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Arabic, the Arab Middle East, and the Definition of Muslim Identity in Twentieth Century India

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2009

Extract

The “foreignness” of Islam in India is a familiar theme in the rhetoric of contemporary-Hindu fundamentalism. The numerical majority of Hindus in India is taken to mean that the nation-state ought to be founded on ideals and institutions defined as authentically “Hindu”, that India is the land of the Hindus, and that it must be ruled only by them. This ideology evidently leaves little room for non-Hindus, but especially so for Muslims, who ruled large parts of the Indian subcontinent for several centuries and who still constitute a sizeable minority in India. It is argued, for instance, that as the ruling elite in India, Muslims not only exploited the Hindus, they never even thought of themselves as “really” Indian and should not consequently be considered as such. For all the centrality of the Muslim Other to constructions of Hindu fundamentalism, the appeal and success of the latter is predicated on the systematic exclusion, if not the expulsion, of Muslims from the Hindu nation-state.

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Research Article
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Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 1998

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References

1 According to the Census of 1981, Muslims comprise 11.4% of the population of India. For a brief discussion of the Muslims of India, especially in relation to the rise of Hindu nationalism, see Brass, Paul R., The Politics of India since Independence, 2nd edn. (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 228ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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15 See Kāarwān, i, pp. 58.Google Scholar On Lucknow, see Sharar, Abdul Haleem, Lucknow: The Last Phase of Oriental Culture, tr. Harcourt, E. S. and Hussain, F. (London, 1975);Google Scholar Robinson, Francis, Separatism among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces' Muslims, 1860–1923 (Cambridge, 1974);Google Scholar Cole, J. R. I., Roots of North Indian Shi‘ism in Iran and Iraq: Religion and State in Awadh, 1722–1839 (Berkeley, 1988);Google Scholar Freitag, Sandria B., Collective Action and Community: Public Arenas and the Emergence of Communalism in North India (Berkeley, 1989), pp. 249–79.Google Scholar

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17 Nadwī, received some early education in Persian, but his brother soon had that discontinued, “for he knew that the days of Persian were over in India, and those of Arabic were going to come soon”. Kārwān, i, pp. 87–8.Google Scholar Already in 1837, the British had replaced Persian with English as the language of administration in India.

18 Ibid., i, pp. 82–3.

19 These are some of the terms Nadwā commonly uses for what has been rendered here as “Muslim identity”. See for example, ibid., v, pp. 167, 176, 178 etc.

20 Ibid., v, p. 186; more generally, ibid., v, pp. I75ff., on “the course of action for the Indian Muslims in the present circumstances”. The “present circumstances” refer here especially to the aftermath of the destruction of the Baburi Masjid in Ayodhya, a major symbol of Muslim identity in north India. For Nadwī's account of the Hindu agitation on the Baburi Masjid, see Kārwān, iv and v, passim. On the controversy over the Baburi Mosque and its eventual destruction in 1994, see van der Veer, Religious Nationalism.

21 Cf. Ta’rāfeh-i Nadwa, i, pp. 140ff. for the Nadwa's aspirations, as visualized by one of its founders.Google Scholar

22 Ibid., i, pp. 148.

23 Ibid., i, pp. 148–9.

24 Ibid., i, p. 144.

25 Ibid., i, p. 144.

26 On Arab teachers at the Dār al-‘Ulūm, see ibid., i, pp. 415–17; Nadwī, , Kārwān, i, pp. 115–18.Google Scholar

27 Leitner, G. W., History of Indigenous Education in the Panjab since Annexation and in 1882 (Delhi, 1971; first published in 1883), pp. vi, vii.Google Scholar (Leitner was the first principal of the Lahore Government College [established in 1864] and the founder of the Anjuman-i Punjab.) That Arabic was regarded as the language of the Muslim religious elite, not just of the madrasa, is suggested by the fact that Leitner founded a weekly “Arabic journal for the Maulvis” just as he did one in Sanskrit “for the Pandits”. Ibid., i, p. vii.

28 Education Commission, Report by the Punjab Provincial Committee (Calcutta, 1884), p. 4.Google Scholar

29 Das, S. K., Sahibs and Munshis: An Account of the College of Fort William (Calcutta, 1978), pp. 3740.Google Scholar

30 Metcalf, B., Islamic Revival, pp. 198234.Google Scholar On the cultural importance of Persian in India before its eclipse in the nineteenth century, see Robinson, Francis, “Perso-Islamic culture in India from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century”, in Canfield, Robert L., ed., Turko-Persia in Historial Perspective (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 104–31.Google Scholar

31 Ta'rīkh-i Nadwa, i, p. 150.Google Scholar

32 Kārwān, i, pp 125–6.Google Scholar On the Arab newspapers and journals of the 1920s and 1930s to which Nadwī and many of his contemporaries in India were exposed, see Ayalon, Ami, The Press in the Arab Middle East: A History (Oxford, 1995), pp. 50106, esp. 53ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

33 Ibid., i, p. 54.

34 Ibid., i, p. 55.

33 Nadwī, , Kārwān, i, p. 148.Google Scholar

36 Ayalon, , The Press, p. 81.Google Scholar

37 In 1932, an Arabic periodical, al-Ḍia' (1932–42), began to be published from the Nadwa (Kārwān, i, p. 137Google Scholar). Many journals from the Middle East were received at the Nadwa in exchange for al-Ḍia', which was the only Arabic journal in India at that time (ibid., i, p. 148); also, books published in the Middle East were frequently sent to this journal for review, which provided Nadwī, a regular contributor, with considerable further exposure to intellectual trends in the Arab world. Two Arabic journals later succeeded al-Ḍiā' at the Nadwa: al-Ba‘th al-Islāmī (published since 1955) and al-Rā'id (published since 1959). See Ta'rīkh-i Nadwa, ii, pp. 424–6.Google Scholar

38 Kārwān, i, pp. 126–7.Google Scholar In the 1930s, Nadwī's Lucknow was the scene of much political and religious activity. This included activities sponsored by the Indian National Congress, the All-Indian Muslim League, the Muslim Parliamentary Board, and considerable sectarian (Shi‘ī-Sunnī) agitation. Nadwī notes that he kept aloof from all of these—even from the Sunnī movement to counter the influence and activities of the Shī‘ī majority of Lucknow. The only activity he took some part in at this time was, significantly, one which sought to create public awareness about the Palestine issue (ibid., i, p. 227).

39 Cf. Viswanathan, Gauri, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India (New York, 1989), pp. 160–1.Google Scholar

40 Nadwī, , Kārwān, i, p. 149;Google Scholar on Arslān, see Cleveland, William, Islam against the West: Shakib Arslan and the Campaign for Islamic Nationalism (London, 1985).Google Scholar The Hādir al-‘ālam al-Islāmī, which Nadwī mentions as having read at this time, is in fact Arslān's commentary on the Arabic translation (by ‘Ajjamacr;j Nuwayhid) of Lothrop Stoddard's The New World of Islam (New York, 1922).Google Scholar As Cleveland, remarks, the “commentaries are lengthier than the translation, and the work became Arslan's own.” Cleveland, Islam against the West, p. 208.Google Scholar On Arslān's journalistic career, which, together with his books, made him “arguably the most widely read Arab writer of the interwar period”, see ibid., passim; the quotation is from p. xxi.

41 Hourani, Albert, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1789–1959 (Oxford, 1970), p. 299.Google Scholar On Arslān, also see ibid., pp. 303–4, 306–7; Cleveland, , Islam against the West.Google Scholar

42 Ta'rīkh-i Nadwa, ii, pp. 93ff.Google Scholar

43 Ta'rīkh-i Nadwa, ii, pp. 5961.Google Scholar

44 Cf.Nadwī, , Kārwān, i, pp. 203–4, 216.Google Scholar

45 This Arabic primer was in use in Islamic schools throughout Indonesia too in the first half of the twentieth century (and perhaps subsequently as well): see Bowen, John R., Muslim through Discourse: Religion and Ritual in Gayo Society (Princeton, 1993), p. 64 n. 28.Google Scholar

46 See Nadwī, , Kārwān, i, pp. 146, 204, 214–15.Google Scholar

47 Ibid., i, p. 204. On the popularity this work came to enjoy even outside India (for instance, in Central Asia) see ibid., iv, pp. 400, 402.

48 Abu'l-Ḥasan, al-Nadwīmacr;, ‘Alī al-Ḥasani, Mukhtārāt min adab al-‘Arab, 2nd edn. (Beirut, 1965).Google Scholar Also see Kārwān, i, p. 210, and generally pp. 205ff. There is an interesting juxtaposition of Ḥanbalīs—Ibn al-jawzī, Ibn Taymiyya, and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyya—who are often thought to have been critical of sufi practices, and of sufis.Google Scholar

49 Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest.

50 Nadwī's Mukhtārāt failed to penetrate the traditional madrasas of the Indian subcontinent, where Arabic literature has continued to be taught through certain medieval classics of long established literary authority. But this anthology did enter the curricula of Arabic studies in Indian as well as certain Arab universities, which means that its self-consciously Islamic contents could, in certain institutions of Western education, conceivably exercise an influence which is not dissimilar to that of the English classics in Indian schools. Cf. Kārwān, i, pp. 21213, 218–19.Google Scholar

51 For the proceedings of this conference, see al-Adab al-Islāmī-fikratuhu wa manāhijuhu (Lucknow, 1981).Google Scholar

52 Nadwī, , Kārwān, ii, pp. 330–3.Google Scholar

53 For his appeal to Arab states personified, see his lectures entitled, for example, “Listen, O Egypt!”, “Listen, O Syria!”, “Listen, O Flower of the Desert [Kuwait]”. These lectures, and others addressing the Arabs, delivered between 1950 and 1962, are collected in ‘Alī Nadwī, Abu'l-Hasan, al-‘Arab wa’l-Islām (Beirut, n.d.).Google Scholar

54 ‘Alī, Abu'l-Hasan Nadwī, Mādhā khasira'l-‘ālam bi’l-inhitāt al-muslimīn.Google Scholar The book had been reprinted about fifteen times by 1982, besides being translated into Urdu, English, Persian, and Turkish. The English translation (by Kidwai, M. A.) is entided Islam and the West. All subsequent references are to the revised and enlarged Urdu translation, Insāriī dunyā par Musalmānon key ‘urīj wa zawāl ka athar 5th edn. (Lucknow, 1966).Google Scholar For the publication history of this work, see Kārwān, i, pp. 256–70, esp. p. 265n.Google Scholar For a critical review of this book, see von Grunebaum, G. E., “Fall and rise of Islam: a self-view”, in id., Modem Islam: The Search for Cultural Identity (New York, 1964), pp. 244–57.Google Scholar

55 Cf. Nadwī, , Kārwān, pp. 336.Google Scholar

56 This dichotomy also recalls numerous complaints by officials and missionaries in nineteenth and early twentieth century British India that the British policy of pursuing and enforcing religious neutrality fostered the impression of British godlessness, and “the prevalent assumption in India that the West is material and the East spiritual.” See, for instance, Mayhew, Arthur, The Education of India (London, 1926), p. 48;Google Scholar also see ibid., pp. 49, 211. Mayhew had served as the Director of Public Instruction in the Central Provinces of British India.

57 Gershoni, Israel and Jankowski, James P., Redefining the Egyptian Nation, 1930–1945 (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 3553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

58 lnsāriī dunyā, pp. 163ff. and passim.

59 Ibid., pp. 428ff.

60 Nadwī, , al-‘Arab wa’1-Islām, esp. pp. 9ff.Google Scholar On nationalism as religion, and the religious opposition to nationalism, cf. Juergensmeyer, , The New Cold War?, pp. 1125 and passim.Google Scholar

61 Nadwī, , al-‘Arab wa’1-Islām, pp. 316, and passim; id., Insānī dunyā, pp. 408ff.Google Scholar

62 Sivan credits Mawdūdī with developing the theory of a “modern Jāhiliyya”, and Nadwī with introducing it into the Arab world (Radical Islam, 22–3). The theory has had many formulations, some with explicit revolutionary implications—as in the writings of the Egyptian revivalist Sayyid Qub (1906–66). Ibid., pp. 21ff. Nadwī met Qub when he visited Egypt after the publication of Mādhā khasira'l-‘ālam, and Qub wrote the foreword to the second edition of this book. Qub's foreword has remained part of all subsequent editions of this work. Despite the contribution of both Mawdūdī and Nadwī to the notion of a “modern Jāhiliyya”, however, it is noteworthy that (unlike Qub) neither advocated any politically subversive form of opposition to the state. For Mawdūdī's position in this regard, cf. Nasr, S. V. R., Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (New York, 1996), p. 75.Google Scholar

63 Cf. Nadwī, , Insānī dunyā, pp. 102–3, 109–10, and 3799,passim.Google Scholar

64 Ibid., pp. 102–3.

65 By the same token, Nadwī also speaks on a “new Ridda”, or apostasy, a term used in Islamic historiography to denote Arab tribal movements which threw off allegiance to the Islamic state of Medina, and even to Islam itself, in the wake of the Prophet Muhammad's death. On the “new Ridda” cf. Nadwi, , Kārwān, i, 452–3.Google Scholar

66 On Nasirim, see ibid., ii, pp. 64–83.

67 On the Rābiţat al-‘Ālam al-Islāmī, see Schulze, Reinhard, Islamischer lntemationalismus im 20. Jahrhundert: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der islamischen Weltliga (Leiden, 1990).Google Scholar

68 For an early instance of Saudī financial assistance for the Nadwa, see Ta'rīkh-i Nadwa, ii, p. 438.Google Scholar The Saudi government seems, moreover, to have subsidized or bought large quantities of Nadwī's publications. For instance, of a print run of 100,000 copies of the 1982 edition of his Mādhā khasira'l-‘ālam, published from Kuwait, the Saudi Ministry of Education immediately bought 80,000 copies! See Nadwī, , Kārwān, i, p. 265.Google Scholar

69 Arslān, Shakīb, Limādhā ta'akhkhar al-muslimūn (Cairo, 19391940), pp. 10ff.Google Scholar quoted in Hourani, , Arabic Thought, p. 299.Google Scholar

70 See Nadwī, , Ta'rīkh-i da‘wat wa‘azīmat, i (Azamgarh, 1955);Google Scholar id., Kārwān, i, pp. 411–17.Google Scholar

71 Insānī dunyā, pp. 224–5,Google Scholar and cf. ibid., pp. 342–52; great Muslim rulers of later Middle Ages are likewise all Indian: see ibid., pp. 368–81.

72 ‘Alī Nadwī, Sayyid Abu'l-Ḥasan, al-Islām wa'l-mustashriqūn (Lucknow, n.d. [ca. 1983]), pp. 33–5.Google Scholar

73 Ibid., p. 36.

74 On him, see Powell, , Muslims and Missionaries, pp. 219ff.Google Scholar

75 See Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition, s.v. “Sayyid Sulaymān Nadwī”.

76 al-Ḥayy al-Ḥasani, Abd, al-Thaqāfa al-Islāmiyyafi'l-Hind, 2nd edn. (Damascus, 1983).Google Scholar

77 See note 7, above.

78 On medieval biographical dictionaries, see Gibb, H. A. R., “Islamic Biographical Literature”, in Lewis, B. and Holt, P. M. eds., Historians of the Middle East (London, 1962), pp. 54–8;Google Scholar Young, M. J. L., “Arabic Biographical Writing”, in Young, M. J. L. et al. , eds., Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Religion, Learning and Science in the ‘Abbāsid period (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 168–87;Google Scholar Khalidi, Tarif, Arabic Historical Thought in the Classical Period (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 204–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

79 Cf. Nadwī's remarks on the importance of the Arabic language to Muslim India in his al-‘Arab wa’l-lslām, pp. 68–70.

80 One of the best known works on this subject is Nadwī, Sayyid Sulaymān, ‘Arab wa Hind key ta‘alluqāt [The Relations between Arabia and India] (A'zamgarh, 1979). This book comprises lectures first given at the Indian Academy of Allahabad in 1929.Google Scholar

81 The image of one's goods or merchandise being returned, together with what it was meant to buy, is Qur'ānic: see Qur'ān, XII65; and cf. Nadwī, , Kārwān, i, pp. 326, 369.Google Scholar

82 Nadwī, al-‘Arab wa’l-Islām, pp. 98100.Google Scholar

83 Ibid., p. 100.

84 Ibid., pp. 100–1.

85 For the proceedings of the conference and an account of other celebrations on this occasion, see Al-Ḥlasanā, Muḥammad, Rūdād-i chaman: Nadwat al-‘Ulamā’ key pachchāsī sāla jashn-i ta‘līmt kī mufassal rūdād (Lucknow, 1976).Google Scholar Also see Nadwī, , Kārwān, ii, pp. 171–95.Google Scholar

86 ‘Alī Nadwī, Abu'l-Ḥasan, Inaugural Address, in al-Ḥasanī, Muḥammad, Rūdād-i chaman, p. 117;Google Scholar Nadwī, , Kārwān, ii, p. 188.Google Scholar

87 Nadwī, , ai-‘Arab wa’l-lsiām, p. 101.Google Scholar

88 ‘Alī Nadwī, Abu'l-Ḥasan, Muslims in India, tr. from the Urdu by Kidwai, M. A. (Lucknow, n.d. [1960]).Google Scholar Note, however, that a substantial part of this book originated as talks in Arabic on All India Radio in 1951. The original audience therefore was the Arab Middle East, though the book under discussion here is primarily intended, Nadwī says, for non-Muslim audiences in India. See ibid., pp. 4–5. Also id., The Musalman, tr. from the Urdu by Ahmad, M. (Lucknow, 1972). The term “musulmān” is the standard rendition of the Arabic “Muslim” in Urdu.Google Scholar

89 Chatterjee, , “Nationalization of Hinduism”, p. 149.Google Scholar

90 Nadwā, , Muslims in India, p. 65; translation modified slightly.Google Scholar

91 Nadwī, , The Musalman, p. 25;Google Scholar cf. id., Muslims in India, pp. 73–5.Google Scholar

92 Cf. Nadwī, , The Musulman, p. 6: “…Islam is a universal religion rooted in the Qur'ān and the Sunnah, and, therefore, there is hardly any difference in the basic tenets and religious observances of the Muslims of other countries. Indian Muslims have, on the other hand, adopted numerous customs and usages of the land which have been pointed out where necessary in order to identify their indigenous origin”.Google Scholar

93 Cf. ‘Alī Nadwī, Sayyid Abu'l-Ḥasan, Reconstruction of Indian Society: What Muslims Can Do (Lucknow, 1972).Google Scholar

94 Nadwī, , Kārwān, ii, pp. 173–4.Google Scholar

95 Ibid., ii, p. 174.

96 Lelyveld, , Aligarh's First Generation, p. 330.Google Scholar

97 On the range of approaches to questions of Muslim communal identity and the role of Muslims in India, see Troll, Christian W., “Sharing Islamically in the pluralistic nation-state of India: the views of some contemporary Indian Muslim leaders and thinkers”, in Haddad, Yvonne Y. and Haddad, Wadi Z., Christian-Muslim Encounters (Gainesville, 1995), pp. 245–62; also cf. Hasan, “The myth of unity”.Google Scholar

98 On the importance of Central Asian and Iranian cultural traditions for Muslim India, cf. Robinson, “Perso-Islamic culture in India”.

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