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Aligarh Movement
By Sanjeev Nayyar, November 2001 [[email protected]]

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Muslim Politics before the Aligarh Movement   

The Brit conquest was bound to have a different impact on the Hindu & Muslim. The Hindu regarded it as freedom from the miseries of Muslim rule while Muslims regarded the Brits as their bitterest foe who had usurped the political authority and special privileges that they had enjoyed so far. But there were other factors at play that widened the already existing gulf between these two communities.

The hostile attitude of Muslims towards the English, their aversion to secular education kept them aloof from English education imparted in schools and colleges. On the other the establishment of the Hindu College in 1817 gave a great impetus to English education amongst the Hindus. For the next fifty years the Muslims made little progress.

Relations between Hindus and Muslims were very honestly outlined by a liberal, R M Sayani in his Presidential address at the 12th session of the Congress held in 1896. Excerpts “Before the advent of the British in India, the Muslims were the rulers of the country. The rulers and their chiefs were Muslims so were the great landlords and officials. The court language was their own. Every place of trust and responsibility, or carrying influence and high emoluments, was theirs by birthright. The Hindus did occupy the same position but were tenants-at-will of the Muslims. The Muslims had complete access to the rulers and chief. The Hindus were in awe of them. By a stroke of misfortune, the Muslims had to abdicate their position and descend to the level of their Hindu fellow-countrymen. The Muslims resented the treatment. Meanwhile the Brits introduced English education into the country. This required hard application and industry. The Hindus were used to this, as under Muslim rule, they had practically to master a foreign tongue, and so easily took to new education. But the Muslim had not yet become accustomed to this sort of thing. Moreover, they resented competing with the Hindus, whom they had till recently regarded as their inferiors. The Muslims were gradually ousted from their lands, offices; in fact everything was lost save their honor. To the Hindus it was the opposite. They were soon reduced to a state of utter poverty. Ignorance and apathy seized hold of them while the fall of their former greatness rankled in their hearts”. I must admit beautifully said, brutally honest too.

Thus the political outlook of the 2 communities was different. English education was the mainspring of all political evolutions of the Hindus while the Muslims lagged behind. This difference of approach to politics was manifest for the first time in the Wahabi Movement. Although the later phase was a violent hatred against the English and organized attempt to drive them out, it evoked no sympathy from the Hindus. The reason it failed is simple.

It was a purely Muslim movement to establish Dar-ul-Islam in India “Muslim sovereignty pure and simple.” Actually the Wahabis first declared war against the Sikhs, and later transferred that hostility to the Brits when they conquered Punjab. Although the movement had no anti Hindu sentiment unlike the Moplah Rebellion that followed the Khilafat Agitation of 1921, all the proclamations were issued in the name of Islam and appealed only to Muslims.
The differences in political outlook were further reinforced by the fact that the Muslims did not take an active part in different political organizations like the Committees of Landholder’s Society, Bengal British India Society. On the other hand as soon as the Muslims became politically conscious they started separate organizations of their own. A Muhammadan Association was started in Calcutta before 31/01/1856. The Hindus regarded this separatist tendency as quite natural since they were a separate unit. Gradually the Muslim leaders realized the value of English education. Although Muslims took to modern education in larger numbers the gap between the two communities continued to exist, rather large actually.

The differences got accentuated in connection with the legislation for local self-government on elective basis. It is on this occasion that for the first time a demand was made for separate representation of the Muslims. The ball, now or later was set rolling by the Brits. Said Muhhammad Yusuf on 3/05/1883 “But it would be an advantage and more fit recognition of the claims of the Muslim population if provision could be made in the Bill for the election of Muslims by reserving a certain number of membership for that community”.

The keynote of this speech is a firm conviction that even in political matters there is no common bond between the two communities and each must be ready to safeguard its own interest. These thoughts were shared by most Muslims all over India. I must admire Yusuf for being so realistic unlike most Hindus leaders who keep on striving for the mirage of Hindu Muslim unity.

Reference must be made in this connection to the Indian visit of Jamal-ud-din Al-afghani (1893-97) a notable figure of the Muslim world in the 19th century. He agitated for the liberation of Muslims from European influence and exploitation, for the union of all Islamic states under a single Caliphate and the creation of a powerful Muslim empire capable of resisting European influence. The Hindu leaders, notably B.C. Pal, believe that his visit hastened the split between Hindus and Muslims, made Muslim leaders distance themselves from the political activities of the Hindus.

While some of might not agree indications were not wanting that the pan-Islamic sentiment had already been exerting influence upon Muslim minds. Some Muslim leaders told Blunt “During the Egyptian War 1881-82 we all looked to Arabi (Pasha) to restore our fortunes, for we are in a desperate state and need a deliverer” quote from the Amrita Bazaar Patrika, 12/08/1869. The Indian Muslims had already begun to feel that Muslims outside India were more closely allied to them then the Hindus.

The Khilafat Movement  (1921) started by Gandhi to win over the Muslims is ample proof of the Pan-Islamic sentiment. Otherwise why must events in Turkey concern Indian Muslims. Pan-Islamism is very much alive even 80 years later. Indian Muslims protest over the killings of Muslims in Palestine but not the Hindus of Jammu & Kashmir.

Sometimes I wonder, why do we Hindus expect this from the Muslims. Why do we not learn to protest ourselves instead of looking up for support? The onus of being compassionate, sensitive to other’s feelings, secular is on Hindus and not others.

Further proof of the pan-Islamic sentiment may be traced to the evidence given by the Muslim leaders before the Hunter Commission, demanding entirely separate seating arrangements for the primary education of Hindus and Muslims and insisting that Urdu be a medium of instruction in a province like Bengal where the Muslims spoke Bengali. Unfortunately successive Congress leaders, pre and post Partition refuse to accept or understand the concept of Pan Islamism.

To summarize Muslim politics of the 19th century followed a course that was different from the Hindus. While the Hindus, influenced by English education, were developing their ideas on modern lines, the Muslims launched the Wahabi Movement that was violent and communal in character. Then came the Aligarh movement, also conceived in a communal spirit. It brought about a political and social regeneration of the Muslims but widened the divide between the Hindus and Muslims. It created a distinct Muslim unit in Indian politics. By starting the Khilafat Movement Gandhi cemented the divide, organized the Muslims into a political unit on a national level that was to culminate in Partition nearly fifty years later.

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