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Foreword to ISLAM IN INDIA'S TRANSITION TO MODERNITY - Orient Longmans Ltd.,

Achyut Patwardhan ()

Author : Achyut Patwardhan
Publication: Orient Longmans Ltd.,
Date: 1968

The author of the book is M A Karandikar

India's advance towards political emancipation was part of a larger process
of modernization. British domination first brought an awakening among Indian
intellectuals that Western countries were forging a brilliant future of
material prosperity and cultural advancement by the development of science
and technology. It was soon recognised that political freedom and democracy
were essential pre-conditions for the scientific revolution, based on reason
and justice. Particularly in an old country, where poverty and backwardness
hold millions of people in thraldom, modernization is an licit need of the
people. However, the forces obstructing the path of our material advancement
are superstition and feudal attitudes and habit of mind ingrained during past
decades. Therefore, the earliest Indian intellectuals worked for a cultural
renaissance. After attainment of political freedom we repulsed that
regionalism and sectarian interests are still strongly, entrenched. And
backwardness prevents our people from asserting their primary needs.

Of all these problems with which the Indian people are beset, none is more
ominous than the threat to national integration. This threat brings to mind
the prophecies of the British officers that it was Imperial Authority which
alone held India's diversity in some manner of political coherence. That
India was never before a single political entity is difficult to refute. But
then nationalism as a political cult has only a recent origin of not more
than two hundred years. Consider in the unseemly language disputes, regional
rivalries, and the lowering standards of democratic institutions, one is
forced to take a grave view of the situation. Another tragic feature is the
failure of our political parties to recognise common dangers which can be
only resisted by a national consensus.

It is not enough for political parties and private citizens to rally to the
defence of India's frontiers against a threatened foreign invasion, for the
enemy within holds far greater dangers of disintegration which call for a
united wide-based resistance to the forces of disruption. One such issue
threatening national integration is the position of the minority communities
and particularly of the Muslims.

When we wrote the 'Communal Triangle' (in 1941), we had devoted considerable
attention to various aspects of the Hindu-Muslim problem; and we had averred
it was very largely British influence which was sedulously utilizing every
occasion to drive the two communities towards conflict. Twenty years after
freedom it is necessary to say that if that Postulate was fully valid, we
should have moved very far in achieving integration of the Indian Muslims
within the Indian Political entity. This is far from being the fact. It is
therefore most welcome that a second critical look at the problem has been
undertaken by the present author in the same spirit and with commendable

The emergence of Pakistan is now a matter of history, but a history, that has
rich if painful lessons for us. The problem of provinces where the Muslim
were in a predominant majority was quite distinct from the problem of those
other regions where the Muslims were numerically very small minorities. It is
an irony Of history that the demand for Pakistan could triumph mainly with
the powerful support of Muslim minorities in UP, Bihar, Bombay, etc. However,
the emergence of Pakistan is the end of one phase of the Hindu-Muslim problem
and it is now necessary to study the situation in its entirely new context
after partition.

It is natural to ask ourselves, 'Was the partition inevitable?' It is useful
to do so because the failure to retain India within a single political system
has lessons of great value to students of Public affairs. Looking back over
these years with detachment and objectivity which passing decades enable us
to acquire we might ask ourselves, 'What went wrong in the development of
Indian national consciousness?' 'How did Muslim opinion get so completely
alienated from nationalism that they insisted on partition ?'

I am inclined to think that some kind of partition had become inescapable in
1947. It is, however, useful to recognise our share of this error of
misdirection. To begin with, I am convinced that looking back upon the
course of development of the freedom movement, 'the Himalayan Error' of
Gandhiji's leadership was the support he extended on behalf of the Congress
and the Indian people to the Khilafat Movement at the end of the World War I.
This has proved to be a disastrous error which has brought in its wake a
series of harmful consequences. On merits, it was a thoroughly, reactionary
step. The Khilafat was totally unworthy of support of the progressive
Muslims. Kamal Pasha established this fact by abolition of the Khilafat. The
abolition of the Khilafat was wisely welcomed by enlightened Muslim opinion
the world over and Kamal was an undoubted hero of all young Muslims straining
against Imperial domination. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was one of the earliest
to welcome the Turkish revolution led by Kamal Pasha. But apart from the
fact that Khilafat was an unworthy reactionary cause, Mahatma Gandhi had to
align himself with a sectarian revivalist Muslim leadership of Muslims and
Moulvis. He was thus unwittingly responsible for jettisoning sane, secular,
modernist leadership among the Muslims of India and foisting upon the Indian
Muslims a theocratic orthodoxy of the Moulvis. Maulana Muhammad Ali's
speeches read today appear strangely incoherent and out of tune with the
spirit of secular political freedom. The Congress movement which released the
forces of religious liberalism and reform among the Hindus, and evoked a
rational scientific outlook, placed the Muslims of India under the spell of
orthodoxy and religious superstition by their support to the Khilafat
leadership. Rationalist leaders like Jinnah were rebuffed by this attitude.
This is the background of the psychological rift between Congress and the

There is another error which is now equally apparent in retrospect which must
be confessed frankly. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and the younger section of
Congressmen (among these must be counted the present writer and his other
socialist colleagues) sincerely believed that regional and parochial
loyalties would be defeated logically and inevitably by more basic 'class'
loyalties. Our generation was under the spell of Marx and Lenin and economic
factors seemed to its far more decisive in determining the direction of world
history. We felt, therefore, that Indian Muslim masses would be weaned away
from their reactionary leadership of the conservative Muslim League as well
as the revivalist sectarian domination of the Mullahs. Jawaharlal Nehru's
programme of Muslim 'mass contact' was the counterpoint of creating a unified
platform for rallying together diverse forces, on the basis of shared
economic exploitation. The abolition of Zamindari system of land ownership
and the support to socialism appeared to us to the best possible means of
unifying the diversities of action and creed. Time his dealt very unkindly
with this postulate also. Tribalism is recognised today as a major factor in
national affairs and regional and linguistic rivalries have marred the sense
of national unity during recent years. This can be seen also in Africa and

It is these two policies based on (1) our pathetic faith in the magic of
class solidarity, and (2) our mistaken support to anti-modernist Muslim
divines, which prevented the Congress from securing for the Muslim masses the
leadership of more progressive and modern Indian Muslim intellectuals. It may
be true that numerically this type has been less effective and vocal in
Muslim community than among Parsis, Christians and Hindus. But they are
nonetheless there and they have not sought leadership or lime light in the
emotionally surcharged climate of our political life. Rationalism has thus
been on the retreat in the Muslim community for far too long a number of

This book marks a neck, trend in analysing this problem. The first part of
this book is devoted to a factual recital of the story of Islam, its rise and
development. It is based on a careful study of the Koran and the history of
the Khilafat. It is factual and is not based on any twisting of historical
facts to suit a preconceived theory. All the various trends that have
developed in the course of Islam's advance as a world force have been noted.
It can be seen, that in the development of Islam, like in the history of
other religions, there are two clearly discernible streams. One of them is
the ruggedly dogmatic militant faith nurtured in the deserts of Arabia, which
had constantly to battle against idolatry and superstition, as much as
against clan feuds and brigandage. This trend has the tang of the desert
with its narrowness, intolerance and sectarian zeal. It is fairly discernible
in Islamic history and also in Islam's domination of India from the ravages
of Mahmud of Gazni to the tyrannies of Aurangzeb. It does little credit to
the glorious achievements of Islam for which one must give credit to the
other trend, equally discernible in the history, of Islam in India. The
second Islamic trend is more catholic and grows by its contact with other
greet cultures, drawing its inspiration from the appeal of the Prophet to go
even to China in search of knowledge and his injunction that writer's ink may
be more potent than the blood. This phase of Islam absorbed the wisdom of
Greece and Rome and went as far as the shores of the Atlantic to Spain,
giving richly to Christian culture and receiving equally abundantly. This
second tendency has also been at work in India, ushering the epoch of
reconciliation. When Hindu pandits and Sufi divines sat down together to
delve in the mysteries of human mind, Hindu Adwaita and Muslim monism
discovered a shared terrain of spiritual experience. Kabir and Dadu sing of
this discovery. The development of Hindustani music is a symbol of the
triumph of this happy fusion of Hindu and Persian culture. Akbar was the
prophet of this tendency, but he had more votaries than history could record.
In the far south, in Bengal, in Sind, the Hindu and the Muslim could,
therefore, live in harmony and tolerance as good neighbours for centuries.

"The Islamic faith, in fact, was brought into India at various times and
places by different groups in different forms. It has thus proliferated into
a great variety of faiths and groups, many of which are important today. The
harbingers of Islam were of varied racial origin and they brought with them
far more than the Prophet's faith. The political expression of Islam has been
almost as varied as its theological. It is a misconception to suppose that
Islam is the only significant thing about the Indian Muslims. The different
racial elements which brought in Islam coloured their religion with tribal
and national characteristics. Turkish Islam was very different from Arabic
Islam and Afghan Islam, different again. Further, Muslims were influenced by
their cultural surroundings. In particular, Persian culture from abroad and
Hindu ideas from within India have modified and variegated the Islamic
complex. Indian Islam is a necklace of racial, cultural and political pearls
strung on the thread of religion. One cannot appreciate the necklace merely
by studying the thread..." ('The Position of Muslims before and after
Partition' by Percival Spear).

The above quotation briefly underlines the conclusion which the present book
sets out with learning and devotion. From this study another fact also
emerges clearly that every religion, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim,
has its own regional context as well as its chronological context. Each of
these religions is an authentic statement about the phenomena of human
existence. As such it has a perennial appeal for man seeking to understand
the nature of human destiny. Each religion develops its own mythology which
after all is an idiom to convey certain varieties in the form of parables and
myths. Each religion also engenders its own sociology. However, it is now
possible to analyse the variables and to isolate the constants. Modernity is
essentially an assertion that man and his well-being is the motive force of
human endeavour. Religion is the adventure for the elevation of man and not a
means to victimize man for the glory of a Church. From this point of view it
is necessary to help Muslims to capture the spirit of Islam and yet to free
them from the tutelage of outworn social customs. This is equally true for
the Hindu.

Hindu Law and Mohammedan Law are obvious anachronisms, and a major road-block
in the progress of modernity. Man in the second half of the twentieth century
has his specific social context. This is influenced by the United Nations'
Charter of the Rights of Man. In India it is also Profoundly affected by the
Fundamental Rights and the Declaration of the Objective Principles enshrined
in the Indian Constitution. It ensures fullest equality for woman is for
man. In so far as it is evolved with the sole object of vindicating the
dignity of man, it is in fullest consonance with the tenets of true religion,
as man is able to discern truth in this scientific age. Both Hindu and Muslim
must venerate this basic spirit of man's Faith.

The second part of the book is an analysis which should help to awaken a new
enquiry among young men imbued' with the spirit of modernity among Hindus,
Parsis, etc. The book ends on an optimistic note that Indian society would
provide such men and women only if their minds were not to be distorted by
reactionary trends still rooted in the minds and attitudes of the older

I am grateful to the author for inviting me to write this foreword. Our book
the 'Communal Triangle' had set out the Hindu Muslim problem as we then saw
it. I gladly own the errors in our formulations as I see them after a quarter
of a century. We are sadder though wiser men after the tragic experience of
the partition.

It must be noted that the Indian Muslim is bound to wish fervently for
friendliest relations between India and Pakistan. Any attempt or tendency to
misconstrue this natural bent of mind will be harmful to India and unfair to
the Indian Muslims. His loyalties are vindicated more truly by his
willingness to create and accept secular society in India where men of
different persuasions, creeds and regions can live together in fruitful
co-operation and harmony.

There is a natural tendency among Muslims to find an excuse for their
difficulties and hardships in the sectarian trends which are equally
discernible among Hindu communalists. It is necessary to beware of self-pity.
However, this book does not permit the Muslims to hunt for Hindu scapegoats
elsewhere. The fact that Muslims failed to rally to the call of socialism and
secularism and have sought solace in a sectarian leadership is a sign of
backwardness. It is this more than any other factor which bars their progress
in Free India. So long as the Muslim looks for protection through sectarian
agitation he would find himself frustrated and ship-wrecked. Unless the
stands suited with others for creating a sane society based on the assertion
of unity in diversity, he would find himself in the wilderness.

Achyut Patwardhan

30 September, 1968

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