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The Islamic Open Wound of the Indian Subcontinent - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The relationship between India and Pakistan has reached boiling point with India now on a high state of alert, accusing Pakistan of allowing terrorists to leave Pakistan to launch attacks on Indian cities, the latest of which was the horrific siege of Mumbai last week. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari dismissed such accusations and urged India to remain calm.

The scene that we are witnessing in India is almost a mirror image of the aftermath of the 2001 Indian parliament attack. In December 2001, an armed group attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi killing and injuring dozens. Following this attack, the then Prime Minister of India Atal Vajpayee accused Pakistan of facilitating terrorism. The then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf dismissed these accusations saying that both India and Pakistan are in the same boat against terrorism, and pointed the finger at fundamentalist Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and groups linked to the Pakistani Taliban, colluding with elements within the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The escalation between Pakistan and India continued to the point that artillery fire was exchanged along the border until January 2002.

We have no idea what will happen now with regards to Pakistani-Indian escalation despite the change in both governments since 2001. Atal Vajpayee served as Indian Prime Minister during the 2001 parliament attack and was the head of a right-wing Hindu party, while the Pakistani President at the time was General Musharraf, who was Islamic terrorism’s number-one enemy. Both Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri had pledged on a number of occasions to kill the former Pakistani president and he has been subjected to a number of assassination attempts.

The Indian government is now presided over by Dr. Manmohan Singh who belongs to the Indian National Congress party, to which [Jawaharlal] Nehru and [Indira] Gandhi also belonged. The current Pakistani President is Asif Ali Zardari who ascended to the presidency following the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto who was killed by Pakistani fundamentalists. Both Pakistan and India have suffered at the hands of Islamic terrorism, and Pakistan has launched a fierce war on terrorism, which has proved to be more violent than its previous war with India. Therefore it is illogical to accuse the Pakistani government of supporting, or even facilitating terrorist groups, simply because it is these same terrorist groups that use the Takfir ideology against the Pakistani government and accuse it of treachery.

It is only natural that the Indian opposition seeks to utilize the Mumbai massacre as a pretext to accuse the Indian National Congress of facilitating Islamic fundamentalism in India. Members and leaders of the Hindu national Bharatiya Janata Party are now discussing the necessity of launching an open merciless war against Islamists and religious-fundamentalist groups. If such a war were to occur it would only succeed in increasing racial tension in India, the Muslim community of which constitutes around 13% of its total population. By this I mean that by looking at the Muslim minority in India we may come to understand the true essence of the successive crises between Pakistan and India since Pakistan’s independence in 1947.

The history of the inter-Muslim crisis in India is much deeper than it appears: it would not be an exaggeration to say that India’s “Islamic wound” is an open wound. Its dimensions reached Hassan al Banna then Sayyid Qutb then Omar Abdul Rahman, and then Ayman al Zawahri. These represent an Egyptian example of the impact of this Indian open wound, while similar effects are the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Levant etc.

At this point, I should make clear that what I mean by “India” in this context is the entire Indian Subcontinent, the comprehensive geographical location of what was later named Eastern and Western Pakistan, Afghanistan, and of course modern India itself. Accordingly, the crisis of “Indian Islam” in this context includes the discourse, ideology, and conduct of fundamentalist and Islamist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India itself, and perhaps the Pakistani and Indian Muslim communities in the UK as well.

In order to take a closer look at the image, progression, and age of this open wound we must pause to further examine some historical events that devastated the conditions of Muslims throughout the Indian Subcontinent.

According to research conducted by Indian intellectual Rashid Shaz, the crisis of the Subcontinent’s Muslims dates back to the death of the last great Mughal Muslim emperor Aurangzeb in 1707. [Although technically the Mughal Empire carried on after his death, it declined severely, and] over the succeeding one and a half centuries all Muslim efforts of resistance ended in failure, as did their attempts to resist colonial conquest. In 1857, the Muslim capital city of Delhi fell into the hands of the British, and for the first time in history Muslims found themselves under a hostile non-Muslim regime. Religious scholars declared “Jihad” against these non-believers, but this also failed, and did not result in the Muslims recovering control of India, (Understanding the Muslim Malaise: A Conceptual Approach in the Indian Context, published by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies).

According to Rashid Shaz, the period from 1857, the year Delhi was captured by the British, until 1947, the year Pakistan gained its independence after separating from India, is the one that exhibits the most radical shift in ideology by the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent.

This shift in ideology occurred amongst the Muslims who were distressed at the fall of the Muslim rule, and found themselves facing a shocking new reality of living under the rule of non-Muslims that was aiming to restructure the authority and ideology of the state along the lines of a British secular foundation. Such secular principles were beginning to dominate the field of Indian politics that was made up mostly of Hindus, yet the Muslims did not identify themselves with this as Islamic political legitimacy comes from God, and is based primarily upon the Quranic verse: And never will Allah grant to the Unbelievers a way (to triumph) over the Believers (Surat Nisa: 141).

According to Rashid Shaz, during the British occupation of India between 1857 and 1947 important questions were raised by the Muslims with regards to the principles of secularism, democracy, and political legitimacy. Not to mention questions as to the definition of Dar Al Islam [the abode of Islam; a term used by Muslim scholars to refer to countries where Muslims can practice their religion freely] and Dar Al Harb [the abode of War; a term used by Muslim scholars to refer to countries where Muslims cannot freely practice their religion].

This controversy arose from several ideas and theories proposed by Sayyid Ahmed Khan who attempted to reconcile Islamic coexistence under British domination and Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi also made similar attempts. The Islamic scholar Shibli Nomani theorized that the main problem amongst Muslims and the reason for their underdevelopment goes back to their resistance to rationality and the culture of rational investigation, attributing the roots of this problem to the dominance of the Asharite theology [the belief that the comprehension of the nature of God is beyond human capability] over the Mutazilite theology [that tries to incorporate reason and logic within the faith system] during the early Abbasid era. Jamal ad-Din Afghani also spent a year in Delhi, where he urged Muslims to show a new diligent spirit.

Sayyid Qutb has come to be associated with the Hakimiyya principle, which he described briefly in his book ‘Milestones’ and expanded on later in his magnum opus entitled, ‘In the Shade of the Quran’. [The Hakimiyya principle cites that Muslims should resist any system of politics where men are in servitude to other men because such a system is un-Islamic and a violation of God’s sovereignty over all creation]. In his book, ‘In the Shade of the Quran’, Sayyed Qutb referred to the Indian scholar (NB. Indian, not Pakistani) Abu Ala Maududi. He uses some of Maududi’s theories, for example that Islam requires the establishment of an Islamic state, and that a Muslim society is not truly Islamic if it does not institute Sharia law. These views germinated over a long period under British rule, and are specific to the Indian Muslim milieu; they were later utilized to legitimize Pakistan’s separation, as a land for Muslims, from British Hindu India. Yet Sayyid Qutb in Egypt transferred these ideas – and herein lies the danger – to the Arab Islamic world during a period of increasing antagonism between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gamal Abdul Nasser government.

Unfortunately, all that remains of the works of Sayyid Qutb and Maududi and others like them are now seen as abstract theory, while the motives and circumstances under which such works were written have been completely forgotten and omitted by the succeeding generations that conveyed these ideas and thoughts as guidelines to be used to solve disputes and so on.

The problem of Islamic identity in the Indian Subcontinent was the unique circumstances that produced a series of problems with regards to Islamic political ideology. What further deepened this catastrophe was the fall of the Ottoman “Caliphate,” and I use the word “Caliphate” intentionally to stress its significance. The real circumstances of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire are in complete contrast to the romantic imagery that the Muslim Brotherhood and others later depicted. Following the collapse of the Mughal Empire once and for all in India, the Indian Muslims considered themselves as a part of the “Ottoman Ummah” and it was a second blow to the Indian Muslims when the Ottoman Caliphate collapsed in 1924.

This deep-rooted narrative might seem distant from the current disputes being waged between Pakistan and India, or the Muslims and Hindus on the Indian Subcontinent. But we must remember that the Mumbai siege which occurred last week in the Indian financial capital did not occur in a remote part of the world, but in an area which is extremely relevant to us as Arabs. The ideological and identity crisis that we now face can be traced back to the Indian Subcontinent, and the wounds from which we now suffer are mere side effects of the Muslim open-wound in the Indian Subcontinent, a wound which is still bleeding following the British invasion of Delhi in 1857.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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