By Yasser Latif Hamdani
The real battle is not between Islamic and secular forces whoever or whatever they may be, depending on who you ask. The battle now is of ideas
Maulana Fazlur Rehman has taken umbrage at the Election Commission’s code of conduct in so far as it bans the use of religion for election purposes. The good Maulana says that this is against the ideology of Pakistan. It is not clear if Maulana fully appreciates the irony of his statement given his own history and his party’s repeated denunciations of the Pakistan Movement as the work of the British.
Let us recap. What we have in the form of Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is the ideological successor to the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind. It is not, as some assert, a successor to Shabbir Ahmed Usmani’s breakway Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam (JUI) that had endorsed the Pakistan Movement in the closing stages of the Raj. Rehman’s father Maulana Mufti Mahmood was a stalwart of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, who opposed the partition till the very end. In 1971, after the fall of Dacca, Mahmood famously said about Pakistan: “Thank God we were not part of the making of this sin.” As for the party, Mahmood’s Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind faction, left behind in Pakistan, merged with Usmani’s JUI in 1948, and then took it over in 1956. The JUI-F has on numerous occasions declared that the founding fathers, in particular Jinnah, were British agents. Rehman in his time as the opposition leader in the National Assembly from 2002 to 2007 made it a point to remove the father of the nation’s portrait from his office.
There are two things that one can conclude from this. Either Islam is to be conflated with the ideology of Pakistan, in which case Rehman is against Islam as was his father. Or the ideology of Pakistan whatever it is has nothing to do with Islam. Either way the good Maulana has to explain what his stance on Pakistan is.
This leads to the question why the orthodox divines of the Deoband supported the supposedly secular Indian nationalist Congress Party instead of the Muslim League, especially since now Rehman believes that the ideology of Pakistan is the same as Islam. To answer this question we have to expand our horizons and delve into the history of Muslim politics upon the advent of colonial rule. There were two main responses to British rule amongst Muslims. First was the rejectionist view taken by the seminary at Deoband. They rejected modern education and British rule altogether. The second response was what developed out of Aligarh: the Muslim modernist view. The Muslim modernists believed that the way forward for the Muslims of India was to embrace colonial rule, educate themselves and bring themselves at par with the Hindus, especially in vying for a piece of the economic pie, jobs and sovereignty. Therefore the Muslim League and the ideology of Muslim nationalism developed out of the modernist school of thought and not the religious one.
Meanwhile, the secular Congress Party, which had in its ranks men like Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the time, took a decidedly cultural turn under Mahatma Gandhi, who emphasised the ancient identity of India, religious values and ethos of the common man, and who by his insistence on bringing religion into politics made religious identities non-negotiable. Not content with the havoc the Mahatma unleashed upon the Hindus, he went about co-opting Muslim mullahs through the Khilafat Movement as well against the advice of both Hindu leaders like C R Das and Muslim leaders like Jinnah. Gandhi encouraged Muslims from the Deoband and their newly formed Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind to come full-fledged into politics. The ulema were fiery anti-colonialists but were pliable when it came to issues of economics and politics. After all, the ulema, content to be shepherds of their flock, did not need jobs or were not going to compete with the Hindu bourgeoisie for economic opportunities. As one Congress stalwart noted in retrospect, Gandhi unleashed orthodoxy on the Muslims of India and it was this attitude “that rebuffed rationalist leaders like Jinnah” and alienated the Muslim League from the Congress.
It did more than that. It convinced the nascent Muslim bourgeoisie that in order to survive they would have to organise politically as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had advised them long ago. The Congress under Nehru exacerbated things in the UP in 1937 when it tried to play Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Majlis-e-Ahrar against the Muslim League. The Muslim bourgeoisie and the salariat came to view — quite accurately — the Muslim religious orthodoxy as hand in glove with the Hindu bourgeoisie, which it saw as a threat to the economic interests of the Muslim community as a whole. The rest as they say is history, but that is of course until the Maulana came up with his spurious argument that barring religion from electioneering is in contravention of the ideology of Pakistan. The reason why the good Maulana’s antecedents opposed the Muslim League, and especially Jinnah, was on several counts. First of all they believed that the League had too many Shias, too many Ismailis, too many Ahmedis in its fold to be an Islamic organisation. Second they felt, again quite rightly, that the classes that were leading the League were in it for economic and political gains and not religious ones. Third, the nationalist ulema believed that given a chance, the Muslims could re-establish Islamic rule over all of India. Finally, they believed that Pakistan if it came into being would ultimately be a ‘kafir’ (infidel) government of Muslims. Therefore, they endorsed what was ostensibly secular composite Indian nationalism and rejected the prima facie confessional nationalism of the League, despite the attendant contradiction.
Consequently, it makes no sense when the Maulana declares that the coming elections will be a battle between secular forces and religious forces. After all, his father had endorsed what — if we accept Maulana’s recent exposition of the ideology of Pakistan in toto — was secular composite Indian nationalism. Meanwhile, he and his party are on record as denouncing the creation of Pakistan as a British plot to divide the Muslims and deprive them of the opportunity to establish Islamic rule over all of India.
If the battle is between secular, i.e. mainstream politicians versus those who sell religion for a living that battle has been won repeatedly. It was won in 1946, when the Muslim League routed the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, Majlis-e-Ahrar and other Islamist allies of the Congress. It was won when the Awami League and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) defeated all the religious parties in united Pakistan in 1970. It was won again in 1977, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2008. It will be won yet again when the non-religious and mainstream parties PPP, PML-N, PTI, MQM and ANP rout the religious parties yet again on May 11, 2013.
The real battle is not between Islamic and secular forces whoever or whatever they may be, depending on who you ask. The battle now is of ideas. Do we want Pakistan to become a sectarian dystopia or do we want it to exist as a normal democratic state? It does not matter if you are religious or non-religious; the real question is whether we are prepared to do what is right for Pakistan.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality.