Volume 5, No. 12, December 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
“Oye Fraudio, Tussi Ithay Keeh Pai Karde Oh?” (Oh you scoundrels, what are you doing here?). My Principal in Punjab University Law College, Sheikh Imtiaz Ali, drove past us but reversed his car just to cut the teasing remark in Punjabi. The occasion was when a University Law College classmate and myself had just got off a public service double decker bus and were entering the awe inspiring gates of the Central Superior Services Academy on the Mall Road in Lahore. We had been selected by the Federal Public Service Commission as Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASP), the entry level position in the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) and were there to join training on December 22, 1972. Coincidentally, the Principal was entering the Academy at the same time in his famous Volkswagen car, familiarly recognised by the alumni of Law College of many years, to deliver a lecture to the under-training officers of the Civil Service of Pakistan, Foreign Service of Pakistan and PSP, called ‘probationers’. He was a member of the visiting faculty in the Academy.
There was a background to this taunt. I was elected to the Punjab University Law College Students Union before joining the Academy. But the Principal, Sheikh Imtiaz, knew me more not for my role in the Law College Students Union but for another reason, a humorous one. The Punjab University campus in the 1970s was highly politicised and polarised between two competing ideologies, Mao Tse Tung’s revolutionary socialism and Maulana Abul Ala Maududi’s concept of Islamic society. The leftist People’s Students Federation (PSF), an organisation created by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and Islami Jamiat-i-Tuleba (IJT), the student wing of Maulana Maududi’s Jamaat-i-Islami, used to take out processions shouting the slogans: “Asia Surkh Hai” (Asia is red) and “Asia Sabz Hai” (Asia is green) respectively. I had created a student organisation of my own with the name Khaki Tehrik (Khaki Movement) with the slogan “Asia Khaki Hai” (Asia is khaki). The slogan was a taunt, meaning that military rule was the unfortunate destiny of Asian nations.
While I as a young man 20 years old in 1970 was ‘romanticising’ the political tensions in the campus and satirically representing them in a comical style, I could hardly know that the politics outside the campus would shock me with the division of my country a year later in 1971. I could not appreciate that the Two-Nation Theory and Pakistan Movement had reached its end in East Pakistan where a majority of Pakistanis lived. I could not conceptualise that in West Pakistan the Asia is Red or Green slogans depicted the larger contest between different classes of Muslim society in the Subcontinent. These ideological slogans reflected the unresolved dilemmas in the creation of Pakistan. The conflict between the orthodox, rigid, formal Muslim community and the liberal, secular, modern section, initially surfacing in 1940 during the Pakistan Movement, had re-emerged for a decisive battle in 1970.
The period from 1968 to 1971 was the culmination point of a phase and start of another in the history of Muslim identity in the Subcontinent. Many more phases had passed earlier when I was too young to perceive the historical transitions. Now, having turned 73 years old, I can fairly explain the conflicts and dilemmas embedded in the history of Subcontinental Islam.
I have addressed these points in the following paragraphs.
There have been three distinct periods in the history of the Muslim diaspora in the Subcontinent that have changed their political course. The first was the Two-Nation Theory that transitioned into the Pakistan Movement between 1906 and 1947. The second was the emergence of a new phenomenon called the Establishment, which destroyed the Two-Nation Theory from 1947 till 1971, and the third was from 1977 to date, turning Pakistan into a military-dominated state, akin to my university days taunt of “Asia is khaki.”
The first period, the Two-Nation Theory, needs to be conceptualised in detail as it made irrevocable and permanent changes in the Muslim politics in the Subcontinent.
Orientalist thinkers like Aijaz Ahmad (Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures), Leonard Binder (The Ideological Revolution in the Middle East, 1964, Political Power and the Second Stratum in Egypt, 1978, Islamic Liberalism, 1988), Hector Bolitho (Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan, 1954), Edward Said (Orientalism, 1978), divide the Muslims of the world into two distinct, contradictory and exclusive categories: ‘Westernised Modernists’ and ‘Traditional Fundamentalists’. These simplistic labels do not apply to Indian Muslims as compared to the Muslim population of the world and can be misleading.
The rampant colonisation of society under the British and competition with a major religion of the world, i.e. Hinduism, were fundamental in differentiating the Muslims of the Subcontinent from the Muslims of Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Turkey and the Arabian countries, who did not experience these challenges. An incisive, exclusive and exploratory understanding of Subcontinental Islam is necessary to help explain why it responded differently to the situation peculiar to it, as compared to the Muslim populations in other countries. The politics of the State of Pakistan between 1968 to 1971 cannot be understood without reference to the significant developments in the history of the Muslims of the Subcontinent. In this conceptual framework, the relative, beneath-the-surface defensive positions of the adherents of the rival factions can be elucidated by relating their contemporary politics to the past positions in a society reshaping itself repeatedly in reaction to the historical developments and impetuses of the Subcontinent. In the Subcontinent Islam faced two unique challenges, which changed its complexion, hence its responses to modern historical developments.
The Hindu majority factor
Firstly, in the Subcontinent Muslims confronted a major and ancient world religion, Hinduism, to which a majority of the population adhered. Muslims invaded and ruled Spain (7th-late 15th centuries – 850 years) and India (12th-late 19th centuries – 700 years) but could not convert Christians and Hindus respectively because both are very resilient religions. Spain threw out the Muslim conquerors, but in the Subcontinent the Muslims survived and rather thrived. No other Muslim country, including Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan or the Arabian countries, faced a continuing and serious challenge to their religious and cultural identity as intensely as in the Subcontinent.
Secondly , in the middle of the 19th century, the British colonial occupation of the Subcontinent fully impacted Muslims as their political power, steadily declining since the late 17th century after the deterioration of the Mughal Empire, was totally destroyed. After seven centuries of continuous Muslim rule, Muslim power had reached its lowest level. The British had thoroughly colonised the Subcontinent with an extensive network of rail and road, courts implementing English jurisprudence, modern policing and administrative systems, etc., backed by a modern standing British Indian Army. But the most important colonisation was caused by changing the official language from Persian to English and creation of a widespread educational system using English as the medium of instruction and adding modern sciences to the curriculum.
The takeover of the Subcontinent by the British colonial power affected the Muslims more than the Hindus. Historian Jim Masselos (Indian Nationalism: A History) attributes the Muslim backwardness to the fact that Muslims were not predisposed to absorb “alien ideas, methods and language of the new rulers”; thus they failed “to grasp the opportunities available in the new structure of government”. Denys Hay, another historian, attributes this Muslim degeneration partly to the fact that the areas where Muslims were present, namely the northern regions, were the last to come under British rule. The first to come under British rule were the coastal areas, where three major port cities were set up, namely Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. The British impact was initially felt in such coastal areas, and it happened that the people inhabiting those areas were mostly Hindus. The latter proved to be very receptive to foreign cultures. In fact, for Hindus, it did not matter whoever ruled them, and the advent of the British did not make any difference. Historian K K Aziz (History of the Partition of India) wrote: “The Hindus had been a subject race for centuries. They were trained in the art of honouring the rulers. When a Muslim sat on the throne of Delhi they learned Persian and cultivated the graces of a Mughal court life. When a British Viceroy governed the country they learned English with equal diligence and entered Government service with alacrity.”
Imperial pride was another factor inhibiting the Muslims. Whereas Hindus were willing to submit to the foreign rulers, Muslims were too proud of their past glory to submit to the British. Historian J Masselos wrote: “It was argued that psychologically they (Muslims) had not recovered from their loss of power when they were supplanted as rulers of the Subcontinent by the British and that they lived in the past, in a nostalgic world of former glories (Indian Nationalism: An History, New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited, 1996: 119). For the Muslims, the fact of refusing to learn the language of the new conquerors, as well as imbibing their education, served as an impediment to get, or to continue to be in, the administrative posts under British rule, knowing that the English education was the only qualification that opened the door for government positions (Masselos: 119). The Muslims chose to shy away from everything associated with the British, including their culture, language and education. This state of affairs led them to insularity, clinging to their own culture, ideas and fundamental teachings of Islam. Most of them prevented their children from attending British-patronised educational institutions throughout the different Indian provinces. Thomas R Metcalf (Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 2008, A Concise History of Modern India, 2006, Forging the Raj: Essays on British India in the Heyday of Empire, 2005, Ideologies of the Raj, 1997) wrote that the Muslims were convinced that the British intention was to forcibly Christianise the whole of the inhabitants of the Subcontinent, including the Hindu subjects.
This Muslim reluctance to take to western education was to have serious repercussions on the Muslim community by the second half of the 19th century. According to Historian S Tandon, Muslims were to trail far behind the Hindus in the field of modern education. Taking the case of the Muslim majority Bengal region, he stated that by 1875, Muslims made up only 5.4 percent of the total college enrollment while the Hindus made up 93.9 per cent. He added that the same situation was witnessed at secondary schools and universities (“Genesis of the Wahabi Movement”, The Tribune, India, Chandigarh, March 24, 2002). In the Muslim majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab (including North West Frontier Province) the percentage of total Muslim students was 10.6 percent and 25 percent respectively. The college enrollment of Muslims was 3.8 percent and 12.6 percent respectively. In Bombay, which included Sind, the situation was even worse. Only 4.4 percent went to schools while 1.4 percent made it to colleges.
The most severely affected by colonialism were the Muslims of Bengal. The Permanent Settlement Act 1793, implemented by Lord Cornwallis, Governor General of India, to collect land revenue gradually alienated them from power and financially impoverished them. Most of the contractors called ‘Gomashtas’ (agents) and Zamindars (landlords) appointed as contractors to collect taxes became partners and collaborators of the British colonial power, thus creating a new privileged class. They were mostly Hindus who were preferred over Muslims by dint of their education in the English language. Gradually, by means of swindling and oppressive conduct, they managed to accumulate huge fortunes and became landholders, practically reducing the Muslim landowners to serfdom.
Even in the administrative government positions Muslims were replaced by Hindus when in 1835 during Lord Bentinck’s Governor Generalship, the Mughal era official language Persian was replaced with the English language. Furthermore, even in the law courts, the position of Muslim officials was steadily undermined as the British imposed their own procedures to supersede the Islamic Courts established by the Mughals. T R Metcalf wrote: “ In Bengal, to be sure, the fall from power was complete and catastrophic. Cornwallis and his successors swept away the whole structure of Muslim administration which they had inherited from the Mughal rulers of the province. The Muslim…judges were discharged, the Islamic code was set aside in favor of the British Regulations” (The Aftermath of Revolt: India 1857-1870, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1965: 300). For the sake of further illustration, it is useful to report the figures advanced by Dr Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Associate Professor Maulana Azad National Urdu University, with regard to appointments in all government positions during the early 1870s. There were 92 Muslim government servants as compared to 681 Hindus, although the Muslims were 25 percent of the total population (Educational Conditions of Indian Muslims During 19th Century, Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society 52 (1), 41-76).
The combination of these internal and external factors of coexistence with the Hindu majority and colonialism resulted in a reaction and response unique to Subcontinental Islam as compared to world Islam. Subcontinental Islam historically reacted by adopting a distinct and novel behaviour and socio-political approach. Thus emerged three distinct forms of Subcontinental Islam, separate from the ‘westernised modernists’ and ‘traditional fundamentalists’ of the Orientalist thinkers like Aijaz Ahmad, Leonard Binder, Hector Bolitho, Collard, Edward Said, etc.
The Muslims of the Subcontinent can be separated into three distinct local categories of their own. Their challenges were unique as compared to their co-religionists in other countries.
The rigid, puritanical, scholastic, legalistic, orthodox class
This class represents the concepts of Wahabiism and Salafiism, common to all countries in the Muslim world. It had seen the zenith of its political activism in the rule of 17th century Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (November 3, 1618-March 3, 1707) but slumped into political alienation as the Mughul Empire collapsed and British invaders gradually inched towards Delhi, the seat of power of this class. This remained the dominant class from the early 16th century till the end of the 17th century. The takeover of the Subcontinent by the East India Company proved to be a bitter pill for orthodox Muslims to swallow.
The orthodox, formalistic Muslims remained in denial of the emerging realities of colonial rule and the opportunities these offered; hence they slumped into further degradation and decadence. They reacted by firmly redrawing the boundaries of Islam around themselves as a defensive wall.
Aurangzeb is the greatest icon of orthodox Muslims. His epic book, Fatwa-e-Alamgiri (Juristic Interpretations of Alamgir) is still referred to in religious debates. This class seeks to return to the fundamentals of the Islamic religion and live similar to the way Prophet Muhammad and his companions lived after his death. Islamic fundamentalists favour a literal and originalist interpretation of the primary sources of Islam, the Quran and the Sunnah, and seek to eliminate non-Islamic influences from every part of their lives. This group believes in the pan-Islamic unity of the Ummah (Muslim Nation), discourages art (music, dancing, painting, photography, etc.), observes personal austerity, displays outward signs of orthodoxy (rejecting silk clothes and gold vessels). Their favorite reading is the Quran, visiting Mecca regularly, abstaining from alcohol, favouring Urdu over English. Some among them, inclined towards fanatical reductionism and narrow-minded literalism, have drifted towards jihadist organisations like al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, etc., while relatively moderate ones are members of the Jamaat-i-Islami founded by Maulana Maududi and Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam founded by the alumni of the Deoband school in India.
Informal, unorthodox, mystic, Sufi, inclusive, Barelvi Islam
This class developed inclusivity and merged their identity with the Hindu majority, adopting their traditions and practices. They moved away from orthodox, formalistic and legal observance of Islam to a Subcontinental adaptation of Islam. This set of Muslims entertained Hindu theology and allowed the boundaries of Islam to become elastic and porous, thereby effecting a synthesis with Hinduism by adopting their traditions and practices. This genre of Islam, called the Barelvi sect, constitutes the majority of Muslims in the Subcontinent. But more importantly, it does not exist anywhere else in the Muslim world.
This class represents liberal religious views, universalist humanity, and encourages art/music. Their belief in Sufism extends to reverence for Hindu Yogis like Bhagat Kabir and Sikhism founder Baba Nanak, besides Bulleh Shah, Sultan Bahu, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Rehman Baba and Baba Ghulam Fareed. They visit Sufi shrines for prayers and find reverence in mystic dancing and ecstatic behaviour. Their favourite reading is the poetry of mystics in addition to the Quran. They have incorporated Hindu rituals like Jahez (dowry for daughters), kite flying, dancing at functions in their lives. They sing Qawali (Muslim mystic songs) at the shrines of Sufi saints, like Hindu Bhajans (Hindu mystic songs) with music at Hindu mandars (temples). They are personally extravagant and fun loving, occasionally drink alcohol or use other intoxicants, promote ethnic cultures and dress. Their heroes in addition to the Prophet are Sufi icons. Many of their Sufi heroes like Madhoo Lal Hussain, Bulleh Shah , Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Baba Ghulam Fareed, etc., were equally revered by Hindus and Sikhs. The Sikh holy book Granth Sahib contains verses of the Sufi saint Baba Farid Shakar Ganj. They are ready to expand Islam to include other faiths and emerging ideologies.
The adherents of this class are affiliated with many Sufic religious loyalty groups but the most important political parties representing them are Jamiat-ul-Mashaikh (Association of Sufi Shrines) and Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), an organisation of alumni of the Manzar-e-Islam school founded by Ahmed Raza Khan (1856-1921) at Bareli in India in 1904. This Bareli school was opened in defence of the traditional mystic practices of Subcontinental Muslims, in reaction to the opening of the Deoband school by the orthodox ulema. The alumni of this school came to be known as Barelvi Ulema and their followers are called the Barelvi sect, though they prefer to be known as Ahle Sunnat wa Jama’at or simply as Sunnis. Interestingly, like most orthodox Muslims in the Subcontinent, the Barelvis also follow the Sunni jurisprudence of Imam Abu Hanifa. But the difference between the orthodox and the Sufic, mystic, unorthodox Muslims is fundamental. The Barelvi unorthodox class assigns divine respect to Sufi saints and believe them to be emissaries of God and consider them a medium to reach God. They pray at the graves of the Sufi saints, considering the saints and their descendants as their attorneys in the court of God. They also consider Prophet Muhammad as an extension of God. The orthodox class considers their beliefs and practices as shirk and biddat (heresy).
The historical icon representing this model is Dara Shikoh, the Crown Prince and brother of Aurangzeb, who lost the battle for the Mughal throne in the 17th century. Aurangzeb beheaded him for apostasy because he had sponsored translations of the Hindu religious books Upanishads and Bhagavadgita into Persian.
Nationalist, secular, liberal, modern, westernised Islam
A class of Hindu and Muslim communities responded historically to the opportunities the colonial rule offered. This class was the product of Macaulay’s historic Minute of Education recorded in 1835, which aimed at creating a class “Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. Thomas Babington Macaulay (October 25, 1800-December 28, 1859) was a British historian and Whig politician who played a major role in the introduction of English and western concepts to education in India, and published his argument on the subject in the ‘Macaulay Minute’ in 1835. He supported the replacement of the Mughal era Persian by English as the official language, the use of English as the medium of instruction in all schools, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. The Government College Lahore (set up in 1864) and the Punjab University (formed in 1882) were all made by the British colonial government. The elitist Aitchison College was also founded by the British in 1886.
Thanks to western education, a Hindu intellectual class imbibing the principles of liberalism and democratic ideas was born. That helped them develop political consciousness among their community by organising revivalist and reform movements. Probably the best example illustrating this phenomenon was the emergence, as early as 1828, of Brahmo Samaj under the leadership of Rajaram Mohan. He launched a crusade against the polytheistic aspects of medieval Hinduism that sanctioned superstitions and meaningless religious rites that kept his co-religionists at a degraded level. This move on the part of Mohan Roy helped enlighten many western-educated Hindus who were to follow his footsteps in improving the status of the Hindu community. The westernised educated class questioned the centuries old customs of Satti (suicide of wives along with their husbands), prohibition on widow remarriage, caste-based discrimination, etc. Indian sociologist A R Desai stated: “The pioneers of nationalism in all countries were always the modern intelligentsia…” and in the case of India, “it was predominantly from the Hindu community that the first sections of the Indian intelligentsia…sprang”, hence the latter became the “pioneers of Indian nationalism” (Desai 1959:276-277).
In the Muslim community, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan embarked upon the modernisation and westernisation of Muslims. In his articles published in the journal Tahzibul Ikhlaq, he questioned the medieval practices of polygamy, punishments of stoning to death and cutting of hands. He argued that the future of Muslims was threatened by the rigidity of their orthodox outlook. Gradually, Muslim youth too in almost every part of India started joining the British educational institutions. For the north Indian Muslims from areas that became Pakistan, education at the Chiefs or Aitchison College, Government College in Lahore or Edwards College in Peshawar became a symbol of status and passport to social rise in the British colonial century. Even girls studying in Kinnaird College Lahore (inaugurated in 1913) and Convent of Jesus and Mary in Murree, defying tradition, excelled in life.
The British educational system created this class of modern Muslims with an ethos of elitism, western education, secular behaviour, liberalism and western manners. They became the first crop of the Muslim officers in the British Indian army and civil services, thus creating a new class of the Muslim elite, in contrast to the medieval monarchial bureaucracy. This class reflected values that were part westernised and part liberal. These values formed the ethos of the army and the civil services, the steel frame that kept the colonial power intact for a hundred years.
However, a very interesting point to note is that the modern, westernised, secular class can believe in both rigid/orthodox Islam and informal/Sufic Islam but would oppose the extreme expressions and approaches of both. For example, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who was the earliest pioneer of the secular, educated, modernised class and laid the foundations of the Aligarh Muslim University in 1875, was born in an orthodox family. He offered his prayers regularly and adopted the lifestyle of orthodox Muslims. But the diametrically opposed positions of the Aligarh and Deoband schools of thought are illustrated by the behaviour of their leaders during the 1857 uprising against British colonial rule. Sir Syed supported the British while Maulana Manawatawi fought them. Another example can be Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal, who personally was inclined towards Sufism and drew inspiration from Maulana Rumi, but urged the Muslims to learn modern sciences. He wrote: “Sabaq Phir Parh Sadaqat ka, Adalat ka, Shujaat ka, Liya Jaaye Ga Tujh se kaam Dunyan ki Imamat ka” (Oh young man, Study modern sciences, if you want the Muslims to regain the old glory).
This class took the leadership of Muslim Nationalism in India. It was to take credit for the creation of Pakistan in 1947, when the British colonial power had decided to leave India. This group was essentially responsible for providing an intellectual justification for Indian Muslims to be recognised by the British colonial power as a separate nation on the basis of Islam. This class formed the All India Muslim League, focused on politically safeguarding the political rights of Muslims against resurgent Hindu revivalism, rather than promoting religion. As early as 1909, the Muslims were granted separate electorates and reserved seats in the Minto-Morley Reforms as a result of the representations of a delegation led by His Highness Sir Agha Khan.
This class wears western dress; prefers English newspapers over Urdu; prefers Paris, London and New York as travel destinations instead of Saudi Arabia; likes to study in Oxford and Harvard; joins elite colonial era clubs; plays cricket, a purely English sport; drinks premium scotch instead of opium and country brews. This group forms the steel frame of the army and civil services of Pakistan and preserves the secular character of these organisations. In politics, this class shuns violent street agitations.
Though Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal and Sir Agha Khan were forerunners of this class, its representative hero and icon is Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Jinnah’s personal preferences were so westernised and elitist that he abandoned local garb for western-style clothing, and throughout his life he was always impeccably dressed in public. His suits were designed by Savile Row tailor Henry Poole and Co. (Ghafoor, Usman: February 25, 2019. “Shahzad Noor is fashion world’s latest show-stopper”, Gulf News, August 13, 2020). He came to own over 200 suits, which he wore with heavily starched shirts with detachable collars, and as a barrister took pride in never wearing the same silk tie twice (Stanley Wolpert: Jinnah of Pakistan, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984, p9). Even when he was dying, he insisted on being formally dressed: “I will not travel in my pyjamas” (Puri, Balraj: “Clues to understanding Jinnah”, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay: Sameeksha Trust, March 1-7, 2008 43 (9): 33-35). Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Liaqat Ali Khan, Sir Mohammad Iqbal, Sir Agha Khan, the leaders of this class never went to prison in the struggle for independence of India against the colonial power.
There exists a psychological affinity between the nationalist, secular, westernised, modern class and the informal, unorthodox, Sufic, inclusive, Barelvi group because of liberalism and secularism that are common to both. Both represent the synthesis of Islam with alien ideologies. While the informal Barelvi sect emerged in consequence of the synthesis of Islam and Hinduism, the nationalist class too represents a fusion of Islam with contemporary modern sciences and ideas. Both these forms of Islam remain equally uncomfortable with rigid, orthodox Islam because both shun extreme forms and expressions of Islam.
(To be continued)
The writer is a retired officer of the Police Service of Pakistan and has a keen interest in political science and jurisprudence. He has remained the head of intelligence agencies in three out of four provinces of Pakistan, namely Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. He is an expert observer and analyst of emerging political issues in Pakistan and regularly contributes analytical and researched writeups on related subjects in the national press.