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Published in the 1-15 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVES
The 'United Nationalism' of Maulana Madni - i

By Yoginder Sikand 

Wrongly reviled today as the ‘epicentre’ of ‘Islamic terrorism’, the Dar ul-‘Ulum in Deoband, one of the largest madrasas in the world, played a leading role in spearheading India’s freedom movement. The active involvement of many Deobandi ‘ulama in the struggle against the British is today a little-remembered story. Indian school textbooks refuse to mention it, probably deliberately in order to reinforce the stereotypical, yet misplaced, image of Muslims as congenitally ‘anti-national’. At the same time, however, they extol the alleged exploits of Hindutva activists in the fight against the British, while records have proven beyond doubt that leading Hindutva spokesmen, in the Congress, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, actually collaborated with the British and worked against the freedom movement. In this they played a similar role as that of the Muslim League. 

One of the leading figures of India’s freedom movement was Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni (1879-1957). Madni served for decades as the rector of the Deoband madrasa and as head of the Deobandi-dominated Jam’at ul-‘Ulama-I Hind (‘The Union of the ‘Ulama of India’). Madni was also a leading Muslim political activist, and was closely involved in the Congress Party in pre-1947 India. At a time when the Muslim League under Jinnah had raised its demand for a separate Muslim state of Pakistan, based on the so-called ‘two nation’ theory, Madni came out forcefully as a champion of a free and united India. He insisted, arguing against the claims of both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha (which, too, subscribed to a ‘two nation’ theory of its own version), that all the inhabitants of India were members of a ‘united nationality’ (muttahida qaumiyat) despite their religious and other differences. Hence, he argued, Muslims, Hindus and others must join hands to work for an independent, united India, where all communities would enjoy equal rights and freedoms. 

Madni elaborated on his theory of ‘united nationalism’ in a book penned in the early 1940s as a reply to Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s critique of his own political position. By this time, Iqbal had turned into an ardent pan-Islamist and had clearly distanced himself from his earlier nationalist stance. Madni’s book ‘Muttahida Qaumiyat Aur Islam’ (‘United Nationalism and Islam’) was published before 1947, and long remained unavailable after that, being only recently reprinted by the Jami’at ul-‘Ulama-i Hind’s headquarters in Delhi.
 
Madni’s central argument is that Islam is not opposed to a united nationalism based on a common motherland (vatan), language (zaban), ethnicity (nasl) or colour (rang), which brings together Muslims and non-Muslims sharing one or more of these attributes in common. In the Indian context, a united nationalism that embraces Muslims and other peoples is, therefore, he says, perfectly acceptable Islamically. In making this argument he stridently opposed Iqbal and the Muslim League, as well as radical Islamists such as Sayyed Abul ‘Ala Maududi, founder of the Jama’at-i Islami. 

As a Muslim religious scholar, Madni naturally sought to justify his argument in Islamic terms. He marshalled support from the Qur’an and from records of the practice (sunnat) of the Prophet in support of his thesis. He noted that the word ‘qaum’, which is used as synonymous with ‘nation’, appears some 200 times in the Qur’an. It is sometimes used in the Qur’an to refer to the ‘people’ of a particular prophet, such as the ‘qaum’ of Noah or the ‘qaum’ of Abraham, and in these contexts it applies to all the members of these communities, including both the followers as well as opponents of these prophets. In other words, these Qur’anic verses suggest that the prophets and their followers as well as those among their own people groups who opposed them were considered to be part of the same ‘qaum’, owing to a common land, language or ethnicity. This is further evident from the fact that the Qur’an mentions various prophets as addressing those among their own people who rejected them as members of their own ‘qaum’, exhorting them to heed God’s word. From this, Madni argues, it is clear that, in contrast to the claims of the Muslim League and Maududi, Muslims and non-Muslims cannot be considered to be members of two different ‘qaums’ if they share a common ethnicity, language or motherland. If they share these traits in common they can be said to belong to the same ‘qaum’. The ‘two nation’ theory (do qaumi nazariya) of the Muslim League, therefore, has no Qur’anic basis at all.

Having thus argued that Muslims and non-Muslims who share the same country or ethnicity should be considered to be members of a single ‘qaum’, Madni suggests that on issues of common concern Muslim and non-Muslim members of a particular ‘qaum’ can, indeed should, work together. This means, he says, that the Indian Muslims must join hands with non-Muslim Indians, on the basis of belonging to the same ‘qaum’, and work together for the unity, freedom and prosperity of the country. In seeking proper Islamic legitimacy for this argument, Madni draws upon the practice of the Prophet. When the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina, he writes, he entered into an agreement (mu’ahada, mithaq) with the Jewish tribes of the town. According to the terms of the treaty, the Muslims and Jews of Medina were to enjoy equal rights, including full freedom of religion. They were also to jointly work for the protection of Medina from external foes. Interestingly, the treaty identified the signatories to the treaty, the Jews and Muslims of Medina, as members of a single community or ‘ummat’. This suggests, Madni argues, that Muslims and non-Muslims of a particular state or country could be considered to be members of a common ‘ummat’ if they entered into a similar treaty.

(continued)

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