The paper aims to discuss politico-religious thoughts of radical Islamist movements in pre-partition India (British Raj) and during movement for Pakistan. The paper is a sequel to the previous paper Roots of Radical Islamist Ideologies in South Asia, published last month at Tribune Libre.
Quintan Wiktrowicz, an eminent scholar on Islamism, classifies three types of Islamist movements: Purist, politicos and jihadists. All subscribe to Salafist-Wahabist-Deobandi brand of Islam, but the difference is of method and time frame for materializing the goals. The same patterns exist amongst the Islamist movements in Indian subcontinent during pre-independence period.
During mid-19th century British India when newly emerged Islamist Deobandi movement was taking its roots and challenging the traditional and tolerant Sufi brand of Islam (adherents of traditional Sufi Islam), Jamal ud Din Afghani an Iranian by birth laid the foundations of Pan-Islamism and modern Islamist thoughts.
Mainly because of his academic abilities and intellectual charms he was patronized by Iranian and Afghan heads of states. Moreover Islamist scholars of his era paid considerable heed to his religio-political thoughts which kept growing in later generation of Islamists. His thoughts could be summarized as:
- Jamal ud Din was a mildly radical Islamist, and he believed in the unity of all Muslim states, negating the modern idea of nationalism.
- He gave a concept of Ittihad-e-Islami (Islamic Unity) amongst all of Muslim countries amid the growing threat of colonization from Britain and other European nations.
- He believed that the British had already conquered India and now their would-be targets were Iran and the Middle East.
- He wrote letters to Muslim heads of states to galvanize support in order to materialize his ideas
- Jamal ud Din called himself a semi-modern Muslim and at times considered the only way out to counter western imperialism was scientific education. He refuted the thoughts of ultra-radical Ulemas of India and elsewhere of rejecting the complete western modernization. Instead he believed in modernism in conjunction with Islamism. We could say he believed in and impressed with the scientific advancements happening in the west but wanted to adapt in his own manner. Moreover he never approved of traditional Islam.
- He strived to diffuse tensions amongst Sunni, Shia and other sects of Islam and called for the unity against the ‘European Imperialism'.
- Another of his concept was to build a new Islamic model on the basis of modern Islamic philosophy; he explained it in great detail in his book "The Refutation of the Materialists".
His concept of Ittihad-e-Islami had far reaching affects on the later generation of Islamist scholars and thinkers. Although it was not a new idea but the way he presented it in his books, lectures, articles and interviews and at such juncture of time that gained him influence. He was not an Indian and only lived in India for some early years of his life but his religio-political thought had made a great impact on Indian thinkers. Indian political thinkers of early 20th century like Mohammad Iqbal, Abul-Kalam Azad regarded him in high esteem. Afghani's ideas were heavily borrowed by Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in British India Jamaat-e-Islami founder Abul ala Maududi also influenced by his thoughts.
One of the founders of radical Islamism in India, Abul alla Maududi, was able to merge Afghani's ideas in his politico-religious writings and turning those into militant jihadist. Maududi founded his Jamaat-e-Islami in 1941 and to this day his party is disseminating his political agenda far more pan-Islamist then Afghani could never have thought of.
One of Afghani's follower and student was an Egyptian Mohammad Abduh, who after Afghani's death took over his mission. Abduh had lived with Afghani in Paris. He wrote extensively on European colonization of Muslim lands in Asia and Africa. Abduh's thoughts were not as radical as his mentor Afghani. He professed the introduction of modern sciences in the curricula of schools and colleges when he had assumed the charge of Grand Mufti of Egypt in 1899. While teaching at Al-Azhar University, Cairo he continued to deliver the same ideas. He was more of a semi-modernist of that era but advocated the ideas of ‘Islamic Unity' as pronounced by Afghani.
Mohammad Abduh and Jamal ud Din Afghani were not conservative-traditional Muslim scholars neither did they adhere to westernization of Muslim countries. They were semi-Islamist radicals and in a way confused about safeguarding the interests which were more of nationalistic nature. Both never professed violence and aggression.
Closest to Abduh was his disciple Rashid Rida, a very conservative and highly radical person. While Afghani had tried to fuse together different schools of thoughts, Rida alike other Islamist radicals rejected Sufi-Islam and ruthlessly criticized Shia sect of Islam. On one hand he was against colonialism but stressed over the global Caliphate by colonizing other Muslim majority states as the only solution for the problems of Muslims worldwide. For him it's only through the implementation of Sharia (Islamic laws) that a ‘perfect society' could be established.
Rashid Rida died in 1935 but even before his death, his ideas had already been interpreted by Hasan al-Bana who established Muslim Brotherhood in 1926. That was the very first step towards the path of radicalism and growth of violence.
Afghani, Abduh, Rida and Bana's writings and their political thoughts did manage to influence the Indian Muslim scholars, during the times of independence movement. Their fundamentalist ideas, influenced from Wahabi-Salafi movement of Arabian scholar Mohammad Ibn al Wahab, already had roots in South Asia.
After the failed Mutiny of 1857 the British were considered invincible by a great majority of Islamist forces in Indian subcontinent. The Islamists then adopted Christian missionary style for teaching and proselytization. The sole objective was to radicalize the tolerant and traditional Muslims. Hundreds of madressahs were founded across India to maximize support base but albeit all of their tremendous efforts their followings remained limited.
The movement for independence from British colonial rule had started with the founding of Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885 by secular Indian Muslims and Hindus. The INC by first quarter of 20th century had become the most popular political party of Hindus, Muslims and other religious communities. With the establishment of All India Muslim League (AIML) in 1906 from the platform of Muslim Educational Society (founded by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Muslim educationist and reformer) was considered a great leap forward for the rights of Muslim community of India. It was only in 1930s that it started to gain some level of popular support and started to challenge the INC on issues related to Muslim representation in separate electorate.
AIML was established by Muslim aristocracy and feudal lords in order to have a political voice at the Indian political landscape. All of the prominent figures in the party belonged to Muslim aristocracy and pro-British landlords. The AIML was a center-right party and had no Islamist agenda as that of madressah-educated, glorious past-seeker jihadists. The acceptance of AIML by Muslim masses in fact antagonized the Deobandi Ulemas who indeed thought of them as the ‘only and true representatives of Islam' and Indian Muslims. After seeing the limited success of AIML and its recognition as a political force by much bigger INC the religious clerics had decided to form their own party to serve their interests.
It took them some years to contemplate for the nature of politico-religious party they wanted to form. The very first party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) was established in 1919 by the Deobandi Ulema of Darul-Uloom Deoband. Other parties were formed in upcoming years with different political objectives.
To counter the growing influence of AIML the religious clerics launched their own party in 1920. Simply put it was unacceptable for them to rally behind secular, western-educated modern Muslims, at the leadership of AIML. Although it was primarily dominated by clerics of Deobandi school of thought but some clerics from the Farangi Mahal seminary (traditional Sufis) were also amongst the founding members. The lynchpin of JUH was Mahmud ul Hasan, principal of Deoband madressah, and one of most prominent Deobandi leaders.
In its initial years the JUH took part alongside INC and AIML in the Khilafat Movement (movement of Indian Muslims for the restoration of Ottoman Caliphate after World War-II). The movement failed and but the JUH leadership came close to INC in opposition to AIML. Since its inception the JUH was against a separate homeland for Muslims of India. The Deobandi clerics believed that it would weaken the solidarity of Indian Muslims, who were already a minority before vast Hindu majority. In 1940, when All India Muslim League under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan) demanded a separate homeland for the Muslims north-western and Bengal provinces of India, the divide deepened between JUH and AIML.
After independence the JUH stood divided and its Pakistani branch became Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam that eventually provided foot soldiers from its chain of madressahs to Taliban movement in the last decade of 20th century. The JUH remained even to this day a conservative Islamist party of adherents of Deobandi school of thought in India.
After their consecutive failures and defeats to evict the British from India the Islamist radicals had resorted to preaching and professing their ‘new and reformed' Islam. The problem they were faced with was that an overwhelming majority of Muslims did not pay heed to their ideas. It was mostly because of the moderate and tolerant Sufi-Sunni Islam, practiced by an overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims. High level of tolerance did exist between both Hindu and Muslim communities who had been living side by side in peace and harmony for centuries.
As mentioned before that the establishment of JUH was a political motive to gain the leadership of Indian Muslims which had slided into the hands of secular Muslims. Some of the Deobandi clerics decided not to involve in political activities under JUH rather continue preaching and missionary work. For that matter Mohammad Ilyas, a former student of Deoband seminary founded the Tablighi Jamaat in 1926. The underlined reason for founding such an organization was to convert the Muslims of other sects to Deobandi sect of Islam and to ‘free Muslims from the clutches of Hindu practices.'
The Tablighi Jamaat members work in groups and the groups travel to villages and cities where they preach basic principles of Islam to Muslims, in a typical Catholic Missionary styled fashion.
The TJ managed to receive a lukewarm response from the Indian Muslim community during its early days, but as soon as the oil was discovered in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by mid-twentieth century, petro-dollars had started to pour in and TJ leadership broadened the structure of their organization by opening up more mosques and madressahs to recruit and indoctrinate large numbers of Muslim youth. The ideology and concepts of TJ could be summarized as:
At present the TJ operates in more than 100 countries and has managed to gain support amongst orthodox Sunni Muslims. Despite the fact that TJ activists claim to detest terrorism and consider their organization a non-political one but the real picture is somewhat different from what they say and propagate. Many of the foreign terrorists arrested from Afghanistan after the defeat of Taliban and later shifted to the Guantanamo Bay were found out to be TJ activists. John Walker Lindh, an American Taliban, also arrested from Afghanistan, belonged to TJ. Another terrorist, who tried to bomb the British airliner by outing explosives in his shoes (also known as the Shoe Bomber), Richard Reid converted to Islam and chose a path of radicalism on the indoctrination of TJ .
The role of TJ has always been to promote and propagate the Deobandi version of Islam and to work as nursery for producing Islamist radicals. Many ignorant and uneducated Muslims have fallen victims of TJ propaganda. It is true that it is not directly involved in politics and terrorism but it provides, without any doubt the recruiting base and theoretical and indoctrinational grounds for becoming a professional terrorist. The TJ because of its purist nature tried to avoid politics during the pre-partition period and concentrated more on indoctrinating basic Islamist ideas into the minds of Indian Muslims, eventually pushing them towards JUH.
Another torch bearer of radicalism was Tehrik-e-Khaksar or simply Khaksar movement. The movement was purely Islamist by character and some non-Muslims also joined the ranks. Established by a religious scholar of Punjab province, Inayat Ullah Mashriqi, in1930, the primary focus of Khaksar movement was to reestablish the Muslim rule all over India. Nonetheless, with such idealistic goal the movement had managed to gain some popular support from Muslim youth, mostly from Punjab province. The word Khaksar (Persian) meant literally ‘made of dust'.
The Khaksars were disciplined and organized in a paramilitary fashion. The movement was a dictatorial order. The members need to ‘purify' themselves from mundane desires, and build solid characters. The movement was strictly governed under the 24 principles postulated by its founder Mashriqi.
The attire and discipline of its followers made it look like a Nazi inspired organization. It was mandatory for the members to wear brown NSDP look-alike Khaki uniforms. The members used to carry a ‘spade' showing their belief of restructuring the society with their religio-political agendas. The movement gained momentum for a short period of time during 1930s eventually turning violent ad militant. Strikes, violent acts, assassination attempts and all sort of activities of arson and sabotage were carried out not only against the British government of India but also against the political parties not affirming the Khaksar agenda like Congress and Muslim League.
Nasim Yousaf. grandson of Inayatullah Mashriqi wrote about the events as "Mashriqi established a parallel Government in British India. According to details published in Al-Islah (November 17, 1939), the country was divided into 14 provinces (with a center at Lahore) and names of provincial commanders were announced. Each commander (called Hakim-e-Ala) was ordered to ensure that his power was comparable to that of the British Governor in his respective province. For instance, they were to have their own warfare equipment and other paraphernalia. A directive was also issued to augment Khaksar strength by enrolling 2.5 million new Khaksars across India by June 15, 1940. Efforts to this end were taken immediately and startling results were witnessed."
British responded by banning the organization in 1941 and putting its chief Mashriqi behind the bars. Finally the independence of India and Pakistan turned out to be the coup de grace for the movement and in 1947 the movement was disbanded by its leader.
The Khaksar Movement although did not survive long enough but left its influence on generations to come. In later years organizations like Jamaat-e-Islami of Abu al Maududi took the leaf out of Khaksar Movement's book and organized his Islamist party on the same Leninist-Nazi styled manner.
Whether it was violence of Khaksar Movement, or commitment of clerics of Deoband seminary to replace British rule in India, the nostalgia had been there even centuries after Shah Wali Ullah's wishful thoughts of reviving back the days of glory of Muslim rule. The movements were idealistic, aloof from changing times, nonetheless did manage to gain some level of popular support. The Jamaat-e-Islami was just another endeavor of the people belonging to the same school of thought such as Shah Waliullah and Syed Ahmad Barelvi.
In 1940s, the independence movement had entered into a new phase as the British promised to grant independence to India in exchange for providing support during the war. The leadership of Muslim League (AIML) responded positively whereas the INC was first reluctant to render its support but later accepted the offer. Both parties along with some smaller parties eventually rallied behind British in its war efforts against axis powers.
The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind was just another effort of some disgruntled Deobandi clerics under the leadership of Abul al-Maududi (1903-1978), a self-taught scholar of religion, in 1941 at Lahore. Maududi was inspired of Hasan al Bana of Muslim Brotherhood and Inayatullah Mashriqi of Khaksar Movement. At the same time he appeared to be impressed with the communist traditions as he structured his party on Leninist lines. Maududi was a firm believer in governance only under Islamic law (Sharia) and for him leadership only belonged to Ulema (none other then himself). According to Fredrick Grare, "The central idea around which Mawdudi's political thought revolves is that of the transcendence of religious law. ‘There is only one single law, the Sharia, imposed from above by God who is the only lawmaker and the only sovereign.' This concept of ‘divine sovereign' is central to his thought."
Maududi's Islamist ideology has hitherto inspired many, initially a tiny minority (during pre-impendence period) but in post-independence politics it gained quite a large scattered following across Pakistan and India and later in Bangladesh. Maududi remained the spirit of the movement and wrote extensively on subjects related to political Islam, with a special focus on jihad. One of the foremost amongst the inspired ones was Syed Qutb of Muslim Brotherhood Egypt, mentor of later generations of Al-Qaeda founders and other radical Islamists.
Therefore it would be essential to discuss some of his political-religious thoughts that laid the foundations of this Islamist movement.
- There is a widespread misbelief that the concept of ‘Jahiliya' was given by Muslim Brotherhood leader Syed Qutb. The concept was indeed given by Maududi, according to which the Muslim society has gone off track and reverted back to the ignorance of the pre-Islamic age, which is called the ‘age of ignorance or Jahiliya' by Muslim historians. For Maududi this indeed started happening as Muslims have adopted manmade laws to govern their lives instead of God's laws or Sharia, and therefore that has led to their failures and downfall everywhere. The only solution, Maududi offered to Muslim community (Ummah) was to get back to fundamentals of Islam and installing a system of governance based upon enforcement of Sharia.
- Maududi rejected secularism, nationalism and to some extent democracy and called them western concepts. For him the only acceptable amongst all of these was a ‘theo-deomocracy' (democracy governed under the Sharia). His theo-democracy would in fact a Caliphate.
- In Maududi's utopian model, the non-Muslims would have no role, and religious tax would be imposed on them (Jizya).
- The creation of state on such models would be just the beginning of a global revolution and the first model state would only serve as launching pad or platform for the wider and global Islamic revolution.
- The party that would lead the revolution would be none other than Party of God (Hizbullah): Jamaat-e-Islami.
-In Maududian concepts jihad has a prime importance. He believed in an eternal state of warfare with ‘infidels', nationalist and ‘apostate Muslims' (victims of Jahiliya). That was another of his beliefs that was later incorporated by Syed Qutb in formulating his political thoughts.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto described Maududi's JI party as: "Maulana Maudoodi, the founder of the extremist group Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in South Asia, believed that Muslim identity was threatened by the rise of nationalism in South Asia during the first half of the twentieth century. He saw nationalism as a western ideology unilaterally imposed upon Muslims to weaken and divide the community by replacing the idea of a worldwide Muslim community with individual nationalism based on language, ethnicity, and locality. He believed that Islam can overcome these obstacles, ‘and so Maudoodi sees Muslims as an international party organized to implement Islam's revolutionary program, and jihad as the term that denotes the utmost struggle to bring about an Islamic revolution.'"
Maududi organized his party on strict disciplinary lines but did not get positive response from Indian Muslims. He opposed both Congress and Muslim League. His primary target of criticism was Jinnah of Muslim League (founder of Pakistan). According to Vali Nasr, "Mawdudi shared Jinnah's concern for the future of Indian Muslims and their rights to cultural and social autonomy, but parted with Jinnad in that the former looked to Islam as the principle legitimating force in Muslim politics whereas the latter appealed to the normative values of the Indo-Muslim tradition. Mawdudi's vision had little room for compromise on Islamic ideals, whereas Jinnah defined the Muslim community in broad and latitudinarian terms. Mawdudi, no doubt, viewed the anglicized style and the secular beliefs of Jinnah with contempt and no doubt eyed his power and popularity with certain degree of envy.
Jinnah's success as political leader had convinced Mawdudi of his own potential. For if a westernized lawyer could sway the masses in the name of Islam then a ‘true' Muslim leader could certainly attain even greater success. ‘Abu-ala not only compared himself to Jinnah', recollected Abul Khayr, Mawdudi's elder brother, ‘but also viewed himself as even a greater leader than Jinnah.'"
The Jamaat-e-Islami of Maududi failed to maneuver any public support amongst masses and remained a party of handful of Maududi's supporters till the independence of Pakistan in 1947. After the partition of India, Maududi left his home town Hyderabad Deccan (southern India) and migrated to Pakistan. It was only after reaching Pakistan that his Islamist radical movement started to attract some support but again it was of lesser degree in comparison with parties like Muslim League and Republican Party. Because of his anti-Pakistan views before the independence Jinnah's supporters looked down upon him and considered him a security risk for the newly emerged state. According to former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto,"Maulana Maudoodi dubbed the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a Kafir (non-believer).But the Muslims of India rejected Maudoodi and instead supported Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his more secular view of religion and politics."
After settling in Lahore, Pakistan, Maududi first changed his party's name to Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and then as a shrewd marketer he also designed a new set of slogans and ideas to implement an agenda quite different from the original one. The JI-Hind was tasked to continue the same old agenda. It was only after the death of Jinnah in 1948 that Maududi had gotten a freehand to execute his brand new program of spreading radical ideas of Islamism under his party's banner in Pakistan.
The Islamist parties had been lagging behind in gathering mass support mainly due to their irrational and idealistic attitudes about the future set up of India. Not only the impractical ideas like reviving Muslim rule over India but also they had nothing to offer except creating utopian society in post-British set up.
The roots of radical Islamist ideologies had been there for ages in Indian subcontinent. In the pre-partition India the Islamist parties and movements tried hard to muster support but of no avail. On the other hand right-wing All India Muslim League under the leadership of Jinnah did manage to perform well in the polls held under the British. Because of the clash of interest between Jinnah's party and JUH over taking the role of representing the Muslim community, the JUH decided to side with the Indian National Congress. JI also did not side with Jinnah and opposed the creation of Pakistan, further antagonizing Muslims and depleting its support base. In fact this shows the lack of support for Pakistan movement by clerics belonging to Deobandi sect of Islam.
The interesting historical fact is that Deobandi clerics not only landed in Pakistan despite opposing its creation but also tried to get into the upper echelons of state bureaucracy and system.
In post-independence political scene religious parties especially JI reoriented itself and tried to capitalize on the failures of Muslim League leadership. Jinnah, in his inaugural address, as a policy statement, declared Pakistan a secular state which killed all speculations about Pakistan becoming a religious theocracy or caliphate. That was a severe blow to the wishes of Islamists especially the JI and its leadership. Unfortunately Jinnah, the founder died very soon (just one year later after the birth of republic).
Then the dreams of JI leader Maududi were once again dashed first by the civilian bureaucracy and later military junta that came into power and ruled for a number of years.
The only foothold the JI was able to get was with the support of some of Maududi sympathizers in the constituent assembly of Pakistan who somehow added some religious clauses in the early phases of constitution making (Objective Resolution, 1948, which contained some religious clauses, clearly showing the growing Islamist influence which was otherwise could not been done while Jinnah was alive).
During the first 24 years of Pakistan the religious Islamist parties could not hold ground neither in front of secular political parties nor the civil and military bureaucracies. It was only during the Martial Law regime of General Yahya Khan (1969-71) that JI was taken on board by the military junta to neutralize popular political parties with massive support base (Pakistan Peoples Party and Awami League) and hence, for the first time, it shook hands with the establishment. In later years JI, TJ and JUH were given prominent roles during the military dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq (1977-88). Thereby we see the consolidation phase of Islamist radical ideologies in South Asia, especially in Pakistan, the origins of these movements could be traced back from nineteenth century though. The role of Islamist movements during pre-partition India was negligible, confirming that the masses never approved of radical Islamist notions neither at electoral level nor the clerics as opinion leaders.