the elections of 1970, the elite enclaves of Western Pakistani Muslims, primarily residing in Karachi and Lahore at that time, feared ethnic domination and sectarianism. With the rise of ethnic politics, it would be very easy for other ethnicities to feel threatened, and besides, they argued, it would be counter-intuitive to the idea of one Muslim state where ethnicity is irrelevant and greater importance should be placed on the common heritage of Islam.

The Western Pakistani response was bloodthirsty, killing hundreds and thousands or according to some millions of innocent Bengalis in an effort to suppress who they deemed were insurgents. In the end, Bangladesh was created and millions of residents of the former West and East wings were displaced. Most non-Bengalis, fearing persecution, attempted to flee to Western Pakistan. A significant number of Biharis, who identify with Pakistan, continue to live in Bangladesh with no status and no recognition from the Bangladeshi government, while a strong number of Bengalis continue to live in Pakistan and are mostly integrated into the fabric of a culturally diverse Pakistan.

Muslim nationalism in India

According to official government statistics, India has 150 million Muslims spread across many states including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. It is the third-largest home to Muslims after Indonesia and Pakistan, and the second-largest home to Shia Muslims (after Iran and before Pakistan).

Since partition, there has been a great deal of conflict within the various Muslim communities as to how to best function within the complex political and cultural mosaic that defines Indian politics in India today. Due to scare tactics by secular fundamentalist parties invoking an image of militant Hinduism, many Muslims ally themselves with Congress and other left-wing parties in the hopes of securing rights and privileges within the nation-state. This approach, driven primarily by the elite and educated classes is driven both by an alienation from "Islamic" Pakistan and realism. On the other hand it has estranged less privileged Indian Muslims who identify more with religious Hindus and believe that the Indian state has an obligation to enforce universal religious sensitivities. Despite this, many common Muslims will vote and identify with Congress for welfare support and a rejection of militant Hinduism. The recent economic policies of the left-wing coalition within the Indian Parliament has challenged this, and governmental overtures to attract right-wing Hindus has played a role in increasing support for the BJP, especially in the Southern states.

All in all, Muslim perseverance in sustaining their continued advancement along with Government efforts to focus on Pakistan as the primary problem for Indian Muslims in achieving true minority rights has created a sometimes extreme support for Indian nationalism, giving the Indian State much-needed credibility in projecting a strong secular image throughout the rest of the world.

The creation of Pakistan has created a deep identity crisis for Muslim Indian. Hindus in India bitterly resent the fact that their motherland was, allegedly, divided by Muslims to gain their own land. This bitterness more often turns against Indian Muslims. Thus Muslim Indians although patriotic, resent their patriotism being questioned. Recent terrorist attacks like Mumbai Bomb Blast, Varanasi Temple bombing, Delhi Bomb Blasts , Akshardham Temple attack place the Muslim Indian community in an awkward situation as the attacks occur due to some local support. But in the recent past, many modern educated Muslims have come forward and denounced the brand of Islam taught in the madrasas, and reaffirmed their patriotism. Also, Muslims are present in all the major fields. The Indian film industry popularly known as Bollywood has many popular Muslim stars. The Indian cricket team, has its share of Muslim players who play with zeal and patriotism as any other players. The players have performed with distinction especially in matches against Pakistan.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a leading Indian Islamic organization has propounded a theological basis for Indian Muslim's nationalistic philosophy. Their thesis is that Muslims and non-Muslims have entered upon a mutual contract in India since independence, to establish a secular state. The Constitution of India represents this contract. This is known in Urdu as a "mu'ahadah". Accordingly as the Muslim community's elected representatives supported and swore allegiance to this "mu'ahadah" so the specific duty of Muslims is to keep loyalty to the Constitution. This "mu'ahadah" is similar to a previous similar contract signed between the Muslims and the Jews in Medina. ["Islam in Modern History". By Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Pg 285.] Given this situation, the intermediate economic state of the Muslims in India has created a transitory composition of its population. Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis migrate to India each year, and while India also bans immigration into India (owing to its own overpopulation), this has set the tone for relatively hostile relations between the two countries, and has a profound impact on Muslim Nationalism.

outh Asian Muslim leaders


Syed Ahmed Khan, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Begum of Bhopal

"Freedom Fighters (primarily against the British)"

Badruddin Tyabji, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Maulana Azad, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Abbas Tyabji, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Maulana Mehmud Hasan.

"Pakistan Movement"

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, A.K. Fazlul Huq, Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz

ee also

*"Arrow of a Blue-Skinned God" by Jonah Blank
*"Patel: A Life" by Rajmohan Gandhi
*"India and Pakistan in War and Peace" by J.N. Dixit


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