Sep 2, 2019
The Real History,
by Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2018
(price Rs 795)
Ali Jinnah, once described by a British author, as the “most important man in
Asia” and who went on to become the founder of Pakistan, may have perhaps never
assented to the 'Two-Nation' theory of a 'Hindu-majority' India and a
'Muslim-majority' Pakistan, had it not been for the untimely demise of his
sweetheart and beloved wife, Ruttie, the only child of the Parsi business
magnate Sir Dinshaw Petit, in 1929.
politics by moderate visionaries like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dadabhai
Naoroji, Jinnah in the formative days of his political career in the early
1900s', enjoyed a unique position even as he was struggling to firm up his Law
practice in Bombay. Jinnah was perhaps one of the few who were members of both
the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Muslim League (ML). That conferred
him a unique status as “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”.
when Jinnah, at 40, fell in love with Ruttie, it created a mini-storm. Dinshaw
rebuffed his proposal to marry his daughter, until in 1918, Ruttie, “converted to Islam and married Jinnah
according to Muslim rites.” The story goes on about how his marriage began to
“fall apart”. There were serious differences between the two - their only
daughter Dina years later also married a Parsi in Neville Wadia, who had
converted to Christianity. And in 1929, Ruttie passed away after her serious
illness. “In the same year, hope for Hindu-Muslim unit also died,” writes Ali
Mahmood in this voluminous work, 'Muslims- The Real History'.
in “agony and despair” after his wife had passed away, Jinnah then left for
London to attend the Round Table Conference and as “one of the fifty-eight
delegates of British India, he still hoped for Hindu-Muslim unity. However, at
the conference was another “famous delegate, the poet and philosopher, Mohammad
Iqbal, who openly rejected Hindu-Muslim unity and argued strongly in favour of
the partition of India,” writes the author.
a decade, Jinnah resisted the idea of partition; in political eclipse, he
decided to settle in England and give up politics in India. He bought a house
in Hampstead, in London and brought over his sister Fatima to look after Dina,
while he resumed his legal practice,” recounts Ali Mahmood in a delectable
piece of historical memory.
years spent in London seemed to be the end of Jinnah's political career. He
felt defeated, saying, 'I began to feel that neither could I help India, nor
change the Hindu mentality. I felt so disappointed and depressed that I decided
to settle down in London.' In 1933, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was to become
Pakistan's first Prime Minister after partition, came to London and persuaded
Jinnah to return.”
India, the elections held in 1937, the first after Provincial Assemblies were
created under the 1935 GOI Act, “gave an overwhelming victory to Congress.”
Jinnah's perceptions began to change. In 1940, “Jinnah finally gave up the
quest for Hindu-Muslim unity,” writes Ali Mahmood. Subsequent developments were
such that “nothing could stop the birth of Pakistan”.
after Independence and the birth of two states amid the bloody partition,
Jinnah lived for only 13 months. Liaquat, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan
was subsequently assassinated. With one casualty after another, “democracy
withered as Martial Law and rule by the generals took Pakistan within ten years
of the Quaid's death,” writes Mahmood. Subsequent decades were no better, more
so after the creation of Bangladesh.
finally, Jinnah's Islam- moderate, tolerant and supportive of women's rights-
was replaced by General Zia's Islam and the fundamentalist civil strife that
followed, leading to violent deaths of Bhutto, Zia, Benazir and many others.
Had Jinnah survived, he would have been heartbroken by the Pakistan of today
that is so far removed from his dream,” thus concludes the author his chapter
It is such
lesser-known facets and interesting aspects, lucidly told that makes Ali
Mahmood's 460-pages account on the Muslims - spanning nearly 14 centuries from
the year Muhammad, the Prophet, was born in 570 AD in Mecca to the present
times, including the “seeds of terror laid by US war in Afghanistan” and not to
ignore Donald Trump's ban “on the entry of Muslims from seven countries into
America”-, a readable book of popular history.
eclectic approach of the author Ali Mahmood, educated in UK and Pakistan, in
Politics, Economics and Law and a Pakistani politician and businessman, tries
to unravel the multiple dimensions to this historical narrative, even if it may
not be considered a strictly academic work; his work also portrays the
killings, plunder, usurpations and other ugly facets of Muslim dynasties across
eras. His broad sweeps, at places chatty, and finer details that come from the
pen of a well-informed person, reflect the chronicler's thirst for objectivity
to the extent possible. The text, comparatively less judgmental in alluding to
different religious cultures, though the narrative is also underpinned by the
'clash of civilizations', should also hopefully make social science students
less cynical of the past.
beginning, Ali indicates what impelled this work, researched for over five
years: “Today, the word 'Muslim' brings up visions of oil, petrodollars, jihad
or terrorism, and veiled women. They have become the key issues that define the
relationship of the Muslim world with the West. But, we need to look beyond the
sensational headlines and breaking news and consider who the real Muslims are -
the silent moderate majority, or the aggressive fundamentalist minority; the
suited doctors and heart surgeons, or the turbaned executioners of the Islamic
State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with their slave girls captured in war?” Despite
the polarization after 9/11 terror attack, the 'West' is also to blame, feels
Thus in a
sense, the book is revisiting the history of 'Muslims' in the light of a deluge
of developments, contemporaneously and in the recent past, say with the first
major global 'oil shock' in the early 1970s', when the Middle East began to
have a firmer grip on the 'global energy politics' and access to oil as a
resource, a key driver of industrialization and technology development post
of the subjects covered is truly vast and the author has managed to squeeze in
a lot of information and issues. Right from the days of the rise of the
Prophet, the basics that gave Islam a political tinge, more than the other
Judeo-Christian religions, the differing perceptions on 'Jihad' itself in Early
Islam and in modern times and the status of women in Islam, are well analysed.
Mahmood has a fascinating chapter on the 'The Golden Years of Islamic
Civilization', wherein under the reign of Harun al Rashid and his son Mamum, it
made great strides in the sciences, including mathematics, physics, astronomy,
medicine and architecture. And thanks to their forays into translation, the
knowledge created by the Greeks moved out of the Mediterranean.
India were two other “great centres of knowledge”, but they were separated by
both distance and language then. But Muslim conquest “removed the geographical
barriers”, while translations “removed the barriers of language.” “The century
of translation brought Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Galen, Euclid and Ptolemy
onto the library shelves in Baghdad,” writes the author. In the reverse flow centuries later, the
'Upanishads' from India went to Europe, again thanks to translation.
the 'golden era' (roughly late eighth to tenth century AD), when Cordoba-
capital of Muslim Spain and Cairo, were the home to the World's first great
universities. Knowledge began to move, thanks to the dedicated translators
under the Caliphates. A scholar like Al-Khwarizmi, a mathematician,
acknowledges that he learnt the concept of 'Zero' from Hindu mathematicians. With
trade and conquests, urbanization also moved.
capturing that trend, the author writes: “Today, the great cities of the world
are London, New York and Paris. In the golden years of Islamic Civilization,
the cities that amazed the world were Baghdad, Cordoba and Cairo. As centuries
passed, they were replaced by Agra and Delhi, home to the Moguls of India;
Isfahan, the seat of Shah Abbas; Istanbul, the capital of Ottoman; and
Samarkand, the city of Tamerlane the conqueror.”
political dynasties of Iran, the rise and fall of the Ottomans, the
inquisitions in Spain, rise of modern Egypt, last but not least, the ascent of
Saudi Arabia as a great power in the 20th century thanks to its oil wealth,
right up to the Taliban the Americans created to fight the Russians and the
challenges that Islam faces today, add to the narrative's richness.
show that religions may not give up their 'core' positions in their textual
theology, but religions also at another level change considerably, with pushes
and pulls of a modern, industrialized political economy. Ali Mahmood has done well to open our eyes to
those living signs of inclusivity.
Headline: Did early death of Jinnah’s wife dash hopes for Hindu-Muslim unity?
Source: Deccan Chronicle