By: Nadeem Paracha
The Mughals and the Muslim population of the subcontinent weren’t all that bothered by the whole concept of the caliphate. As rulers they did not, or only superficially, recognised the Ottoman caliph. The Mughals, though Central Asian by decent, were deeply entrenched in the political and social traditions of the subcontinent and so was their Muslim polity.
Also, till even the reign of the last great Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, there are only a handful of documented episodes involving any serious physical clashes between the Hindu majority and their Muslim counterparts. Compared to the communal violence between the two groups in India, and the drummed-up anti-Hindu sentiment in Pakistan in the 20th century, relations between the two communities were largely harmonious — especially during the reigns of Akbar and Shahjehan.
Thus, the roots of the modern-day Hindu-Muslim antipathy lie not in the distant past, but a mere hundred and fifty years back in history; or soon after the failure of the 1857 rebellion started jointly by disgruntled Hindu and Muslim soldiers against their colonial British masters.
As the British became a lot more imposing after the failed rebellion, they also began introducing a greater number of modern ideas and technology, some of which, like democracy, suddenly awakened the Muslims to a stark reality which they had simply not been aware of. The idea of majority rule suddenly made the Muslims realise that they were actually in a minority.
As the region’s Muslims finally resigned to the fact that the age of Muslim kings was as good as over, a number of Muslim scholars and reformers emerged and attempted to undermine the Muslims’ minority status. Both conservative as well as liberal reformists, though disagreeing on a number of issues, agreed that to supplement their community’s sudden minority status, the Muslims of the region must now start identifying themselves as citizens of the worldwide Muslim ummah.
Soon, as India entered the 20th century, conservative Muslim scholars also started reshaping Muslim history of the region. To them Mughal kings in general, and Akbar in particular, became arch villains, mainly for their ‘liberal views’ and detachment from the Turkish caliphate, which, according to these scholars, led to the downfall of Islam in India.
Of course there was nothing academically or historically sound about such theories, and such scholars simply failed to look into the obvious political and economic reasons behind the fall of the Muslim rule, but the emotionally-charged claims resonated with a Muslim milieu ruing its lost status.
The rewriting of the history of Muslim India by such scholars soon saw the Muslims of India talking more about ancient Muslim conquerors (mainly Arab), and gleefully celebrating plunderers like Mehmood Ghaznavi and Muhammad Ghori, all the while downplaying Muslim rulers who had made India their home and played a leading role in uniting the region as a distinct and diverse empire.
As the British began introducing limited democratic reforms, a section of Hindu extremists too, excited by their majority status rose to glorify their own new heroes. And even though the Indian National Congress remained above such extremism, the Muslim League, however, at the behest of Muhammad Iqbal (and not Jinnah), gave a more intellectual context to what the conservative Muslim thinkers were propagating.
To Iqbal, Indian nationalism that propagated a joint Hindu-Muslim struggle against the British (and of which Jinnah too was once an advocate), was contrary to the concept of a united Muslim ummah. So, was Iqbal’s articulate tirade a Utopian critique of nationalism that only ended up in generating a struggling dystopia?
The legacy of communalism in India and anti-Hindu sentiments in Pakistan are a product of two main historical events: The suddenly discovered majority fascism amongst the extremist Hindu fringe, and the Utopian intellectualisation of the Muslims’ minority complex who were asked to look outside India for inspiration and somewhat ignore the brilliant legacy of (the supposed “Hindu-friendly”) Muslim rulers of the region. Ironically, the Congress, too, fell for this Utopian interpretation by supporting the Khilafat Movement, which the Muslim League did not back.
But today in Pakistan Muslims comprise a huge majority. So why do many Pakistanis spend more time celebrating Islamic history of regions outside India (especially Arabian), the ummah, and seem to show more concern in what is happening to their brethren in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir, while drowning out the havoc being perpetrated by fellow Muslims inside their own country?
If we study the recent trend of reactionary thinking and of denials doing the rounds, we will notice it is largely the vocation of the urban middle-class. In an era of populist democracy (mostly associated with the urban working class and the rural peasantry), the middle-class feels itself to be a minority.
Thus, it can be suggested that this class too seems to be suffering from the kind of minority complex of the early 20th century. Perhaps that’s why, comparatively speaking, it is this class that is today enthusiastically responding to all the retro-Islamic paraphernalia, anti-democracy sentiment and empty, rhetorical muscle-flexing based on glorified fables and myths of “Muslim power” doing the rounds in drawing rooms — the popular media and cyber space today.