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Islam and Politics ( 4 May 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslim League’s use of the Ulema




By Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

May 05, 2015

In the exchange of views on Venkat Dhulipala’s book, Creating a New Medina, Mr Yasser Latif Hamdani ends his article ‘The Congress’ use of the Ulema’ (Daily Times, April 27, 2015) with the following remark: “Both parties used the Islam card but I leave it to the readers to judge whose use was more pernicious and harmful. Even today many remnants of the Congress backed clergy continue to plague both Pakistan and India when it comes to progress on common sense issues.”

This is a welcome decision of his because one can address substantive matters. Without any hesitation, I would say that the creation of Pakistan furnished the Ulema with the opportunity to realise their political project of creating an Islamic state whereas in India the Hindutva forces have not been able to subvert the secular-democratic state the Indian Constitution prescribed and the very able leadership of the prime minister consolidated and institutionalised.

In my article ‘The Ulema in pre-partition electoral politics’ (Daily Times, April 21, 2015) I argued that munazaras (doctrinal polemics) between different Muslim sects and sub-sects invariably end up damning each other. Hussain Ahmed Madani was responding in that vein when he derived that Jinnah was a Shia and the Muslim League had Qadianis among its members. In the famous polemics on nationalism between Allama Iqbal and Madani, Iqbal took the stand that, for a Muslim, membership of a nation is determined exclusively by his faith and not wataniyat (love of homeland). He debunked Madani’s credentials as a scholar of Islam and Arabic. Even more interestingly he denounced Madani’s wataniyat or theory of territorial nationalism as dangerous and subversive as the Qadianis belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet, which undermines the cardinal Muslim belief in Khatam-e-Nabuwat (doctrine of the finality of the Prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH)). In an exchange of letters with Nehru, Iqbal vehemently rejected that Qadianis could be included in the Muslim ummah insisting that it would subvert the organic unity of Muslims based on the unquestioning belief in Khatam-e-Nabuwat.

Now, Iqbal was a leading light of the Muslim League and the one who is reputed to have originally given the idea of a separate Muslim state. Is it any wonder that Madani was framing his argument in the typical munazara tradition and critiquing the Muslim League for being a party of suspect Muslims? From at least the time of Shah Waliullah, followed by the jihad led by Syed Ahmed Shaheed Barelvi in the early 19th century, down to the founding of Deoband in 1867 and then into contemporary times, Deobandis, Barelvis, Ahle Hadith, Shias and so on have without let or hindrance denounced each other’s beliefs and the crescendo of such polemics has invariably meant demonising one another as kafirs (unbelievers).

With regard to Punjab, ever since Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (who died in 1908) declared that he received revelations from God and was a prophet, the munazaras have only become shriller and fiercer. In 1912, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad declared that all Muslims who had not entered the fold of Ahmediyyat were outside the pale of Islam. The Munir Report mentions this.

And if we remember, from March 22, 1940, when Jinnah delivered his presidential address in Lahore till his speech on August 11, 1947, he over and over again connected the creation of Pakistan to the prerequisite of religious faith. He overruled that Hindus and Muslims could be members of the same nation or both could live peacefully in one state. He warned that Islam would be in danger in a united India and that the foundations of Pakistan were laid as soon as Islam arrived in the Indian subcontinent. Then, there are statements about sharia being the source of law in Pakistan. Finally, the 1945-1946 election campaign in the Muslim majority northwestern zone of the subcontinent was incontrovertibly laced with Islamic values and jargon.

With such overwhelming invocation of Islam as the foundational principle of Muslim nationalism is it any wonder that his August 11, 1947 speech was considered an aberration by his followers? By adopting the Objectives Resolution of March 7, 1949 as the foundational document for the Constitution of Pakistan they sought to establish consistency between the principle of justification of the Muslim state and the mobilising ideology of mass support with the principles on which its government and nation-building would proceed. Iqbal, the dreamer of Pakistan, had already expelled Ahmedis from the Muslim ummah. Could such a state set aside with ease the question of belief (confessionalism) for inclusion in the Muslim nation? Events of the last 67 years show conclusively that it could not.

From the time of Plato we know that words, ideas and ideologies establish relationships, which require mutual adherence and trust, and even if leaders have the advantage they by no means can violate the terms on which such a relationship is based. Considering that the state of Medina has always been the ideal model for Muslims, it is only natural that such a state upholds the sovereignty of God as announced by the Objectives Resolution. No denying that Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was supported in the debate in the Constituent Assembly by such strange bedfellows as Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan and Mian Iftikharuddin. Amongst themselves they were severely divided theologically and ideologically and this soon burst out in the open.

Had not Sir Zafarullah already shocked the nation by refusing to take part in the funeral prayers of the founder of Pakistan, a standard practice of all Ahmedis because non-Ahmedis are not proper Muslims according to their beliefs? Then, of course, we must remember that the anti-Ahmedi agitation of 1953 in Punjab broke out only after the Ahmedi leadership, including Zafarullah had made extremely provocative speeches in favour of the spreading of Ahmediyyat. On the other hand, not only the Ahrars, Jamaat-e-Islami, Deobandis, Ahle Hadith Barelvis and Shia ulema joined ranks against the Ahmedis but according to the Munir Report the Punjab Muslim League was also party to the 1953 agitation. Do I need to remind the readers that the Ahmedis were declared non-Muslims by the elected members of the National Assembly of Pakistan in 1974 and not just a handful of ulema? Such politics and constitutional and legal developments are bound to prevail in a state based on confessional nationalism.

So, it should not be difficult for readers to conclude that the Muslim League’s use of the ulema has been pernicious and harmful if one believes that a secular-democratic state based on inclusive criteria, primarily bona fide residence in the same homeland, was the best way to state-founding and nation-building. On the other hand, the creation of Pakistan on the basis of Muslim nationalism has proved to be the victory of those people who believe that an Islamic state based on a clear distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims, and upholding sharia as the supreme law of the land is the only legitimate basis of state founding and nation-building.

From Venkat Dhulipala we learn that the idea of a new Medina appeared in Muslim League politics first in north India. Viceroy Linlithgow’s office, however, elevated it to a strategy of British colonial policy. In 1940, the British used it merely as a pressure tactic to checkmate the Congress’s ambitions. It was too early for it to be a major policy objective at that stage.

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed is a visiting professor, LUMS, Pakistan, professor emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, and honorary senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Winner of the Best Non-Fiction Book award at the Karachi Literature Festival: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford, 2012; and Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. He can be reached at: