Books and Documents

Books and Documents (01 Feb 2016 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Deoband and Theological Anti-Pluralism: A Critique of Husain Ahmad Madani’s ‘Islam and Composite Nationalism’

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

1 February 2016

In debates about secularism and pluralism in India, Deoband had always taken the position that it was one of the first organizations to raise the banner of revolt against the British and for that purpose it advocated the coming together of Hindus and Muslims against the British This coming together with the ‘idolaters’ is trumpeted as a major theological watershed within the Deoband Ulema about co-existence, diversity and pluralism in India. The central text which gets cited as a proof of this theological turnaround is Husain Ahmad Madani’s Islam and Composite Nationalism which was published in 1938. This text was translated in English in 2005 by the Jamiat Ulema e Hind and released with great aplomb to argue that Indian Muslims, as epitomized by Deoband have always been believers in diversity and pluralism and that they respected the practice of secularism. This is not to under-estimate the importance Husain Ahmad Madani and his contribution to the national movement. He was the principal of the madrasa at Deoband as well as the president of Jamiat Ulema e Hind, an apex body of Islamic religious scholars primarily belonging to the Deoband school of Indian Islam. Madani is considered to be one of the most influential religious scholars of the subcontinent. Besides being affiliated to the madrasa at Deoband, he was also an advocate of the Ulema becoming the leaders of the Muslim community and played a key role in cementing the Congress–Khilafat pact during the 1920s. It is important to understand that the Khilafat movement set the path for what would endure as a pattern for Muslim participation in the nationalist movement. Through a series of lectures and pamphlets during the 1920s and ’30s, Madani prepared the ground for the cooperation of the Indian Ulema with the Indian National Congress. Finally, in 1938, a collection of his writings was published in Urdu as Muttahida Qaumiyat Aur Islam (Composite Nationalism and Islam) and was translated in English and re-published by the Jamiat Ulema e Hind in 2005.

However, an interrogation of Madani’s text, Islam and Composite Nationalism, reveals a different understanding of the idea of pluralism and the text at times is deeply anti-plural which does not augur well for the plural co-existence of different religious communities. In this text, Madani makes a crucial distinction between Qaum and Millat. According to Madani, Qaum connotes a territorial multi-religious entity, while Millat refers to the cultural, social and religious unity of Muslims exclusively. It is the affinity on the basis of territory (Qaum) which becomes the source of Madani’s argument that it is religiously justified for Indian Muslims to fight alongside Hindus to overthrow the common enemy, the British. Since the Muslim presence in India went back a long time, they, together with other communities, constituted one Qaum and were consequently under obligation to fight the British. This important distinction between Qaum and Millat enabled him to not only justify cooperation with the Indian National Congress, but also to reply to his critics like Muhammad Iqbal, who were arguing against the concept of territorial nationalism. As befits an Alim (singular of Ulema), Madani justified his interpretation by recourse to early Islamic history in which Prophet Muhammad had sought a covenant with the Jews of Medina in order to fight against a common enemy: the unbelievers (Kuffar) of Mecca. Drawing a parallel to the times that obtained in that original covenant of Medina, Madani argues that it is perfectly acceptable for Indian Muslims to have a ‘pact’ with Hindus to fight against the British. Hindus and Muslims, therefore, become one ‘Qaum’. However, this ‘qaumiat’ (territorial unity) does not translate into a dialectical understanding of sharing between religious and cultural traditions. Madani is well aware of the plurality of religious and cultural traditions in India when he speaks of Muslim and non-Muslim communities living side by side in India. But for Madani, this plurality is an end in itself. In fact, he seems to be very clear that this diversity should not develop into pluralism.

In order to make this transition from plurality to pluralism, Madani would have to forgo his own notion of superiority of Islam over other religions. This he is clearly unwilling to do. Islam for him is the only true religion and it is this conviction which leads him to claim that, ‘while being aware of the truth of their (other religions’) falsehood’, Islam is ready to ‘cooperate and tolerate’ them. In other words, Madani not only disqualifies and derogates other religions as being false, he is also of the view that, ultimately, Hindustan be Islamised: that the Hindu–Muslim entente (composite nationalism) is only required till the time people of this country do not become Muslims (Jab Tak Hindustan Ke Tamam Baashinde Mussalman Nahin Ho Jate). Such a notion hardly augurs well for any kind of pluralism. Far from taking an approach of mutual understanding and dialogue, Madani speaks from a position of power which derives from his own Islamic understanding of truth and falsehood. We see in the text, therefore, a clear unwillingness to allow any kind of cultural sharing, especially between the Hindus and Muslims.

Although, Madani accepts that Muslims in India already cooperate with ‘non-Muslims’ on a number of civic and non-religious issues, his plea is that this temporal cooperation should not be confused with any kind of religious co-operation. Even the ‘compositeness’ of his nationalism is not an end in itself. In his own words, this composite nationalism is ‘temporary and special’ and is only required till the ‘light of true religion (read Islam) dispels its (India’s) darkness’. Shedding further light on his ‘special’ and ‘temporary’ concept, Madani elucidates that ‘composite nationalism is needed only till such time different communities (Aqwaam, sng. Qaum) and different religions exist in a country. When the entire nation becomes Muslim (which is the prime real aim: Jo Ki Awwaleen Maksad Hai), where is the need for it?’ It is very clear, therefore, that for Madani, even diversity, (forget pluralism) holds no merit of its own, rather its advocacy is strategically needed only for such time till Islam becomes the sole hegemonic religion of India.                                                                             

Even in the interim period when Madani allows Muslims to ‘tolerate and cooperate’ with the Hindus, he makes it amply clear that the Millat is beyond compromise. The Millat is an idea which is pure and unalloyed which should not be contaminated by the touch of lesser religions such as Hinduism and Christianity. Such an understanding of Millat, apart from being orthodox, is also anti-history. Indian Islam is full of examples of sharing from other religious traditions, including Hinduism. This creative interaction has given birth to various heterodox traditions as well as numerous cultural practices which were liminal in nature. Madani, being a member of reformist tradition of Deoband, questioned many of these and collectively termed them as Bidah, and hence un-Islamic. As in any revivalist movement, an ‘authentic Islamic tradition’ was being formulated by Deoband headed by Madani, against which all indigenous Islamic traditions were to be measured. Madani’s notion of Millat comprises mainly Arabian traditions rather than Indian ones. And since this Arabian tradition can only be appreciated through the language of Arabic, only those Muslims who are well versed with this sacred language will find a place in the Millat. Therefore, his notion of Millat leaves the majority of Indian Muslims (forget the Hindus and thus the question of inter-community pluralism) outside its fold, since Arabic to them was still something to be memorized, not to be studied, understood and analyzed. Far from being something which needs to be celebrated, Madani’s Hindu–Muslim entente is devoid of any cultural sharing and mutual reflexivity. His Islam is suffused with an innate superiority complex which hardly augurs well for inter-religious understanding and dialogue. Far from taking a position on Indian pluralism, the text is itself, in its claims of defining Islamic superiority, antithetical to pluralism within Indian Muslims.

A New Age Islam Columnist, Ali Raihan is a Delhi base writer.

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/arshad-alam,-new-age-islam/deoband-and-theological-anti-pluralism--a-critique-of-husain-ahmad-madani’s-‘islam-and-composite-nationalism’/d/106179

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  • To Author: With this article it seems like God himself was doing Kufar by hiding this revelation.

    Not only Kufar but he sent lots of messenger with same truth but people was always have different understanding according to their civic and scientific age. This means he is playing double game with humans.

    By Aayina - 3/3/2016 3:28:40 AM

  • American Muslims have defined Kafirs as follows: 

    Kafir or Infidels: 

    The word Kafir is derived from the Arabic root word KFR, (Kaf, Fay and Ray) which means to cover, conceal or hide. What is more important is the intentional misleading, deceiving or suppressing the truth.  Meddling with the Holy Scriptures where intentionally truth is either, concealed, changed, omitted, misinterpreted so that people either begin to doubt or lose complete faith in God, His Signs and His Revelations – this can come in the area of infidelity (being unfaithful to your Creator) or Kufr. 

    Character assassinations of Biblical and Quranic Prophets, done intentionally to undermine the faith or trust/believe in God, His Signs and Revelations can also be classified, as Kufr and people committing such acts are called Kafirs or infidels. 

    One cannot call a believer in God from other faiths as Kafir if they do not believe in Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as Messenger of God and the Quran as final revelation. 

    In modern language, you can say, it has to be intentional dishonesty, deception and misinformation.  Just like a more sophisticated, premeditated perjury is deep rooted in intentional misleading or deceiving people which can lead to criminal actions so also we have to consider the extent of intentional deception or perjury in explaining Kafir or Kufr.

    Infidel does not really represent the true meaning of the word Kafir. The dictionary merely says an infidel is one who does not belief in any religion, like Christianity and Islam.

    Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs who comprise of 50% of the world’s population cannot all be classified as non-believers or as KAFIRS.  There are billions of them who belief in God, the Last Day and Life after Death and in doing righteous deeds.

    They have also been shown the art of surrender, submission or devotion (which in Arabic is called Islam).   The Quran says, “To every people we send an Apostle in their own language and in their own country to clarify God’s message in Quran 14:4, 10:47 &16:36. 

    Muslims are commanded to believe in the revelations that have come to them (The Quran) and the revelations that came before their times (Torah, Psalms and Gospels, Buddhists and Hindu scriptures) in Quran 2:4.  

    Hence believers in One God from other faiths cannot be lumped or stereotyped as non-believers. No one has the authority to judge others.  Hence they cannot be called KAFIRS/Infidels because they also have been shown the art of surrender, submission or devotion which is the true meaning of the word Islam. 

    The Quran uses Kafir in reference to the pagan Arabs who had unleashed war on Prophet Mohammed and early Muslims.  All the verses on war must be taken in reference to the pagan and idolatrous Arabs.  Muslims look towards war in the Quran to stop tyranny and oppression of the pagan Quresh tribe.  The other side of war was to establish freedom, liberty, women rights and a better law abiding society.

    Christians and Jews who lived during the times of Prophet Mohammed were never defined as Kafirs or infidels.  They are called as, “People of the Book” throughout the Quran.  Prophet Mohammed included them as part of Medina Constitution where their places of worshipped were protected and respected.  This is a very important observation that we all should know.

    Hence believers in One God from other faiths cannot be lumped or stereotyped as non-believers. No one has the authority to judge others.  Hence they cannot be called KAFIRS because they also have been shown the art of surrender, submission or devotion which is the true meaning of the word Islam. 

    Non-Believer:  Non-believers are those who do not believe in God.  There could be numerous reasons, conditions, situations or factors for their lack of faith in God.  There are Americans who are not taught religion at home or public schools hence they become secular in their outlook.  They also grow with no negative baggage as far as religion is concerned.  Their conscience is clear.  They have a sense of equality and justice which is a God-given quality of being just and fair in outlook.

    Sometimes a believer passes from a believing state to a non-believing state and there could be many reasons for that too which can be discussed later.

    A non-believer is not a hypocrite or infidel (kafir).  It is important to know the difference.



    Dear Iftekhar Hai sahib:


      Thanks for e-mail and the crucial definitions of words like Islam, kufr/kafir, believer, non-believer etc. I quite agree with these definitions. I would like to add to the definition of Islam.


      Islam also means to establish peace and a Muslim is one who devotes himself to the cause of peace in the world and that would mean devoting oneself to the cause of justice and equality and human dignity as there cannot be peace without justice, equality and upholding human dignity. Islam is final religion only in this sense that one must subscribe and surrender to these values of equality of all human beings, human dignity and freedom of religion.


      Also, anyone who upholds truth, though its manifestation may differ from one cultural context to other, cannot be dubbed as kafir even if he/she does not subscribe formally to Islam.


      Rest is okay, With regards

      Asghar Ali Engineer
      Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
      9B, Himalaya Apts., 1st Floor, 6th Road, TPS III, Opp. Dena Bank,
      Santacruz (E), Mumbai - 400 055,
      Phone: 26149668, 56987135 (Off) 26630086 (R)
      Fax No.: 091-022-26100712
      E-mail : csss@vsnl.com

    1. Any comment can be directed to Iftekhar.hai@gmail.com


    By Iftekhar Hai - 2/25/2016 1:51:34 PM

  • Today what we are discussing could never have happened 1000 years ago or even 100 years ago.  Why, different political and religious changes have dominated Muslim societies from century to century.  Each century Muslims faced different conditions religiously and politically and they defined and interpreted Quran in that context.  The meaning of words like Kafir, Muslim, non-believer and Islam was defined according to the political and existential threat that Muslim ummah faced at that time.

    Right now we are locked in a global society where internet has made possible for everyone to share their views from any country in the world.  In addition to that whatever we write here, I am well aware comes under international scrutiny from Muslims, non-Muslims and also from intelligence agencies.  Huge population of Muslims are living under the non-Muslim Constitution where Freedom of Religion is guaranteed for all its citizens regardless of religious or ethnic affiliations. 

    American Muslim community needs definitions of key words like: 1) Islam  2) Kafir 3) non-believer 4) Muslim.

    So far none of the Islamic sects (50 most prominent ones) have agreed on how to define the above 4 words.  THIS IS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM.  Muslims do not have central authority to refer questions of religious nature and we are left individually to interpret the definitions and The Quran.  MUSLIM LEADERS OF VARIOUS RELIGIOUS SECT WILL NEVER UNITE. 

    Hence we American Muslims from all Muslim countries and Hindustan sub-continent have jointly and individually taken the responsibility of defining these key 4 words so that the Quran can be interpreted in the 21st century.  Please refer to the following link:


    Future of Globally connected Muslim society will be depend on accepting 3 key principles:

    1. Pluralism  2) Freedom of Religion and 3) Democracy

       In a nutshell, Islam means total surrender and submission to Our Creator.  Every human from any religious is gifted by God with that wisdom.  Muslims must stretch the mean of the word Islam to the four corners of the world.  Every creation of God is subjected to the laws of surrender which is Islam.

       Iftekhar Hai, President, UMA Interfaith Alliance umaia.net

    By Iftekhar Hai - 2/2/2016 2:50:20 PM

  • To put Syed Husain Ahmad Madani's contribution in perspective, one must keep in mind the times in which he lived and what his contemporary’s views were. His life covered the period 6 October 1879 - 1957.

     He must be given credit for articulating the concept of Qaum and rejecting the idea of partition at the crucial point in history when his contemporary Raza Ahmad Khan Barelvi is credited by his followers for being the first person to suggest the idea of partition. It is to the credit of the Deobandis in India, that to this day, they continue to remain nationalists, and believe in the concept of Quam or of people of different faiths living together peacefully and as equals.

     Contrast that with the idea of partition, which is based on the concept that Muslims cannot accept the numerical and therefore political superiority of non-Muslims in a democracy. This is what caused the partition of the country into a Muslim Pakistan and a Secular India. The same logic worked once again and caused the splitting of Pakistan into a Bengali Bangla Desh and non-Bengali Pakistan because the political domination of the numerically superior Bengalis in a democracy was unacceptable to the non-Bengalis in (West) Pakistan. The two parts survived as a single country as long as there was no democracy and split after the elections which gave Mujibur Rehman's party the majority. Pakistan may split further with Baluchistan separating. Pakistan split only because they do not buy the concept of Qaum. The Sufi Kashmir valley is also plagued with the same disease of not believing in the concept of Qaum.

     The Deobandis faced intense criticism from Raza Ahmad Khan Barelvi (1856-1921) and were accused of working too closely with the Hindus and under the leadership of Gandhi while Raza Ahmad Khan even refused to meet Gandhi as he was a “Hindu Leader”.  He also denounced as kuffar, the Deobandi leaders Ashraf Ali Thanwi, Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, and Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi.  Madani escaped being declared an apostate only because he was a young student and not a prominent leader at that time. However, the Deobandis with their numerical inferiority were always under intense pressure of being made to look like apostates if they jelled too closely with the Hindus. It is in this light that one must view Madani’s concern to distinguish between Quam and Millat so that his idea of Quam was not seen as a total sell out inviting the wrath of the bigots.

     As far as the superiority of Islam is concerned, this is a view shared by every sect and most Muslims believe that the second coming of the Christ will herald an era in which Islam will reign supreme and all forces of “untruth” will be defeated. This belief is surprisingly held although there is no verse in the Quran that supports it and no hadith in Bukhari’s compilations either.  So although the idea appears to be bunkum, singling out Madani for it is uncalled for. On the practical side, the Tablighi Jamat is seen to be the proselytizing wing of the Deobandis and they do not proselytize among non-Muslims anywhere in the world and confine their  efforts to the Muslims alone while the Dawat-e-Islami which is the Barelvi jamat for Tabligh indulges in highly publicized conversions.

     Rejecting the idea of Quam has made Pakistan what it is today, where even the different sects of Islam are unable to live together in peace. Pakistan has struggled to define itself. It is unable to take the path of secularism and democracy because that would make it a poor imitation of India and defeat the very idea that created it. It has struggled to define even what Islam is and what Muslim means and therefore what an Islamic Pakistan means and ended up becoming the only “Islamic” country to have declared the Ahmadiya’s as “non-Muslim” minority. If they only had the concept of Qaum, they would have taken the path of democracy and secularism and not bothered with sectarianism or rather the country would never have split.

     It is this lack of the concept of Qaum and of yielding to the Takfiris (every sect is Takfiri including the Ahmediya and Shia) that will cause the complete disintegration of Pakistan sometime in the near future Inshallah.

     Seen in this light, Madani was a visionary and so also the leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Muhammad Ali Johar etc who worked for the independence of the country and subscribed to the idea of Qaum.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 2/2/2016 1:47:16 AM

  • The simple test of whether a Muslim stands for pluralism or not is whether he considers non-Muslims as Kafir by definition. If he does, then he negates all other faiths as not only false but antithetical to Islam since "kufr is the opposite of iman and kafir is the opposite of Muslim" according to them.
    I have found only one scholar who agrees  that the term "Kafir" cannot be applied to anyone based on the religion he follows. This person is Shehzad Saleem an associate of Javed Ghamidi. 
    All others, more or less fall in the same category as Hussain Ahmad Madani. 
    The Quran, very clearly does not use the term "kafir" for the followers of any religion.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 2/1/2016 12:59:11 AM

  • It is unfortunate that Islamic superiority and exclusivity still  emanate from the Deoband seminary which has been the spawning ground of Talibanism and other forms of jihadism in the subcontinent.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 2/1/2016 12:54:27 AM

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