An anthology of motivating profiles of Indian Muslims

Book: Shunida wa Deedah (Of those heard and witnessed) Author: Professor Akhtarul Wasey Publisher: Rampur Raza Library, Rampur, U.P. Pages: 342 Price: Rs 550

Muslims are an undeniable part of the Subcontinent. Its history is incomplete without them and they have contributed towards erecting the edifice of what is known as the Ganga Jamuni civilization as well as the inclusive and pluralistic culture of the Subcontinent. But in the year 1947 an unfortunate tragedy unfurled in the history of the Subcontinent when it was partitioned, and Muslims were blamed for this tragedy and its aftermath. In the free India, the Muslim contribution in its civilization and towards the struggle against the British colonialism was sidelined and ignored by a dominant section of the society, with the result that it started to disappear slowly but progressively into oblivion. This apathy of politicians, academics, journalists, scholars and thinkers towards the Muslim contribution has contributed to this unfortunate result, so much so that even Muslims are unaware of their heritage.

The present book by the prominent scholar Prof Akhtarul Wasey tries to rectify this apathy and makes us aware of some lesser known mortals who contributed towards the cause of education, environment, secularism, communal harmony, medicine, academics and institution-building. The book is a collection of articles written by Wasey over a period of time regarding these personalities.

In the preface to the collection, Wasey writes, “These men through their works and actions enlightened the society. It is our responsibility to continue preserving that light and to transfer it to the next generation by making them aware about the contributions of their previous generations, otherwise the continuity in the history of events will break. The influence of the work and actions of these personalities aren’t such as to be confined to their generations because they have bearing on our present lives too. The great personalities are such that their influence is not confined to their times but it extends to the future too and the next generations can’t shield themselves from this influence and enlightenment and if they do, the loss will be theirs.”

The book is a collection of 22 such personalities which illuminated the Subcontinent during the freedom struggle against the British, and after Partition. The collection starts with scholarly articles on Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was the harbinger of change through education in the aftermath of the 1857 “mutiny” whose majority victims were Muslims. Wasey tries to remove the accusations against Sir Syed be it the 1857 “mutiny”, his ‘pro-British’ politics and anti-Congress stance, his religiosity, or being the pioneer of The Two Nation Theory or his communal nature. Wasey refutes all such accusations which were/are raised from time to time against Sir Syed, and in a separate article on “Sir Syed and Secularism” he brings out the fact to the fore that he believed in a common nationhood of Indians against the separate nationhood of Jinnah. He opposed the Indian National Congress not because of its Hindu character but for the reason that Muslims were backward in education and couldn’t afford to indulge in the politics of that time and for these same reasons he also opposed the Mohammedan Association of Justice Amir Ali, though it was Muslim-oriented.

The only woman who finds place in this collection is the illustrious mother of Ali Brothers, who were the spirit behind the Khilafat Movement of 1920s, known as Bi Amman. Her selflessness, unrelenting character and indomitable spirit whether be it raising her children or addressing masses from Khilafat platform is discussed lucidly. A chapter has also been dedicated to the life and work of her son Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar who was responsible for providing the Khilafat platform to Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi who later on took the reins of the freedom struggle in his own hands, and Jauhar was the first person who understood the mettle and worth of J.L. Nehru too, though Muslims were unjust to him and to his message like that of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. But unlike Azad, Jauhar isn’t remembered in free India. Jauhar was very sincere and truthful and he criticized everyone for genuine reasons. He made enemies in the process. He was disheartened by the apathy of Indians in general and Muslims in particular towards him, that he wished not to die in India and after the second round table conference in 1931, he fell ill in Paris and was buried in the Holy Land of Palestine near the Dome of the Rock.

Similar is the case of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the stalwarts of the freedom movement, who was inclusive, pluralistic and multicultural in his approach and surely ahead of his times as he was aware of the futility of the idea of Pakistan and he was quite right about the fate of such a nation. Azad rejected the ritualistic religion as he discovered the reality of Islam from its pristine sources, and used the same in his politics too, but in the end he was disgusted as he found the politics played without principles or morals and did whatever he could to remove the marginalization of Muslims as fate and apathy of government engulfed them in India after partition. Wasey has also written about the 217 collected writings of Azad that were published in the form of a book under the title Aasar-e Azad in 1999 though its publication was suspended afterwards due to its controversial nature. This chapter opens up new vistas and avenues in the studies of post-Partition treatment of Muslims, as well as helps us to further understand the personality of Azad.

Prof Wasey, who heads the Dr Zakir Hussain Institute of Islamic Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia and had witnessed many of the Jamia founders and worked or was acquainted with them, had also written about them like Dr Zakir Hussain who was an educationist and teacher par excellence and later became  the President of India, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Prof Muhammad Mujib, author of The Indian Muslims and Dr Syed Abid Hussain who did a lot to preserve Urdu and started an Urdu paper Nai Roshni (New Light) after partition for the uplift and empowerment of the victimized and neglected Muslims and to offer them a ray of hope but as is the norm with the Muslim media, the paper got closed down after two years due to financial constraints.

Being related to academics and Muslim issues, most of the articles are about the life of academics and scholars like Shibli Noamani who bridged the gap between traditional and modern education for Muslims, Dr Khawaja Ghulam Saiydain who was one of the pioneers of Wardha scheme of educational policy, Dr Mushirul Haq, Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, an expert of law and jurisprudence, Prof Khaleeq Ahmad Nizami, Prof A.M Khusro and Prof Rashiduz Zafar of Jamia Hamdard.

Besides these secular politicians, freedom fighters and champions of Hindu-Muslim unity like Obaidullah Sindhi, Dr Mukhtar Ansari, Dinesh Singh, Deewan Birander Nath, Zafar Payami, Dr Abdul Jaleel Faridi too find a place in this book.Dedicated to the founder of Hamdard University and Ghalib Academy Hakim Abdul Hamid is a chapter discussing his work, life and institution-building.

The book is a compilation of different pieces on the various personalities by the author hence the journalistic influence is witnessed in all its chapters, yet the book is a welcome addition and can prove as precursor for further research on the lives of these personalities.

The reviewer is a writer-activist based in Srinagar and can be reached at sikandarmushtaq[]