Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Sir Syed and Indian Nationalism

By Dr. Javed Akhatar, New Age Islam 26 September 2023 (This is the English translation of Professor Mushirul Haq’s Urdu article titled “Sir Syed aur Hindustani Qaumiyat.”) In this research article, Professor Mushirul Haq refrains from immersing himself in the fervent discourse surrounding Sir Syed and his followers, which ultimately led to the partition of the country. However, he does make references to them in appropriate contexts when it aids in comprehending the underlying issues being discussed. Professor Haq's focus lies solely on those individuals who, contrary to Sir Syed’s belief that Hindus and Muslims could not collaborate, clung to the hope in the possibility of an Indian nation (Hindustani Qaum). They unwaveringly nurtured this conviction, firmly believing that India served as a homeland for Indian Muslims just as much as it did for followers of other faiths. In essence, they embraced the notion that religion does not constitute a fundamental factor in determining the question of homeland (Watan) and nationhood (Qaumiyat). --------- At the time, when Syed Ahmad (later became famous as Sir Syed) was advocating the idea of ‘Hindustani Qaum’ (one Indian nation) comprising two distinct religious communities, it appeared that some Hindu leaders, while actively shaping the aspirations and objectives of their own community, were not contemplating the establishment of a nation where Muslims would hold an equal status. The majority of Hindus, under the influence of leaders such as Dayananda Saraswati (founder Arya Samaj, primarily in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh), Bal Gangadhar Tilak (in Maharashtra), and Keshab Chandra Sen (associated with Brahmo Samaj in Bengal), were charting a course distinct from that of the Muslim community. All the Hindu movements during this era emerged as reformist movements with the primary objective of rectifying numerous entrenched social customs within Hindu society, which had erroneously amalgamated with the core tenets of Hinduism. Their target audience inherently comprised Hindus. Hence, it is evident that the leaders of these movements sought to provide Hindus with both pragmatic and spiritual guidance were looking back at the history predating the Muslim rule. The endeavour to rejuvenate the Hindu faith did not escape Sir Syed’s notice. Nevertheless, he held the aspiration that, in due course, he would be able to inspire Hindus to embrace a more elevated concept of nationhood through sincere and intellectual persuasion. In about 1867, some Hindus, mostly residents of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, initiated a movement, which gained a fair amount of popularity and many people later joined them. The movement urged that in government courts ‘attempts should be made to replace Urdu language – which was an amalgam of Khari Boli (elevated or standing dialect), Hindi and Persian – and Persian script Bhasha and Devanagari script.’ For Sir Syed this was a painful revelation and it gave him a great shock. He realized for the first time that ‘amongst the Hindus, who had been so caste-ridden that they had no sense of being a community, communal consciousness was now awakening, and their higher and middle classes were combining to assert their separate cultural entity in the face of the Muslims and trying to safeguard their special interests.’ In his world of despair, he said: “I am convinced that both communities (Qawm) cannot sincerely collaborate in any task, at least for now. In the future, even more opposition and stubbornness will arise due to those who are considered educated.” In 1876, Sir Syed conveyed his viewpoint to his confidant, Mr. Shakespear, the Commissioner of Benares. However, it is important to exercise caution in interpreting this statement. Drawing the conclusion that ‘it would never be feasible for both communities to collaborate in a shared endeavour’ in the future would be both misguided and wrong. In his aforementioned statement, Sir Syed employed the Urdu term “Qaum” instead of the English word “Nation,” which, as we have observed, does not inherently denote the concept of a nation. In light of our aforesaid discussions to define the meaning of the term “Qaum,” the only fair conclusion that can be reached is that Sir Syed was compelled to say and think that the issues that could impact the future of the Indian nation, both Hindu and Muslim, have very dark prospects for cooperation between the two groups or communities. Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that this stance of Sir Syed does not represent his ultimate conclusion. This is underscored by the fact that in 1884, a span of eight years subsequent to his aforementioned assertion, he reiterated this viewpoint, emphatically asserting that Muslims and Hindus constitute integral components of the same overarching Hindustani Qawm (Indian nation). ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Moving Beyond Sir Syed ------------------------------------------------------------------ It is an established historical fact that both Muslims and Hindus were active participants in the ‘Gadar’ (the Mutiny of 1857). However, once the Mutiny was quelled, the British authorities tended to assign blame primarily to the Muslim community, deeming them as treacherous and singling them out for retribution. ‘The Shurafaa (elite), particularly those of Muslim faith, were almost entirely obliterated.’ Not only were Muslims subjected to individual persecution and retaliatory death penalties, but a systematic policy of discriminatory practices was also employed against them in various governmental positions. This bias became so pronounced that in 1869, a Persian newspaper, Durbin, in Calcutta lodged a complaint, highlighting the unjust treatment suffered by the Muslim populace: “Gradually, Muslims are being dismissed from jobs, and Hindus are being hired in large numbers. An official announcement was made in the government gazette that no Muslim should be appointed. Recently, there were several vacancies in the office of the Commissioner of Sundarban (Bengal). Alongside their advertisements, there was also an official note stating that only Hindus can apply for these positions.” The same policy was adopted in another predominantly Muslim province of Punjab. The first report about education, published in 1856-57, unveiled that the number of Muslim teachers and students in (local language) schools was significantly higher compared to other groups... It recommended governmental intervention to curb this trend. The subsequent report in 1860-61 echoed this concern, with statistics indicating a clear predominance of Muslim teachers. Authorities were advised to actively encourage Hindus to enter this profession. Through a judicious, phased approach, efforts were made to equalize the representation of teachers from both communities, followed by measures aimed at reducing the proportion of Muslims in this sector. During the enforcement of this policy, Hindus did not voice criticism; in fact, they expressed significant approval. However, as circumstances evolved and the government reevaluated its stance on oppression and injustice, pivoting towards a strategy aimed at garnering Muslim support in matters pertaining to their community, Hindus, by and large, did not endorse this shift. Their newspapers featured extensive articles on the matter, asserting that attempts to reconcile with untrustworthy people are unpolitic. In 1870, fervent Hindu nationalists of Calcutta appealed to the government to reconsider this policy, contending that all Muslims were perceived as disloyal and enemies of the British. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan: Man with a Mission --------------------------------------------------------------------------- In any case, it is important to clarify that our intention is not to subject the activities of Hindus to scrutiny. Rather, it only aims to provide a backdrop that sheds light on the circumstances that drove individuals like Sir Syed to deeply involve themselves in the communal affairs of Muslims to the greatest extent possible. This also serves to demonstrate that during that era, Hindus, too, did not delve profoundly into the notion of the nation as it is currently understood. In India, each group and community regarded it as entirely legitimate to safeguard their respective interests. Sir Syed, while advocating for his community, harboured no desire to be unjust to others. As articulated by his biographer, Hali: “He never complained to the government about the fact that the number of Muslim candidates in the government service was very low compared to Hindus. He never protested or expressed displeasure at the promotion of any Hindu civil servant. Instead, he always advised Muslims to qualify themselves for government employment.” This is because Sir Syed viewed India as resembling a beautiful bride, with Hindus and Muslims representing her two eyes. According to his perspective, so long as her eyes remained in a state of vitality, the bride’s charm and beauty would persist. However, if one eye were to face adversity, the bride would, in turn, lose her visual symmetry and turn into a one-eyed entity. Under the auspices of this very sentiment, Sir Syed established the concept of the ‘Hindustani Qaum,’ signifying the Indian nation. This initiative predates the establishment of the Indian National Congress. Its primary objective, as elucidated in the speeches delivered during its inaugural session in Bombay, ‘was to unite the various and conflicting elements of the Indian people into a nation.’ In order to attain success in his pursuits, Sir Syed had an opinion that it was necessary to convince the Indians the fact that the British government is a ‘boon’ during this critical juncture of Indian history. Primarily driven by this conviction, he maintained a steadfast loyalty to the British rule and harboured a disdain for any movement that could potentially plunge the nation into another Mutiny. As a result, he counselled Indians, particularly Indian Muslims, to exercise caution in aligning themselves with the Congress. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Also Read: Remembering Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as a Proponent of Hindus and Muslims Being One Nation: His Religious Reform Is As Relevant As His Educational Reform --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sir Syed is often falsely accused of being anti-nationalist, mainly because he was opposed to the Congress. However, we do not feel that during our period of study, being against the Congress and being against nationalism were the same thing. We must remember that the Indian National Congress of the 19th century was very different from the Indian National Congress of the 20th century. Through an unbiased study of Sir Syed’s political thought and those of the leading contemporaries Congressmen will reveal the fact that Sir Syed was as much a nationalist as the Congress could be. In fact, both were loyal to the British government because both convinced that it was in the best interest of their country. About the loyalist attitude of the early members of the Congress, even Congress’s official historian, Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, writes: “Congressmen loved to parade their loyalty in the earlier days. When in 1914 Lord Pentland, Governor of Madras, visited the Congress pandal (camp), not only did the whole House rise and applaud the Governor, but Mr. A.P. Patro who was speaking on the despatch of the Indian Expeditionary Force was stopped abruptly and Surendra Nath Banerjee was asked to move the Resolution on the loyalty of the Congress to the Throne which he did with his usual exuberance of language. A similar incident took place when, on the visit of Sir James Meston to the Lucknow Congress in 1916, the House rose to receive him.” The foremost reason behind Sir Syed’s anti-Congress attitude was his understanding and awareness of the political situation of the country. Particularly that of the Muslims, who were not, in his opinion, in a position to take part in any activity, which might lead the country towards another Mutiny like 1957. In one of his articles “Hindustan aur English Government” (India and the British Government), he stated: “… Those who oppose agitation are often viewed by the agitators as endorsing the government's stance, but they should feel free to express their opinions openly. Those against agitation hold a deep-seated belief that even if the government were to accede to the agitators’ demands (though this is a possibility), it could potentially disrupt the smooth functioning of the administration and jeopardize the peace and security of India.” Sir Syed, like many of his contemporaries, was so convinced of the necessity of British rule in India. This conviction led him to vehemently oppose involvement in any activity that included rebellious or seditious element. His advice was not limited to Muslims alone, but extended to every Indian. This attitude forms the basis of his Congress-opposing approach. Many Hindus agreed with him on this matter. As articulated by W.C. Smith: “Now it so happens that those areas (from which the Congress sprang) are predominantly Hindu (at least in their middle and upper classes; Bengal has masses of Muslims, but they are peasants, and hence unaffected). This made the situation of pro and anti-Congress look vaguely Hindu and Muslim; but of course, it was not actually so.” ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Sir Syed Promoted Scientific Temperament and Interfaith Dialogue ------------------------------------------------------------------ The Hindus who sympathized with Sir Syed were predominantly drawn from the upper echelons of society in Uttar Pradesh. This elite Hindus harboured such vehement opposition towards the Congress that they went to the extent of beseeching the government to enact legislation enabling punitive measures against any Indian who incited public against the British government through the use of vernacular languages. This contentious proposal was broached during a gathering of landlords convened in Lucknow on October 22, 1888, with Raja Shiv Prasad Bahadur, C.S.I., taking the lead in its presentation. In attendance at this pivotal meeting was Sir Syed himself, who had earlier voiced support for a preceding proposition articulated by the esteemed Hindu scholar, Munshi Naval Kishore, C. I. E. This proposal had advocated concerted efforts by both Hindus and Muslims to curb the fervour of the Congress. However, when the matter of legislating against proponents of the Congress-minded speakers was put forth, Sir Syed issued a stern ultimatum to leave the Association if it was not willing to drop that resolution. He stated: “… We do not have any personal enmity against those who have joined the Congress. Therefore, we should not try to involve them into criminal procedure. Our differences are on a matter of principle. We are of the opinion that their demands are harmful for the whole country and for the Muslims and the Rajputs (a high Hindu caste) in particular. If our assessment is correct, and I will assert that it is so, then it is upto the government to do what it deems to be advisable. Why should we beg the government to enact a law?” It is possible that Sir Syed may have made a mistake in assessing the political situation of the country, but it is a fact that his loyalty to the British government was based on many factors such as: the fear of reprisal from the British government, the Hindus’ animosity towards Muslims, and the hope for a brighter future for the country, a country which, according to his belief, was suffering from widowhood and it had willingly accepted the English nation as her husband. Sir Syed expressed his desire for the continuation of the British rule in India in a public gathering. This desire was not based on love for the Britishers, but rather on his belief that it was in the best interest of the country and the welfare of his own people. Hali too, whose thoughts we have studied earlier, was influenced by the same trend that is under discussion here. The result was that day by day, he began to emphasize the unity of various factions among the Muslims. He believed it was the sole method to curb the increasing influence of the Hindu authority, in his view. Criticising the ongoing debates of ‘Maujudah Mazhabi Munazare’ (contemporary polemical discourses) among these factions, he said: “As a matter of fact, the Muslims are more in need of unity than are other communities. It is because all the communities of Aryan origin in India mistakenly consider the Muslims and alien community (Qawm), though they themselves, compared to the original inhabitations of India, are as alien to this country as the Muslims. Therefore, so long as this mistake is not corrected and the Aryans do not sincerely consider the Muslims their compatriots, the Muslims will not be able to keep and important position in this country without–strengthening the bond of–Islamic brotherhood (Islami Ikhvat).” Hali, deeply imbued with the thought of ‘Ikhvate Islami’ (Islamic brotherhood) to such an extent, underwent a radical shift in his perception of the nation. When he asserted that all Indians constituted a unified Indian nation (Hindustani Qawm), he was acutely aware that they did not share a common ancestry, language, or religion. Their national identity was forged primarily through their shared geographical territory. Yet, at present, they derided those who, despite these disparities, advocated for the potential existence of a singular Indian nation (ek Hindustani Qaum). He expressed this sentiment as follows: یہ ہے مانی ہوئی جمہور کی رائے اسی پر ہے جہاں کا اتفاق اب کہ نیشن وہ جماعت ہے کم از کم زباں جس کی ہو ایک اور نسل و مذہب مگر وسعت اسے بعضوں نے دی ہے نہیں جو رائے میں اپنی مذبذب وہ نیشن کہتے ہیں اس بھیڑ کو بھی کہ جس میں وحدتیں مفقود ہوں سب زبان اس کی نہ ہو مفہوم اس کو ہوں آدم تک جدا سب کے جد و اب جو واحد لاشریک اس کا خدا ہو تو لاکھوں اس کے ہوں معبود اور رب (This is an accepted opinion by the people, That whole world is now agreed about it. A ‘nation’ is an association which at least Has a common language, lineage and religion. But some have granted it an expansiveness, And are not to be wavering in their opinion. They call even that crowd a ‘nation’, That in which all common ties (the unity) are missing all. One man’s language is unintelligible to another; I am separate from all the past and present up to Adam; If its God is the unique, without a partner, While other worships thousands of lords.) In this piece, it is incorrect to assert that Hali advocates for the division of the Indian nation into two distinct entities: the Muslim nation and the Hindu nation. It is true that he differed from those who believed that Indians could be referred to as one nation in a modern social context, but this does not mean that he considered Indian Muslims as one nation. If we start assuming that this implies the existence of a Muslim nation in India, then we must express it in such a way that according to Hali’s opinion, all Muslims in India speak the same language and are also connected by the same race. This was not the case then, and it is still not the case now. Perhaps it was the influence of frustration and confusion, which led to the spread of these thoughts in his mind and he began to express contradictory statements. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Investigating The Interplay Between Education, Modernity, And Social Reform In Sir Syed’s Intellectual Framework: A Critical Analysis With Reference To Tehzib ul Akhlaq ------------------------------------------------------------------ We have already seen that Hali has accused these Muslim kings of being invaders who attacked India not for establishing a kingdom here but merely for looting. However, later the same Hali expresses regret that how Muslims have become permanently settled in India. In his ‘Shikwa-e-Hind’ (Complaining to India), he considers India as ‘akkalul-umam’ (devourer of nations). He says in his ‘Shikwa’ that when Muslims came to India, they possessed all those attributes that people could be proud of: جب تک اے ہندوستاں ہندی نہ کہلاتے تھے ہم کچھ ادائیں آپ میں سب سے جدا پاتے تھے ہم حال اپنا سخت عبرتناک تونے کر دیا آگ تھے اے ہند ہم کو خاک تونے کر دیا (Until we were not called Hindi, oh Hindustan! We had some unique which was not available in others. We were like fire, Oh India, you have turned us into dust and ashes.) In contrast to Sir Syed, Hali did not say even in his final phase that unity between Hindus and Muslims was impossible. However, he started warning the Muslims: دیکھنا پیچھے نہ ہم چشموں سے رہ جانا کہیں حق میں ہمسائے کے ہمسائے کا بڑھتا ہے ستم (To not let our neighbours, fall behind from our eyes, Injustice against our neighbour increases in truth.) At this stage, people like Hali and Sir Syed appear unsuccessful in their mission. Initially, they appear engaged in the formation of a nation consisting of two different religious communities. However, they did not realise the challenges of this path. They interacted with other communities generously when mere tolerance was not enough. Big-heartedness is only seen through the lens of respect when a greater power deals with a lesser one. However, if different groups are attempting to come together, everyone must adopt a self-sacrificial attitude. The assumption of Sir Syed may be correct to assume that Hindus do not exhibit a disposition for self-sacrifice, but it is also a fact that he also did not demonstrate readiness to sacrifice the interests of his own community for the greater cause of the nation. For example, in the matter of the conflict over language, Sir Syed did not grasp the fundamental importance of the issue. He saw many Hindus around him speaking Urdu and quickly concluded that it was their mother tongue. But that was not the case. It is true that many Hindus, especially those in Uttar Pradesh, know Urdu, but the fact remains that Urdu was not their mother tongue. (When we refer to Urdu, we mean this Indian language which is a composite of Arabic and Persian words and is written in the Persian script; otherwise, both communities were speaking the same basic language.) Sir Syed should have examined this issue more extensively and in a more nuanced manner. Regardless of how Urdu originated and how much involvement Hindus had in its development and promotion, the reality remains that the majority of Hindus, especially Hindu women, could not read or write in this language if it was not in the Devanagari script. This issue was similar to the position of the English language in present-day India. The educated elite of India, for the most part, are well acquainted with the English language, and it is also evident in the writings of many Indian literati. However, it remains a fact that English is not the mother tongue of Indians. This was a fundamental flaw in the thought of Sir Syed. According to him, Hindus and Muslims had common interests, yet he was not willing to adopt a realistic perspective. Perhaps, in the words of Dr. Syed Abid Husain, the reason for this was: “He had inherited the best traditions of the higher- and middle-class Muslims of Norther India. This was the basis of as well as limit upon his greatness. He had a genuine religious zeal, but his approach to religion was more intellectual than spiritual. He showed a genuine tolerance towards Hindus, Christians and followers of other religions, but it was neither the tolerance inherent in the mystical outlook nor the intellectual tolerance of liberal democracy, but merely the traditional tolerance of Hindustani culture.” This was a pivotal moment in Sir Syed’s life where he faced a significant dilemma. Feeling trapped and unable to find a solution within the existing circumstances, he chose to adopt a different approach. Rather than attempting to negotiate or compromise with the current situation, he decided to shift his focus and engage in a new endeavour, effectively redirecting his efforts towards a different goal or objective. This decision marked a crucial turning point in Sir Syed's life, signalling a strategic shift in his approach to the challenges he encountered. ------ 1. The dialect of Hindi which is commonly used in the delta of the Ganges and the Jumna. In Uttar Pradesh, the following districts of the Yamuna-Ganges doab are Khari-speaking like: Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Gautam Buddha Nagar and some district of Haryana, language of Delhi and Meerut, the Urdu dialect and idiom spoken in western UP, India. (See: 2. Syed Abid Husain, The Destiny of Indian Muslims, London, 1965, pp. 29-30. 3. Altaf Husain Hali, Hayat-e Javed, Lahore, New Edition, 1957, p. 194. 4. Hafeez Malik, Muslim Nationalism in India and Pakistan, Washington, 1963, p. 210. (Malik suggests that this declaration belongs to the year 1882, which nevertheless does not align with the biographical accounts of Sir Syed of Hali; see, Hali, Hayate Javed, p. 194). 5. See Chapter 2 (From No Nation to One Nation) of Mushirul Haq, Muslim Politics in Modern India (1857-1947), Meenakshi Prakashan, Meerut, 1970. 6. B Pattabhi Sitaramayya, The History of Indian National Congress (1885-1935), Madras, 1935, p. 8. 7. W.W. Hunter, The Indian Musulmans, Calcutta, 1945, p. 167. (This book was first published in 1871, with the second printing of the third edition in 1876.) Hunter writes about this news (page 176, footnote 2); I do not have any official source to verify the accuracy of this Persian journalist's statement. However, when this news was published in the newspaper, it grabbed people's attention, and as far as I know, there was no doubt about it. 8. Bashir Ahmad Dar, Religious Thought of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Lahore, 1957, p. 71. 9. Syed Mahmood, Hindu Muslim Cultural Accord, Bombay, 1949, p. 66. 10. As quoted in Bashir Ahmad Dar, op., cit., p. 76. 11. Hali, Hayate Javed, p. 874. 12. Syed Ahmad Khan, Akhiri Mazamin (last articles), first published in 1898, 2nd ed., Lahore, 1924, p. 70. 13. Syed Abid Husain, op., cit., p. 35. 14. Sitaramayya, op., cit., p. 101. 15. Bashir Ahmad Dar, Religious Thought of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Lahore, 1957, p. 71. 16. Syed Ahmad Khan, Akhiri Mazamin (last articles), first published in 1898, 2nd ed., Lahore, 1924, p. 68; also, Maqalat-e-Sir Syed, ed. Muhammad Ismail Panipati (10 vols), Lahore, 1962, vol. IX, pp. 17-18. 17. W.C. Smith, Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis, (reprint from London, ed., 1946), Lahore, 1963, p.21. 18. Sayed Ahmad’s letter to the Editor of the Pioneer, Lucknow; afterwards published in the Aligarh Institute Gazette, November 27, 1888, p. 1362; reproduced in Makatib-e-Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, ed., Mushtaq Husain, Aligarh, 1960, pp. 73-74. 19. Hali, Hayate Javed, p. 403. 20. Ibid., p. 404. 21. Hali, Maqalat, vol. I, pp. 283-84. 22. Hali, Divan, first published, n.d., reprint, Delhi, 1945, p. 27. It is a rough translation of couplet (qitah) of Hali. 23. See Chapter 2 (From No Nation to One Nation) of Mushirul Haq, Muslim Politics in Modern India (1857-1947), Meenakshi Prakashan, Meerut, 1970. 24. Hali, Shikwa-e-Hind, Aligarh, 1895, p. 3. 25. Ibid., p. 6. 26. Hali, Hayat-e Javed, p. 194. 27. Hali, Kulliyat-o-Nazm-i-Hali, vol. II, p. 111, quoted by Muin Ahsan Jazbi, Hali ka Siyasi Shaur, Aligarh, 1959, p. 161. It is a rough translation of the couplet. 28. Syed Abid Husain, op., cit., pp. 31-32. ------ Javed Akhatar is Assistant Professor (Contractual), Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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