By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
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.
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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
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.
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.
non-believer is not a hypocrite or infidel (kafir). It is important to know the difference.
FROM INDIAN SCHOLAR
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 : firstname.lastname@example.org
Any comment can be directed to Iftekhar.email@example.com
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
community needs definitions of key words like: 1) Islam 2) Kafir 3)
non-believer 4) Muslim.
Future of Globally
connected Muslim society will be depend on accepting 3 key principles:
Pluralism 2) Freedom of Religion and 3) Democracy
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.
Hai, President, UMA
Interfaith Alliance umaia.net
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
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
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.