Talking about Islam (Another take)
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

(Note. From my old blog, a rather rambling post, originally titled Faithful, beseiged. Posted here because it is somewhat relevant to the thought provoking posts (I & II)by Satyananda. This post doesn’t directly contradict what he said, but puts the matter in a different light)

I think it should come as no surprise I am no fan of Harry Potter. To be sure, the series had promise in the beginning, but as it progressed it became a casualty of its own hype. That and I really don’t need “snogging” mentioned in literature.

Even then I found Lord Voldemort and his death eaters interesting. Lord Voldemort  and death eaters are of course allusion to Hitler and Nazi. Hitler like Voldemort was obsessed with blood purity and just like Voldemort was a half-blood, Hitler was rumored to be part Jewish.

Now this is fictional, but there is a psychological basis for this seeming contradiction.
Consider an ambitious young man who more than anything craves social status and peer approval. As it happens the only way available to him to achieve his desire is by belonging to a particular group identity. Unfortunately for him though, his association with the group is not strong sufficiently for his purposes. Then, if our young man is neurotic enough, it is possible that he will become a zealot for enforcing the group exclusivity.

Coming to Partition, the villains, as is insinuated by minders of secularism, were fanatics of Muslim league led by Jinnah on one side, and Hindu Mahasabha on the other side. This is, to put it mildly, hogwash. Notwithstanding its politcs, Hindu Mahasabha was always a fringe player and as such not a priority for Muslim league. No, their bile and venom was reserved for wily Hindu Bania aka Mahatma Gandhi and Congress under him. So far from Hindu Mahasabha, it was Congress which was the culprit or at the least protagonist during partition.

Moving to other side, while it is true that Muslim league is guilty of precipitating partition, it was far from a party of wide eyed Mullahs. In fact, in a way it reflected Congress in that it was a coalition of landlords, middle class professionals and intellectuals. But what is even more remarkable about the movement for separate Muslim homeland is its leading lights.

First Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. He was a reformer and modernist. His commitment to western and liberals ideals was such that not only he freely consumed alcohol and pork he also advocated same for Muslims so that they can emulate the British. He also contributed significantly towards establishing modern educational institutions for Indian Muslims (Aligarh Muslim University being foremost) and at one time he was a strong advocate of Hindu Muslim unity. Yet later in his life he became one of the prominent proponents for a distinct Muslim political identity, a  position which were to directly lead to formation of Muslim league.

Next comes Aga Khan, Imam of Ismailis, a moderate sect within Shia Islam. He in addition to to religious education, also received modern European education in best of British universities. Later on, he made significant contribution towards establishment of social and economic development. And yet, he was one of the founders of Muslim league.

Following him is Allama Iqbal a descendant of Sapru Kashmiri Brahmins, who like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Aga Khan, received western education in European institutions, and besides being a renowned lawyer was an accomplished philosopher and poet. Like others he too began as a patriot who not only stood for an undivided India but also prided himself on Indian heritage (Remember he was the man who gave us Saare Jahan Se Accha). Yet he was to make a turn around in a very short time, and set off on a course which ended up where he is acclaimed as spiritual founder and thinker of Pakistan.

The last exhibit is of course Jinnah. For sake of completion, let’s recapitulate. Jinnah, belonging to Khoja Ismaili sect (we will come back to this later) educated in England, possessing a sharp intellect, a western outlook, a man who enjoyed his whiskey and pork, and not his Islam, a man who had no use for religion in public life, a man who was hailed as ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, a man who doggedly opposed Muslim league and proclaimed respect for Ten incarnations of Vishnu. And yet the same man turned into a demagogue pouring incessant vitriol on Hindus, provoking passion, and setting India ablaze.

Of course this is not an exhaustive list of the leaders of Pakistan movement, but I am sure by now you must have noticed something curious. In all the cases we have Indian Muslims, of considerable intellect and education, moderate in their world view, belonging either to more moderate sects or of recent Hindu ancestry, all initially patriots, paving the way for Pakistan.

As Goldfinger remarked, Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action

Now then, if there is a pattern, what is the reason behind it. I have come to believe that the reason is anxiety. To be specific anxiety of identity.

Of the many infractions against reason that Dr Amartaya Sen has committed to this date, none is more flagrant than his characterization of identity as a buffet from which individual can pick any one at his will. Now this may be true of certain western nations at present but it is not true everywhere, what is more important that historically  it has hardly ever been the case.

To be sure, left to himself, a common man of the street whether a Hindu, or a Muslim, will like go on with his life. He has not much use for identity. This is what our enlightened masters mean when they claim, Muslims and Hindus, or Pakistanis and Indians are not much different. Therein lies the problem. Common man, whatever his creed, is never left alone, rather his interactions in the larger social setting are determined by his group association which is acceptable to the society for that particular setting.This holds true even if his interaction is not a part of larger group effort.

The question then arises, what is that mechanism whereby group associations form, reinforce and wither away. What follows is not a not particularly well formed explanation. Group identity are self-enforcing phenomenon, which roughly means group association determines social privileges, obligations and hierarchies, which subsequently  define the cultural assumptions and social norms governing the dynamics of the social interactions. It is the result of these interactions with respect to evolutionary fitness which acts as a feedback to reinforce the group association.

Next we come to the role of individuals. It is my belief that the common man as such doesn’t influence the workings of group identity, instead as I wrote earlier, historically speaking his action is dictated by the group identity to a large extent. However, if we make the assumption that the response of common man to factors is not random or arbitrary but limited by some basic rules of human psychology, in that case the masses acting in sync do impact the society, as evidenced by popular movements.On the other hand uncommon men also known as thinkers, philosophers, intellectuals etc, have ability to influence group identity at individual level.

But men, both common as well as uncommon, are guided by a much stronger force, of history. For much of, well history, humanity has flow in its silent yet inexorable currents, and though the thinkers pretend otherwise, even they are not unaffected by it. As George Orwell famously remarked, Those who control the past, control the future. A corollary of this for present context is those who control the identity, control the present/

So where am I going with this. Well the whole digression about identity was to introduce what was in my view the real reason about partition. Which is the historically there has been conflict between Islamic and Indian identities. Now before I proceed, let me do away with some possible objections, I do not think it is accurate to say that everyday co-existence of average Hindus and Muslim is marked with strife and violence, either now or historically (Though I will add that historically even the relations between common Hindus and Muslims have not been entirely peaceful. Hindu-Muslim riots, after all are not something which started after demolition of Babri Masjid). Neither I am implying that Muslims are un-Indian. My intention rather is, that Indian Muslims are claimed by both Indian identity as well as Islamic identity. This is different from other such cases because other linguistic or cultural identities are subset of Indian identity, whereas Islamic identity has an existence and history independent of Indian identity, and as I will attempt to show,by discussing about Islamic experience in India, at conflict with Indian identity.

For Secular class anxious to whitewash the history, Islamic experience in India is mostly a fable about swirling Dervishes and qawwali singing Sufis. That and Akbar the great. In my view a single word more accurately captures the experience of Islam in sub-continent. That word is UrduUrdu, derived from Turkic language, means encampment.

Islam was mainly introduced to India, as a consequence of invasions spanning centuries by Muslim invaders, initially from Arab and later on from Central Asia. Now India has been invaded since time memorial by barbarians and nomads from beyond Sindhu. However Islamic invasions were different. Surely the series of Islamic like previous invasions were meant for both loot as well as conquest, but in addition to that, the invaders this time carried the word of Allah as revealed to Prophet Muhammad, seal of Prophets, and zealously guarded by Ulema. They were united in communion with every Muslim of the world in Ummah as bearers of the truth, and foreshadowing the annihilation of Incas and Aztecs by conquistadors,  obligated by religious injunction to bring the kaffirs to righteous path.

The invading zealots sought to spread the true faith by the terror of sword. Templed were desecrated, Murtis were destroyed, Kaffirs were compelled to embrace Islam on the pain of a torment and death. However as the conquerors set to rule the conquered land, the compulsions of the geopolitics and the governance tempered their zeal to multiply the believers. Sure, they wanted the glory of Islam to spread, but they also had to maintain the alliances with Hindu Kings and they could not oppress their subjects too much lest they start rebelling. So instead of sword they took recourse to coercive taxes and laws for the dhimmis. Slowly Islam in  India came to an uneasy arrangement, the rulers didn’t try too hard to convert the idolaters, and Islam occupied the seat of power. However this arrangement was an extremely fragile, as this was considered deviation from the righteous path by Ulemas and the more fervent of the ruling class. The result was this arrangement was breached by the zealots who launched frequents campaigns to show the infidels error of their ways and the inevitable rebellion by the oppressed subjects.

Here it should be noted that this was no different from what happened with the Zorastrianism or Buddhism when Muslims invaded Iran or Afghanistan. However one crucial difference between Hinduism and the two religions was that both the religions depended heavily on priests and monks as opposed to Hinduism which was more folk based. Which is why even when its institutions were annihilated (you can count North Indian Temples belonging to pre-Islamic era on your fingers) it managed to survive.

This went on for well over a millennium, and as the sword and thejiziya slowly converted heathens, Islamic identity that formed was that of a superior creed by virtue of power as well as faith. It was this identity which the Muslim elites as well as clergy with. However since Hindus were always the majority, and Islamic identity couldn’t reconcile with this, it retreated behind wall of powers. Thus Islamic identity also assumed characterstics of encampment. Urdu, in other words.

This arrangement began to unravel in the 18th century first with the decline of Mughal dynasty and arrival of British. Hindus, so far reduced to secondary citizens, began to take advantage of the western education to re-occupy position in the government, in addition to even further securing the advantage in trade. With education there also emerged a class of middle class professionals with interest in sciences and renewed curiosity about their Hindu identity. This combined with the freedom for expression of religion available to them after deprivation of several centuries saw a new vigor in the religion and giving rise to Hindu revival movements of 19th century.

In contrast was Muslim experience, they didn’t take advantage of the opportunities available to them, owing to hubris of being ruler as well as certain of superiority of faith. The loss of power, the advance of  the formerly inferior Hindus over their former superiors, and even more important resurgence of Hindu religion  had a severe effect on the psyche of Muslim elite. To the former rulers it felt as if Allah had abandoned his believers by failing to safeguard their honor from suffering the indignity of  jostling with the inferior kaffirs for living. It was this crisis which caused a crack in the foundation, which was assumption of superiority over kaffirs, of the Islamic identity.

Islamic identity could never recover from this. This crisis was made more severe by the breach of the wall of power which separated Islamic identity from the majority identity. For the first time in history Muslim elites felt threat to Islamic identity on account of its being subsumed into the Indian identity, especially since Hinduism is much more encompassing, inclusive, adaptive and tolerant than Islam, or for that matter any other Abrahamic creed. Camp was no longer secure for the Islamic identity anymore.

Since Muslim elites could no longer count on assumption of superiority afforded to them by power nor were able to reconcile with a resurgent Hinduism, and further since they felt besieged by Hinduism enveloping them in the society, they increasingly assumed  an adversarial role to define themselves. As a result gradually Islamic identity transformed into a negationitist one in the sense it was defined by negation and rejection of Hindu identity rather than by a positive statement relating to historical or cultural context.

This is what I believe was more fundamental reason for Hindu-Muslim tensions and ultimately partition.
And once Pakistan was formed on basis of Islamic identity, its tragic destiny was also decided. For in defining their identity in negation to Hindu identity, Muslim elites had made themselves dependent on their adversary. When the partition eliminated the adversary, the Pakistan intellectuals sought to define themselves either by associating even more strongly withUmmah in a Voldemortian fashion, and at the same time taking a strong adversarial position to India. This is the reason I don’t think any reconcilation between India and Pakistan is possible.

As far as Indian Muslims are concerned, I think they can still be reconciled to broader Indian identity, provided they recognize, and make peace with, the Hindu core of Indian identity and disregard Ummah and Ulema.