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The Frustration of Islam in India

Long ago, some 12 or 13 years before Partition, I had a chance to pass by a meeting of Muslims in Delhi. The chaste Urdu and the weighty voice of the man making the speech at the moment, made me stand and stare. It was a bearded mullah wearing a fez. He was narrating some history which was new for me.

The mullah mentioned several dates on which some decisive battles had been fought and won by the armies of Islam. I was not familiar with the names of the heroes and generals who had led those armies. But I knew the names of the countries which, according to the mullah, had been conquered and converted en masse to Islam in rather short spans of time - Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran, Khorasan, Turkistan and so on. There were repeated references to swords and spears and horses and hoofs and countless clashes in which human blood had flowed copiously. In between, some one from the audience stood up and shouted ‘nara-i-takbir’. And the whole assembly roared back Allah-o-Akbar with full-throated frenzy.

Then the speaker moved to Sind and Hind. He recounted the many ‘miracles’ which Islam had wrought here with the might of its sword as well as the spell of its Sufis, for more than a thousand years. I knew some of those ‘miracles’ from my own text-books of history, though I had never suspected that they could be made to sound so superhuman as in the mouth of this mullah. And then, all of a sudden, the mullah’s voice sank and became almost a whimper. His face too must have fallen, though I could not see it from the distance at which I was standing. He was now telling, in very mournful tones, how Islam had failed to fulfil its mission in this ‘kambakht (unfortunate) mulk (country)’ which was still crawling with kufr (infidelism) in spite of all those arduous endeavours undertaken by the heroes of Islam. A funeral silence fell on the audience, and no one now stood up any more to invite another nara-i-takbir. I moved away from the meeting and sat down in another part of the same park where the mullah’s voice reached me no more. But after some time the atmosphere was rent again by another bout of Allah-o-Akbar. I wondered what spell the mullah had spread over his audience again.

One thing that had puzzled me a good deal in the mullah’s speech was his description of the great Gañga as a dahana (rivulet) instead of as a darya (river). I had not seen the Gañga so far with my own eyes. But my text-books of geography had told me that it was a mighty river, one of the four or five biggest and longest in the world. The mullah’s description of it did not fit with a known fact. He was a middle-aged man, and sounded rather well-read in history and geography. I thought that he should have known better.

It was many years later that one day Professor Balraj Madhok cited to me the famous couplet of Altaf Husain Hali in which the Gañga had been contemptuously described as a dahana.1 I was suddenly reminded of the speech I had heard as a school boy. But by now I had acquired a good knowledge of medieval Indian history. A new image of medieval India had also emerged in my mind by reading K.M. Panikkar’s A Survey of Indian History. It was no more the India of Muslim monarchs ruling leisurely over a large empire, building mosques and mazars and madrasas and mansions, and patronizing poets and other men of letters. On the contrary, it was the story of the long-drawn-out war which took a decisive turn to the disadvantage of Islamic imperialism with the rise of Shivaji. The war had ended in a victory for the Hindus by the middle of the 18th century. A few months earlier, I had finished a Hindi translation of Kincaid’s The Grand Rebel which I had named Shaktiputra Shivaji. I had fully concurred with Kincaid’s conclusion that the British had taken over India not from the Muslims but from the Hindus.

Shri H.V. Seshadri has also quoted that couplet of Hali in The Tragic Story of Partition.2 He has also given a brief outline of the long war of liberation which Hindu society had fought and won against Islamic imperialism. He writes: ‘For 800 years Hindusthan waged a relentless freedom struggle - probably the most stirring saga of crusade for national freedom witnessed anywhere on the face of this earth. From Maharana Kumbha to Maharana Pratap Simha and Rajasimha in Rajasthan, from Hakka and Bukka to Krishnadevaraya in the South, from Chhatrapati Shivaji to the Peshwas in Maharashtra, from the various martyr Gurus of the Sikhs including Guru Govind Singh to Banda Bairagi and Ranjit Singh in the Punjab, from Chhatrasal in Bundelkhand to Lachit Barphukan in Assam, countless captains of the war of independence piloted the ship of freedom and steered her through perilous tides and tempests. As a result of their ceaseless and crushing blows, the conquering, sword of Islam lay in dust, shattered to pieces.’3

Two Versions of Medieval Indian History

Obviously, there is a deep divide between the two versions of medieval Indian history - Hindu and Muslim. Hindu society may like to forget the first phase of this history during which it suffered defeat after defeat in spite of a succession of great heroes who tried to blunt the sword of Islam, and block the path of Islamic invasion. But Hindu society cannot help taking pride in the phase which opened with the rise of Shivaji, and unfolded further under Chhatrasal, Banda Bairagi, Surajmal and Ranjit Singh. On the other hand, the mullah’s gaze is galvanized on the period when the sword of Islam swept over the length and breadth of the Hindu homeland. He cannot help feeling humbled when he moves to a later period, and finds the hordes of Islam in hasty retreat before a Hindu counter-attack. The feeling in Hindu society at the end of it all is one of fulfilment; the feeling in the mullah’s mind, on the other hand, is one of utter frustration. Islam had suffered in India a second and serious defeat after its first and total rout in Spain.

The political pundits have so far failed to lay their fingers on the forces which led to India’s Partition, firstly because they have confined their purview to a brief period of 90 years - from 1857 to 1947. They would have to travel back in time for more than 900 years before they can hope to discover the springs of that deep-seated split - spiritual and cultural - which culminated in the formation of Pakistan. Secondly, they make a serious mistake when they pit a so-called Hindu revivalism against a so-called Muslim revivalism, and put both of them on par as equally guilty parties for making a mess of it all. They would have to undertake a deeper probe into the intrinsic character and inherent dynamics of each ‘revivalism’, before they can hope to acquire an adequate insight into the interaction of powerful and mutually hostile historical forces.

Hindu and Muslim ‘Revivalism’

Hindu ‘revivalism’ in the 19th century was essentially a resurgence of the national spirit of a people who were native to the land, and who had suffered terribly and for a long time from successive foreign invasions. Hindu society was aspiring to reform and renew itself in the image of its ancient ideals which had endowed it with strength and stability and kept it immune from alien inroads. In the process, Hindu society had an inalienable right to pronounce its own judgments on imported ideologies which had coerced and corrupted it, as also on ‘heroes’ of the histories enacted by its inveterate enemies.

On the other hand, Muslim ‘revivalism’ was the frenzied reaction of a foreign fraternity which had finally failed to convert a majority of the native population to its own criminal creed, and which was, therefore, feeling terribly frustrated. The diehard descendants of Muslim swordsmen and sufis were now reviving dreams of an empire which their forefathers had built with so much bloodshed but which had been lost in the last round. They were calling upon their confused comrades and converted victims to revert to those medieval mores when Islam had moulded the pagan and peace-loving people of Arabia into a brotherhood of bandits. In the process, they were fast becoming the inmates of a lunatic asylum crowded with some of the most desperate characters.

The history of Arab and Turkish aggressions against India would have been no different from the history of earlier aggressions by the Greeks, the Sakas, the Kushanas, and the Hunas but for the presence of a new factor. A culturally superior and temperamentally compassionate Hindu society would have tamed these latter-day barbarians as well, and turned them into civilized members of its own household. What made the big difference and complicated matters was that the Arabs and the Turks had themselves become victims of the vicious ideology of Islam, and lost their own cultural identity before they came to this country.

The Prison-House of Islamic Theology

Islam was born as a totalitarian and terrorist cult, which it has remained ever since. Its only ‘religious’ achievement was to rationalize the lowest human passions, and stamp them with the supernatural seal of an almighty Allah. It was, therefore, inevitable for it to become an ideology of imperialism with a clean conscience. The followers of Islam thus found it easy to feel convinced that they were carrying out the commandments of Allah while they invaded other countries, indulged in mass slaughter, converted the conquered people by force, misappropriated other people’s properties, captured and sold into slavery countless men and women and children, and destroyed every vestige of culture and true spirituality. They could not but regard as legitimate rewards from Allah the loot and the slaves which they took whenever they were victorious.

But what made matters much worse, the same theology prevented the Muslims from coming to terms with reality in moments of defeat. They refused to renounce their claim to ill-gotten gains, and tended to become ever more fanatical and frantic in their efforts to recover what they were made to disgorge. The theology had laid down that Allah had mandated the whole world to the millat, and entrusted all its wealth and population to the custody of Islam. How could Allah wish otherwise? Every setback had, therefore, to be interpreted and proclaimed as due to a temporary estrangement of Allah simply because the millat had turned away from practising the pieties prescribed by the Prophet and the first four caliphs. The millat had only to return to those old mores, and Allah would restore to it whatever he had taken away in a fit of wrath. As the millat could not live without Allah, Allah also could not maintain himself without the millat. That is how the argument runs in commentary after commentary on the Quran and the Hadis. That is why the millat has alternated between a riotous living at other people’s expense, and an equally riotous return to piety.

The Piety of Islam

There are many myths afloat about the piety of early Islam, particularly among those Hindus who want to prove that Islam is as good a religion as their own. Many people get impressed by the piety exhibited and exhorted by the Mullah and the Sufi. They do not know that Islamic piety has always been an inherent function of Islamic fanaticism. The more pious a Muslim, the more dangerous he becomes for his fellow human beings. It was the piety of Islam which made its swordsmen behave as they did, both in victory and defeat. It was the piety of Islam which installed the Mullah and the Sufi at the centre of the millat, and enabled them to control its mind as well as its heart.

When the armies of Islam rode roughshod over the Hindu homeland, the swordsman of Islam was very likely to relax and retreat from callous carnage after some time. He was likely to get satiated after the first few rounds of slaughter and pillage, or feel some sympathy for fellow human beings, or balk at the destruction of beautiful temples and monasteries, or turn away from burning the sacred and secular literature of non-Muslims, or acquire respect for the spirituality and culture of a people who had behaved so differently from his own comrades-in-arms. It was the Mullah and the Sufi who would not let him relax. They threatened him with hell if he tried to turn away from the work assigned by Allah. The more heinous the crimes which a Muslim monarch or mercenary committed, the higher the place in heaven which the Mullah and the Sufi reserved for him. The greater the slaughter and rapine in which a Muslim army indulged, the more plentiful the wines and houris which were promised to the ghazis.

But the sweep of the sword of Islam could not continue for ever. The Hindus who had been caught unprepared for this sort of ‘religion’ and this sort of ‘heroism’, were not made of clay. They organized a resistance for many years, and finally mounted a counter-attack. The swordsman of Islam was a mortal man in spite of all the praises which Muslim historians and poets had heaped upon him for his invincibility. He fell back as soon as he came in contact with equally sharp or superior steel, then threw away his sword, and finally accepted defeat. It was the Mullah and the Sufi who refused to get reconciled to the new reality. They compiled some more commentaries on the Quran and the Hadis and called upon the millat to conquer India once again. This time the claim was advanced on no better a basis than the right acquired from an earlier ‘conquest’.

Ever since, the Mullah has sedulously maintained and spread the myth of a Muslim empire in India which was ‘stolen slyly’ by the ‘wily’ British. As an after-thought, he adds that Islam has a message for India and that its ‘spiritual mission’ in India is still unfulfilled. Shri Seshadri has quoted a passage from the preface to F.K. Khan Durrani’s Meaning of Pakistan which reveals the mind of the Mullah. It says: ‘There is not an inch of the soil of India which our forefathers did not once purchase with blood. We cannot be false to the blood of our forefathers. India, the whole of it, is therefore our heritage and it must be reconquered for Islam. Expansion in the spiritual sense in an inherent necessity of our faith and implies no hatred or enmity towards the Hindus. Rather the reverse. Our ultimate ideal should be the unification of India, spiritually and politically, under the banner of Islam. The final salvation of India is not otherwise possible.’4 Perversity loses all limits once the human mind passes under the spell of Islam. India is to be enslaved again for the ‘spiritual salvation’ of Hindu society!

There have been many Mullahs and Muslim scholars in India, Pakistan and the wide world of Islam who have been making similar statements, every now and then. The heroics conveyed was heralded by Shah Waliullah, soon after the Mughal empire started crumbling in the first half of the 18th century. It acquired a feverish pitch after Ahmed shah Abdali, whom Waliullah had invited to wipe out the Marathas and the Jats, also failed to save the situation. The heroes of Islam had disappeared. But the heroics had remained.

The harangues of Waliullah and company were addressed not to an advancing army but to a demoralised crowd of stragglers beating a fast retreat. The retreat would have soon become a rout if the British had not intervened at a critical juncture. The British did not steal any empire from Islam. On the contrary, they saved the residues of Islamic imperialism from being reduced to their real status vis-a-vis a resurgent Hindu society. The residues used the respite to reassemble their ranks, and get ready for another rearguard action. This is the unmistakable impression left on one’s mind by a reflective reading of Indian history during that period. The rest is only secularist make-belief relished by the Mullah and the Marxist.

The ‘Spiritual Mission’ of Islam

The ‘spiritual mission’ of Islam needs no comment. The residues of Islamic imperialism were not in search of spiritual solace which they could share with their ‘countrymen’. On the contrary, they were missing the very mundane monopolization of power and pelf which they had enjoyed earlier. This becomes quite clear as one reads the Presidential Address of Janab R.M. Sayani delivered in 1896 at the 12th Session of the Indian National Congress in Allahabad. Speaking of Muslim psychology, he had said: ‘Before the advent of the British in India, the Musalmans were the rulers of the country. The Musalmans had therefore all the advantages appertaining to it as the ruling class. The sovereigns and the chiefs were their co-religionists and so were the great landlords and great officials. The court language was their own. Every place of trust and responsibility, or carrying influence and high emoluments was by birthright theirs. The Hindus did occupy some position but the Hindus were tenants-at-will of the Musalmans. The Hindus stood in awe of them. Enjoyment and influence and all good things of the world were theirs. By a stroke of misfortune, the Musalmans had to abdicate their position and descend to the level of their Hindu fellow-countrymen. The Hindus, from a subservient state, came into land, offices and other worldly advantages of their former masters. The Musalmans would have nothing to do with anything in which they might have to come into contact with the Hindus.’5

A spectre had started haunting the residues of Islamic imperialism - the spectre of British withdrawal from India leaving the Muslims to find their natural and normal place in a nation which had regained its freedom and initiative. That explains the pathetic appeals of the Muslim League to the British rulers to divide India before they quit.

Had our national leaders understood the historical situation and had they perceived the paralysis behind the heroics, there would have been no partition, no Pakistan, and no Bangladesh. Why and how the national leaders failed to face and defeat a frustrated Islamic fraternity is a story still to be told.


  1. Hati had mourned in his most famous poem that though the invincible armada of Islam had crossed many mighty rivers and seas, it got drowned in the rivulet that was the Gañga! 

  2. The Tragic Story of Partition, p. 2. 

  3. Ibid., p. 1-2. 

  4. Quoted in Ibid., p. 250. 

  5. History and Culture of the Indian People, edited by R.C. Majumdar, Volume XI, The Struggle for Freedom, Bombay, 1981, pp. 296-97.