The Forgotten Past: Sir Syed and the Birth of Muslim Nationalism In South Asia

by October 22, 2018 0 comments

Sir Syed Ahmad KhanSir Syed Ahmad Khan was the intellectual pioneer of the sense of community among Muslims, of which Pakistan nationalism is a direct outcome.

Creator of Pakistan, a hero in India” was the heading of an Article this writer wrote for The Pioneer dated October 23, 2017. This made me recall in detail the pivotal role Sir Syed Ahmed Khan played in furthering the divide between Hindus and Muslims in the sub-continent and propagating a paradigm leading to the creation of an Islamic Pakistan. However, efforts to glorify and eulogize him continue unabated, falsifying history and creating a spurious narrative in the process.

A case in point is an article, Sir Syed Khan: The renaissance man, by Mr. MJ Warsi, published in this column on October 17, 2018. The writer uses all possible adjectives to praise Sir Syed. He has described him as a ‘dynamic person, a versatile genius, a scholar, social reformer, educationist, historian, archaeologist, and linguist, gifted with rare vision and intellect”. He further adds, “Eventually, Sir Syed became the man whom destiny had chosen to play the role of a messiah for the community.”

Mark the word “a messiah for the community”, for a man who unabashedly worked to strengthen the British Empire, called upon his fellow Muslims to support the foreign masters in the name of Islam, quoted (or misquoted) Quran to buttress his thesis that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations and can never live as equals. The ‘messiah’ worked ceaselessly for the creation of a separate Muslim nation. His misadventure proved to be expensive for the community. It divided the Muslims of the sub-continent into three separate countries.

Sir Syed’s biggest contribution is claimed to be the setting up of Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College (MAO) in 1877, which eventually blossomed into the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 1920. In 1941, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had paid a “handsome tribute” to the AMU students when he described the university as “the arsenal of Pakistan”. Addressing the AMU students on August 31, 1941, Liaquat Ali Khan declared: “We look to you for every kind of ammunition to win the battle of independence of the Muslim nation”.

In 1943, Jinnah had called the Khan “my right hand”. For a decade before independence, he was at the center of all the League’s activities. He was the first Prime Minister of Pakistan.

In January 1941, the AMU students union passed a resolution that “The best way to achieve Indian freedom and to bring about lasting peace in the country is to strive for the establishment of independent states in the regions of Hindu and Muslim majorities”. This divisive AMU mindset has its origins in the “rare vision and intellect” of Sir Syed, described by Warsi as “a versatile genius”.

Speaking in Meerut in March 1888, Sir Syed laid the outline of a disastrous roadmap leading to the bloody Partition of the country in 1947, and in furthering hostilities between Hindus and Muslims in the sub-continent. Here are excerpts from his speech in which he contemptuously refers to Congressmen as “Bengalis”.

“The first of all is this — in whose hands shall the Administration and the Empire of India rest? Now, suppose that all the English and the whole English army were to leave India, taking with them all their cannons and their splendid weapons and everything, then who would be rulers of India?

“Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations — the Mohammedans and the Hindus — could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable.

“At the same time, you must remember that although the number of Mohammedans is less than that of the Hindus, and although they contain far fewer people who have received a high English education, yet they must not be considered insignificant or weak.

“Probably they would be by themselves enough to maintain their own position. But suppose they were not. Then our Musalman brothers, the Pathans, would come out like a swarm of locusts from their mountain valleys, and make rivers of blood to flow their frontier on the north to the extreme end of Bengal.

“This thing — who after the departure of English would be conquerors — would rest on the will of God. But until one nation had conquered the other and made it obedient, peace cannot reign in the land. This conclusion is based on proofs so absolute that no one can deny it.

“I believe that the Bengalis (read congressmen/Hindus) have never at any period held sway over a particle of land. They are altogether ignorant of the method by which a foreign race can maintain its rule over other races. Therefore, reflect on the doings of your ancestors, and be not unjust to the British Government to whom God has given the rule of India, and look honestly and see what is necessary for it to do to maintain its Empire and its hold on the country.

“You can appreciate these matters, but they cannot who have never held a country in their hands nor won a victory. Oh, my bother Musalmans! I again remained you that you have ruled nations, and have for centuries held different countries in your grasp. For seven hundred years in India, you have had imperial sway. You know what it is to rule. Be not unjust to that nation which is ruling over you, and think also on this how upright is her rule.

“I do not think the Bengali (read Congress) politics is useful for my brother Musalmans. Our Hindu brothers of these provinces are leaving us and are joining the Bengalis. Then we ought to unite with that nation with whom we can unite.

“No Mohammedan can say that the English are not ‘people of the Book’ No Mohammedan can deny this: That God has said that no people of other religions can be friends of Mohammedans except the  Christians. He who had read the Quran and believes it can know that our nation cannot expect friendship and affection from my other people. (Thou shalt surely find the most violent of all men in enmity against the true believers to be the Jews and the idolaters: And thou shalt surely find those among them to be the most inclinable to entertain friendship for the true believers, who say we are Christians, Quran, Chap V)”.

This is Sir Syed, spelling out his divisive agenda in his own words. Invoking the holy Quran to ensure the loyalty of Indian Muslims to a colonial power. If he is hailed as an icon, is there hope for the country?

(The writer is a political commentator and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP)

Writer: Balbir Punj

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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