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The 'Qaum' and after
By Rizwan Ullah
|'Qaum' is the most beguiling word in our language. Its wildest use bedeviled Indian Muslims with disastrous effect. Literally it means the 'people' which is authenticated and sanctified by the constitutions of India and the US as the 'People' have given those constitutions to themselves. But curiously enough the word has been used in the widest and the narrowest senses. In its wider sense it has been used to give the impression or convey the idea that the Muslims all over the world are one single 'Qaum'. This idea imbibes an universality bridging all political and geographical divide. But at the same time in Indian society, divided into classes since the oldest times, 'Qaum' has come to mean a class or rule class called jati, a community, a professional or linguistic group or simply people living in a geographical area. But things were confused and the confusion became worst confounded when it was intertwined with divisive politics.
Intellectuals like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and many ulama used the word variously which created misunderstanding with far-reaching effects. When Sir Syed Ahmed Khan Talked about educational institutions for the 'Qaum' it was misconstrued by some as the institution for Muslims only to the exclusion of others. A word used by him in a positive sense was misinterpreted in a contrary sense by the people bugged by malintentions. The currency of sinister misinterpretation permeated through the masses. The fallacy became evident when it was too late when the stormy events declared to the world that all Muslims were not one single 'Qaum', Bengalis were a different 'Qaum' so were the Punjabis, Sindhis and most surprisingly the migrants originally belonging to various 'Qaums' profession wise, language wise, region wise declared themselves to be a single 'Qaum' enmeshed in the midst of the native 'Qaums' of the land they had arrived at.
In fact 'Qaum' should mean the 'nation;' a nation is attributed with following features: A well defined territory, a considerable population, a government of their own, a culture and above all a sense of belonging in the inhabitants. Thus it is obvious that 'Qaum' means all the people living permanently within the perimeters of a defined territory, having a government of their won to defend them, to sustain them economically and to maintain law and order, and such people have common cultural traits such as traditions, living habits, religion, language and a sense of belonging to the particular land. This sense of pride or sense of belonging surpasses languages and creeds in general, for had it not been the case the people of the United States of America would have never been a 'Qaum', that is, nation as they belonged to almost every race in the world and spoke many languages and had faith in most of the creeds prevailing and practiced in the world. They are an American 'Qaum' because they are settled on a well defined territory, have a powerful government and despite many differences they are proud of belonging to their land. Then why the same should not be true in the case of India where every person is regarded as outsider or an outcaste except some self-proclaimed Deshbhakt. Such believers should be treated as the real traitors who are against the unity and oneness of Indians who are one single 'Qaum' and feel proud of being so.
When Indian Muslims thought that Muslims as such were a 'Qaum' in fact they conceived them as brotherhood. There was nothing wrong about it. It is still true about believers in various faiths and following various cultural traditions which bring people together and promote some sort of homogeneity. However, the misconception about 'Qaum' on the one hand provided an opportunity to the adversaries to raise doubts about the loyalty of Muslims and on the other hand divided Muslims horizontally and vertically. The idea of brotherhood conceived as 'Qaum' entered into Muslim consciousness from two sides: One from the side of Islamic Scholars who considered from the viewpoint of faith and secondly from the side of those who were influenced by the developments in Russia and later in the soviet union, Russian thought in terms of 'Qaum' about the adjoining territories inhabited by Muslim races that were annexed with the Soviet Union. Many Muslim scholars not necessarily communists drew inspiration from Russian writers and 'Qaum' living on Russian fringes. Thus there was a great debate among Indian Muslims during decade preceding independence and division of the country on what formed the basis of a 'Qaum' – Religion or land. It may be remembered that a section of Muslim intellectuals believed that religion was the basis of a 'Qaum' but most revered ulama were of the opinion that land was the basis of a 'Qaum.' They stuck to that view even when division of the country became evident and a certainty. However, it must be clarified that the division of the country was not the result of that mistaken concept of 'Qaum' only. It was the culmination of several political movements and ideological conflicts within the country and probable international manipulation.
The purpose of this writing is to emphasize that careless treatment of words and terms which have political overtones is not advisable. Urdu is a soft language but at the same time it is capable of expressing strongest sentiments and rousing emotions. It borrows for its purposes from any language within its reach and plays within in the way that could serve its purpose.