Maulana Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin Ahmed (11 November 1888 – 22 February 1958) was a Muslim scholar and a senior political leader of the Indian independence movement. He was a vociferous advocate for the unity of India, opposing the partition of India on communal lines. Following India’s independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government.
A learned Islamic scholar, Maulana Azad opposed Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his march to create a separate homeland for India’s Muslims. I came across a fascinating interview that he gave in 1946 to a Lahore magazine that reveals his clarity of thought and prescience of mind.
Confronted with the partition of India, something that he vehemently opposed, he warned with great prescience and foresight that:
We must remember that an entity conceived in hatred will last only as long as that hatred lasts. This hatred will overwhelm the relations between India and Pakistan. In this situation it will not be possible for India and Pakistan to become friends and live amicably unless some catastrophic event takes place. The politics of partition itself will act as a barrier between the two countries. It will not be possible for Pakistan to accommodate all the Muslims of India, a task beyond her territorial capability. On the other hand, it will not be possible for the Hindus to stay especially in West Pakistan. They will be thrown out or leave on their own.
The prominent Muslims who are supporters of Muslim League will leave for Pakistan. The wealthy Muslims will take over the industry and business and monopolise the economy of Pakistan. But more than 30 million Muslims will be left behind in India. What promise Pakistan holds for them? The situation that will arise after the expulsion of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan will be still more dangerous for them. Pakistan itself will be afflicted by many serious problems. The greatest danger will come from international powers who will seek to control the new country, and with the passage of time this control will become tight. India will have no problem with this outside interference as it will sense danger and hostility from Pakistan.
Could he have been proven more correct? These are the insights of a brilliant mind, one that refused to be cowed by the populist rhetoric of the age and instead choose to courageously speak to the dangers that lay in the future. He was constantly castigated by the more fundamentalist and extremist interpreters of Islamic philosophy and thought. He however remained aware of the actual history of Islam in India:
Muslim history is an important part of Indian history. Do you think the Muslim kings were serving the cause of Islam? They had a nominal relationship with Islam; they were not Islamic preachers. Muslims of India owe their gratitude to Sufis, and many of these divines were treated by the kings very cruelly. Most of the kings created a large band of Ulema who were an obstacle in the path of the propagation of Islamic ethos and values. Islam, in its pristine form, had a tremendous appeal and in the first century won the hearts and minds of a large number of people living in and around Hejaz. But the Islam that came to India was different, the carriers were non-Arabs and the real spirit was missing. Still, the imprint of the Muslim period is writ large on the culture, music, art, architecture and languages of India. What do the cultural centres of India, like Delhi and Lucknow, represent? The underlying Muslim spirit is all too obvious.
I highly recommend reading the entire interview, if for no other reason than to remember that there were dissenting voices to the journey to partition, and that the creation of a Muslim homeland was a project that required political and social planning. It was not a natural outcome of the reality of India and his society – the Hindus and Muslims do not belong to two separate world views or irreconcilable social spheres. In fact, India’s reality was quite the contrary.
Our future – that of Pakistan and India, is dependent on an honest and clear-sighted reading of the political, economic, social and even personal factors that led to the partition. Dreamy and misleading fantasies about irreconcilable religious worldviews will only continue to divide us and confuse it. It will make reconciliation and collaboration impossible.
Maulana Azad’s words remind us that it could all have been a different possibility. And that the different possibility always remains within our grasp. This is not some naive call for ‘reunification’ mind you. It is a reminder simply that our antagonisms, suspicions and fears are manufactured and maintained by powerful social, political and historical forces. They were made by man, and can be unmade by man. And they will require courage and honesty to dismantle. For dismantle they must be if we are to find normalcy – peace, trust, collaboration and calm across that infamous, blood stained border that divides India from Pakistan.