Firdous Azmat Siddiqui
Who is an
Indian Muslim? It became a sizzling topic of debate on identity of Muslims
after the revolt of 1857. Some scholars suggest after 1857, indeed minoritisation
of Muslims in subcontinent found a new ground in history of India, and
thousands of books have been written on this topic both fiction and non-fiction
including, travelogue, diaries, memoirs, novels and history.
attempted to rationalise inherent religious bound to be rebel by the Muslims
and that colonial interpretation of Muslims are still a shadow for Indian
Muslims. Unfortunately, the projection of Muslims with centrality of religion
has never been questioned in the history of Muslim scholarship. After the
introduction of the Codification of Law (1861) on religious ground, it was
incumbent before the colonial authority to identify people on the basis of
religion, as a result they started identifying people, who are Muslims that
resulted in an exclusive Book on Indian Muslims with title ‘The Musalman’ by
W.W.Hunter, a civil servant of British Government. Later on it became a trend
to discuss Muslims identity with religious glance, in court proceeding too, as
in a historical judgment of Jiwan Khan v Habib, Lahore bench of the Court it
was concluded- ‘Muslim-who is- So long as the two fundamental principles of
Mohammedan religion are observed in faith by any person, he will be considered
to be a Mohammedan.’ Thus, a Muslim, any person who professes belief (shahadat)
that there is but one God and that Mohammed (PBUH) is his prophet is a
Mohammedan religion, which emphasizes the monotheistic aspects of Islam.
Muslims be referred as a monolithic block? Though all Muslims who can be
classified as ‘Muslims’ adhere to Islam and its customs, is it an adequate
basis for referring to them as collective entity or into an undifferentiated
category? Are there no differences of caste, social class or region among them
and even their physical outlook? Indeed, Islamophobia was a pampered child of
the Indian mutiny. Hence Muslim has been projected as per their imaginations
and requirement. However, three kind of approach has been very strong to gauge
foremost, the stereotyped of Muslims as a category contrast to Hindu, depicted
in Western Thought and Writings.
question that comes to mind is, ‘who is the Indian Muslim/Musalman?’ The
definition provided in colonial deliberations and census reports is: ‘one who
eats cow, who hates pork, who believes in one God and does not believe in idol
worship; whose men keep beards and wear skull-sized caps, and whose women wear
a burqa.’ The general perceptions that form the Muslim identity are that Muslim
women are veiled, as opposite to unveiled Hindu women, as Muslims always do the
opposite of what Hindus do.
‘keeping their control’ over Indian society appeared to be a big problem for
the British. It was, perhaps, necessary for them to classify the people of
India into categories for easy governance. Since Hindus and Muslims were the
two major constituents of the Indian population, it was natural for them to
distinguish the people of India as per their own requirements.
Muslim faced several problems because the British perceived all Muslims of the
world to be a monolithic category; they assumed that Indian Muslims were
similar to the Muslims whom they had come in contact with in Europe or other
Islamic countries. As a result, they started several hypotheses about Muslims.
needed to provide a moral basis to their rule, and therefore, they projected
Indian society as uncivilized and backward. Muslims, being a part of that
society, were put into same category. The British projected that their purpose
was to introduce rationality in what they assumed as inherent irrationality in
alarmed the British, making them think about how to control Indian society and
what policy should be adopted towards Muslims. This incident also was a lesson
in maintaining distance from Indians where administration was concerned.
the objective behind the Census Report (henceforth referred to as CR) was to
count the Indian people and know their statuses. As Bernard Cohn emphasises,
the history of the Indian census must be seen in the context of the British
colonial government’s efforts to collect systematic information about the many
aspects of Indian society and economy.
It seems they wanted to create a rift amongst Indians on the basis of
caste and religion. The CR constantly
expressed its great apprehension about the increasing growth rate of Muslims
over the Hindus. Was it appropriate time to alarm people about growth rate?
Although CR depicted the growth rate, it was unable to bring out the hidden
motive behind this. Illogically, they considered Muslims more fertile than
reports, condoned by the government, were heavily centralised and therefore,
its approach towards space and people was dominated by concern for
centralisation like many other reports. The CR reduced numerous variabilities
into uniformities. Thus, all Indian Muslim were treated as a part of a general
phenomenon and the several reflections on their conditions were demonstrated in
a general way. The Census made observations that were derogatory and
humiliating to Indian Muslims, However, a serious error is nevertheless noticed
in the report regarding the high population figures of Indian Muslims.
that the greatest problem before the British government was to maintain a hold
on Indian society, and for that they instituted commissions whenever problems
arose. The Gazetteer and the CR were probably compiled by the government
officials with the intention of demonstrating their moral superiority.
Nevertheless, in the process of doing so, the government necessarily undertook
a peculiar kind of exercise for system-building, which resulted in the
introduction of a kind of social engineering of Indian society. In this manner,
they classified Hindus and Muslims in two groups: those who ate cows were to be
considered Muslim and those who performed idol worship, Hindu. Although child
marriage was rare among Muslims, widow-remarriage and polygamy was considered a
common phenomenon. As such, it was
derived by numerous authors of government reports that a liberal diet and the
propensity among them for marriage resulted in making them more fertile.
certain observation of these government reports on social customs and behaviour
might have been true, one cannot overlook that there was hidden intention
behind projecting the Indian Muslims more sexually vibrant than others. It was
in this environment that a debate on the fertility and fecundity of Indian
Muslim was started in the early 20th century which is still going on that Muslim
population is going to outnumber Hindus.
generalised manner, the British began attacking the diversity found at the
provincial level. They not only divided
Indian society according to religion and caste but also provided a permanency
to the identities of people in written form through the Gazetteer and CR. In this way they reduced numerous
flexibilities found in Indian society.
problems that Indian Muslim faced arose from the British perception of Indian
Muslims. The British assumed that the Muslims spread all over the world formed
one monolithic category. They assumed that Indian Muslims were similar to those
they had come in contact with in Europe and other Arab lands. As a result they
wondered who a Musalman really was. The
British referred to Muslims as Moors on account of their language. The word
Moor was understood as pidgin which Gilchrist regarded as barbarian
gabble. Another British assumption was
that the Indian Muslims could be understood from the Holy Books and that
religious dogmas were the Muslims’ only concern.
Muslim themselves identified –
with Allama Iqbal, two famous couplets about the Muslim; it would be
interesting to see how he depicted his own people’s identity in his famous poem
‘Ek Hi Saf Me Khare Ho Gae Sab Mahmud-O Ayaaz
Na Koi Bandarahaaurna Koi Bandanawaaz.’
Mahmood and Ayaz stood together in the same
The ruler and the ruled forgot the difference
in their rank.
Banda 0 Sahib-O Muhtaj-O Ghaniek Hue,
Me Pahunche To Sabhiek Hue.
and poor, lord and slave, all were levelled down,
brethren in love, with thy grace crowned.
later on he himself changed his idea of Muslim brotherhood by acknowledging
differences across the umma. But the problem of the Indian Muslim is not what
they are, but how they have been perceived in western thought and discursive
writing that needs to be checked thoroughly. Indeed, all scholars among Muslim
elite adopted the approach of unified category of Muslim right from 19th
century to this day that approach became problematic after independence and
this was echoed by many the approach of Muslim as a distinguish category. No
wonder when Muslim is considered ‘others’ because of their peculiar identity
Third, as a
result, Muslims identity has been hot topic for academic circle since 19th
Century. Even to this day Muslims have been victim of political ideology, they
have been projected as a most peculiar creature of this country. More
interestingly, they have been projected by their outlook as depicted in popular
media, a Kurta Paijama clad Muslim wearing a skull size cap with beard, taveez
in his neck and many time Muslim men’s eyes filled with surma. There have been
increasing trend in Indian cinema where his identity has been portrayed with
many religious symbols. Furthermore, Muslim families often portrayed with many
stereotype images. Furthermore, there has been clear message of perceived high
fertility rate among Muslims, one can find this debate is fiercely going on,
even the same colonial idea they are bound to be rebel. Interestingly popular
media projected loose marriage ties among Muslims that resulted in triple talaq
kind of issue. While the fact is unlike Islamic concept of contractual marriage
Indian Muslim practice and believe in sacred bond.
if Muslims identity is being portrayed by their appearance and food habits. As
an Indian, I find myself very uncomfortable if one distinguishes me with my
dress, colour, food habits and religion. Such distinctions are illogical. I
bear multiple identities, first, an Indian, second, a woman, third, a Muslim,
and this trio makes me a perfect conglomeration of Indian Muslim Woman. I
wonder how one can identify me by looking at my physical appearance and what religion
I believe; I wear same dress, look same, and share same culture what my other
co-sisters may possess. I wear sari, with a bindi on my forehead, did I
renounce Islam. It is highly prejudice that in many places people has been
asked their name, to recite Kalma, blamed to be Jihadi just because they
happened to be student of an institution bearing Muslim’s name. The Indian
Muslims feels at crossroads and struggling for their identity. In contemporary
times, labelling them as a fundamentalist is very trendy if he/she is from a
particular University or area. It is highly unfortunate that they have been
portrayed in many stereotyped images. I wonder how one can distinguish me from
my co-sisters, while we look similar in our outlook. It seems people are fully
occupied with same colonial/western perception that needs to be given up.
Azmat Siddiqui, Associate Professor, Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies,
Jamia Millia Islamia
Headline: Demonizing Muslim Identity
Source: Eurasia Review