The birth of the Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat

By S.M. Pasha   + Pix

Many are not aware as to when, why and how the Muslim Majlise Mushawarat was formed. This brief write-up is for their information.

Series of communal riots in the country in which members of the Muslim minority community were very badly affected; the sufferings and the sense of helplessness and frustration made some leading Muslims wake up and plan an effective way to help the ummah in a concrete way. The initiative was taken by Dr. Syed Mahmud, a veteran Congressman from Bihar and Member of the Rajya Sabha and Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi of Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow. A conference was arranged at Lucknow on 8-9 August 1964. Over two hundred Muslim dignitaries from different walks of life and belonging to different schools of thought and political opinion met forgetting their personal and ideological differences. Among the eminent leaders were Qaid-e Millat Mohammed Ismail, the Muslim League leader, Maulana Abul Lais, the chief of the Jamaat-e Islami, Maulana As’ad Madani and Mufti Atiqur Rahman Usmani. The most important resolution passed by the Conference was to form an umbrella organization under the name of Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat with a mandate to tour the whole of India, particularly the areas where major communal riots had taken place. The Mushawarat leaders were asked to meet in deputation the Prime Minister Lal Bhadur Shastri and the Union Home Minister Gulzarilal Nanda. Dr. Syed Mahmood was elected President and the M.P. from Tamil Nadu N.M.Anwar was elected General Secretary.

Whilst the so-called “National” Press did not give adequate publicity to the event, foreign press reported it extensively. Here is a brief extract from the Washington Post:

 “Rival leaders of moderate and militant factions among India’s 47 million Moslems formed an unprecedented Islamic united front to combat growing Hindu revivalist activity.

“The decision by 100 key dignitaries to establish an independent Moslem identity in national affairs marked a historic departure from the long-standing Moslem reliance on the governing Congress party during the life time of Prime Minister Nehru.

 “Envisaged initially as a limited gesture of solidarity after an estimated 3000 Moslems were killed in religious riots earlier this year the long projected conference, over the week end, became an occasion for an agitated debate over Moslem political strategy in post-Nehru India.

 “Bearded divines identified with the Orthodox Jamiat-e-Islami movement and fist-shaking angry youngmen from Islamic educational institutions appeared to hold the initiative over moderate pro-Congress elements throughout the 2-day proceedings.

 “Lucknow was chosen to play host to the meeting as the capital of the former Moslem princely State of Oudh and one of the major contemporary centres of Islamic learning in India.

 “It is a city studded with endless red sandstone mosques and elaborately carved reservoirs built centuries ago by Nawabs.

 “The conference session at a local theological college offered a colourful array of clothing styles reflecting the wide range of sects attending the gathering from all parts of India. There were eleven distinct varieties of headgear in evidence from the chaste white-skull cap and goatskin fez of the rural delegates to open-knit lattice-work laid loosely on the head in the Arabian style and the peaked blue crown of South India resembling a bishop’s hat.

Closed sessions devoted to future tactics were carefully screened to keep out govt. intelligence agents and eavesdroppers allegedly sent by Hindu organisations. But newsmen were permitted to attend the stormy session in which Moslem leaders from the riot- affected areas recounted cases of alleged complicity by police and local officials in atrocities against Moslems.

“Hafiz Mohammed Umar, owner of a string of tailor shops in the steel city of Jamshedpur said that local Hindu officials had incited Christian tribesmen in the neighbouring hill regions of Bihar to go on a rampage against Moslems with bows and arrows.

“Now the tribesmen were puzzled to see the same officials helping to rehabilitate Moslem survivors of the March riots under orders from New Delhi.

“But the Conference resolution spoke only of the need for strong measures to check further disturbances. It avoided any public reference to controversial specific moves in a gesture to moderate leaders who argued that this would needlessly inflame Hindu public opinion.”

The London Times wrote: “Leaders of Indian Muslims have met in Lucknow to discuss the plight of the community, ‘ manifold injustice and prejudices’ from which they suffer , as one of them put it and to seek ways by which Muslims can find a fuller and more contented part in Indian life.

“As with the last such Muslim convention, which was held in Delhi just three years ago, this meeting is consequent upon outbreaks of murderous violence against Muslims. In 1961, it was the small outbreaks in Jabalpore, Madhya Pradesh which occasioned the Muslim Convention: this year the massacres in Rourkela and Jamshedpur and riots in Calcutta induced the community’s leaders to foregather again to express their “confusion, helplessness and despair.”

“The situation of Muslims in India has seriously worsened in the past three years and those in Lucknow felt their helplessness increase when they considered what little impression the complaints they registered three years ago have had. The chief cause of this deteriorating position of the Muslims is no doubt the strong swell of nationalism in India in recent years, which in North India has had undercurrents of Hindu nationalism but as deep a factor is the nature of Muslim community itself and this is well projected in the Lucknow meeting where the elderly predominate and devout take the leading role.

“The Muslims number just over 50 millions, a little over 10 per cent of the population, but sizable as it is, this is not a true community but the rump of one. The great majority of the Muslim middle class became Pakistani citizens at Partition and those who stayed in India are predominantly rural people – many of these the poorest artisans or shopkeepers. Of those middle class Muslims who stayed many are now in the senior ranks of Administration and the professions. But these, in the name of secularism, have all too often stood apart from their community; one of the speakers in Lucknow spoke bitterly of the “selfishness and opportunism” of those well-established Muslims who deny that injustice or discrimination is being felt by the community as a whole. The Indian Muslims, like American Negroes, have their “uncle Toms”.

“The attacks on Muslims in Bihar and Orissa this year overshadowed the discussion in Lucknow and it was remarked that the Government had not made any exemplary punishment for the killers. The Muslims had repeatedly been reminded, one speaker said, that their fate in India was dependent not on their behaviour but on that of their people of a foreign country, in other words, that they would be made to pay in like coin for the suffering of Hindus in East Pakistan. He might also have noticed the open threat made by Jana Sangh speakers to “reconsider the place of the Muslim in Indian life” if Kashmiris insist upon self-determination.

“Underlying all such fears is the feeling among the Muslims that more and more their place in India is at the back of the queue and that their turn at the front never comes. The backwardness of the community in education accounts undoubtedly for much of the Muslim under-representation in Government services. Another factor has been pointed out by Mr. B.Tyabji, Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. The strong caste consciousness of Indian society, he says, finds expression in commerce and industry too and as the number of Muslim firms and enterprises have been few in proportion to their population, Muslims have suffered proportionately more from this attitude of: jobs for kith and kin first.”

“It is distressing to find the conviction among well-placed Indian Muslims that British firms here are among the worst in their reluctance to give employment to Muslims. Inquiry suggests that this impression may have its origin in a minute circulated not long ago after the Partition by late Mr. Patel, the Minister for Home Affairs, advising British firms to send Muslim applicants to their Pakistan branches. With force and some evidence some Muslims here maintain that the policy is still applied by British houses.

“For the outsider the most disturbing change has been that in the public attitude to Muslims and to secularism, the Government, under Mr. Shastri’s leadership, as under Mr. Nehru’s stands adamantly for Secularism and the equal rights of all citizens, But there has been a change in the public philosophy on this score, subtle but unmistakable and it will need strong leadership and bold talking if this sneaking attitude that a Muslim is not fully an Indian – it has McCarthyite expressions – is to be stamped out.”

In the beginning, the Mushawart was well received. New hope dawned. But the popularity soon waned and the expectation that it might be a forerunner of a powerful Muslim party based on definite principles and programmes for Muslims faded out and the organization remained for a long time a mere letterhead outfit. Alhamdulillah it is now alive and kicking. May it, by the Infinite Grace of the Great Shaper of Destinies, grow from strength to strength in the service of the Ummah.