Was There An Imprudent Rationale For A Muslim State In The Subcontinent?

Though the Muslim League raised the banner of Islam in the 1940s, it was the mullahs, rather than the jurists, who decided the definition of Islam

Was There An Imprudent Rationale For A Muslim State In The Subcontinent?

There is no point in fretting about past. In due time, mistakes made are history, errors of judgments belong to the past and false hopes are bereft of expectations. Agonising about ‘what should have been in the past’ is no remedy for dealing with the tribulations of the present.

However, in light of the well proven George Santayana axiom about being condemned to repeat history as a penalty for forgetting it, if one desires to correct the erroneous course, it is prudent to recall the imprudent decisions and actions of the past that have led the way to the current discomfort. Every research paper contains historical data and every medical diagnosis begins with personal history. Therefore, If the malady of Pakistan needs to be corrected – and there been no illusion that we are in deep trouble – it should begin analysis of where the rot began.

The current political impasse in the country is not fading away. It has crippled the economy, created social rifts, paralysed political process and impaired the judiciary. The current deadlock may be the result of decisions made and conspiracies hatched in the past five or seven years, but it has its genesis much earlier; right to the days falling immediately after independence. Our national past is littered with the Objectives Resolution, anti-Ahmadi riots, language riots, dissolution of the East Pakistan Assembly, Ayub Khan’s martial law, stolen elections, unnecessary wars, the tragedy of 1971, judicial murder of a former prime minister, the hypocritical Zia-led military junta, a poorly imagined Islamisation of society, the decade lost to a corrupt hybrid political disposition, the Commando rule by Musharraf, another decade lost to a corrupt hybrid political system and, finally, the current blind alley. This inauspicious record, though incomplete and fragmentary, is a reminder that the country has gathered some quite ignominious milestones.

To rectify the future course, to have some mercy on the abjectly poor, woefully ignorant and deeply superstitious masses, some urgent doctrinal adjustments are urgently required.

Retracing the genesis of movement for a independent Muslim homeland(s) in India, the backward steps lead to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. He is one of the three leading founders of Pakistan. Though his standing has dropped in the current fundamentalist phase of Pakistan, he was the first to recognise the existence of two nations in the subcontinent. He established All India Muhammadan Educational Congress in 1886 at Aligarh (renamed as All India Muhammadan Educational Conference in 1890), in response to formation of Indian National Congress in December 1885 in Mumbai. Soon thereafter, he made two substantial speeches. The first was in Lucknow in December 1887 (where Sir Syed was attending the annual conclave of the Educational Conference), and then in March 1888 in Meerut, Sir Syed gave two very important political speeches to warn Muslims to stay away from the Congress, to get education and to have complete faith in the fairness of the British rule. Sir Syed was rightly alarmed, as is evident from his speeches, that the Hindus, especially the Bengalis, gone way ahead of Muslims. He knew that without being armed with modern education, Muslims would remain subjugated to the Hindus and he expressed this fear in no uncertain words. He had established his Aligarh College in 1875 but Muslims had not picked up the trend to educate their children. It was the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference that, in its Dhaka meeting of December 1906, was converted to All India Muslim League. Starting from the first students of Aligarh College to the attendees of Sir Syed’s two speeches and the first inaugural meeting of Muslim League, it is evident that the Muslim political and educational movements were spearheaded by the Muslim elite and landed aristocracy of United Provinces (Now Utter Pradesh) and Bengal. Muslims of Punjab, Sindh and KP perhaps didn’t even know that these movements were taking place in the eastern part of subcontinent. People of Balochistan and erstwhile FATA, at least a large majority there, still have no idea of these events or of their significance.

Initially, Muslim League was the party of Muslim feudal landholders. The rank and file of Muslims joined either the Congress or, in northeast, Ghaffar Khan’s Red-Shirts called Khudai Khidmargars, or the religious parties like Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Majlis-e-Ahrar; all three being allies of the Indian Congress. From 1906 to the elections of 1937, Muslim League remained marginalised. In these elections, that were held on separate electorate basis, 34 seats were allocated for Muslims in Sindh, 36 in NWFP and 34 in Bihar. Muslim League won zero seats in all these provinces. It won 2 out of 86 Muslim seats in Punjab, 9 of 29 in Madras, 43 of 119 in Bengal and 10 of 34 in Assam. A change of tactics was required to attract Muslim votes to the League.

For supporting Muslim League, the Usmani family did well for themselves, to the detriment of the social evolution of Pakistan. They also extracted their pound of flesh in the shape of the Objectives Resolution

At the historic December 1920 Nagpur of the Congress, where the resolution for non-cooperation and Khilafat Movement were adopted, the Quaid had been a lonely figure. He alone knew the consequences of introducing Islam and violence in politics. With these twin movements, one the dream child of Gandhi and the other of Ali Brothers (Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Shaukat Ali), India was ushered into communal bloodshed, exactly as the Quaid had feared. Now that Muslims were getting attracted to the League, the time had come to use the Congress tactics to widen the communal gulf. Within eight years of the 1937 elections, the League was to rally Muslims under the banner of Islam.

In the run-up to independence, the Muslim League leadership had only one objective; the division of India to create an independent country for Muslims. There were vital questions about the system of government in the new country that the leadership was aware of but decided to keep them unanswered. It was a sound tactic to keep the tricky issues wrapped in confusion lest they create cracks in the newly created unity among the Muslims hailing from a wide variety of regions and Islamic denominations in the large land mass of India.

Muslims, thus, got together in the name of Islam, although different groups had their own ideas about Islam, because some of the laws acceptable to Sunnis would have been absolutely unacceptable to Shias. Within Sunnis, arguably, the same was the condition between Deobandis and Barelvis. None of these groups accepted Ahmadis as Muslims, but the latter also got on board in the name of Islam, though they had their own version of it. The Ahmadiyya community were supporters of Pakistan although other sects were deadly against them. The Quaid himself was completely westernised and secular, two concepts that would be shunned in the name of Islam; all in the effort to maintain unity.

Deference to 'Islam' continued after independence, and that translated, as it always does, into acquiescence to the pronouncements of the clergy. On 14 August 1947, in the presence of all Muslim League leaders, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani in Karachi and Maulana Zafar Ahmad Usmani in Dhaka were honoured to raise the first flags of independent Pakistan. Maulana Shafi Usmani was granted a large tract of land near Landhi-Korangi to set up Darul Uloom and was instrument in enacting the Objectives Resolution; a piece of legislation that did much harm to the unity of the nation and its educational development. His son, Taqi Usmani remained a Justice of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court for twenty years from 1981 to 2022. It was Taqi Usmani who declared land reforms repugnant to Islam. In Pakistan the mullahs, the elite and the military are in union against the freedom and rights of the people.

In short, for supporting Muslim League, the Usmani family did well for themselves to the detriment of social evolution of Pakistan. They also extracted their pound of flesh in the shape of the Objectives Resolution, practically delivering Pakistan to their brand of Islam. Their other Deobandi allies, the Jamaat Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Majlis-e-Ahrar, though having opposed Pakistan throughout the 1940s, ignited the bloody anti Ahmadi riots of 1953 and prompted the implementation of the first Martial Law of the country. The Ahmadi community, that supported the Muslim League for creation of Pakistan has since been the target of state as well as individual oppression while the clergy gained a position of power in the country that they had opposed.

Though the League raised the banner of Islam in the 1940s, it was the mullahs, rather than the jurists, who decided the definition of Islam. The road to the gallows was laid for Bhutto, too, when he gave in to the clergy to define who would and wouldn’t be Muslim. Instead of winning them over to Bhutto’s cause, it only whetted clergy’s appetite. The Shias would face the wrath of the state during the time of the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, which would lead to their constant targeting by the Deobandi groups like Taliban, Sipah Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Pakistan would thereafter know no peace.

In conclusion, it is evident that in Pakistan, Islam has been employed as a tool for division of the society rather than as unifying force. That is the root cause of Pakistan’s disarray; a stress on Islam rather than pursuit of secular democracy. The founding fathers, therefore, erred in not being vary enough when resorting to religion for political advantage. Pakistan should have strictly been created for the protection of political and socio-economic rights of Muslims, and for whatever minorities opted to stay here. The claim that Pakistan was a fort of Islam was misleading; it was never, is not and will not be a centre of gravity of Islam.

The nation has had to suffer for this failure of judgment. The sooner it jettisons a narrow interpretation of Islam as a guiding principle of society, the quicker it shall redeem its place as a dignified member of world community. If we cannot think through this issue ourselves, we can at least learn from the ideological trajectories of some other Muslim-majority states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Turkey.

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: parvezmahmood53@gmail.com