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JAMI'AT-UL-ULAMA-I-HIND - Basically a movement for religious nationalism.

Paper No. 586                                          17/01/2003

by R.Upadhyay

The word Ulama is the plural of Arabic word alim, which denotes scholar of Islamic doctrines exclusively in the context of Sunni sect of Muslims. However, the emergence of these scholars of Islamic scriptures as force for power struggle in India dates back to the letter written by Shah Wali Ullah (1703-1762) of Delhi in 1760 to Ahmad Shah Abdali for resuscitating classical Islam and to resurrect the political authority of Muslims in India.  Defeat of Marathas by Ahmad Shah remained a source of inspiration for the Ulama, in carrying forward the legacy of Wahhabi school of Islamic activism initiated by Wali-Ullah in India. Due to their involvement in power struggle during Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 some of the Ulama were even arrested by the British. 

With the decline of Moghal empire in India and failure of Sepoy mutiny, prominent followers of Shah Wali-Ullah like Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi (1833-77) and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi set up an Islamic madrasa at Deoband on May 30,1866 to promote Wahabism, a radical Islamist movement in Indian sub-continent.  It gradually developed as a centre of higher Islamic learning and assumed the present name of Dar-ul-Ulum in 1879. 

Over the years, Deoband became synonymous to Dar-ul-Ulum (Abode of Islamic learning) and became the chief producer of Ulama in India.  Contributions of Indian Ulama in promotion of Islam are rated so high all over the Muslim world that the author of Tadj al-ma'athir called them 'a gem in the ring of shariat' (Encyclopaedia of Islam).  Thus with a lead taken by Deoband and initiative  of Maulana Abd al Bari of the Farangi Mahall the first formal organisation of Ulama known as Jami'at-ul-Ulama-I-Hind (JUH) was founded at Lucknow in March 1919 with an objective "to guide the followers of Islam in political and non-political matters from religious point of view". Maulana Abu'l Kalam Azad, Maulana Abd'al  Majid Bada''uni, Maulana Daud Ghaznavi, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, and Maulana Hafizal Rahman (Partners in Freedom -and True Muslims by Peter Hardy, page 31), Maulana Kifaytullah, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Maulana Mahmud Hasan, Maulana Saayyid Hussain Madani and several other contemporary Ulama were among its other leaders. 

In the backdrop of the political situation in the first two decades of twentieth century JUH was formed as an association of Ulama under the ideological inspiration of Dar-ul-Ulum) of Deoband.  Institutionalising the legacy of Shah Waliullah, Dar-ul-Ulum of Deoband maintained its influence in the activities of JUH and never allowed it to accept the concept of Indian nationalism. This Deoband school of Islam is also the ideological mentor of Taliban and is therefore a radical Islamist institution, which has been producing hundreds of Ulama and fundamentalist scholars of Islam ever since its inception.  Thus, if anyone thinks that JUH was a nationalist organisation during freedom struggle, it is nothing but a myth. In the background of their medieval concept of unchangeable Shariat, the Ulama of JUH viewed the term Indian nationalism synonymous to Hinduism.  For all practical purposes, the Pan-Islamism of Maulana Mohammad Ali, Islamic nationalism of Iqbal, two-nation theory of Jinnah and Shariatisation call given by Ulama of JUH have had a common focus on the movement for Muslim separatism. 

By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, when Aligarh movement posed a challenge to Islamic conservatism, the contemporary Ulama became conscious of their Islamic duties. Formation of Muslim League in 1906 and creation of separate electorates to Muslims in 1909 emboldened them to join the political activities in British India to guide their community.  Besides, the Ulama  disgusted with the decline in their materialistic patronage from power got involved with the freedom movement for the resurgence of Islam. 

At the end of the First World War, the Islamic zealots in India, who were opposed to modern education for Muslims under Aligarh Movement of Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan, a British-loyal Muslim leader  - were apprehensive of danger to Islam under British imperialism..  In the wake of Khilafat movement they came together under the banner of JUH and joined hands with Indian National Congress against the British to protect their religion. They had no intention to establish a secular and democratic polity in India. It was in fact a tactical move dictated by the needs and compulsions of the situation and their intellectual opportunism to join hands with the nationalist forces and fight against the 'un-Islamic rule of the British. For them preservation of the Islamic temporal status of Khilafat, then held by Ottoman Sultan of Turkey, which was under threat of British colonial expansionism was the top priority.  Their main thrust was against the "religious animosity towards Islam in uprooting the Caliph of Muslims (Ulama in Politics by Istiaq Hussain Qureshi - 1972, page 268)" by the British. They took advantage of the pro-Muslim gesture shown by Mahatma Gandhi for launching Khilafat /Non-co-operation Movement against British Government and mobilised the entire Muslim community in Indian sub-continent to join it.

The aims and objects of JUH are laid down in its 10-point programme adopted in 1919, the year of its formation and amended in 1939, are as under:

* To guide the followers of Islam in political and non-political matters from a religious point of view;

* To defend on Sharat grounds, Islam, centres of Islam (holy places of Islam and the seat of Khilafat), Islamic rituals and customs, and Islamic nationalism against all odds injurious to them; 

* To establish and protect the general religious and national rights of Muslims;

* To organise the Ulama on a common platform;

* To organise the Muslim community and to launch a programme for its moral and social reform;

* To establish good and friendly relations with the non-Muslims of the country to the extent permitted by the Shariat-I-Islamiyah;

* To fight for the freedom of the country and religion according to the Shariat objectives;

* To establish Shariat courts to meet the religious need of the community;

* To propagate Islam in India by way of missionary activities in India and foreign land

* To maintain and strengthen the bond of unity and fraternal relations (as ordained by Islam) with Muslims of other countries. 

Participation of large number of Muslims in Khilafat movement in association with Congress was the beginning of organised participation of Ulama in Indian political movement. The Hindu-Muslim unity as seen during Khilafat /Non-co-operation movement was unique in Indian history.  However, this unity did not last long as it hardly had any long-term social perspective.  "The Hindu-Muslim unity as manifested in the anti-British movement was devoid of anything positive.  The whole attitude of both the Hindus and Muslims was negative - an anti-Britishness, which had two divergent frames of reference, Islamism and Indianissm" (Deoband School and Demand for Pakistan by Ziya-ul-Hasan Farngi -1963, page67).  "In fact the whole programme of JUH had to revolve around a single pivot, that is the shariat, which was unchangeable"(ibid.). 

Since the Khilafat movement was based on negative perspective, its failure had a demoralising affect on JUH leaders due to which they could not establish themselves as real voice of Muslim mass against the Muslim League.  Gradually, intra-rivalry among the Ulama became so deep that a breakaway group even formed a parallel JUH Kanpur with Maulana Mohammad Ali as its president. Notwithstanding the failure of Khilafat movement and collapse of Ottoman Empire of Turkey in 1924, which sent a shocking wave to Ulama, the JUH marched along its ambitious political course, which was not identical with Indian National Congress' unitary democratic polity.  

Liberation of India from 'un-Islamic' British rule was though one of the agenda of the JUH, it was never intended to liberate the Muslim mass from their radical religious bondage and allow them to develop secular, democratic and scientific outlook to compete in the modern world. 

A close look of its aims and objects shows that the JUH had projected its vision of a 'Shariatised' state within Indian State. Its above-discussed programmes show that Islamism was the only concern of the Ulama and they had hardly anything to do with Indianism.  Its leaders generated hatred against the un-Islamic government of British, which worked as a negative doctrine of Islam even against the secular and democratic polity in post-colonial India.

The JUH Ulama even spelt out their design for Indian constitution to safeguard a separate Muslim polity in Independent India.  In 1931, they formulated a fourteen-point constitutional plan, which they continued to focus till 1947, when India achieved Independence.  Their political objective for free India was to be an India of largely self-governing communities.

 JUH was though, formed as an umbrella organisation of Ulama of diverse persuasions, after the failure of Khilafat movement, it completely came under the hegemony of Deoband.  

Except a couple of Muslim intellectuals like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr. M.A.Ansari and Dr. Zakir Hussain, who tried to compromise with the ground reality, most of the JUH leaders viewed the Indian National Congress as an organisation designed to advance the exclusive interest of Hindus.  They also shared the apprehension of Sir Saiyyad Ahmad Khan that the Congress was striving to establish Hindu rule in India. They considered the support to freedom movement unconditionally as surrender to Hindu-dominated Congress.  Maulana Mahmud Hasan , who presided over Delhi session of JUH in 1920 did not believe in such unconditional surrender.  Maulavi Kifayatullah of Madrasa-i-Aminia in Delhi, who was the President of JUH after death of Hasan had strongly supported the view that for Ulama politics cannot be separated from religion.  Maulana Abul Muslim Mohammad Sajjad, Nizam(Secretary) of JUH "suggested to Abul Bari that the Ulama should take the reins of politics in their own hands and cross their voices with those in authority in order to establish their religious supremacy and fulfil their higher aim of protecting Islam from western imperialism"( Nationalism and Common Politics in India by Mushirul Hasan, page160).  

According to Peter Hardy, the Ulama in JUH viewed the future of free India a confederation of two religious and political communities, the Muslim and the Hindu.  The JUH expected the Muslim community in Independent India to be headed by its appointee Amir-i-Hind, he was to be the deputy of Caliph and it was mandatory for the Muslims in Independent India to obey him.  Amir-i-Hind was to deal with the leaders of non-Muslims in India as equal partner of a Muslim imperium  in India.  The Ulema in JUH felt that " in short run at least a large area of temporal life, the non-Muslim could not be brought under the prescription of Shariat by coercion. But they held to the conviction that if they could win freedom to guide the life of Muslims under Shariat, then that life would so shine forth among them that they could freely choose to come to Islam.  This was the ultimate wisdom for the Ulama under JUH of British India"(ibid,page 35). Thus, we find that JUH hardly had a nationalist vision for a unitary democratic state in India.  Its ten-point programme suggests that the JUH wanted the Muslim community to live in partnership with the non-Muslims without any compromise to Sharat in any affair. This shows that they equally steered political separatism of the community like other radical Islamists. 

The myth of 'nationalist Ulama, as they are often called was only due to their cooperation extended to Congress for freeing India from the British.  They tried to keep themselves separated from Muslim League led by Jinnah, whom they viewed as Muslims supporting modernity.  They however, never made any assertive campaign to convince the Muslim mass against the two-nation theory propounded by Jinnah. Their opposition to partition was to keep the Muslim population of this sub-continent intact as an effective minority. 

JUH, which was opposed to the demand of Muslim league for partition of India, was generally viewed as an organisation of Muslim nationalists.  But nationalism of JUH leaders had hardly the ingredient of Indian nationalism for strengthening the Hindu-Muslim relationship.  In fact, they never made any assertive effort to define the role of Islam for relationship of Muslims with the Hindu-majority of India.  In the absence of this fair play, their political Islam generated a negative doctrine of Hindutva against the Muslims.  Their unassertive effort to convince the Muslim mass against the partition demand of Jinnah damaged the inherent secular fiber of Hindutva and thereby eliminated the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore, Aurbindo and Vivekanand from the psyche of Hindus. 

Like other radical Islamists, the JUH leaders also regarded British imperial power as greatest enemy of Islam but they always remained unambiguous about the secular and democratic polity in India.  Their opposition to partition was due to reservation against the British, which inspired the Muslim League on this issue.  At the same time JUH leaders had an apprehension that the Muslims, who will be left behind in India after partition would become smaller in strength and a less effective minority.  Besides, Deobandis also apprehended that partition of the country might hamper the propagation of Islam in India due to communally surcharged political environment. 

Abul Kalam Azad, a widely known nationalist Muslim leader was a strong opponent of Aligarh movement.  His main objective was to create religious and political awakening among Indian Muslims against the British. Though, he was not the product of  Deoband, "the Quran for him was the sole guide for Muslims, and every branch of knowledge (including politics)" (Muslim Nationhood in India by Safia Amir, page 149). Born of Arabian mother and Indian father at Mecca, he was a brilliant scholar of Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages. A strong proponent of Arab tradition, he was also a staunch supporter of the "imperial Arabic version of Islam.  "For Abul Kalam Azad, Islam's greatest contributions lay in the restoration of power as a legitimate pursuit without forfeiting morality……Islam alone, he claimed, had sought to reunite power and morality by instituting a social order that as both fundamentally power-oriented as well as righteous" (Community and Consensus in Islam by Farzana shaikh, page16).  He however, had to compromise with the ground reality of the post Khilafat situation and accepted the Presidential chair of Congress in 1923 and 1940.  He was therefore not liked by most of the Deobandi Ulama.

"The theologues of the JUH were as anti-British as ever; yet at their 1942 conference instead of attacking the League (Muslim League) in their old style they hoped for Muslim solidarity, and their resolution demanding complete Independence for India asked also for a federal constitution, such as would secure religious, political, and cultural self determination for Muslims. The Azad Muslim Board still made statements for Indian freedom but envisaged within that freedom the right of secession" (Modern Islam in India by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, 1946, London, page270). 

Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani (1879-1957), Principal of Dar-ul-Ulum, Deoband and the chief spokesman of JUH in the turbulent years preceding partition of India was also known as a great 'Nationalist' Muslim. But one may be amused to judge his donned 'Nationalist' image when he remarked a in on of his presidential address: 

"If Dara had triumphed, Muslims would have stayed in India but not Islam.  Since Aurangzeb triumphed, both Muslims an Islam were here to stay" (Muslim Politics in India - Hamid Dalwai, 1969, page 71). "According to Maulana, the faith Dara followed was not genuine Islam because Dara wanted to tolerate Hindus.  He did not insist on the rule of the Shariat.  From the above views of Maulana it should be clear what kind of Islam a majority of "Nationalist Muslims' subscribed to and what in the final analysis, their great goals were" (ibid).  For Madani "all non-Muslims are the enemies of Islam and Muslims" ( Muslim Nationhood in India - Safia Amir, 2000, page 179).

Madani gave a concept of 'muttahidah qawmiyat' (composite nationalism) to counter Muslim League but he could not attract the Muslim mass in his effort.  Opposition of Deobandis Ulama to the Bills prohibiting child marriage, endowment and annulment of marriages introduced by British Government shows their obsession and rigidity in respect of Shariat. 

The leaders of JUH according to Wilfred Cantwell Smith were though, politically progressive but neurotically opposed to change socially because of their intellectual intransigence. "They even deplored Iran and Turkey for having gone too far, as in using the Turkish language in the call to prayers" (,Modern Islam in India by Wilfred Cantwell Smith, 1946, London, page297). 

With marginalisation of Muslim League after partition JUH emerged as main representative body of Indian Muslims for their political guidence. The backward and uneducated Muslim mass that depended totally on the guidance of Ulama had however, no understanding of the spirit of secularism, which is un-Islamic concept for Ulama.  But JUH never made any organised and forceful campaign in favour of secularism for strengthening the cause of emotional integration of Muslims with Hindus as propounded by Mahatma Gandhi. 

At the instance of Maulana Azad, the JUH convened a meeting of Muslim leaders irrespective of their political affiliation at Lucknow in December 1948.  It was resolved that individual member of the community was allowed to join any party but JUH will concentrate on guiding the Muslims on religious and political issues. Maulana Azad advised the JUH to keep scrupulously aloof from political squabbles but the separatist approach of radical Islamists within the organisation did not  lie low.  "Independence hardly made any difference to their separatist thinking" ( Secularisation of Muslim Behaviour by Moin Shakir, 1973, page 66). Their slogan for communal solidarity never allowed the Muslim mass to play a positive role in overall development of Indian society. 

Though, the Indian National Congress took JUH as its supporter, the latter always exploited the Congress for safeguarding the religio-political interest of Muslim community.  It never made any gesture for liberal interpretation of Islam befitting to modern worldview.  Madni, who was known to be close to Nehru put it on record that:

"it is not enough for the Union Government to declare that it would not seek any amendment of the Muslim Personal Law as long as the Muslims don’t want it; it must also take steps to delete article 44 of the Indian Constitution, which stipulates that the state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India." (Islamic Fundamentalism in India by M.S.Agwani, page 27-28).

Had the JUH leaders been sincere in their introspection after Independence and restored their credibility by transforming their religious conservatism to a broader canvass of political democracy, Hindu-Muslim relation might not have socially deteriorated in last fifty-five years to the extent as we see it today. Imposing "imperial Arabic version of Islam" on innocent Indian Muslims, these fanatic clerics never thought to instill among the members of their community a sense of pride in India's culture, heritage and unity in diverse faiths.  Their politico-religious misdemeanour made the Indian Muslims captive of medieval thought, which gradually worked as slow poison with communal virus in the psyche of the otherwise tolerant and liberal Hindu society. 

The religio-cultural identity of Indian Muslims was always kept linked with Arabian identity by Ulama.  This private identity became the sole identity of Indian Muslims, which never allowed inspiring Indian identity among them. They are mostly first Muslims than Indian. This private religious identity became the political agenda for the Ulama, who did not allow transforming it into the national identity of Indianness among their co-religionists.  They never bothered to place the national identity of Indian Muslims above their private religious identity. 

By preaching communalised form of Islam, the Ulama kept away the community from the process of its secularisation in the post -Independence democratic polity of India. In the process of their efforts for Shariatisation of Indian Mslims, they transformed the Muslim society into a sectarian group of religious fanatics. Shariat (the whole body of rules governing the life of a Muslim), Islamisation and Pan -Islamism remained the focus of all the Islamic revival movement.  The orthodox trend of Islam with these ingredients continues to be the mascot of the JUH. Factually, the Islamic theologians in JUH with the support of influential Muslim elite always analysed the interest of the community while considering the Hindus as their main rival. 

Most of the JUH leaders, who remained in India did not like to take lesson from the wrongs of their community under British rule.  For them theology is still supreme.  Whether it was a Shahbano case or any other national issue like family planning or uniform civil code, JUH comes forward in communalising the Muslim psyche.  Carrying the legacy of. Islamic revival movement, the JUH also generated competitive communalism in Indian society particularly among the Hindus and the on going conflict between Muslim communalism and political Hindutva as we see today is therefore the natural outcome of their Islamic communalism, which they are carrying since the days of freedom struggle.  

The JUH is no more the political ally of the Congress as the latter has its own electoral compulsion to blindly support the religio-political interest of the former.  However, with moral support of Communists and casteist political groups and individual, the Ulama have now formulated a strategy to join hand with some Dalit activists to fight against the BJP.  It has now joined hands with Confederation of SC/ST recently floated by Udit Raj a former IRS officer aiming at uniting Dalit and Muslims.

A two-day meeting of the Working Committee of the JUH held in last week of December, 2002, presided over by its national President Asad Madani, resolved:

"It has become emergent that the people should be educated about the threat posed by so called cultural nationalism". "To meet the emerging threat, it is essential to unite the minorities and weaker sections.  A united front of minorities, Dalits and BCs is the need of the hour." (Hindustan Times dated December 30, 2002).  Instead of giving any positive political guidance to the Muslims, the Uama  of JUH have still not taken any lesson from the wrongs committed by their predecessors during freedom movement. 

Historically, Prophet Mohammad formulated his political strategy according to the demands of the situation.  Accordingly, the JUH also played its political game with pure convenience and political opportunism.  In fact the religious nationalism of JUH against the secular nationalism of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru remained the main obstacle in the secular integration of Indian Muslims with the majority community. Even leaders like Maulana Azad,and others, who were widely known as 'Nationalist Muslims'

did not make any sincere effort to build a secular political thought based on the ground realities as they were not prepared to make any change in the rigid and orthodox interpretation of Islam.  For them theology remained supreme but can they escape the responsibility of making Muslim communalism mad during pre-partition days, which has still not allowed the community for its emotional integration? 

(E-mail <ramashray60@yahoo.com)

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