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Muslim reactions to the shuddhi campaign - ii
By Yoginder Sikand
|The success of the Aryas in their campaign among the Malkanas led them on to attempt to spread their work among several other neo-Muslim groups in northern India, including Muslim Jat, Gujjar and Rajput communities in the Punjab and the United Provinces. Soon, appeals began being issued calling for the shuddhi of virtually all the Muslims of India. At a public rally in Lahore, Shraddhanand delivered a fiery speech, appealing to the Hindus to convert to the Hindu fold 65 million Indian Muslims. Bhaskarteertha, the Sanatani Shankaracharya of the Sharada Peetha, went even further and declared that barring 'a few hundred thousand' Indian Muslims whose forefathers had come from 'Afghanistan and Baluchistan', the rest of the Muslims of the country were descendants of Hindu converts and that they should, therefore, be all made Hindu once again.
The Muslim reaction to the prospect of mass desertions of large numbers of only partially-Islamised Muslims, perhaps the majority of the Indian Muslim population, to the Hindu fold, was, naturally, one of shock and panic. Leading Muslims now appealed for frantic efforts to be made to rescue the Malkanas, to prevent further conversions to 'Hinduism', and even to begin counter-missionary drives among the Hindus themselves. They were unanimous in asserting that the need of the hour was to launch an India-wide missionary drive, to purge Muslim groups of what were seen as their Hinduistic customs, to spread awareness about the teachings of Islam among them and to bring their practices and life-styles in conformity with the Islamic law [shar'iat] and thereby create clear boundaries between Muslims and others, to prevent Muslims from easily being absorbed into the Hindu fold. As a leading Deobandi 'alim of the Jami'at-ul Ulama-i-Hind asserted, the need of the hour was to 'dye the Hinduistic society [hinduana mu'ashrat] deep with the colour of the culture of the Hijaz'.
Tabligh was projected as a community-wide effort, and every Muslim individual, male as well as female, was seen as having a crucial role to play in this project. In the past, the Muslim ruler had been seen as the symbol of the supremacy of Islam and guarantee enough of Muslim power, although, as is well-known, no Muslim ruler in India had ever attempted to rule according to the shari'at in its entirety. Now, in the absence of Muslim political power and in the face of growing Hindu aggressiveness, the Muslim individual came to be seen as the guarantor of Islam. No longer was it enough that the 'ulama, who traditionally, had little contact with the masses, remain confined to their madrasas. Access to scriptural resources, formerly largely the preserve of the ulama, now, it was asserted, must be made available to every Muslim. The duty of tabligh, or spreading Islam, of making Muslims 'better' Muslims and of spreading Islam among non-Muslims, was no longer to be a farz-i-kifaya, a responsibility of the ulama and the Sufis alone. Rather, every Muslim had to become a missionary [muballigh], and Islam was now seen as having commanded all Muslims to participate in its spread. The 'ulama, traditionally close to the centres of Muslim political authority and aloof from ordinary Muslims, were now forced to reach out to the community at large, appealing to them to join in the campaign to counter the Aryas. Tabligh was also to have important consequences of understanding of the self. No longer was it enough for a Muslim to be defined as such simply by virtue of having been born in a Muslim family. On the contrary, it was now necessary for every Muslim to be a self-conscious believer, with his or her faith rooted in at least a basic understanding of the principles of the faith. The most effective counter to the shuddhi challenge, therefore, was seen as lying in spreading Islamic knowledge among neo-Muslim groups and in strengthening their faith.
This broad-basing of access to the Islamic scripturalist tradition is clearly evident in the tablighi programmes drawn up by key Muslim ideologues in the wake of the shuddhi offensive. In what emerged as a key controversial text in the shuddhi-tabighi affair, the Da'i-i-Islam ['The Missionary of Islam'], Khwaja Hassan Nizami, a leading Delhi-based Muslim writer and Sufi, called for all classes of Muslims to join hands in opposing the Aryas, in spreading knowledge of Islam among ordinary Muslims vulnerable to the Arya onslaught and also to attempt to convert to Islam 'low' caste Hindus, who were seen as potentially the most receptive to the Islamic message of social equality. In Nizami's tablighi scheme, the Sufis and the 'ulama do have a central but not an exclusive role to play. The Sufis, he says, should use their large number of disciples [muridin] to tour the countryside to preach Islam, and their efforts should be supplemented by those of wandering faqirs. The 'ulama must, he says, come out of their confines in mosques and madrasas and teach ordinary Muslims the basic practices and beliefs of Islam. Besides the Muslim elite, ordinary Muslims also must be fully involved in the project. Thus, Muslim farmers, traders and artisans, who come into daily contact with Hindus, can effectively preach Islam among them. So, too, can Muslim police officers, village record-keepers, postmasters and doctors. Muslim railway staff can engage in tabligh among non-Muslim train passengers. Muslim cooks and bearers employed in English homes can preach to other servants. especially sweepers. Muslim actors should be asked to stage plays in villages on various Islamic themes.
Mendicants and blind beggars should sing Islamic songs while asking for alms. This strategy promises to be particularly effective, because, Nizami says, 'In India song and music have a far more powerful effect than lectures and sermons'. Muslim writers should write tracts on methods of tabligh as well as stories about the brave feats of the Muslims. The latter, Nizami says, will have a special appeal for 'martial groups' such as the Rajputs.Nizami set up the Nizamia Sufi Mission to carry out his tablighi project. He does not, however, seem to have met with much success. More fruitful, however, were the efforts of Islamic groups opposed to the popular Sufism that Nizami represented. Such, for instance, was the Tablighi Jama'at, launched by a Deobandi 'alim, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas in 1925, and which today has emerged as the single largest Islamic movement in the world, active in almost every country. The launching of the Tablighi Jama'at was a direct fall-out of the Arya shuddhi campaign. Apprehensive that the Meos of
Mewat, a nominally Islamised group living in the vicinity of the Malkana belt, would also fall prey to the Aryas, Ilyas began a campaign aiming at what he saw as their fuller 'Islamisation'. He instructed the Meos to give up their Hindu practices and beliefs and to strictly abide by the shari'at in their daily lives. Meo villagers, who hardly had any knowledge of Islam and whose practices were scarcely different from those of their non-Muslim neighbours, were formed into groups [jama'ats] and despatched to Deobandi madrasas in the western United Provinces and Delhi, there to learn the basics of Islam, such as the creed of confession and the five ritual prayers, from leading 'ulama. On their return to Mewat, they transmitted this knowledge to their kinsmen, and exhorted them to join the jama'ats as well. Great rewards in heaven [sawab] were promised in return for this. According to Tablighi Jama'at sources, in a few years after the launching of Ilyas' campaign, most Meos had given up worshipping at Hindu shrines, wearing Hindu-style clothes and sporting Hindu names.Like Nizami and Ilyas, other Muslim ideologues argued for the 'ulama and Sufi divines to play a leading role in spearheading the tabligh counter-offensive. The Jamiat-ul Ulama-i-Hind, an organisation of leading, largely Deobandi 'ulama, called for the setting up of a chain of madrasas all over the country to impart Islamic education to ordinary Muslims to prevent them from falling into the clutches of the Aryas. 'No number of madrasas is too much, and nor is any amount of money to be spent on them', declared Maulana Muhammad 'Abdul Halim Siddiqui, the treasurer of the Department for the Propagation and Protection of Islam, set up by the Jami'at in 1923 in the wake of the shuddhi campaign among the Malkanas. A similar demand was voiced by the leading 'alim of the Firangi Mahal madrasa of Lucknow, Maulana 'Abdul Bari, who called for Sufi preceptors to instruct their disciples to form teams and tour the countryside preaching Islam to neo-Muslim groups. These teams would include, besides Muslim scholars, individuals with a good knowledge of medicine who would administer to the sick and thus play an important role in spreading Islam among non-Muslims.
This focus on spreading Islamic knowledge among the Muslims to combat the threat of the Aryas emerges as particularly salient in the writings of the period of one of the leading Islamic ideologues in recent South Asian history, Maulana Sayyed Abul A’la Maududi, who was later to go on to found the Jama'at-i-Islami. In a series of articles in 1925 of Al-Jami'at, the official organ of the Jami'at-ul Ulama-i-Hind, of which he was then the editor, Maududi argued the case for a more activist and broad-based tabligh campaign that fitted in with his own understanding of Islam as an all-embracing ideology that covered every aspect of life. Maududi stressed that the success of the Arya campaign was but a reflection and a consequence of Muslims having forgotten what he calls 'the fundamental aim' of a Muslim's life and existence--the establishment of Islam in its entirety in accordance with the Will of God, through constant engagement in its tabligh, inviting others to the Truth. 'The entire life of the Prophet Muhammad', he wrote, 'was a manifestation of this da'awat-i-haq [Invitation to the Truth']', and Muslims must follow in his footsteps. A Muslim's entire life, he stressed, is a form of tabligh. For a Muslim to fulfil this divine mission, he or she must have at least a modicum of knowledge of Islam. Further, he or she must be a self-conscious believer. It is not enough, Maududi says, for someone to claim to be a Muslim simply because of birth in a Muslim family. The tablighi project of spreading knowledge of Islam among Muslims, Maududi suggests, must also be accompanied by efforts at social
reform on the lines of the shari'at. In particular, social inequalities and caste-like features within the Muslim community, taking advantage of which the Aryas had managed to make considerable headway in their shuddhi campaign, must be combatted. In this way, what Maududi calls for is a consolidated, homogenous, well-defined and closely-knit Muslim community, defined and set apart from the others by strict observance to the shar'iat.
The Arya shuddhi offensive was thus seen as a grave challenge by Muslim leaders, who responded to it by advocating a grand community-wide effort of Islamic reform, reaching out to hitherto neglected neo-Muslim groups, seeking to draw them into the fold of the emerging pan-Indian Muslim community, united on the basis of allegiance to common beliefs and ritual practices. In the changed socio-political context, ordinary people thus assumed far greater importance in elite-led mobilisational projects than they had hitherto been. In the process, individual Muslims, no matter how humble their station in life, were now seen as crucial symbols and representatives of Islam, assuming the place that the Muslim ruler had traditionally enjoyed. Tabligh and the defence of Islam as a duty of all Muslims, men and women, whatever their social position.